Thursday, 13 December 2018

Adventures in Ecuador 2018 Part Four

Day 7

It rained all night, non stop and was still raining at dawn so any thoughts of owling had been thwarted once more. We rendezvoused an hour after dawn and considered our options which were bleak. It was still raining and the monochrome sky showed no sign of relief from the deluge. Clouds had sunk well down onto the surrounding mountains and hillsides and visibility was severely restricted. It wasn't cold, just wet and miserable and depressing.

We decided to head for Cabanas San Isidro, an upmarket Lodge in the Quijos Valley and incorporating some of the best primary mid elevation cloud forest in Ecuador but nonetheless refreshingly welcoming to independent birders such as ourselves who visit on the off chance.

On the way we stopped at a small bakery on the outskirts of Baeza in what is called the new town, as after an earthquake in the sixties, in the old part of town, many people moved away and chose to live here instead. We brought ourselves delicious savoury pastries and croissants to sustain us through the morning. The drive to San Isidro Lodge did not take long, maybe thirty minutes and we headed up a long dirt road to arrive at the Lodge's small car park in the still pouring rain.

With rare foresight I had remembered to bring a small umbrella with me on this trip and this came in mighty handy as the rain continued to beat down relentlessly. Our main purpose this morning was to try and see a White bellied Antpitta that had been habituated to come for worms.It was due to be fed at 7.30 am near  to the main reception and dining area of the Lodge.

We congregated on the verandah of the reception area and from the sanctuary of the sheltered balcony running around the centre I watched the activity at the hummingbird feeders and the comings and goings of the Inca Jays and Subtropical Caciques, visible at eye level in the surrounding trees, due to our elevated position. The caciques and jays were roving around in a small noisy group and the caciques, lively and mischievous in a corvid kind of way soon moved on but the jays hung around longer, with one displaying and contorting right in front of us, despite the rain. Seen close to they are quite beautiful but have that cheeky demeanour that all corvid birds seem to possess in abundance.

Inca Jays

Subtropical Cacique
The hummingbird feeders were busy, mainly with the ever assertive Chestnut breasted Coronets but others also came to the feeders such as the markedly smaller Speckled Hummingbirds, dwarfed by the coronets but persistent and patient enough to take their opportunities to get a share of nectar at the feeders.

Chestnut breasted Coronet and Speckled Hummingbird

Speckled Hummingbird
At the appointed time half a dozen of us followed 'the pitta man' with his jar of worms, down some steps from the verandah, turning off the path into a wet and dripping cul de sac of tropical lushness, some of us trying to balance a camera, lens and umbrella all at the same time as the rain fell non stop.We stood quietly and looked up a dark, soggy and narrow trail and waited but after thirty minutes it was obvious that the antpitta was not going to co operate. We trooped back to the reception and helped ourselves to coffee and bananas, feeling somewhat deflated

The rain was currently so persistent it would be a waste of time and singularly unpleasant wandering any of the trails through the forest so we remained on the verandah and watched the hummingbirds coming and going. A Glossy Black Thrush collected worms for its young, looking similar to our blackbird but slightly more dapper with its yellow legs

Glossy Black Thrush
Gabo renewed acquaintances with various birdguides and staff he knew and I messed around taking images of the hummingbirds. It was not unpleasant but there is only so much you can do before an element of boredom creeps in but until the rain eased or ceased we were stymied. Looking around I found a huge and colourful moth clinging to a door frame and gently persuaded it to walk onto my finger so I could move it to somewhere safer.

I began to experience the first symptoms of a head cold but was determined to not let it hinder me in anyway. Hopefully it would pass in a day or so.

The rain commenced to ease and we left San Isidro and made a  random stop at a not unsurprisingly deserted and unremarkable hummingbird feeding area on the way back to Baeza,  the feeder station owner relying on your honesty to put $2.50 in the collection box. Here we watched some aggressive Sparkling Violetears, flashing their iridescent purple ear tufts at one another whilst Booted Racketails and Long tailed Sylphs slipped in and out to the feeders whilst the violetears were jousting with one another  and otherwise occupied.

Sparkling Violetear

Long tailed Sylph-male

Violet fronted Brilliant-male
The rain finally ceased and the cloud began to break and we moved on, back to Baeza. Gabo took me to a local park, La Granja, situated by a closed swimming pool. The park was small and contained flower beds, some children's play equipment, an interpretative centre and, most relevant to us, a short circular trail you could follow through some good forest We were again obliged to sign in and were the only ones here which was not a surprise to us but our arrival may have been to the man on the gate.

We took the trail and began to bird. There was plenty of birdlife in the park and we soon began to identify various species high in the canopy above us but not before watching a Yellow browed Sparrow singing its head off from a post at the beginning of the trail.

Yellow browed Sparrow
Russet backed Oropendolas were making quite a racket in the treetops. Of all the birds in South America oropendolas are the ones that strike me as so exotic, strange and alien. Even the name is totally unfamiliar.  They look so weird with their large bills and flat foreheads, combined this with their large, sack like pendulous nests that hang like weird fruit on high from boughs and their calls which sound so strange and foreign to my ears, and there you have it.

Russett backed Oropendola's nests
They are large birds with big pointed bills and a frontal shield creating an arrow like profile to their head. Dressed in an overall undistinguished brown with bright yellow outer tail feathers they were displaying in the tree tops, making an indescribable loud sort of  popping and gurgling sound whilst leaning forward on a perch with flapping wings and raised tail feathers.

Russet backed Oropendola displaying
We moved on and found a number of wintering North American warblers, such as Blackburnian, by far the commonest by the way, a few Canada Warblers, natty in their grey and yellow plumage with a delicate necklace of black spots around their chest, and one each of Blackpoll and Black and White Warblers. 

Black and White Warbler
Tanagers were also here in  numbers and we found Blue necked, Saffron crowned, Black capped and the eastern form of Blue Gray Tanager. A very smart adult male Scarlet Tanager, yet another migrant from North America completed our tanager haul..

Saffron crowned Tanager
Blackburnian Warbler
We wandered along the trail and admired a captive Amazonian Tapir before finally coming to a stand of very large trees, almost back where we had started from. 

There were a good number of birds in the trees, best of all was a piculet which Gabo saw briefly but it flew before he could identify it and I did not even see it. Piculets are one of my favourites so we spent some time here trying to refind it but to no avail. Canada and, Blackburnian Warblers put in another appearance and we found Montane and Olive backed Woodcreepers, as well as a Golden Olive Woodpecker but no further sign of the mystery piculet.

We walked on around to the other side and were back in the open now, looking at the trees from the other side. Gabo found the piculet again, hanging upside down from a small branch, hammering away at it for all its worth, half hidden amongst huge leaves that almost eclipsed it. This time there was adequate opportunity to identify it and it was a Lafresnaye's Piculet, a new species of piculet for me which made me very happy. It was bird of the day as far as I was we watched it for ten minutes until it flew off. 

Lafresnaye's Piculet
Another bird flew into a tree nearby to our left, calling loudly It was a Barred Becard yet another new species for me to appreciate.

Once finished in the park we drove back to La Casa del Rodrigo to have some lunch in the restaurant next door. After a leisurely lunch and chat about what we would do for the rest of the day we decided to head up the road on foot to see if we could find some Rufous crowned Tody Tyrants that a local had told us were easy to see around here. 

On the way we found two Black Phoebe's flycatching in a concrete yard and a couple of Blue necked  Tanagers showed themselves well in some adjacent trees.

We walked a fair way up the track but the habitat was not right for Rufous crowned Tody Tyrants as there was no bamboo so we returned and after an hour's break at the hostal we headed down to the main road, again on foot, crossed the road and took a descending trail through some cloud forest towards the river far below. The track was slippery after all the rain, steep and you had to be careful not to slip on the slimy leaves and wet roots criss crossing the trail. 

As we descended further we could hear the unmistakeable raucous shrieks and wheezing sounds of displaying Andean Cock of the Rocks. It became clear that there was a lek here, in a classic position in tall trees growing in a riverine valley.The displaying birds were above us and totally invisible but as we waited the birds moved closer and eventually we could see a couple of them quite well as they contorted themselves into their strange postures. More pleasing for me was the fact that these birds were of the more orange coloured eastern form R.p aequatorialis, different to the scarlet western form I had seen at Paz de las Aves. We watched them for quite some time, estimating there may have been five or more males above us but usually no more than two or three were visible at any one time. Slowly they moved away from us again still displaying but now invisible once more

Andean Cock of the Rock of the eastern form R.p.aequatorialis- male
We carried on down the track as it got ever steeper and more perilous, with huge trees towering above us until we reached the bottom by the river where it levelled out. 

Gabo standing under one of the tallest trees I have ever seen
A short gap off to our left led to the river and some tumbling white water spilling over some boulders and there we found a pair of White capped Dippers feeding and running around on the rocks. Unlike our Dipper they do not go underwater but feed at the margins of the water and in and out amongst the rocks.

White capped Dippers
Gabo then pointed to a tree and there, perched quietly, was a female Cock of the Rock. At last  I had seen a female, having seen fifty or more males but never a female over the years. It sat immobile, its plumage an understated orange brown and then it flew off.

Andean Cock of Rock R.p aequatorialis-female
We followed the track until we could go no further as it came to a stop by a huge cavernous area of rocks, with an awesomely powerful waterfall cascading down with thunderous majesty from high above us.The noise was just incredible as huge volumes of water, no doubt swollen by last night's rain fell with a mighty force down through the huge rocks. 

The Waterfall
We found ourselves in a dim, green lit amphitheatre, the cliff faces on each  side of the river towering above us and the sky restricted to a narrow strip, almost obliterated by the overhanging trees away near the top of the gorge.I looked up in sheer awe at the rock face before me with its deep, mysterious and cavernous recesses, plants of all sorts clung to the steep rock face, a profusion and tangle of vines hanging down the precipitous face and I had almost to lie on my back to see to the sky.

It was a scene that could have come from Tolkien. We could be lost to the world, just the two of us, in this intimidating demonstration of powerful natural forces. The noise of the water somehow energises you and creates a desire to shout in harmony, to jump  and scream in exhileration.

Gabo thought he heard a hummingbird calling above the roar of spilling, disturbed water and wandered a little way off but I stayed where I was marvelling at the scene before me. It was like something from a fantastical book of legends but it was living and for real. Various squeaks and calls permeated the all pervasive roar, coming from mysterious and hidden birds in the thick tangles of vegetation. Some moss furred rocks in mid stream were like whale's backs, smoothed and rounded above the roiling water and logs swept down in the torrent had become wedged in them. 

One minute there was nothing there, the next minute a brownish orange, pigeon sized bird, had appeared on one of the logs, peering about and perching motionless for some minutes. Almost unbelievably it was another female Cock of the Rock. I shouted to Gabo but my voice was no competition for the roaring waters. The female Cock of the Rock stood for some time on its log and then, as mysteriously as she had arrived was gone.,I had only looked away for seconds.

Gabo rejoined me and we left this magical grotto with some reluctance and made the long and arduous trek back up the winding trail, passing the still displaying Cock of the Rocks.  A long, tiring climb was eventually over and we relaxed for a while by the hostal before going owling, as the dusk fell We  headed for some likely looking trees, speculatively trying to tape lure a Rufescent Screech Owl but, as is often the case with owls, were met with complete silence. Still the fireflies were nice, a profusion of them, blinking like ships at sea or planes in the night sky as they cruised over the fields on either side of us or through the dark  indistinct forms of  the trees.

Having drawn a resounding blank with any owls at Baeza we headed back to San Isidro to look for a Black banded Owl that was widely known to frequent the surrounds of the car park.Everyone we met had told us it was virtually a guaranteed sighting as the owl would sit on the tall lights illuminating the track to the Lodge waiting to pounce on large moths attracted to the bright lights. This owl is a good one to see as it is quite hard to find unless a known site, such as San Isidro, is found and something of an air of mystery is still attached to it. Little is known about its breeding habits or food possibly because it is so hard to locate and study. There is also some debate about whether this owl and the very similar Black and White Owl are one and the same species although current opinion tends to support them being two species.

On the way in, illuminated by the 4x4 headlights, a Black eared Opossum shoved its snouty profile out of the bushes to our left but rapidly retreated. We left the 4x4 in the car park and immediately heard the owl call nearby.We followed the sound and with our torches scanned the surrounding trees but could not find it perched anywhere. It called again and it was obvious it had moved further down the track towards the main Lodge.We duly followed and still could not find it with our lights. A telegraph pole was stood on the corner of two tracks and Gabo looked up to find the owl perched on top. It was obviously attracted by the large number of moths circling around. 

It then moved to a nearby tree and we kept it in the powerful beams of our torches. What a beauty it was too and quite large. Sooty black on its upperparts and closely barred with wavy lines of black and white on its underparts, it sat looking around. The only bright features were its yellow bill and feet. The owl  looked down at us with its fathomless black eyes in a face of black feathers and continued to sit there largely ignoring us. 

Black banded Owl
We left it in peace after ten minutes and went looking for another owl species, a Rufous banded Owl that sometimes appears here. At that moment shining our torches into the trees we disturbed a Kinkajou that immediately froze in the bright light, crouching on a branch high above us for a brief moment before running for it and clambering up into the top of a huge tree.

We did succeed in finding another owl but it was a second Black banded Owl. I was hardly going to complain as I became swept away by these really smart and attractively plumaged owls. 

We left this one to itself after five minutes thus completing yet another good day and returning to Baeza renewed our pleasant experience of dining in the restaurant, listening to the kayaking dudes recounting their exploits on the river today.

Tomorrow we would return to San Isidro for another go at the White bellied Antpitta.

Birds seen on Day 7

Inca Jay; Subtropical Cacique; Andean Cock of the Rock (R.p.aequatorialis); Roadside Hawk; Black banded Owl; Chestnut breasted Coronet; Buff tailed Coronet; Booted Racketail; Speckled Hummingbird; Fawn breasted Brilliant;Violet fronted Brilliant; Sparkling Violetear; Bronzy Inca; Long tailed Sylph; White tailed Hillstar; Bananaquit; Azara's Spinetail (heard only);Yellow browed Sparrow; Blackburnian Warbler; Canada Warbler; Blackpoll Warbler; Black and White Warbler; Blue Gray Tanager; Blue necked Tanager; Saffron crowned Tanager; Black capped Tanager; Summer Tanager; Russet backed Oropendola; Golden Olive Woodpecker; Lafresnaye's Piculet Barred Becard; Yellow rumped Euphonia; Blue and White Swallow; Black Phoebe; Western Wood Pewee; Smoke colored Peewee; Rufous collared Sparrow;White tailed Tyrannulet; Olive backed Woodcreeper;Montane Woodcreeper; Streak necked Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; White capped Dipper; Grey breasted Wren (heard only);Glossy Black Thrush

Mammals seen

Black eared Opossum
Red tailed Squirrel

Day 8

The morning dawned dull but dry and we revisited the bakers to find it closed.No matter there was another just opening over the road so we made for there and purchased some croissants, still warm from the oven. Is there anything to beat the smell of baking on an early morning?

My cold seemed to be getting worse so I dosed myself with some Paracetamol and hoped for the best.

Another thirty minute drive brought us to San Isidro. We were too early for the antpitta so casually birded the pathways around the cabins and Lodge finding a nice pair of Masked Trogons on the telephone wires, the two birds dealing with dazed moths from the night before, fallen under the same light we saw the owl perched on last night. 

Masked Trogon-male

Masked Trogon-female
The blue and black streaked tanager with the really curious name of Beryl Spangled Tanager showed really well in a large tree above us, being joined by not one but two of the ubiquitous Blackburnian Warblers, whilst a pair of Cinnamon Flycatchers, perched just a foot above ground level, allowed us to approach within two feet, showing no alarm whatsoever. A party of Black eared Hemispingus were casing the bushes before it was time to make our way to the reception area and then down to the antpitta site  

Cinnamon Flycatcher

Beryl Spangled Tanager
To cut a long story short it did not go to plan as the antpitta still refused to co operate although we did hear one calling distantly.We gave it an hour almost , managed to see a Blackish Tapaculo or Uniform Tapaculo as it is now called, but it was obvious the antpitta was not going to show up and in the end we conceded defeat. Instead we concentrated on some good patches of bamboo and taped out a pair of Rufous crowned Tody Tyrants. Tiny and hyperactive, they zipped in and out  of the bamboo canes and although I saw them well enough, they eluded any chance of a photo.

We went back to the Lodge and had some coffee and now the advantage of being totally flexible in our plans and being able to change our itinerary at will became all too apparent as Gabo had heard about a Black and Chestnut Eagle nest nearby. He called the farmer on whose land the nest tree was situated who agreed, for a price, to show us the nest, complete with an almost fully grown eaglet in residence.

Before we met Edwin, the farmer, at noon, we walked the road for couple of kilometres that crosses outside the entrance to San Isidro. There were large stands of bamboo here and of course this meant regular appearances of Rusty capped Tody Tyrants. The strange descending call of a Wattled Guan came from some huge trees and further along we heard a Plain tailed Wren, another bamboo specialist, belt out its extraordinarily loud song. It is hard to exaggerate how loud it is. When we got to the spot we played a tape of its song and the wren responded at full volume.How a bird so small can generate such a wall of sound is remarkable. Being wrens they proved highly elusive but we could follow them in the bamboo, the stems shaking as they progressed secretively through the clumps before the pair shot across the road. Gabo tried the tape again and a deafening reply was delivered from the cover of the bamboo and then, for a few seconds, one of the wrens showed in full view. Grey of face and rusty chestnut on its body I was surprised at how large it was. Then it disappeared, sending us on our way with another volley of song. 

Plain tailed Wren
We turned back towards the car and on the way found a really good woodpecker in the form of a Yellow vented Woodpecker, which sidled up and down some dead branches of a massive tree. 

Our arrangement was to meet Edwin at a gate by the main road at noon but there was some confusion about whether it was the gate just off the main road or the gate some kilometres  away, up in the mountains where the track from the road led. With no sign of Edwin at the appointed hour we drove all the way up the long winding track, passing two remote, hardly habitable homesteads, fording a stream and scattering hordes of butterflies seeking minerals from the mud on the track,  to arrive  at a ramshackle set of wooden buildings with a large and very fierce German Shepherd dog chained up outside plus an inordinate mount of washing hung out to dry. Someone had been busy. An old man with no teeth and skin like tanned leather came out of one of the buildings. Gabo asked him if he had by any chance seen Edwin but the answer, in Spanish, seemed to be no. So we set about driving back to the main road and met Edwin, complete with wife and small son, coming up the track in a white Toyota pickup. Problem solved! We turned and followed him back into the mountains. Edwin had a small scruffy white dog  in the back of his pickup  and as we passed one of the isolated homesteads two dogs cam out and chased his vehicle, barking at the small dog in the back. I had to laugh as Edwin's dog, which would have been in serious trouble had the two two larger dogs got at it, was from the security of the pickup bouncing up and down in the back, barking for all its worth as if saying to the two chasing hounds 'Come on then if you think you are hard enough'. It was hilarious and eventually the two dogs gave up the chase with Edwin's dog still hurling canine insults at them.

We stopped when we could go no further and Edwin told us it was now a very stiff climb up the mountainside requiring wellingtons. He was not joking. First we had to cross a mountain stream via four long pipes, none too securely tied together and acting as a makeshift bridge over the stream. I survived this without falling off  and embarassing myself and then it was the climb from hell as we followed what seemed an almost vertical, muddy, slippery trail zig zagging up the mountainside. It really was a struggle to keep going but the eagle provided the incentive. A huge butterfly, the size of my hand, lurched up from the long grass beside me and flapped clumsily downhill. I think it was an Owl butterfly judging by its size and the large round eyes on its underwings. Upwards we went at a snail's pace. It seemed to take forever but eventually we came to an open area of grassland where Edwin had some cows grazing, although the upward slant of the pasture was still alarming. How on earth did he get the cows up here we enquired and he said the cows had taken the same path as us. Really!

One cow was dying and was flat on its side, rolling its eyes but there was little we could do for it so we concentrated on the eagle but could not see it from where we currently stood and so we had to climb yet higher, and then we could see the eagle's nest with both the adult eagle and its well grown offspring stood on top of the bulky nest that was built into the top of a distant tree.

Black and Chestnut Eagle-adult

Black and Chestnut Eagle-juvenile
The adult eagle had just delivered some prey to its offspring and soon took off to soar around us before disappearing down the valley.We remained watching the juvenile for forty minutes and then  decided to head back down the trail we had walked up. It was almost as hard going down as up, as it was so slippery, but we made it down to the bridge unscathed and I watched as Gabo and Edwin's wife and child made it safely across the perilous bridge.

So then it was farewell to Edwin and family and driving back down the long track to the main road we put up clouds of butterflies feeding on the mineral salts they were finding on the muddy track. At times there were so many it looked like autumn with swirling leaves blowing in the wind but they were butterflies of all shapes, sizes and colours. Some were just wonderful in their exquisite and fragile beauty.

Now there was a long three hour drive east in prospect as we headed for the Yuralpa Hotel in Gareno which was at a much lower elevation in the Amazon Basin. We commenced a long slowly rising ascent to be followed by a falling winding descent on an almost deserted road, over the Guacamos Ridge of the Sumaco Antisana Reserve. We soon left the sunshine behind and found ourselves enveloped in low cloud sweeping up from the lower elevations. The cloud would swirl away before another  bank would roll in, never thick but like mist or steam it would gently blanket everything with an amorphous white veil.

We had learnt about a roost site of a male Lyre tailed Nightjar that was very near to the road on the Guacamos Ridge. Gabo had got precise directions, even down to the number of steps, fifteen, he needed to take up the sloping track from the road to where he should be able find it on the left. Sure enough there it was, fast asleep, just a few metres in from the track, perched on some thin branches crossing a space amongst the luxuriant foliage, obvious yet beautifully camouflaged in its marbled brown and black plumage, perched on its thin bough, its enormously long tail feathers hanging down below it. We took its picture and it opened an eye and blearily regarded us then lapsed back into sleep. 

Swallow tailed Nightjar
We moved to get a better angle and it started swaying slightly in a sideways motion. I have learnt that this is a reaction of nightjars when they are  discomfited so we backed off and it went back to sleep. Then the questions began. Was it really a Lyre tailed Nightjar? It wasn't. It was a Swallow tailed Nightjar, as the images on our cameras proved  This was a really good result for me as I have seen Lyre tailed Nightjars before but never this species.

Back in the 4x4 we continued our descent on a particularly winding and cloud shrouded part of the road.We had the windows open by now as it was becoming decidedly warmer and humid.We discarded fleeces and welcomed the fresh air rushing in through the open window. It was just as well we had the windows open for as we were negotiating a bend Gabo got very excited and pulled to a stop on the side of the road. 'White capped Tanagers!' he exclaimed. He had heard them calling at the side of the road as we passed by. We piled out of the 4x4 and ran back up and across the road to where the birds were calling loudly. They were in trees growing on a slope falling away from the road so the crowns of the trees were level with our position stood on the road.

White capped Tanager
There were five in all and they looked reluctant to leave the trees. Gabo told me they feed on wasps which they prey on by finding the wasp's nest. Four birds were by now perched distantly calling loudly to one another but a fifth bird came right into a tree next to us.

It was obviously excited about something, calling over and over and we could see a wasp's nest high in the tree that it was perched in. It took an age for the bird to approach the nest, still calling loudly but eventually it set about the nest but photography was very difficult as the cloud constantly kept rolling in and around us. 

The tanager at the wasp's nest
I cursed quietly, as without the cloud I would have got point blank images but we just had to do the best we could. We spent at least half an hour here and the tanager was still eating wasps when we left but we had a long way to go and time was running short so we could not remain any longer.

It got very much more humid and warm as we descended further and we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a late lunch of tilapia (a fish) cooked in a banana leaf that was really delicious and a starchy vegetable called manioc which I had never tasted before (a bit like parsnip but not so sweet). Then it was onwards, bypassing the busy town of Tena, capital of Napo Province, and following the tarmac road until we turned off onto a dirt road that went on forever towards Gareno, our ultimate destination.

Here was  a very different Ecuador to the one I had got used to, poor and deprived compared to the towns we had stayed in before. The houses were of wood, primitive and appearing none too secure, built on stilts and looking almost derelict but people lived in them. Scruffy, tiny kids lined the road in places shouting guava guava, clutching bundles of the stick like fruit which they were trying to sell to any passing vehicle. Others were flying  rudimentary kites, the only form of entertainment they had.The road continued on and on through the forest, winding round blind bends, forever onwards. The road was obviously built by the oil company, Petroecuador, and I began to get the feeling that life around here was very much dominated by the oil company for better or worse.

Our accommodation was in fact a small hotel run primarily for the oil workers employed by Petroecaudor but privately owned and the lady that owned it was making a welcome supplementary living from all the birders such as us who were making the pilgrimage to come and see the currently occupied Harpy Eagle nest in the cloud forest reserve beyond.

Eventually we came to a checkpoint manned by an oil company employee, where our names were noted and my passport number recorded. It was here we picked up our guide Pedro, who is from the Huaorani, one of the tribes that live here in the cloud forest. The oil company checkpoint provides an essential buffer as it protects the forest reserve from illegal exploitation of its wood and also conveys an element of security to visitors such as us.

We were waved through the checkpoint and  a short drive later arrived at the very utilitarian Yuralpa Hotel that was to be our home for the next two nights. Tomorrow was going to be a very, very big day as we would go to the reserve and walk for two hours through the humid cloud forest to get to a viewpoint opposite the Harpy Eagle's nest, containing an almost fully grown six month old eaglet.

It was so warm now I changed into shorts and a tee shirt and remained in them for dinner, served in the communal canteen used by the oil workers. The Birdquest Group were already here and had seen the eagle today so thankfully it would be just us tomorrow, otherwise it would have been a bit of a scrum at the restricted viewpoint.

A really acceptable three course meal was served up and we were joined by the Birdquest guide, an Ecuadorian friend of Gabo's. He showed me two photos he had taken today of a male Fiery Topaz hummingbird and the juvenile Harpy Eagle. Hopefully we would successfully repeat the exercise tomorrow. I was in bed by eight. Tired but excited about tomorrow's prospects. My fourth target species awaited.

Ominously my cold was definitely getting worse and I was now fending off flu like symptoms with the Paracetamol but there was no way I was going to duck out of tomorrow, no matter how daunting and arduous the trek through the forest to the Harpy Eagle's eyrie would prove. I was on a mission.

To be continued ...................

Birds seen on Day 8 

Black and Chestnut Eagle; Broad winged Hawk; Turkey Vulture; Black Vulture; Wattled Guan; Speckled Chachalaca; Southern Lapwing; Speckle faced Parrot; Fasciated Tiger Heron; Inca Jay; Vilocaeous Jay; Swallow tailed Nightjar; Glossy Black Thrush; Pale eyed Thrush; Masked Trogon; Russett backed Oropendola; Subtropical Cacique; Cinnamon Flycatcher; Rufous collared Sparrow; Black eared Hemispingus; Speckled Hummingbird; Fawn breasted Brilliant; Chestnut breasted Coronet; Buff tailed Coronet; Tawny bellied Hermit; White bellied Antpitta (heard only);Blackish or Uniform Tapaculo; Long tailed Tapaculo (heard only); Blue and White Swallow; Southern Rough winged Swallow; Tropical Kingbird; Smoke colored Peewee;Western Wood Pewee; Plain tailed Wren; Grey breasted Wood Wren; Saffron crowned Tanager; White capped Tanager; Grass Green Tanager; Blue winged Mountain Tanager; Blue Gray Tanager; Beryl Spangled Tanager; Black capped Tanager (heard only);Golden headed Quetzal (heard only);Crested Quetzal (heard only);Yellow vented Woodpecker;Rufous crowned Tody Tyrant.

Mammals seen

Red tailed Squirrel