Ecuador Report 1. San Francisco to Miami. Miami Birding. To Ecuador. First Night.

Hello and welcome to the Lutman 2007 Ecuador Birding Tour. Sit back, relax and fasten your seat belts.


1. When we see a new life bird, I'll put it in all-capital-letters (e.g. LONG-TAILED TRAINBEARER). When it's not a new LIFE bird, but is the first time we see a bird on the trip, it'll be in "Title Case" (e.g. Rufous-collared Sparrow), where the first letter of each word is capitalized. If it's neither of these, it'll be in all lower case (you know...)

2. Sharon's notes are in {green curly brackets}. Information added to the original reports will be in [red].


Sunday, September 2, 2007. San Francisco to Miami.


Our good friends Bob and Carrie Ross (also my first wife and mother of my two daughters) come to our house at 4:30 pm on Sunday. We're packed and ready to go. We load our luggage into the back of our Volvo sedan and with the Rosses in the back seat, we drive up to SFO. We get there about 5:45 pm, for our 8:30pm flight, and we unload two bags to check, two carry-ons plus my Mac laptop, plus we each have fanny packs with water, bird books and other useful items. Ross will drive our Volvo back to our house, put it away in the garage, then come and pick us up when we get back on Monday September 17th.


Our next door neighbors Damon and Jenn will watch our house and take care of our cat Boomer. They are great home watchers and also realtors in the San Jose area but covering all the South Bay Area too. If you know anyone who is looking to move in or out of the area and want an agent who is completely trustworthy, look no more. They sold our townhouse for us over a year ago, and we were delighted with the results. They are at 408 574 5078.

So we go check our luggage, go through security and find our gate. We're about 2 hours early, just the way we like it. We're using American Airlines frequent spender miles for the main ticket, plus we kicked in an extra chunk of real dollars to go business/first class. Through some terrible series of events, we presume, there is no business class from SFO to Miami on this night flight. We have to fly first class. Oh well.


Our electronic ticket says SNACK, but there is a dinner sheet in the seat pocket in front of me that details this huge five star dinner. I complain to the flight attendant and she happily snatches it away and says "That's not for you." Whew I was worried for a bit because we just split a chicken quesadilla before getting on the plane. That was a close one.


We see a delightful movie called WAITRESS, which won a Sundance award. Excellent and we highly recommend it. It finished up about 11 pm California time, 2 am Miami time (we'll arrive at 5 am Miami time), and we try to sleep. I spend the rest of the night doing the mantra, "It only SEEMS like you're awake all the time. I am actually dozing off occasionally, then waking up again. I'm getting some nice rest and probably a couple of hours sleep. Now count slowly to ten again." That's what I tell myself.


They wake us up, even me, and give us some juice. It's now

... Monday, September 3, 2007. Miami. On to Quito. (A Happy Birthday shoutout to my big brother George, in North Carolina


We land, unload and it's still pitch dark at 545 am. Our plane to Ecuador doesn't leave till 330 pm or so, so we have about 10 hours. We catch a bus to the Thrifty Car Rental place and rent us a nice little vehicle for the day for about $70. It would have been about $48 except that I accepted the full collision since persons both caught and uncaught seem to keep bashing our cars in California, both ours and the rental cars we hire while our car is in for body work for an earlier bash. Did you follow all that? {Back in June, a teenager hit my Volvo and then when I was having it repaired, someone hit the rental car I was driving while I was parked and drove off so we had to deal with that too}

I have planned us a half-day of bird-chasing in Miami. I have prepared a map with about six stops, in search of the beautiful Spot-breasted Oriole and a couple of parakeets which would be lifers for us. These stops I got from a new book called Birding Florida, by Brian Rapoza.


We hit the back of the American Welding Supply offices {not with our rental car!}, recommended by Jeff Weber -- no luck there, except for blue jays, collared doves, pigeons, mourning doves, grackles, then the more interesting (but not life birds) monk parakeet.

We move on to Nancy Freedman's in the Biscayne Gardens area, but no orioles there either. She suggests what is actually our next stop anyway -- the Baptist Hospital and the houses and streets around there. We motor on down, exit on Kendall Drive, and find the hospital. We start cruising the neighborhood. We see more monk parakeets, then a group of mitred parakeets, but we have already seen them before also -- in Miami in 2000.

Even though it is a holiday, trash pickup is continuing, and this big truck seems to turn down every street we do, following closely. But finally his route takes him away from us, and we park because we think we hear something. There on top of a huge tree is the most beautiful orange and black bird, with his back to us, singing away. I'm sure this is our bird, but we have to see the spots, visible only from the side or the front.


As we've got our bins (short for binoculars, and pronounced "bins") on this bird, an older gentleman with graying hair comes out of his house and approaches us. I give him my best missing-one-tooth-in-the-front grin as he asks, "Are you birders?" We say yes, and he says, "May I ask you a question?" He has a wonderful Cuban accent, though I'm not sure how I know that or even if that's true. "Some mornings there are maybe a hundred birds singing, singing, singing, then suddenly they all fly away. Where do they go?"

Ah a very common question. "They go to other houses exactly like yours. They like variety, and it's just something they do." Now what's cool about this is he sees the world as either AT MY HOUSE, or GONE. As a birder we see the situation as LOTS OF HOUSES LIKE YOURS, SPRINKLED ALL OVER THE AREA. There's something nice about knowing that you are just a stop on their daily movements. They usually have one or two or three favorite roosts (where they sleep), and they alternate those, and sometimes they'll delete one and add another for their new routine.

"Where do they go?" And as if on cue, the oriole, and two juveniles that seem to be his offspring, take off and move about two blocks over. We chase, saying goodbye to the friendly inquisitor.

We soon get great looks, and I get poor video but fair photos of the bird.

Spot-breasted Oriole. See those little dots on the neck and chest?

We relax, having notched a lifer for the day, #2257 according to our Filemaker Pro database. We stop at one more place, near a tennis court and canal, where we get a nice pair of Northern Cardinals ("redbirds"). We decide to have breakfast somewhere, then head back to the airport. We do these things.


We go back to the airport, checking the Welding location again, but get no new birds, then we turn our car in and wait for the bus to take us back to the airport. Sometime during the Spot-breasted Oriole excitement, I put my NGS 3rd Edition field guide, with each of the approximately 600 ABA birds we've seen, carefully marked as to date and location, on top of the car. I then neatly drive out from under the book, not hearing the slapping noise it makes when it hits the pavement behind us.

Dangit. We had some good times with that book. I think I'd rather have the book back and not got the bird.

We get the bus back to the airport, and because 1) the plane is late getting in, 2) they can't seem to get the people all on the plane for some reason, and 3) we have to skirt around a Category 5 hurricane, we are an hour late.

We have a fantastic dinner on the plane, then Sharon and I practice identifying the birds of Ecuador I've prepared in a Filemaker Pro database on my Mac laptop. We both do pretty good, and we're satisfied. I even got Oleagenous Hemispingus on the first try.

I doze off and am awakened by a flight attendant, saying we're going to be landing in half an hour or so. We have juice and a stretch and a trip to the lavatory, and by now it's dark.

Our flight path took over Cuba and Panama on our way to Quito and we got a couple of pictures of the Cuban coast, just like the U2. Cool. I can't wait for the U.S. and Cuba to normalize relations so we can go down there and see the Bee Hummingbird, smallest in the world. But that would be another trip.

We watch the spectacular city lights as we descend into a bowl shaped valley where the airport is, and it is awesome as we land. A young man across the aisle from me crosses himself. He must know more about landing at this airport than I do, as I wasn't worried at all.


The Welcoming Crowd

We exit the plane, make our way through immigration, called migration here, turn in our declarations, get our passports stamped, pick up our luggage, clear customs, and head out to look for our guide. There must be two hundred people here, smiling and waving, to meet loved ones, but some little ones swap smiles and waves with us.


We meet our guide and friend Steven, and his "new" wife Magda, for Magdalena.

Steven and Magda

She is beautiful, as I expected she would be. Dark-skinned, huge brown eyes, long hair, and they seem perfect for each other. We also meet our driver for the two weeks. He is Ecuadorian, and his name is Wilson (first name). Sharon says every time she says his name she thinks of the Tom Hanks movie where he is stranded on an island and has a companion soccer ball he calls "Wilson".


They drive us about an hour to a little hotel called Sommergarten Hosteria. It's basic, quaint, the mattresses are very firm, the weather is quite cool -- jacket and sweater weather. We're excited and tired from the flight. I doze off, wondering about and looking forward to tomorrow.

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