Ecuador: A Hummingbird Extravaganza Feb 08—17, 2013
Posted by Paul Greenfield
Hummingbirds are truly fascinating and exceptional creatures that live at the extremes of what is physically possible, and during this February’s weeklong Ecuador: A Hummingbird Extravaganza tour we reveled in the presence of a bunch of them! We followed a route that took us to both the Amazonian and Pacific slopes of the Andes of Ecuador to visit some of the finest hummingbird hotspots on Earth, where we studied them carefully and were able to witness the super-charged interaction between dozens of hummers at once—an incredibly dizzying experience to say the least. We concentrated on these feathered gems for protracted periods each day and also took “humming breaks” now and again to enjoy some additional Neotropical bird species in this avian-rich country. We also came across several interesting mammals and other creatures along the way.
Our extravaganza began in the interandean valley, just east of the capital city of Quito, where a Giant Hummingbird, our very first species, showed itself impressively just as a brief but potent earthquake shook everything in sight and rendered the birds instantly still on the spot. What a rocking start to our journey! We then made our way up and over the eastern cordillera of the Andes and began our descent towards the Amazon Basin to our next stop, Guango Lodge and its excellent nectar feeders. Chestnut-breasted Coronets, Tourmaline Sunangels, Collared Incas, Long-tailed Sylphs, and White-bellied Woodstars were among the species that dazzled us, but it was the unworldly Sword-billed Hummingbirds that blew us away! We continued our road trip right after lunch and a few additional treats—a snoozing Torrent Duck, an active troupe of Turquoise Jays, and a sighting of Mountain Avocetbill—to our first destination, Cabañas San Isidro.
The following day began with a morning bout of birding around the San Isidro grounds, where birds were buzzing (even before we spotted any hummingbirds!): Inca Jays, Subtropical Caciques, pairs of Masked Trogons and Crested Quetzals, White-bellied Antpitta, and White-capped Tanagers led the multispecies charge before we even settled in to watch the feeders, adding Bronzy Inca to our hummer list. After great birding and one of this lodge’s renowned lunches, along with a soaring Black-and-chestnut Eagle, we headed off to our final east slope destination—Wildsumaco Lodge. When hummingbirds are the game, this site is the perfect playing field! As we drove to Wildsumaco, we made a brief stop at the Río Hollín bridge, and with a splendid backdrop of waterfalls, whitewater rapids, and boulders, we were entertained by a pair of Torrent Ducks and a foraging Fasciated Tiger-Heron.
As we expected, Wildsumaco brought a lot to our table. Their two exceptional hummingbird feeder stations were incredible and we enjoyed an amazing diversity of species with excellent and repeated looks at many regional specialties, including Green Hermit, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Brown Violetear, Wire-crested Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Napo Sabrewing, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Violet-fronted and Black-throated brilliants, Gould’s Jewelfront, White-tailed Hillstar, the buff-booted Booted Racket-tail, Gorgeted Woodstar, and Fork-tailed Woodnymph. A displaying male Wire-crested Thorntail gave us a brief but wonderful look into the intimate world of these whirling dervishes. We took a few needed “humming breaks” to explore edge habitat and a short forest trail, where we checked out a stand of Heliconia flowers. It really is amazing just how many cool birds we came across without really trying too hard. Scaled Pigeon; Gray-chinned Hermit; Military Macaw; Gilded Barbet; Chestnut-tipped Toucanet; Black-mandibled and Channel-billed toucans; Lineated and Yellow-tufted woodpeckers; Lined Antshrike and White-backed Fire-eye; Violaceous Jay; White-thighed Swallow; Cerulean Warbler (a beautiful adult male!); Olivaceous Greenlet; and Paradise, Orange-eared, Fawn-breasted, and Magpie tanagers were just a few species that we enjoyed. The deluge that fell upon Wildsumaco throughout that night prompted us to head off early back over the Andes to Quito in preparation for the start of the second stage of our Hummingbird Extravaganza.
Ecuador’s northwest Andean slope is fantastic, and pretty much right from the get-go we experienced the riches of this tiny corner of the world. Our first stop was at Jocotoco Foundation’s Yanacocha Reserve, with its blissful vistas, tangled elfin moss-forest, giant Gunnera leaves, and high elevation hummingbirds…and non-hummingbirds! We enjoyed our second pass at Sword-billed Hummingbird along with some new species: Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted pufflegs, and the fabulous (the world’s second largest) Great Sapphirewing and Buff-winged Starfrontlet—it’s just so wonderful observing these species so closely and repeatedly! As an extra-added bonus we had nice looks at both Tawny and Rufous antpittas, Golden-crowned Tanager, and Black-chested Mountain-Tanager among other specialties.
At midday we headed downslope and turned in to a great little spot—Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve…what a blast of hummingbirds! This place held the most hummers per square inch of any place I have ever visited! And being our first mid-elevation west-slope site, we were mesmerized. From here we advanced to our final destination—Séptimo Paraíso, and our center of operations for the following days. It was from here that we bounced around from site to site, observing the diversity of hummingbirds at different elevations and habitats and exploring the general area and its birdlife. An incredible array of hummers were seen, including White-necked Jacobin; White-whiskered and Tawny-bellied hermits; Purple-crowned Fairy; Black-throated Mango; Green Thorntail; Violet-tailed Sylph; Brown Inca; Velvet-purple Coronet; the white-booted Booted Racket-tail; Purple-bibbed Whitetip; Fawn-breasted, Green-crowned, and Empress brilliants; Long-billed Starthroat; Purple-throated Woodstar; Western Emerald; Green-crowned Woodnymph; Andean Emerald; Blue-chested and Purple-chested hummingbirds; and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Some noteworthy non-hummers included Blue-headed and Bronze-winged parrots; Little and Squirrel cuckoos; Red-headed Barbet; Pale-mandibled Araçari; Guayaquil Woodpecker; Pacific Hornero; Black-striped and Strong-billed woodcreepers; Masked Water-Tyrant; Ornate and Cinnamon flycatchers; lekking Golden-winged, Club-winged, and White-bearded manakins; Flame-faced, Golden-naped, Beryl-spangled, and Metallic-green tanagers; and White-winged Brush-Finch.
Our last day was spent along the “Paseo del Quinde” Ecoroute, along which we made a couple of planned stops at two private residences. Our goal was to hopefully pick up a few new species of hummers. These were pleasant social calls with friends, and the many species we enjoyed, along with the Green Violetear, Gorgeted Sunangel, and Wedge-billed Hummingbirds we added to our list, were just icing on the cake. We also came across Golden-headed Quetzals, a nesting pair of Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans, a deceased Hoary Puffleg, which saddened us all, and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, spotted an active Purple-throated Woodstar nest which made us smile, resulting in a fitting end to our Hummingbird Extravaganza experience.