Monthly Archives: January 2023

Northern Ecuador 9th to 19th of December 2022

Forewords

We were in Joensuu at North Karelia Bird Association 50-parties and BirdLife meeting when I got a message from Mika Ohtonen where he asked if I could join him to a trip to Ecuador in a few weeks. I just couldn’t pass this possibility to get birding with keen World-lister and a good guide and a driver. Mika had visited Ecuador already 5 times so the goal was to find some very difficult birds.

Soon I had ordered a book of Birds og Ecuador and I already had a Birds of Northern South America App on my phone, but as there has been more than 1600 bird-species in Ecuador, I couldn’t learn enough. I also got a route-plan from Mika but it might change depending on how we managed to find the most important target-species. But the plan was to drive straight from Quito to the eastern side of Andes where we would stay 2 or 3 days and then move to western side to Choco forests and then drive along the coast north to Colombian border and then back to Quito in 9 days.

Finally my holiday started and on the 8th of December I drove to familiar Skyline hotel where parking place was absolutely full of snow. Somehow I managed to squeeze my car to one gap between other cars and snow and after I had eaten in the restaurant I was soon ready to go to sleep.

To Ecuador

On the 9th of December I woke up very early and soon took a bus to Helsinki-Vantaa airport. There I met Mika soon and at 7:00 a.m. our flight left to Amsterdam. Surprisingly there were some mutual birder-friends traveling to Spain on the same flight.

In Amsterdam we had only a short wait for our next flight to Quito. It was a really long flight – more than 10 hours. After I had watched a couple of (bad) movies, I managed to sleep a little.

Because of we were flying over many time-zones, we landed to Quito already in the afternoon at 4:15 p.m. Luckily we found our luggage soon and in the lobby we met our driver German who didn’t speak English almost at all. We took some money from ATM and soon were packing our stuff to German’s VW Golf and started driving up towards the top of Andes.

There was still some light so we managed to see some birds like Blue-and-white Swallows, Chestnut-collared Sparrows, Eared Doves, an American Kestrel and a White-tailed Kite.

Quite is situated even 2850m high but we were driving much higher until more than 4000 meters. But then we soon started to drive down an when we finally after an hour diving were in Baeza, we were in about 200 meters.

We parked to a motel parking place and soon carried our luggage to our small cottage. Our room smelled quite bad but the motels pizzeria was really good and at least I had one of the best pizzas that I have ever had. We ordered one extra-pizza which we could take with us next morning as we weren’t sure if there was any breakfast available anywhere as we were about to start birding very early.

Gayacamayos trails

On the 10th of December we met German and our guide Marcelo Quipo who had arrived from previous guiding trip late in the evening. Marcelo had been guiding Mika on a couple of previous trips. Soon we were driving towards South and when it was starting to get a little bit light, we stopped to have breakfast in a small cafeteria in Cosanga.

After the breakfast we still drove a little to Guacamayos where from a view-watching place a small path started to go down along a valley to the forest.

In the beginning it was very quiet and we hardly found any birds but soon we had to take our cameras from the bags as first a Rufous-headed Pygmy Tyrant and then a Chestnut-bellied Thrush were showing quite well. Marcelo was really a pro-birder and he knew all the songs and calls and he also was really good in imitating many species which made it easier to know we were listening to the right calls when he immediately imitated it.

Rufous-headed Pygmy TyrantChestnut-bellied Thrush

We weren’t concentrating too much to common birds which were mostly lifers for me but tried to find one special bird that Mika had already been trying to find in this place a couple of times. Marcelo was whistling and playing tape a lot but we couldn’t find any Greater Scythebills. There had been some records quite recently but Mika knew that many birders had also missed this very rare species.

Spillmann's Tapaculo

We were continuing lower and lower to the valley and then decided to climb back up and then again down. We walked for many kilometers and it was quite hard as we were in more than 2000 meters. It was also raining very hard for some time but anyway we managed to find some very nice species like Dusky Piha, Black-chested and Green-and-black Fruiteater, Montane Woodcreeper, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, several different tanagers and hummingbirds, a tiny bird that was running across the path like a mouse – a Spillmann’s Tapaculo and many other species that were seen very briefly or just heard. For example a Geoffroyi’s Daggerbill was calling very long time just under one cliff behind some bushed but never came visible. Other birds that were only heard were a White-throated Toucanet, a Chestnut-crowned and Slate-crowned Antpitta, an Emerald-bellied Puffleg, a Green-backed Hillstar and so on.

Luckily we had also some pizza with us as we really climbed up and down a lot! Finally we had climbed back to the parking lot where German was waiting for us. We continued a short way to the northern side of the mountain and on the way we saw some Southern Lapwings. And soon we were climbing next to a oil-pipe very steep hill up towards the top of the mountain. The path was extremely steep and slippery but somehow we managed not to fall down. It was already midday so there weren’t much bird-activity. But we managed to see some nice birds like a Sickle-winged Guan and a Powerful Woodpecker and again hear some more new species. But still we couldn’t find any Greater Scythebills.

Our ordinary plan was to drive to eat to Baeza but Mika was still keen to keep on searching so we decided to drive back to our ordinary path. We sent German to eat and started walking down along the path once again. We didn’t walk long until Mika saw a reddish bird in flight and soon we both heard and saw it on a tree – it was a Greater Scythebill! And soon also a second bird flew to the same tree and it stayed visible for quite some time and we managed to get some pretty good pictures of this super-rare bird!

Greater ScythebillGreater Scythebill

Green-and-black Fruiteater

Because of German had just left, we decided to keep on walking and walked even to lower to the valley than in the morning. We soon met a couple of British World-listers along the path and they had been walking along the path for whole day. They had been quite low in the valley. They had crazy numbers of world-ticks, more than 8000 and more than 9000! But they still needed Greater Scythebill. We of course gave good instructions how to find the birds and quite soon they started climbing up. But later we heard that they hadn’t managed to find them.

Lower down Mika managed to hear a few calls of a rare Peruvian Antpitta but even though we tried quite some time, it didn’t call anymore when we were all there. But many other nice birds were found. Now we could concentrate also to more common birds when the main target-bird of the day (or even the whole trip) was on the bag.

Rufous-banded Owl

It was already getting late when we were driving back towards Baeza. But we still had one target on the way and it was found quite easily. Marcelo played some tape and soon we had a Rufous-banded Owl perched above us on the top of a tree. I wasn’t prepared to this easy twitch and I hadn’t got my camera ready but I was carrying my thermal-camera, so I got only pictures with that as the bird didn’t stay on the tree long enough.

In the evening we decided to stay in a different motel as we didn’t want to make our lungs sick with bad air that as in our previous room. We had already climbed so much in thin air that our lungs really needed some rest too. My watch told that I had been moving 389% of my daily goal. Also this Hostal La Casa de Rodrigo had a good restaurant and this time we ate fish. There were several rapid-paddlers staying in the motel. There for sure were good places for their hobby around.

Cosanga area

Geoffroyi's Daggerbill

On the 11th of December Marcelo arrived with a new driver Byron and soon we were having a breakfast in Cosanga again. Once we were moving again, we stopped next to a rapid but unfortunately there were no Torrent Ducks or White-capped Dippers but some Torrent Tyrannulets and Black Phoebes. Soon we continued to Rio Bemejo valley. There we immediately found a Geoffroyi’s Daggerbill that we managed to see pretty well and get some pictures too. Then we started a serious search of a Semicollared Hawk.

The views were excellent but we checked many dead trees with Marcelo’s telescope and without finding the Semicollared Hawk. But many other nice birds were of course found like a White-throated Toucanet, a Streak-headed Antbird, a Crested and a Golden-headed Quetzal, a Yellow-browed Sparrow, a couple of Black-billed Peppershrikes, a nice Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, a very beautiful Inca Jay, Blackish and Long-tailed Tapaculos, a Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, an Andean Solitaire and different kind of wrens, tanagers, warblers and so on.

Streak-headed AntbirdRufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher

Inca JayGolden-headed Quetzal

After mid-day we parked next to Guango Lodge and then walked a short trail on the hillside on the other side of the road. We hoped to find some Red-hooded Tanagers but we weren’t lucky with them. We didn’t see many other birds either just several hummingbirds very briefly. Anyway a few nice birds were found like a Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, a Smoke-colored Pewee, a Slaty-backed and a Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant and so on.

When we walked to the garden of the Lodge we saw an Andean Guan and a Masked Trogon immediately and in the garden I experienced my first hummingbird-feeders ever. So soon we were photographing hummingbirds like Tourmaline Sunangels, Buff-tailed Coronets, White-bellied Woodstars, Long-tailed Sylphs, Chestnut-breasted Coronets and also one Sword-billed Hummingbird. Also a Northern Mountain Cacique, a Turquoise Jay, a Capped Conebill, a Flammulated Treehunter and many other birds were seen.

Buff-tailed CoronetChestnut-breasted Coronet

Tourmaline SunangelLong-tailed Sylph

White-bellied WoodstarHooded Mountain Tanager

But soon we had to continued towards the top of Andes and soon we were searching for a Crestcent-faced Antpitta near Papallacta. But today we weren’t lucky with target-species and we could find only a few other birds like a Black-backed Bush Tanager and we also heard an Equatorial Antpitta and a Paramo Tapaculo. After some searching we had to give up and continue driving over the top.

Black-backed Bush TanagerPlumbeous Sierra Finch

Sun was already setting when we stopped on the highest top along the road and saw a Stout-billed Cincloides and a couple of Plumbeous Seirra Finches. It was freezing cold wind up there! We still made a short stop in an open area where Spectacled Bears are sometimes seen but again we had no luck.

Then we drove until Quito where we had accommodation in very nice Casa Magnolia. Wit would have been nice to stay there longer but now we had time for only a few hours sleep.

Yanacocha

On the 12th of December we were very early awake and already at 3:30 a.m. driving to our next target-place. We drove smaller and smaller roads and climbed up to Yanacocha.

On the way we saw a Band-winged Nightjar that flushed from the road in front of us. Finally just before 5 a.m. we were on a locked gate that was supposed to get opened at 5 o’clock for us. After some waiting we saw a motorcycle’s lights and soon we could continue driving along very small track higher towards the top of a mountain in this private protection area.

Mika knew that our birds were beginning their display about at 5:15 a.m. and stop quite soon so we were really in a hurry! We drove as long as we could along the track but when it got too bad we took our bags and continued by feet.

Soon Marcelo heard the first Imperial Snipe but it was quite distant so we kept on running towards the top where should be more open area so we could possibly see these snipes displaying on the sky.

We were running a kilometer or so and finally got to an open area. Soon Marcelo saw a snipe in flight but it was still so dark that we missed it. Marcelo was using his torch and I was scanning the sky with my thermal-camera. And finally I also saw one bird flying against the sky. Marcelo played some tape too and then one bird flew right over us! We didn’t have our cameras ready yet as it was still quite dark, but now we had to prepare for the similar flight. Unfortunately all at least birds all stayed further so I couldn’t get any flight shots.

For some time we heard these birds displaying but soon they stopped. It was good that we had come so early!

We were walking along the path quite some time playing the tape but heard only a couple of distant answers from the snipes. It seemed that they were already calling from the ground or trees. We of course started to find other interesting birds too so I got quite a few lifers again. Some birds to mention were Undulated Antpittas, a White-browed Spinetail, a White-throated Tyrannulet, an Ocellated Tapaculo, a Superciliaried Hemiphingus, a Glossy Flowerpiercer and so on. Again most birds were just heard or seen very briefly.

Finally we started to walk back towards our car and still Marcelo kept on playing the tape here and there. Suddenly we heard an answer about 100 meters in front of us. Mika and Marcelo climbed down to along very steep hillside into the dense forest but I decided to stay on the track if I could see something from there as it was much more open there. It really seemed hopeless as the vegetation was extremely thick but after some time I heard a whistle – the bird had been found! I climbed down very carefully and there it was – an Imperial Snipe was perched on a branch! I didn’t want to go too close ao I took my pictures a little bit further which was good as quite soon the bird started to move and then flew to another branch a little bit further. Then we decided to climb back to the path and continue to our car.

Imperial SnipeImperial Snipe

We were extremely happy as we had got really good pictures of a bird that not many birders have ever seen. Along the path there was a couple of places where were very nice view to the mountains.

View on AndesCarunculated Caracara

We drove just a little bit lower and saw a couple of Carunculated Caracaras and a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle flying on the sky. Then we parked our car again and walked a couple of kilometers along a path to a place where were several feeders. And here we could take pictures of different hummingbirds and also some other nice species.

While we were photographing hummingbirds we heard a White-throated Screech Owl calling nearby and soon found a couple of birds perched very close to each other on one tree. We of course took some pictures and soon were back to photograph Buff-winged Starfrontlets, Golden-breasted Pufflegs, Great Sapphirewings, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercers, absolutely beautiful Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers, Yellow-breasted Brushfinches and after quite a lot of trying I finally managed to get some pictures of also a Sapphire-vented Puffleg and a Sword-billed Hummingbird too. We saw plenty of other birds too but soon we had to keep on going.

Golden-breasted PufflegWhite-throated Screech Owl

Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager and Masked FlowerpiercerSapphire-vented Puffleg

Buff-winged StarfrontletSword-billed Hummingbird

Shining Sunbeam

A little bit lower we ate on a small restaurant that had been opened only for us. It was very foggy so there wasn’t much activity on the feeders but luckily we found a couple of Shining Sunbeams which I managet to photograph too. It was really so foggy that my camera suffered to find the bird at all.

Bellavista area

We continued driving through Tandayapa Valley and from the moving car and a couple of short stops we could find some new birds. For example a Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl, a Broad-winged Hawk, a Flammulated Treehunter, a Narino Tapaculo, a Choco Brushfinch and so on were observed.

From Bellavista Lodge feeders we found again new hummingbirds and there we could photograph Buff-tailed Coronets, Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Speckled Hummingbirds, Collared Incas, Gorgeted Sunangels and Violet-tailed Sylphs and so on. Unfortunately light wasn’t very good for photographing.

Collared IncaGorgeted SunangelFawn-breasted BrilliantViolet-tailed Sylph

But soon we had to hurry again and on the way we saw a Plate-billed Mountain Toucan before sun started to set. We were closing places where Tanager Finches had been seen in the past and also quite recently. After one turn Mika told that: “This looks like the place where we had them last time”. We stopped and right away we found 3 Tanager Finches feeding along the road. One bird was young and they all were showing extremely well. Light was already bad but we managed to get some good pictures of this extremely rare species.

Tanager FinchTanager Finch

It was completely dark when we continued to Mindo where we still went to search for a Black-and-white Owl. Marcelo had recently seen 3 birds in same place but now we tried a long time there but heard only a funny-sounding Common Potoo. We were also walking a lot along the road and I was scanning every tree with my thermal-camera but all I found was a Sloth and an Ocelot and many sleeping passerines.

Black-and-white Owl
After long trying we still decided to drive a little and stop in one more place just a little bit further along the road. Marcelo played the tape once again and immediately we heard a response! And soon we found a nice Black-and-white Owl perching on a top of one tree. It had really been a very long day and finally we were in San Sebastian de Los Blancos where we had an accommodation.

To Rio Canande

On the 13th of December we slept a little bit longer and so when we were packing our car, we managed to see some bird in the motel-garden. Some species I was familiar with from French Guiana but of course there were some lifers too like Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Andean Emerald, Ecuadorian Thrush, Black-winged Saltator, Pacific Hornero and Choco Tyrannulet.

We had a long drive to Rio Canande. Along the way we didn’t see much but a couple of common birds that were new for me. The most surprising part of the trip was a short ferry-trip over a river. The ferry was moving by an outboard motor but anyway it took several cars in.

Little Cuckoo

After the river crossing we started to see more birds, several different tangaras, a Little Cuckoo that was a new bird for Mika and for example a Blue-chested Hummingbird, a Snail Kite Southern Rough-winged and White-thighed Swallows and so on.

Finally we arrived to Rio Canande and parked to Choco Lodge that was together with a forest research institute. We got an own cabin that was under long stairs. There we had a room with Mika and Marcelo and Byron had their own.

Right away we started to see some nice birds like a Barred Puffbird, a Purple-chested Hummingbird, Yellow-throated Toucans with a single Choco Toucan, Rose-faced Parrots and so on.

Barred PuffbirdYellow-throated Toucan

Pretty soon we were ready to go birding. The path started just behind our cottage and soon we were climbing hills in the middle of rainforest. The paths were named after birds and first we were walking along Choco Tapaculo trail and when we got higher we continued to Banded Bay Cuckoo trail.

It seemed that all birds were again new to me so I got lifers all the time. It was hard to keep track of them. We found a Spot-crowned Antvireo, Speckled Mourner, a Brown-capped Tyrannulet, a Song Wren, a Tawny-faced Gnatwren, a Band-tailed Barbthroat, a Choco Manakin, a Western Woodhaunter, different kind of flycatcher and antbird kind of birds and so on.

Speckled MournerBand-tailed Barbthroat

After some more climbing along slippery trail we found also a singing Blue-black Grosbeak, a Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, a Lita and a Cinnamon Woodpecker, a Yellow-margined Flatbill, a Rufous Piha, a couple of different woodcreepers, tanagers, wrens and then heard the first Great Tinamou too. But seeing any birds in this dark forest was very difficult especially when most of the birds were moving on the top of trees.

Armadillo

After one more hill that we had climbed up we found a funny-looking Armadillo that was digging something from the side of the path. It was in a very dark place but somehow I managed to get one decent picture of it even though I was walking last and I had to find a clear view behind a couple of photographers equipments and backs.

When we were climbing the longest uphill we heard calls of Baudo Guans. We tried to get closer and Marcelo managed to see one bird on a branch but then an unlucky slip of one of us scared both us and the bird that flew away.

It was getting dark when we hurried back towards the lodge. When it was completely dark we heard the first Choco Screech Owl calling and soon heard another one very close. This bird was found easily and we managed to get very good pictures of it. Meanwhile there was also a Mottle Owl calling nearby.

Choco Screech OwlSpectacled Owl

Finally we were at the lodge and went straight to eat to a restaurant building that was very close to our cottage. After the dinner we still did a short drive and tried to find Choco Poorwills but it was probably too late evening already. I was scanning the surrounding with my thermal-camera again and luckily found a Spectacled Owl perched very close to us. It flew a little bit further but we still got some pictures of this beautiful owl. Finally we drove back to the lodge and at least I was completely tired! I just went to sleep right away.

Botrosa road

On the 14th of December we woke up very early again as we wanted to drive far along the Botrosa road to start birding there when the sun rises. We had both breakfast and lunch packed well with us.

We didn’t need to make many stops until we heard the first Choco Poorwill and soon we found one bird perched on a branch. Unfortunately it was a little bit too far to get enough light to it to get any pictures.

Other early morning observations were a couple of Crested Guans, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, a Zeledon’s Antbird, Choco Trogons, and then first only heard Long-wattled Umbrellabirds that were first seen just distantly but then they flew almost right over us. Male umbrellabird was really amazing-looking! Also a couple of Chestnut-fronted Macaws, a Guayaquil Woodpecker, beautiful Swallow-tailed Kites, a couple of Lanceolated Monklets and a Dagua Thrush were also found.

Crested GuanLong-wattled Umbrellawing

We were doing so called roadside birding so that we were walking a lot along the road and Byron was following us with car. Then we drove a little bit and soon started to walk again.

Marcelo was all the time playing tape for a few target-species. Especially Central American Pygmy Owl and Plumbeous Forest Falcon were playing so much that our ears were almost bleeding, but unfortunately neither of them was calling back. But we did hear a Berlepsch’s Tinamou and saw Tawny-crested Tanagers and a Red-rumped Woodpecker before we finally heard an answer to one of the calls that Marcelo had been playing. We walked inside the forest to get closer to the caller and after some searching I managed to find a chicken-like shape with my thermal-camera. And then this Tawny-faced Quail was possible to find also with binoculars and even with camera. I managed to get a couple of pictures of this very difficult to find bird through branches and leaves.

Lanceolated MonkletTawny-faced Quail

While searching for the quail we managed to find also a Spotted Antbird and a Plain Xenops and to listen to a Song Wren’s strange song.

It was good to find out that some species that I was familiar with from French Guiana were easy to pick up even only from the calls. But then some new species had extremely similar calls and many times I thought I had found a familiar bird but was lucky to find out that it was one more lifer. One bird I was already familiar was a King Vulture and it was nice to see 4 birds soaring together on the sky.

Grey-backed Hawk, Greenish Elaenia, Moustached Antwren, Red-capped Manakin, One-colored Becard and after a long search briefly seen Choco Woodpecker were all new birds like also White-necked Puffbird, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Orange-fronted Barbet, Purple-crowned Fairy, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Swallow Tanager and a beautiful couple of Scarlet-breasted Dacnises that we found later.

White-necked PuffbirdScarlet-breasted Dacnis

Black-tipped Cotinga

On one stop we had a nice view over the cloud-forests and with Marcelo’s scope we managed to find a couple of snowy-white Black-tipped Cotingas. Male cotingas aren’t calling at all but on their display they just perch on the top of trees and are showy.

We still stopped and walked for many times and played tape a lot but couldn’t find more target-species. Finally it was getting late and we drove quite fast back to the lodge where at least I had no difficulties to fall asleep.

Same places again

On the 15th of December we slept a little bit longer and aftre breakfast we went to walk along the same tracks on the first afternoon in Rio Canande.
We found mostly the same species as on our first walk but of course also something new. Already to our terrace we heard a funny-sounding Wattled Guan and soon we had found also a Rufous Mourner and Rufous Piha, heard a Buff-rumped Warbler, a Checker-throated Stipplethroat and seen briefly a Velvety Manakin.

Crested Guan

Weather was rainy and higher there was very thick fog so we had to keep our cameras in waterproof bags. Because of the fog we couldn’t see the flock of Blue-fronted Parrotlets that flew over us a couple of times. At the top we found a mobile flock of noisy Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds. They probably had a swarm of army-ants to follow inside the forest. We also heard a White-ringed Flycatcher.

Because of the bad weather we were walking back down sooner than we had planned. Then we found a flock of 5 guans that at least 2 of them were Baudo Guans but they disappeared to the forest too quickly – only one Crested Guan stayed photographable.

Black Howler

A little bit lower along the path we finally heard the first Choco Tapaculo and managed to see it briefly but then one big Black Howler monkey started to make some attacks towards us on the top of tree. It didn’t come too close but it was extremely aggressive, noisy and even threw us with a meter long branch. So we started to feel quite uncomfortable and decided not to try to photograph the tapaculo but move slowly further from the monkey.

Once we were back at the lodge we had once again really good food and even relaxed a little. Byron surprised us and found a Great Jacamar perched on a tree next to our cottage.

Great JacamarPale-mandibled Aracari

Rose-faced Parrot

We also went to see the research laboratories with the young manager of the place. The lab was on the top floor and there were big windows from where it was nice view to surrounding forest. From the windows we noticed that there was a huge mixed flock on a tree next to our cottage. We hadn’t got a scope with us so we soon hurried to see the flock better and could see at least 22 species visiting the tree. There was probably a snake or some other predator hiding in the tree-top. For example Rose-faced Parrots, a couple of Violet-bellied Hummingbirds, a Blue-whiskered and a Guira Tanager were seen amongst many other colorful species. There was a sign just next to the stairs that told to be careful with snakes but we saw only one snake on the whole trip but it was exactly on those stairs.

In the afternoon we were roadside-birding again along Botrosa road but for some reason we couldn’t find many birds. When we were already driving back towards the lodge, we stopped next to a small village where was a nice view and some flowering trees. Mika saw an interesting-looking hummingbird very briefly so we decided to stay there longer. And after a long wait it come back and we immediately took pictures of it and from the pictures we could tell that it was an Esmeralda’s Woodstar – a very rare and local hummingbird that was usually seen in Southern Ecuador! I also got pictures of a Golden-hooded Tanager that visited the same bush.

Golden-hooded TanagerEsmeralda's Woodstar

On the 16th of December we went once more early to Botrosa road and drove a long way to the places for Central American Pygmy Owl and Plumbeous Forest Falcon. We were playing tape and walking, stopping, driving and so on for the whole morning but these birds weren’t found. But already early in the morning we found a Choco Sirystes which was showing well and we got some pictures too but it never came very close. On the next tree-top we saw a Snowy-throated Kingbird which also was a bit too far for good pictures.

Choco SirystesSnowy-throated Kingbird

Along Botrosa road there were forest-cuts going on as en electricity was being made to the village somewhere further in the middle of the rain-forest. Because of wee had tried everything else already we decided to walk a small path into the forest if our target-birds had moved further from the road because of the disturbance. We found a calling Berlepsch’s Tinamou but it didn’t come visible even though we tried. Then we found a couple of raptors building their nest on the top of one tree but even though they first looked quite promising, we identified them as Tiny Hawks which was of course a nice observation too but we had really worked hard to find forest falcon…

Tiny HawkSouthern Mealy Amazon

Otherwise the observations were pretty much the same as on our previous drive in the area. Of course all the new species were again lifers for me like Semiplumbeous Hawk, Choco Elaenia, Yellow-bellied Siskin and so on. We didn’t get many photographing opportunities either but of course we managed to get some pictures.

Chestnut-fronted MacawLong-tailed Tyrant

To the shore

We still ate in the lodge restaurant and then it was time to start driving first towards the civilization and then towards coast. Surprisingly soon we were on the ferry again and right away there were villages and towns. We had a long drive so we really didn’t have time to make any stops.

Once we reached the shore we saw a few trip-ticks from the moving car like an Osprey, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans and some egret. But we still had a long way to go. When we finally made it to Las Peñas the first hotel that we tried to get was fully booked – or at least we were told so. Luckily the second one had room and we got a safe place to stay at night. We were now in the area where normal tourists are not coming because of it really is not very safe.

Las Peñas

On the 17th of December I woke up at too early morning when my bed and actually whole house was shaking! It took a few seconds to realize it was an earthquake! It lasted about 20 seconds but I was so tired that when it stopped I almost immediately fell asleep again. It was quite a surprise when we later in the afternoon found out that it had been the strongest earthquake of the whole year in Ecuador and only some tens of kilometers from ys but deep in the sea. It had been 5.3 magnitudes and then later another one had been 4.4 magnitudes but I didn’t wake up to that one.

In the morning we tried to find a place to eat breakfast but nothing was open so early. So we left birding. We didn’t drive long before we made the first stop and Marcelo started to play tape again and almost immediately a Dwarf Cuckoo flew to a tree next to us!

Dwarf CuckooGreen Kingfisher

We tried for some time to get good pictures of the Dwarf Cuckoo but at least I couldn’t get any good ones. We also saw and photographed Masked Water Tyrants, Mangrove Warblers, a female Vermilion Flycatcher, a Green Kingfisher and a flock of White Ibises that flew over us.

Masked Water TyrantAmerican White Ibis

Next we continued along the road past some pools to a bridge and in this river-area there were records of a rare Humboldt’s Sapphire. We were in this are for a long time but saw only a few other hummingbird-species briefly. There would have been another place for this species in San Andreas but it wasn’t safe place to go birding. Luckily we saw many other birds like a Slaty Becard, a Pacific Antwren, a White-browed Gnatcatcher and it was nice birding but first time during the trio it started to get very hot.

White-browed GnatcatcherPacific Antwren

Red-legged HoneycreeperTropical Parula
We drove back to Las Peñas to eat to a restaurant that was right next to the shore. Already in the parking place we managed to get pictures of a Croaking Ground Dove. And from the terrace we could see Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans flying over the sea and Magnificent Frigatebirds flying above the beach and a couple of times they came to soar right above us.

Croaking Ground DoveMagnificent Frigatebird

Neotropic Cormorant

Soon we passed the pools again and stopped by the same bridge again to search for hummingbirds. But still we couldn’t find the right one. A Neotropic Cormorant was swimming under the bridge and I managed to get some good pictures of it and a couple of Olivaceous Piculets were seen in a dense tree where they weren’t easy to see at all and almost impossible to get any pictures.

We also went to walk to a pathway that was in the middle of mangrove but we couldn’t find many birds there. But in the garden of this private protected area we saw a nice Gartered Trogon and heard a Blue Ground Dove. But still we found no Humboldt’s Sapprire.

Ecuadorian Ground DoveGartered Trogon

Finally we had to go to get our luggage from our hotel and now we stopped for a few seconds by the pools and managed to see some egrets, Blue-winged Teals and also a White-cheeked Pintail. For sure there would have been some trip-ticks and also lifers for me but we had a tight schedule and we had to keep on going.

Shorter stops

The next stop was made in forest area near San Francisco where we tried to find Blue Cotinga. We saw immediately some Scaled Pigeons flying and after some roadside-birding we had found also a Black-breasted Puffbird, a Five-colored Barbet and heard a Toucan Barbet and a Uniform Crake. On a couple of places there was a nice view over the rain-forest and with scope and binocula

Otherwise the observations were pretty much the same as on our previous drive in the area. Of course all the new species were again lifers for me like Semiplumbeous Hawk, Choco Elaenia, Yellow-bellied Siskin and so on. We didn’t get many photographing opportunities either but of course we manged to get some pictures.

rs we could find first a Masked Tityra and then Mika found a distant bright blue spot – a Blue Cotinga!

Five-colored BarbetBlue Cotinga

In the evening we drove to San Lorenzo which is famous drug-town. We went straight to eat so we wouldn’t have to move in the city more than necessary. I have never got so big portion of food before!

Then we drove straight to our hotel where was preparation for big parties going on. I asked for a room that was as far a s possible from the party-area and got a cheap room from a high-rise. While I was climbing the stairs up to my room I saw an American Barn Owl flying to a big tree nearby. After all I managed to sleep very well even though the parties continued until early morning.

On the 18th of December we woke up very early again. There were people sleeping here and there in the restaurant-area – the parties had been good. We soon drove to Carondelet where we soon found a Pearl Kite and a Bat Hawk.

We continued towards Awa road and still made a couple of stops on a steep hillside to play tapes. From the top we saw a steep cliff and soon we saw a falcon flying behind it. Luckily it came back visible soon and then landed to the cliff – and it was an Orange-breasted Falcon.
Pearl KiteOrange-breasted Falcon

Awa road

Because of there were nothing calling back to our tapes we soon continued to Awa road where after a couple of stops we were in a place where it was impossible to drive further as the road was so awful. So we had to keep on by feet. There were quite a few people walking towards us as they were going to work and school. We didn’t see many houses along the road so I have no idea where they all were coming from.

Soon we started to find some birds and a Crowned Woodnymph, a Stripe-billed Aracari, a Maroon-tailed Parakeet, a Stub-tailed Antbird, an Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and finally a few Yellow-green Tanagers were found. While we were photographing Yellow-green Tanagers we found also a couple of amazing Scarlet-and-white Tanagers and the beautiful male was showing quite well while the quite ordinary-looking female was hiding extremely well all the time.

Yellow-green TanagerScarlet-and-white Tanager

After some more kilometers walk we found also a few Golden-chested Tanagers and also they let us to take some pictures. And our tanager-walk came even more perfect when we were walking back all these birds were showing even better and then also an Emerald Tanager and a Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo were showing extremely well.

Golden-chested TanagerEmerald Tanager

We had really had good time but we still had interesting times ahead. Marcelo had got a message from Byron that Argentina was leading France in football World Cup final. When we were had walked to the car the game was still 2-0 but almost immediately France made a goal. So we stuck to watch the game from Byron’s phone. And soon France equalized!

On the last minute of the normal time France got a free-kick and then the connection stopped. We had to start driving along the road back and try to find a place with a connection. And once we found it an extra-time was beginning.

Byron was sitting in a car with a shadow and the rest of us were standing outside and watching from the window to his phone. Marcelo was too nervous to watch so he kept on playing tapes. Then Messi made it 3-2 but soon Mbabbe equalized. On the last seconds French player still get amazing opportunity but Argentina’s goalkeeper Emilio Martinez managed somehow to stop the ball. So soon it was time for penalties!

While penalties we had some disturbance as Marcelo managed to attract a nice Choco Woodpecker to pose to the closest tree so we had to take some pictures. We were always hurrying to see a penalty and then back to get more pictures. We all were hoping Argentina to win and we were all really happy when they did!

Slaty-capped Shrike-VireoChoco Woodpecker

After the game we still had a long drive until Hosteria San Geronimo where we got rooms. Luckily the restaurant was still open se we managed to eat too. And then I was ready get some shut-eye.

Chical road

On the 19th of December we were once again awake very early and soon we crossed the river and started driving along Chical road towards Colombian border. When the sun was rising we were already on the mountains and in plces where to find our target-birds.

Once again Marcelo was playing tape a lot but our main-target was missing. But we found for example a Yellow-breasted Antpitta, a White-crested Elaenia, a Uniform Treehunter, a Spotted Barbtail, a Blue-capped, a Rufous-throated and a Glistening-green Tanager and then a very good Star-chested Treerunner which we also got some pictures.

Star-chested TreerunnerBrown Inca

Also a Wahite-faced Nunbird was a really good find. It was calling on a distant tree but we saw it well. And luckily after a long search we finally found one Beautiful Jay too. It came to see us very shortly and I couldn’t get very good pictures of it.

White-faced NunbirdBeautiful Jay

We also saw another Plate-billed Mountain Toucan and also a beautiful Purplish-mantled Tanager was showing very well. But then our tight schedule meant that we had to start driving back. We were driving quite fast towards out hotel but still on the way Marcelo found a really good bird when a nice Ecuadorian Seedeater was perched next to the road.

Plate-billed Mountain ToucanPurplish-mantled Tanager

Cloud forests

Back to Quito

At the hotel I did my check-in which took a long time with bad internet connection. And then we started a long drive through mountains back to Quito. Luckily there weren’t too many surprises on the way, just one truck that had fallen to the road side. Luckily it was fell off the road.

We had planned to make at least one stop on the way either on Ibarra Yanacocha or near Otavalo in San Pablo but the driving was slowly and then we spent too much time trying to find an open restaurant. Luckily a restaurant was finally found but only one more new bird was found as a couple of Andean Coots were swimming on San Pablo. For sure there would have been many new species to me but I have to come back one day.

Finally we were in Quito and San Mariscal airport. It was time to say thanks and goodbye to Marcelo and Byron. We then had a really long traveling ahead.

Group photo

To home

The airport was extremely busy and after all we had to ask people to let us in front of the queues as 2 hours wasn’t enough to get through. Luckily people were friendly and we got to our gate just in time and just to find out that the boarding hadn’t even started.

Finally our flight left before 6 p.m. and surprisingly flew first to totally wrong direction and landed to Guayaquil. There we had to get out to the airport for more than 30 minutes before returning back to the same plane. And then we had an extremely long flight to Amsterdam – 11 hours!

I was sleeping like a baby most of the flight and finally we landed to Amsterdam on the 20th of December at 1:20 p.m. local time. Then we had a long 7 hours waiting for the next flight. Somehow we managed to spend time and finally our flight to Helsinki left at 8:20. We arrived to Helsinki-Vantaa at midnight and luckily our luggage arrived. Mika had his wife and son picking him up and it was time to say goodye.

I took a bus to Skyline Hotel where snow had melted so much that I managed to find my car and even drive it out. I had been sleeping so well that I decided to start driving to Parikkala. Finally I was at home about 5 a.m. and luckily I had one more day free before going to work.

J.A.Forewords

We were in Joensuu at North Karelia Bird Association 50-parties and BirdLife meeting when I got a message from Mika Ohtonen where he asked if I could join him to a trip to Ecuador in a few weeks. I just couldn’t pass this possibility to get birding with keen World-lister and a good guide and a driver. Mika had visited Ecuador already 5 times so the goal was to find some very difficult birds.

Soon I had ordered a book of Birds og Ecuador and I already had a Birds of Northern South America App on my phone, but as there has been more than 1600 bird-species in Ecuador, I couldn’t learn enough. I also got a route-plan from Mika but it might change depending on how we managed to find the most important target-species. But the plan was to drive straight from Quito to the eastern side of Andes where we would stay 2 or 3 days and then move to western side to Choco forests and then drive along the coast north to Colombian border and then back to Quito in 9 days.

Finally my holiday started and on the 8th of December I drove to familiar Skyline hotel where parking place was absolutely full of snow. Somehow I managed to squeeze my car to one gap between other cars and snow and after I had eaten in the restaurant I was soon ready to go to sleep.

To Ecuador

On the 9th of December I woke up very early and soon took a bus to Helsinki-Vantaa airport. There I met Mika soon and at 7:00 a.m. our flight left to Amsterdam. Surprisingly there were some mutual birder-friends traveling to Spain on the same flight.

In Amsterdam we had only a short wait for our next flight to Quito. It was a really long flight – more than 10 hours. After I had watched a couple of (bad) movies, I managed to sleep a little.

Because of we were flying over many time-zones, we landed to Quito already in the afternoon at 4:15 p.m. Luckily we found our luggage soon and in the lobby we met our driver German who didn’t speak English almost at all. We took some money from ATM and soon were packing our stuff to German’s VW Golf and started driving up towards the top of Andes.

There was still some light so we managed to see some birds like Blue-and-white Swallows, Chestnut-collared Sparrows, Eared Doves, an American Kestrel and a White-tailed Kite.

Quite is situated even 2850m high but we were driving much higher until more than 4000 meters. But then we soon started to drive down an when we finally after an hour diving were in Baeza, we were in about 200 meters.

We parked to a motel parking place and soon carried our luggage to our small cottage. Our room smelled quite bad but the motels pizzeria was really good and at least I had one of the best pizzas that I have ever had. We ordered one extra-pizza which we could take with us next morning as we weren’t sure if there was any breakfast available anywhere as we were about to start birding very early.

Gayacamayos trails

On the 10th of December we met German and our guide Marcelo Quipo who had arrived from previous guiding trip late in the evening. Marcelo had been guiding Mika on a couple of previous trips. Soon we were driving towards South and when it was starting to get a little bit light, we stopped to have breakfast in a small cafeteria in Cosanga.

After the breakfast we still drove a little to Guacamayos where from a view-watching place a small path started to go down along a valley to the forest.

In the beginning it was very quiet and we hardly found any birds but soon we had to take our cameras from the bags as first a Rufous-headed Pygmy Tyrant and then a Chestnut-bellied Thrush were showing quite well. Marcelo was really a pro-birder and he knew all the songs and calls and he also was really good in imitating many species which made it easier to know we were listening to the right calls when he immediately imitated it.

Rufous-headed Pygmy TyrantChestnut-bellied Thrush

We weren’t concentrating too much to common birds which were mostly lifers for me but tried to find one special bird that Mika had already been trying to find in this place a couple of times. Marcelo was whistling and playing tape a lot but we couldn’t find any Greater Scythebills. There had been some records quite recently but Mika knew that many birders had also missed this very rare species.

Spillmann's Tapaculo

We were continuing lower and lower to the valley and then decided to climb back up and then again down. We walked for many kilometers and it was quite hard as we were in more than 2000 meters. It was also raining very hard for some time but anyway we managed to find some very nice species like Dusky Piha, Black-chested and Green-and-black Fruiteater, Montane Woodcreeper, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, several different tanagers and hummingbirds, a tiny bird that was running across the path like a mouse – a Spillmann’s Tapaculo and many other species that were seen very briefly or just heard. For example a Geoffroyi’s Daggerbill was calling very long time just under one cliff behind some bushed but never came visible. Other birds that were only heard were a White-throated Toucanet, a Chestnut-crowned and Slate-crowned Antpitta, an Emerald-bellied Puffleg, a Green-backed Hillstar and so on.

Luckily we had also some pizza with us as we really climbed up and down a lot! Finally we had climbed back to the parking lot where German was waiting for us. We continued a short way to the northern side of the mountain and on the way we saw some Southern Lapwings. And soon we were climbing next to a oil-pipe very steep hill up towards the top of the mountain. The path was extremely steep and slippery but somehow we managed not to fall down. It was already midday so there weren’t much bird-activity. But we managed to see some nice birds like a Sickle-winged Guan and a Powerful Woodpecker and again hear some more new species. But still we couldn’t find any Greater Scythebills.

Our ordinary plan was to drive to eat to Baeza but Mika was still keen to keep on searching so we decided to drive back to our ordinary path. We sent German to eat and started walking down along the path once again. We didn’t walk long until Mika saw a reddish bird in flight and soon we both heard and saw it on a tree – it was a Greater Scythebill! And soon also a second bird flew to the same tree and it stayed visible for quite some time and we managed to get some pretty good pictures of this super-rare bird!

Greater ScythebillGreater Scythebill

Green-and-black Fruiteater

Because of German had just left, we decided to keep on walking and walked even to lower to the valley than in the morning. We soon met a couple of British World-listers along the path and they had been walking along the path for whole day. They had been quite low in the valley. They had crazy numbers of world-ticks, more than 8000 and more than 9000! But they still needed Greater Scythebill. We of course gave good instructions how to find the birds and quite soon they started climbing up. But later we heard that they hadn’t managed to find them.

Lower down Mika managed to hear a few calls of a rare Peruvian Antpitta but even though we tried quite some time, it didn’t call anymore when we were all there. But many other nice birds were found. Now we could concentrate also to more common birds when the main target-bird of the day (or even the whole trip) was on the bag.

Rufous-banded Owl

It was already getting late when we were driving back towards Baeza. But we still had one target on the way and it was found quite easily. Marcelo played some tape and soon we had a Rufous-banded Owl perched above us on the top of a tree. I wasn’t prepared to this easy twitch and I hadn’t got my camera ready but I was carrying my thermal-camera, so I got only pictures with that as the bird didn’t stay on the tree long enough.

In the evening we decided to stay in a different motel as we didn’t want to make our lungs sick with bad air that as in our previous room. We had already climbed so much in thin air that our lungs really needed some rest too. My watch told that I had been moving 389% of my daily goal. Also this Hostal La Casa de Rodrigo had a good restaurant and this time we ate fish. There were several rapid-paddlers staying in the motel. There for sure were good places for their hobby around.

Cosanga area

Geoffroyi's Daggerbill

On the 11th of December Marcelo arrived with a new driver Byron and soon we were having a breakfast in Cosanga again. Once we were moving again, we stopped next to a rapid but unfortunately there were no Torrent Ducks or White-capped Dippers but some Torrent Tyrannulets and Black Phoebes. Soon we continued to Rio Bemejo valley. There we immediately found a Geoffroyi’s Daggerbill that we managed to see pretty well and get some pictures too. Then we started a serious search of a Semicollared Hawk.

The views were excellent but we checked many dead trees with Marcelo’s telescope and without finding the Semicollared Hawk. But many other nice birds were of course found like a White-throated Toucanet, a Streak-headed Antbird, a Crested and a Golden-headed Quetzal, a Yellow-browed Sparrow, a couple of Black-billed Peppershrikes, a nice Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, a very beautiful Inca Jay, Blackish and Long-tailed Tapaculos, a Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, an Andean Solitaire and different kind of wrens, tanagers, warblers and so on.

Streak-headed AntbirdRufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher

Inca JayGolden-headed Quetzal

After mid-day we parked next to Guango Lodge and then walked a short trail on the hillside on the other side of the road. We hoped to find some Red-hooded Tanagers but we weren’t lucky with them. We didn’t see many other birds either just several hummingbirds very briefly. Anyway a few nice birds were found like a Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, a Smoke-colored Pewee, a Slaty-backed and a Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant and so on.

When we walked to the garden of the Lodge we saw an Andean Guan and a Masked Trogon immediately and in the garden I experienced my first hummingbird-feeders ever. So soon we were photographing hummingbirds like Tourmaline Sunangels, Buff-tailed Coronets, White-bellied Woodstars, Long-tailed Sylphs, Chestnut-breasted Coronets and also one Sword-billed Hummingbird. Also a Northern Mountain Cacique, a Turquoise Jay, a Capped Conebill, a Flammulated Treehunter and many other birds were seen.

Buff-tailed CoronetChestnut-breasted Coronet

Tourmaline SunangelLong-tailed Sylph

White-bellied WoodstarHooded Mountain Tanager

But soon we had to continued towards the top of Andes and soon we were searching for a Crestcent-faced Antpitta near Papallacta. But today we weren’t lucky with target-species and we could find only a few other birds like a Black-backed Bush Tanager and we also heard an Equatorial Antpitta and a Paramo Tapaculo. After some searching we had to give up and continue driving over the top.

Black-backed Bush TanagerPlumbeous Sierra Finch

Sun was already setting when we stopped on the highest top along the road and saw a Stout-billed Cincloides and a couple of Plumbeous Seirra Finches. It was freezing cold wind up there! We still made a short stop in an open area where Spectacled Bears are sometimes seen but again we had no luck.

Then we drove until Quito where we had accommodation in very nice Casa Magnolia. Wit would have been nice to stay there longer but now we had time for only a few hours sleep.

Yanacocha

On the 12th of December we were very early awake and already at 3:30 a.m. driving to our next target-place. We drove smaller and smaller roads and climbed up to Yanacocha.

On the way we saw a Band-winged Nightjar that flushed from the road in front of us. Finally just before 5 a.m. we were on a locked gate that was supposed to get opened at 5 o’clock for us. After some waiting we saw a motorcycle’s lights and soon we could continue driving along very small track higher towards the top of a mountain in this private protection area.

Mika knew that our birds were beginning their display about at 5:15 a.m. and stop quite soon so we were really in a hurry! We drove as long as we could along the track but when it got too bad we took our bags and continued by feet.

Soon Marcelo heard the first Imperial Snipe but it was quite distant so we kept on running towards the top where should be more open area so we could possibly see these snipes displaying on the sky.

We were running a kilometer or so and finally got to an open area. Soon Marcelo saw a snipe in flight but it was still so dark that we missed it. Marcelo was using his torch and I was scanning the sky with my thermal-camera. And finally I also saw one bird flying against the sky. Marcelo played some tape too and then one bird flew right over us! We didn’t have our cameras ready yet as it was still quite dark, but now we had to prepare for the similar flight. Unfortunately all at least birds all stayed further so I couldn’t get any flight shots.

For some time we heard these birds displaying but soon they stopped. It was good that we had come so early!

We were walking along the path quite some time playing the tape but heard only a couple of distant answers from the snipes. It seemed that they were already calling from the ground or trees. We of course started to find other interesting birds too so I got quite a few lifers again. Some birds to mention were Undulated Antpittas, a White-browed Spinetail, a White-throated Tyrannulet, an Ocellated Tapaculo, a Superciliaried Hemiphingus, a Glossy Flowerpiercer and so on. Again most birds were just heard or seen very briefly.

Finally we started to walk back towards our car and still Marcelo kept on playing the tape here and there. Suddenly we heard an answer about 100 meters in front of us. Mika and Marcelo climbed down to along very steep hillside into the dense forest but I decided to stay on the track if I could see something from there as it was much more open there. It really seemed hopeless as the vegetation was extremely thick but after some time I heard a whistle – the bird had been found! I climbed down very carefully and there it was – an Imperial Snipe was perched on a branch! I didn’t want to go too close ao I took my pictures a little bit further which was good as quite soon the bird started to move and then flew to another branch a little bit further. Then we decided to climb back to the path and continue to our car.

Imperial SnipeImperial Snipe

We were extremely happy as we had got really good pictures of a bird that not many birders have ever seen. Along the path there was a couple of places where were very nice view to the mountains.

View on AndesCarunculated Caracara

We drove just a little bit lower and saw a couple of Carunculated Caracaras and a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle flying on the sky. Then we parked our car again and walked a couple of kilometers along a path to a place where were several feeders. And here we could take pictures of different hummingbirds and also some other nice species.

While we were photographing hummingbirds we heard a White-throated Screech Owl calling nearby and soon found a couple of birds perched very close to each other on one tree. We of course took some pictures and soon were back to photograph Buff-winged Starfrontlets, Golden-breasted Pufflegs, Great Sapphirewings, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercers, absolutely beautiful Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers, Yellow-breasted Brushfinches and after quite a lot of trying I finally managed to get some pictures of also a Sapphire-vented Puffleg and a Sword-billed Hummingbird too. We saw plenty of other birds too but soon we had to keep on going.

Golden-breasted PufflegWhite-throated Screech Owl

Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager and Masked FlowerpiercerSapphire-vented Puffleg

Buff-winged StarfrontletSword-billed Hummingbird

Shining Sunbeam

A little bit lower we ate on a small restaurant that had been opened only for us. It was very foggy so there wasn’t much activity on the feeders but luckily we found a couple of Shining Sunbeams which I managet to photograph too. It was really so foggy that my camera suffered to find the bird at all.

Bellavista area

We continued driving through Tandayapa Valley and from the moving car and a couple of short stops we could find some new birds. For example a Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl, a Broad-winged Hawk, a Flammulated Treehunter, a Narino Tapaculo, a Choco Brushfinch and so on were observed.

From Bellavista Lodge feeders we found again new hummingbirds and there we could photograph Buff-tailed Coronets, Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Speckled Hummingbirds, Collared Incas, Gorgeted Sunangels and Violet-tailed Sylphs and so on. Unfortunately light wasn’t very good for photographing.

Collared IncaGorgeted SunangelFawn-breasted BrilliantViolet-tailed Sylph

But soon we had to hurry again and on the way we saw a Plate-billed Mountain Toucan before sun started to set. We were closing places where Tanager Finches had been seen in the past and also quite recently. After one turn Mika told that: “This looks like the place where we had them last time”. We stopped and right away we found 3 Tanager Finches feeding along the road. One bird was young and they all were showing extremely well. Light was already bad but we managed to get some good pictures of this extremely rare species.

Tanager FinchTanager Finch

It was completely dark when we continued to Mindo where we still went to search for a Black-and-white Owl. Marcelo had recently seen 3 birds in same place but now we tried a long time there but heard only a funny-sounding Common Potoo. We were also walking a lot along the road and I was scanning every tree with my thermal-camera but all I found was a Sloth and an Ocelot and many sleeping passerines.

Black-and-white Owl
After long trying we still decided to drive a little and stop in one more place just a little bit further along the road. Marcelo played the tape once again and immediately we heard a response! And soon we found a nice Black-and-white Owl perching on a top of one tree. It had really been a very long day and finally we were in San Sebastian de Los Blancos where we had an accommodation.

To Rio Canande

On the 13th of December we slept a little bit longer and so when we were packing our car, we managed to see some bird in the motel-garden. Some species I was familiar with from French Guiana but of course there were some lifers too like Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Andean Emerald, Ecuadorian Thrush, Black-winged Saltator, Pacific Hornero and Choco Tyrannulet.

We had a long drive to Rio Canande. Along the way we didn’t see much but a couple of common birds that were new for me. The most surprising part of the trip was a short ferry-trip over a river. The ferry was moving by an outboard motor but anyway it took several cars in.

Little Cuckoo

After the river crossing we started to see more birds, several different tangaras, a Little Cuckoo that was a new bird for Mika and for example a Blue-chested Hummingbird, a Snail Kite Southern Rough-winged and White-thighed Swallows and so on.

Finally we arrived to Rio Canande and parked to Choco Lodge that was together with a forest research institute. We got an own cabin that was under long stairs. There we had a room with Mika and Marcelo and Byron had their own.

Right away we started to see some nice birds like a Barred Puffbird, a Purple-chested Hummingbird, Yellow-throated Toucans with a single Choco Toucan, Rose-faced Parrots and so on.

Barred PuffbirdYellow-throated Toucan

Pretty soon we were ready to go birding. The path started just behind our cottage and soon we were climbing hills in the middle of rainforest. The paths were named after birds and first we were walking along Choco Tapaculo trail and when we got higher we continued to Banded Bay Cuckoo trail.

It seemed that all birds were again new to me so I got lifers all the time. It was hard to keep track of them. We found a Spot-crowned Antvireo, Speckled Mourner, a Brown-capped Tyrannulet, a Song Wren, a Tawny-faced Gnatwren, a Band-tailed Barbthroat, a Choco Manakin, a Western Woodhaunter, different kind of flycatcher and antbird kind of birds and so on.

Speckled MournerBand-tailed Barbthroat

After some more climbing along slippery trail we found also a singing Blue-black Grosbeak, a Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, a Lita and a Cinnamon Woodpecker, a Yellow-margined Flatbill, a Rufous Piha, a couple of different woodcreepers, tanagers, wrens and then heard the first Great Tinamou too. But seeing any birds in this dark forest was very difficult especially when most of the birds were moving on the top of trees.

Armadillo

After one more hill that we had climbed up we found a funny-looking Armadillo that was digging something from the side of the path. It was in a very dark place but somehow I managed to get one decent picture of it even though I was walking last and I had to find a clear view behind a couple of photographers equipments and backs.

When we were climbing the longest uphill we heard calls of Baudo Guans. We tried to get closer and Marcelo managed to see one bird on a branch but then an unlucky slip of one of us scared both us and the bird that flew away.

It was getting dark when we hurried back towards the lodge. When it was completely dark we heard the first Choco Screech Owl calling and soon heard another one very close. This bird was found easily and we managed to get very good pictures of it. Meanwhile there was also a Mottle Owl calling nearby.

Choco Screech OwlSpectacled Owl

Finally we were at the lodge and went straight to eat to a restaurant building that was very close to our cottage. After the dinner we still did a short drive and tried to find Choco Poorwills but it was probably too late evening already. I was scanning the surrounding with my thermal-camera again and luckily found a Spectacled Owl perched very close to us. It flew a little bit further but we still got some pictures of this beautiful owl. Finally we drove back to the lodge and at least I was completely tired! I just went to sleep right away.

Botrosa road

On the 14th of December we woke up very early again as we wanted to drive far along the Botrosa road to start birding there when the sun rises. We had both breakfast and lunch packed well with us.

We didn’t need to make many stops until we heard the first Choco Poorwill and soon we found one bird perched on a branch. Unfortunately it was a little bit too far to get enough light to it to get any pictures.

Other early morning observations were a couple of Crested Guans, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, a Zeledon’s Antbird, Choco Trogons, and then first only heard Long-wattled Umbrellabirds that were first seen just distantly but then they flew almost right over us. Male umbrellabird was really amazing-looking! Also a couple of Chestnut-fronted Macaws, a Guayaquil Woodpecker, beautiful Swallow-tailed Kites, a couple of Lanceolated Monklets and a Dagua Thrush were also found.

Crested GuanLong-wattled Umbrellawing

We were doing so called roadside birding so that we were walking a lot along the road and Byron was following us with car. Then we drove a little bit and soon started to walk again.

Marcelo was all the time playing tape for a few target-species. Especially Central American Pygmy Owl and Plumbeous Forest Falcon were playing so much that our ears were almost bleeding, but unfortunately neither of them was calling back. But we did hear a Berlepsch’s Tinamou and saw Tawny-crested Tanagers and a Red-rumped Woodpecker before we finally heard an answer to one of the calls that Marcelo had been playing. We walked inside the forest to get closer to the caller and after some searching I managed to find a chicken-like shape with my thermal-camera. And then this Tawny-faced Quail was possible to find also with binoculars and even with camera. I managed to get a couple of pictures of this very difficult to find bird through branches and leaves.

Lanceolated MonkletTawny-faced Quail

While searching for the quail we managed to find also a Spotted Antbird and a Plain Xenops and to listen to a Song Wren’s strange song.

It was good to find out that some species that I was familiar with from French Guiana were easy to pick up even only from the calls. But then some new species had extremely similar calls and many times I thought I had found a familiar bird but was lucky to find out that it was one more lifer. One bird I was already familiar was a King Vulture and it was nice to see 4 birds soaring together on the sky.

Grey-backed Hawk, Greenish Elaenia, Moustached Antwren, Red-capped Manakin, One-colored Becard and after a long search briefly seen Choco Woodpecker were all new birds like also White-necked Puffbird, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Orange-fronted Barbet, Purple-crowned Fairy, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Swallow Tanager and a beautiful couple of Scarlet-breasted Dacnises that we found later.

White-necked PuffbirdScarlet-breasted Dacnis

Black-tipped Cotinga

On one stop we had a nice view over the cloud-forests and with Marcelo’s scope we managed to find a couple of snowy-white Black-tipped Cotingas. Male cotingas aren’t calling at all but on their display they just perch on the top of trees and are showy.

We still stopped and walked for many times and played tape a lot but couldn’t find more target-species. Finally it was getting late and we drove quite fast back to the lodge where at least I had no difficulties to fall asleep.

Same places again

On the 15th of December we slept a little bit longer and aftre breakfast we went to walk along the same tracks on the first afternoon in Rio Canande.
We found mostly the same species as on our first walk but of course also something new. Already to our terrace we heard a funny-sounding Wattled Guan and soon we had found also a Rufous Mourner and Rufous Piha, heard a Buff-rumped Warbler, a Checker-throated Stipplethroat and seen briefly a Velvety Manakin.

Crested Guan

Weather was rainy and higher there was very thick fog so we had to keep our cameras in waterproof bags. Because of the fog we couldn’t see the flock of Blue-fronted Parrotlets that flew over us a couple of times. At the top we found a mobile flock of noisy Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds. They probably had a swarm of army-ants to follow inside the forest. We also heard a White-ringed Flycatcher.

Because of the bad weather we were walking back down sooner than we had planned. Then we found a flock of 5 guans that at least 2 of them were Baudo Guans but they disappeared to the forest too quickly – only one Crested Guan stayed photographable.

Black Howler

A little bit lower along the path we finally heard the first Choco Tapaculo and managed to see it briefly but then one big Black Howler monkey started to make some attacks towards us on the top of tree. It didn’t come too close but it was extremely aggressive, noisy and even threw us with a meter long branch. So we started to feel quite uncomfortable and decided not to try to photograph the tapaculo but move slowly further from the monkey.

Once we were back at the lodge we had once again really good food and even relaxed a little. Byron surprised us and found a Great Jacamar perched on a tree next to our cottage.

Great JacamarPale-mandibled Aracari

Rose-faced Parrot

We also went to see the research laboratories with the young manager of the place. The lab was on the top floor and there were big windows from where it was nice view to surrounding forest. From the windows we noticed that there was a huge mixed flock on a tree next to our cottage. We hadn’t got a scope with us so we soon hurried to see the flock better and could see at least 22 species visiting the tree. There was probably a snake or some other predator hiding in the tree-top. For example Rose-faced Parrots, a couple of Violet-bellied Hummingbirds, a Blue-whiskered and a Guira Tanager were seen amongst many other colorful species. There was a sign just next to the stairs that told to be careful with snakes but we saw only one snake on the whole trip but it was exactly on those stairs.

In the afternoon we were roadside-birding again along Botrosa road but for some reason we couldn’t find many birds. When we were already driving back towards the lodge, we stopped next to a small village where was a nice view and some flowering trees. Mika saw an interesting-looking hummingbird very briefly so we decided to stay there longer. And after a long wait it come back and we immediately took pictures of it and from the pictures we could tell that it was an Esmeralda’s Woodstar – a very rare and local hummingbird that was usually seen in Southern Ecuador! I also got pictures of a Golden-hooded Tanager that visited the same bush.

Golden-hooded TanagerEsmeralda's Woodstar

On the 16th of December we went once more early to Botrosa road and drove a long way to the places for Central American Pygmy Owl and Plumbeous Forest Falcon. We were playing tape and walking, stopping, driving and so on for the whole morning but these birds weren’t found. But already early in the morning we found a Choco Sirystes which was showing well and we got some pictures too but it never came very close. On the next tree-top we saw a Snowy-throated Kingbird which also was a bit too far for good pictures.

Choco SirystesSnowy-throated Kingbird

Along Botrosa road there were forest-cuts going on as en electricity was being made to the village somewhere further in the middle of the rain-forest. Because of wee had tried everything else already we decided to walk a small path into the forest if our target-birds had moved further from the road because of the disturbance. We found a calling Berlepsch’s Tinamou but it didn’t come visible even though we tried. Then we found a couple of raptors building their nest on the top of one tree but even though they first looked quite promising, we identified them as Tiny Hawks which was of course a nice observation too but we had really worked hard to find forest falcon…

Tiny HawkSouthern Mealy Amazon

Otherwise the observations were pretty much the same as on our previous drive in the area. Of course all the new species were again lifers for me like Semiplumbeous Hawk, Choco Elaenia, Yellow-bellied Siskin and so on. We didn’t get many photographing opportunities either but of course we managed to get some pictures.

Chestnut-fronted MacawLong-tailed Tyrant

To the shore

We still ate in the lodge restaurant and then it was time to start driving first towards the civilization and then towards coast. Surprisingly soon we were on the ferry again and right away there were villages and towns. We had a long drive so we really didn’t have time to make any stops.

Once we reached the shore we saw a few trip-ticks from the moving car like an Osprey, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans and some egret. But we still had a long way to go. When we finally made it to Las Peñas the first hotel that we tried to get was fully booked – or at least we were told so. Luckily the second one had room and we got a safe place to stay at night. We were now in the area where normal tourists are not coming because of it really is not very safe.

Las Peñas

On the 17th of December I woke up at too early morning when my bed and actually whole house was shaking! It took a few seconds to realize it was an earthquake! It lasted about 20 seconds but I was so tired that when it stopped I almost immediately fell asleep again. It was quite a surprise when we later in the afternoon found out that it had been the strongest earthquake of the whole year in Ecuador and only some tens of kilometers from ys but deep in the sea. It had been 5.3 magnitudes and then later another one had been 4.4 magnitudes but I didn’t wake up to that one.

In the morning we tried to find a place to eat breakfast but nothing was open so early. So we left birding. We didn’t drive long before we made the first stop and Marcelo started to play tape again and almost immediately a Dwarf Cuckoo flew to a tree next to us!

Dwarf CuckooGreen Kingfisher

We tried for some time to get good pictures of the Dwarf Cuckoo but at least I couldn’t get any good ones. We also saw and photographed Masked Water Tyrants, Mangrove Warblers, a female Vermilion Flycatcher, a Green Kingfisher and a flock of White Ibises that flew over us.

Masked Water TyrantAmerican White Ibis

Next we continued along the road past some pools to a bridge and in this river-area there were records of a rare Humboldt’s Sapphire. We were in this are for a long time but saw only a few other hummingbird-species briefly. There would have been another place for this species in San Andreas but it wasn’t safe place to go birding. Luckily we saw many other birds like a Slaty Becard, a Pacific Antwren, a White-browed Gnatcatcher and it was nice birding but first time during the trio it started to get very hot.

White-browed GnatcatcherPacific Antwren

Red-legged HoneycreeperTropical Parula
We drove back to Las Peñas to eat to a restaurant that was right next to the shore. Already in the parking place we managed to get pictures of a Croaking Ground Dove. And from the terrace we could see Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans flying over the sea and Magnificent Frigatebirds flying above the beach and a couple of times they came to soar right above us.

Croaking Ground DoveMagnificent Frigatebird

Neotropic Cormorant

Soon we passed the pools again and stopped by the same bridge again to search for hummingbirds. But still we couldn’t find the right one. A Neotropic Cormorant was swimming under the bridge and I managed to get some good pictures of it and a couple of Olivaceous Piculets were seen in a dense tree where they weren’t easy to see at all and almost impossible to get any pictures.

We also went to walk to a pathway that was in the middle of mangrove but we couldn’t find many birds there. But in the garden of this private protected area we saw a nice Gartered Trogon and heard a Blue Ground Dove. But still we found no Humboldt’s Sapprire.

Ecuadorian Ground DoveGartered Trogon

Finally we had to go to get our luggage from our hotel and now we stopped for a few seconds by the pools and managed to see some egrets, Blue-winged Teals and also a White-cheeked Pintail. For sure there would have been some trip-ticks and also lifers for me but we had a tight schedule and we had to keep on going.

Shorter stops

The next stop was made in forest area near San Francisco where we tried to find Blue Cotinga. We saw immediately some Scaled Pigeons flying and after some roadside-birding we had found also a Black-breasted Puffbird, a Five-colored Barbet and heard a Toucan Barbet and a Uniform Crake. On a couple of places there was a nice view over the rain-forest and with scope and binocula

Otherwise the observations were pretty much the same as on our previous drive in the area. Of course all the new species were again lifers for me like Semiplumbeous Hawk, Choco Elaenia, Yellow-bellied Siskin and so on. We didn’t get many photographing opportunities either but of course we manged to get some pictures.

rs we could find first a Masked Tityra and then Mika found a distant bright blue spot – a Blue Cotinga!

Five-colored BarbetBlue Cotinga

In the evening we drove to San Lorenzo which is famous drug-town. We went straight to eat so we wouldn’t have to move in the city more than necessary. I have never got so big portion of food before!

Then we drove straight to our hotel where was preparation for big parties going on. I asked for a room that was as far a s possible from the party-area and got a cheap room from a high-rise. While I was climbing the stairs up to my room I saw an American Barn Owl flying to a big tree nearby. After all I managed to sleep very well even though the parties continued until early morning.

On the 18th of December we woke up very early again. There were people sleeping here and there in the restaurant-area – the parties had been good. We soon drove to Carondelet where we soon found a Pearl Kite and a Bat Hawk.

We continued towards Awa road and still made a couple of stops on a steep hillside to play tapes. From the top we saw a steep cliff and soon we saw a falcon flying behind it. Luckily it came back visible soon and then landed to the cliff – and it was an Orange-breasted Falcon.
Pearl KiteOrange-breasted Falcon

Awa road

Because of there were nothing calling back to our tapes we soon continued to Awa road where after a couple of stops we were in a place where it was impossible to drive further as the road was so awful. So we had to keep on by feet. There were quite a few people walking towards us as they were going to work and school. We didn’t see many houses along the road so I have no idea where they all were coming from.

Soon we started to find some birds and a Crowned Woodnymph, a Stripe-billed Aracari, a Maroon-tailed Parakeet, a Stub-tailed Antbird, an Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and finally a few Yellow-green Tanagers were found. While we were photographing Yellow-green Tanagers we found also a couple of amazing Scarlet-and-white Tanagers and the beautiful male was showing quite well while the quite ordinary-looking female was hiding extremely well all the time.

Yellow-green TanagerScarlet-and-white Tanager

After some more kilometers walk we found also a few Golden-chested Tanagers and also they let us to take some pictures. And our tanager-walk came even more perfect when we were walking back all these birds were showing even better and then also an Emerald Tanager and a Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo were showing extremely well.

Golden-chested TanagerEmerald Tanager

We had really had good time but we still had interesting times ahead. Marcelo had got a message from Byron that Argentina was leading France in football World Cup final. When we were had walked to the car the game was still 2-0 but almost immediately France made a goal. So we stuck to watch the game from Byron’s phone. And soon France equalized!

On the last minute of the normal time France got a free-kick and then the connection stopped. We had to start driving along the road back and try to find a place with a connection. And once we found it an extra-time was beginning.

Byron was sitting in a car with a shadow and the rest of us were standing outside and watching from the window to his phone. Marcelo was too nervous to watch so he kept on playing tapes. Then Messi made it 3-2 but soon Mbabbe equalized. On the last seconds French player still get amazing opportunity but Argentina’s goalkeeper Emilio Martinez managed somehow to stop the ball. So soon it was time for penalties!

While penalties we had some disturbance as Marcelo managed to attract a nice Choco Woodpecker to pose to the closest tree so we had to take some pictures. We were always hurrying to see a penalty and then back to get more pictures. We all were hoping Argentina to win and we were all really happy when they did!

Slaty-capped Shrike-VireoChoco Woodpecker

After the game we still had a long drive until Hosteria San Geronimo where we got rooms. Luckily the restaurant was still open se we managed to eat too. And then I was ready get some shut-eye.

Chical road

On the 19th of December we were once again awake very early and soon we crossed the river and started driving along Chical road towards Colombian border. When the sun was rising we were already on the mountains and in plces where to find our target-birds.

Once again Marcelo was playing tape a lot but our main-target was missing. But we found for example a Yellow-breasted Antpitta, a White-crested Elaenia, a Uniform Treehunter, a Spotted Barbtail, a Blue-capped, a Rufous-throated and a Glistening-green Tanager and then a very good Star-chested Treerunner which we also got some pictures.

Star-chested TreerunnerBrown Inca

Also a Wahite-faced Nunbird was a really good find. It was calling on a distant tree but we saw it well. And luckily after a long search we finally found one Beautiful Jay too. It came to see us very shortly and I couldn’t get very good pictures of it.

White-faced NunbirdBeautiful Jay

We also saw another Plate-billed Mountain Toucan and also a beautiful Purplish-mantled Tanager was showing very well. But then our tight schedule meant that we had to start driving back. We were driving quite fast towards out hotel but still on the way Marcelo found a really good bird when a nice Ecuadorian Seedeater was perched next to the road.

Plate-billed Mountain ToucanPurplish-mantled Tanager

Cloud forests

Back to Quito

At the hotel I did my check-in which took a long time with bad internet connection. And then we started a long drive through mountains back to Quito. Luckily there weren’t too many surprises on the way, just one truck that had fallen to the road side. Luckily it was fell off the road.

We had planned to make at least one stop on the way either on Ibarra Yanacocha or near Otavalo in San Pablo but the driving was slowly and then we spent too much time trying to find an open restaurant. Luckily a restaurant was finally found but only one more new bird was found as a couple of Andean Coots were swimming on San Pablo. For sure there would have been many new species to me but I have to come back one day.

Finally we were in Quito and San Mariscal airport. It was time to say thanks and goodbye to Marcelo and Byron. We then had a really long traveling ahead.

Group photo

To home

The airport was extremely busy and after all we had to ask people to let us in front of the queues as 2 hours wasn’t enough to get through. Luckily people were friendly and we got to our gate just in time and just to find out that the boarding hadn’t even started.

Finally our flight left before 6 p.m. and surprisingly flew first to totally wrong direction and landed to Guayaquil. There we had to get out to the airport for more than 30 minutes before returning back to the same plane. And then we had an extremely long flight to Amsterdam – 11 hours!

I was sleeping like a baby most of the flight and finally we landed to Amsterdam on the 20th of December at 1:20 p.m. local time. Then we had a long 7 hours waiting for the next flight. Somehow we managed to spend time and finally our flight to Helsinki left at 8:20. We arrived to Helsinki-Vantaa at midnight and luckily our luggage arrived. Mika had his wife and son picking him up and it was time to say goodye.

I took a bus to Skyline Hotel where snow had melted so much that I managed to find my car and even drive it out. I had been sleeping so well that I decided to start driving to Parikkala. Finally I was at home about 5 a.m. and luckily I had one more day free before going to work.

J.A.