25 November 2015

Ecuador - Part 3 (misc.)

I figure I may as well throw another post together, this one covering some of the miscellaneous things we saw while visiting the Tandayapa Bird Lodge in Ecuador.  And by miscellaneous, I mean things that AREN'T birds.  Yes yes, I'll slip slightly into the world of insects, mammals, and scenery.

Straightaway, we noticed a LOT of butterflies.  Some families were familiar to us, like this satyr...
Although it's probably a different species from the ones we see here in North America, it didn't exactly blow my mind.  Oh, and no, I don't actually know the species names of these things.... I'm lacking in any book for identifying Ecuadorian bugs!

This guy was pretty vibrant... but I'm still not sure of the family.  Maybe a metalmark or something similar?
I didn't see many skippers but the one I did see was ENORMOUS.  I don't know the species but it rivaled the giant-skippers we have here in the US... at least in size:
This butterfly was also pretty distinctive.  Maybe it's related to the blues or hairstreaks?  These would swarm the moist mud in the road just below the lodge:
In terms of butterflies, nothing there (that I saw) rivaled the number or sheer coolness of the clearwings.  Yes, these butterflies have wings you can see through!
I'm not sure if they're seasonal or what but when we were there, there were hundreds or maybe thousands of these just about everywhere.  Anyone know the species?
On one of the hikes, I saw a couple of damselflies (again, I'm nowhere close to being able to identify these):
 This particular one looks like some kind of rubyspot (at least that's what we call them up here):
Some insects were straight-up pretty large (and identifying them is beyond me):
Not all of the creatures we saw were winged though.  Ashley and I stumbled on this moving lump of leaves... just to realize it wasn't a lump of leaves!
It is, of course, some kind of porcupine! Although I'm not sure if it's an Andean Porcupine (Coendou quichua), a Bicolored Spine Porcupine (Coendou bicolor), or some other species... either way, it was a big deal; all the lodge staff said that this was the first porcupine ever seen on the Tandayapa Lodge grounds. Cool stuff.

I really enjoyed the scenery even though it was dominated by a blanket of green. It started right there from the back patio where you could see through the trees into an expansive valley surrounded by tall, tree-covered mountains:
The lodge sits at about 5700 feet which is higher than the "mile-high" city of Denver.  Even still, the incredibly steep mountains rose above the lodge with an enormous presence.  Often they would "end" where the clouds began:
Sometimes I would just point my camera at a tree on a distant ridge... this one is about to be engulfed by the clouds behind it:
A walk down to the Lower Deck gave another vantage point:
Although I never saw much from this location during our short stay, I'm sure a feeding flock would liven it up immensely:
I found it interesting that Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, sits at 9350 feet in elevation which makes it the highest official capital city in the world.  So confusing as it was, traveling from the city to the lodge was actually all downhill!  After we made the return trip to the airport (all uphill), I snapped a quick picture from the airport entrance.  It was a scenic farewell evening despite the nauseating exhaust pollution:
So that's a wrap.  My next update will be in regards to birding western NY a tad... and I'm guessing it'll have less tropical greens in it!

22 November 2015

Ecuador - Part 2 (non-hummingbirds)

Although our visit was brief, the Tandayapa Bird Lodge had a lot of other interesting birds lurking about that WEREN'T hummingbirds. This post is devoted to those.

I'd be remiss not to start with the barbets. Yes, we heard the Choco endemic TOUCAN BARBETS on a daily basis and although RED-HEADED BARBET is somewhat widespread through the tropics, I hadn't seen one before. The male is freakishly attractive:
The female, rather colorful in her own way, has blue on the cheek (kinda random, right?):
Although they're an incredibly sharp-looking species, I'm not sure if I was happier to see one or to HEAR one. Just as a warning, I'm completely enamored with what these barbets sound like... here's a recording of one from Ecuador (NOT by me, though):
And who doesn't love a toucan? None of you... that's what I thought. I was eager to see the diminutive CRIMSON-MANTLED TOUCANET, a common but slinky bird around the lodge. Although we did see them regularly, including stalking and hunting hummingbirds at the feeders, I apparently didn't spend much time photographing them! Here's the only photo I have... and it's one looking away:
In terms of woodpeckers and woodcreepers, we luckily saw a couple around the lodge. For example, here's a GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER, actually a rather uncommon bird around there:
Along the same lines, easily one of the highlights for me came one morning when I was birding from the lodge patio. I caught movement that looked like a woodpecker... but this one didn't have a greenish back, it was red!
Sure enough, it was the very colorful CRIMSON-MANTLED WOODPECKER. Although they're more expected at the lodge than the previous Golden-olive Woodpecker, I was more excited to see this one. Here's the best I managed of it:
Woodcreepers are often one of the more difficult families to sort through in the tropics. Lucky for us, the vast majority of woodcreepers we saw were the abundant MONTANE WOODCREEPER. This species, which is limited to northern South America, was readily findable just from the patio:

While we're in that part of the book, I may as well throw this bird into the mix. It's a bit of a mystery to us. Although we saw STREAK-CAPPED TREEHUNTERS around the lodge, I'm not certain that this was one of them. To us, we thought it looked smaller than the treehunters... we thought maybe it was a barbtail... but not sure the tail looks right... any ideas out there???
It came as a complete surprise when the lodge manager was showing us around, we turned a corner, and she pointed to a female ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK nesting on a windowsill! I was assuming we'd eventually see this fascinating South American species but not so easily! We'd walk by just inches away from this bird and she stayed put:
Moving on to flycatchers, we honestly weren't that overloaded when we were there. Sure, we heard the mournful call notes of DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS, saw a dapper ORNATE FLYCATCHER, heard the distinctive call notes of SMOKE-COLORED PEWEES... but the most common were the GOLDEN-CROWNED FLYCATCHERS. These squeaky-sounding relatives of Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers were abundant and weren't hard to see or hear around the lodge:
It's a horrible photo (through windows and at a distance) but this was the only look I had at an ECUADORIAN THRUSH:
Oh the tanagers. You gotta talk about the tanagers! The tropics, and Ecuador in particular, have an astounding diversity of this often colorful and vibrant family of birds. Although we didn't see many species during our short stay, we still saw a couple of that were quite nice. If you're looking for yellow ones, try these GOLDEN TANAGERS:
Or maybe you prefer blue tanagers? Here's the widespread and common BLUE-GRAY TANAGER:
But if you want a mix of both, a tanager with bright yellows AND blues, look no further than the BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER:
This was one of my most-wanted species so imagine my satisfaction when a flock of 3-4 came in and fed right in front of us! Truly vibrant:
The brush-finches we saw around the lodge weren't bad either and I was very pleased to see several different species during our short stay. First up, we have the TRICOLORED BRUSH-FINCH, a species limited to the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru:
Another attractive species was the WHITE-WINGED BRUSH-FINCH. This species has a fairly limited range and is found mostly in Ecuador with a few in northern Peru:
Moving on, there were plenty of tropical warblers around the lodge as well. Probably the most common was the SLATE-THROATED REDSTART (known as Slate-throated Whitestart to some). Although the ones we're used to that show up in the US have reddish underparts, the species shows a high degree of geographic variation and the birds down in Ecuador are completely yellow below:
Besides the redstarts, there were often flocks of Basileuterus warblers foraging around the lodge and along the trails. The THREE-STRIPED WARBLERS were quite abundant and lots of fun to study (I hadn't seen them before). There were also RUSSET-CROWNED WARBLERS around although they seemed slightly less common. Sadly, the only photo I managed of either was this dark and grainy photo of a RUSSET-CROWNED:
We were around only long enough to see two species of euphonias; ORANGE-BELLIED (the expected species at that elevation) and this female THICK-BILLED (uncommon at the lodge):
Because so many species here from North America migrate to the tropics to spend their winters, some of the birds we saw around the lodge weren't unfamiliar to us at all. For example, we saw at least one CANADA WARBLER just about every day:
Similarly, we were surrounded by SWAINSON'S THRUSHES, another abundant migrant that we're familiar with here in North America. Because of that, I guess I didn't try too hard for decent photos...
Yet another such migrant was the SUMMER TANAGER. Hearing the familiar "picky-tucky-tuck" call note made me feel like I was in Missouri! Here's one of them that visited the fruit feeders from time to time:
If you really want to see more of what we saw, you can see some of our checklists via eBird:

I'll do one more post of various Ecuadorian bugs and things but after that, we'll be back to our regularly-scheduled boring posts from the US...

18 November 2015

Ecuador - Part 1 (hummingbirds)

We've just returned from a quick trip to the Tandayapa Bird Lodge on the western slope of the Andes in Ecuador. Although we were planning on staying longer, my bad knees betrayed me and we decided to cut our visit short.

However, we still really enjoyed the birds at the lodge and I figured I'd share some of the pictures from that quick visit. Because there were so many crazy birds around, this particular post will only be devoted to the hummingbirds.

I know several of you have been to Tandayapa and know these little gems quite well but for the rest, let me start out by saying that the hummingbird spectacle at the Tandayapa feeders is world-renowned. The lodge can have 100+ hummers at the feeders at once and that usually consists of 10-20 different species. Although I'm not sure I saw 100+ at once during my short stay (numbers can vary seasonally), I can attest to a really fun diversity! After only 3 days, we had tallied 15 different species.

I'll run through the species roughly from most abundant to least abundant...

First up, and probably the most abundant species at the feeders, was the PURPLE-THROATED WOODSTAR. Although these guys were tiny, they weren't bad looking at all. Here's a male perched on a leaf near the patio:
Interestingly, this species would rarely perch at the feeders, they opted to hover instead. Here's a photo of a female noted by the buffy belly (it's quite a grainy photo but that's due to the shutter speed of 1/5000th of a second I used to try to freeze the wings):
This species of woodstar is only found along the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador. As mentioned above, the males would perch on leaves nearby and keep a patrol on their favorite feeder (I mean, they are hummingbirds after all). A male in nice light had the trademark purple throat:
I think the second-most abundant species at the feeders was the ANDEAN EMERALD, a species that's limited to Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. These hummers were pretty distinctive with their white bellies (not many other species there had that). The foreheads had a nice shade of blue with some green on the cheeks:
I'd call them a small hummer but not tiny, either way they really couldn't compete with the big brutes. This species would also perch nearby just waiting for a break in the activity to swoop in:
It gets harder to pick what species is next in line but I'm going to go with the BUFF-TAILED CORONET. Like the above hummers, this species is limited to northern South America (Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador). They're big, green, bold, and quite common:
Another fairly common species was the RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, a widespread species that ranges from Mexico south to Ecuador. If you've been to the tropics here in the Americas, you're probably familiar with this one (they were the most abundant species of hummer for us in Costa Rica, at least). The reddish bill was an easy give-away:
The truly distinctive BOOTED RACKET-TAIL is my pick for the next common. These guys were quite tiny, one of the smallest hummers around. However, the males with their long racket tails made for a very distinctive silhouette. Here's a poor photo of a male perched (you can see the fluffy white "boots" as well):
Much larger than the racket-tails though is the next species, the hefty FAWN-BREASTED BRILLIANT. This species, native to the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, was quite easy to pick out, just look for the warm tan breast:
Quite widespread through the tropics, the GREEN VIOLETEAR ranges from Mexico south to Bolivia... and is my pick for the next common at the Tandayapa feeders. Here's one on the left (with a male Booted Racket-tail on the right):
This next photo is a bit busy (5 species at once!) but focus on the bird hovering in the back. The noticeable purple belly is a give-away for it being a SPARKLING VIOLETEAR, a closely-related species to the Green Violetear. Sadly, I'm not sure I focused on the species enough to take more photos of it.
The following were pretty uncommon but we saw GREEN-CROWNED BRILLIANTS about every day but only for a few seconds at a time. They were robust, that's for sure; bigger than many wood-warbler species! Here's a male that perched near the patio for a few minutes:
The following isn't a great shot but it shows two female Green-crowned Brilliants visiting a feeder at the same time (back left and far right). There is also another species in the back (that has appeared in photos above) that we'll mention later:
Now we're in the part of the lineup where we only saw singles of given species. It's hard to rank these, obviously, but from what I gathered, I could start with the BROWN INCA, a species that's limited to Colombia and Ecuador. They're a fairly large, dark species with an indicative white spot on the side of the neck (seen here with a Booted Racket-tail):
Here's another BROWN INCA although from a funny angle:
Next up is another species that we only saw one or two of. Although my only photo of it is horrendous, I really found the PURPLE-BIBBED WHITETIP to be a fascinating species. Its range is limited to the west side of the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador. It's the only dark green hummer at Tandayapa with distinctive white tips to the tail as seen below:
Although this photo is a bit busy, I'm going to focus on the far left bird, a BROWN VIOLETEAR:
I admit, this widespread species seems bland at first glance but when they turn the right way they actually have a brilliant purple throat! We wouldn't see more than one or two of these a day. If you scroll through the photos above, you might see this bird make another appearance or two.

During our entire stay we only saw one WESTERN EMERALD, a small species found only in Colombia and Ecuador. The male, who would visit daily, was covered in glistening greens that literally sparkled. Here it is on the left side of the feeder (Fawn-breasted Brilliant on the right):
Too bad this same WESTERN EMERALD wasn't facing us... but the small size and green coloration made it pretty distinctive:
It was always a treat when the one-and-only WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN showed up. They're never common at the feeders and although we saw this male just about every day, it was always noteworthy when he came in. Here he is with his white belly and bright blue head:
Last but definitely not least, I'll wrap up with one of the most spectacular hummers we saw. It's big, flashy, and quite a stunner in good light. I'm talking, of course, about the VIOLET-TAILED SYLPH:
Although we'll get to the ridiculously-long tail later, the neon green mohawk gleamed like a beacon!
This large species, which is limited to the western slope of the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador, is obviously well-named given its long tail:
As for the color of this said long tail, the right light completely lights it up:
Although these photos aren't destined for any magazine, at least I can show you the vibrant colors of the backend of this bird:

And yes, did I mention how sometimes the violet tail just glowed?
So there you have it, photographic proof of all 15 species of hummingbirds we saw at the Tandayapa Bird Lodge in 3-4 days. Next up, I'll post about all the non-hummingbirds we saw. Stay tuned.....