Birding trip report Southern Ecuador Aug./Sep. 1998
at www.jvanderw.nl 
John van der Woude, The Netherlands

See also:
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species list
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sound recordings
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photos of sites

From 22 August till 15 September 1998 Nollie and I made a private birding trip to Southern Ecuador, as a follow-up of our trip to Northern Ecuador in 1995. Southern Ecuador has an outstanding diversity of habitats. Cajas and Podocarpus National Parks are famous mountain destinations. The humid to dry hills and plains in the Southwest have the Tumbesian endemics and many other species. We visited other sites as well.
 

 
For the preparation of this trip we relied on Best/Heijnen/Williams' Guide to birdwatching in Ecuador (referred to as BHW) and trip reports by others, not the least the report and additional information that we got from birding friends who have been to S Ecuador a year earlier. We used Lonely Planet's Ecuador as a general travel guide. Computer scans of bird pictures from books like Ridgely & Tudor's Birds of South America were useful for species that are lacking in the field guide (which was still always Hilty & Brown's Birds of Colombia; now since 2001 you must have the Ridgely & Greenfield Birds of Ecuador of course). 

We also prepared two minidiscs with the sounds of about 400 species occurring here, for identification purposes, although in the field we did not use them often. We did, however, make several hours of field recordings of bird sounds on the minidisc. Important other things we brought were a good coat, a fleece pullover, rubber boots, and rain capes (the latter also good for camouflage) and these items proved very useful for several of the sites we visited. Our small scope was essential for a few birds only, but as always some of the best memories are of birds seen through the scope. We forgot to bring our camera, so we used some silly disposable one, which we bought in Guayaquil. So we got few and poor photos only. But we did not mind too much - so many good birds here!

On this trip we only traveled by public transport, including taxi's and trucks where necessary. As in Venezuela (see other report) the public transport here proved to be very efficient. On most of the 'travel days' we even managed to bird in the morning using local transport, and have a long distance bus in the afternoon. Bus rides are cheap, and a taxi for half a day costs less than half the day rate of a small rental car (day rate is US$90!). Apart from the cost our main concern with rental cars is that we always do worry about them during our walks out in the woods or wherever, with the car parked just somewhere. The other concern of driving yourself is the bad state of the roads, especially after the heavy El Niņo rains.

Changing money is less and less a problem in Ecuador, because of the increased acceptance of credit cards and the increasing number of ATM's (cash machines, 24 hours per day). We saw ATM's in most of the larger cities, not only for credit cards but sometimes even for bank cards (Cirrus). We could have done entirely without cash dollars and traveller cheques on this trip. As yet, the acceptance of Visa here is better than of Mastercard. We payed most hotels by credit card now.

Hotel capacity was never a problem, and we only made reservations for the first destination (Gualaceo). We were rather careful in selecting the more quiet hotels or hotel rooms, both regarding street noise as regarding nightly fiestas or discos. Often we just asked at the hotel reception if there would be music at night. In Loja for example, the reception people of the best hotel (Libertador) admitted that they would have a big gathering of some sort that night, so we turned to the hotel opposite (Ramses) and had a quiet night in an inner room. We always bought food for breakfast and lunch (both out in the field) the night before, the shops are open late: bread rolls (often sweetened), Tampico juices (sealed), mineral water (sealed), and bananas or apples if available. We also brought some granola and milk powder. We mostly followed Lonely Planet in the choice of restaurants for the evening meal around 7 p.m., the corvina (seabass) being a wellcome change from the usual chicken or meat.

Below, the birding trip is described from day to day, and many logistical details are added to the ones above. The text includes the species when first observed, or otherwise important. The annotated species list shows a matrix of all species for all sites, and includes also species only heard (H). Several of these heard-only species were identified later on, when comparing the sound recording with my reference collection. Some of these recorded sounds have to be identified yet, so the list may be extended later on. Some of the species were indentified with the help of range or altitude. For example, when we saw a group of typical Pyrrhura parakeets flying nearby at the Buenaventura site in the Southwest, we were sure that these were the recently described (1980) El Oro parakeet because it is the only species of the Pyrrhura genus in this region. So this is an identification partly by deduction (we could not see the facial marks), and in the species list this is indicated by a 'D'. Of course this must be the El Oro, the chances that there will ever be discovered another Pyrrhyra here are very very slim.

After our arrival on Saturday 22 August at the airport of Guayaquil we changed dollars (5500 sucre for 1 US$; this was before the devaluation in mid-September) and took a taxi for 12000 sucres to the large bus station (terminal terrestre) not far from the airport. There we easily found a bus to Cuenca, a five hour drive now in stead of four, because of the deterioration of the roads due to the El Niņo rains about half a year ago. I understood that the new direct ride to Cuenca through Cajas NP has been blocked West of Cajas by land slides again. The slow pace on the very bad road in the coastal plain even allowed for some roadside birding. In this plain with many stagnant pools we saw hundreds of Snail Kite, an unforgettable sight. Other trip ticks included Wattled Jacana, Ringed Kingfisher, Vermillion Flycatcher. After crossing the first mountain ridge we got off the bus well before Cuenca and changed for a smaller bus to Gualaceo. We were glad that we had made nylon dust bags to put our rucksacks in, as these were either put on top of the bus or in a dusty compartment below. We settled in the Parador Turistico Gualaceo (100.000 sucres), situated in a half open woody mountain scenery at about 2500 m above sea level, and later walked into the small town to check for the buses to Limon, for the famous Gualaceo-Limon birding road. This we birded the next three days, just by walking along the quiet unsurfaced road in three different sections, one West and two East from the pass at 3200 m a.s.l. downward. See the location map of this site.

On Sunday 23 August we left our hotel at 6.15 a.m. and the first bird we spotted was the Black Phoebe. We birded the surroundings of the hotel but did not see much because of the poor light conditions. Walking the streets toward the famous Sunday market being build up, we saw several Sparkling Violetear, Hooded Siskin, and much to our surprise a very active Giant Hummingbird in a tiny garden amidst the stone walls. This was in the third block of the second road to the left when coming down from the hotel. (see location map). The Gualaceo-Limon road follows a river, and the bus went along steep ravines at about 20 mins from Gualaceo. Further on we came in the clouds, and it started raining a bit, our first and certainly not last rainy day, although we often saw our best birds in (light) rain. We got off the bus well East of the pass, at about 2800 m a.s.l., in temperate forest that downward gradually merges into upper subtropical forest. Walking down we ticked Pale-naped Brush-Finch, Black-crested Warbler, Mountain Wren, Slate-collared Whitestart, Rufous Spinetail, Andean Tapaculo, Tourmaline Sunangel, Andean Guan, Mountain Velvetbreast, Brown-bellied Swallow, Band-tailed Pigeon, Masked Flowerpiercer, Glowing Puffleg, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Spectacled Whitestart, Blue-backed Conebill, Glossy or Black Flowerpiercer (later easier distinguished), White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Lachrymose Mountain-Tanager, Collared Inca, Mountain Avocetbill (female), White-crested Elaenia, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Great Thrush, Grass-green Tanager, Rufous-naped Brush-Finch. Now, at the second trout café we were at about 2200 m I guess. The altitude meter was not yet quite well adjusted, and it had started raining so probably the air pressure had changed as well. Waiting for a truck or bus going back, while standing in the door opening with a cola we spotted a group of five Hooded Mountain-Tanagers. We had a slow drive home in a truck carrying tiles from Limon, and returned in Gualaceo at dusk, tired but very satisfied with this first day of birding.

The next day (Mon 24 Aug) we walked to the start of the Gualaceo-Limon road, to a spot some 150 m after the large bridge (and 50 m after the junction to Chordeleg; in total maybe 400 m from the hotel), There we waited for trucks going up, as they go with higher frequency than the bus (you pay the truck driver the same fare as for the bus). While waiting there we ticked Cinereous Conebill and Grey-hooded Bush-Tanager in the orchard to the left. The truck we got after some 10 mins. drove slowly and we had a wide view, so along the road we even ticked Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Azara's Spinetail and Paramo Seedeater. We got off just before the pass in mist and some rain, and walked back Westward. Here is an open grassy paramo with pools, all in a wide glacial valley, typical mountain pass scenery. Ticks here included Mouse-colcored Thistletail, White-throated Tyrannulet, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Tawny Antpitta, Rufous Antpitta (heard only), Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Bar-winged Cinclodes. At the Maylas café we had a cola, and from there walked down through bushy paramo for several 100 m downward. Ticks here were (in systematic order, typically written down only at the end of the walk in the drizzle): Plain-breasted Hawk, Tyrian Metaltail, Viridian Metaltail, Grey-breasted Wood-wren (heard only), the superb Golden-crowned Tanager (4 nearby), Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Black-backed Bush-Tanager, White-collared Swift. We got a lift back from a family driving a small 4WD in which they willingly made room for us to bring us back to Gualaceo.

Tuesday 25 August seemed to have better weather and we decided to go up once more for the Gualaceo-Limon road. Walking across the bridge at Gualaceo we noted a bathing or drinking Giant Hummingbird above the river. We got out of the truck right at the pass in order to fill the gap from the pass down Eastward. However, we did not see many new species, although several others better than on the days before. Our first canastero ever (more to come when we go further South in S America) was the Many-striped Canastero busily feeding in the pampa grass. We spoke to a local inhabitant, about the only one in the far surroundings here, and without any hesitation he pointed out in our field guide the Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan as a local bird. But for us not much more remained this day than an easy tick like White-banded Tyrannulet. Although the scenery was glorious, especially in the upper part down the pass, we might have skipped this day in favour of other areas later on.

Before leaving for Cuenca the next day (Wed. 26 Aug.) we made a walk to the nearby village of Chordeleg. Although this is a touristic destination we were not very impressed. But the walk towards it gave several trip ticks, especially in the first part along the river, amidst the orchards: Southern Yellow Grosbeak, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Torrent Tyrannulet, Spotted Sandpiper, more Giant Hummingbirds, Eared Dove, Band-tailed Seedeater. See the above location map to find  this site. At 10 a.m. we were back in the hotel after a bus ride (every 10 mins or so).

After arriving in Cuenca in the afternoon we did some sight-seeing in the old centre of one of the best preserved colonial cities in Latin-America. We had an impressive room in the very classical hotel Crespo in the old centre (see sketchy city map).

After these two rather slow but restful birding days we were prepared again for a strenuous day (Thu. 27 Aug.) of high-altitude birding in the Cajas National Park West of Cuenca. See the location map of this site. At 6.30 a.m. we stood shivering already at 8 degrees Celsius at the Laguna Toreadora amidst a splendid alpine grassy scenery, at 3800 m above sea level. Glad we brought a warm cap, gloves and scarf/shawl. The guard was awake already and wanted us to pay the 10 dollar pp entrance fee for foreigners without issuing a ticket ('were finished') but this we refused of course and so we just walked on into the park. Having a ticket is essential for visiting other parks or other parts of the same park. At the border of the lake there are two Polylepis woods. Polylepis is a gnarled tree with strange loose bark, much in decline but important for several bird species. The first forest is scarcely visible from the road because of the steep slope, and around this small forest plot we saw Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant, the impressive Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Many-striped Canastero again, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Tawny Antpitta (very tame here), Scarlet-bellied and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager. On the lake were Speckled Teals. On top of low bushes we scoped two endemic hummingbirds, the splendid Ecuadorian Hillstar and the Violet-throated Metaltail. In the second Polylepis forest, at the other side of the glacial lake, we crawled through the trees and were rewarded with as well the Giant Conebill as the Tit-like Dacnis, both species characteristic for Polylepis. The dacnis was feeding a young: greyish, with a bit speckled breast. Out in the open again we walked on, clockwise around the lake, and took an old Inca-trail going down at about 3/4 of the round. Apart from some Polylepis stands the vegetation is rather grassy, sometimes a bit swampy. Before hitting the road again, about 1.5 km below the Laguna Toreadora (took a shortcut right from a second large lake), we added Puna Hawk, Carunculated Caracara, Pectoral Sandpiper and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant.



After a ride down with an ex-patriate who warmly approved our refusal of paying that guard, we got off at the small fish-restaurant Guevara, set amidst some low forest of the upper temperate zone. Here, after the usual cola, we ticked Black Flowerpiercer (the variety without the blue wing spot), Sapphire-vented Puffleg walking at the matted grass, Plain-colored Seedeater, and during the walk further down several Puna Hawks again. Species like Bar-winged Cinclodes and Spectacled Whitestart are common here. We had a dry and practically windless day with high clouds only, not bad, although the temperatures scarcely came above 10 degrees C. We were warned that when clouded and foggy, one should be very careful when making a long walk in the area, because orientation is difficult in this topography. People do get lost here, they say. We were also told to be aware of deep swampy spots. Along the very quiet road (no more traffic to the coastal plain because of the land slides), we walked down towards the big trout farm in this beautiful scenery, which reminded us of Northern Scandinavia. We got a lift down to Cuenca with a guy who had been working at the Rio Mazan reserve, described in BHW as a good upper-subtropical/ lower temperate continuation of Cajas, and situated in a side valley between Cajas and Cuenca. He proposed that we should try to get a permit from his former boss in Cuenca, and so we went with him into the office (near the central plaza) of Etapa, the state company for drinking water. The people were very friendly but in the end would not grant us a permit for the strict reserve. However, they proposed that we should visit the Surocucho valley, also owned by Etapa, and according to biological research a good alternative for Rio Mazan. It is situated in a steep valley parallel to the Mazan valley. See the above location map of this Surocucho site.

So on Friday 28 August we drove with our guide to Surocucho (had agreed on 100.000 sucres for the 4 hour excursion) and arrived at 7 a.m. at the gate which just opens at that time. The gate is situated at about 2 km from the main road from Cuenca to Cajas NP, at the end of a bad dirt road (he drove it with his normal car but scratched the bottom often), probably a good birding road as well, with many bushes amidst the pastures. This dirt road starts about 15 km after the large gas station near a roundabout at the border of Cuenca, and dips from the main road to the left just 10 m after a big white sign telling about the Programa de Bosques y Vegetaciones. After the gate of Surocucho, where you have to register (apparently no fee here), the track continues through splendid upper subtropical forest stands indeed. The trees are virtually invisible under a load of epiphytes, and this is mixed with some open pastures giving good views on the tree tops. There is a nicely prepared walkway to the right after 100 m., before a big lake with the only American Coot of the trip. We could have spent easily a whole day here, and in these few hours (till 9. 30 a.m.), guided by a non-birder, we just managed to tick Masked Trogon, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, Turquoise Jay, Green-tailed Trainbearer, Pearled Treerunner, Purple-backed Thornbill and Superciliared Hemispingus, apart from several species seen before and some unidentified small birds. The valley runs deep into the Cajas mountains and seems forested till the end. There would be a trail for several kms after the lake. Guards told us Andean Condor is often seen here. I think that this valley indeed is a good alternative for the difficult to access Rio Mazan, although our guide said all the time that he could have shown mountain-toucans in Rio Mazan. Surocucho however can be reached on foot from the main road, although bringing a dazzer would be wise, against some nasty dogs at a small house.

We left the nice city of Cuenca at 1 p.m. with a bus to Loja, for our next destination, Podocarpus National Park. The five hour drive (four before El Niņo) is very scenic, wide views on the rugged mountains, and with a highly interesting Indian community at Saraguro. These tall people in black clothes and long hair are totally different from the other indigenous people here. They were brought here centuries ago from South Peru. One of them was sitting across the aisle next to us in the bus for a few hours, and we admired his self-assurance and calmness in his conversation to his neighbour. From the bus we spotted Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle (2x), Puna Hawk (3x), and ticked American Kestrel. When the Podocarpus mountains became visible, it was immediately clear what makes them so rich - they are mostly forested from the foot till nearly at the top. Nowhere have we seen such heavily forested mountains before, and in high spirits for the next day we choose the recommended hotel Aguilera. Alas, we woke shortly at 2 a.m. because of disco sounds. I went out to the reception desk of the hotel to see what was going on, and to my surprise found the whole staff surfing on the Web. The disco shut shortly after that, and we slept enough, but planned to change to another hotel in the late afternoon, after our first visit to the Cajanuma part of Podocarpus N.P.

Birding Cajanuma is a rather straightforward matter, also without a rental car. Go to the Taxi Ruta stand two blocks South of the Hotel Vilcabamba International. See the location map. The stand is at a small statue of a lion. This is for the shared taxi's to Vilcabamba, but they (and only they) act also as normal taxi for a ride of about 8 dollar up to the high refuge of Cajanuma (refugio alto, at 2800 m a.s.l.). At the Cajanuma gate along the road to Vilcabamba, pay 10 dollar pp entrance fee, valid for at least a week (we could even choose for more weeks), and also valid for the Bombuscaro entrance at Zamora, where you would otherwise have to pay 20 dollar pp. From the gate it is a 7 km ride up along a dirt road. At the high refuge there are trails, and walking the dirt road back is good birding for the first 3 km. Walk the remaining 4 km back to the main road and have some different birds as well. At the main road, at the entrance building, catch one of the many passing shared taxi's back to Loja, for a small and fixed amount, or wait for the hourly bus. Taxi Ruta starts at 6 to 6.30 a.m. and the ride takes about 30 mins.
So at 7 a.m. on Sat. 29 August we stood at the Cajanuma refuge (see location map) in some rain and mist and coldness (but no wind) amidst the beautiful temperate forest, and decided to bird first the short Oso de Anteojo loop trail: Scaly-naped Parrot (a group of 12 perched nearby), Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan in a solitary tree, Pale-naped and Rufous-naped Brush-Finch. Because of the mist we went down the road from the refuge and got Tyrian Metaltail, Bearded Guan, Lachrymose Mountain-Tanager, Rufous-breasted and Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, a group of Turquoise Jay, Collared Inca, many Band-tailed Pigeon, Citrine Warbler, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Glowing Puffleg, Azara's Spinetail, Black Flowerpiercer, Rainbow Starfrontlet, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Great Thrush, Emerald Toucanet, Masked Trogon, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Olive-backed Woodcreeper (with the pearly breast streaks that Montane does not have here), White-crested Elaenia, Barred Fruiteater (heard only, would see it the next day), Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager. Now we had had those upper, forested 3 km of the birding road. In the remaining 4 km of more open degraded habitat we only ticked Pacific Hornero. Back at the hotel Aguilera the friendly staff had no problem with our leave well after check-out time, because they admitted that there were no rooms where you would not hear the disco sounds. So we changed to the hotel Ramses opposite the well known hotel Libertador, where they also had admitted that there would be a probably noisy party that night. In Ramses we had a quiet room. This is near to the central park with the cathedral, next to which is a Filanbanco with a cash machine for Visa. After taking some money here we went a few steps into the cathedral where a service was going on, and immediately were asked (or rather compelled) to buy a few small Maria cards, which we did of course - who knows what luck they may bring.

The next day (Sun. 30 August) we again birded Cajanuma. Now we were at the refuge at 6.45 a.m., and first had dry weather, although with some wind, and cold again. During the drive up we had seen many Band-tailed Pigeon again. Now we took the Sendero Bosque Nublado, a loop trail through splendid temperate forest with loads of epiphytes. The wren that we had often heard yesterday appeared to be Plain-tailed. Other ticks were Chestnut-naped Antpitta, Barred Fruiteater (a pair, performing well in a fruiting tree), a pair too of Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, rattling with their beaks. We met a flock of Black-headed Hemispingus, Citrine Warbler, Blue-backed Conebill and Pearled Treerunner. It had started raining, and after fruitlessly walking a bit of the Mirador trail that goes up into the elfin forest we took a side trail into the bamboo thickets and had a flock with Spectacled Whitestart, Russet-crowned Warbler and finally our first Streaked Tuftedcheek, and also ticked the Purple-throated Sunangel. We heard the Rufous-naped Antpitta commonly allover the place (saw it once here). At noon we were back at the refuge and saw a flock with a.o. Pearled Treerunner and Grey-hooded Bush-Tanager. Walking quietly down the road we had Brown-bellied Swallow, a group of seven Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, and several others that we had seen before like Masked Flowerpiercer, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, and we ticked Montane Woodcreeper, and in the degraded lower stretch Slaty Finch and Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (the latter, the 'Compra Pan', heard in the forest down to the North).

In order to warm up again, we went the next day (Mon. 31 Aug.) to Vilcabamba, a dry basin South of Loja. We arrived there at 6.45 a.m. by the same Taxi Ruta (shared now, for 5000 s. pp), after having seen many Pacific Hornero's along the road. In the village we ticked Saffron Finch, Scrub Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle and Blue-grey Tanager. We walked from the village up river for a few kms and back through a nice rural scenery with orchards and dry slopes, and added Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Fasciated Wren, Solitary Sandpiper, Tropical Kingbird, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Amazilia Hummingbird, Squirrel Cuckoo, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Golden-olive Woodpecker. That we saw several common birds for the first time only here, is proof of the fact that we had not been so low before.
In the afternoon we had a bus to Zamora (2 hours), driving around more of the heavily forested Podocarpus N.P. Now we met the most obvious disadvantage of not having a rental car: the Loja - Zamora road must be good for roadside birding. But we went here mainly in order to bird the famous subtropical Bombuscaro valley leading into the park, and the combination of Cajanuma and Bombuscaro is good for 90% of all the species of Podocarpus NP (HBW). We took a room in the hotel Gimyfa, recommended as clean and quiet by people that we had met at Cajanuma, and so it was. But this quietness may not always be the case alas, because the owner proudly announced that they would open a disco in the near future. But there are more decently loking hotels here, and I think one was being built at the bridge near the centre. Zamora (see town map) is a quiet place at about 900 m a.s.l. at the border of the Oriente, and after our first beer at Don Pepe we made a late afternoon stroll along the other side of the river, where we ticked White-banded Swallow, House Wren, Yellow-browed Sparrow, Silver-beaked Tanager, Bananaquit, and the white-winged form of the Blue-grey Tanager. Don Pepe remained our favorite restaurant here, but is located near the plaza and the church quite at the other end of the small town than indicated in the Lonely Planet travel guide. There was a rumour about unsafety of the dirt road from Zamora to the Bombuscaro entrance of Podocarpus N.P., so we decided for a taxi not only to bring us there but also to pick us up in the late afternoon, with the brother of the hotel owner as taxi driver, who turned up well in time every morning.

Here too the weather had been comparatively cool and rainy, but now on Tue. 1 Sep. on our first day at the Bombuscaro valley the weather was bright. See the location map of this site. From the parking lot at the end of the dirt road and some 15 mins walk before the guard station, the valley is all forested (lower montane forest). There is one main trail leading up to about 1300 m, and some small trails around the guard station. The long trail is running all the way more or less along the mountain stream, often impeding the hearing of more distant bird calls. Also, in this forested valley only at a few spots you can have a good look around, so there is a limited chance of seeing well the important White-breasted Parakeet flying through the valley. But having said this, the birding is really very good here. Right after the parking lot, at 6.30 a.m., we ticked several calling Yellow-throated Bush-Tanagers and some Paradise Tanagers. We heard (but never got to see it) an antpitta that you would presume to be the Scaled Antpitta listed for this site, but according to my sound reference material it is the Plain-backed Antpitta, not listed for this site (one reader confirmed this observation). Several times later we heard only that Plain-backed sound again, and never the sound that the Scaled should have. Further trip ticks till the ranger station were Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Highland Motmot and Green Jay. At the ranger station, a half open habitat between the forests, we ticked Palm Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Blue-necked Tanager, Green-and-gold Tanager, Bat Falcon, Bay-headed Tanager, Ash-throated Bush-Tanager (again with several Yellow-throated). The sun had risen at 8 a.m. above the mountains, and the temperature then was 15 degrees C. Walking from the station into the nearby small forest plot with an orchid garden we noted Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Ornate Flycatcher (what a beauty), Dusky Spinetail, a wren of the Speckle-breasted group (listen to its song; which one can occur here?), and a bit higher up, on the short circular trail Green Hermit lekking, and Russet-backed Oropendola. Then at noon we went up the long trail along the stream. Trip ticks here were: Golden Tanager, Golden-eared Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, Lafresnaye's Piculet, Yellow-bellied Tanager. When we walked into an antswarm we saw several birds flitting away and we ended up with only the identification of Squirrel Cuckoo and Collared Trogon. Frustrating! Back at the parking lot too early for the taxi of 3 p.m. (that had been delayed by road construction) we just walked a bit down the road and ticked Swallow-tailed Kite, Grey-rumped Swift, Lined Antshrike, Little Cuckoo, Black-billed Thrush, Purple Honeycreeper, White-lined Tanager.

The next morning (Wed. 2 Sep.) we were back at the Bombuscaro entrance at dawn, at 5.50 a.m., with the same taxi driver, and asked him to come back at 6 p.m. Along the road we had noticed Pauraque and Blackish Nightjar, and during the fast walk to the ranger station we heard the West-Peruvian Screech-Owl (exactly the same as on our reference minidisc). Today we mainly did the long trail along the stream, and first ticked Ornate Antwren, Thick-billed Euphonia, Ruddy Pigeon, Orange-eared Tanager, Cliff Flycatcher. Halfway up is a very short trail branching to the left, to the remains of a bridge (see again location map) with an interesting mixture of second growth and primary forest. Here we saw Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Fawn-brested Tanager and very nearby in the undergrowth an Olive Finch. Higher up the long trail, still always in a beautiful subtropical forest scenery, we saw many splendid butterflies, and ticked Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, White-winged Tanager, Streaked Xenops. On the way back, at the old bridge again, we had nice views of Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, and further down ticked Subtropical Cacique, Blue-rumped Manakin, Black-eared Fairy, Sickle-winged Guan, and at the parking lot Magpie Tanager and the endemic Coppery-chested Jacamar. So we had missed the special parrots of this place, although we had heard parrots screaming through the canopy several times. Back in town, while drinking a beer with our taxi driver, we decided not to try these parrots at a third day Bombuscaro, but instead have a trip with him into the Southern Oriente, a bit deeper into the Amazon basin. On the basis of BHW and on advice of the taxi driver we chose for Guayzimi and beyond. This is all lowland tropical scenery (at about 500 m a.s.l.) with lots of trip ticks awaiting. We had not planned this side trip into the Amazon basin, but could not resist the chance. We agreed with the taxi driver on 50 dollars for a trip from 5.30 a.m. till 2 p.m. All on dirt roads, this is the Oriente. See the map for this trip.

On Thu. 3 Sep. we left Zamora with the taxi at 5.30 a.m. indeed and soon arrived at Zumbi where the road to Guayzimi branches off. In the first part of this road the scenery is mostly open woodland and clearings with shrubs, and here we ticked Blue-black Grassquit, Black-capped Donacobius, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Crested Oropendola, Buff-throated Saltator, Snail Kite (!), Great Kiskadee, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker. At a more wooded spot in a sharp bend of the road, nearer to Guayzimi, we got Little Tinamou (heard), Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Black-spotted Barbet (heard), Ivory-billed Aracari, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, (heard), Violaceous Jay, White-tailed Trogon, Lineated Woodpecker and Blue-headed Parrot. At the village of Guayzimi we made a walk through the marshy/shrubby fields between the village and the forest South, and ticked Dusky-headed Parakeet, Roadside Hawk, Long-tailed Tyrant, Black-capped Donacobius again, Thrush-like Wren, Yellow-bellied Dacnis, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Marbled Wood-quail (heard), Magpie Tanager again, Chestnut-bellied and Black-and-white Seedeater together, Fasciated Antshrike. Now we followed the advice of the taxi driver to go on towards the river Guantza, because he said we would see primary forest (bosque primario) there. Gradually the trees became taller and the clearings smaller. Before reaching the river we added Masked Tityra, Black Caracara, Piratic Flycatcher and saw the Swallow-tailed Kite and the Blue-headed Parrot again. At 10 a.m. we were at the river, the Punta de la Guantza, a group of a dozen houses at a small ferry. There is a cafetaria also and the landlady said they even had rooms available. This place also serves as starting point for canoe rides to get to the South, to the village of Chaime near the Peruvian border. Somebody at the cafetaria said there were lodging possibilities at Chaime. If that is more basic then here at the Punta, then it must be very basic.

The forest on the other side of the river seemed rather undisturbed, and only slightly less so on our side, where we walked one km or so alongside it South on a newly cut broad track, probably a future road. Meanwhile our taxi driver went out fishing. Species here were a.o. Flame-crested Tanager, White-chinned Jacamar, many Long-tailed Tyrant, Fasciated Antshrike, Ruddy Pigeon, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Black Hawk-Eagle, White-banded Swallow, Bright-rumped Attila (heard). Had we had more time here, we would have ticked several other lowland forest species. This is a very typical lowland Oriente site with temperatures at noon about 30 degrees C and high humidity. What a difference with nearby Cajanuma. Also, the atmoshere in the village is so totally different from higher up in the Andes. Some travel hints for this site follow here. From Zamora go North to Zumbi along the main road, a hardened dirt road. Then from Zumbi Eastward on a smaller dirt road (with some buses a day) it is about 37 km to Guayzimi where we even noted a hotel (Residencial Orchidea). Then it is a further 7 km Eastward to the hamlet of Zurmi (yes they like the Z here) and from there a further 6 km on to that ferry at Punta de la Guantza. On the way back we drove fast and miraculously did not hit one of the many freely roaming chickens. Instead we ticked Chestnut-collared Swift and Barn Swallow, and we were back in Zamora well in time for a shower before having the 3.30 p.m. bus back to Loja.

We returned to Loja in order to bird the high part of Podocarpus at Cajanuma once more. The weather was quite different now, less cold and with higher clouds, so we hoped to see some different birds. In Loja we tried our third hotel here, a new one with the promising name of Podocarpus. The room was rather OK although the curtains were lacking, but the wholly male and young staff was a bit too inquisitive and macho. In the evening we went again to the Filanbanco cash machine next to the church, and it was a lot busier now, the fiesta of the Virgen del Cisne (Virgin of the Swan) was approaching. The small hall of the cash machine was packed with fiesta going villagers preparing to spend the night there. But we had our best meal thus far in Loja, at the Cevicheria Las Redes.

The next morning (Fri. 4 Sep.) we routinely headed for the Cajanuma refuge at nearly 3000 m. and the weather is more friendly now indeed. Again we took the Sendero Bosque Nublado (see site map again) and had terrific views on the rolling canopy in this mountain kettle. First we ticked Buff-winged Starfrontlet. At 8 a.m. we got a huge flock with trip ticks of White-tailed Tyrannulet, Sword-billed Hummingbird flashing over our heads (a beak with a bird) and Masked Mountain-Tanager, a group of 4 at a bamboo bush, seen from above. Other species in the flock were White-banded Tyrannulet, Blue-and-black Tanager, Pearled Treerunner, Hooded, Lachrymose and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Grey-hooded Bush-Tanager, Black-headed Hemispingus, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker. Then we were so lucky to get an Ocellated Tapaculo in full view in a bamboo bush, by taping it out after recording its own song. Two others nearby started calling as well. Even an hour later we heard several ones. We hope that this was not all caused by us. In general we don't tape out often. Meanwhile we were doing the mirador trail amidst the rare transition vegetation from elfin forest to paramo but did not see many birds there. Going down from this high and muddy trail into the elfin forest we ticked White-sided Flowerpiercer in another big flock, containing the fabulous Golden-crowned Tanager as well. All the time we heard rattling sounds of tapaculos and we think that most belong to the complex of the Andean Tapaculo, which is being split up. The one we saw was exactly like the picture of the Andean Tapaculo in Ridgely&Tudor. Several wrens were also hiding and calling all the time, and the ones we saw now were a family of Rufous Wren. Rain had started again after all, and we had lunch in the shelter of the refuge. From 1 p.m. we started walking down again along the road, and had a finally convincing view of the guans here, and indeed these are Bearded (like Band-tailed, not like Andean). Further down, but still in the forested part (all low temperate forest here), we ticked Mountain Cacique, Yellow-billed Cacique, Red-faced Parrot and Speckle-faced Parrot. Shortly after seeing the Barred Fruiteater again (they are really big) we got in one binocular view a colorful mix of Bearded Guan, Turquoise Jay and Mountain Cacique. At the transition to the open more degraded habitat we had a final flock of a.o. Masked Flowerpiercer, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Russet-crowned Warbler, Montane Woodcreeper. In the dusk we got a Short-tailed Nighthawk, and heard and recorded, about 200 m before the guard post at the main road to Loja, one of the strangest nature sounds we have ever heard, a hoarse clicking of toads probably.

The following morning (Sat. 5 Sep.) was one of the few mornings that we could not use for birding. We had a scenic five hour bus ride West to the small town of Piņas, for the famous Buenaventura site. The bus rides here are not so bad at all. You have all the time to look around and gaze at the impressive mountains. Stopping at many places for birding in these degraded mountain habitats would not bring many new species I think, and moreover, in the buses often happens something folkloristic. Like that time that a peasant woman entered with a basket, put it on the bench beside the driver (a common practise), but had to remove it again after half an hour when some urine started running from the basket. Apparently she had some young pigs or so inside it. The basket was then put next to our rucksacks in the rear compartment of the bus, so again we were glad that we had those nylon dust bags around them. We arrived in Piņas just in front of the hotel of our choice, the Residencial Dumari. After a lunch in town and washing clothes which we could dry at the lovely patio at the back of this simple but friendly hotel, we went out for a first reconnaisance visit to the Buenaventura site. We crossed the 500 m or so of this steep city (see town map above) from the hotel to the bus stand. Every half hour a bus leaves from the Western part of Piņas in the direction of Machala and after about 15 minutes you have to get off the bus at the small blue shrine/chapel 100 m after the gate labeled Buenaventura at your right.

Buenaventura, at about 1000 m a.s.l. is a valley site with lush forest patches and shady pastures in a moist climate induced by the nearness of the Pacific Ocean. See the location map of this site. We arrived there at 4.30 p.m., and it was all misty but (or hence) the bird activity was high. In the remaining 1.5 hour we noted: Violet-tailed Sylph (two males, showing their extremely long tails), Lemon(Flame)-rumped Tanager (several), Common Bush-Tanager, Tropical Parula, Slate-throated Whitestart, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Azara's Spinetail, Orange-bellied Euphonia, White-throated Crake (heard), Crested Caracara. From our friendly hotel owner we had learned hat it had been rainy for nearly a week, and the better weather prevailing since today might have been positive for bird activity. But also, the tracks here were still muddy so again we were glad to have brought our rubber boots. On this first reconnaisance we only did the first 100 m of both tracks after the fork some 50 m beyond the chapel up at the main road. Back in Piņas we searched for a restaurant by asking a local shopkeeper of one of the bigger shops near our hotel, and a customer of his actually brought us to a very small but good and clean restaurant. It is called La Caņada, it looks like a bamboo bar, is situated about in the middle of this small city with its incredibly steep streets, and has no menu card but really good food (for very low prices) and a professional and friendly service. We ate here every night. Opposite the restaurant is one of the better groceries of town and around the corner one of the better bakeries, so after our meal we bought supplies for the next day.

This next day (Sun. 6 Sep.) was entirely for the Buenaventura site. We did the left track, and also the trail that goes right after about 800 m, just where the track makes a sharp lefthand bend. We think that this trail is what is meant by the Dianita trail (BHW), and not the trail (if any) after the sign 'Dianita' some 100 m before that bend in the track. From 6 till 11 a.m. we noted, along the track: Plain-backed Antpitta (heard), Bay Wren, Whiskered Wren (heard), Roadside Hawk, Ecuadorian Thrush, Bronze-winged Parrot, Rufous-fronted Wood-quail (heard), Plumbeous Pigeon, Violet-tailed Sylph again, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Masked Yellowthroat, Andean Solitaire, Purple-crowned Fairy, Emerald Toucanet, Ornate Flycatcher, Red-masked Parakeet, Grey-breasted Wood-wren, Grey-and-gold Warbler, Rufous-headed Chachalaca (heard), Slaty Spinetail (Azara too again), Silver-throated Tanager, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Palm Tanager, Variable Seedeater, Black-winged Saltator, a large lek of Club-winged Manakin, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant (heard), Sickle-winged Guan. The manakins make an incredible buzzing sound, that at first we did not recognize as a bird sound but thought it was one of those crazy cicades. It seems not solved yet if they make the sound with their clubbed wings or otherwise. As with other manakins, they are rather tame so we had long views of them. The manakins are in the wood just before the start of the Dianita trail. We started this very muddy trail at 11 a.m. The weather was partly cloudy and dry and there was no wind. Along the trail we saw, mainly in some flocks, Bay-headed Tanager, Black-winged Saltator, Swallow Tanager, White-whiskered Hermit, Flame-faced Tanager, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Spotted Woodcreeper, and up in the air Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, a noisy family of Black Hawk-Eagle, Great Black-Hawk and Grey-backed Hawk. The latter is one of the specialties for S Ecuador, and we saw it often flying by closely overhead. In a clearing we had Collared Trogon again. As usual, but here more than elsewhere, we heard and recorded bird sounds that we could not identify, even not (yet) back home. On the farthest point along this Dianita trail, after some 1 km from the start, we had a view on the coastal plain of Sta. Rosa.

As on most hikes at this altitude here, the butterflies were plentiful and beautiful. Imagine that you would ever start listing these too, with a good field guide, then you shouldn't think of all the ones you just gazed at here. Also we saw a lot of small poison-arrow frogs Dendrobates (Epipedobates) tricolor. A very variable species, only occurring in SW Ecuador. We saw the green & black variety. In the afternoon on the way back along the track, up again towards the chapel, we ticked Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner, Ochre-breasted Tanager, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Plumbeous-backed Thrush (a group of 4), Beryl-spangled Tanager, Smooth-billed Ani. From the track we flushed two dark short-tailed doves that must have been Ruddy Quail-Dove. Back at the shrine in the late afternoon, we had to wait a while on the bus back to Piņas, and we watched the passing cars on this late Sunday afternoon. Many passengers waved at us, I thought, so I friendly waved back, until I understood that they merely crossed themselves for the Maria statue behind me. Back in Piņas we witnessed the last remains of the big Sunday streetmarket, where we bought some apples.

The next morning (Mon. 7 Sep.) we came back to the Buenaventura site once more. We walked swiftly the left track down to the start of the Dianita trail and slowly birded back along the track up to the main road. New or interesting birds were a pair of Bronze-winged Parrot, one looking from its nesting hole, the other on guard nearby, Plain Xenops, Song Wren, a group of Pyrrhura parakeets flying overhead (can only be the endemic El Oro Parakeet, first discovered on this site, in 1980), Black-striped Sparrow, Golden-naped Tanager, Purple-crowned Fairy, and we heard the same crake as the first night again. Now it was 9 a.m. and 21 degrees C in the shade. At a short walk along the right-hand track, toward a small river, we ticked Green Kingfisher and Savanna Hawk. Back at the chapel we saw a Grey-backed Hawk being attacked by an American Kestrel. We hang around a bit there but it was getting hotter now by noon, and we decided for a bus back to Piņas, where we had a good almuerzo (lunch) at Las Orquideas opposite the bus stand. Then we went to the taxi stand a bit further on, and made an appointment with a taxi driver to be picked up at 4.30 p.m. at our hotel to have a ride to the xerophytic basin East of Piņas. With him we drove past the horribly polluting mining business along the river below Zaruma and eventually ended up at the bridge across the much nicer Rio Pindo, at a picknick place with some houses. See the location map of this site. We made a walk along a track right after the bridge, to the right, back along the river, and saw a.o. Ringed Kingfisher, Fasciated Wren, the funny One-colored Becard (trip tick), and also several unidentified hummers and parakeets further away. After some 300 m this track ends at some houses, and seemingly there is a trail going from there up into the low hills. The whole area consists of xerophytic bushes and bushy forest, and this hillside looked promising, but dusk set in. During the 30 mins. drive back to Piņas we noted a roost of Shiny Cowbird. We enjoyed our last meal at the tiny La Caņada restaurant. The next day we would leave this most Southern part of Ecuador and go the the coastal area West of Guayaquil (see the map).

On Tue. 6 Sep. we had the 6 a.m. bus from Piņas to Machala, and then a non-stop bus of Rutas Orenses (apparently better than the nearby Ecuatoriana Pullman) on to Guayaquil, with a Schwarzenegger video movie and a free cola on board. On the big bus station of Guayaquil we took some extra money from one of the six cash machines (ATM's; all sorts of cards possible), before having a bus to the Sta. Elena peninsula, which goes every 15 minutes. We got off at the town of La Libertad where we took a shared taxi (the ones with the green front) to Punta Carnero, a famous seaside birding site. In the hotel Punta Carnero situated splendidly on an isolated promontory, we got a fine room with a view on the sea and the beach, with sightings of Brown Pelican, Whimbrel, Magnificent Frigatebird, Sanderling, Willet, Grey Plover, American Oystercatcher. In the late afternoon we made a short walk to the top of the rock behind the hotel, and got a good view on the nearby creeks in this sandy and shrubby coastal plain. From here we ticked Long-tailed Mockingbird, Lesser Yellowlegs, Grey Gull, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Great Egret, Snowy Egret. See the location map of this site.

This coastal plain is also where we went birding the next morning (Wed. 7 Sep.), before having our first proper hotel breakfast of the trip. But first, at dawn at 5.50 a.m. I stood a while on the balcony, and see, a nightjar flew along at a few meters distance. It was rather small, very dark (no white patch), had a relatively short tail, and had a typical nightjar flight (not nighthawk). The only nightjar/nighthawk that occurs here is the Anthony's Nightjar! Then, from 6.15 till 8.30 a.m., we walked some 500 m into the coastal plain with its xerophytic bushes behind the creeks, we saw Parrot-billed Seedeater, Semi-palmated Plover, 'Western' Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Common/Arctic Tern, Spotted Sandpiper, Thick-billed Plover, Little Blue Heron, Grey-headed Gull, Least Sandpiper, Peruvian Meadowlark, Short-tailed Woodstar, Croaking Ground-Dove (with its croaking call), Green Heron, Pacific Parrotlet, Groove-billed Ani, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant, Vermillion Flycatcher. Back at the beach we ticked Kelp Gull, and saw several times Blue-footed Booby from the hotel room as well as from our breakfast table. At 9.00 a.m. we had a shared taxi (after 5 mins waiting) to the salt pans a few kms West of here. Contrary to what BHW says, the public transport is good here in this plain (taxi's, small buses). Where the road back to La Libertad forks off from the beach road we left the taxi and walked on along the beach road, with the partly marshy saltpans to the right. Here we saw Pied-billed Grebe (300), Neotropic Cormorant (30), Brown Pelican (30), a Peruvian Pelican rising out above the Browns on a small dike, possibly Blue-winged Teal (a group of 40), White-necked Heron (1, not yet on the list in BHW), Greater Yellowlegs next to a Lesser, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black Tern, possibly also Sandwich Tern. But the best birds here were the c. 200 Wilson's Phalaropes feeding allover the saltpans in shallow water (some walking). After some 1.5 km we had seen enough and took a truck and a small bus back to the hotel, where we checked out at 1 p.m. and had another shared taxi back to La Libertad.

For some sucres extra the taxi driver brought us to the hard to find and rather dirty terminal for buses up North along the West coast. We headed for Puerto Lopez, situated amidst the Machalilla National Park. This bus ride was the most remarkable one of the whole trip. We drove through pictoresque although dirty fishing villages practically sitting on the beach in stead of behind it, and where the road had been washed away from the hillside by the heavy El Nino rains the bus just drove on the beach, for several kms. Finally, so many bridges had been washed away that the bus could not go further and the service was taken over by small pick-ups, waiting in a row. In these pickups we crossed the provisional bailey bridges, meanwhile spotting Baird's Flycatcher, Grey-backed Hawk and Amazon Kingfisher, and reached Puerto Lopez well before dusk. See the map of the town. Here we checked in at the hotel Pacifico (100.000 sucres), and strolled along the 'boulevard' (Malecon) where we chose Explorama for the excursion to the Isla de la Plata the next day (125.000 sucres pp). This is a touristy destination (the "poor man's Galapagos") about 50 km from the mainland, and there were several other companies to choose from (Luz de Luna, in a side street, looked promising as well). The trip includes the boat ride (c. 2 hours) to the island, whale watching underway, a light lunch (mainly fruits), a guided (obligatory!) walk of three hours on the island, a short stop for snorkeling, and the ride back again. Bring water, suntan, hat, walking shoes, repellant, and some patience for the lunch. The walk is about 5 km. After making this reservation for the next day we had our first ceviche mixta (seafood) at the Spondylus restaurant. In the dusk we witnessed the gathering of about 2700 Grey-breasted Martin at their night roost on the telephone wires along the Malecon. From pole to pole, count one wire and multiply it by the number of wires…

The excursion to the island the next morning (Thu. 8 Sep.) left at 8 a.m. There were three more boats of other companies, ours counted 10 people including guide and boatsman. During the rather fast ride, bumping across the tops of the waves, we noted Peruvian Booby, a Procellaria petrel (probably Black/Parkinson's), Grey Phalarope, Sabine's Gull, and several feeding flights of Blue-footed Booby. About 4 km before the island we stopped a few times in order to scan the horizon for whales who stay here in August and September, and also for keeping an eye on the other three boats to see if one of them would discover a whale and rush towards it. This trick worked well, and we were rewarded with impressive views of two rolling and spouting Humpback Whales, heaving their enormous tails with the white underside. This might have been the general highlight of this day trip ('the best bird of the day often is a mammal'), but some very good birds awaited us at the island itself. At the entrance office and only building here (this is part of the Machalilla N.P.), we saw Collared Warbling-Finch for which Isla de la Plata is the best place, probably. A Cattle Egret (not yet on the list in BHW) circled some time above this entrance area, apparently a bit disappointed by this shrubby and dry island without cattle. See the location map of this site.

During the 3-hour guided walk that followed across the Eastern part of the island we visited several booby colonies. First we traversed two loose colonies of Blue-footed Booby, some dancing with their blue feet. The guide said that this year the vines had taken over so much of the bare ground they need for their nests, that the colonies were smaller than normal. (I am not too sure about this monocausal relation.) Then, at the beautiful Eastern tip of the island, we had to walk through the Masked Booby colony, most nested right on the steps of the trail. They made some vague threatening gestures towards our legs. But the best birds here were a pair of Red-billed Tropicbird, a lifer for us. They showed very nicely their tail-streamers while flying along the cliff edge right in front of us. Other birds on the island included Baird's Flycatcher, Vermillion Flycatcher, Turkey Vulture, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Short-tailed Woodstar, and a Wandering Tattler on the rocky plateau at sea level, below the Masked Booby colony. We dipped for the Waved Albatross, who probably had flown off, or maybe our guide just forgot to have a proper look for it. For real dicky-birding the pace was too fast. If you want a real birding tour you will have to make a special arrangement with one of the tour companies, although I wonder if you would see much more species. On the way back to the mainland we first sighted a group of 8 sea lions jus below the Blue-footed Booby colony, and further away from the island an Oceanodromo storm-petrel (probably Black), a shearwater (probably Sooty, dark below and above), and again some frantically feeding Grey Phalarope on the waves.

These two seaside destinations (Punta Carnero and Isla de la Plata) had brought us many trip ticks, and we were curious to see what new birds the mostly deciduous forests of our last two destinations (Ayampe and Cerro Blanco) would bring.

The Ayampe river valley was our goal the next morning (Fri. 11 Sep.). Several sources had indicated that this site just South of Machalilla National Park is a good birding spot and even a good alternative for the less accessible park itself. Moreover, the xerophytic hillside vegetation of the park was now covered nearly completely by vines due to the El Niņo rains. In the deciduous to moist forests of the Ayampe valley bottom many birds from the hillside would reportedly come down, and there were far less vines. After our drive in a pickup 4WD to the bridge over the river Ayampe (one of the few bridges left unharmed by El Niņo), we walked the track inland that starts at the South side of the bridge and follows the river bank more or less (see site map). This track may have been driveable for 3 or 4 km formerly, but now after El Niņo only for just 800 m or so. Several landslides even made walking a bit difficult along the remaining stretch. The river was still quite swollen, and the river bed was certainly not driveable now as suggested in BHW. The Ayampe river valley has steep forested sides and some interesting tall bamboo patches in the inner bends of the river. We slowly walked from the bridge till a big landslide 2 km inland. We noted a.o. Pacific Hornero, Bright-rumped Attila, Ecuadorian Ground-Dove, Streaked Xenops, Thick-billed Euphonia, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Superciliared Wren, Streaked Saltator, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Slaty Spinetail, Violaceous Trogon, Black-capped Sparrow, Lemon-rumped Tanager, Collared Forest-falcon juvenal in a tree, Plain Antvireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Southern Nightingale Wren, Masked Water-Tyrant (this species only occurs in this coastal region and in extreme Eastern Brazil!), and a group of four Pale-mandibled Aracari (endemic) on top of that bamboo forest in the river bend.

Now it was 9.45 a.m. and we were standing on the big landslide. We were watched by a Crimson Finch-Tanager from very nearby. Then we decided to turn back, and gradually a drizzle set in. The temperature here, by the way, is rather low for this altitude near sea level, and this is due to the coastal fogs. On the way back along this track in the Ayampe river valley we ticked Fasciated Antshrike, Speckle-breasted Wren, Crowned Woodnymph, Black-tailed Flycatcher, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, Collared Antshrike, and noted also a.o. Black-striped Sparrow, Lineated Woodpecker, Collared Plover, One-colored Becard, Pacific Parrotlet, Striped Cuckoo, and we saw a Yellow-tailed Oriole type without the black throat (juvenal?). Now it was 12.30 a.m. and we got the usual 4WD pickup back North, but got off at the Alandaluz lodge c. 5 km N of Ayampe, to have a look. We decided that this would be a good place to stay the 3rd and 4th night in this area, so we quickly went on to Pto. Lopez, packed and left the hotel at check-out time (2 p.m.), were back at Alandaluz at 2.30 p.m. already, and settled in our nice cabana (nr. 34, for 120.000 sucres, no credit card!). In the late afternoon we made a short walk to the nearby village of Puerto Rico and along a trail up into the hills for just 200 m, and here we saw Ecuadorian Thrush, Southern Yellow Grosbeak, Pallid Dove, Pauraque (flushed when we walked into an orchard), Black-tailed Trogon, Necklaced Spinetail (a Tumbesian endemic), and the unmistakeble whistle of the Pale-browed Tinamou. This trail goes through semi-open habitat of deciduous woodplots, bushes, pastures and orchards, and two days later we would visit this again. The trail starts to the right at the Northern tip of the hamlet called Puerto Rico, where the road bends to the left after a long straight stretch through the village, in total at about 1 km N of Alandaluz lodge. See map below.

The next day (Sat. 12 Sep.) we had a full day for Ayampe, and at 7 a.m. we were already at the landslide where we had turned back yesterday. Meanwhile we had heard many Grey-and-gold Warbler, and had the Black-capped Sparrow again, the bird that we had seen more often but had longtime remained a mystery for us (no good picture available in the field; the same holds for the Streaked Saltator, which is virtually unstreaked here and has a bolder eye-stripe). Continuing the trail that remained of the former track after the landslide, we saw a.o. Grey-backed Hawk, Western Slaty Antshrike, Orange-billed Sparrow, Bronze-winged Parrot, Violaceous Trogon, Sooty-crowned Flycatcher (a nice Myiarchus), Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, a group of Pale-mandibled Aracari again (six now). This was at the end of the trail/track, at the river, at about 4 km from the main road, and it was 9.30 a.m. now, 21 degrees C, and cloudy. Halfway on the way back we walked c. 150 m through a dry creek uphill, densely wooded around, and observed Little Tinamou, Pallid Dove, Slaty Grosbeak, White-whiskered Puffbird, Slaty Antwren, Collared Trogon, Plain Antvireo, Olivaceous Piculet, and then walked into an antswarm with at least White-backed Fire-eye, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Slaty Antwren and some other quickly disappearing antbirds. We also observed a pair of Black-tailed Trogon at 10 m distance, feeding on the berries in the trees by hovering shortly every time. Before returning on the main track we saw the Violaceous Trogon again, so we had seen three trogon species along this short creek trail. At 1 p.m. we were back at the main Ayampe track, and back to the main road we added Piratic Flycatcher, Green Honeycreeper, a Monarch butterfly, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet (overlooked thus far probably).

At the village of Ayampe at the mouth of the Ayampe river we had a cola, and decided to do some birding along the stretch of main road just South of the Ayampe river. See again the map above. We had passed this lush forested hill area when we arrived here two days ago from La Libertad, and then it looked promising, also because there is so few trafic now due to the bad state of the road. After a short pickup drive we got out slightly beyond the gate of the luxurious Atamari lodge. Walking down, and also the 200 m to the lodge overlooking the sea (we had a drink at their terrace), we noted a.o. Scarlet-backed and Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Red-masked Parakeet, Amazilia Hummingbird, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, and probably recorded an Antshrike that should not occur here in this part of Ecuador: either Chapman's or Barred. Back at the friendly Alandaluz lodge at dusk we washed our rubber boots in a pool on the beach.

At 6 a.m. the next morning (Sun. 13 Sep.) we walked again to that Puerto Rico trail of two days ago, for some pre-breakfast birding. See the map again. The trail seems to follow a dry gully for a while but soon we left this and followed the (or another) trail to the right, uphill through semi-open habitat and orchards. We hoped to reach true forest eventually but on the slippery trail in the orchards, at about 150 m a.s.l., we returned. We noted the following species (full list, as this site has not been described before, probably): Laughing Falcon, Plain Antvireo, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Little Tinamou, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Superciliared Wren, Bronze-winged Parrot, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Streaked Saltator, Grey-and-gold Warbler, Ecuadorian Thrush, Thick-billed Euphonia, White-tipped Dove, Collared Antshrike, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Striped Cuckoo, Crimson Finch-Tanager, Variable Seedeater (a large group), Red-masked Parakeet, Grey-backed Hawk (chasing away two Laughing Falcons!), Boat-billed Flycatcher, Grey Hawk, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Pacific Parrotlet, Black-striped Sparrow, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Fasciated Wren, Tropical Parula. By now it was 9.15 a.m., 24 degr C, cloudy and windless. (More common birds around were Blue-grey Tanager, Bananaquit, Groove-billed Ani, Scrub Blackbird, Black and Turkey Vulture, Magnificent Frigatebird, Pacific Hornero, Southern Rough-winged Swallow. See also the list of the first visit, with Necklaced Spinetail a.o.)

At 11 a.m. we checked out at the Alandaluz lodge. Our last pickup ride here brought us to the bus stand on that rather dirty main street of Pto. Lopez, where we left within 5 minutes with the bus to Jipijapa. It was a Sunday and the people in the bus were nicely dressed, but a horrible movie was on the video. Meanwhile we passed impressive xerophytic hill sceneries, although incredibly covered by the 'El Niņo' vines as explained before. Whole cactus stands had been turned into green mounds, and from a distance the hills seemed to be draped in a sort of spinach. At the remarkably clean bus station of 'Jipi' we had an immediate connection to 'Guaya' (Guayaquil, they like shortened names here). In places this road was rather bad again but the driver was very careful. It grew very hot this afternoon. At the Guayaquil bus station, in the late afternoon, we took a taxi to the hotel Doral in the centre and had a very quiet inner room. The hotel has a pleasantly professional staff and a reasonable restaurant, and is situated opposite the Emetel telephone office. See the sketchy city map.

Our last day (Mon. 14 Sep.) was for the famous Cerro Blanco reserve, a chalk hill with good deciduous forest at 5 km West of Guayaquil (see the site map). We arrived there shortly after 8 a.m., the opening time, by the Chongon bus that leaves from the Parque Victoria (where we went to by taxi). Officially the Cerro Blanco reserve is closed on Monday and Tuesday (at least a sign at the entrance said so), but we as foreign visitors were warmly received for 10 dollar pp. Near the entrance we spotted a Red-throated Caracara. This is a park with good facilities and well maintained trails. We had not been in such explicit deciduous forest before, so we expected some trip ticks. We hoped especially to see the White-tailed Jay. First we walked the Canoa trail, a short loop around a small canyon with bushes, with nice Ceiba trees higher up the hillsides: Ecuadorian Ground-Dove, Grey-cheeked Parakeet, Fasciated Wren, Slaty Grosbeak, Laughing Falcon, Grey-backed Hawk, Amazilia Hummingbird, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Ecuadorian Thrush, Pacific Parrotlet, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Streaked Xenops, White-shouldered Tanager, One-colored Becard, Long-tailed Hermit, but no jay yet. By noon we were back at the office, and asked the american ecologist if he had seen the jays lately. He said that he had not seen them for two weeks now and that there movements were a bit a riddle. But right after leaving this building we saw a group of six White-tailed Jays, stealthily moving through the trees, as jays can do. After this we walked the long trail uphill, the Buenavista trail, until the first mirador (viewpoint). Along the trail we saw Black-and-white Becard, Collared Antshrike, Sooty-crowned Flycatcher, King Vulture, Short-tailed Swift (the latter two from the mirador), a group of four Grey-backed Hawks, and back below we saw lots of Grey-cheeked Parakeets.

At 3 p.m. we left the park and took one of the many buses back to Guayaquil. In fact the bus stopped already before we had been able to cross the lane. Back at the hotel, we enjoyed the dusk hour of a tropical city centre and did some souvenir shopping at the tiny market stalls around the telephone office opposite the hotel. Our return flight the next morning marked the end of a good birding trip with many species typical of Southern Ecuador, less wind than we often have had elsewhere in the Andes, spectacular sceneries and nice people.

Epilogue
When you do a birding trip through Southern Ecuador like we did (no guide, no car), your expectations should not be too high in terms of the number of species. Yet I think we didn't do that bad, and I think that it's more the guide than the car that would have given extra species. Areas that we probably would have added with a car however, are situated in the deepest South, at the border with Peru, where we would have seen some more Tumbesian endemics (although we did see a fine 22 of them).
When you are preparing a trip like this, you always wonder which areas are the most essential, how many days per area, how to combine areas, etc. Therefore (for future visits by others), I made up some layman's statistics about what we saw at the different sites. I don't take into account differences in the number of days or hours that we visited the sites, but in general I think this will be in balance, except for the Surocucho, Oriente and Vilcabamba sites. Here we just went for a short side trip of half a day or even less. Also, Cerro Blanco would have given more species on a longer visit, but then you have to stay longer in that big city (Guayaquil).
(Remember to have a look at the
annotated species list.)
In terms of number of bird species observed (including heard only's), the top sites were Ayampe at the West coast (97 species), Buenaventura near Piņas in El Oro province (87), Cajanuma (high Podocarpus N.P.; 67), Bombuscaro (low Podocarpus N.P.; 65), and the Gualaceo-Limon road East of Cuenca (64 species). Of course this is only numbers of species, not yet how special these species are. In the same respect, a good second place is for the Oriente East of Zamora (58 species), Punta Carnero at the West coast (47), and Cerro Blanco near Guayaquil (36 species).
The sites differ widely in the number of species that were only observed at that particular site. In this 'uniqueness' aspect the sites score as follows, from high to low: Punta Carnero (33 out of 47; the only coastal wetlands we visited), Cajas N.P. West of Cuenca (15 out of 24; the only site above 3200 m a.s.l.), Isla de la Plata (10 out of 17), Bombuscaro (33 out of 65), Cajanuma (31 out of 67), Oriente (27 out of 58), Gualaceo-Limon road (24 out of 64), Ayampe (35 out of 97), Vilcabamba (5 out of 17), Surocucho (6 out of 21; should give much more on a longer visit), Cerro Blanco (10 out of 36).
Comparing these two sequences, the most rewarding sites in terms of species diversity were for us: Buenaventura, Ayampe, Punta Carnero, Bombuscaro and Cajanuma.
Another approach is to count endemics (indicated in the annotated species list). In Southern Ecuador there are five EBA's (endemic bird areas; areas with a remarkable number of species with a limited distribution, regardless of national boundaries). We have seen 35 of these endemic bird species on this trip: 22 Tumbesian, 3 Choco, 5 Central Andes paramo, 4 South Central Andes and 1 Ecuadorian/Peru East Andes. The number of endemics per site is as follows: Ayampe 14 (13 Tumbesian, 1 Choco), Buenaventura 13 (9 Tumbesian, 2 Choco, 1 SC Andes), Cerro Blanco (8 Tumbesian), Cajanuma (4 SC Andes, 1 CA paramo), Punta Carnero (3 Tumbesian), Cajas and Gualaceo-Limon (each 2 CA paramo), Bombuscaro (1 East Andes).
Comparing now species diversity and the endemics numbers, I think our best three sites overall were Buenaventura for the middle elevations, Ayampe for the low elevations, and Cajanuma for the high elevations. However, special attention deserve Cajas for the highest elevations, Punta Carnero for the coastal wetlands, Bombuscaro for the lower East Andes slope, and the Gualaceo-Limon road for the higher East Andes slope.