Monday, November 16, 2015

Birding in Ecuador: Part 6 - Cabañas San Isidro

After Guango Lodge (read about my time there by clicking here), we moved on to another well-known lodge on the eastern slope, Cabañas San Isidro. We arrived late in the day but still had time to check out the hummingbird feeders before it got dark.

Two Chestnut-breasted Coronets deciding whether to keep chasing each other off or to rest for a bit.
The next morning we rose early and spent nine hours birding around the property. During that time, we found 79 species including great looks at special species like Barred Antthrush, Azara's Spinetail, Rusty-winged Barbtail, and Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia. The full eBird list can be found here.

Ince Jays (Same species as Green Jay now as they have been lumped)
were a common sight about Cabañas San Isidro
In the late afternoon, Edison and I decided to see if we could find one of our big targets for the trip, Torrent Duck. The small town below Cabañas San Isidro sits on a beautiful rushing river and is a great spot to look for this amazing duck. It didn't take us long to find a pair once we arrived!

Since we knew Brian would really want to see this species, we ran back up to where he was photographing hummingbirds and took him back down to the river to see the birds. Although they never got very close, Brian managed a pretty good photo of the male.

A male Torrent Duck ready to jump in the rushing water.
The next morning, after some brief birding and breakfast, we continued on farther down the eastern slope, birding our way to the next lodge, WildSumaco.

This Collared Trogon posed quite nicely for Brian.
Southern Lapwings can be found just a few minutes down the road form Cabañas San Isidro.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Enjoying my Time at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

I've just returned back home in Indiana after spending a wonderful 6 days guiding field trips for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF) in south Texas. There are many events that I look forward to attending year after year and the RGVBF is certainly one of them. The birding is always fantastic and like all of the big festivals, it brings together many of my birding friends from all over the world that I only get to see a few times a year.

I enjoyed watching as many as eight Anhingas at a small fish hatchery.
During my five days of birding, I saw 160 species including some of the awesome RGV specialties such as Green Jay, Altamira Oriole, Plain Chachalaca, and Olive Sparrow as well as the very rare for Texas "Western" Flycatcher (either a Pacific-slope or Cordilleran).

Many people have identified this as a Pacific-slope Flycatcher based on its call but it didn't vocalize while I was watching it so I'll just leave it as "western" flycatcher.
If you've never attended the RGVBF, I highly recommend that you consider coming in 2016. Keep an eye on the festival's website for more information.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Birding in Ecuador: Part 5 - Guango Lodge

Once we crossed over Papallacta Pass, it was just a short drive to get to Guano Lodge. Although this is just a small lodge, the birding on their property is incredible. There are numerous hummingbird feeders that you can see immediately as you get out of the car which makes it really hard to do anything other than start birding right away.

Buff-tailed Coronet - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Long-tailed Sylph - Photo by Brian Zwiebel

Sword-billed Hummingbird - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Tourmaline Sunangel - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Once you get past the incredible hummingbirds, the birding along the trails is great as well! Some of the highlights included Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Citrine, Black-crested, and Russet-crowned Warblers, Hooded, Lacrimose, Scarlet-bellied, and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanagers, and Mountain Cacique.

Masked Flowerpiercers are common at the hummingbird feeders at Guango Lodge  - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
After birding at Guango for a few hours the next morning, we noticed that it looked clean up at Papallacta Pass so Edison and I jumped in the car and headed that way. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful days in the pass. The skies were clear and we could see all the way to Quito! Since it was clear, the birding was much easier than when the area is covered in fog. Our major highlight was incredible views of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe!

Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe - Photo by Edison Buenaño
We spent the rest of the day and the next morning birding at Guango before packing up and making our way towards Cabañas San Isidro. Along the way, Edison had a special bird for us to see, Black-and-chestnut Eagle. Although we only saw them from a distance, this was one of the highlight species of my entire trip!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Birding in Ecuador: Part 4 - Antisana

One of my favorite parts of trips to the tropics is the opportunity to visit high elevation areas, especially páramo. Since the Antisana is one of the best páramo habitats that can be visited, I was especially excited to get to the park. It was a beautiful drive from Quito over to the park and we had the added bonus of being able to take some photos of the erupting Cotopaxi since it was a beautiful clear day.

Cotopaxi Volcano - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Just before arriving at the park, we stopped at a roadside restaurant that had a few hummingbird feeders and is a great place to look for Andean Condor. We had good but distant views of the condor and enjoyed watching Giant Hummingbirds and Shining Sunbeams come in to the feeders.

Although these high elevation sites don't tend to have huge species lists, the quality of the birds you see more than makes up for it! Some of our highlights included Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Teal, Silvery Grebe, Black-faced Ibis, Andean Lapwing, Andean Gull, Tawny Antpitta, Chestnut-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Many-striped Canastero, and Paramo Pipit.

Andean Lapwing - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Black-faced Ibis - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Carunculated Caracara - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Paramo Pipit - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Tawny Antpitta - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
After spending the whole morning birding and photographing at Antisana, we started our long drive back towards Quito and then up through Papallacta Pass to Guango Lodge. Although we had planned to bird near Papallacta Pass, the fog was extremely thick making birding impossible. Check back soon to read about the rest of our awesome trip to Ecuador.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Birding in Ecuador: Part 3 - The Rest of Our Time in Mindo

After our incredible visit to Refugio Paz de las Aves (read about this part of the trip here), we spent a few more days birding around the Mindo area.

Flame-faced Tanager is one of the most common birds that visits banana feeders in this area. Photo by Brian Zwiebel
The next day, we started early so that we could get to Rio Silanche early in the day. Since it's at a significantly lower elevation, there were many new birds to be seen! Highlights included Little Cuckoo, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Red-billed Scythebill, Masked Water-Tyrant, and Blue-whiskered and Scarlet-browed Tanagers.

In the afternoon, we headed back up the mountain and made a stop at Milpe Bird Sanctuary. Although the afternoon birding was a bit slow, we did find Guayaquil Woodpecker, Clue-winged Manakin, and Golden-bellied Warbler. Hummingbirds were also very active at the feeders.

Green-crowned Brilliant - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Velvet-purple Coronet - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
The next day, before going back to Quito, we had a few more stops to make. The first was at a couple feeding stations in the Mashpi area. The main highlight of the feeders is the wide variety of tanagers that are attracted to the bananas! Some of the best that stopped by for a bite to eat were, Moss-backed, Glistening-green, and Beryl-spangled Tanagers and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager. In addition to the tanagers at the feeders, we saw a few other incredible birds in the area including, Uniform Treehaunter, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Andean and Black Solitaires, and Swallow Tanager.

Glistening-green Tanager - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Moss-backed Tanager - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
We had one more special stop to make before we went back to Quito for the night, an Oilbird roosting site. When we pulled up, the location sure didn't seem like much but everything changed once we walked back into the gorge. There were 18 Oilbirds visible and they allowed Brian to get amazing photos.

Oilbird - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
We made it back to Quito late in the day and enjoyed another night at Hotel Quito including dinner on the top floor of the hotel overlooking the city.

Check back soon to read about our time at Antisana and on the Eastern Slope.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Whitefish Point Vagrants

We've had a recent surge of vagrants to Whitefish Point.  Within the last week Hepatic Tanager (1st state record), Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Cave Swallow have all been seen.  And, the point is an area less than one square mile; it's pretty unbelievable.  Other rarities this season include 4 Western Kingbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Lark Bunting, 3 Townsend's Solitaires, at least 3 Harris's Sparrows, and Common Ground-Dove.

As I am the waterbird counter, I should mention some waterbirds.  The highlights have been Pomarine Jaeger, Arctic Tern, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Pacific Loon.  Now, if only the next couple weeks can produce an eider or alcid.

The first Michigan record, Hepatic Tanager
A tail-less Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Birding in Ecuador: Part 2 - Refugio Paz de las Aves

To read about the first day of the trip, please click here.

Rob writes: Our day started before sunrise as we had to arrive at the famous Refugio Paz de las Aves before the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock started displaying. The birds put on quite a show although photography was rather difficult in the low light. We did have spectacular looks at two Cloud Forest Pygmy-Owls!

Cloud Forest Pygmy-Owl
Once the cock-of-the-rock stopped displaying, we moved on the see Angel Paz's real show, the antpittas. Our first stop was for Yellow-breasted Antpitta. These birds sure are loyal to Angel's feeding schedule!

At the next feeding station, we were entertained by many hummingbirds and a family of Dark-backed Wood-Quails before a Giant Antpitta arrived.

Dark-backed Wood-Quail
The next targets took a little more hiking to get to but we found a feeding flock along the way and added a bunch of new species for the day including Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner and Russet-crowned Warbler.

Although it took a long time for the Rufous-breasted Antthrush to show, it was worth the wait. We snapped dozens of photos as it perched and strutted along a log! As we watched, another Giant Antpitta made an appearence and I was able to get down to where the Ochre-breasted Antpitta feeds just before it flew away.

Rufous-breasted Antthrush
We ended the morning with a wonderful breakfast while watching tanagers, toucanets, and barbets. There were still a ton of birds to find so Edison and I pulled Brian away from the easy photography at the feeders and moved on to Tandayapa Pass.

While the photography wasn't as good for Brian, the birding was fantastic! We added a ton of new species including one of my most sought after birds, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. We also hit several flocks of tanagers which adds a lot of excitement to the birding.

The remainder of our day was spend watching and photographing hummingbirds at a couple of different feeding stations. While at our final stop, a pair of Masked Trogons decided to be very cooperative for photos.
Masked Trogon - Male