Tuesday, 20 January 2015

ECUADOR 2015: Paz de las Aves and Pululahua (18-20 January)

This blog recounts the first part of a recent trip to Ecuador where Gabriel (Gabo) Bucheli guided Marc Brew, Jon Hornbuckle, Rod Martins and myself around northern Ecuador for two weeks.  Gabo left us at Coca and we then had a week at an Amazon lodge.  Jon arranged the trip to target his Ecuador gaps, fitting in other sites to suit us all.  Images from the first week were taken with my new Canon Powershot SX60, most saved as 800x600 pixels.

17 January.  My Iberia flight arrived in Quito on time, just as it was starting to get dark.  I had a short wait for my bag and somewhat apprehensively left the airport.  I was not sure what, if any, reception I might get following an email exchange shortly before I left home, when the cost I had been quoted to stay with Angel Paz for two nights went up from $120 to $360 and back down to $150 if I camped and took my own food.  A young lady with a sign was waiting for me with Angel Paz's brother Rodrigo and another relative from Quito who spoke good English.  After brief introductions and confirmation that it would cost $150 to camp at Paz de las Aves Rodrigo took me to his vehicle and we left, the other relative returning to Quito.  I made very basic conversation, their English being no better than my Spanish.  Some small talk but the important news for me was that Yellow-breasted and Moustached Antpittas had been seen that morning but not Giant.  Rodrigo said that although the famous bird Maria (named after Angel Paz's wife) had presumably died two of her 'children' were still being seen so I was in with a chance.  I asked about camping and if there was anywhere sheltered but apparently there wasn't although I was offered the two-nights board and lodging for another $50.  I confirmed that the $200 now wanted would cover all my time there.  As it was raining and I had not been able to pack a tent that seemed like a sensible option.  It was a 2.5 hour journey to Paz de las Aves and we saw an armadillo on the approach road.  Angel and Maria met me and showed me to a nice room in their newly extended house - it was still raining and I wouldn't have fancied a night in a bivy bag!  We agreed to leave at 06:00 the next morning and I quickly unpacked a few things, set my alarm for 05:45 and soon fell asleep.

18 January.  At 06:00 Angel and Rodrigo drove me down the road to a Cock-of-the-Rock lek where three males were performing.  They were superb, especially when the light started to improve.  Angel had brought a telescope and showed me Rufous-bellied Nighthawk that blended in amazingly well with the trunk it was roosting on.  Back at the road a Scaled Antpitta was calling from high in a big tree and after ten minutes of trying different angles I finally spotted it - a bird I had not seen since Venezuela over 30 years before.  Next stop was a feeding station for Dark-backed Wood Quail which were rather partial to bananas. After a few minutes calling them first one then two came in to feed.  Hummingbird feeders here were a bit of a distraction with Wedge-billed, Violet-tailed Sylph, Booted Racket-tail and Empress Brilliant visiting.  We walked a short distance to the river, Angel picking up a pot of worms on the way - things were getting serious.  There was thick vegetation on the far side of the river and some worms were placed on the bank in the expectation of enticing out a Yellow-breasted Antpitta.  An anxious ten minutes of Angel calling ensued it before it finally appeared - brilliant and one of my most wanted birds on the trip.  It disappeared all too soon and we continued back up the road and up a narrow trail for ten minutes to the area where Rodrigo was looking for the Giant Antpittas but unfortunately there was no sign of them.  An Ochre-breasted Antpitta and two Rufous-breasted Antthrushes were being fed and provided some consolation.  We returned to the vehicle and drove back up to Angel's house and walked for five minutes down another trail to look for a Moustached Antpitta which he was also feeding.  Another Ochre-breasted Antpitta was waiting in situ while the Moustached came in after a short period of Angel calling it.  We returned for a late breakfast after which the Paz's went into town and I spent the rest of the day watching the hummingbird feeders and on the trail by their house (good for Orange-breasted Fruiteater but I had no success).  I managed to dodge a few periods of heavy rain, noting the hummingirds were as active as ever during them.  The trail was good for Toucan Barbets and Sickle-winged Guans and I saw two more Scaled Fruiteaters, a nice selection of tangers and a Blackburnian Warbler. I finished the day with three new hummers, two antpittas and a wood-quail.  I hoped that my excellent start would be continued, unlike last year in Colombia which rapidly went downhill after a similarly good start. I had a nice evening meal and prepared for the following day.  I was looking forward to seeing my companions and starting the trip proper.



Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, they even sound like Birds of Paradise

forest at Paz de las Aves
Scaled Fruiteater, I had only seen one before
Scaled Antpitta
Dark-backed Wood-Quail, a rotund body with head and legs attached



sharing a banana
hummingbird feeder near the wood-quail feeding station
Wedge-billed Hummingbird
Angel Paz with pot of worms
Yellow-breasted Antpitta, every it as good as I had imagined it would be


Rufous-breasted Antthrush, I had only seen one briefly before, in central Peru in 1984.




Ochre-breasted Antpitta



view from Angel Paz's

Moustached Antpitta




Angel Paz's house, I had a room on the top floor
Purple-bibbed White-tip approaching a feeder


Velvet-purple Coronet

with white in the tail and an orange underwing this was one of the most impressive hummers I have seen
and pink leggings too

Violet-tailed Sylph, not at all bad either!
Booted Racket-tail
amazing boots
Empress Brilliant, perhaps not quite as impressive a hummingbird as the name might suggest?
Blue-winged Mountain Tanager
Strong-billed Woodcreeper
the sort of attractive plant seen in garden centres

an even more attractive Toucan Barbet





19 January.  At 06:00 Angel, Rodrigo and I drove down to the Cock-of-the-Rock lek.  As we arrived Jon, Rod, Marc and Gabo were walking up the road.  It was good to see Jon and Rod again, the first time since West Papua some 18 months before.  For me the morning was to be a repeat of the previous day's although I hoped for better fortune with a particular species and was more than happy to see the other 'stars' again.  As previously, the Andean Cock-of-the Rocks performed, the Rufous-bellied Nighthawk was on the same ranch (maybe not quite so an impressive find by Angel as I had thought).  We then heard Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl which was on Jon's hit list (I had seen one at Mindo Lindo in 1999) and most of us managed brief views of it with a Golden-headed Quetzal seen soon after.  We moved down to the wood-quail site but they appeared not to be in earshot so we left Rodrigo to try and find them and moved straight on to try for Yellow-breasted Antpitta. This took longer to entice in, perhaps not initially hearing Angel's calls over the sound of the river?  It did appear although not for as long as previously.  We returned to the feeding station where one Dark-breasted Wood Quail soon appeared and Rodrigo continued up to the trail to check for antpittas.  I was keen to go with him but it was thought best that I did not - something that I regretted 15 minutes later when we heard him whistle. Hurrying up the track it seemed twice as long and steep as the previous day but I eventually made it to where we had been before to find a grinning Rodrigo - he had found a Giant Antpitta.  Some worms were put out when we were all gathered and it was 'called in', responding almost immediately.  An absolutely superb bird that I had almost dared not to raise my hopes for and an immediate contender for bird of the trip.  A Rufous-breasted Antthrush was still in evidence but not the Ochre-breasted Antpitta but on the walk back down to the road we saw a male Golden-winged Manakin before having a final look at the wood-quail.  We drove back to Angel's house and set off down the trail for the Moustached Antpitta.  It was not in evidence although the Ochre-breasted was.  Both Angel and Rodrigo started looking for it with Angel finding it on a higher track at the edge of the forest patch.  By the time we got there it had moved but Rodrigo soon called that it was nearer the original area.  We returned and it was enticed into view but moved off while I was trying to focus my camera on it (focusing difficulties were to be a recurring problem on the trip with all our bridge cameras).  We did a it more general birding along the trail and returned for a late breakfast and check of the hummingbird feeders before leaving.  My time at Paz de las Aves had been excellent with with Angel and Rodrigo working very well as a team to show me/us the special birds they almost considered to be family members.  I ended up paying $50 more than originally anticipated for my stay but was happy to accept that that quote had not included airport pickup.  Considering the birds that I had been shown it seemed good value.  I collected my bag and we left in Gabo's Nissan 4WD which was to be our 'home' for the next two weeks.  It was a little cramped with three in the back but we rotated and did not have too much travelling to do, although getting in and out from the middle in a hurry was more of a problem.  We drove a section of the old Nono-Mindo road but the 'afternoon' rain was early and rather restricted our options.  We enjoyed the hummingbird feeders at Kinde Luce and walking sections of the road produced Plate-billed Mountain Toucan and Yellow-collared Chlorophonia.  We left mid afternoon to drive to Pululahua, the caldera of a dormant volcano north of Quito and a site for Buff-fronted Owl.  We stopped at Mitad del Mundo to buy a few supplies, the middle of the world monument being somewhat unimpressive.  Reaching Pululahua involved a long descent down a hairpined dirt road into the caldera.  It was doutless very impressive but not in low loud and drizzle.  It was also noticably colder.  We were welcomed at the hostal which had some hummingbird feeders (which lodges these day's doesn't?).  They attracted Sparkling Violetears, Black-tailed Trainbearers and a Sword-billed Hummingbird.  After a good meal we tried two sites in the caldera for owls hearing a distant White-fronted Screech-Owl but not the hoped for Buff-fronted.  


The Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks performed their daily routine



male White-winged Tanager pretending to be a Two-barred Crosbsill
Golden-headed Quetzal
not sure that I would describe the head colour as 'golden'
a stunning bird all the same
Yellow-breasted Antpitta enjoying its daily hand-out again
Wedge-billed Hummingbird, again
Giant Antpitta with extreme camera shake - either me being unable to contain my excitement or the light worse than anticipated
an instance of the autofocus fixating on the background rather than the blindingly obvious subject in mid frame


so much for antpittas being subtle shades of brown.  This one was as colourful as a Blue-naped Pitta, and a similar size
fully loaded, perhaps with a juvenile nearby to feed?
Dark-backed Wood-quail, just one came in this time
back at Angel Paz's house I could finally look at the upstairs carvings without being gripped off.
I preferred the real thing!
Ochre-breasted Antpitta, again

Golden-naped Tanager
farewell Paz de las Aves
Rodrigo, Angel and respective wives.  They made my stay a very memorable one.
feeders at Kinde Luce

hummers lining up  - Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Booted Racket-tail, Andean Emerald and out of focus Violet-tailed Sylph
Fawn-breasted Brilliant

Purple-throated Woodstar


Velvet-purple Coronet
Violet-tailed Sylph, without full tail
Mito del Mundo, city at the centre of the world.  Note feral pigeons, low cloud and drops of water on the camera lens.  at least the local shop sold biscuits
Sword-billed Hummingbird at Pululahua

20 January.  A long and disappointing day.  Owling before dawn proved frustrating with only White-throated Screech Owl calling and my missing its briefly silhouetted appearance.  After a good breakfast and further Sword-billed Hummingbird views, in better light this time, we looked for Rusty-breasted Antpitta (an isolated population) without success and finally left Pululahua, still mostly in clouds.  Gabo phoned Un Poco de Choco to check that the Banded Ground Cuckoo hadn't reappeared, sadly it hadn't, and drove us west to Banos, which was noticeably warmer.  We called in at a restaurant with some feeders where a male Green Thorntail was the highlight and continued towards the Pacific coast stopping at a now defunct site for Brown Wood-Rail that had recently become the scene of construction work. We drove up the coast seeing lots of Magnificent Frigatebirds (I counted over 120) and turned in land to Selve Alegre.  Here we were met and transferred into a boat for the 90 minute journey up river to the lodge at Playa del Oro where we arrived just before dusk as the heavens opened.  The lodge was community run and very basic (no electricity although three electricians were working on it) but comfortable and served good food.  It was also not as hot as I had feared (perhaps because it was so cloudy and wet) with fewer mosquitoes.
morning view from Pululahua Hostel with the loud coming down


Sword-billed Hummingbird
even feeders present problems when your bill is that long
it is hard to imagine anything that is not made harder by having such an outsized bill, even sitting
Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant
Cinnamon Flycatcher at Pululahua

the central volcanic plug at Pululahua
the caldera is very agricultural although residents (and visitors) would seem safe as it has been dormant for 2500 years
bamboo on the approach road.  The road had been closed for a week last year when a Spectacled Bear was seen regularly along it.  Sadly one did not cross our path
Green Thorntail at Los Banos

ex-Wood-Rail site
Laughing Gull near the coast
Rod and Gabo overseeing the loading of our boat
Jon prepared for a downpour while the boatman was taking no chances either.  It looked as if bananas would be on the menu ...

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