Friday 30 January 2015

ECUADOR 2105: Pululahua, Yanacocha and San Isidro (25-30 January)

Continuing a trip to Ecuador with Marc Brew, Jon Hornbuckle and Rod Martins and very professionally led by Gabriel (Gabo) Bucheli who drove us around.  Unless stated photos were taken (mostly by me) with Jon's Canon Powershot SX50.

25 January.  We were up at 05:00 for a final attempt at Buff-fronted Owl but again we failed to even hear one.  A very distant calling Rufous-banded Owl was little compensation and we returned to Pululahua Hostal for an excellent breakfast.  We were keen to see Rusty-breasted Antpitta, a nice bird I had seen last year in Colombia with the added attraction of it being an isolated population.  We had failed on our previous visit but enlisted the help of lodge owner and birder Renato who knew exactly where it was best to go.  This made the difference and we quickly heard one in bamboo a short way down a trail near the caldera's rim.  We repositioned ourselves and Renato soon pulled the bird in giving good views although not for long enough to get images.  A Chestnut-crowned Antpitta was calling nearby and we soon got good views of it too, along with some Burrowing Owls, Tufted Tit-Tyrant and Golden-rumped Euphonia.  We left Pululahua more impressed wit the area than on our first visit although stops on the way up to the rim of the crater were just as unproductive.  We drove a section of the Non-Mindo road making several stops.  At one an Ocellated Tapaculo was calling and I managed to see it low down in a small gap but unfortunately it moved out of view before anyone else could get onto it.  I had hoped to see another as my previous view, in 1999, had been good but rather brief.  An Ash-coloured Tapaculo performed better giving views to all while we also saw Gorgetted Sunangel, Green and Black Fruiteater and two juvenile Cock-of-the-Rocks in their roadside nest.  We needed to be at Yanacocha the following morning before dawn so Gabo asked around in Nono and found us an excellent place to stay which saved us having to return to Quito (and gave us an extra 45 minutes in bed in the morning).  Gabo left us at the Eco Estancia Nido del Quinde to make a lightening return visit to his wife and baby daughter in Quito.  We had our best meal by far in Ecuador and our stay was one of the cheapest of the trip.

Southern Yellow or Golden-bellied Grosbeak
Sword-billed Hummingbird have evolved to feed on the nectar of this plant

inside the caldera at Pululahua
Burrowing Owl

locals ticking off the owls (and some ageing gringos)
Black-tailed Trainbearer at Pululahua Hostal's feeders
looking back down on the caldera and the volcanic plug at Pululahua

above Pululahua

Cock-of-the-Rock chicks by the old Nono-Mindo road, presumably male on the left and female on the right

forest along the old Non-Mindo Road

26 January.  We were up at 04:00 and met Gabo outside the Estancia.  For someone who had been up since 03:00 Gabo was remarkably chipper.  He drove us to Yanacocha where it was still completely dark.  We had a 2km, half hour walk along the main track which follows the underground aquaduct contouring around the hillside.  We reached a cliff face, although in the dark it was not obvious, and waited.  At 05:45, as the first glimmers of light were in the sky, we heard the first Imperial Snipe drumming as it flew over high up.  It took two or three further passes before it was light enough to see anything and even then those of us who managed to get onto the bird saw very little on it.  Fortunately views improved with the light and at least two birds were involved up to 06:05.  We were almost at the tunnel, where the aquaduct cut though the hillside, and spent the next three hours birding their and back to the entrance where we were parked.  There were hummingbird feeders near the tunnel but all were empty, although hummers were still much in evidence with Sword-billed, Great Sapphirewing, Buff-fronted Startfrontlets and Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted Pufflegs.  Rufous Antpittas were fairly common with three seen between us, mine hopping down the path towards me, stopping almost fully obscured behind some low vegetation and then just when I had Jon's camera ready and focusing it melted away.  We returned to Nono for an excellent breakfast, packed and drove to Quito,  Here we spent a couple of hours paying a deposit for our forthcoming visit to Rio Bigal and the balance of our stay at Sani. At the office for the latter Jon and I managed to send emails home.  From Quito we drove to Papallacta spending an hour around the radio station, sometimes in the clouds, looking unsuccessfully for Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe.  A Tawny Antpitta hopping across the road, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle,  and Blue-mantled Thornbill, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant were some consolation.  We continued on to Guango where Gabo's brother worked and were told where Mountain Avocetbills had most recently been seen.  The best site was by some flowers along one of the trails although they were occasionally seen on the feeders and Jon glimpsed one there while our timing could have been better and we had to settle for Sword-billed hummingbird, Chestnut-breasted Comet and Buff-tailed Coronet.  We drew a blank on the flowers and drove back to Papallacta where we stayed in the inexpensive Coturpa Hostel (a tip from Gabo's brother).
Yanacocha early morning
Great Sapphirewing

Volcan Pinchincha from Yanacocha
Glossy Flowerpiercer
the aquaduct trail after the tunnel

me at Yanacocha

Marc and giant 'rhubarb'
Sword-billed Hummingbird flowers
Buff-winged Starfrontlet

Great Thrush on our return to Nono

the excellent and highly recommended Eco Estancia Nido del Quinde, not that you would have guessed from looking at it, and Gabo's vehicle about to be packed
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, a typical high altitude raptor

approaching Papallacta Pass
Hooded Siskin

Chestnut-winged Cinclodes
Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant
view from the radio station

Buff-tailed Coronet at Guango

27 January.  We left the hostal at dawn and drove for 15 minutes to Guango.  After a short check of the feeders we made for the avocetbill stakeout. I was a little ahead of the others and disturbed an antpitta from the trail, probably chestnut-crowned.  We spent half an hour at the flowers without seeing anything before returning for Chestnut-crowned Antpitta feeding.  As expected it was excellent.  Jon and I headed straight back to the avocetbill site while Gabo, Marc and Rod took a more circuitous route along a trail by the river.  After an hour at the flowers we heard a hummingbird fly in and Jon picked it up at the back of the flowers - Mountain Avocetbill.  We saw it for a few minutes before it disappeared.  I wrote a note for the others and we were leaving when it reappeared below us giving better views.  Two minutes later with it still on view Gabo, Marc and Rod arrived.  Good timing, although I was quite gripped that they had seen Fasciated Tiger-Heron by the river.  We had time so Marc took Jon and me straight there.  It had moved, but not far and we had excellent views. I also saw White-capped Dipper which they had seen, but we ran out of time to look for their Torrent Duck.  On the walk we saw Rufous-breasted and Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrants before overshooting the turning to Guango and coming out higher up the road.  We returned to Papallacta for a late breakfast and then tried a road, which soon became a dirt track, into the National Park looking for Masked Mountain Tanager but very few birds were in evidence - a Shining Sunbeam the best.  We met a tour group who had come in from the other direction and in quick succession, but an hour earlier, seen Mountain Tapir and Spectacled Bear.  We continued with low expectations and saw a ... rabbit.  With time against us we drove to Baeza and left our bags at the Hostal la Casa de Rodrigo, another inexpensive tip from Gabo's brother.  We drove to San Isidro but as it was clear decided to try Guacamayos Ridge where White-chested Swifts could be seen cruising over in the late afternoon.  Unfortunately although it was clear at San Isidro the ridge was in the clouds.  We headed back down and half-way to Baeza noticed some swifts flying low over the valley.  A quick stop revealed three species were involved including White-chested and Chestnut-collared.  Back in Baeza we ought some supplies for the next day's lunch (and snacks) and had a very ordinary meal in the restaurant next to our hostal.
feeding time is about to start
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, one of the most attractive

Mountain Avocetbill stake-out (the red flowers at the top)
first views of Mountain Avocetbill
it showed better later although kept its bill away from the camera

a much better Mountain Avocetbill photo taken by Marc Brew.  you can see the bill properly on this one!

Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant
White-capped Dipper
the river at Guasco
the Torrent Ducks at Guasco that I didn't have time to see (photo by Marc Brew)
superb setting but few birds

our answer to another group's Mountain Tapir and Spectacled Bear!

Shining Sunbeam, one of my favourite bird names.  They don't look bad either although this is only a female with a beard of pollen 
Three Waterfalls from the Baeza road
birding the road to San Isidro
usual weather at Guacamatos Ridge
Gabo taping while Marc and Jon looks on
Rod checking the canopy
it was still cloudy!

28 January.  We left Baeza at 05:00 to drive to San Isidro where we were getting a 'day pass' to use their trails.  We walked a trail in the dark to get to an area where Peruvian antpitta had been recorded the previous year but playback elicited no response. We returned to the lodge where there was lots of activity from first light with Crested Quetzal, Inca Jay and migrant Swainson's Thrush and Blackburnian and Canada Warblers.  Seven-thirty was antpitta feeding time, and this one was White-bellied, a bird I had tried very hard to see in Colombia but only managed a flight view of.  It was superb and even better brought in a fully grown juvenile, absolutely brilliant and another top target seen.  We checked out a few hummingbird feeders seeing Bronzy Inca, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Chestnut-breasted Coronet and Long-tailed Sylph.  The rest of the day was a bit of an anticlimax.  We birded the road past San Isidro 
and a trail opposite the lodge entrance seeing Andean Guan, Merlin, White-breasted Quail-Dove, White-throated Toucanet and Dusky Piha.  Both areas were good for Black-billed Mountain Toucan but we were not fortunate.   A few km along the road there was a trail where a Barred Ant-thrush responded to playback and gave Marc a half decent view, Rod and I just seeing an ant-thrush shape.  Our attempts to pull the bird across the track failed and there was hardly anywhere where the vegetation was open enough to see the ground where one might see it coming in.  We tried clearing a small ride with no success either - very frustrating.  Returning to the lodge after dark we flushed a Rufous-banded Owl from the road while the San Isidro Black-banded Owl was calling around the lodge and gave good views from the roof, although only Marc had thought to take his camera.  A long day that started and finished very well, we returned to our hostal in Baeza, via the shops for more supplies, and the indifferent restaurant next door.

Crested Quetzal with dinky little crest
Inca Jay
White-bellied Antpitta

time to try out a new hat
San Isidro
Cinnamon Flycatcher

Inca Jay

Chestnut-breasted Coronet
Long-tailed Sylph
White-throated, formerly Emerald, Toucanet
Southern Lapwing

San Isidro Black-banded Owl (taken by Marc Brew as were the next two)

29 January.  We left Baeza at 06:15, 15 minutes later than intended and drove straight to the trail for the Barred Ant-thrush.  We soon got a response with the bird slowly getting closer and closer.  A movement was finally noticed behind a thick patch of vegetation.  Moving our position slightly revealed part of the bird but it was very obscured.  I kept on it barely daring to move in case it did but Marc took a chance and found a gap where the bird was in full view.  It was superb watching it but every effort into calling.  The rest of the day alternated between birding the road in the hope of a mountain-toucan and visiting Guacamayos Ridge to find it in cloud (twice).  Generally it was light showers at San Isidro and heavy showers at Guacamayos.  In the afternoon, after our second drive along the road the others decided to head back to Guacamayos.  I decided to stay and walked the best mountain-toucan stretch of the road four times over two hours seeing White-throated Toucanet (which caused a brief panic) and Andean Guan.  I then walked back towards San Isidro and was met by Gabo, Jon  and Rod.  They had seen little along the ridge, the weather still being poor, but Marc had walked the road near the lodge and seen a mountain-toucan.  We drove back to the area but no sign.  I was very gripped.  A final night in Baeza and my least favourite restaurant.
Black Agouti at San Isidro
Andean Guan
not usually this approachable!

San Isidro road mountain-toucan site, but not for me
looking towards Guacamayos ridge from San Isidro road, you can bet that by the time you got there the clouds would have rolled in

Black Phoebe

Blue & White and Southern Roughwinged Swallows
Southern Lapwing, presumably on a nest

30 January.  We packed and left Baeza soon after 06:00 driving straight to Guacamayos Ridge.  It was raining hard when we arrived, no surprise there, so we had breakfast in the car and after half an hour it eased off.  We birded along the ridge from 07:00-08:40 seeinng Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant and Grass-green Tanager and hearing a distant Slate-crowned Antpitta.  Gabo then drove us to Loreto stopping just outside town to look unsuccessfully for the uninspiringly named Brown-rumped Foliage-Gleaner although we may not have got the exact site.  In Loreto we met Thiery who was taking us to his lodge at Rio Bigal.
Green-banded Urania, a day flying moth