northern Ecuador - November 3-12, 1999


Day One   : Quito to Lita.  Laguna San Pablo, dry zone, and near Lita.
Day Two   : Lita to San Lorenzo.  Lita and at Humedal del Yalare.
Day Three : San Lorenzo to Reserva Playa de Oro.  Humedal del Yalare and the Reserva.
Day Four  : Reserva Playa de Oro.
Day Five  : Reserva Playa de Oro to San Lorenzo.

Day Six   : San Lorenzo to Ambuqui. INEFAN road near San Lorenzo and below Alto Tambo.
Day Seven : Cerro Mongus.
Day Eight : La Bonita road.
Day Nine  : La Bonita road.
Day Ten   : Tulcan to Quito and Papallacta Pass. 

Guides : Robert Jonsson and Jonas Nilsson
Robert can be reached at robertjonsson@avestravel.com, see also www.Avestravel.com

Participants : Jim Sipiora and Mark Mulhollam (author of trip report) (mulho005@tc.umn.edu)

Here is a zipped Microsoft Word version of Rob Innes' and Chris Jones' bird list for Sumaco, Humedal del Yalare, Reserva Playa de Oro, Silanche, Rio Palenque, San Isidro, Tinalandia, Tandayapa Birding Lodge, Quebrada Honda, Podocarpus, Buenaventura and the Cordillera de Guacamayos. (69k)

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Prologue : Since Jim and I have birded extensively in the tropics, the idea was to visit some places that have not received much attention. This choice proved very rewarding as quite a few excellent birds were found as well as some good primary forest, notably at Reserva Playa de Oro and along the La Bonita road. Nor were these places very difficult to access. To whet your appetitie, consider Bicolored Antpitta (first record for Ecuador), Brown Wood-rails, Blue-headed Sapphires, Tourmaline Sunangels, Black-breasted and Pied Puffbirds, Double-banded Graytail, Ocellated, Stub-tailed and Spotted Antbirds, Crescent-faced, Slate-crowned and Streak-chested Antpittas, Subtropical Doradito, Rufous Mourner (in the scope), Chestnut-bellied and Blue Cotingas, Black-collared Jays, and how about having Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonias and Red-hooded Tanagers common and at eye-level, Scarlet-breasted Dacni, Blue-whiskered Tanager, Moss-backed and Golden-chested Tanagers and to top it all off, a pair of Andean Condors, included one perched yielding scope views. And much more.

I generally do not list especially common birds here. And I may not re-list birds seen in the same habitat on a previous day. (h) indicates heard only that day. (m/f) indicates male/female. If I use the word "endemic" it is used in the sense of An Annotated List of the Birds of Mainland Ecuador, Ridgely, R.S., P.J. Greenfield & M. Guerrero G., Fundación Ornitológica del Ecuador, CECIA (1998: 155 pp).


Day Zero : Arrival at 10:30 p.m., met by Robert. Transport to Alston Hotel, $17/night for a single.


DAY ONE : Quito to Lita, with birding stops at Laguna San Pablo and above Lita (740 m).

     Up early for the drive north to the Lita turnoff. The success of the rest of the trip is guaranteed when Mark forgets his coat in the hotel room until we are 15 min down the road. Ahem. Most of this day is spent in the very dry inter-andean zone. We stop at the Laguna San Pablo in Otavalo where enough reed beds remain to hold the bright Subtropical Doradito. Other birds seen here include Pied-billed Grebe, Andean Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, and Andean Gull.

     Another stop at approximately 1400 m. yields very good looks at Blue-headed Sapphire (rare and only in the north), Western Emerald, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Parula and Hooded Siskins, but no Scrub Tanagers, a bird we would have to work hard to get. Other birds in this zone included American Kestrel, Scaly Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, and Smooth-billed Ani.

     We reach Lita in time for lunch at the spare El Turista, located above town at the turnoff to the main road. We have plenty of time to bird near Lita in the afternoon at an elevation of approximately 740 m. We see the first group of many Stripe-billed Aricaris we would find from here to the coast. We find a few tanagers including Golden-hooded, many Emeralds, Bay-headed and wonderful Scarlet-browed Tanagers sitting close. Other birds in the Lita area are

20 Swallow-tailed Kites Broad-winged Hawk
Sora Eared Dove
Maroon-tailed Parakeet Bronze-winged Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo White-collared Swift
White-whiskered Hermit Stripe-throated Hermit
Purple-chested and Rufous-tailed Hummers Purple-crowned Fairy
Broad-billed Motmot (h) Choco Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker Azara's and Slaty Spinetail (h)
Red-faced Spinetail Ruddy Foliage-gleaner
Barred Woodcreeper Spotted Woodcreeper
Russet Antshrike Black-headed Antthrush (h)
Choco Tapaculo Brown-capped Tyrannulet
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet Slaty-capped Flycatcher
Streak-necked/Olive-striped Flycatcher Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant
Ornate Flycatcher Olive-sided Flycatcher
Black Phoebe Rusty-margined Flycatcher
Black-and-white Becard (h) Thrush-like Mourner (h)
Red-eyed Vireo Swainson's Thrush
Blue-and-white Swallow White-thighed Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow Barn Swallow
Bay Wren (h) Olive-crowned Yellowthroat (h)
Buff-rumped Warbler Bananquit
Orange-bellied Euphonia Blue Dacnis
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis Golden Tanager
Silvery-throated Tanager Blue-necked Tanager
Summer Tanager Ochre-breasted Tanager
Buff-throated Saltator Black-winged Saltator
Streaked Saltator (h) Blue-black Grassquit
Ruddy-breasted Seedeater Yellow-faced Grassquit
Variable Seedeater Yellow-bellied Seedeater
Tricolored Brush-Finch Black-striped Sparrow
Scarlet-rumped Cacique

     Night spent in Lita at the Residencial Villalobos Naranja. $4.00/double room. We are joined by a herd of enraged baboons, sounds like 25 men who pound the floors for a couple of hours after we were in bed already. Robert scorches the eyeballs of one with his torch to little avail.


DAY TWO : Lita to San Lorenzo a.m. Bosque Protector Humedal del Yalare p.m.

     Breakfast at 790 m, not much activity. Green Thorntails mostly silhouetted, but perched and scoped Bicolored Hawk helps.

     Stop at 680 m at a clearing. In one of the few trees, Jonas finds a Moss-backed Tanager pair which we approach and scope. A pair of Tiny Hawks are nesting high in a tree next to the road. A Short-tailed Hawk abides. I get very good looks at Rufous-throated Tanager here for the first time. The morning is generally quiet, we stop further down and see a Black-tipped Cotinga from a great distance at a spot which will yield many good birds a couple of days later on return. Other birds seen today and not noted for yesterday include:

Laughing Falcon Rufous-fronted Wood-Quail (h)
Ruddy Pigeon (h) Green-crowned Woodnymph
Golden-olive Woodpecker Plain Xenops (good looks)
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper Spot-crowned Antvireo
Long-tailed Tyrant Masked Tityra
White-bearded Manakin (h) Club-winged Manakin
Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo (h) Stripe-throated Wren (h)
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren White-lined Tanager
Lesser Seed-Finch

     Lunch is in San Lorenzo by the coast. The town's only redeeming value is the restaurant La Estancia Internacional and its wonderful proprietor Jaime. This restaurant serves very good food for ridiculously low prices and Jaime was a font of valuable information including regarding Humedal del Yalare and Reserva Playa de Oro. The restaurant and adjoining hotel, the Pampa del Oro, is located to the left at the end of the main road through town as you enter. I can't emphasize enough what a breath of fresh air this place was in a horrid, dusty town of some three million inhabitants (as estimated by a local, it's actually closer to 30,000?). The tables are supported by old sewing machine bases with the treadles, the walls consist of white-washed newspapers and old Super Dumton "Silver" sewing machines are displayed.

     In the afternoon we went to a small reserve called Bosque Protector Humedal del Yalare. It is about one hour south of San Lorenzo along the road to Borbon. Mantled Howler Monkeys could be heard and were seen in the treetops. I got an especially good view of a White-necked Jacobin (all blue and white) fluttering above a small pond along the dirt road into Yalare. Stop and ask for permission to enter. There are plans to make trails into better forest, but the birding along the road was quite good. We parked near a very small pond and walked the road. SCARLET-BREASTED DACNISIS were seen a couple of times, as well as more Scarlet-browed Tanagers. The Dacnis would prove to be fairly easy for us on this trip. A Double-banded Graytail, rare in Ecuador, worked the outer edges of a branch. But the highlight occurred while I was getting Jim onto an American Pygmy Kingfisher perched on the far bank of the pond. I saw a large flash of rufous behind the bird. Directing Jim to the spot out stepped two wood-rails and we called Robert and Jonas over. They turned out to be the difficult Brown Wood-Rails and continued to work the pond edges for a few minutes. They were a lifer for everyone. Other birds seen at Yalare this afternoon:

Great and Little Tinamou (h) Striated Heron
Osprey Plumbeous Kite
Dusky Pigeon Blue Ground-Dove
Rose-faced Parrot Blue-headed Parrot
Bronze-winged Parrot Red-lored Amazon
Mealy Amazon Smooth-billed Ani
Gray-rumped Swift White-whiskered Hermit
Purple-crowned Fairy Black-tailed Trogon (h)
Stripe-billed Aricari Choco Toucan (h)
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan Lineated Woodpecker
Guayaquil Woodpecker Black-striped Woodcreeper!!
Streak-headed Woodcreeper Griscom's Antwren (h)
Pacific Streaked-Antwren (h) Checker-throated Antwren
Dot-winged Antwren Chestnut-backed Antbird (h)
Black-headed Antthrush Choco Tapaculo
Brown-capped Tyrannulet Yellow-margined Flycatcher
Bright-rumped Attila Boat-billed Flycatcher
Rusty-margined Flycatcher White-ringed Flycatcher
Piratic Flycatcher Snowy-throated Flycatcher
Cinnamon Becard Purple-throated Fruitcrow (h)
Blue-crowned Manakin (h) Red-eyed Vireo
Lesser Greenlet Bay Wren (h)
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat Choco Warbler
Thick-billed Euphonia Purple Honeycreeper
Green Honeycreeper Red-legged Honeycreeper
Blue Dacnis Scarlet-thighed Dacnis


DAY THREE : San Lorenzo to Humedal del Yalare to Reserva Playa de Oro.

     On this day we stopped at Yalare again in the morning and then continued down the road another hour and one-half to a turnoff to, I believe, the town of Concepcion (just ask the way to the Rio Santiago and Reserva Playa de Oro). The turnoff is to the left. At Concepcion, we turned right to go upriver for a short while to the next little town (possibly Selve Alegre or Timbire). After arranging a canoe-trip of 45 minutes to the Reserva and leaving the vehicle at the outdoor eatery near the docking point, we were off. We traveled upriver past what appeared to be some excellent forest. After arrival and lunch, we headed out with our local guide on the trail which first passes through the little town. The Reserva itself consists of three visitor cabins which could hold a total of 12 people and a kitchen/dining room cabin. There is a solar-powered refrigerator there so drinks were cold (rainwater collection). Breakfasts were sparse, but lunches and dinners usually consisted of a large bowl of soup and chicken and rice, with an excellent lemon drink. But you should bring some food for snacks and to bolster breakfast.

     At Yalare, this morning we saw these additional birds not mentioned for yesterday or of special re-note:

Rose-faced Parrot Slaty-tailed Trogon
White-tailed Trogon Ringed Kingfisher
Guayaquil Woodpecker (4 in tree) Rufous Mourner (in scope)
Streaked Flycatcher Red-capped Manakin
Fulvous-vented Euphonia

     Along the road from Yalare to the Rio Santiago we saw Bat Falcon, Scaled Pigeon, Ecuadorian Ground-Dove, Striped Cuckoo (calling on a wire), and Yellow-tailed Oriole. The river trip itself was curiously birdless (it was mid-day) but we saw Green Kingfisher, Spotted Sandpipers and White-thighed Swallows along the short trip.

     On the Playa de Oro trail in the afternoon we saw many birds while battling the heat and humidity. The trail is muddy and rocky in places and goes from 80 m to 180 m elevation as far as we went. It reportedly keeps going for a long ways. It took about a half hour to get from the cabins to good forest but the forest is quite good here as exemplified by these birds:

Rufous-headed Chachalaca (h) Bronzy Hermit
Rufous-fronted Wood-Quail (h) White-whiskered Hermit
Lita Woodpecker Cinnamon Woodpecker
Plain-brown Woodcreeper Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Great Antshrike (h) Western Slaty-Antshrike
Spot-crowned Antvireo (h) White-flanked Antwren
Dot-winged Antwren Chestnut-backed Antbird
Esmereldas Antbird (h) Immaculate Antbird
Spotted Antbird (h) Black-headed Anthtrush (h)
Streak-chested Antpitta (h) Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant
Common Tody-Flycatcher Purple-throated Fruitcrow (h)
White-bearded Manakin Lesser Greenlet
White-breasted Wood-Wren Southern Nightingale-Wren
Tawny-faced Gnatwren (seemingly common) Tropical Gnatcatcher
Orange-bellied Euphonia Red-legged Honeycreeper
Green Honeycreeper Masked Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager Lemon-spectacled Tanager
Tawny-crested Tanager (common) Slate-colored Grosbeak (h)

     Not bad for a hot afternoon - the cold beer went down well. It rained in the night, a pleasant refrain on the thatched roof, although Robert thought some Opossum was feeding its young under the floor through the night. Jonas was so excited this day he temporarily forgot his coat at the Rio jump-off and then one of his tapes at the cabana and then poured lemon drink on Jim at dinner time.


DAY FOUR : Reserva Playa de Oro all day.

     The first bird of the day was a male Blue Cotinga perched on the other side of the river. We tried the same trail as on the previous afternoon, this time stopping to try for the Streak-chested Antpitta. It was glimpsed once. I spent a little extra time trying to get a good look at a Tawny-crested Tanager male - these are perhaps the most common tanagers here but move very quickly. I was rewarded with excellent views of an under-rated, wonderful male. We also saw Lemon-spectacled Tanagers better than yesterday. The highlight of the day was seeing Immaculate, Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds one after the other. The Spotted male was singing in the open and is a spectacular little bird.

     In the afternoon, we tried a trail which heads upriver from the cabins but this was not worthwhile. It did lead to a pleasant and exposed rocky beach for a little rock-skipping and juggling practice. Birds seen this day, not noted for yesterday, include:

Great and Little Tinamou (h) Laughing Falcon
Dusky Pigeon (h, seen the next day) Pallid Dove
Rose-faced Parrot (common here) Blue-headed Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo Gray-rumped Swift
Band-tailed Barbthroat Stripe-throated Hermit
Green-crowned Woodnymph Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
Purple-crowned Fairy White-whiskered Puffbird
Orange-fronted Barbet (3) Stripe-billed Aricari
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Guayaquil Woodpecker Buff-fronted and -throated Foliage-gleaners
Olivaceous Woodcreeper Black-striped Woodcreeper
Spot-crowned Antvireo Pacific Streaked-Antwren
Checker-throated Antwren Dusky Antbird (h)
Stub-tailed Antbird Bicolored Antbird
Olive-striped Flycatcher Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Common Tufted-Flycatcher Gray-capped Flycatcher
Snowy-throated Kingbird Cinnamon Becard
One-colored Becard Masked Tityra
Blue-crowned Manakin Broad-billed Sapayoa ??
Dagua Thrush Barn Swallow
Band-backed Wren Bay Wren
Buff-rumped Warbler Orange-bellied Euphonia
Guira Tanager Buff-throated Saltator
Slate-colored Grosbeak Orange-billed Sparrow
Giant Cowbird Yellow-tailed Oriole


DAY FIVE : Playa de Oro a.m., return to San Lorenzo and INEFAN road.

     We were all awakened by the cries of a nocturnal Swedish Mourner thrashing in his roost. In the morning we tried another trail which first started downriver and then cut left into better forest. This trail produced some good birds and may be as good with further exploration as the main trail we tried twice. A Rufous-tailed Jacamar was seen well by everybody except me. We tried for the Antpitta again wih only slightly better results. It flew across the trail twice and was glimpsed unrecognizably on the ground by me. Rufous-winged Tanagers were seen again, a bird we saw repeated times on this trip. A Rufous Motmot was also seen - then we tried for birds without rufous in their name. Birds seen this morning and not mentioned for the Playa earlier or of some note include:

Laughing Falcon Dusky Pigeon
Rose-faced Parrot White-necked Jacobin
Green-crowned Woodnymph Broad-billed Motmot (h)
Choco Toucan Western Woodhaunter
Griscom's Antwren Slaty Antwren
Bran-colored Flycatcher Song Wren (h)

      After an early lunch, we returned to San Lorenzo. The boat trip downriver took only 35 minutes. In fact, it took us only about two hours to get from Reserva Playa de Oro back to San Lorenzo so the Reserva is easily accessible. For four people staying two nights, with two river trips, all meals and guides to accompany us on the trails, the total cost was $100 U.S. The name of the cabanas is actually the El Paraiso Ecotourismo. On the Rio Santiago we saw Little Blue Heron, Plumbeous Kite and Spotted Sandpipers.

      Near San Lorenzo, along the main road from Lita is a large INEFAN station with some green barracks buildings. There is a hilly gravel road here which goes north towards Colombia. It is not the main Colombia road which we explored only to find major clear-cutting activities occurring just behind a thin veil of trees left along the roadsides. This is the road funded by some Swedish banks, which will soon be oil palm plantations - thanks Swedish banks. On the INEFAN La Chiquita road which still has some good forest we found Rufous-winged Tanagers again, a female Blue Cotinga and a Slate-throated Gnatcatcher along with Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Plain Xenops, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Blue Dacnis, yet another smashing Scarlet-breasted Dacnis and a White-shouldered Tanager.

      In the late afternoon, we went down to the harbor at San Lorenzo which faces large mangrove islands. We did not see anything unusual but added a few birds to the trip list:

Magnificent Frigatebird Brown Pelican
Great and Cattle Egrets Tricolored Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron Little Blue Heron
Osprey

      One last dinner in San Lorenzo at La Estancia Internacional (Camaron al Aljillo and Cerveza Club). The plan was to get up early enough to catch a flock at the "tanager place" below Alto Tambo back on the road towards Lita. This we did.


DAY SIX : San Lorenzo to Alto Tambo to Lita to Ambuqui.

      In the morning we first tried the INEFAN La Chiquita road again and got the hoped-for Black-breasted Puffbird. At the same time we also had a pair of Pied Puffbirds. These two species salvaged an otherwise lackluster morning that included Snowy Egret, Striated Heron, the now common Rose-faced Parrots, White-tailed Trogon, Stripe-billed Arišari, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Western Woodhaunter (h), Plain Antvireo (h), Chestnut-backed, Stub-tailed and Ocellated Antbirds (all h), and Bright-rumped Attila. We moved on to the "tanager place", approximately 380 m on the road from San Lorenzo to Lita. This is an obvious spot in the road overlooking a cliff and broad forested plain below. Our patience was rewarded with a flock that included a pair of Scarlet-and-white , three Gray-and-gold, a pair of GOLDEN-CHESTED and a single incomparable Blue-whiskered Tanager . These were all seen well except for the Golden-chesteds which, alas, only Robert saw. The Blue-whiskered has to rank right up there with the most beautiful of Ecuadorian tanagers. Other birds seen in this area (or at the Moss-backed Tanager spot higher up mentioned on Day Two) were:

Double-toothed Kite Tiny Hawk
Green-fronted Lancebill ?? White-eyed Trogon
Black Phoebe Masked Tityra
Golden-hooded Tanager Rufous-winged Tanager
Tawny-crested Tanager Scarlet-browed Tanager
Dusky-faced Tanager Olive Finch ??

      We then continued to drive on towards Ambuqui, which would be our launch point for Cerro Mongus. Back in the very dry inter-andean zone, we tried to find Scrub Tanagers at the 1400 m locale. No luck with those, but I did get excellent looks at Western Emerald and Blue-headed Sapphire. After getting rooms at the chalet-style Oasis Hosteria ($6/person/night), we left Jonas behind to improve our chances at finding Scrub Tanagers, which we quickly got just outside Ambuqui along the road to Cerro Mongus. The Scrub Tanagers are much greener than portrayed in Hilty and Brown and out-shine their name. A few of the other birds that we saw in the Ambuqui area were Harris Hawk, Black-chested Eagle, Kestrel, Tumbes Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Vermilion Flycatcher, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Tropical Parula - it seems very odd to find them in this dry scrubby, cacti habitat (h), Streaked Saltator and Hooded Siskin. We took much of the hot afternoon off to rest before the very exciting conclusion of the trip. The restaurant at the Oasis is good, if a little slow in service.


DAY SEVEN : Cerro Mongus.

      We left the hotel at 4:00 a.m. to give us plenty of time to get up Cerro Mongus in the morning. The road to the mountain departs from Ambuqui and is now cobble-stoned all the way to Impueran, the usual parking point for the walk up. Thus, it only took us one hour to drive to Impueran (2825 m). The road beyond is packed mud and even in this dry season looked dicey for driving. We did drive up another 115 m and parked at 2940 m. It was still very cool at 5:00 a.m. but soon I would be down to a long sleeve tee shirt as the climb is relentless. We would ultimately get up to about 3400 m on the trails through forest on the mountain called Mondragon by locals. This hike took me about an hour and I am in very good shape, plus we were able to shave 25% of the hike off by driving further than usual. 400 meters up at this altitude is a lot so I don't want to mislead people about Cerro Mongus. If you aren't in average shape you will take at least a couple of hours to get up, and the walk down isn't exactly easy either as there are almost no level patches to rest the ankles. There is essentially no worthwhile birding on the hike as it goes through pasture-land.

      At the first bit of forest (which was being whittled away by logging), we had Andean Guans, Black-thighed Pufflegs, Barred Fruiteaters and Red-crested Cotingas. Everyone goes to Cerro Mongus for two birds, the CRESCENT-FACED ANTPITTA and the Chestnut-bellied Cotinga. We tried the lower trails through forest for the Antpitta with no luck. We headed up to the trail that rises above the landslides to the left. There, in quick succession, we had an Undulated Antpitta on the trail ahead, a Rufous Antpitta just above the trail peering down through the bramble, and then the much sought-after Crescent-faced responding to a tape on the down-slope side of the trail. This bird was seen well by all.

      After snacking, lifting of most of the fog and much scanning of the slopes below at the landslides, Robert spotted a single Chestnut-bellied Cotinga sallying from a tree-top. This species is too new to have been described in Ridgely and Tudor's 1994 volume II so I cannot check on whether my impression of a orangish-chestnut crest was inventive or real - if anyone reading this has access to a description I would be thankful for verification.

      We were all suffering from mild headaches (more due to the sun-deflecting fog than the altitude, I believe) and so didn't spend too much more time on top where Masked and Black-chested Mountain-Tanagers are possible. We did see the largish Black-backed Bush-Tanagers and one flying Golden-crowned Tanager as well as:

Variable Hawk Carunculated Caracara
Andean Snipe Barn Owl
White- and Chestnut-collared Swifts Great Sapphirewing
Buff-winged Starfrontlet Sapphire-vented Puffleg
Golden-breasted Puffleg Tyrian Metaltail
Rainbow-bearded Thornbill Masked Trogon (h)
Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan (h) Crimson-mantled Woodpecker (h)
White-chinned Thistletail Pearled Treerunner
Ash-colored Tapaculo (h) Blackish Tapaculo
Paramo and Ocellated Tapaculos (h) Crowned Chat-Tyrant (h)
Turquoise Jay (h) Rufous and Grass Wrens (h)
Mountain Wren (h) Paramo Pipit
Spectacled Whitestart Black-crested Warber (h)
Masked Flower-piercer Glossy Flower-piercer
Black Flower-piercer Blue-and-black Tanager
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager Pale- and Rufous-naped Brush-Finches
Stripe-headed Brush-Finch (h) Andean Siskin

      Back at the Oasis Hosteria we celebrated dinner along with 70 Colombians and a small band. Originally we had set aside another day if necessary for more Cerro Mongus. Now we could look forward to extra time along the La Bonita road - we could have used even more time birding along that road. As it was we only found one new bird for Ecuador and one new subspecies too.


DAY EIGHT : Ambuqui to Santa Barbara to Tulcan.

      This day was spent exploring the road to La Bonita. Most of the latter portion of this road parallels the Rio Chingual which forms the border with Colombia. The road departs the main highway at Julio Andrade. The first portion passes through what appears to be rich agricultural land but there are occaisonal forested ravines after traveling for about one hour. These quebradas were very productive. Julio Andrade is about one-half hour south of Tulcan (including police check-point) or one hour north of Ambuqui. The road descends from about 2500 m where some forest begins to 1800 m at La Bonita. The last part after Santa Barbara is well forested - the Colombian side is almost pristine. There is at least one acceptable but spare hotel in Santa Barbara and nearby restaurant. There is a very nice inn in La Bonita with panelled quiet rooms. A surprising find in this little town. Bring your own food however. The road, at least in November, was quite passable - a couple of recent landslides had been heavily worked over and there were only a few muddy patches. The road does traverse two rocky streams so 4WD is an absolute necessity. [On a subsequent trip in August, 2000, the weather was fairly miserable the entire time so perhaps November-ish is the best time to visit the La Bonita road.]

      Given its proximity to Colombia and unexplored state, it is to be expected that some range extensions of Colombian birds will be discovered here in the future. Chestnut-crested Cotinga had been seen here some time ago, one of five Ecuadorian records. With what little information Robert was able to glean from various sources - thanks to Niels Krabbe in particular - we were off without knowing quite what to expect. We stopped at several of the promising quebradas and almost immediately had below eye-level looks at numerous Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonias and Red-hooded Tanagers were common today. I will probably never see the Chlorophonias like that again. We also saw just prior to the little river bridge Tourmaline Sunangel - well, all but Mark?! [On the August, 2000 trip I was able to see the male and female Tourmalines well, finally.] Barred Anthrush was heard. The usual tanagers were seen at this altitude: Flame-faced, Beryl-spangled, Grass-green, Blue-and-black, Saffron-crowned, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-, Blue-winged Mountain-, and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers. The most unusual bird was a white-capped form of the Capped Conebill, seen in two different locations. This subspecies has not been reported for Ecuador but occurs in Colombia. Other birds seen today include:

American Kestrel Andean Guan (h)
Plain-breasted Hawk (melanistic form) Band-tailed Pigeon
Barred Parakeet (h) Band-winged Nightjar
White-collared Swift Sparkling Violet-ear
Mountain Velvetbreast Collared Inca
Tyrain Metaltail Long-tailed Slyph
White-bellied Woodstar Emerald Toucanet
Crimson-mantled Woodpecker Azara's Spinetail (h)
Rufous Spinetail Pearled Treerunner
Streaked Tuftedcheek Tyrannine Woodcreeper
Montane Woodcreeper Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (h)
Spillman's Tapaculo Sierran Elaenia
White-tailed Tyrannulet Cinnamon Flycatcher
Handsome Flycatcher Smoke-colored Pewee
Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant Barred Becard
Green-and-black Fruiteater Turquoise Jay
Green Jay Brown-capped Vireo
Blackburnian Warbler Canada Warbler
Citrine Warbler Bluish Flower-piercer
Masked Flower-piercer White-sided Flower-piercer
Summer Tanager Common Bush-Tanager
Rufous-naped Brush-Finch Northern Mountain-Cacique
Olivaceous Siskin (h)

      Night in Tulcan at the Hotel Internacional Torres de Oro. Thin walls, hot water, restaurant: try the chicken. A shocking lack of marmalade the next morning. [We did not discover the fine inn in La Bonita until the subsequent trip, I highly recommned staying there. If it should be full, you can backtrack to Santa Barbara rather than going all the way back to Tulcan as we did.]


DAY NINE : La Bonita road. "It was endemic to Colombia, not anymore!!"

      A Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant was calling in Tulcan this morning. Back to the La Bonita road, this time we planned to get all the way to La Bonita itself, we stopped short yesterday. More Red-hooded Tanagers and a close Green-and-black Fruiteater. Very good looks at an inquisitive Slate-crowned Antpitta. We spent a lot of time scanning fruitlessly trying to find a Chestnut-crested Cotinga. It was while we were chasing a possible cotinga in the fog that Jonas called Robert and me over back towards Jim and him. They had heard a pair of antpittas on either side of the road that Jonas didn't recognize. Jonas was very excited! Armed with its recorded song, we slid down into the forest just off the road some fifty feet away to see if we could bring them over. This strategy worked perfectly, a bird showed up in the relatively open forest just off the ground - we got good looks at it. Completely rufous head, throat and back with slate gray underparts. It was clearly a Bicolored Antpitta, the description and the song were a perfect fit. This is the first Bicolored Antpitta ever recorded in Ecuador, it is listed as scarce and rare in Colombia from only a few sites. November 11, 1999, ~9:50 a.m., 2540 m., just past Santa Barbara on the way to La Bonita. [On the subsequent trip in August, 2000 I was able to find and view at close range another Bicolored just past the location of that mentioned above, same elevation - the call is distinctive.]

      The rest of the day was a little giddy to say the least, I spent much of the time trying to get great birds in the scope. One thing about this road was the great views we typically had of most of the birds. We saw the white-capped Capped Conebill again, the white cap degrades splotchily into dark blue just past the eyes. Jonas and I had a Flame-faced Tanager a few feet from us, Hooded and Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, Rufous-crested Tanagers, Emerald Toucanet (below us of course), Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant close by, oh and Black-collared Jays. And the Chlorophonias again. But I still couldn't find the darn Tourmaline Sunangel. And I just couldn't get excited by the Chestnut-bellied Thrushes (as Hilty says, it "bears a remarkable resemblance to N American Robin"). Other new birds for us for the site were:

White-rumped Hawk Eared Dove
Squirrel Cuckoo Tawny-bellied Hermit
Speckled Hummingbird Sword-billed Hummingbird
Masked Trogon (h) Striped Treehunter (h)
Blackish Tapaculo (h) Torrent Tyrannulet
Slaty-capped Flycatcher (h) Black Phoebe
Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant Red-crested Cotinga
Brown-bellied Swallow Three-striped Warbler
Russet-crowned Warbler Subtropical Cacique


DAY TEN : Tulcan to Quito. "More sweaters than birds."

      We had to travel back to Quito for my return flight out at 11:00 p.m. We stopped for lunch in Otavalo and I bought sweaters and a couple of shirts (hey, it's hard buying kids' sizes in the market). We still had time to try for the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes back at Papallacta Pass, but no luck - I'm two for four on these guys... nor with the Sword-billed in Papallacta itself. But before the Pass we did have two adult Andean Condors, including one perched on a rock face in the scope! There were a few of the usual birds for the area, like Cinclodes and Ground-Tyrants and Tawny Antpittas, etc. We stopped at Paul Greenfield's gallery with the news of the Bicolored Antpitta and Capped Conebill - it sounds as if a brief note on the Antpitta will make it into the forthcoming Birds of Ecuador (look for it in early 2001 or thereafter).


EPILOGUE

      I can't thank our guides Robert Jonsson and Jonas Nilsson or my traveling companion Jim Sipiora enough for their patience in helping me get on birds. We saw some great birds well and explored some areas almost never visited by birders. I will be forever spoiled. Just don't mention the natural superiority of Norwegians!


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