February 28 - March 10, 1998
Day 1 Day 7
Day 2 Day 8
Day 3 Day 9
Day 4 Day 10
Day 5 Day 11
After more than a year of planning, and a "scouting" trip in December 1997, the entire itinerary for this trip had to be reconfigured! We had planned to go to Kapawi Lodge, but getting to and from the Lodge was too unpredictable to include with any additional days on an itinerary. The lodge was very nice, and comfortable, and there was a lot of good pristine rainforest all around, with lots of microhabitats easily accessible. Anyone doing this area should allow a couple extra days for departure delays. The Andean portion of the trip had to be reconfigured also, as we weren't going to be in Macas after the Amazon, so Allen lined up day trips from Quito to Andean areas visited on a trip in 1991.
Somewhat by default, Neblina Forest handled the arrangements, through Ken Cruce at Clockwork Travel. It was great that both could accommodate the last minute rearrangement of the itinerary. The only difficulty we encountered was with the process for meals at the Hotel Quito (where Allen had stayed in 1991, and was very happy). This was entirely due to Neblina Forest not making adequate arrangements (vouchers were the obvious way to handle the situation, but for some unknown reason Neblina did not provide them). We were stuck with a single-dish menu that Neblina had apparently picked out, which was terrible. The one time we accidentally were allowed to eat off the menu, the food was good (as Allen remembered it was). All in all, Allen got a lot of practice with his meager Spanish, trying to organize something that should have been handled quite easily with vouchers.
Logistically (though far from a complex itinerary), and ornithologically, it was a pretty good trip. El Nino had apparently made several common birds difficult (or impossible) to find in the Andes and the Amazon, but this was compensated for by the excellent views of many colorful species, and a few real rarities thrown in for spice.
|Day 1, Saturday, February 28, 1998|
|We arrived at the airport at 10 a.m. and met Ellie and
Terry. Sue and John arrived soon after. Due to a misunderstanding about
the airline re-ticketing our rescheduled flights, Terry hadn't brought
her ticket with her. Luckily, the airline let her repurchase tickets for
the same price, based on our tickets for reference, with Terry having to
file a lost ticket claim and return the unused ticket to the airport
when she returned.
Our flight departed for Newark on time, but of course we had to circle the airport a couple of times before landing, so we arrived at the gate for our flight to Quito (through Bogota) just as they were beginning to board. Jennifer and Betsy were at the gate waiting to board when we ran, breathless, up to the gate. There were 45 Colombian school children (age 10-11) on our flight who were returning to Bogota after spending time on a school trip where they stayed with families in Norfolk, Virginia to learn about U.S. culture. They all seemed to speak English well, including the slang, and apparently they begin learning in school at age five.
We had to get off the plane for 40 minutes in Bogota, then we reboarded and headed to Quito, with a much emptier (and quieter) airplane. We arrived on time in Quito, and were met by Xavier and Mercedes of Neblina Forest, and were driven to the Hotel Quito. Everyone got settled in around midnight, ready for an early morning tomorrow!
|Day 2, Sunday, March 1, 1998|
|We were up at around 3:30 a.m. to meet our driver in the
lobby at 4:30 a.m. after checking out of the hotel. We had asked for an
English-speaking driver, as Allen knew the area of Bellavista well, and
the birds, but we got a Spanish-speaking driver plus Xavier, so the van
was a bit crowded.
We drove to Tandayapa, but we were told the road from there to Bellavista (great for birding) was impassible even though it was fine in December. We ended up having to go to Nanegalito and take the long way around. Needless to say, Allen's carefully planned birding day had to be completely reconfigured. We were unable to get to trail A early enough to try for Giant Antpitta.
We birded this 12 km road with several stops. Our first bird (after the Band-winged Nightjar the van flushed) was a pair of Crested Quetzals in the scope at close range! A definite highlight was the group mostly seeing the Tanager Finch! We went to Bellavista Lodge to eat our boxed lunch and riveted ourselves to the hummingbird feeders, with excellent looks at several species. Afternoon rain continuing into the evening forced us to remain on the balcony the rest of the day, and cancelled our outing for owls and nightjars. It was a breezy evening in a cozy setting at Bellavista, a little like sleeping in a treehouse!
|Day 3, Monday, March 2, 1998|
|We were on the road with our luggage at 6:30 a.m. after a
after breakfast at Bellavista. At least two or three Gray Potoos called
outside while we ate breakfast. We birded the road to Nanegalito again,
finally leaving at 7:30 a.m. We started the day with quetzals again,
Golden-headed this time. The Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans and Toucan
Barbets weren't cooperative again today, but we heard Dark-backed
Wood-Quail close to the road, and had a last-minute brief look at a
Along the new Nono-Mindo road we got a flat tire, which made us late, so we couldn't stop at the Equatorial Monument as planned. We did do a little birding while they changed the tire, and they also retrieved the cooler that had just blown off the roof as the tire went flat! Luckily, our lunch wasn't in the cooler. We got checked in at the Quito airport at 10:30 a.m. (1/2 hour late), and departed around 11:30 (also 1/2 hour late). We arrived in Coca about an hour later (there are walls on the airport terminal now, unlike in 1991), and we got onto our motorized dugout canoe after a restroom stop in a local hotel. We were with a group of about a dozen other tourists (non-birders) that were also going to Sacha Lodge.
Since it was the heat of the day, there weren't many birds visible along the Napo River, but we did see a few, including good views of the Sand-colored Nighthawks on the oil pipeline. We arrived at Sacha on a sandy beach, then walked a short distance to a boardwalk, which was fairly long (about 1/2 mile), and very slippery. We then all boarded a non-motorized dugout canoe to cross a lake, then another short walk to our rooms from there. We didn't have much time for birding before dinner, so a few of us went to the boat dock to watch the sunset and saw a few Boat-billed herons leaving their roost in the dim light.
|Day 4, Tuesday, March 3, 1998|
|We had breakfast at 5:30 a.m., then paddled up the
Orchidea canoe trail, a quiet blackwater creek, which led to the canopy
tower. We spent the entire morning on the tower, which gave us
opportunities to see many species at eye-level, many in the scope
including: Lettered Aracari, Golden-collared Toucanet, Amazonian
Umbrellabird, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Ruddy Pigeon, White-necked
Puffbird, Pied Puffbird, Swallow-winged Puffbird, Yellow-tufted
Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Black-spotted Barbet, Pink-throated
Becard, Spangled Cotinga, Lawrence's Thrush, Purple Honeycreeper, Opal-rumped
Tanager, and Russet-backed Oropendola. The three hours went way too
fast. We then walked a trail back to the lodge, finding a few other good
birds including Blue-crowned Manakin and Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin in the
scope. Our guide, Oscar, was excellent at finding and getting us on the
birds, even though his English was limited. Our boatman, Washington (Washo)
was also good at spotting birds and mammals, although he didn't speak
any English or know the names of the birds he was finding. Both were
Quechua, and were very adept at spotting wildlife.
After lunch at the lodge, we canoed across the lake, and walked the boardwalk (with a Great Potoo on a day roost a nice surprise), almost back to the beach, where we took another trail along the river. We saw several good birds along this trail, including large numbers of caciques and oropendolas coming to roost in riverside vegetation, and scope views of "dancing" Gray-necked Wood-Rails on an open mudflat, and a pair of well-hidden Tropical Screech-Owls. On our return along the slippery boardwalk, it got dark and we had good views of Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl.
|Day 5, Wednesday, March 4, 1998|
|We were up extra early in order to make our way to the
Napo River and get aboard a motorized dugout to take us to the parrot
mineral lick (also called a salado). It was wonderful to see numbers of
parrots on the mud banks eating the clay in order to supplement their
diets with minerals. It was also sobering to realize that this was the
only place we saw some of these species, and the largest numbers of most
species of parrot. There were far more parrots, and especially macaws,
along the Napo River in 1991. Andrew, one of our hosts at Sacha, said
that a few parrots had been found trapped on one of the salados right by
the Yasuni National Park headquarters (on the south side of the Napo
River), and they felt the park ranger was implicated somehow.
We then motored on to a river island to find the species that specialize in that habitat. We walked around in scrub and palmetto for a while, finding a number of these specialists. As we were about to leave the island around 10:00 a.m., it started to rain and we all just barely got our raincoats on and umbrellas up as we boarded the motorized dugout. The rain was torrential and we pulled in along the bank of the Napo River and took shelter in a small settlement. We were all drenched anyway. Around 11:30 we decided we needed to go in order to get back to the lodge for lunch. It turned out that the settlement was at the end of the river trail that we had walked yesterday afternoon, and we soon came to the boardwalk, which was slippery as ever in the continuing rain.
The rain stopped at around 1:00, and some of us checked out the butterfly house during our siesta time. Sacha Lodge runs a breeding operation for tropical butterflies that supplies free-flight butterfly displays at zoos throughout the world. There were many spectacular species flying around us, and we'll all remember those brilliant silver and gold chrysalyses.
At about 3:00 we went via canoe down the Orchidea blackwater river again, this time obtaining excellent views of multiple Orange-crested Manakins, a species endemic to Ecuador and restricted to Varzea forest along just a small area of the Napo River. We got to spend the afternoon on the canopy tower. Talk about having our cake and eating it too! Additional gems we found, and scoped, this time included: Plum-throated Cotinga, Red-throated Caracara, White-fronted Nunbird, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, and many others. We canoed back to the lodge, then went owling behind the cabins before dinner. We had a very responsive Crested Owl, which had been calling the night before. We didn't get the Spectacled Owl to respond (although it had been calling last night), and got no response to the tape of Black-banded Owl.
|Day 6, Thursday, March 5, 1998|
|We got to sleep in until 5:00 a.m. this morning as we
weren't going to take any dugout canoes all day today (certain parts of
Allen's anatomy were very grateful). We walked the Lago Logarto trail
into terra firme forest all morning. We really worked hard to find some
skulkers, although antbirds were almost absent for some unknown reason.
We eventually had good looks at Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Thrush-like
Antpitta, Striated Antthrush, and Scaled Antbird.
After lunch, we walked a different part of the Lago Logarto trail, again in terra firme forest. Here we encountered a small canopy flock among which there was a Chestnut-winged Hookbill, one of the few furnariids we encountered at Sacha. Again, before dinner we went out owling. This time, we took a different trail perhaps 1/2 mile or so into terra firme forest. Here we had good views of a Spectacled Owl that seemed reluctant to respond at first. On our walk back to the cabins, we heard other nightbirds calling as well, including: Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, Crested Owl, Black-banded Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Great Potoo, and Gray Potoo. Quite an impressive night bird list.
After dinner we all spent time repacking for our departure tomorrow morning.
|Day 7, Friday, March 6, 1998|
|We were up at 5:00 a.m. and in a dugout canoe right after
breakfast. We wanted to be on the boardwalk before the other tourists
got there so we could do a little last-minute birding. We walked the
boardwalk from 6:30 to 7:30, finding a few new birds along the beach,
including Blue-winged Parrotlet and Chestnut-capped Puffbird.
We boarded our motorized dugout for the 2-1/2 hour trip back to Coca. When we got there, we found out that our flight was delayed considerably because of the heavy rain in the morning. We ended up killing at least an hour in the hotel in Coca before we finally boarded the bus to go to the airport.
We were met in Quito by our guide Giovanni, and our drivers Xavier and Luis. Luis had been a driver on a previous trip to southern Ecuador in November 1996. We had to take 4-wheel drive jeeps because of the condition of the road at our destination for the afternoon, Yanacocha. The altitude here is 11,000', and we all had difficulty adjusting. We probably should have spent the afternoon around the Hotel Quito acclimatizing, as we didn't find too many birds up there in the fog, although a Curve-billed Tinamou running across the road as we drove back down was a prize! We had dinner at the Hotel Quito, although Allen really had to work on his Spanish to get the waiter to understand how to bill the group. We all ordered off the menu and the food was pretty good.
|Day 8, Saturday, March 7, 1998|
|We met Giovanni and Xavier in the hotel lobby at 5:00 a.m.
and headed for the Papallacta Road. We had breakfast on the way in the
van. Our first stop was about an hour away. It was a punishing, cold,
rainy, windy walk (and climb) up a rocky trail at a radio tower where we
hoped to find Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe (13,800' elevation). All we found
was a very difficult to see (in the fog) Blue-mantled Thornbill looking
like it was running along the ground feeding on tiny flowers. At the
higher areas of the road, we stopped and walked around in the fairlyland
vegetation of the paramo, finding a few interesting birds including
Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Andean Tit-Spinetail, and views of a Tawny
Antpitta. Overhead we saw Puna Hawks and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle.
We stopped in the town of Papallacta to look for Sword-billed Hummingbird (without success). We drove down to Papallacta Lake where we saw Yellow-billed Pintail and Andean Teal. In a shrubby area on the way we found Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanaager and the very localized Black-backed Bush-Tanager.
We had lunch a short distance down the road, and explored a little after we ate. There was one patch at a very steep dead-end road (where the van couldn't go down, so we had to walk back up) that had lots of birds, including many Spectacled Redstarts, as well as a nicely scoped Sword-billed Hummingbird. Farther down the road, we stopped at a spot recommended by Martin Reid for Dusky Piha and many other interesting birds. A large patch of barren ground greeted us as there apparently had been a landslide here. Needless to say, the piha wasn't to be found, nor much else for that matter. It was raining lightly and all we found was a very well-camouflaged Emerald Toucanet that responded to the tape.
|Day 9, Sunday, March 8, 1998|
|Again, we met our driver and guide in the hotel lobby at
5:00 a.m. Our destination today was the old Chiriboga Road and,
hopefully, an afternoon of birding at Tinalandia. We had pretty good
luck on the upper part of the road, with good views of some species
including Plush-capped Finch, Black-chested Mountain-Tanager,
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Mountain Velvetbreast, Viridian
Metaltail, Blue-and-black Tanager, and Red-crested Cotinga. One of the
commonest montane tanager species, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, was
After lunch along the road it started raining and we didn't see too much along the lower part as it was very slow going with the road being quite washed out in spots. It took us so long, in fact, that we didn't have time to go to Tinalandia. El Nino was really taking a heavy toll on the west slope of the Andes. We ended up doing a little birding between the raindrops before we got to the end of the road. We found Maroon-tailed Parakeets, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Red-headed Barbet, Bright-rumped, and Fawn-breasted Tanager at one productive spot.
We got to the Rio Toachi bridge near the turnoff for Tinalandia after 5:00 p.m. We birded at the bridge for a while, finding Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper along the river, and having brief views of Andean Cock-of-the-rock flying under the bridge. We then headed back up the road about 1 km to a rock face where we tried, with spectacular success, to see the surreal Lyre-tailed Nightjar.
We got back to the Hotel Quito via the new road at about 10 p.m. only to find that the elevators weren't working, and to be told that we couldn't get our dinner. After considerable negotiations, most people got their dinners (awful fish) around midnight.
|Day 10, Monday, March 9, 1998|
|As preparation for our high altitude birding today, we had
to walk down the stairs to the lobby to meet our driver and guide at
5:30 a.m. We had breakfast in the van on our way to Cotopaxi National
Park. After birding around the restrooms there for a few minutes, we
drove out into the high paramo. One of the highlights was our walk
around Lago Limpiopungo where we found Andean Coot, Andean Gull, Andean
Lapwing, and Andean Snipe. Overhead there was, appropriately, a
spectacular Andean Condor. We had excellent views of Bar-winged and
Stout-billed Cinclodes and Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant. Incredibly, we
saw another Curve-billed Tinamou running across the road in front of us,
and another was scoped as it sat in plain view on the paramo under a
We returned to Quito fairly early. Early enough, in fact, to make a last ditch effort to find a Giant Hummingbird. Giovanni suggested we go to Metropolitan Park. We didn't succeed with the hummingbird, but we did get good views of Band-tailed Seedeater and other common species like Eared Dove and a beautiful Vermilion Flycatcher.
Upon returning to the Hotel Quito, the die-hards birded the grounds before dinner, adding one last bird to the Ecuador trip list, a Green-tailed Trainbearer.
After dinner (a reasonable chicken breast dinner this time), we all settled our bills at the front desk, then retired to our rooms to pack for tomorrow's departure.
|Day 11, Monday, March 10, 1998|
|We were up early for check-out and transfer to the Quito airport. Everything went smoothly. We had a short layover in Bogota, Colombia again where we added two new birds to the trip list (Purple Martin and Eastern Meadowlark). After sitting on the runway for about an hour, we took off for Newark, arriving at 4:00 p.m. Our flight from Newark to Detroit took off almost an hour late, arriving at almost 9:00 p.m. It was now only 20 degrees in Detroit and the wind chill was 2 degrees! What a shock. Welcome home.|