Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ecuador - Part 1

AKA - dreaming of the tropics.  You see, I am currently sitting at home here in New England while yet another snowstorm dumps the white stuff outside, and although by 6am I have already shoveled over 8-9" of the stuff so my wife can get to work, I refuse to do any more until it stops.  I'm sorry if I sound a bit bitter - I had scheduled today off from work so that I could do a last scouting and timing run for our our Superbowl of Birding competition on Saturday, but the weather has pretty much put an end to that.  Instead, I am daydreaming about being someplace warm and tropical.  What a better time to finally blog about the trip we took to Ecuador in November?

I should start with a bit about logistics.  First and foremost, I should say that we did this trip with the fine folks at Tropical Birding.  The trip that we took was their "Andes Introtour" which took place from Nov 20-27, based at the very comfortable Tandayapa Lodge, where we also stayed for an extra two nights after the tour ended.  Dominique from Tropical Birding was very helpful, professional, and responsive to my e-mails inquiring about the tour and in setting up things for the extra few nights stay.

The first day was simply a travel day.  We flew to Quito, Ecuador via American Airlines with a several hour stopover in Miami - in all a rather long but uneventful trip.  We made it through customs without a problem, met our driver and were transported to the Hotel Sebastian in Quito.  I can't tell you much about Quito as we arrived well after dark and had a quick meal at the hotel before going to bed.

Early on the 21st, we showered and went down to breakfast at the hotel where we met Sam, our guide for the trip, our driver Nico, and the other folks on the tour.  We packed out things on the bus and headed off to our first destination - Yanacocha Reserve with a quick stop on the way for everybody to get a look at the nearby Pichincha Volcano...

It was still quite early morning as we made our way to the reserve, so we made few stops for birds along the way - although one of the first birds we did stop for was a big target bird for me - Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, a gorgeous but distant bird.  Upon arriving at the reserve, we were quickly treated to views of Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, and then probably the most easily seen of all the antpittas, a very cooperative Tawny Antpitta.
We then proceeded to bird for a mile or so along a wide and easy trail (mountain road really) spotting mountain tanagers, flycatchers, a Blackish Tapaculo, a Barred Fruiteater, and a few hummingbirds along the way to a spot where there were feeders set-up, and boy did that start things off with a bang!  Even the light rain couldn't dampen the spirits of this group as we were treated to eye-popping views of hummingbirds that dreams (and nature specials) are made of!  I cannot recall which was the first species we saw, but they were all quite stunning.
Buff-winged Starfrontlets were common, and we saw quite a few on the walk in to the feeders, but here there were photo opportunities rather than just buzzing by us...

Sapphire-vented Pufflegs were pretty easy to see and identify:
And hummingbirds weren't the only visitors to the feeders -there were flowerpiercers visiting as well.
Masked Flowerpiercer:
and Glossy Flowerpiercer:
Also seen (but not depicted here) were Speckled Hummingbird, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Black-tailed Trainbearer, and Tyrian Metaltail.

Easily though, the stars of the feeder show for me were the goliath Great Sapphirewing:

and one of the birds that had been on my "top ten list of birds to see in the world" - the aptly named Sword-billed Hummingbird:
The first time I learned of this bird was years ago when I first watched David Attenborough's "Life of Birds" series, and have been dying to see it since. (Now that I think about it, probably all of my top 10 birds to see, I learned about originally from that series!) This bird does not disappoint in person either. With a bill that is longer than its body (the only bird in the world I believe in which this is the case) it has to preen with its feet, and actually has to sit in the position you see above, or else he'll probably topple over. I'd say the only disappointing part of seeing this bird, is actually having to leave. But there were more birds to see, and leave we must. Due to the rain, we birded a little less on the way back to the bus. And then we headed to the Old Nono-Mindo road - an unpaved road that used to be the main route between the cities for which it is named, but with newer paved roads, it seems to become more of a nature/birding route, and we encountered little traffic as we made stops at spots the Sam knew for some of the target species of the trip - including Beautiful Jay and Turquoise Jay, White-capped Dipper, Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, and then another bird that was on my "top ten list of birds to see in the world" - Andean Cock-of-the Rock.  (How often can you knock off TWO species on a list like that in one day!)  At first, they were little specs of orange on the other side of the valley, but as evening progressed, they because a little more active, and eventually we got pretty nice scope looks.  And almost as exciting, while we were all enjoying these bright orange cotingas, Nico quietly pointed out that there was a Plate-billed Mountain Toucan in a small tree right next to where we had parked the bus.  Everybody got spectacular looks at this iconic, endemic Ecuadorian bird.  (And not only endemic to Ecuador, but only to this area as well - called the Choco region).  Unfortunately for me, I was completely unprepared for this, the settings on the camera were completely off for the situation, and I didn't have my monopod to try and steady the bigger lens in the waning light (this by the way is another thing that separates the pros from the hacks like me - being prepared for the unexpected!) so I missed some of the better possible shots, but to give you a hint of what this beautiful bird looks like...
By all means, go do a google search on this bird and see some other images of this beauty- I won't blame you for doing it now... just be sure to come back.

By the time we arrived back at the lodge, it was starting to get dark, and although some made it to the porch for their first looks at the hummingbirds at Tandayapa - I was trying to recover from climbing the stairs to the lodge.  Not sure if it was not being used to the elevation (I tend not to notice elevation problems until I am out of breath and on my knees from trying to go too fast) or if I was just feeling the fatigue more than I expected - but either way - I learned that for the next several days, when we returned to the lodge to take it much easier doing the last climb of the day.
We had out first of many excellent meals, and that evening a few of us headed out to see if we could find an owl, and were rewarded with excellent looks of Columbian Screech-Owl - a great way to end a spectacular day of birding.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Back to the Superbowl of Birding

Yes folks, you heard right - the Bloggerhead Kingbirds are going back to the Superbowl of Birding. If you're from New England, or have followed this blog for any period of time, you might know about this birding competition.  And if not, they click the link above for the MassAudubon's competition home page. (And heck, if you've got time and the brass cojones to pull a team together we wouldn't mind another team on the playing field to beat - though I warn you, brass can get mighty cold in these parts in late January.)

This will mark the third year where I will be captain of a team of bird bloggers - all of whom really ought to be familiar to you - and if not, than you should most definitely follow the ring of introductions that we are doing. (Actually, you should follow the links from each of my teammates no matter what, because honestly, I've had a sneak peak at some of what these guys are writing, and they are some very *witty guys... which make me wonder why I am still allowed to be counted among them)

Next up, the one, the only (thank god) Corey of 10,000 Birds fame!  As an original member of the Bloggerhead Kingbirds, Corey will be returning for his third year of punishment competition in whatever weather New England feels fit to throw at us.  His drive to compete and win is something astounding - as well as his Barred Owl, which you know if you ever heard it. (And believe me, birds several counties away can hear it when he does!)

(And in case you happened to stumble upon my blog first - do make sure to visit Andrew also)

PS - I want to also give a shout out to Amy and Arthur over at who generously designed the team logo for us a few years ago - still lovin' that logo!!! When you're done reading the team posts, go over to their site and show them some love. Buy a shirt, hat, something with your favorite bird on it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bird Photography Weekly #126

"Ispwich" Savannah Sparrow - Passerculus sandwichensis

A subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow, and typically paler than the nominate, the "Ipswich" Savannah Sparrows breed in Nova Scotia, and can be found along the North Atlantic coastline, especially during the winter.

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

And to see some great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bird Photography Weekly #125

White-winged Crossbill - Loxia leucoptera

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

And to see some great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bird Photography Weekly #124

Trying to improve my results with photos of birds-in-flight, and this one from the past weekend appeals to me.  It was not planned, I just noticed it flying towards me out of the corner of my eye while fighting the wind to try and photograph a few Gadwall, and got this one shot off as she passed me. Still need to work on technique, but getting there...

Red-breasted Merganser - Mergus serrator

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

And to see some great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bird Photography Weekly #123

American Kestrel - Falco sparverius

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

And to see some great bird photos from around the world, check out: