Sunday 16 December 2018

Adventures in Ecuador 2018 Part Five

Last night I went to bed feeling pretty low due to my ongoing cold but with the aid of yet more Paracetamol the worst of it was contained. It was an early start today, at 5am, as we had to have our breakfast and be away and in the cloud forest by 6am at the latest, before the oil workers turned up for their breakfast.

The ever cheerful owner of the hotel served us breakfast in the canteen. She was remarkable in that nothing ever seemed too much for her and everything was done with a smile even at such an early time in the morning.

Last night at dinner Gabo had related to me some background information he translated from Pedro, our guide, about the situation here in Gareno which will serve here to give more substance to our exploits today. I regret to say the situation as I understood it is not a happy one.

The forest where we were staying and where we would walk for up to two hours to get to the Harpy Eagle's eyrie is occupied by two indigenous tribes, the Huaorani and the Quechua, who apparently are or have been, until very recently, in dispute. Seriously so. 

The fundamental cause of the dispute between the two tribes is the fact that the oil company, Petroecuador, are exploiting the huge reserves of oil that lie around and underneath the Huaorani's  homeland which extends 75-100km north to south and is 190km wide. The Huaorani have agreed to Petroecuador exploiting part of their land in return for various benefits such as schools, employment opportunities, money and various other communal advantages but accept this comes with the downside of pollution, disturbance, general degradation of the pristine forest habitat and with the building of access roads bringing the increased threat of illegal logging and other illicit activities. It has also caused intense jealousy amongst the Quechua.

Pedro our guide was from the Huaorani tribe and in happier times he built the well known Gareno Lodge in a part of the cloud forest belonging to the Quechua  and where all visiting birders used to go and stay in order to seek out rare birds in the forest such as the Harpy Eagle, Rufous Potoo and Fiery Topaz Hummingbird, amongst many others.

From what I could glean, as Gabo translated from Pedro, it seems the Quechua became so jealous of the Huaorani making money from both the oil company and nature tourists coming to Gareno Lodge, which Pedro built for them, that Gareno Lodge was allowed to fall into disrepair by the Quechua and no birders were welcome to go there anymore, so they now stay at the oilworker's hotel instead. 

As if this was not bad enough a truly shocking act of environmental vandalism on the part of the Quechua has recently come to light.

The pair of Harpy Eagles and their six month old offspring we were going to see today had raised a another eaglet last year in the same nest and to a similar age, when it was mysteriously killed.For a time no one knew quite what happened to it but slowly the news has filtered out that the Quechua had killed it because they perceived they were not getting any financial benefit from all the birders coming to see the eagle and all the money was going to the Huaorani. It would appear that the two tribes are still not reconciled but matters may be improving. Let's hope so and that the young Harpy Eagle this year survives to fledge, safe from the petty jealousy, squabbles, rivalries and whims of humanity.

Now back to more pleasant matters.

Gabo, Pedro and myself  clambered on board the 4x4 and set off for the cloud forest. Ironically our first call was to the now derelict Gareno Lodge, where we had a chance of seeing the spectacular male Fiery Topaz Hummingbird, which apparently visited the trees and river running around the former lodge but only appeared for an hour between 6.30-7.30am.

The first wildlife we encountered this morning was a mammal rather than a bird when a Black Agouti ran across the road as we drove to the trail leading to Gareno Lodge.

Donning wellingtons, which we would have to wear for the rest of the day, we made our way through the forest, gingerly negotiating our way down a set of extremely slippery almost vertical steps, wading across a shallow river, crossing another rickety wooden bridge that had seen better days and finally stood amongst the abandoned and decaying buildings of Gareno Lodge. 

What poor Pedro must have been thinking I could only imagine. To add insult to injury he told Gabo I would need to give $30.00 to a member of the Quechua, who would turn up any minute now to collect it, for the privilege of standing in this dereliction of buildings that they had caused. I bit my lip and we left it at that.

Pedro at the now deserted and derelict Gareno Lodge
A Fiery Topaz, quite a large hummingbird, did turn up after far too long a wait, but only to hover in mid air for a few brief seconds, calling a staccato tzik tzik tzik ........ before zooming out of sight. And that was it. To add to our woes it was a female, so nowhere near as attractive as the crimson and green male. 

Oh well, the Harpy Eagle was what I really was here for, so it was back to the 4x4 and then we made a short drive to stop by an inconsequential looking gap in the edge of the forest. It looked so innocuous, a small, wet and leafy opening to a trail disappearing into the dim green light of the forest's interior. If only I had anticipated what was in store. Once in the forest the humidity and fecundity of the forest floor enveloped us in a warm earthy aroma and the light, diffused through a million leaves, faded to a half light of shade and green mystery.

The vegetation is so dense and prolific that for most of the time you can really only see a few metres around and in front of you. Many creatures here do not ever properly see the full light of day and butterflies, dark as the rotting leaves or ethereal with transparent wings, flit along the forest floor or at knee height amongst the hanging leaves of a myriad plants, specialists in this nether world of deep vegetative litter and green gloom.

Small birds of bewildering variety, usually tapaculos, antbirds. antwrens and manakins, skulk in the dark green depths of the forest. Tiny and seemingly invisible, at least to me as I wiped sweat from my eyes, they can make a  grown man cry trying to differentiate the outline of a tiny bird that looks just like the thousand leaves around it. Sometimes I managed to see the bird but often was left in frustration at my apparent ineptness.This is forest birding but who can resist the challenge, especially when, occasionally, it actually goes in your favour. 

The trail, needless to say, was never really level. I either found myself to be climbing perilous muddy banks ten,  twenty, thirty feet high with minimal footholds or descending similar vertical banks, dropping, twisting, turning, ducking under tree trunks and around fallen branches, wading through streams, slip sliding and sinking in cloying mud. It went on and on.

Sweat poured from my body. The humidity and still air contrived, along with the temperature from my cold,  to stick every item of clothing to my skin. I had made sure I wore a long sleeved shirt today to keep off the mosquitos but it was soon sodden with sweat. After thirty minutes I called a halt as I badly needed water to replenish my body's depleted reserves after all the sweating. We stood for ten minutes and then off we went again along yet more of this natural roller coaster, looping up and down and slithering along the narrow trail. I dared not ask Gabo how long we had been walking for fear, on learning the time remaining until we reached our destination, it would be too disheartening. I was struggling but for my age I am fit, although I was now entering into uncharted realms of physical endurance. However there was not a chance I was going to give in.  

At my request we made another stop to drink yet more water and then on we went. I had no idea where we were but trusted in Pedro who knows the forest intimately. Apart from the trials and tribulations I suffered there is something truly romantic about wandering this wilderness looking at plants that I only normally see in heated hothouses or garden centres at home, but here I was in the most natural hothouse of all and some of the plants seemed familiar. Some I even recognised and could put names to.

Gabo would stop every so often, having heard a bird call and proceed to identify the bird. It was usually a manakin or a tapaculo. Arch skulkers and the devil to see and even if you do it is only for a fraction of a second before they seem to melt away before your very eyes.

Finally, after a further long spell of walking we went up a slight rise and came to a small, open and natural viewpoint and found two photographers with their huge expensive lenses focused on the Harpy Eagle's nest in an immense and massive tree some hundred metres beyond.

The nest was situated in the fork of two huge boughs that extended out, one on either side of an even more impressive trunk. A mass of sticks built up over the fifteen years since the nest was first constructed was now a platform for the young eagle to stand on and receive food from its parents.

The Harpy Eagles nest can be seen in the distance in the
centre of the image

Juvenile Harpy Eagle
There was no time for introductions or to become familiar as not only the young eagle was present but also an adult which had just brought in a sloth for the young bird to eat. This was very fortunate as the adult eagles were now only bringing in food for their offspring every four days. We slithered down a precipitous bank to get a better view of the adult, currently obscured by a massive branch. I saw a huge bird, grey above and white below with a halo of feathers across its crown forming a crest. It looked right at me and then it flew. Its wings white underneath as it wheeled way from the immense tree in which the nest was built. Although we had only seen it for a minute or so, with no time for photographs, the adult was a definite bonus as we were only expecting to see the juvenile.

We scrambled back onto the flat semi circle of earth that formed the viewpoint and I took some pictures of the young eagle. It too was impressive, virtually fully grown but greyish brown on its upperparts and white on its head and underparts and it too sported an impressive crest of white feathers, waving around in the breeze. It stood on the massive bulk of its nest platform and squealed a wheezy, high pitched call totally at odds with its regal demeanour and magnificent appearance.

With the initial excitement over we chatted to the photographers and their two guides. They had been here for an hour and all day yesterday and were happy with their images. Their professional equipment was worth tens of thousands of pounds and very heavy and I did not envy them lugging it all the way back to the road.They remained for another half an hour and then set off back through the forest.

I was glad, in a way, that they left as now it was just the three of us, familiar with each other's company and I relaxed and found myself slipping into harmony with the forest. To be honest I was exhausted having used almost all my reserves of energy just to get here, but now it was done and here I was fulfilling a long held ambition to see a real live Harpy Eagle. In fact I had seen two.

I sat on a log and switched off mentally as my physical strength slowly recovered. I had no concept of time and didn't care. It was irrelevant and the romance of sitting in a cloud forest literally in the middle of nowhere listening to the eaglet, mewling and calling along with the other strange natural sounds of the forest was all that I could possibly desire at this moment.

Of course there was other life around us, with different birds calling but we rarely saw any, especially when we had been walking through the forest earlier. Black bellied Cuckoos called and came very close to our viewpoint but remained unseen. A huge crash from the tree tops near the eagle had it looking intently over the rim of its nest. Monkeys. It had to be but we would never know for sure as whatever it was remained undiscovered.

Another large raptor wheeled in the sky beyond the nest tree. It was a White Hawk. Another good bird of prey to see and totally unexpected. I learnt from Gabo that the huge tree the eagle's nest was in was a Ceibo Tree also known as a Kapok Tree and that the nest had been first built fifteen years ago and occupied four times during that period including now. Gabo also showed me some very large trees in the forest with numbers painted on their trunks.This was a failed attempt by the Quechua to sell the trees to a logging company for money but the Ecuadorian Government had mercifully blocked it. The Quechua even tried to sell the very tree in which the eagle's nest was situated.

It is fitting that such a superlative eagle should choose to nest in such a magnificent tree as a Ceibo Tree, one of the largest of the trees that grow in the cloud forest and which can grow to seventy metres high with buttress roots above the ground that can stand higher than a man. Its trunk is smooth, straight and branchless culminating in a huge leafy branched canopy. This particular Ceibo Tree was festooned with countless bromeliads and epiphytes, sprouting at random from the enormous branches.

Time gently moved on and spells of sunshine permeated the forest, creating a dappled shade, and reflecting off  the glossy green leaves all about us. A huge butterfly, saucer sized, flopped on soft wings around our little viewpoint of dark soil and roots, a flashing, vivid, startling electric blue as it passed in and around the immediate proximity of the forest vegetation.

It came to rest on a large leaf and shut its wings tight.The electric blue vanished as if a flashlight had ben turned off. Its body and legs looking enormous under the dark triangle created by its closed gigantic wings. The underwings appeared without pattern but on looking closer I could see some large yellow and black spots which Gabo told me indicated this was an Owl Butterfly, so named because of the large spots which are meant to resemble an owl's eyes and thus deter predators from attacking it. 

Apparently Owl Butterflies do not like to fly around too much and remain in just a small area and this one was true to form and spent a good hour with us, settling on the cover to my camera lens for a time, possibly imbibing the salt from my sweat. 

Disturbed by my movement it flopped away and settled on a green, strap like frond of vegetation. 

Please open your wings. I said a prayer to the forest gods, silently willing the butterfly to do so. The wings slowly parted, just a teasing fraction of vivid blue was visible but then they firmly closed once more. Then suddenly, as quick as you like, the capricious insect flicked open its wings and spread them flat across the leaf and kept them there, flagrantly defying any concession to camouflage.

Owl Butterfly-at least seven inches from wingtip to wingtip!

It was a wonder of nature. A broad and vivid slash of electric blue lay diagonally across each open wing. My camera for all its sophistication was unable to accurately replicate the sensational depth and tone of colour. I did my best with camera settings but could not record the sheer dazzling luminosity of that blue.What a sensational insect.

But enough of diversionary insects, sensational or otherwise and back to the Harpy Eagle. It stomped around the nest platform and then commenced tearing great chunks off the sloth, the raw, red flesh disappearing down its throat in exaggerated gulps. After some time tearing at the flesh the eagle had fed enough and stood replete, its crop noticeably bulging. It was troubled by flies and kept having to shake its head feathers to get rid of them. A partial stretch of its wings and then it stood quietly before returning to another bout of feeding.

Overall it was white on its underparts with a greyish chest band, huge white feathered thighs and bright yellow legs and massive feet, armed with fearsome looking talons and black claws. Its wings were more brownish grey than white and the flight feathers appeared to be black or dark grey on their upper surface and barred grey and white underneath. Its head was, as you would expect noble, its bill black and hooked, with a halo of whispy, white, elongated feathers across the rear of its crown. 

Truly it was  a spectacular bird.

The juvenile before us would soon fledge but would then remain in the vicinity of the nest to be occasionally fed by its parents for the next 6-10 months and it will not be sexually mature until it is 4-5 years old. Its parents mate for life and will produce another chick from 2 to 4 years hence.

Harpy Eagles have no known predators and are one of the largest and most powerful eagles in the world with a two metre wing span which for an eagle its size is relatively short but this allows it to fly through the forest at both speed and with great manoeuvrability. They prey on tree dwelling mammals, taking them by surprise, plucking them from a branch before they know what has hit them, targetting principally sloths and monkeys with opossums, macaws and iguanas also featuring in their diet. Currently they are classed as Near Threatened by Birdlife International with the main threat to their future being habitat loss due to logging, agriculture and illegal settling and they have  been brought to virtual extinction due to these factors in Central America. In 2009 it was estimated that there were between 20,000-50,000 individuals across their entire range which extends from Mexico to Argentina although this estimate is considered non definitive.

The name Harpy Eagle comes from Linneaus who gave the eagle its Latin name Harpia harpyja in 1758 and which derives from the Ancient Greek mythological beasts called Harpies which were wind spirits that transported the dead to Hades and were said to have the body of an eagle and the face of a human.

For five hours we happily sat  in the company of the Harpy Eagle. Gabo produced some lunch, prepared for us to carry into the forest by the hotel. It was lasagne and rice for me. I was very tired, weakened by my cold and the sheer physical exertion to get here. The food helped but the humidity had taken away much of my appetite. Now sitting and standing about for so long meant that I had to be careful I did not become too complacent about the return journey and the effort it would require to complete. Another two hours walk through the cloud forest would beckon eventually and there was no escaping the fact.

Frankly I was dreading it.

Would I manage it? There was only one way to find out. Pedro returned with a stout pole he had cut from the forest and gave it to me, recognising I would be in need of it to support me on the various hazardous climbs and descents on the way back. When your limbs are tired and weaker that is the time when you are most vulnerable and prone to mistakes and some of the trail had sheer drops of many feet either side and it would be very serious if I fell.

We set off. I took one last lingering,wistful look at the Harpy Eagle.Would I ever see one again?

The walk back was arduous as now every muscle in my body told me I was pushing the boundaries of my endurance but there was only one way out of here and that was the same way we came in. Walk. Each person for himself.
Pedro and Gabo at the Harpy Eagle viewpoint
We made regular stops along the way to seek out birds in the canopy and to rest. A Cream colored Woodpecker, more yellow than cream to my mind, was a good find by Pedro along with an Amazonian White tailed Trogon perched just below the canopy and I even managed to find a pair of Blue crowned Manakins, all by myself as they skulked along the forest floor. We heard many more birds than we saw which is the way of things in a cloud forest, as Screaming Pihas very much lived up to their name and Striped Manakins, Sooty and Yellow browed Antbirds all resolutely refused to be lured by Gabo's tapes and reveal themselves. I just about managed to get a glimpse of one of a pair of Plain winged Antshrikes before it slipped away into the forest depths.

Cream coloured Woodpecker
Amazonian White tailed Trogon
I was assuming we would go back the way we came to the forest entrance by the road but Pedro took us off on a tangent away from the main trail.What now? Gabo informed me that we were headed for  a Rufous Potoo, a very rare bird indeed and not easily seen but Pedro knew where one was roosting.

I thought it would be reasonably close but not a bit of it. We commenced walking for thirty more minutes along another even more testing trail than before, climbing up and down unfeasibly steep banks and descending dangerous looking half trails that seemed to lose themselves in the forest and lead nowhere but always resumed at the last moment. 'One last bank and then it is level going' Gabo re-assured me as I gasped up yet another almost vertical assault course of mud, roots and fallen branches. The prospect of seeing a Rufous Potoo kept me going however. It was mind over matter now. I could see the potoo and then expire I told myself and then, just like that we stopped on a small ridge under some trees.

Pedro pointed. In front of us,  sat on a slender bough, was the Rufous Potoo, much smaller than I expected, a shapeless lump that could have been a dead leaf that in the process of falling had got caught up on the stem. 

We got closer and some plumage details became apparent. It was indeed rufous, with a scattering of irregular white spots spread over its underparts and less so on its upperparts. Slowly it opened a large yellow eye and then closed it again. I  could now work out what part of this indeterminate shape was its head and that the bird was facing us and its head was pointing left with a tiny bill protruding from it. It too, like the Swallow tailed Nightjar yesterday, started that curious  swaying motion when we got too close so we retreated and it settled down again and went back to its slumbers in the green and yellow half light of this secret bower in the forest.

Rufous Potoo
And that was that. What a day of high emotion and physical struggle. We resumed our wearisome slog out of the forest and finally emerged into the sun, free of the trees. It was like entering another world. Pedro pointed up a tree and a tiny monkey, a Black mantled Tamarind also known as a Napo Tamarind ran along a horizontal bough above us.

My legs were leaden. My feet ached and I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. How I longed to remove the wellingtons. I looked at my i phone app and it told me I had walked 6.1 miles in the cloud forest. I recalled the actor Brian Blessed bellowing in an advert on British TV 'And now I feel epic!!' So did I or at least I would once I had time to regain some strength and my nose stopped running! 

We got back to the 4x4 and I got rid of the accursed wellingtons. Relief swept over me and my feet felt liberated. I recovered some energy, drank some water and we birded the dirt road, finding a pair of Purple Honeycreepers and comprehensively failing to tape out a Thrush like Antpitta, although it came very close. It was then a slow drive back to the hotel, stopping en route to watch a pair of  Magpie Tanagers and a Yellow tufted Woodpecker, both new birds for me.

Back at the hotel I fell on my bed, beyond care. I was hot, sticky with sweat and feeling unwell as my cold told me it had not gone away. My drying shirt was stiff with sweat and marked with white slicks where the salt of my sweat had congealed and dried.  Eventually I peeled off my clothes and stumbled into the shower. Cold but oh so invigorating.The sweat and dirt left my body and a sense of achievement and triumph entered my soul. I donned a clean tee shirt and shorts just as a huge rain storm arrived.The force of the rain had to be seen and felt to be believed. My thoughts went back to the forest and the young Harpy Eagle standing on its nest getting thoroughly soaked.

It was time for dinner. 

I sat at the dinner table reflecting on the trials and tribulations of today. It made the pilgrimage to the eagle all the more satisfying in that it had been far from easy but for a bird like that it should never be so, surely?

Birds seen on Day 9

Harpy Eagle; White Hawk: Rufous Potoo; Fiery Topaz; Reddish Hermit; Grey capped Flycatcher;Boat billed Flycatcher; Great Kiskadee; Tropical Kingbird; Black faced Antbird; Sooty Antbird (heard only);Yellow browed Antbird (heard only); Plain winged Antshrike; Thrush like Antpitta (heard only);Striped Manakin (heard only);Blue headed Manakin; Dwarf Tyrant Manakin (heard only); Purple Honeycreeper; Purple ruffed Fruitcrow; Screaming Piha: Black bellied Cuckoo (heard only|); Amazonian White tailed Trogon; Cream coloured Woodpecker; Crimson crested Woodpecker; Yellow tufted Woodpecker; White throated Toucan (heard only); Chestnut eared Aracari; Many banded Aracari; Silver backed Tanager;Magpie Tanager; Buff throated Saltator; Violaceous Jay; Lawrence's Thrush (heard only);Southern Rough winged Swallow; Black faced Dacnis: Black headed Parrot;White eyed Parakeet; Yellow rumped Cacique; Red rumped Cacique; Russet backed Oropendola

Mammals seen

Black mantled or Napo Tamarind

Black Agouti

Day 10

I slept well last night which was hardly a surprise but it was just as well as another early start was required because we were going back to the forest to see if we could get better views of the Fiery Topaz. This necessitated us being at the Gareno Lodge site by 6.30am. So another 5am start it was.

There was no choice but to don my sweat soaked shirt and trousers from yesterday but they would soon be absorbing yet another layer of sweat once we were in the humid forest. My cold was continuing to inflict various miseries on me but my saviour, the Paracetamol, kept the worst of it at bay for now.

Sadly we failed in our mission to find the male Fiery Topaz. The female arrived, like yesterday, and indeed put in several brief appearances but never perched, just hovered in mid air and then zoomed off. On the way back to the 4x4 we found a small group of Ruddy Quail Dove feeding near the river. 

We headed back to the oil company's check point, passing a Greater Yellow headed Vulture perched in a tree by the road, signed out at the barrier and were now on our way back to Quito. I had to be at Quito airport by 3.00pm to get my flight to Bogota and then an onwards connection to London. On the way we were going to drop off Pedro at his house near the city of Misahualli.

Opposite his house Pedro and his wife own a 13 hectare reserve of prime forest called Laguna Paikawe which incorporates a small lake  and we would take a canoe ride round the lake with Pedro to search for a Sungrebe and Hoatzins, both of which would be new birds for me. The lake and reserve have been in Pedro's family for seventy years and despite tempting offers to purchase it from various entrepreneurs he refuses to sell as he wishes it to remain as it is, an area of pristine forest now almost on the outskirts of the expanding tourist city of Misahualli.

The return journey back down the interminable dirt road was a reprise of our outward journey with various stops along the way, passing through impoverished looking homesteads, to look at birds perched on the wires. 

The best of these were three White eared Jacamars, a male Chestnut breasted Seedeater and two White banded Swallows. We passed the same small children on the road still selling their bundles of guava sticks and Gabo stopped by a tiny, doll like girl at the roadside clutching a bundle and gave her the requested $1.00 for the sticks.

White eared Jacamars

White Banded Swallows
The dirt road eventually became tarmac and our progress consequently a lot smoother. We arrived  and stopped outside Pedro's home and crossing the road to the lake we got into a large grey canoe which Pedro paddled from the rear. Gabo meanwhile pointed out some Neotropical Swifts flying overhead.

Laguna Paikawe was much bigger than I had imagined, surrounded by lush forest and with a large island in the middle, again covered in luxurious trees and plants. The water was dark green, opaque and absolutely still but there was no sign of the Caymans that lived here. We slid quietly and slowly over the water's surface but for a while there was little to see. 

Laguna Paikawe
A family of Speckled Chachalacas flew across the water in front of us but then a couple of large birds with broad wings flew noisily and clumsily up into the trees. They were Hoatzins, such strange and outlandish looking birds, they run up the branches of trees holding out their spread wings and tail as if to balance and then stop and peer down at you, their chicken like heads with spiky buff crown feathers and bare blue skin around a red eye, bobbing and jerking to assess if you are a threat.They look like they are related to pheasants, but in fact are so unique they are assigned to a genus all of their own, and from what I could see they are just about as stupid as a pheasant or chicken but fortunately for them their flesh is rank and tastes horrible so they are not hunted. Their diet consists entirely of vegetable matter and fruit which is processed by a means of fermentation in their crop which makes them foul smelling and gives rise to alternative names for them such as stinkbird and skunkbird.

Their young are born with claws at the bend of each wing enabling them to clamber around in the branches and twigs almost from the day they are hatched. We watched the Hoatzin's antics as they flew clumsily amongst the trees or ran along branches, hissing, squawking, groaning and grunting, holding out their wings as if in horror at our disturbing their peace.

We glided onwards over the still waters and at a bend in the lake a Greater Ani was perched and calling loudly.I had not noticed before, that unlike its ugly cousin the Smooth billed Ani, it has an attractive pattern of feathers on each side of its neck and its all black plumage is complemented by a startling white eye.

Greater Ani
We floated slowly onwards as Pedro gently paddled the canoe and now we encountered perhaps the best bird on the lake, a Sungrebe. It swam ahead of us, its brown body held low in the water, craning its neck sideways to keep an eye on us as we slowly followed. Such a strange looking bird suggesting almost half diving duck half grebe but it is most closely related to the two finfoot species that are found in Africa and Asia respectively.

It had such a pretty and strikingly patterned head and neck of black and white stripes, orange cheeks, a blood red bill and a lovely lavender blue crown and hind neck, contrasting with the rest of its greyish brown body. Only the female has the orange cheeks. It swam constantly ahead of us until it finally remembered it had wings and flew off into a backwater and hid under the overhanging vegetation.

We carried on with our circuit of the lake before we came round another corner and had almost got back to where we boarded the canoe at the landing stage. Pedro stopped the canoe by a Striated Heron's nest and below it a Great Kiskadee eyed us suspiciously.

Striated Heron on its nest
Great Kiskadee
In the lush vegetation and trees on the bank Purple Gallinules used their long toes to negotiate their way along the stems but best of all, higher up near the top of a large tree sat a largish white lump. Pedro informed us it was a Great Potoo and that they breed here. Like the Rufous Potoo its head seemed to have merged seamlessly into its body so it was impossible to discern at first where its head was or even which way it was facing but eventually we managed to see it was facing left. After disembarking the canoe we took photos of it from other angles as it sat fast asleep on its high perch.

Great Potoo
What a pleasant interlude but it was not quite over. From the landing stage Pedro pointed out a White bellied Spider Monkey sat in a tree on the island opposite us. It was joined by another which seemed slightly more extrovert and hung by its tail from a branch looking at us as if to say 'Can you do this?' Pedro assured us they were wild monkeys and I suppose they were but this particular Spider Monkey seemed to have no fear of us and was a bit of an exhibitionist..

White bellied Spider Monkeys
We finally bade farewell to Pedro and now headed for Guango Lodge and its hummingbirds, where I planned to use their facilities to change into clean clothes for my long journey back to the UK. I duly achieved this and after another  brief view of the Sword billed Hummingbird at the feeders we set off for Quito  airport.

At three in the afternoon on a pleasant sunny day Gabo dropped me at the departure terminal of Quito airport. A firm handshake, an embrace, a new friend and it was farewell to Gabo and Ecuador.

Tomorrow all this would seem so distant. It was time to go home.

Travelling Prayer

Hey Lord, take a look all around
And find where my baby's gonna be.
Hey Lord would you look out for her tonight
'Cause she is far across the sea.
Hey Lord would you look out for her tonight
And make sure that she's gonna be alright
And things are gonna be alright with me

Billy Joel 1976

Birds seen on Day 10

Fiery Topaz; Ruddy Quail Dove; Ruddy Ground Dove; Grey Antbird (heard only); Sword billed Hummingbird; Long tailed Sylph; Collared Inca; Chestnut breasted Coronet;Buff tailed Coronet; White bellied Woodstar; Masked Flowerpiercer; Chestnut sided Seedeater; White banded Swallow;Southern Rough Winged Swallow; Blue and White Swallow; Neotropical Palm Swift; Yellow browed Sparrow; Rufous collared Sparrow Great Kiskadee; Tropical Kingbird; White eared Jacamar; Hoatzin; Sungrebe; Great Potoo; Striated Heron. Greater Ani; Smooth billed Ani; Speckled Chachalaca; Black billed Thrush; Greater Yellow headed Vulture; Violaceous Jay; Inca Jay (heard only); Purple Gallinule; Black Phoebe; Swallow tailed Nightjar

Mammals seen

White bellied Spider Monkey

Total list of species seen or heard only (ho) over 10 days

Great Tinamou (ho); Black faced Ibis; Striated Heron; Snowy Egret;Cattle Egret; Fasciated Tiger Heron;Pied billed Grebe;Silvery GrebeAndean Teal; Yellow billed Pintail; Andean Ruddy Duck; Torrent Duck; Greater Yellow headed Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Black Vulture; Andean Condor;Hook billed Kite; Cinereous Harrier;White Hawk;Variable Hawk; Roadside Hawk; Broad winged Hawk;Harpy Eagle; Black and Chestnut Eagle;Black chested Buzzard Eagle;Semi collared Hawk; Barred Hawk (ho); Barred Forest FalconCarunculated Caracara; Laughing Falcon; Aplomado Falcon;American Kestrel; Speckled Chachalaca; Wattled Guan;Dark backed Wood Quail; Rufous bellied Seedsnipe; Sungrebe; Purple Gallinule; Andean Coot;Southern Lapwing; Andean Lapwing; Spotted Sandpiper;Solitary Sandpiper;Andean Gull; Rock Pigeon; Plumbeous Pigeon; Ruddy Quail Dove; Eared Dove; Ruddy Ground Dove; Black winged Ground Dove; White tipped Dove; Orange winged Amazon;Maroon tailed Parakeet;White eyed Parakeet;Bronze winged Parrot; Speckle faced Parrot; Black headed Parrot; Little Cuckoo; Black bellied Cuckoo (ho) Greater Ani; Smooth billed Ani; Hoatzin; Black banded OwlGreat Horned Owl; Great Potoo; Rufous Potoo; Rufous bellied Nighthawk; Band winged Nightjar; Swallow tailed Nightjar; White collared Swift; Chestnut collared Swift; Neotropical Palm Swift; White whiskered Hermit; Tawny bellied Hermit; Reddish Hermit; Speckled Hummingbird;Purple crowned Fairy; Purple bibbed Whitetip; Booted Racket Tail; Purple throated Woodstar;White bellied Woodstar; Brown Violetear; Sparkling Violetear; Western Emerald; Fiery Topaz;Fawn breasted Brilliant;Empress Brilliant;Rufous tailed Hummingbird;Andean Emerald Green Thorntail; Ecuadorian Hillstar; Giant Hummingbird; Shining Sunbeam; Great Sapphirewing; Sword billed Hummingbird; Bronzy Inca; Brown Inca; Collared Inca; Black tailed Trainbearer; Purple chested Hummingbird; Long tailed Sylph;Violet tailed Sylph;Buff tailed Coronet;Green crowned Woodnymph; Chestnut breasted Coronet;Velvet Purple Coronet; Viridian Metaltail; Rainbow bearded Thornbill; Gorgeted SunangelTourmaline Sunangel; White tailed Hillstar;Violet fronted Brilliant; Mountain Velvetbreast; Amazonian White tailed Trogon; Western White tailed Trogon; Masked Trogon; Golden headed Quetzal; Crested Quetzal (ho);Amazon Kingfisher; Rufous Motmot; Violaceous Jay; Inca Jay;White eared Jacamar; Toucan Barbet; Lanceolated Monklet; Crimson rumped Toucanet; Pale mandibled Aracari; Many banded Aracari; Chestnut eared Aracari; Plate billed Mountain Toucan; Choco Toucan; Black mandibled Toucan;White throated Toucan (ho);Chestnut mandibled Toucan; Olivaceous Piculet; Lafresnaye's PiculetCrimson crested Woodpecker; Golden Olive Woodpecker; Cream colored Woodpecker;Yellow vented Woodpecker; Scarlet backed Woodpecker; Black cheeked Woodpecker; Yellow tufted Woodpecker; Olivaceous Woodcreeper; Streak headed Woodcreeper; Montane Woodcreeper; Azara's Spinetail; Andean Tit Spinetail (ho);Stout billed Cinclodes;Bar winged Cinclodes; Plain winged AntshrikePacific Hornero; Streaked Tuftedcheek; Flammulated Treehunter;White flanked Antwren; Sooty Antbird;Yellow browed Antbird (ho); Grey Antbird (ho);Bi colored Antbird;Black faced Antbird; Ochre breasted Antpitta; Yellow breasted Antpitta; Rufous crowned Antpitta; Giant Antpitta; Chestnut naped Antpitta (ho);Moustached Antpitta; White bellied Antpitta (ho);Chestnut crowned Antpitta; Rufous Antpitta (ho);Tawny Antpitta; Thrush like Antpitta(ho);Long tailed Tapaculo(ho);Ocellated Tapaculo; Black capped Tapaculo(ho); Unicolored Tapaculo; Narino Tapaculo; Spillman's Tapaculo (ho);Ornate Flycatcher; Streak necked Flycatcher;Slaty capped Flycatcher; Greenish Elaenia; Common Tody Flycatcher;Rufous crowned Tody Flycatcher;Tufted Tit Tyrant; White tailed Tyrannulet; White throated Tyrannulet; Smoky Bush Tyrant; Eastern Wood Peewee;Western Wood Peewee; Smoke colored Pewee; Brown backed Chat Tyrant; Paramo Ground Tyrant;Black Phoebe; Masked Water Tyrant; Bright rumped Atilla; Screaming Piha (ho);Tropical Kingbird; Social Flycatcher Flavescent Flycatcher; Rusty margined Flycatcher;Streaked Flycatcher;Boat billed Flycatcher;Great Kiskadee; Barred Becard;One colored Becard; Cinnamon Becard; Black crowned Tityra;Red crested Cotinga; Green and Black Fruiteater (ho);Orange breasted Fruiteater; Purple throated Fruitcrow; Long wattled Umbrellabird; Andean Cock of the Rock; Blue crowned Manakin; Dwarf Tyrant Manakin (ho); Striped Manakin (ho); Blue and White Swallow;White thighed Swallow; White banded Swallow; Brown bellied Swallow;Southern Rough winged Swallow; Plain tailed Wren; House Wren; Mountain Wren; Grass Wren; Gray breasted Wood Wren; Tropical Mockingbird;  Red eyed Vireo; Brown capped Vireo; Lesser Greenlet; Paramo Pipit; White capped Dipper; Swainson's Thrush; Pale eyed Thrush; Black billed Thrush; Great Thrush; Glossy Black Thrush; Lawrence's Thrush (ho); Ecuadorian Thrush; Black and White Warbler; Blackburnian Warbler; Canada Warbler; Blackpoll Warbler; Slate throated Whitestart; Spectacled Whitestart; Black crested Warbler; Russett crowned Warbler; Buff rumped Warbler; Three striped Warbler; Bananaquit; Cinereous Conebill; Masked Flowerpiercer; Black Flowerpiercer; White sided Flowerpiercer; Purple Honeycreeper; Green Honeycreeper; Black faced Dacnis; Golden rumped Euphonia;Orange bellied Euphonia;Thick billed Euphonia;Swallow Tanager; Blue necked Tanager; Blue capped Tanager; Guira Tanager; Golden crowned Tanager; Golden Tanager;Silver throated Tanager;Saffron crowned Tanager;Flame faced Tanager; Golden naped Tanager; Beryl Spangled Tanager; Scarlet bellied Mountain Tanager;Blue winged Mountain Tanager;Masked Mountain Tanager;Black chinned Mountain Tanager;White capped Mountain Tanager;Buff breasted Mountain Tanager;Blue and Yellow Tanager;Yellow naped Tanager;Grass Green Tanager;Blue Gray Tanager;Palm Tanager;Silver beaked Tanager;Lemon rumped Tanager;Scarlet Tanager; Summer Tanager; Metallic Green Tanager Magpie Tanager;Tawny crested Tanager;White lined Tanager;Dusky Bush Tanager;Western Hemispingus; Black eared Hemispingus; Buff throated Saltator; Black winged Saltator;Southern Yellow Grosbeak; Hooded Siskin; Blue black Grassquit;Variable Seedeater;Yellow bellied Seedeater;Chestnut bellied Seedeater;Plain colored Seedeater; Plumbeous Sierra Finch; Pale naped Brushfinch;Rufous naped Brushfinch;White winged Brush Finch;Black striped Sparrow; Rufous collared Sparrow; Yellow browed Sparrow; Red rumped Cacique; Northern Mountain Cacique; Subtropical Cacique;Yellow rumped Cacique; Russett backed OropendolaScrub BlackbirdPlushcap

Total 318 species

Species marked in bold indicate a new species for me in Ecuador =147

Mammals seen

Spectacled Bear
White bellied Spider Monkey
Black mantled Tamarind
Black eared Opossum
Andean Weasel
Red tailed Squirrel
White tailed Deer
Black Agouti


  1. Beautifull photos and good observations. The monkey I think that is White-bellied spider monkey. Regards!

  2. Excellent as ever!

    "Tiny and seemingly invisible, at least to me, wiping sweat from my eyes, they can make a grown man cry trying to differentiate the outline of a tiny bird that looks just like the thousand leaves around it. Sometimes I managed to see the bird but often was left in frustration at my apparent ineptness."

    Glad it's not just me! But what fun!!!! x

  3. I've really enjoyed following this adventure over the last few weeks (and feeling just a little jealous...) -- thank you! Do go on another one soon...