Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ecuador: Republic of the Equator. Week 1-Part 1

Tandayapa Bird Lodge.  The name is famous among those in the birding world, even to those who have never been there, those who wish they could go someday.  What does the name mean? It means birding in the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, a place in which more than 300 species can be seen.  It means traveling a short distance and birding the world famous Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve, some of the most pristine cloud forest in the world. Travel a short distance down-mountain and you reach the Jocotoco Foundation's Reserva de Milpe, a lesser known, but up and coming birding hotspot.  It means driving the old Nono-Mindo road, home to some of the best birding in the world.  But it also means home to Tandayapa Lodge, the best spot in the world to see Hummingbirds.  Some 14 species regularly patronize the lodge feeders with some days seeing 16 or more species.

Tandayapa Lodge is owned and operated by Tropical Birding, a birding tour company that runs tours around the world.  During the spring and summer, there is usually a volunteer resident at the lodge to help point out birds to clients and keep the place shipshape.  I had the good fortune to spend 3 weeks in April as one of these volunteers.  The following is an account of the 3 weeks that I spent birding around the lodge and areas nearby. In all, I found 209 species (rather pitiful for South America, but pretty decent considering where I went and that I spent most of the three weeks right around the lodge itself).

I flew into Quito on April 1st. The 5 hour flight got just a tad long towards the end. Arriving at the airport after 9pm, I caught a taxi to my hotel in downtown Quito.  The next morning, I awoke early and hopped outside on the balcony.  I quickly picked out a dove that looked suspiciously like a Mourning Dove. A quick check of my field guide revealed that this was in fact an Eared Dove, superficially similar to Mourning Dove but, of course, Ecuadorian.  Several Great Thrushes were present in the area as well.

A couple hours later, Nick Athanas of Tropical Birding came to pick me up and take me to the Tropical Birding office. Sparkling Violetears were almost deafening, calling from the trees around the office. There, I met Pablo Cervantes (the manager of the lodge) who was going to take me up to the lodge.   Pablo spoke some english and he and I communicated fairly well, so the drive up was quite pleasant.  On the way, I was surprised at the amount of rainforest that had been logged off for farmland:

Once we got back into the Tandayapa Valley, it became a bit more natural and much more of the forest was protected. The "road" up the valley was narrow and muddy and full of potholes. Not the world's greatest road by any means, but at least you could call it a road. Sort of.....

The driveway up to the lodge was in substantially worse shape due to a recent landslide that took out half the driveway:

You could sort of call it a road.

I hauled my suitcase out of the car and then discovered the infamous stairs. Rising nearly 100ft straight up from the parking area. 77 steps later, I got my first look at the lodge. It was a long, low building with a single main room and a long hallway with bedrooms on either side.  Pablo directed me to what was to be my room for the next 3 weeks.

Once I had dumped my belongings in my room, I grabbed my camera and bins and took off, checking out the amazing bird life around the lodge.

Since there wasn't much light left, I spent most of the time watching the Hummingbird feeders attempting to figure out exactly what each Hummer was.
The most common bird at the feeders was by far Buff-tailed Coronets like this one above.  They were also one of the more vocal Hummingbirds in the area.  Green Violetear was the other.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird was the first species I recognized having seen it in Costa Rica a month earlier:

This one appears to have gotten into quite a fight and lost part of it's lower mandible.
I was amazed at the number of Hummingbirds there that had bent or broken bills. I would guess a lot of it is due to fighting, but who knows how much of it is due to environment as well.

As I watched, another Hummingbird with a long tail flew in. It made a quick visit to the feeder, then flew to a nearby perch, flaunting it's long, violet-purple tail.  Violet-tailed Sylph!!  This Choco endemic was high on my list of must-see birds and here was one, sitting right in front of me:

Unfortunately, the bird's tail was too long to get the whole bird in the frame, and have it appear larger than a pixel.  They are amazing birds. One of the larger Hummers at the feeders, they can be bullies sometimes, but nowhere near as bad as the Buff-tailed Coronets that perch near a feeder and guard it.  

One of the other common birds at the feeders was this Booted Raquet-tail. While not an endemic, these little guys are one of the most sought after birds of the tropics.  They're about the size of a Rufous Hummingbird (maybe a tad smaller) and the males have long tail streamers with feathered "Raquets" at the end. The only similar species is the Peruvian endemic Marvelous Spatuletail.  Both sexes of Booted Raquet-tail have the white, feathered "boots" around their legs. 


A less common, but still totally awesome visitor to the feeders is the tiny Purple-throated Woodstar.  While not the smallest of Hummingbirds, they do have the fastest wingbeats of any bird; their wings buzzing at nearly 130 beats per second.

Seeing 14 lifer species of Hummingbirds in less than an hour is a completely overwhelming experience. Identifying each of the 12 species proved tricky at first, but within a day or two, I became used to recognizing each of the 14 regular species without having to refer to my field guide.  

After a quick dinner, darkness falling, I turned in after an awesome first day in the tropics of Ecuador.  


Mathieu W said...

interesting how you describe the Violet-tailed Sylph with its tail, so long it's impossible to catch in in a shot...
Seems like you haven't seen the Black-tailed Trainbearer. I would say it's tail is double as long...
Cheers Mathieu

Chris W said...

Haha, well, I could've zoomed out and captured the whole bird, however, it would've been pixel size.

To clarify, it was impossible to capture the entire bird with a 400mm zoom.

Something similar happened with the Sword-billed Hummingbird. It was also difficult to capture the entire bird without zooming way out. Same problem with Lyre-tailed Nightjar, The tail is too darn long.

p.s. I missed the Trainbearer.

Alf said...

When are you going to go to Peru and get the Marvelous Spatuletail?

Chris W said...

I'm flying to Peru on Thurs. unfortunately, no Spatuletails scheduled for this trip......