Northern Ecuador Hummingbird Extravaganza Mar 16—25, 2017
Posted by Paul Greenfield
Hummingbirds—their aerodynamics, glittering prismatic plumage, pugnacious/audacious behavior, their exhausting acrobatics and frenetic lifestyles, and their sheer coolness brought us together here in Ecuador to witness this year’s truly unsurpassable extravaganza. We observed a whole lot of these incredible creatures, these “jewels of the Sun God,” from within their fascinating world, within the diverse ecosystems and varied environments they inhabit, as we traced an imaginary line along the Earth’s Equator, following an often breathtaking east-west Andean-slope transect, while overnighting at some of the most incredible hummingbird hot-spots on the planet.
The experience would not have been complete or rounded without considering at least some of the amazing “other” avian species that share this mega-diverse hummingbird environment, so we took some time out of each day to sample many of the Neotropical treasures that abound at each site we visited—and what a sample we enjoyed!
Part I of our weeklong trip took us down the west slope of the Andes where we explored high-temperate elfin forest at Yanacocha Reserve and various lower to mid-elevation sites out from Séptimo Paraíso, our pleasant base of operations, located in the Mindo Valley. Hummingbirds were plentiful, of course, and our first morning brought an eye-catching jolt that included such wonders as Shining Sunbeam, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, the fabulous Great Sapphirewing, the uncanny Sword-billed Hummingbird, Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted pufflegs, and Tyrian Metaltail just outside of Ecuador’s beautiful Capital city, Quito. We continued downslope to witness a different set of hummers at Los Armadillos, where we were mesmerized by White-necked Jacobins; Brown and Green violetears; Speckled Hummingbirds; breathtaking Violet-tailed Sylphs; Brown Inca; Buff-tailed Coronets; the charming white-booted Booted Racket-tail; Fawn-breasted, Green-crowned, and the spectacular Empress brilliants; minute Purple-throated Woodstars; Andean Emeralds; and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds… we were really on a roll! Ah, but not to forget the incredible Black-chested and Scarlet-bellied mountain-tanagers (among other great finds) that we enjoyed point-blank looks at while exploring Yanacocha Reserve.
From Séptimo Paraíso, as our center of operations, we visited several key locations, each with its select species of special hummers, distinctive characteristics, and all home to great birds and great experiences! Perhaps, our “team’s” most popular site was what I have coined as “Casa Rolando”… owned and designed by a smiley and humble local resident, Rolando García, whose lovely forested bird garden really blew our collective minds. We were glued to incredibly close encounters with so many wonderful birds that it would be impossible to describe fairly; but briefly, we secured more close studies of many of the special Chocó bioregional endemic hummingbirds, including Purple-bibbed Whitetip and the awesome Velvet-purple Coronet, along with “intimate” one-on-ones with such non-hummer wonders as Toucan Barbet; Crimson-rumped Toucanet; Golden, Golden-naped, Black-capped, and Flame-faced tanagers; Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager; and Black-winged Saltator among the many species we reveled in.
Our visits to Milpe and Río Silanche bird sanctuaries just further confirmed why Ecuador is such a mega-birding hot-spot. The nectar feeders at Milpe were “humming” (so to speak) with, among the many hummers, exceptional looks at the stunning Crowned Woodnymph, adorable Green Thorntails, and White-whiskered Hermit; the forest too offered up some specialties, with Collared Trogon, Red-headed Barbet, Pale-mandibled Araçari, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, the scarce and local Splendid (Crimson-bellied) Woodpecker, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, and Metallic-green, Bay-headed, and Ochre-breasted tanagers. Our morning visit to Río Silanche and its entrance road, rich forest, and convenient canopy tower also produced Blue-chested and the endemic Purple-chested hummingbirds, and we experienced an exhausting, almost non-stop, super multispecies mixed foraging flock to top things off. A sample of noteworthy species seen here includes: displaying Striped Cuckoos; Chocó Trogon; Pale-mandibled Araçari; Chocó Toucan; Black-cheeked, Golden-olive, Lineated, and Guayaquil woodpeckers; Chocó (Maroon-tailed) Parakeet; Blue-headed and Bronze-winged parrots; Pacific Hornero; Bright-rumped Attila; Black-crowned and Masked tityras; Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo; and Scarlet-browed Tanager. We later enjoyed a pleasurable box-lunchtime at Suamox, sampled their homemade fruit ices, and checked out their lovely gardens and feeders—though I must admit 5 (yes five) potentially “new” species of hummingbirds were not seen well enough to count for our trip list…oh well, that’s how it goes sometimes!
For our final day along the west slope (our day 4) we explored the Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute, making a few special stops to check out more nectar feeders, while also picking up a few new non-hummers along the way. The much enjoyed coffee break we took at Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge brought us nice views of Gorgeted Sunangel and Collared Inca among other already familiar species. Along the Ecoroute we recorded Tawny-bellied Hermit, Golden-headed Quetzal, the fabulous Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Pearled Treerunner, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, and Grass-green Tanager just to mention a few highlights. Our last stop, before heading back to Quito, was at Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve where we may have witnessed the most hummers-per-square-inch found anywhere! After adding the super-shiny Western Emerald to our “relished list,” we moseyed on down to the nearby stream where we came across a female Andean Cock-of-the-rock nesting under a bridge…very cool! It was hard to believe that half of our trip was coming to an end, but amazing that in just four days we had already recorded 34 hummingbird species! Not bad at all!
We headed off for Part II of our saga, this time to the east Andean slope, with our eyes first set on the Antisana area, southeast of Quito. We had already enjoyed views of the colossal volcano all the way from the west slope of the Andes, just above Mindo, and although we were not going to ascend to the paramo zone here on this trip, we did sneak a couple of glimpses of the glacier-covered peak en route. At our initial stop, just as we climbed out of our van, Kevin called out, “Condor!” and before we were even organized, a beautiful male Andean Condor presented itself in graceful soaring flight along the cliffs below us…nice start! A few minutes later we found ourselves in the midst of a mini-hummer-fest—with excellent close looks at Sparkling Violetear, Black-tailed Trainbearer, and the largest of them all, the Giant Hummingbird, all in spectacular light—wow! We pulled ourselves away and continued a short distance to a turn-off road, bordered by hundreds of orange-flowering Chuquiragua shrubs (Ecuador’s national flower), and struggled a bit to spot our first Ecuadorian Hillstar, finally! We also encountered many Black-tailed Trainbearers and an obliging Tawny Antpitta among a few additional species before we moved on towards our final destination…or two.
Now, taking a route north and then east again, we climbed to the paramo zone at Papallacta Pass, where we made a quick search along the “old” road for some high-elevation specialties; I might add that we did quite well really, although we were able to get only a quick look at a Blue-mantled Thornbill, later a Viridian Metaltail, and, surprisingly, ran into a discreet mixed-species foraging flock complete with a pair of rather friendly Giant Conebills…nice! We then slipped away, direction downslope and farther east, to our lunch site at Guango Lodge. This temperate-zone area has apparently been suffering from a prolonged dry-spell, and hummingbird activity was surprisingly slow, but with patience we managed to see some new beauties: Tourmaline Sunangel, Long-tailed Sylph, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, and White-bellied Woodstar. Then, finally, we arrived at Cabañas San Isidro in time to settle in and take in some late afternoon birding; noteworthy additions included Bronzy Inca, White-tailed Hillstar (a surprise!), and a special non-hummer, Andean (Highland) Motmot. After a delicious dinner, we secured great looks at the San Isidro “Mystery” Owl, an as-yet undescribed taxon that looks much like the lower-elevation Black-banded Owl.
We spent the following morning in the San Isidro area and then took off farther eastward to Wildsumaco Lodge, where a whole new subset of great hummers were awaiting. Meanwhile, our morning in (and drive to) this area turned out to be quite productive, with enjoyable looks at Torrent Duck; Southern Lapwing; Gorgeted Woodstar; Glittering-throated Emerald; Black-mandibled Toucan; Yellow-tufted Woodpecker; White-bellied Antpitta (at San Isidro); Olive-backed and Montane foliage-gleaners; Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant; Cinnamon, Pale-edged, and Cliff flycatchers; Inca Jay; Black-billed Peppershrike; Magpie Tanager; and Olivaceous Siskin just some of the memorable species we saw. Wildsumaco was quite incredible, with an impressive treasure of new hummingbirds and other avian species to delight any birder—and we were no exception. The lodge’s feeders swarmed to the tune of Green Hermit; Brown and Sparkling violetears; Wire-crested Thorntails; the buff-booted Booted Racket-tail (this will be split some day!); Black-throated, Fawn-breasted, and Violet-fronted brilliants; the fabulous Gould’s Jewelfront; Violet-headed Hummingbird; Napo Sabrewing; Fork-tailed Woodnymph; Many-spotted Hummingbird; and Golden-tailed Sapphire; we checked out some Heliconia stands and came up with a curious White-tipped Sicklebill and a Gray-chinned Hermit. The forest feeders (after we all displayed some tremendous patience!) delivered a lovely Ecuadorian Piedtail to top things off. Additional finds included the east-slope race of Red-headed Barbet (different song and plumage may eventually warrant a split!), Chestnut-eared Araçari, Golden-collared Toucanet, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Military (!) and Chestnut-fronted macaws, Blackish and Black-faced antbirds, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Plain-backed and Ochre-breasted antpittas, Black-billed Treehunter, Blue-rumped and White-crowned manakins, Rufous-naped and Olivaceous greenlets, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Cerulean Warbler, along with the rather gaudy Paradise Tanager.
Our final day involved the retreat from Wildsumaco up the east-slope of the Andes and back to Quito. We took a box-lunch break at Guango Lodge again, and aside from seeing more of what we had on our first visit, we were able to secure better looks, especially at a pair of White-bellied Woodstars and Turquoise Jay. We then advanced to Las Termas de Papallacta, the popular hotsprings where Kevin and Mary chose to take an hour soak while the rest of us continued upslope to see what we could see; alas, we were unable to add any new hummingbirds, but did run into a mixed foraging flock with a small band of Black-backed Bush-Tanagers. So, as we rolled into Quito, we had wrapped up this year’s Northern Hummingbird Extravaganza with a whopping 61 species, along with a whole lot of other wonderful birds. Ecuador stood up to its reputation once again, and we all have a collection of many fine memories to cherish and savor!