Report 3. Wednesday, September 5, 2007. Birding Day 2. Papallacta Pass.

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

The cell phone alarm fires off at 615 am. We're supposed to meet for breakfast at 645 am, as agreed to by the kitchen manager. We get ready for the morning, noting the light rain outside, and head over to the dining room, to meet Steve and Magda.

We wait patiently through 650, 655 and 700 am. Steve suggests we go to the lobby and make our own coffee or tea, so we do that. Wilson joins us after a few minutes, opens a secret compartment, and gets some coca tea. Someone says the dining room is open so we head over there.

It is raining and a couple of the pools were totally empty when we walked past. With an infinite supply of free hot water, they can afford to clean the pools often and then refill them. {Probably with the hot water, they need to clean them often for the bacteria count.}

Rain drips accumulate at the end of the roof thatch

After breakfast we go back to our room and get all our birding gear, then head to the front and load into the van.

We take off, soon getting plain-colored seedeater plus andean gull. Steve gets cinereous conebill, but we don't. Sharon spots a turkey in a backyard, and says that we should record it as a trip bird.


I tell the van about my dream last night. I had a unique science teacher in high school whom I'll call Bill Plimpton. We all called him Mr. Plimpton. There were rumors that he was gay, but I never believed them. Some of us (Bill Washburn, Bill Kauffman and others) would go over to his house on Friday nights and play scrabble. Bill drove an Edsel and had a pet skunk named Chloe. He was outrageous and we loved his antics. In recent years we reconnected and swapped some great stories. I'd send him my trip reports, and he'd fill me in on what he was doing, including stuff with his girlfriend. GIRLFRIEND? Then that HAS TO mean he isn't...

Anyway, I dreamed that I was driving home from the grocery store, and as I turned, I noticed a huge billboard. There was a picture of the faces of two people, one of whom was our science teacher. The headline said, "I love you. Will you marry me?" I immediately thought, I'm gonna find out if he's gay right NOW! But as I swung my eyes to the other face, my line of sight was blocked by trees, and I couldn't see whether it was a man or a woman. DANNNNNNGGITTT! Then I woke up, chuckling.

Steve says, "Not that there's anything wrong with that," recalling words from a famous Seinfeld episode. "No, no," say I. Sharon and I, and Steve and now Magda (not to mention Steve's brother Kevin) share a love of that program.


After crossing a bridge over a large, fast-moving stream, we pull over and park, get out and walk back to the bridge to check for torrent duck. This duck is so strong that it can swim upstream in the swiftest currents, but we have no luck. As we passed the bridge, Sharon thought she a flash of new bird, and indeed she is right.

We get our first TURQUOISE JAY, then across the road NORTHERN MOUNTAIN-CACIQUE (say kuh-SEEK). Steve had noticed the cacique also, as we crossed the bridge.

We continue on to the morning's destination, Guango Lodge, famous for its hummingbird feeders and forest trails. There are feeders around the parking lot, as well as around the lodge, so we first bird the parking lot.

A female TOURMALINE SUNANGEL is first, then the most common hummingbird, a CHESTNUT-BREASTED CORONET. A spectacular LONG-TAILED SYLPH, with its turquoise tail, is perched on a feeder to our right.

There are tiny WHITE-BELLIED WOODSTARS around also. They are cool because the make a different noise when they fly. The other hummers do a quiet little "zzzzzzzzzz" when they fly, but the woodstars make a loud motorboat rumble. "Hmmmmmmmmmm." Very cool. Another difference is that they fly with their bodies almost in a horizontal position, especially when they're dipping their bills into the feeder nectar holes, whereas the other hummingbirds fly with their bodies more nearly vertical.

A Pair of White-bellied Woodstars.

There are masked flowerpiercers everywhere. Sharon calls all of these "parking lot birds," and says we should start a separate sublist of birds that we've seen in or from parking lots.

A beautiful COLLARED INCA is at a feeder, with a beautiful white throat band that goes all the way around the neck. It looks black in most lights, but is mostly very dark green. It zips back onto a perch.

Collared Inca

A MOUNTAIN WREN works its way through the greenery. Then we get another of our top target birds, the wonderful SWORDBILLED HUMMINGBIRD. We don't know how it can fly around with those things, to paraphrase Elaine in another famous Seinfeld episode

Sword-billed Hummingbird

It's a little after 9 am, and we move from the parking lot to the feeders near the lodge itself. A beautiful BUFF-WINGED STARFRONTLET is next, followed by SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD. Another of our target birds, the MOUNTAIN AVOCETBILL {another hummingbird with its different name} perches on a feeder for a short time, and we can see the slight upturn of the end of its bill, like an avocet. Excellent.

A GLOSSY FLOWERPIERCER perches on a feeder. Steven IDs a BROWN-CAPPED VIREO, high in a tree behind the feeders. I take lots of footage and photos of the Sword-bill.

After a bit we leave the feeders and head off on a trail that goes over a huge hill. We get a whole new set of birds here. First comes SLATY BRUSH-FINCH, LACRIMOSE TANAGER and HOODED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER. Next is GRAY-HOODED BUSH-TANAGER.


Ecuador forest birding is pretty fascinating. In general, on the average, there won't be a bird in sight. That's because the different species will form a feeding flock, which will move through the forest, staying in one place for a short period of time, like a cloud passing overhead but in fits and starts. You may go thirty minutes seeing nothing, then a couple of bird calls hint at what's coming. Next, perhaps 10 or 20 or 30 birds will move through. There are species that tend to lead the flock, others that bring up the tail end, others that don't like the middle and hang around the outside of the flock. But what you NEED is the ability to get your bins on a bird and ID it in about five seconds, then go to the next bird. The desire is to ID every bird in the flock, which may only be present for five minutes, unless you are lucky enough for it to be moving along a road or trail.

With Sharon and me, this is an impossibility. On our own, we might ID one or two or three of the birds, because they shift positions so fast, and they are often WAY up in the trees.

Steven has incredible eyesight and memory. MOST of the time, he can ID every bird in the flock, if it's not moving too fast. And we get the benefit.

As we reach the crest of the trail, Steven gets us a PEARLED TREERUNNER, then a better look at blue-backed conebill. A RUSSET-CROWNED WARBLER sings his song, and it sounds a little reggae. MONTANE WOODCREEPER joins our life birdlist. Magda locates a WHITE-BANDED TYRANNULET, a small flycatcher, and Steven does the ID for us, though I think Magda knew what it was already.

We get CAPPED CONEBILL, a pair, the male with dark blue on its head. We head over the hill and downslope to a small abandoned bridge over a rushing river.

Steve takes a break, something he does several times a day, to have a smoke (Steve, Steve, Steve), courteously far enough away from us to be annoying, and to "take a separation."


Steven tells us a great story about a couple of middle-aged or elderly female clients on a recent Costa Rica (I think) trip who, when they had to go to the forest rest room, would say to him very slowly, "Stan---ley, we need to take a sep-a-ra-shun." The word separation being drawn out. Steve would say, "My name is Steven." Then next time, they'd say to Magda, "Margarita, would you ask Stanley if we could take a sep-a-ra-shun?" They will apparently always be Stanley and Margarita to these ladies.

Then they'd catch up, and one time, one of them asked the name of a bird they had seen. "What did it look like?" Steve asked them. Slowly and drawn out, she said, "Well, it was small, and kinda dar...k."

Steve has such an incredible knack for mimicry that we could just imagine these ladies. The "...kinda dar.....k" was said with a long hitch between the ‘dar' and the ‘k' Say dark, but wait between the r and the k with no sound coming out of your mouth. It reminds me strongly of a bit they used to do on Saturday Night Live, where a bunch of chunky characters from Chicago sit around and talk about Mike Ditka, the Chicago Bears' coach at the time and a god in their eyes.

A typical question they'd ask each other went like this.

"OK, what if Di'ka fought Superman? Who would win?" Everybody would reply in unison, "Di'ka." With a pause between the ‘Di' and the ‘ka'. Then they'd all raise their beer and say, "Da Bears."


So Steve's off having a smoke and a pee and lo and behold, Wilson gets us a female TORRENT DUCK, tucked away at the edge of the roaring river, where you could only see it from the far corner of the bridge. Way to go WILSON!!

Steven comes back and in answer to my question says, "8200 feet." We climb up to the highway and walk back to Guango, picking up a nice pair of CINNAMON FLYCATCHERS across the road.

We break about 130 pm and eat our box lunches. I have leather beef, while Sharon has chicken. I'm gonna have to switch to pollo (say POY-oh) too.

Soon, we're on our way up to Papallacta Pass (say poppa-YOCK-tuh), where the target bird is the famous rufous-bellied seedsnipe. It's supposed to be cold, but how cold can it be? We're near the equator, for cryin' out loud.

At 9000 feet, the highway turns to sludgy mud or maybe muddy sludge. We slip around a little, even with our four-wheel drive, and I figure it's gonna be a long trip to the top. Huge big rigs are lined up, coming down the mountain on the opposite side of the road, on the "cliff" side. But to my amazement, after a mile or so, the road changes back to high speed asphalt. Hot dang. We zoom off.

We pass a little shrine or chapel on our left, then turn right, off of the asphalt, onto a gravel road. We get a tawny antpitta on our left, a nice upgrade from its previous heard-only status. Steve gets video and since it's on Sharon's side, she gets photos, but alas, they are out of focus. {DANG}

While we are working this bird, we get a female GREAT SAPPHIREWING, a large hummingbird. We continue climbing, into the fog. We're just over 13,000 feet. Now there are tiny patches of snow sprinkled around. The rocky road is good though and Wilson keeps us steadily climbing, through 13,300, and we begin to see a huge communications tower near the very top through the fog. We stop there, and we're at 13,500 feet.

We bundle up and exit the van. The wind is blowing cold and the ground is muddy on the trail, but there are flat rocks on the trail, and you can mostly walk on them. Mostly. If you peer over the lip of the little plateau we're on, you see the terrain drop steeply down, as shown below. Little bits of mossy-appearing clumps dot the landscape. Other parts look like the tundra of Alaska.

Looking down the steep terrain (upper left quadrant of the photo)

Wilson and Steven head further up to see if the rufous-bellied seedsnipe are in the near vicinity while Sharon, Magda and I wait below.

The Equator? Hot? Huh?

Steven and Wilson return, but they couldn't locate our target birds, so they say we will go back to the van. I'm giddy with relief, and I ask for a goofy picture. Everybody cooperates.


Imagine what we'd look like if we had SEEN the bird?

Magda has never seen snow before, so I build a little snowman. Then Steve decorates it, but I won't show the last little adornment he makes.


We load up in the van and Wilson drives us back down. Steven says we'll try two or three times for the seedsnipe. I'm stunned, thinking he's joking, but he's not! Wilson stops for a nice look at many-striped canastero. Steven also spotted it and played its song, which caused the bird to hustle on over.

Steven and Magda just bought a new digital DVD-based video camera (Canon 220), and Steve has just run out of disc space. He loads in a new DVD, but it seems to take forever to initialize. It does though, and he gets some good shots of the handsome canastero.

We drive down further, below the fog and get a nice rainbow to celebrate getting out of the cold


When we get down to the junction that would take us back to the highway, Wilson drives us further on down this road, because there should be some good birds here, Steve says.

Later, with Steven on a separashun, Wilson snags us a RED-CRESTED COTINGA, way up high on a craggy treelet (treelet? Now I'm just making stuff up. It's the altitude I tell you). {They have told us from day one to take aspirin every day and drink plenty of water to prevent altitude sickness. It must have worked because we never did have any symptoms at high altitude, thank God} It's 430 pm.

We finally get our CINEREOUS CONEBILL. Sharon saw it but I only heard its call. Still, it's a lifer. Then all five of us get a life bird, the PALE-NAPED BRUSH-FINCH. Wilson has a small note pad, and occasionally writes down the name of a bird we're seeing. A flock seems to be moving through. We get scarlet-bellied mountain-tanagers, the red is spectacular.

Magda spots a BUFF-BREASTED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER and we all get decent looks. It is raining and Sharon looks totally wet. Steve IDs a BLACK-CHESTED BUZZARD-EAGLE, hovering above the ridge in the wind.

We finish up the birding here, turn the van around and head back to the junction, back to the highway, back down the muddy section, back through the village and home to our wonderful spa. It is 545 pm. Steven says we will meet for dinner at 645. I have time to load the photos and review the voice recorder stats. There is one super long entry.


This happens when I think I push the STOP button after an entry, but I miss the button with my thumb, thinking I was successful. So the next time I try to make an entry, I find the recorder still recording. I hit STOP then, then START, and make the new recording. But I find, on review, that I may have an entry that's 5 minutes long, whereas the average one is perhaps 10 seconds.

There are three folders on my digital voice recorder - A, B and C. Each can hold 100 messages, no more. I rotate through the folders so that I always have today's messages in one folder, plus yesterday's messages and the day's before in the other two folders. At the beginning of each day, I go to the oldest folder, delete all the messages and start recording. {I read this explanation and I hear, blah, blah, blah. It's a good thing that one of us understands these electronics.}

We have dinner and again hit the spa, going directly to the hot pool this time. Again Steve and Magda join us and it's great to warm up in the pool. After twenty minutes or so though, we're out of the pool and into the room.

Good night to all, especially Josh and Sieren, Mikayla, Samantha, Sydney and Tommy, Ian and Kayla, Charlie and Maryjane. Great grandchildren all -- well, not THAT great. No, no, I mean they ARE great, just not Great. See?


Trip Birds Today (First Time on the Trip): 32
Total Trip Birds to Date: 76

Life Birds Today: 32
Total Life Birds to Date: 71

Best Birds: Long-tailed Sylph, White-bellied Woodstar, Collared Inca, Swordbilled Hummingbird, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Torrent Duck (all are hummingbirds except the torrent duck)

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