Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Playa de Oro (NW Ecuador) – 30th April (Day 6)

We were up at 05:30 to pouring rain, in fact the rain had been falling since at least 03:00 and it was so heavy that it had awoken me. We had a leisurely breakfast and by around 06:30 decided to head off to the head of the Penon del Santo trail 20 minutes up river by boat. The rain was still pouring and as we entered the forest the trails were flooded and the trees were dripping making birding challenging to say the least. The plan was to walk the trail back to the lodge, this was an all day walk.  The first couple of hours or so we birded in the rain and saw relatively little, a Semiplumbeous Hawk called moderately closely but would not come to tape, not surprising given the weather, and then some excitement when a female Long-wattled Umbrella bird showed overhead and gave good views. Walking up the steep and slippery slope which dominated the first kilometre or so of the trail we saw Band-tailed Barbthroat, Crowned Woodnymph and heard Berlepsch's Tinamou but little else. As we reached the trail junction with the waterfall trail the rain eased and the weather slowly turned more pleasant. We walked the first kilometre or so of the muddy waterfall trail but saw nothing – literally nothing.

Back at the junction we continued walking towards the view point, it was now around midday and the sun was just about out and activity had picked up a little, in quick succession we had Black-throated Trogon, a pair of Splendid Woodpecker, a pair of Rufous Piha and two Choco Manakin but a calling Lita Woodpecker eluded us. Things were looking up.

Black-throated Trogon - Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

Birding the waterlogged Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

Splendid Woodpecker - Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

Choco Manakin - Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

At the view point we had a lunch of soup, beef and rice and passion fruit juice – very civilised. Birding from here was excellent and we saw some good birds, first up were three Baudo Guan which showed well in a Cecropia below us. Then a feeding flock passed through and in quick succession we recorded Rufous-winged Tanager, Grey-and-gold Tanager and Scarlet-browed Tanager all of which were new for me. Best of all though was a Scarlet-and-white Tanager, so red that its colour cannot be described – literally the bird glowed in the green of the forest canopy. A pair of Great-green Macaw flew in the distance and we also picked up three Colombian Howler Monkey. The calling of another Lita Woodpecker which again eluded us signified the start of the rain once more and we decided to head back towards the boat, a walk of around one hour. The walk was almost birdless in the heavy rain with very little of significance, a small flock of calling Mealy Parrot, a pair of Uniform Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren but little else. We arrived at the boat at 17:30 for the short hop back across the river to the lodge. A flock of Swift were foraging on emerging termite over the clearing and we recorded Band-rumped Swiftlet, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift and some swift’s with a small white chest crescent which appeared to be White-chested Swift which as far as we are aware had not been recorded here. Finally, we enjoyed the sight and sound of 18 Pacific Cacique heading across the clearing to their roost.

As darkness fell the rain eased slightly and so we tried our luck in the forest for Choco Poorwill but it was not long before the heavens opened once more and we beat a retreat for showers, cold beer and a shrimp spaghetti dish at the lodge.

Grey-and-gold Tanager - Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

Purple Honeycreeper - Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

Baudo Guan - Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

The viewpoint along the Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

The viewpoint along the Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

Lunch on the Penon del Santo trail, Playa de Oro, Ecuador

Monday, 29 April 2019

Playa de Oro (NW Ecuador) – 29th April (Day 5)

After yesterday afternoons wash-out at Playa de Oro it was somewhat of a relief to wake to dry conditions with a light overcast. We were up at 05:30 and onto the trail behind the lodge in the dark in the hope of finding Choco Poorwill but we did not hear a thing and so headed back for a brief breakfast at 06:30. Back onto the trail behind the lodge at 07:00 it was just about light enough to bird in the murk of the lowland rainforest. Bird being the operative word but there we no birds, its was deafly quiet. Gabo and I got a brief glimpse of a small group of Toucanet which we both thought were Yellow-eared but the birds flew across a clearing and out of sight before we could confirm their identification, we followed them into the clearing but had no luck in tracing them – the species is very rare in Ecuador with very few sightings in the last 10 years. We birded the clearing for a while seeing, Guyaquil Woodpecker, White-necked Puffbird, White-necked (Dagua) Thrush and Plain-brown Woodcreeper new for the list.

We returned to the forest but it was very slow going. A little way on we came across a small Army Ant swarm that seemed to be becoming more active, we decided to wait around which was fortunate as with the swarm were Spotted Antbird, Bicoloured Antbird, Southern Nightingale Wren, Tawny-faced Gnatcatcher, Chestnut-backed Antbird and the prize, an Ocellated Antbird although my views of the latter were a little poor. Moving on, the birding was very slow but a small flock contained Western Woodhaunter, Lemon-spectacled Tanager, Spot-crowned Antvireo and Cinnamon Woodpecker, all of which were lifers. The final birds of the morning were a Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer and a Streak-chested Antpitta which were both lifers. We headed back for lunch just as the heavens opened and so we decided to have a siesta while the thunder rumbled and the rain fell in sheets.

Guyaquil Woodpecker - Playa de Oro

Black-cheeked Woodpecker - Playa de Oro

White-necked (Dagua)Thrush - Playa de Oro

Black-crowned Tityra - Playa de Oro

Black-crowned Tityra - Playa de Oro

Cinnamon Woodpecker - Playa de Oro

Spot-crowned Antvireo - Playa de Oro

Blue-chested Hummingbird - Playa de Oro


Grey-capped Flycatcher - Playa de Oro

San Tiago River - Playa de Oro

At 15:00 the rain eased and we headed out once more birding a trail near to the river but it was very slow and we saw little but for a Stripe-throated Hermit, Chestnut-backed Antbird and Tawny-crested Tanager. We headed back to the lodge as it got dark and spent the last hour or so of daylight birding the clearing where the highlights were a Slate-throated Gnatcatcher and a flock of 15 Pacific Cacique. We headed into the forest as darkness fell for Choco Poorwill but despite hearing at least two birds we failed to see any and by 19:00 all had fallen quiet and so we headed back to the lodge for dinner and bed by 21:00. Now familiar, I went to sleep to the sound of overhead thunder and heavy rain.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Tundaloma Area and Playa de Oro (NW Ecuador) – 28th April (Day 4)

We were up and out at 06:00 as it got light and spent the morning birding two minor roads (Ricaurte Road and Carondelet Road) through secondary growth in the Tundaloma area. The Tundaloma Lodge, one of the prime birding areas at this location is now closed and is privately owned and as a result birding is largely restricted to these two roads which extend through agricultural areas, secondary growth and forest fragments. The birding was fairly good but a little slow going, particularly early in the morning in fairly steady rain.  We eventually chipped away at the target species here with Black-breasted Puffbird, Black-breasted PuffbirdLesser Pied Puffbird, Red-rumped WoodpeckerWhite-tailed Trogon, Rose-faced Parrot, Blue-chested HummingbirdLilacine Parrot, Pacific Antwren, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, and Yellow-tufted Dacnis the highlight though, after much perseverance from Gabo, was a stunning pair of Five-coloured Barbet which showed very well atop a Sacropia. We drove further along the road stopping at the Rio Bogota where we were fortunate to see three Rufous-headed Chacalaca fly across the river and added Black-crowned Night-heron to the trip list. At 12:30 we returned to the El Padregal Hotel in San Lorenzo packed, had a lunch of shrimps and rice and drove the one hour to Selva Alegre through extensive oil palm plantations, with mysterious signs beside them stating 'Nature Reserve, Protected Land' and the like, suggesting these protected areas had been cleared to make way for the oil palm monocultures.

Dusky Pigeon - Tundaloma, Ecuador

Dusky Pigeon - Tundaloma, Ecuador

White-tailed Trogon - Tundaloma, Ecuador

Masked Water-tyrant - Tundaloma, Ecuador

Rose-faced Parrot - Tundaloma, Ecuador

Smooth-billed Ani - Tundaloma, Ecuador

Laughing Falcon - Tundaloma, Ecuador

Black-headed Tody-flycatcher - Tundaloma, Ecuador

Anole species - Tundaloma, Ecuador

 Scarlet-breasted Dacnis - Tundaloma, Ecuador

 Five-coloured Barbet - Tundaloma, Ecuador

Black-crowned Antshrike - Tundaloma, Ecuador


Lesser Pied Puffbird - Tundaloma, Ecuador

River in Tundaloma Area

Selva Alegre is the main gateway to the lowland forest of Playa de Oro and our boatmen were at the makeshift quay awaiting our arrival. After boarding a fibreglass canoe we headed up San Tiago River at surprising speed. En-route we made a couple of stops for supplies (including a live piglet wrapped in a bag) and to drop stuff at the village of Playa de Oro (where the piglet was unloaded, washed in the river and freed into the village). The river passed through stunning lowland rainforest and the anticipation of birding the area increased as we headed up-river. We saw relatively little from the boat but did at Fasciated Tiger-heron to the trip list. At around 14:30 it started to rain and so the last part of the journey was spent getting soaked with no coat and no umbrella to hand. We arrived at the rustic lodge set within the forest at 15:00 and after settling into the basic rooms had a quick bite to eat. The lodge was a former mining settlement in the middle of the forest which has been converted to an eco-lodge and so is ideally placed to access the fast disappearing lowland forests of the Choco region. We headed out onto the trail behind lodge but it was pouring with rain and the light levels very low, as a result the birding was pretty useless. The rain lasted all afternoon as we trudged around the surprisingly muddy trails seeing little – in fact just about the only bird we saw was a Stripe-throated Wren in the gloom – it was just about possible to make out the birds striped throat. With no night birding possible we had dinner and were in bed by 20:30 to the sound of the rain hammering on the roof of the lodge for much of the night.

 San Tiago River - Playa de Oro

The lodge at Playa de Oro

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Chical Road and Awa Road (NW Ecuador) – 27th April (Day 3)

We awoke at 05:30 and then headed the short distance from Casa de Eliza in Limonal, northwards, to the start of the Chical Road. After a wrong turn into a dead-end street we were on our way up the gravelled road, as the light increased we passed through small homesteads, banana and cassava plantations with associated barking dogs. As light increased Gabo picked up a distant raptor and we identified the bird as a displaying Black-and-chestnut Eagle. Our first birding stop proper was on a sharp bend in the road soon after we entered the cloud forest. We had a quick out of the back of the car breakfast while birds called around us and we quickly picked up Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Violet-tailed Sylph, Andean Solitaire, Russet-crowned Warbler, Western Hemispingus and Three-striped Warbler, the highlight of this first stop was a stunning pair of Plushcap which showed exceptionally well for a prolonged period. We headed up-hill stopping for occasional birds until we heard a flock at a point where Gabo was hoping for Beautiful Jay. This flock contained Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Metallic-green TanagerGolden-naped Tanager, Toucan Barbet, Montane Woodcreeper with a massive katydid and a calling Uniform Antshrike which refused to show itself. Best bird for the area though was Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, a speciality of the Chical Road. We then drove onwards towards the summit onto the plateau where we hunted high and low for the scarce Hoary Puffleg but with no luck. Highlights in this area were a flock of 15 Choco Parakeet, Rufous Spinetail and a very obliging Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant. We drove as far as the bridge over the river where we scanned for White-capped Dipper which Gabo picked up distantly, eventually we had fairly good scope views of this bird before we turned and headed back. By 11:00 fog began to descend and so did we, we tried for Beautiful Jay at a few locations along the road but with no luck and actually saw little although we had good views of Yellow-bellied Chat-tyrant and a female Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Back at the Casa de Eliza we birded the grounds of the hotel from the balcony seeing a few common species such as Scrub Tanager, Flame-rumped Tanager, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Buff-throated Saltator, we packed our gear and began the 1.5 hour drive to the Awa Road.

Plushcap - Chical Road, Ecuador

Plushcap - Chical Road, Ecuador

Common Squirrel Cuckoo - Chical Road, Ecuador

Metallic-green Tanager - Chical Road, Ecuador

Yellow-vented Woodpecker - Chical Road, Ecuador

Golden-naped Tanager - Chical Road, Ecuador

Toucan Barbet - Chical Road, Ecuador

Green-and-black Fruiteater - Chical Road, Ecuador

Montane Woodcreeper - Chical Road, Ecuador

Fulvous-dotted Treerunner - Chical Road, Ecuador

Fulvous-dotted Treerunner - Chical Road, Ecuador

Slay-backed Chat-tyrant - Chical Road, Ecuador

Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant - Chical Road, Ecuador

Yellow-bellied Chat-tyrant - Chical Road, Ecuador

Gabo birding the pass on the Chical Road

 Chical Road, Ecuador

Dracula Orchid Reserve - Chical Road, Ecuador

Tropical Mockingbird - Casa de Eliza, Limonal, Ecuador

Buff-throated Saltator - Casa de Eliza, Limonal, Ecuador

Lemon-rumped Tanager - Casa de Eliza, Limonal, Ecuador

Social Flycatcher - Casa de Eliza, Limonal, Ecuador

Scrub Tanager - Casa de Eliza, Limonal, Ecuador

Blue-and-white Swallow - Casa de Eliza, Limonal, Ecuador

House Wren - Casa de Eliza, Limonal, Ecuador

We arrived at our next birding destination, the Awa Road, at 15:00. The Awa Road is situated at an altitude of around 200m and as such it was considerably warmer than the Chical Road, in fact it was hot and humid and not my ideal climatic conditions. Our first new bird was the appropriately named, and not very exciting, Dusky Pigeon. A shortway on a bird flew over which we were puzzled by until it landed and there was one of my wants of the trip, a stunning Golden-breasted Tanager. Although a little distant the black plumage with the bright golden chest were diagnostic and its habit of sitting stationary for long periods was typical of the Genus Bangsia. We continued birding along this road through rather cut-over lowland forest as the sky blackened. The road was meant to be almost impassable due to thick mud but we walked the first 2-3km and encountered very little mud. The birding was fantastic and we recorded Choco Toucan, Yellow-throated Toucan, White-bearded Manakin, Long-tailed Tyrant, Blue-chested Hummingbird, a pair of stunning Orange-fronted Barbet, Bronze-winged Parrot, Acadian Flycatcher, Stripe-billed AracariPacific Cacique, a further three Golden-chested Tanager and, another highlight, two stunning snowy white Black-tipped Cotinga.

As darkness began to fall the rain began and we headed back to the car. We drove to the most unfriendly hotel of our stay the El Pedregal Hotel in San Lorenzo, we arrived at 19:30 but all the staff had gone home and so we had to head into town to find somewhere to eat, we drove around for almost an hour before we found an acceptable eatery and were served a massive chicken and rice dish. After gathering bread, milkshakes and cakes (lots of cakes for Gabo!!) for tomorrows field breakfast we headed to bed and crashed at around 22:00 in a rather steamy room with no working air con just a very noisy fan.

Golden-hooded Tanager- Awa Road, Ecuador

Black-crowned Titya - Awa Road, Ecuador

Golden-chested Tanager - Awa Road, Ecuador

Golden-chested Tanager - Awa Road, Ecuador

White-thighed Swallow - Awa Road, Ecuador

Stripe-billed Aracari - Awa Road, Ecuador

Bronze-winged Parrot - Awa Road, Ecuador

Common Squirrel Cuckoo - Awa Road, Ecuador

Black-tipped Cotinga - Awa Road, Ecuador

Choco Toucan - Awa Road, Ecuador

Gabo birding the Awa Road