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Friday, 3 January 2020

Ecuador 2019 - part I

It's been a very long time since I posted anything on this weblog. Truth be told, I've spend a lot less time birding and photographing since we moved to Houston. But, now and again, I do take my bins and camera out. And what better reason to do so when you're visiting the cloud forests of Ecuador!

The last week of December saw us spending a few days in Ecuador to enjoy the cloud forest and the tremendous biodiversity it hosts. We only had a few days, and it was not all about birding - though I definitely got my fix and am very tempted to go again soon for a few days.

There is a direct flight from Houston to Quito, arriving around midnight. After a short night in Quito we were picked up in the morning and set off to our first jungle destination, the famous Mashpi lodge ( where we would be staying the next two nights. The Mashpi lodge provides ultimate luxury deep in the cloud forests of the Ecuadorian Choco bioregion, and is one of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. Definitely one of the most high-end lodges that I have ever stayed in!

Clouds and rain are naturally abundant in the cloud forests, but we had daily dry spells from roughly 8 in the morning to early afternoon. And, if the rain wasn't hampering our vision, then the white backdrop of the clouds would make some of the canopy dwelling birds tricky to identify. This did not dampen my spirit though and the guides that we were with seemed very comfortable birding on calls only.

The very first bird we saw at Mashpi was a female Lyre-tailed Nightjar that had picked a roosting spot right at the entrance of the reserve; the males of this rare species are unmistakable, with outer tail feathers that are almost 3 times the length of their body. Quite a good bird to start with!
Female Lyre-tailed Nightjar (Uropsalis lyra)
The afternoon was spend with a very enjoyable forest hike to a waterfall. Though I did see a few birds along the way, I did not take any wildlife pictures with the exception of this female Black-and-white Becard that was foraging close during a rare instance of sunlight piercing through the clouds.
Female Black-and-white Becard (Pachyramphus polychopterus)
The next morning I got up early to do some light birding before breakfast around the lodge with Paul, our guide. It was still very dark (the cloud cover didn't help) and it took a little playing with the camera settings to photograph the birds without flash. Some great species around the lodge, like this Long-wattled Umbrellabird, a large Cotinga that is relatively rare and threatened (VU). The bird pictured is a juvenile male that is starting to develop the long "wattle" coming from the chest.
Long-wattled Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger)
 A female Zeledon's Antbird was relatively confiding in the dense undergrowth next to the trail.
Female Zeledon's Antbird (Myrmeciza zeledoni)
Not surprisingly, Trogons were always a favorite of mine in Borneo. There are a total of 39 recognized species in the Trogonidae family with the majority (24 species) found in the Neotropics. A pair of Collared Trogons were hawking insects close to the lamp posts of the lodge.
Male Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris)
The Tanagers (Thraupidae) comprise a large bird family in the Americas and they were also well represented at Mashpi. Two of the commoner species around the lodge were the Ochre-breasted Tanager and the Moss-backed Tanager. The latter is a Mashpi specialty and not that easy to find elsewhere.
Ochre-breasted Tanager (Chlorothraupis stolzmanni)
Moss-backed Tanager (Bangsia edwardsi)
In the afternoon we had some more time for bird watching and I took my son to Mashpi's butterfly center, that has a good viewing deck overlooking the valley. The short hike over was very wet, but I was very glad to see both Baudo Guan and Scaled Fruiteater. Rain and poor light made for terrible photo conditions and I didn't even try to get my camera out. Luckily, once we reached the deck the rain eased up a little and the light condition improved as well and I soon got my camera out for a few pictures.
Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani)
Buff-throated Saltator (Saltator maximus)
Red-headed Barbet (Eubucco bourcierii)
Two feeders offered great opportunities to see both Toucanets and Aracaris up close.
Pale-mandibled Aricari (Pteroglossus erythropygius)
Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus)
Finally, after quietly observing the feeder from a distance, a shyer Choco Toucan also made a quick dash across to fill up on the bananas.
Choco Toucan (Ramphastos Brevis)
The rain was pouring down the next morning during a little pre-breakfast walk and I did not even bother to take my camera out. After breakfast we spend an hour or so at the hummingbird garden, where a few feeders are set up to attract hummingbirds and a few other species. Feeders always give me an ambivalent feeling; while it is nice to see the different species up close (and I definitely add them to my list), that satisfactory feeling of finding a difficult bird yourself is very much lacking.

Nonetheless, here are a few hummingbirds that we connected with at the feeders:
Empress Brilliant (Heliodoxa Imperatrix)
Velvet-purple Coronet (Boissonneaua jardini)
Velvet-purple Coronet (Boissonneaua jardini)
Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis)
There were other good birds in the area close to the feeders. The tanagers of South and Central America don some fantastic colors in their plumage:
Golden Tanager (Tangara arthus)
Rufous-throated Tanager (Tangara rufigula)
A banana proved too much of a temptation for the Tayra, a rather large Mustelid that can be found across most of South America.
Tayra (Eira barbara)
After this it was back to the lodge, pack our bags and to set off to the next location: Mindo, which will be the topic of a future post.

Folkert, 03/01/2020.

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