Birding Ecuador, 4.11.16-26.11.16:

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All done, 526 species (give or take), with 14 heard, but not seen, during our jaunt to Ecuador.
All that remains for me to do now is thank my travelling companions and dear friends, Mike Stocker, Tropical Thomason (centre in pic above with a Common Potoo growing out of his head) and June Watt for an unforgettable adventure.
Tropical’s exceptional planning skills meant the birding tsunami never stopped.
I hope folk find this blog useful and/or entertaining, and that anyone coming to it in the future works out the last of the 25 entries in it comes first as it were.
I also hope Trops soon realises that his “luxuriant head of hair” which sprouted in the jungle actually looks more like the static fuzz on a baby’s head after you rub it with a balloon.
Of course I must thank all the brilliant people in Ecuador who gave us advice, guided us and kept us fed and watered so magnificently too.
There’s not a lot else to add really, except to offer the following advice to anyone lucky enough to be heading to Ecuador in the future:
Always make sure your wheels are fully stocked with bananas, check they are correctly stowed, and NEVER say “no” to a Pilsener.

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Vaya con dios amigos…

Eastern lowlands/Amazon tally; 21.11.16-24.11.16:

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The list from the land of the Potoo – and beyond, taking in the road trip from Coca down to El Puente Cuyabeno, the Cuyabeno varzea wilderness and waterways and the sandbars west of Dureno.
As usual, as they come, in no particular order – I’m not that organised.
Grey Breasted Martin, Pale Vented Pigeon, Peregrine Falcon, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Swallow Winged Puffbird, Eastern Kingbird, Greater Yellow Headed Vulture, Slate Coloured Hawk, Greater Ani, Chestnut Eared Aracari, Plain Breasted Ground Dove, Yellow Tufted Woodpecker, Short Tailed Swift, Blue and Yellow Macaw.

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Blue and Yellow Macaw – adult and youngster

Orange Winged Parrot, Tropical Kingbird, Ringed Kingfisher, Blue Grey Tanager, Dusky Capped Flycatcher, Amazon Kingfisher, Blue Headed Parrot, Black Billed Thrush, Violaceous Jay, Many Banded Aracari, Russet Backed Oropendola, Yellow Rumped Cacique, Grey Headed Kite, Spix’s Guan, Great Black Hawk, Little Blue Heron, Sungrebe, Pale Rumped Swift, Tropical Screech Owl, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Common Piping Guan, Yellow Headed Parrot, Greater Kiskadee, Great Potoo, Lineated Woodpecker, Black Headed Parrot, Cocoi Heron, Fork Tailed Palm Swift, Roadside Hawk, Striated Heron, Anhinga, White Necked Puffbird, Wood Stork, White Browed Purpletuft, Green Ibis, Long Tailed Potoo, Bat Falcon.

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

Ornate Hawk Eagle, Laughing Falcon, Lesser Kiskadee, Black Caracara, Osprey, Neotropic Cormorant, Plumbeous Pigeon, Ruddy Pigeon, Yellow Billed Tern, White Winged Swallow, White Banded Swallow, Mealy Parrot, Cream Coloured Woodpecker, Speckled Chachalaca, Southern Lapwing, Boat Billed Flycatcher, Hoatzin, Boat Billed Heron, Black Crowned Night Heron.

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Hoatzin at sunset

Greater Yellowlegs, Thrush Like Wren, Least Sandpiper, Pied Plover, Collared Plover, Grey Fronted Dove.

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Thrush Like Wren

Heard onlys: Spectacled Owl, Band Bellied Owl and Little Tinamou.

BEASTIES:
Brown Agouti, Black Agouti, Spider Monkey, White Faced Capuchin, Black Tamarind, Monk Saki (bonkers), Three Toed Sloth, Pink River Dolphin, Fishing Bat, Spectacled Caiman, Black Caiman, Smokey Jungle Frog, Bromeliad Frog.

Keep waving, but gun that throttle…

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We bid our goodbyes to the Cuyabeno tribe early on 24.11.16, as we had many miles to go and the clock was ticking.
Tropical Screech Owl, Band Bellied Owl and Spectacled Owl were all calling in the night, but were a distant memory as we sped down the narrow channels towards El Puente and the ranger office – don’t worry of course the canoe’ll fit down that narrow channel….breathe in Mike and June.

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Not wanting to waste an entire day driving once we’d collected the Toyota from behind the ranger office and brushed the branches and monkey poop off it, Trops had a cunning plan involving a track in the eastern foothills a good few hours away but at least halfway back to Quito, which we were aiming for.
Tyres squealed on gravel and we were off at 0745 past Blue and Yellow Macaws, Little Blue Heron, Swallow Winged Puffbird and Speckled Chachalaca.
All was going well until a large area of sandbars appeared on the Aguarico river below us, just west of Dureno – and a gravel extraction company’s road seemed to lead down to it.
New habitat – there was only one thing to do.

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We reasoned that if folk complained we could always trot out the ever-helpful “No hablo espanol” line if challenged and claim we thought the sign read: “Sandbar Reserve, Pied Plover haven, birders most welcome”.
As it was, the workers seemed happy for us to bird the sandbars from just beside their shacks – an arrangement that turned out very well.

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Within seconds of getting out of the car a pair of Thrush-like Wrens (500th species of the trip!!!) popped up in the trees above us, while Greater Yellowlegs and Collared Plovers were out on the sand.

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Thrush-like Wren – number 500

Least Sandpiper, Ruddy Ground Dove and Grey Fronted Dove were picked up too as we ‘scoped the dark sand and stony channels, but we were all only looking for one bird, and Mike picked it up in the sweltering heat after about 30 minutes.
Two Pied Plovers were flying around the channels a good distance away, but looking stunning through the scopes – like monochrome Egyptian Plovers (not that I’ve been lucky enough to see one of those babies…yet) they lit up the grey morning.
I make no apology for using this appalling blur blow-up of one of them, they were just brilliant little waders.

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Pied Plover

The unscheduled stop had put us a bit behind time, but what the hell, we drove on along the lousy roads, and after a few hours Trops handed me the wheel and the bendy hairpins and steep slopes were my problem until we got to the Baeza – Borgas track, an area of farmland and woodland in the eastern foothills of the Andes.
Distractions on the way included excellent hitch-hiking skills in front of us (a salutory illustration of why you should never stick your head between the bus luggage bars if ever there was one), a bouncy-bendy bridge made of recycled elastic bands, and plenty of bouncy-bendy White Banded Swallows.

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White Banded Swallows

Just before we found the Baeza-Borga track we enjoyed a superb roadside Red Breasted Blackbird – what an icterid, as it fed in an overgrown pasture, perching up and flashing it’s lurid red throat and breast.

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Red Breasted Blackbird

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Red Breasted Blackbird

The track and surrounding habitat was tasty, even in the afternoon heat, with Sharp Shinned/Plain Breasted Hawk, Olive Chested Flycatcher, Spot Breasted Woodpecker, Blackburnian Warblers galore and Flame Faced Tanagers.
The murky river at the base of the valley still held a pair of Torrent Ducks and a superb Cliff Swallow (memories of Scilly flooded back).

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I drove up and over the Papalacta Pass trying not to stare at the scenery too much, just about managing to stay on the tarmac.
We got back to Puembo shortly after nightfall, where we arrived unannounced at Arie’s Cabins to stay the night.
The great man promptly sorted our rooms out and drove us out to his wife’s spiffing pizza and Mexican joint, where steins of cold beer fell before us like leaves from a Ceiba in an Amazonian lightning storm.
After hammering Antisana the next day (see earlier entry in the Andean part of the blog), it was time to pack and head to Mariscal Sucre for the long flight home.
Up at 0515 we counted 17 Pied Billed Grebes on the irrigation lake next to Mariscal Sucre, with Andean Coot and Great Egret.
Then we had just enough time on 26.11.16 to check out the arid cactus spikey habitat up at Bosque Protector Jerusalem an hour or so from check-in on the high and dry slopes to the north of Quito.
This recreational park had some surprises – and fine Giant Hummingbirds – despite being used by walkers, cyclists etc etc.
Band Tailed Barbthroat, 3-4 Harris Hawks, Shiny Cowbird, Vermillion Flycatchers and Scrub Tanagers passed the time, but the site for Stygian Owl here (the only one in Ecuador) hasn’t hosted a bird for some time…perhaps something to do with the extensive “gardening” of the scrub?
That’s life.
The Streak Breasted Bush Tyrants helped make up for the owl no-show…a site speciality.

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Streak Breasted Bush Tyrant

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Vermillion Flycatcher

Hot birding, but enjoyable as the minutes ticked down to check-in.

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Hoped you’ve all enjoyed the Ecuador blogging – there’s a bit more to come yet from this stunning country, so bear with me.

Potoos on parade

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The long canoe’s outboard coughed into action after a hearty, if tense breakfast, and we finally pulled away from Cuyabeno River Lodge at 9am on 23.11.16 – destination the “Laguna Grande” where all manner of birding wonderment had been promised to us by the lodge team.
Clearly they were anxious to atone for nearly killing us on the death march, but far more importantly, they had to make up for failing to find any birds for us so far, and the job had fallen to “Mr Pacarito” and an enigmatic, nameless yet skilful boatman.
Pale Rumped Swift, Blue Headed Parrot (why do parrots always seem to be in such a tear-arse hurry?), Kiskadees, Oropendolas and Caciques flew past as the boat sped east downriver for 30-40km till we were close to the Colombian border in the vastness of the waterlogged forest.
Mercifully the birding was top notch in the searing heat – a superbly obliging Rufescent Tiger Heron, Yellow Headed and Black Headed Parrot, Common Piping Guan and Anhingas, White Necked Puffbirds and Wood Stork all made the boat trip wonderfully exciting.
Even the painfully beautiful (and largely unidentified) butterflies of the Amazon seemed anxious to cheer us up today.

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All aboard: Amazonian pelagic

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Blue and Yellow Macaws

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Anhinga

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Heavenly butterflies…anyone have an id?

It was all pretty good, and it got considerably better when we cut the engines to drift underneath a dozing Great Potoo – a species I have wanted to see since hearing one in the pitch black night of the Costa Rican rainforest many many mosquito bites ago.

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Great Potoo

Apparently the Great Potoo has been dozing in this particular tree for six months at least – so it is kind of nailed down, but nonetheless welcome.

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Lineated Woodpecker and Cocoi Heron gave themselves up, as did Green Ibis, and while we were having to call most of the stuff ourselves, the boatman cut the engines whenever we got animated, so that was just fine – especially when finds included weirdos like White Browed Purpletuft – tubby little critters that prefer the high canopy, usually invisible, unless you are in a boat looking up at them…

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White Browed Purpletuft

A frustratingly brief Ornate Hawk Eagle launched itself out of the branches before we could get a good view, but a few flocks of Blue and Yellow Macaws, Sungrebe, Bat Falcon and cracking Lesser Kiskadees (brill) later, the boat’s outboard was cut again and we sidled back on the current under another overhanging tree for potoo number two for the day.
Perhaps the most cryptic of these odd birds, our first Long Tailed Potoo blinked down at us through the branches – mega!

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Long Tailed Potoo

A White Faced Capuchin danced out of the branches to see what we were so happy about, and as midday loomed and the temperatures peaked we drifted down widening river channels until we were suddenly in the vastness of the Laguna Grande – a huge flooded area where several rivers converged – but what birds did it have?

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White Faced Capuchin

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Laguna Grande

Osprey and Black Caracara perched up on the crowns of Macrolobium trees poking out of the tea dark waters.
They were joined by Plumbeous and Ruddy Pigeons – this was more like it.
Cruising close under the crowns of the “tree islands” we scored with another Long Tailed Potoo, dozing away in its own weird camouflage-perfect universe.

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Black Caracara

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Long Tailed Potoo

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Long Tailed Potoo

Yellow Billed Tern fished the waters alongside White Winged Swallows as we pushed on upriver towards a Siona settlement for a spot of culture, manioc harvesting and cassava manufacture.
As you do.
I should at this point refer readers to the machete rule written about on earlier blog entries.
When you’ve got a blade that big, you can wear what you want as part of a proud Amazonian nation.

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The good folk of San Victoriano were dignified and quietly spoken (no one told us we had to wear our party dresses), as they tolerated a visit from yet another bunch of tourists, especially when said tourists had a Common Potoo pointed out to them on the edge of the manioc patch…

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Common Potoo

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Common Potoo

What extraordinary birds.
Three species of potoo in a day. Awesome.
The afternoon Amazonian rains arrived dead on cue as a Southern Lapwing dropped onto the riverbank and we had a go at poison dart blow-piping.
The village dogs made themselves scarce when the blow-pipes came out, but they needn’t have worried, I don’t think we could have hit a Three Toed Sloth with a banana at point-blank range…

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Amazon rain

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Southern Lapwing

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Three Toed Sloth

Fed, watered and confident in our abilities to starve real fast in the jungle with our new-found hunting skills (or lack thereof), we began the journey back upriver, arriving at the Laguna Grande for some jaw dropping sunset action…

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Isn’t that pretty – but even better was the Pink River Dolphin occasionally breaking the oil calm water – a remarkable pink beast with a long beak and tiny triangular central dorsal fin.
I wasn’t expecting a cetacean tick on this trip.
Hoatzins were still trying to reconcile themselves with the “Stinky Turkey” label in the branches above, while Boat Billed Heron and Night Heron were attempting to lie low in the leaf islands of the lagoon before night fell.
Fishing bats began to criss-cross the water like fat nightjars as the day disappeared, and our torches raked the banks for views of Spectacled and Black Caiman.
Then the driver asked for the torches to be turned off as it interfered with his Jedi night vision and we tore on down the pitch black narrow channels as the last of the light disappeared in the black mass of jungle branches.
The force was strong with this one – which was just as well as he was navigating blind at an alarming rate of mosquito shredding knots…
I didn’t fancy our chances much if left to our own devices out here at night, but it was still cool to spend a few minutes with a Bromeliad Frog, down out of the canopy for a night time expedition by the river.

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Bromeliad Frog

The Cuyabeno crew had redeemed themselves with a storming Amazon adventure.
God knows what time we got back to Cuyabeno, but another power outtage meant the beer was warming nicely by candlelight as we prepped for an early morning evac from the jungle the next day.
The list stood at 497 and counting…

This far up the creek, a paddle is but a fond memory.

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With a spring in our step and a squeak in the Toyota’s suspension, we tootled on down the Loreto Road east into the Amazonian lowlands, where the temperatures and humidity soared and the trees had long since been sacrificed to the petro-deity we all worship at the feet of (whether we like to admit it or not).
An ugly black pipeline started to snake alongside the road making me feel guilty.
Lightening the mood were a variety of classic South American traffic hazards as Trops sped along, from the very humble VERY DEEP pothole and Chapa Muerte to unattended head-on horses dragging timber down the highway, to landslides, road collapses, and my own personal favourite, a 50 foot long electric caterpillar buggy complete with smiley face driver’s cabin like you see in a funfair.
Except we were a very long way from the funfair.
Trops made excellent time despite these and other distractions (“did that man really not have any troosers on?” “why is there a cow/horse/llama in the road?”) as we slid past Coca and Lago Agrio, where a surprise Peregrine circled over the city.
We paid small children car protection dollars while we used the free wifi at KFC like everyone else – what would the Colonel say?

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Urban Peregrine, South American style

The petro-chemical towns got grimmer and grimmer and smaller, and increasing air pollution forced the Toyota’s windows right up as HGVs thundered past bearing an obscene amount of huge tropical hardwoods.
Let he or she who is without petroleum products cast the first stone.
We car-ticked our first Grey Breasted Martins in the tatty outskirts of Coca and Pale Vented Pigeon still further down the road, while at a crossing over the Rio Aguarico we encountered Swallow Winged Puffbirds – weird family members that were more like a cotinga/hirundine hybrid than a Puffbird.
Eastern Kingbird darted across the road as we neared the end of the tarmac and the trees began to reclaim the landscape a long way east of past anywhere, hours down the trail at El Puente Cuyabeno.

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Swallow Tailed Puffbird

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Rio Aguarico crossing

Once we’d signed in at the ranger lodge on the edge of the national park (Cuyabeno is the second largest in Ecuador), we dumped the wheels, and with a small rucksack each, headed down to the jetty to be taken upriver to another world and the charms of the Cuyabeno River Lodge, about 20 minutes away through narrow Amazonian channels, snagged with sunken tree trunks and overhung by varzea forest.

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End of the road

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Slate Coloured Hawk and Giant Ani flew ahead of the boat as we whipped over the muddy brown water towards the lodge.
Cuyabeno was a tad basic, but to be fair everyone was rushing to get it ready before a Ministry of the Environment inspection due in just a few days.
If only the inspection had took place before we arrived.
The clearing by the slow moving river was a blur of sanding, varnish and drills.

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This gave things a certain edge, not least in the sense that all planks on the raised boardwalks around the site were no longer nailed down – which meant if you stood on the edge of a board you could be catapulted into space and down into the river below.
My how we all laughed.
Nervously.
It was kinda Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets the Addams Family.
There’s our house there – Liana Lodge, which Trops had carefully marked in tribal territorial style with a pair of laundered bilstons and pumps, slowly rotting in the Amazonian humidity between downpours.

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Who needs plumbing when you’ve got hot and cold bats in the thatch?
On our first evening we got a walk in through the local area of varzea but it was quiet apart from small numbers of ants, Chestnut Eared Aracaris and some fine Blue and Yellow Macaws – our first, but they turned out to be quite widespread.
Then it was time for a good jungle feed after the electricity failed and the cold beers began to turn warm.
We turned in as the huge Smokey Jungle Frogs (groovy stripey pyjamas and the size of a melon) emerged to patrol, and Spectacled Owl and Little Tinamou were calling.

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Smokey Jungle Frog

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Next morning the Oropendolas and Spider Monkeys began to “sing” from about 0510 and we were anxious to be out and birding.
At 6am we rowed down the river to the ranger outpost past Amazon Kingfishers and walked back with one of the Cuyabeno guides – Mr Pacarito.

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Amazon Kingfisher

The man called a few new species of birds and mammals for us – Orange Winged Parrot and Black Agouti – but we found a fair bit of stuff ourself, notably Grey Headed Kite, Spix’s Guan and Pale Rumped Swift.
No matter, it was time for brekky and after that a day exploring the river by boat, fishing for Piranha and searching for Anaconda.
We were ready for adventure…

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Except suddenly Mr Pacarito was called away on urgent business and we were joined by Mario, who although well meaning, knew less about Amazonian wildlife than I do about varzea varnishing.
After two and half hours paddling upstream with just a few Black Vultures and Great Anis to show for our efforts it was clear we were screwed.
Things took a turn for the worse when a fallen trunk barred the way for the canoe – time to haul the boat over the trunk and slither up and over the muddy ten foot high vertical bank, before dropping down to the water again on the other side of the trunk.
At least it was an adventure…

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We paddled on for another hour or so into a pool bend on the river, where the heavens opened and piranha begged for scraps of our lunch – I think that’s why they were circling the canoe as it slowly filled with rainwater anyway.
Our guides took the decision to walk back to the lodge through the varzea and we set off in the rain.
Five and a half hours later we were still walking, after they became hopelessly lost.
There’s nothing quite like being reassured by your guide that they know where they are going when your compass shows you have just trekked two clicks west before forging east for another two clicks.
Varzea forest (it floods deeply when the rains come as opposed to terra firme which does not) is as tough a habitat to bird in as I have ever come across to be honest – we heard two or three Screaming Phias in the canopy but couldn’t see them in the harsh, rain sluiced light – the sky is white and the leaves are black, black, black against it…
Lost in the Amazon and we’d been there for less than a day!
Eventually search parties found us and brought us back down river to the lodge where our guides apologised profusely and we attempted to blot out the memory of the death march we had just survived with as much Pilsener as we could find in Cuyabeno.
But not before we explained clearly to the staff that the birding/rowing ratio had better improve drastically in the bird direction the next day…
Spirits were momentarily raised with good views of a Tropical Screech Owl behind our hammocks.
Still the feverish darkness of the festering jungle was upon us, and I was reminded of the words of Werner Herzog in his brilliant “Conquest of the Useless”:

“…In this setting, left unfinished and abandoned by God in wrath, the birds do not sing, they shriek in pain, and confused trees tangle with one another like battling Titans…”

Quite.

East Slope and Misahualli list; 14.11.16-21.11.16:

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East slope tally, taking in Guango Lodge, the Baeza area, Cabanas San Isidro, the Loreto Road, Comedor Susanita ad all points west to Wild Sumaco, plus the riverine delights of Misahualli, species in no particular order, just as they came…
Chestnut Breasted Coronet, Swordbilled Hummingbird, Canada Warbler, White Banded Tyrannulet, Collared Inca, White Bellied Woodstar, Buff Tailed Coronet, Green Jay, Slaty Backed Chat Tyrant, Spectacled Whitestart, Chestnut Crowned Antpitta, White Capped Dipper, Blackburnian Warbler, Turquoise Jay, Fawn Breasted Brilliant, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Tourmaline Sunangel Northern Mountain Cacique, Montane Woodcreeper, Torrent Duck, Mountain Wren, Grey Breasted Mountain Toucan, Masked Flowerpiercer, Glowing Puffleg, Buff Winged Starfrontlet,Brown Bellied Swallow, Great Thrush, Black Crested Warbler, Pearled Treerunner, Masked Trogon, Scarlet Bellied Mountain Tanager, Rufous Wren, Hooded Mountain Tanager, Black Capped Hemisphingus, Blue and Black Tanager, Rufous Collared Sparrow, Gorgeted Woodstar, Bronzy Inca, Turkey Vulture.
Napo Sabrewing, Golden Tailed Sapphire, Sparkling Violet-Ear, Fork Tailed Woodnymph, Green Hermit, Orange Bellied Euphonia, Violet Headed Hummingbird, Russet Backed Oropendola, Cliff Flycatcher, Yellow Throated Tanager, Rufous Breasted Woodquail, Silver Beaked Tanager, Blue and White Swallow, Deep Blue Flowerpiercer.

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Fasciated Tiger Heron

Snowy Egret, Great White Egret, Yellow Headed Caracara, White Winged Swallow, Spotted Sandpiper, Black Vulture, White Banded Swallow, Blue Grey Tanager, House Wren, Blue Black Grassquit, Roadside Hawk, Cobalt Winged Parakeet, Yellow Rumped Cacique, White Eyed Parakeet, Short Tailed Swift, Black Fronted Nunbird, Ringed Kingfisher, Fork Tailed Palm Swift, Yellow Bellied Dacnis, Neoptropic Cormorant, Lesser Swallow Tailed Swift, Great Kiskadee, Magpie Tanager, Black Breasted Mango, Chestnut Bellied Seedfinch, Yellow Green Vireo, Tropical Kingbird, Yellow Tufted Woodpecker, Olive Sided Flycatcher, Black Capped Tityra, Palm Tanager, Mottled Backed Elaenia, Black Caracara, Blue Winged Parrotlet, Giant Cowbird, LaFresnaye’s Piculet, Turquoise Tanager, Sungrebe, Lemon Throated Barbet, Troupial, Short Crested Flycatcher, Ruddy Ground Dove, Spot Breasted Woodpecker, Gilded Barbet, Plumbeous Kite, Thick Billed Euphonia, Great Ani, Snail Kite, Striated Heron, Hoatzin, Black Billed Thrush, Amazon Kingfisher.

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Amazon Kingfisher

Eastern Wood Peewee, Crested Oropendola, Chestnut Eared Aracari, Scarlet Tanager, Violaceous Jay, Smooth Billed Ani, Short Tailed Swift, Red Stained Woodpecker, Speckled Chachalaca, Blue Headed Parrot, Southern Rough Winged Swallow, Social Flycatcher, Speckle Faced Parrot, White Collared Swift, Yellow Headed Vulture, Caqueta Seedeater, Yellow Breasted Flycatcher, Maroon Tailed Parakeet, Grey Capped Flycatcher, Black Tailed Tityra, Cattle Egret, Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, Green Kingfisher, Wattled Jacana, Black Capped Donacobius, Grey Necked Woodrail.

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Hoatzin

Solitary Black Cacique, Blackpoll Warbler, Laughing Falcon, Piratic Flycatcher, Greyish Saltator, Little Woodpecker, Masked Crimson Tanager, Feral Pigeon, Black Phoebe, Yellow Browed Sparrow, Fasciated Tiger Heron, Squirrel Cuckoo, Swallow Tanager, Many Banded Aracari, Many Spotted Hummingbird, White Tailed Hillstar, Western Wood Peewee, Wire Crested Thorntail, Brown Violet-Ear, Booted Racquet-tail, White Necked Jacobin, Western Emerald, Gould’s Jewelfront, Black Throated Brilliant, Blue Dacnis, Montane Foliagegleaner, Lesser Violet-Ear, Swainson’s Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Chestnut Fronted Macaw, Blue Fronted Lancebill, American Redstart, White Backed Fire-Eye, Fulvous Shrike Tanager, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Black and White Becard, Summer Tanager, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Rufous Tailed Foliage-gleaner, Brown Capped Vireo, Slaty Capped Flycatcher, Olive Backed Woodcreeper, Streaked Xenops, Red Headed Barbet, Rufous Rumped Antwren, Plain Backed Antpitta, Ochre Breasted Antpitta, White Faced Woodquail, Black Mandibled Toucan, Spotted Nightingale Thrush, Paradise Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Tropical Parula, Chestnut Billed Thrush, Bay Headed Tanager, Golden Faced Tyrannulet, Bananaquit, Black and White Seedeater, Barred Forest Falcon, Golden Collared Toucanet, White Lined Tanager, Ruddy Pigeon, Channel Billed Toucan, Marble Faced Bristle Tyrant, PLain Antvireo, White Crowned Manakin, Black Streaked Puffbird, Scaled Fruiteater, Foothill Antwren, Ash Browed Spinetail, White Tipped Sicklebill, Striped Manakin, Rufous Naped Greenlet, Olive Striped Flycatcher, Ornate Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Dark Breasted Spinetail, Short Tailed Ant Thrush, Military Macaw, Yellow Bellied Tanager, Golden Collared Honeycreeper, Lined Antshrike, Olivaceous Greenlet, White Fronted Tyrannulet, Yellow Breasted Antwren, Chestnut Crowned Gnateater, Black and White Tody Flycatcher, Spotted Tanager, Slaty Antwren, Spotted Barbtail, Plain Antvireo, Plumbeous Pigeon.

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Fulvous Shrike Tanger (female)

Southern Lapwing, Black Tailed Treehunter, Collared Trogon, Dusky Spinetail, Blackish Antbird, Red Billed Tyrannulet, Sooty Headed Tyrannulet, Slate Coloured Grosbeak, Blue Rumped Manakin, White Throated Spadebill, Variegated Bristletail, Russet Antshrike, Orange Eared Tanager, Foothill Elaenia, Yellow Throated Bush Tanager, Golden Winged Manakin, Spectacled Bristle Tyrant, Bronze Winged Euphonia. Ashy Throated Bush Tanager, Green and Gold Tanager, Black Antbird, Plain Winged Antshrike, White Chested Puffbird, Foothill Screech Owl, Band Bellied Screech Owl, Dusky Capped Flycatcher, Fasciated Antshrike.
Red Breasted Blackbird, Olive Chested Flycatcher, Cliff Swallow, Plain Breasted Hawk.
Heard only: Buckley’s Forest Falcon, Rufescent and Tropical Screech Owl, Coraya Wren, White Breasted Woodquail, Green Backed Trogon, Pale Eyed Thrush, Tawny Breasted Screech Owl, Great Potoo, Mealy Amazon.

Wild Sumaco: Living the dream

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Have you ever had a proper birding dream?
Not one of those fleeting indistinct images of a composite mega-rarity flitting thro’ your REM in blurry sleep black and white fuzz.
I mean a full-on, full-colour, every-species-identifiable-cavalcade-in-molecule-crisp-detail of quality birds that you remember when you wake up and keep smiling about for a day or two afterwards.
Even though your recall is tinged with the realisation and regret that the Sibe Rubythroat/Wryneck/Bluetail/Pechora/Evening Grozza/Thick Billed Warbler combo only happened in your sleep along some not quite accurate imagined track underneath a duvet lighthouse on a dream headland that you have not been to yet, “proper birding dreams” make you feel good.
Ain’t nothing to do with the cheese baby.
I think I’ve only had three of these snoozy trips in my life.
Until I woke up on 19.11.16 at Wild Sumaco that is.
And my eyes were wide open for this one.
After a quick three course breakfast (ahem), Byron the guide took us out into the early morning gloom while we got our bearings for a day walking the cloud forest trails with him.
It’s hard to explain just how good it was, apart from pointing out that the first bird that turned up was a Cerulean Warbler.
And I missed it.
Normally the monumental dip of a bird I have yearned to see all my life would not be the way I’d start my perfect day, but I needn’t have worried – we’d go on see FIVE of them within the next hour.

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Where Cerulean Warblers spend the winter

The first four (!) were females/sub-adults, but by the time I’d got my head round the fact that I was in wintering Cerulean central, I was more than ready for the electric blue and white vision of an adult male.
No pictures, I was too busy watching.
And smiling.
An incredible bird, so beautiful and something I’ve dreamt of seeing for years.
The closest I’d ever come before was drooling over a slide by Mike McKavett of a male from High Island, Texas, years ago.
Now I had seen one in the flesh, but this is Wild Sumaco, and you simply don’t have time to dwell on former glories, even if said former glories were only happening a few seconds ago…
Byron wandered on down the Coopman’s Trail, calmly getting us onto White Backed Fire-Eye, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Blue Fronted Lancebill, Fulvous Shrike Tanager and Ecuadorian Tyrannulet.
The bloke knew his stuff, and where to find it.

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Ecuadorian Tyrannulet

Chestnut-Fronted Macaw squawked over and a surprise American Redstart went all Mae West in the canopy above us – the only one of the latter we would see on the trip.
I don’t think many make it this far down below in winter.
Summer Tanagers and Swainson’s Thrushes were everywhere in the misty moss-covered branches, as Byron asked us to hold up on the trail while he dropped down to the “worm feeding station” below us.
Surprisingly, he failed to attract any worms in the early morning gloom, but he did manage to bring in a Plain-Backed Antpitta, Ochre Breasted Antpitta (pic at top of this entry), White Faced Quail Dove and the ultra light-sensitive Spotted Nightingale Thrush.
Which wasn’t half bad.

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Plain Backed Antpitta

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Spotted Nightingale Thrush

Click. Gasp. Click. Gasp. Click. Gasp.
The mist turned a bit drizzly as we stumbled, beaming and gob-smacked, away from this little patch of birding Nirvana…and strode onto the next one.
Trops nailed a Chestnut Bellied Thrush, before we headed down the F.A.C.E trail where lifer after lifer, and more Ceruleans awaited us.
Channel Billed Toucan. Marble Faced Bristle Tyrant. Plain Antvireo. White Crowned Manakin. Black Streaked Puffbird. Scaled Fruiteater. Foothill Antwren. Ash-Browed Spinetail.
It was astonishing – and that was without the canopy feeding Ceruleans above us.
Round about 0850 that morning we realised what F.A.C.E. in the trail’s name stood for:
F***in’ Amazing. Ceruleans Everywhere.

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There’s Mr Gualavisi – he may only look about 12 years old (sorry Byron), but I haven’t met many birders as good as him, even allowing for this being his patch.
Exceptional.
Birds just kept coming – hard work for nearly an hour from Byron got us great views of Striped Manakin in the canopy (a difficult critter to connect with), while new flycatchers included Olive Striped and feeding flocks drew in plenty more birds for us.
A detour on the way back for our three-course lunch (these guys were real slave drivers), gave us Short Tailed Ant-Thrush and Military Macaws squawked past against leaden misty skies.

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Military Macaws

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What paradise looks like

Yellow Breasted Antwren, Olivaceous Greenlet, Yellow Bellied Tanager and Lined Antshrike patiently waited for us to finish our rations before we hit the trails again.
The inevitable afternoon rains of the cloud forest didn’t stop Byron digging out still more top drawer birds for us: Chestnut Crowned Gnateater (it took two days for all four of us to see it well), Black and White Tody Flycatcher, Slaty Antwren, Spotted Barbtail and Spotted Tanager helped the post lunch digestion, as did a stop off at the old Wild Sumaco ranger cabin feeders, where Ecuadorian Piedtail jostled with Gould’s Jewelfront, Napo Sabrewing and Black Throated Brilliant.
I had to be dreaming.

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Amid the bird blizzard there was still time to appreciate the little details – the Booted Racquet-Tails on this side of the Andes had buffy troosers, whilst those in the west, a lifetime away in the past, had gleaming white pantaloons.
Byron left us late afternoon to try to rationalise what we’d seen during the day, but Wild Sumaco was still on form – point-blank Brown Violet-Ears and Wire-Crested Thorntails while I blatted a Coati in the mist from the lodge deck at 5pm.

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Brown Violet-Ear

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Wire Crested Thorntail

It was only later that Wild Sumaco ace Jonas Nilsson asked for my Coati pics, as apparently this particularly sub-species/species of the furry tree raccoon has yet to be formally described by science – I’ll let you know how he gets on with that one.
Sometimes you forget you are in wilderness Andean cloud forest, especially when the Pilseners are flowing…

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Coati sp???

Remember where you saw it first, as this could be hot news in the Coati world.
As night drew in and the Pilsener tsunami peaked (why, oh why, did we set up a tab????) the moths began to arrive on the lodge windows – thousands of ’em.
Moth species new to science are found with some regularity on this window and wall, so it wasn’t startling to find that it was popular with Cane Toads and owls.

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It was however surprising how many were similar to species that regularly blunder into our traps at home…convergent evolution at the pub no less.
But we were at Wild Sumaco for birds not bugs, no matter how groovy.

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November 20th dawned cool and clear and we hit the trails with Byron again at 0630.
The Waterfall and Phia Trail awaited us – thousands of steep steps, stunning cloud forest and jaw-dropping birding, but not before we had a crack at Buckley’s Forest Falcon on the edges up past the Coopmans Trail.
Heard, but not seen.
Elusive is as elusive does.
No dream is perfect.

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Luckily Black Tailed Treehunter and Collared Trogon had waved us off for another mega-morning…who says you can’t keep dreaming for 48 hours?

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Collared Trogon

Parking near the top of the Waterfall Trail we scored Red Billed Tyrannulet, Sooty Headed Tyrannulet and Slate Coloured Grosbeak amongst the Blackburnians…

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Red Billed Tyrannulet

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Blackburnian Warbler

Chestnut Crowned Gnateater finally gave itself up to all of us, and was joined by class acts including Blue Rumped Manakin, White Throated Spadebill and another Ochre Beasted Antpitta.

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White Throated Spadebill

Edging down steep Waterfall Trail steps (all 1,525 of ’em) we hit a mega-feeding flock, full of flycatchers, funarids, warblers and many cool anty antbirds.
It took the best part of 90 minutes to work through it as the birds flashed past us, paused or whistled through the canopy….still the dream went on.
Variegated Bristle Tyrant, Spectacled Bristle Tyrant and Marble Faced Bristle Tyrant, Fulvous Shrike Tanager, Russet Antshrike, Slaty Capped Shrike Vireo, Orange Eared Tanager, Golden Winged Manakin, Red Headed Barbet and everyone’s favourite, the relatively newly discovered Foothill Elaenia.
We were lucky to watch such a vulnerable species, restricted to a tiny range and suffering badly from deforestation.
Yet still the reverie continued.
A fine Yellow Throated Bush Tanager here, a Paradise Tanager there.

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Foothill Elaenia

Yup, we were birding in dreamland.
Byron led us back towards the distant lodge, pausing for crippling views of Black Antbird and Plain Winged Antshrike, while we could hear Short Tailed Ant-Thrush and Coraya Wren away in the green depths of paradise.
But this remarkable guide hadn’t finished yet – playback for nearly an hour failed to lure his target out, but he kept working despite the high temperatures at 1,400m.
Then, over his shoulder, he muttered: “Come in”, as calmly as if he was inviting us into his living room, before stepping off the trail and forging down the steep slope into the belly of the beast.
Down we plunged after him, as quietly (not very) as possible after the treasure.
Welcome to the cloud forest, bugs, branches, a cathedral of leaves and after nearly an hour of work, superb views of the low-perching White Chested Puffbird – stonker!!!!

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We were left to our own devices in the afternoon – I think we were meant to have a rest before owling that night, but I did the Lodge Loop Trail with Mike for more hummers, Golden Fronted Tyrannulet and Ornate Flycatchers all over the place.
Once we’d forced another three courses and a barrel of Pilsener down our necks at teatime, it was time to go owling.
Quite splendidly we were accompanied by Steve Joyner, birding Ecuador like us, but then we never co-wrote “The Birds of Blakeney Point” AND found me, Neill and Trops our only Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler in 2001 (point-blank and still in my top five birds ever) on the hellish shingle – funny how small the world is.
Great to meet you Steve – but it was time for owling with Byron, and we pushed out into the pitch black and down the F.A.C.E. Trail, where after the chiggers had got really up close and personal with Trops and I, Byron lit up a fine Foothill Screech Owl (split from Vermiculated Screech now, but you wouldn’t know it from my flash free pic).

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Foothill Screech Owl

Yeah, yeah, yeah, blurry but who wants to frighten an owl with flash?
And after all, I thought this was meant to be a dream sequence.
Once we’d collected sufficient chiggers (have these guys not heard of Permethrine???), we trudged back to the lodge, hearing, but not seeing Rufescent and Tropical Screech Owl.
The distinctive calls of Band Bellied Owl surged out of the velvetty blackness, and soon one was right by the track above us, a top quality owl, well worth the new bitey bitey bug friends we’d made.

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Band Bellied Owl

Belting…time for more Pilsener and magnificent birding chatter as the windows filled with moths and the potential for more jaw-dropping South American birding unfolded before us.
A brilliant two days – many thanks to all at Wild Sumaco, especially Byron Gualavisi, Coralina and Jonas Nilsson.
We’d never have found as much as we did without Byron, and never have been as spoilt as we were, but for the professionalism of Coralina and the Wild Sumaco crew.
Next morning, when I realised I had to leave heaven unless I could get under the deck without anyone seeing and set up a new home beneath the sleepers, we manned up to our bar tab and said our goodbyes.
The ever-helpful Coralina invited us to have a quick look at one last Wild Sumaco resident before we hit the trail.

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Tropical Screech Owlet

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Stranded after the nest tree was toppled in a recent storm, the team have been looking after this Tropical Screech Owl fledgling until it can be released into the forest again.
Supercool, but while I once ticked a Scops Owl moments after it had been released from a catbox in Glasgow, even I don’t think you can tick a Tropical Screech Owl in a tent.
Not even in my wildest dreams.
As we rolled down the track back towards the Loreto Road on 21.11.16, Wild Sumaco kept on giving – no fewer than 13 Military Macaws dropped in to the palms around the lodge, much to the excitement of Jonas Nilsson et al – hardly surprising as it was the first time they’d visited the lodge rather than just fly over, shattering the sky with their squawks.
The seriously endangered is the norm as far as garden birds are concerned at Wild Sumaco.
Even as we left heaven, and the lurching, bouncing course of the Toyota down the hillside started to wake me up to reality, we scored a Fasciated Antshrike, Swallow Tanager and many more Chestnut-Bellied Seedfinches.
Dream on everyone, dream on…..

Back through the bustle and into the foothills again.

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Misahualli was a fantastic place, but we had to move on (What? You thought Blogasaurus Rex was over? Nah, I was just taking an Xmas break), and we did just that on 18/11/16, pulling out and driving north through the big town grime of downtown Tena, before cutting off onto the Loreto Road again on the way to Wild Sumaco.
It was good to get back into the greenery and waterfalls after the traffic snarl of Tena, where we had our first sighting of Father Christmas for the year and plenty more besides.
Once fuelled up it was good to stop at the first roadside restaurante just past the start of the Loreto Road for a coffee and spot of birding.
A fine Fasciated Tiger Heron was fishing the river below us, Roadside Hawk and Blue and White Swallow were above us and the coffee tasted good.

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Fasciated Tiger Heron

A check of the scrub beneath the road revealed a male Swallow Tanager, which you can never tire of watching.
They seem to have something of a Waxwing about them, which is no mean feat for a blue bird.

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Swallow Tanager

There were plenty of Black Phoebes here too and the unobtrusive, (but quite nice really) Yellow Browed Sparrow.

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Yellow Browed Sparrow

We dawdled down the Loreto Road, pausing to enjoy the Cliff Flycatchers again, Squirrel Cuckoo and Many Banded Aracari, before we got to Comedor Susanita’s for another hummer session.
It would be quite easy to spend all your time in Ecuador just visiting feeders, especially a set up as good as this one.
A half hour visit today yielded Many Spotted Hummingbird, White Tailed Hillstar, Golden Tailed Sapphire and Violet Headed Hummingbirds amongst the butterflies.
Lovely.
By early afternoon we turned off the Loreto and headed slowly up the bumpy track towards Wild Sumaco, the lodge we were going to spend the next few days at.
We got to the site by 3pm having been bamboozled by a selection of ever troublesome Wood Peewees, all tricky, all Western on call.

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Western Wood Peewee

First impressions of Wild Sumaco were very promising – Wire Crested Thorntails (hummingbird at the top of this entry) galore, Many Spotted Hummer, Brown and Sparkling Violetear, Booted Racquet-tail, White Necked Jacobin, Western Emerald, Gould’s Jewelfront, Fork Tailed Woodnymph, Black Throated Brilliant and Green Hermit fizzed around the hummingbird feeders and the view from the deck was a breathtaking as the smells coming from the kitchen were appetising.

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Plenty of birds to get to grips with here we thought, before sampling the house Pilsener and sitting down with our guide for the next day Byron Gualavisi, who ran through this spectacular cloud forest reserve’s ENORMOUS list asking us what we would like to see.
Answer: “All of it, with a Harpy on top!!”
While Byron couldn’t sort out the Harpy he did manage just about everything else for us in the following days of extremely heavy score.
The rations were tough this high up into the Sumaco massif though – a mere three courses, three times a day of some of the finest grub I’ve been lucky enough to scoff on a birding trip – cauliflower soup, fish, rice, vegetables, crumble and ice-cream; wild mushroom tortillas, fennel spuds, stuffed chicken and pineapple cheesecake – and that was just the packed lunch.
Sometimes you’ve got to rough it for your birds.

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Wild Sumaco Lodge

Okay, the staff were among the most helpful people I have met, there was even hot water in the shower and the surrounding cloud forest was just about birding heaven on earth (but keep that to yourselves).
If you ever get the chance – go to this place.
It ain’t cheap, but then heaven never was.
Warning: Intense birding nirvana bloggery imminent.

More tales from the riverbank

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We didn’t spend all our time at Misahualli playing about on punts – a bit of exploring further afield reaped rewards too, although it very quickly became obvious that the middle of the day was as birdless as any of the other lowland tropical places we have visited over the years.
Early morning forays gave us plenty of Dark Billed Thrushes (filling the Ecuadorian Thrush niche here and breeding around the bridge over the Napo), Blue Headed Parrot (faster wingbeats than the others), Chestnut Eared Aracari and Caqueta Seedeater (a Mike Stocker special, proving that double checking what appears to be the commonplace can often yield results in Ecuador).
Yellow Headed Vulture began to show up more often too, swooping far lower than TVs usually do.

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Dark Billed Thrush

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Chestnut Eared Aracari

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Greater Yellow Headed Vulture

Once things began to warm we’d head back to Banana Lodge for a great breakfast and hospitality from Anna and Eduardo, before the only thing to do in the heat of the day was scan the river below the lodge (the Neotropic Otter at the top of this entry popped up out of the water beneath me one morning) and slowly melt.
Plenty of Spotted Sandpiper, White Breasted and White Winged Swallows, and in the feeding flocks that moved along the banks, Black Tailed Tityra, Grey Capped and Yellow Breasted Flycatcher and Maroon Tailed Parakeets.

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Spotted Sandpiper

Planning sessions in the “cool” of the night were frequently disturbed by startling moths hurtling out of the blackness.

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Trips to the nearby national park at Jatun Sacha were hot, hard, work with little reward, but you have to bird somewhere at the hot time of the day…nice butterflies though.

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We returned late one afternoon for a (speed) walk out with the fastest guide on earth Marco, who was a blur in the trees ahead of us for most of the time as the afternoon rains battered the forest and turned it into a drippng sauna, but he was the one with the machete.
To be fair he did show us Limpkin, Wattled Jacana, Green Kingfisher and some superb Black Capped Donacobius, but we’d hoped for a bit more at this reserve – can’t win ’em all I suppose.

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Where the Stinky Turkey is King

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In the calm before the stifling daytime heat on the 6am road between Misahualli and Puerto Misahualli, we quickly appreciated the “no win” trade-off between a distinct absence of any “up” versus stultifying humidity.
The humidity didn’t so much go through the roof as melt it by 10am, and the sky was illuminated by silently flashing lightning after 2.30pm each day, presaging conditions that were muggy beyond muggy.
But the birding was great below 400m, and as long as you had three showers a day, and maintained a consistent banana/Pilsener diet, you could cope well enough.
The road leading away from Banana Lodge had Black Throated Mango, Violaceous Jay, Russet Backed and Crested Oropendolas, Yellow Rumped Caciques and Troupials, Magpie Tanagers, Yellow Headed Caracara and many other goodies as we strolled alongside the Misahualli River, which runs into the bigger Napo in town.

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Magpie Tanager

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Yellow Headed Caracara

Local commuters, machete salesmen and schoolchildren seemed happy enough, perhaps because Ecuador had beaten Venezuela 3-0 in the footy the night before, or maybe it was because it was just a good sunny morning to be out.
Clouds of swifts zoomed about above us, some easy to identify, others a bit more tricky.
Fork Tailed Palm Swift, Lesser Swallow Tailed Swift, White Collared and Short Tailed Swift all ripped about in the blue, while White Banded and White Winged Swallows were a bit easier to watch as they skimmed along over the river that meandered wide and brown beside the road, or perched up on the boulders along the banks.
Chestnut Bellied Seedfinches, Ringed Kingfisher and stacks of huge electric blue Morpho butterflies that tottered down the tarmac (unphotograph-able as ever) reminded us that new, lower altitudes meant new birds and bugs.
Yellow Green Vireo was commoner, as was Black Phoebe, but Blue Winged Parrotlet, with its Crossbill-like call was new.
So was the splendid Mottle Backed Elaenia and the tiny LaFresnaye’s Piculet.

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Yellow Green Vireo

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Black Phoebe

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Blue Winged Parrotlet

Like an old friend from 16 years ago would be, an encounter with an Olive Sided Flycatcher was a lovely surprise – imagine if it was the same one we saw at Cape May all that time ago? (joke)

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Olive Sided Flycatcher

Nice waistcoat buddy.
It was strange birding in a place where the heat/humidity meant everything shut down after 10am – we’d been spoilt with all day birding at the cooler high elevations, but Misahualli had its charms too…and the Napo River was like a sweaty, feverish gateway to new species.

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bridge

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Black Vultures bridge-loafing

And I’ve always wondered what Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald did with that bloody big boat.

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Although it was very hot, we wandered down to the “lagoon” opposite the famous El Jardin restaurante (superb fillet steaks the size of frisbees, menus bound in shagpile carpet, ice cold Pilsener galore, and open air dining to the plop of shoals of carpy fish in the pools around us), across the Napo from town, where living legend Pedro materialised from the secondary forest like the shopkeeper from Mr Ben.
Pedro has the punt poles and canoes that mean he has can show you around the “lagoon”/waterways night or day.
He knows his birds and can call in any number of them.
We “negotiated” a fee over complimentary bananas.
I say “negotiated”, but really we just smiled a lot, ate bananas and then got in his canoe.
There’s Pedro behind me in the pic below as I fail to master the art of the unselfconscious selfie…

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swamp

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Even in the heat of the day, a quick punt with Pedro was worth it, with some really cool stuff emerging from the overhanging branches.
Spot Breasted Woodpecker, Lemon Throated and Gilded Barbets, super-groovy Great Anis (much better than we expected) and Striated Herons all stared down at us as we glided along the calm, fetid waterways, silently passing under them apart from the odd unavoidable “oooh” and “ahh”, or loud rustling when we collided with low overhanging vegetation.
“Thwaaack!!!!”

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Spot Breasted Woodpecker

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Great Ani

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Juve Striated Heron

These birds were mighty fine, but even better were a sneaky Sungrebe or two and world-famous half-dinosaur/half-toiletbrush, the Hoatzin.
Up to seven of these loonballs stumbled and squawked through the branches just a few feet from the punt.
They looked like hungover Ken Dodds the morning after a Knotty Ash bender celebrating yet another clear tax audit.
Tatifillarious baby.
Crazy name, crazy bird.

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Sungrebe

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Hoatzin

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Hoatzin – the epitome of stinky elegance…

Ecuadorians less polite than Pedro refer to these strange creatures as “Stinky Turkeys” because their diet of leaves, and the unique fermenting process that goes on in their stomachs to break said leaves down, apparently makes them somewhat less fragrant than a carload of Marshside’s finest after an Indian takeaway/Guinness marathon/all night twitch combo.
That said, they smelt fine to me as we drifted underneath them – weirdos.
We had a great time with Pedro and promptly agreed to go out at night with him the next day and then go punting at dawn on our final day in Misahualli.
The night expedition was particularly entertaining, particularly as we set sail in pitch darkness fortified by buckets of Pilsener and the biggest and best steaks that the Restaurante El Jardin could offer.
I’ve not heard Trops freak out in the dark before, but then to be fair, we’ve never been two inches thick in biting insects attracted by the bazillion to our torchlights and sweat, while we were stranded on a canoe in the middle of the night.
Wave after wave of them swarmed onto us, impervious to the repellant qualities of St Deet (100% natch, but completely ineffective here).
And although we went wandering out into the pitch black, squelching through vines and roots, rustles and the unnerving squeaks and hisses of a rainforest in the dead of night (whatever happened to “never leave the boat” Pedro???), we didn’t see anything.
We did hear Tawny Bellied Screech Owl and Great Potoo though, but they weren’t playing.
C’est la vie.
Gray Necked Woodrail and Purple Gallinule put in torchlit appearances, but as night time safaris go, it wasn’t our most successful expedition.

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Mike blats a Gray Necked Woodrail dans la nuit

Our second daytime, or rather dawntime, punt with Pedro was even better than the first – all the stuff we’d seen previously showed again, with added Snail Kite, Solitary Black Cacique, Speckled Chachalaca, our only Blackpoll Warbler of the trip, Laughing and Bat Falcons, ubquitous Great Kiskadee, Masked Crimson Tanager, Amazon Kingfisher, Grey Chinned Hermit and Little Woodpecker.
Stonking.

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Little Woodpecker

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Speckled Chachalaca

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Great Kiskadee

I must also point out that “Punting with Pedro” as the Channel Four series will doubtlessly be called, was also a damn fine way of seeing monkeys.
I like monkeys, and parts of Misahualli have apparently been taken over by the critters, which is fine by me.
I still have fond, if hugely politically incorrect, memories of the chaotic Chimps’ tea parties at Lanark Deer Park (surreally in North Wales, not Scotland) when I was a kid, so any sighting of a monkey makes me beam widely.
But the Misahualli crew will have your Pilsener off you before you can say “Chlorophonia” or so the story goes.
There are signs pleading with visitors not to encourage monkeys in the town square, although I suspect the folks like ’em well enough when they bring in the tourists.
I liked the idea of monkeys taking back parts of a town hemmed in by rainforest, and naturally had high hopes of seeing the monkey fire brigade during our three day stay.
Just picture that as they career through town, monkey sirens wailing and bananas flying everywhere!
Sadly it wasn’t to be and I had to make do with Spider Monkeys and an oddly annoying troop of Tamarinds going bonkers in the branches above us as Pedro placidly punted away.

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Spider Monkey

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Annoying tamarind

You can never have too many monkeys.