Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Ecuador - The East Slope (Part 2)


Black-crested Warbler
After a couple of days high up on the east slope, we moved down lower to San Isidro Lodge. After dinner we were in for a real treat - the San Isidro Owl, an undescribed species or subspecies of owl. It looks like a cross between a Black-banded Owl and a Black and White Owl, but both of those species occur at a much lower elevation. Additionally, this owl in it's present form has been living in the area of San Isidro for many years. To date though, the DNA work on figuring out exactly what species this owl is hasn't been done. A mystery to be solved another day.

San Isidro Owl

July 1, 2021. The next morning we spent some time birding from the elevated deck of the lodge. Lights at night bring in the moths and other insects, and with dawn come the birds to feast on the easy pickings. It was quite a show.

eBird List San Isidro Lodge

View from the elevated deck at San Isidro Lodge

Inca Green jay

Female Masked Trogon

Male Masked Trogon

Montane Woodcreeper

Pale-edged Flycatcher

The rest of the day was spent birding the roads near the lodge, then heading out in the afternoon to bird near the Quijos river. The photography wasn't great, but we did see some great birds. Best of all was the magical Torrent Duck who popped up on a rock in the river out of seemingly nowhere after we'd scanned for quite some time and pretty much given up. 

eBird List road to Quijos

eBird List Rio Quijos

Waterfalls flowing down the canyon wall to the river

Rio Quijos

Torrent Duck

July 2, 2021. The following day was our last birding day of the trip. We left early from the lodge and drove up to the Guacamayos Ridge, a high point on the road before it descends to the Amazon basin. We had some great birds here with lots of flyover swifts of several species at low altitude. Even though I'd seen it in Peru, my most wanted tanager was seen really well here - Grass-green Tanager. And a peekaboo look at the secretive Green-and-Black Fruiteater was pretty cool. 

eBird List Guacamayos Ridge

View toward the Amazon Basin from the ridge

Grass-green Tanager

Green-and-black Fruiteater

Unfortunately, all good things must end. In the afternoon we headed back to Quito for our flights home. Many thanks to our local guide Marcelo for finding us some great birds on the east side. And a very special thanks to tour leader, expert guide, and all around great guy Alvaro Jaramillo of Alvaro's Adventures for a wonderful trip to the Galapagos and East Slope of Ecuador!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Ecuador - The East Slope (Part 1)

Gorgeted Woodstar

Day 1

June 29, 2021. We returned from the Galapagos to Quito. The next morning we were off on a new adventure to the East Slope of the Andes. To reach the slope toward the Amazon we would first climb up to Papallacta Pass at 13,500 feet elevation, and the continental divide. We birded some side roads near the pass in lovely partly cloudy skies. The bird of the morning to that point was Giant Conebill. This species is nomadic and scarce, tied to the polylepsis forests at high elevation. To get even a glimpse of one is a treat, to see one as well as we did was amazing. Another fantastic bird of the high elevation was Rainbow-bearded Thornbill. 

eBird list 1 for Papallacta Pass area

eBird list 2 for Papallacta Pass area

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill

Giant Conebill

We continued up a dirt road to the antenna farm at the Papallacta summit and into the clouds at over 14,200 feet. The visibility was poor, the wind was howling, and it was brutal cold. But we had a bird to find - Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. This grouse-like bird lives in the highest elevation "paramo" zone. It wasn't long (thankfully) before our local guide Marcelo had located a pair and pointed the group toward the birds. We huffed and puffed up the trail a short distance for decent looks in the fog. Pretty darn cool. 

eBird list for the antenna farm

Local guide Marcelo prepares to scout for the seedsnipe

Views from the cloudy summit were ethereal

Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe

We took our time going back down (in the warm bus!) making a few stops for more birding. The flowers in this paramo habitat were amazing, we could easily have spent the whole day just botanizing! 

From Papallacta we moved downslope into the cloud forest and our lodge at Guango. Lots of hummingbird feeders at the lodge to entertain us, even if there was lots of rain too. We got some better weather late in the afternoon and snuck out to bird along the river near the lodge for a while. 

eBird list Guango Lodge feeders

ebird List Guango Lodge walk

Collared Inca

Tourmaline Sunangel

Rio Papallacta

Turquoise Jay

White-capped Dipper

Day 2

June 30, 2021. The following morning we drove back up toward Papallacta on the east side, but the weather didn't cooperate. We saw some birds, and some good ones, but it was tough birding. 

eBird List Papallacta town

Rough weather this morning

Pale-naped Brushfinch

Veridian Metaltail

We had lunch at Guango Lodge and prepared to head off to our next destination at San Isidro Lodge, but not before checking out the hummer feeders again. 

Sword-billed Hummingbird

We made a stop at a private property with hummingbirds at lower elevation. When you change elevation in the tropics, the species are different. This was no exception with many new hummingbirds to see. 

eBird List La Brisa

Hummingbird viewing at La Brisa

Long-tailed Sylph female

Long-tailed Sylph male

Long-tailed Sylph

Gorgeted Woodstar female

Gorgeted Woodstar male

Green-backed Hillstar

That wraps up the first two days of our east slope visit, with two more days to go!

Friday, September 3, 2021

Galapagos - Santa Cruz ( Day 8 )


June 27, 2021. Today was a busy, busy day. Sadly, it was also the day we had to say goodbye to our wonderful crew of the Nemo III. We departed early on the southeast shore of Santa Cruz for a bus ride to the highlands on the major road that traverses the island. Our first stop was an old quarry where we hoped to pick up one or more of our remaining Darwin finches. After a bit of searching we did score wonderful looks at Vegetarian Finch and our best looks yet at Galapagos Mockingbird. 

Quarry eBird List

Great Blue Heron on our zodiac at breakfast

View of the coast from the quarry

Large Ground-Finch

Vegetarian Finch

Vegetarian Finch

Galapagos Mockinbird

We continued farther up into the highlands and our next stop at Los Gemelos, The Sinkholes. The collapsed craters were fascinating to walk around, the nearby elfin forest was busy with lots of birds, and by far our best looks at Woodpecker Finch were had here. 

Los Gemelos eBird List

A very wide panorama of one of the sinkholes


Green Warbler-Finch

Woodpecker Finch

Woodpecker Finch working the moss on a tree trunk

Continuing on we made a quick stop for the endemic subspecies of Barn Owl. 

iPhone photo taken in near darkness

Next up was Rancho Primicias Giant Tortoise Reserve. This former farm is now a tourist destination with many free ranging wild tortoises roaming the open grounds. And a short birding walk in the surrounding forest turned up our last remaining Darwin finch - the Large Tree-Finch. This bird gave us quite a show, landing on a branch out in the open and tearing apart a spider egg nest. 

Rancho Primicias eBird List

Rancho Primicias

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Cattle Egret on tortoise

Galapagos Giant Tortoise video

If the video above isn't working, click here

Large Tree-Finch

In the afternoon we headed into town to check in to our hotel and visit the Charles Darwin Research Center. Here we got to learn about tortoise conservation and breeding, and see Lonesome George, the last of the now extinct Pinta Island Giant Tortoises. 

Lonesome George

Year old baby tortoises

This wraps up our visit to the Galapagos. A special thanks to the crew of the Nemo III, and especially our outstanding Park Service guide Jairo Gusqui. What an outstanding trip to the islands!

But wait, there's more! We flew back to the mainland with Alvaro for an extension trip to the east slope. More great birds to be seen!