Saturday, 2 January 2010

Post Updates at Last - I've Missed You!

Friday 25th December 2009 Cont.

This is still part of the Christmas Day report, but the torrential rain has made connection to the Internet impossible so I'm keepng up via Notepad. Today I did as planned, the recci to Papallacta (pronounced Papa Yak Ta) and feel it's a good job I did. The transport, 70Km, each way, was spot on as I first got a taxi from the guest house to the Coco Bus Station then it was buses for the rest of the way. The whole day cost me just £8 including a bottle of water and a bag
of plantain papa frits (savory banana crisps) and took me through some stunning countryside. Each time I boarded a bus I shouted a Merry Christmas and introduced myself as Papa Noel which raised a laugh from most.

At my stop I was met at the side of the road by a most knowledgeable man named Oscar, who told me in reasonable English, told me where I might find some birs, fixed me up with a $1 lift to the site and gave me details concerning my prospective stay in the coming days. The suggestion that a room, if I were a couple, would be $25 was a good start, but when he told me $50 solo that was the begining of the end as regards staying. In a previous post I introduced my Ecuadorian friend Byron Palacios who lives in Dorchester, and who made me a suggested 21 days itinerant for the time I am here. Today was just the start, and very successful, but rather than going back tomorrow and staying it is little problem and far cheaper for me to commute from Quito. There's already a good drink in it for you Byron, but I feel things are going to get better.

Bird-wise the day started, not surprisingly, with Black Vulture and Feral Pigeon from the bus, and once on the ground inundated with Rufous-collared Sparrows and Great Thrushes. However, the first addition to the World List took little time arriving as I noted a Giant Hummingbird perched in a nearby hedge, but too quick for the camera it took off and displayed its Bat like flight as it disappeared from view. Not including Galapago, I only have 4 species on my Ecuadorlist from a previous visit, so most things here are additions to that list, and in total today I saw 14 species of which 6 were World List additions, one a further country tick and still one (with photographs) remains unidentified. On the way I met some lovely people, including 2 brothers from California who were just embarking on a research programme into nesting birds in the country, and a Canadian couple who were part of a dedicated birding trip. In talking to them, they said they had just been watching a Shining Sunbeam (another Hummer) at which I had to cut short the conversation, and soon had it in the log.

While waiting for the bus back to town I met the local Sugar Cane man who reminded me of Curtis the farmer in Top Fields at Portland. This man had a portable cane crusher which extracted the juice and I found it amazing just how much liquid there is in one cane. He washed out a plastic bottle and gave me a sample, then quickly stowed all his gear in a van, and was gone.

Additions to the Trip List


'A Flower' Willow Farm, Genesis

Cinerious Conebill

Straight out of Woodstock - Eli & Isaac Lichter-Meark

Bromiliad and Great Thrush

Inca Jay

Paramo Seedeater feeding young

Shining Sunbeam back

and front

My Mate the Sugarcane Man

Saturday 26th December 2009
Today was fairly uneventful, save I went in the same direction as yesterday but 60Km further to the tiny village of Baeza. Birds were fairly thin on the ground, but that was adiquately made up for by the stunning scenery. On the way back (100Km) the bus was packed so found myself having to stand half of the way, before I found a space to sit on the floor. Additionally, and unbeknown to me this bus was not going to the familiar Coco Bus Station, so I ended up the other side of the city. 2 trolley buses, 1 conventional bus and a taxi later I got back to the guest house, to once again find the Internet effected by rain. Who knows when I'll get to publish these posts, so we'll have to wait and see!

List Additions


Sunday 27th December 2009

I sussed out the buses to Nanegalito with mine host last evening, starting with a local service to the North Bus Terminal. Only 4 blocks up he said, and UP was the operative word. I wouldn't say it was steep, but I met Tensing at the half way point and I'm sure that was the 'snow line' just 100 meters from the bus stop! Nevertheless, with a couple of inquiries was well on my way and at the Nortre soon got a service to Mirad Del Mundo (Middle of the Earth), a name that should be familiar to my old shipmate (and former Gaffer) Myquese. I bet it doesn't spring to mind does it Shaver Mi Boy? but if I tell you mu starboard foot was in the Northern Hemisphere and my Port in the Southern, I bet you'd think I was in that little bar in Trincamalee? Well, you'd be wrong - but I bet you remember the day we both straddled the Equator, well I just had to pop back in and say hello! By the way have those 'Ugly Pills' kicked in yet? I promised you they would, and one day they will - keep me posted.

From that bus I had been told that another change would be neccessary at San Antonio, but for once I got it right as this one was going all the way. Not only that, but despite a 'full house' onboard, meaning I'd have to stand for a hour once again, a fellow passager (at pains to tell me of his retirement in 2 weeks time) talked me into 'poll position',in a most comfortable seat next to the driver. Now this was a bonus indeed, as the countryside had now changed from urbanisation
to extremely high hills, bedeced in virgin rain forest, this became the best ride I've had all trip.

Arriving about mid-day at Nanegalito, I played my usual card of heading for the nearest cafe or bar, looking like I have half a clue what I'm doing while avoiding the throng of vendors awaiting each bus. Byron had suggested my next move should be Maquipucuna, an Eco rain forest retreat where he advised good birding, some mammals, excellent accommodation and food. Over a bottle of orange juice the signora in the cafe put me right about the reserve and summoned a 'taxi' which amounted to a pick-up truck, and agreeing a $15 fare (for what Byron had described as 10 'clicks') for what seemed more like 30Km. Bags aboard and me next to the driver, it was soon apparent I was just what the village had been waiting for. With their 'collectivo transport' mentality within seconds the back was choker block. Of course I didn't mind in the least, but Jorge the driver, was about to capitalize! He charged each (a very reasonable) $ and as one got out en-route another got in. When I suggested my fare should be reduced by the amount taken (he now owed me $2) there was no chance, but was quick to leave his number to cash in on my return journey. However, after a bumpy ride and seeing the most delightful raptor in the world, Swallow-tailed Kite, at close quarters we arrived at the lodge and were met by the Warden and his wife who run the show with just the assistance of a cook and some hired hands.

The Reserve covers some 6,000 hectares and at its highest elevation is a meer 1,300 meters, it also holds a large percentage of the critically endangered Andean (Spectacled) Bear, at least until I arrived when they all decided to migrate. The accommodation is a series of 'stilted' wooden huts with palm leaf and bamboo roofs, very comfortable looking fittings, on-site generated power, a galley and dining room (all al fresco) and a fast flowing river at the bottom of the hill. In addition, the locally grown coffee is exquisite, this evenings steak with papa frits and salad enjoyable and the pudding, Babaco, a variant of Papaya, was de-lish. Today's 'birding' was a little taxing as I simply sat there and let the critters come to me adding at least 10 to the World List, but I did venture of into the jungle for an hour before the torrential rain started at 15-30. If this is how it's going to be for the next 3 (booked) nights, then once again I owe a great debt to my pal Byron.

Additions to Trip List (* still indicates a 'Lifer')


Trip Ticks - 682 Lifers - 474

Welcome to Maquipucuna

The Gatehouse

One side of the Gatehouse - home to Torrent Duck

and the other side, home to White-capped Dipper

White-necked Jacobin (male)

Green-crowned Brilliant (female)

Green-crowned Woodnymph

Fawn-breasted Tanager

Buff-throated Saltator

Monday 28th December 2009

Yes, while you're all tucking in to the turkey soup and the left over figgy duff I've got to tough it out on my own here. Apart from being the only guest at the Lodge, and having the full attention of the Warden whenever I want to go wild-life watching there are 3 meals a day and all the rain I can handle. Add to that the fact there are no side-screens to the open air dining room, and 5 species of Hummingbird keep flying through and disturbing me at my dinner, you can see I have a lot to contend with. This morning we were out at 06-15 on what was a 'paid' guided tour of the rain forest, arriving back for breakfast at 08-00 with 4 'lifers' and a trip addition to the good. I thought that was IT as far as the guide was concerned, but no for my 'tenner' I had him all day. Over breakfast I thumbed through the Visitor's Book, just eye-balling those who at put UK against their name, only to find my birding mate Julian Thomas from Somerset among them. He and I enjoy each others company on the odd occasions he comes to Portland, and coincidentally is listed next to my daughter Julie on my mobile. Being a little less than dexterous with the infernal thing, Julian often receives messages from me ending I love you darling and hope to see you soon! I'm glad he takes it as a joke. Anyway, now I have his e-mail I'll drop him a line and see what he thinks of me following in his footsteps to Maquipucuna. Later, we followed the path to higher elevation and although the birds were thin on the ground, we did add a further 8 species to the World List, including 3 types of Toucan, an Antbird with a brilliant name, plus Andean Solitaire. As luck (bad in the case of the bird) would have it, I was to get a closer look at the Solitaire as one flew into a window and killed itself along with a female Green-crowned Brilliant.

So, that's another day. Tomorrow, along with more birding and a 'free' guide, I have to plan my next move which is hoped to be a visit to the renowned Angel Paz. He has a place about 20Km from here which he has nurtured over a couple of decades into a world famous birding site, for if nothing else 3 species of Ant Pitta. I hope to bring you more on this later.

Additions to the Trip List


Trip Ticks - 695 Lifers - 486

Pale-mandible Aracari

Rufous Motmot

Torrent Tyrannulet

Transparent Butterfly

Mirma the Cook and Arcenio Barrera the Warden

A view of Maquipucuna Lodge, Dining Room and Upstairs Lounge

My cabin upper left, Offices below - Heaven!

Bed &

Another bed!

Tuesday 29th December 2009

The day started well as I viewed the weather from my cabin and noted a Dusky Pigeon on the path below, the first bird of the day a 'lifer'. At 06-00 I met up with Arcenio to investigate the as yet undiscovered rough grazing land and scrub above the Lodge. As we crossed the river a female Torrent Duck was feeding in the rapids, while a pair of Sickle-winged Guan gorged themselves on berries, just over the bridge. At the waters edge, in its usual habitat, was a Buff-rumped Warbler in full song, as Red-faced Spinetail, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Scale-
crested Pygmy Tyrant also showed, by breakfast time we had recorded 37 species. Of these, a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk was of note as Arcenio informed me this was only the second time he had recorded this migrant on the reserve. The meal was unusual, to say the least, but delicious for all that. What was described a 'Jungle Muesli' with apple was the best yet, followed by sweet dumplings, with dried fruits, steamed in banana leafs were excellent.

After this I was very much on my own, so after half an hour trying unsuccessfully to photograph Rufous-breasted Hermit, I decided to try the 4 hour forest trail. This was indeed jungle, as only the narrowest of paths, often blocked by fallen trees, allowed any kind of access. At one point I even had to wade the river, only calf deep, as the make-shift bridge had simply rotted away. En-route I got lucky with some of the species noted below, and by 15-00 (the time they turn on the rain tap) I had seen 61 species. In between times I have been trying to arrange my departure tomorrow, which as it turns out means a return to Nanegalito, where I am told I can get more information on the Angel Paz visit. That was the 'dinner gong' so until manana (when I hope to get the Internet to post this lot) talk again soon.

Today's List Additions


Trip Ticks - 702 Lifers - 486


Close-up on Breakfast

Just what the sign says

Golden Tanager

Buff-fronted Foliage Gleaner

Gold & Olive Woodpecker

Wednesday 30th December 2009

Today I leave Maquipucuna, but not before a couple of hours birding, just mooching about close to the Lodge. Double-toothed Kite saved the day as it was the only 'lifer' and indeed the only addition to any list. The only other moment of interset was just before my ride arrived as the local police turned up 'mob handed'. What I didn't know was that they had tidied up a minor incident in the village below and just stopped here for a look around, oh yes, and to loose off a few rounds of hand gun fire putting me to flight. The Lodge Manager went and sorted it out, but it didn't help my moment of panic. On the road at 12-00 we returned to Nanagelito, to find everyone busying themselves preparing for the festival tomorrow night. I found what might loosely be described as a hotel and for $10 got a clean bed and room but no water. Having been in the Submarine Service had prepared me well for such eventualities (my record without a shower being 4 and a half weeks) so I just did what I could with my bottle of water.

On arrival at the town, the Information Center was closed, so I resorted to the local Police (felt they owed me one) to find me Angel Paz. Not difficult I found as just about everyone there is related to him in some way, so to cut a long story short he and his son Vinicio called round to see me and made the arrangements.

List Addition (singular)


Thursday 31st December 2009

Angel Paz came by a huge tract of land in the early 90's, with his immediate thought straying to cashing in on the wealth of hard woods in his new found forest. Luckily for the locale and World Nature in general he talked to the adjoining property owner and was soon convinced the best move would be conservation of this valuable habitat. Not satisfied to simply leave it to nature, he spent months recording the species of all kinds and then years winning over the confidence of many. Now known to many of the birding fraternity throughout the world, last night I shook the hand of this great Backwoodsman and this morning at 05-00 he, his wife and 2 of his sons picked me up for a birding opportunity of a lifetime. Antpitta's are a secretive breed to say the least, and even in top 'world listers' have to resort to the knowledge and experteise of the likes of Angel to call out and entice with food this very special group of birds. The formal name for this wonderful place is 'El Refugio de las Aves' but simply known locally as 'Angel's Place'. About 20Km from town and then down a 5Km mud track you come to a group of wooden shack's where
the operation is run from, and from here we descended a huge gorge to first access one of the hides. Here we were given point blank views of Toucan Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Sickle-winged Guan, Olivaceous Piha and both Blue-winged and Black-chinned Mountain Tanager. As if that were not enough, the search started in earnest for the Pittas and it was not long before we had Yellow-bellied literally at our feet. Next, with more of a struggle came Giant Antpitta, content to stand on the muddy path no more than 6 feet away. An in vain attemp was made to lure Rufous into the open but they were having none of it. Finally, and usually most difficult Moustached was encouraged to show itself and from there we visited the Hummingbird feeders. The list below highlights the action along with other passerines that were encountered. These were very easy people to get along with, and during the course of my stay I asked their advice on my continuing travels towards the coast. I have no idea how to spell it, but the word 'Billigrosso' has stuck in my head. I was told by each of them independently that the track I was intending to take was not safe, and in short the afore mentioned a 'muggers' who have no second though about using a fire-arm. My plan to travel over that night were shelved (no canceled) and decided on a different route to Peuto Lopez.

Additions to 'Life' & 'Trip' Lists


Vinicio Paz, Me & Angel Paz

Giant Antpitta

Black-chinned Mountain Tanager

Blue-winged Mountain Tanager

Crimson-rumped Toucanet

Crimson-rumped Toucanet (head close-up)

Moustached Antpitta

Ocherous Piha

Sickle-winged Guan

Sickle-winged Guan (head close-up)

Toucan Barbet

and another

Yellow-breasted Antpitta

Friday 1st January 2010 - and 'A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR' to all my readers!

I stayed a second night at what I am now calling 'The Gulch' due to lack of water, but it's not the end of the world is it? Up at 06-00 and hoping for a bus sometime close after, I waited in the queue of 'one' untl 08-00 when a bus arrived. It was going in the direction required, but nowhere near my destination, but it was a start. There followed 10 hours on what used to be 'Chicken Buses' but while on this visit there was not a sign of a fowl, the transport remains as rickety as I remember. However, it was a pleasant enough ride with just one or two minor snags but again I met some lovely people who, despite the language barrier, were happy to shake my hand when departing. No sign of Billigrosso thankfully! I still haven't completed my journey, as I am now in Manta, a coastal city some 120Km from Peuto Lopez, which is marked in most atlases if you want to see where it is. Middle of the coast of Ecuador. I arrived at 18-00 in a temperature of 25C but a gentle, cooling breeze coming in off the sea. Just across the road from the bus station stands the Leo hotel, which of $17 a night is a palace compared to the last couple of nights. There was just time for a recce before dark, and the place is swamped with Laughing Gulls (in all plumages except 'first year'), Royal Terns and Brown Pelican, while there are also small numbers of Hudsonian Whimbrel, Spotted & Solitary Sandpipers, but more of that tomorrow.

and a few 'Hummers' mostly at Angel's Place

Violet-tailed Sylph (male)

Violet-tailed Sylph (juvenile)

Velvet-Purple Coronet (front)

Velvet-Purple Coronet (back)

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Fawn-breasted Brilliant

Empress Brilliant (male)

Empress Brilliant (female)

Brown Inca