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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Simple Beauty of the Blue-gray Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager of West (Traupis episcopus)

The Blue-gray Tanager is probably one of the most commonly seen and easily recognized birds of the Andes foothills in Ecuador, whether it is the western or eastern slope. It can be observed foraging in trees and gardens and predominates the activity at many fruit feeders. It is a ubiquitous passerine with a pleasant personality and a charming grace.

This is one of those birds that you can tire of seeing because of its simple colors and constant presence. Although it has a strikingly beautiful bluish gray hue, it is not as stunningly marked as other tanagers that frequent the area. One has to get over the unpretentiousness of it appearance and appreciate its classic allure.

In the Mindo valley the Blue-gray Tanager can be seen nervously gleaning the fruit trees in search of berries and other suitable morsels. But they are particularly susceptible to the siren’s call of the fruit feeders at Milpe Bird Sanctuary and Mirador Rio Blanco. Here you can see them dominating the various species as they forage for some delectable offerings. It is also quite common in the gardens of Hacienda San Vicente in the town of Mindo.

Blue-gray Tanager of East
On the eastern slopes the Blue-gray Tanager can be observed along the Loreto and Archidona Roads, traveling from Baeza to Tena. In Misahualli they can be seen frolicking in the trees along with various Squirrel Monkeys that inhabit the park in the center of town. I find the white coverlets of the eastern species of Blue-gray Tanager to give them a more striking appearance that the western race.

This beautiful passerine can be seen in large numbers as it travels in groups throughout its regions. It is also often seen in mixed flocks, foraging with other tanagers such as the Palm and Lemon-rumped on the western slope. When in gatherings they appear to blend in quietly but reveal a certain territorial aggressiveness around feeders
For more detailed information on the Blue-gray Tanager go to my HubPages article here. Also see blog articles on Hacienda San Vicente, and Milpe Bird Sanctuary for locations to observe this beautiful species. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Female Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus)

I have been categorizing the thousands of photos that I have taken over the last few months trying to decide which bird to write about next. It is not an easy decision as there are so many species and each has a uniqueness that can only be revealed through close observation. I settled on the Black-cheeked Woodpecker for its beauty and the abundant opportunity for encountering this amazing bird.

The Black-cheeked Woodpecker is most often seen in the humid forests below 800 m (2,600 ft.) but it can also be observed locally in the Mindo area up to 1,500 m (5,000 ft.). It darts behind tree trunks and gleans the larger branches of tall trees but it will come out in the open for a good view and some decent photos. It can be seen in mixed flocks with tanagers and is not extremely aggressive, allowing the other species to bully them.

Male Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus)
They are a colorful bird with the males and females fairly similar in markings. Look for the mid-crown to tell the difference, the male being red while the female is off-white.

The Black-cheeked Woodpecker is pretty much an insectivore but will eat fruits and berries when available. Small flocks have been known to cause significant damage to banana plantations and are considered a bane to farmers. There are tanager feeders at Milpe Bird Sanctuary and Mirador Rio Blanco and this lovely bird is known to frequent them along with the tanagers and other species.

While out walking in the lowlands and foothills of the western Andean rainforest be watchful for this magnificent woodpecker. Take a little time to observe its habits and idiosyncrasies to enjoy the full wonder of this wonderful species. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Few Notes on Some Fascinating Birds

Tawny Antpitta (Grallaria quitensis)
Over the past few days I have written technical articles on several different bird species of the Ecuadorian rainforest. Rather than repeat this information I would prefer to provide some of my own observations on this avifauna and furnish links back to the original articles for further study.

One of my favorite birds is the Tawny Antpitta. It is neither the most colorful bird nor the most obvious but it has a certain personality that makes it unique within its habitat. The Antpitta family of birds is generally very timid, hiding amongst the dense undergrowth and grasses. But the Tawny Antpitta defies this caricature and can easily be seen along roadsides and at the forest edges. At Yanacocha they have set up a feeding area where the birds can be called in to feast upon fresh worms dug up by the rangers. This little fellow enters proudly to scarf up the juicy morsels, almost oblivious to the fascinated observers. He will approach within a couple of meters showing little concern for the human interlopers. There is a certain pride and courage that is displayed while he perches on nearby branches and peruses his domain. I have yet to encounter a bird that exhibits this kind of personality. Although I have seen the Tawny Antpitta many times I will never grow tired of watching him in his natural habitat.
Ornate Flycatcher (Myiotriccus ornatus)

The Ornate Flycatcher is a cute little bird of the tropical rainforest. It is quite common around Mindo and can be found on both slopes of the Andes. It is captivating to watch them sitting on branches around the Milpe Bird Sanctuary, sallying quickly into the air to capture small insects and then returning to the branch from where they originated. They are a very colorful bird within the Tyrant Flycatcher family and are easily recognizable due to the large preocular spot that can be seen from a considerable distance.

Stout-billed Cinclodes
(Cinclodes excelsior)
Furnariids or Ovenbirds are an extremely daunting family of birds. There are over seventy-five species, not counting Woodcreepers, and can be found throughout Ecuador at all elevations. There similarities in habitats, habits and coloring make it difficult to identify the individual species, even after extended periods of observation. They are a very obscure creature, tree huggers you might say, staying close to the trunks and branches as they seek out insects and other prey. There color allows them to blend in well with their surroundings and their constant movement makes it difficult to see that pattern or peculiar difference that aids in identification. When encountering a Furnariid in the field you have to take good notes to ensure that you have guessed correctly. I tend to take as many photos of them as possible so that I can make sure of my decision on the species.

I hope this information will help on your next visit to the neotropics. Happy bird hunting. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Black-tailed Trainbearer

Black-tailed Trainbearer - Male (Lesbia victoriae)

Although there are not a great variety of birds within the city limits of Quito Ecuador, there are some species that are quite impressive.  The Black-tailed Trainbearer (please see additional article for technical information) is a hummingbird that can be encountered within the confines of the city and will leave an everlasting impression on the observer. Its long flowing tail and energetic antics are a sight to see in the bustling environment of the downtown confines.

When I first arrived in Ecuador one of my earliest memories was seeing this magnificent creature visiting the flowers around the house where I lived. I later moved to a larger home where there was much more area for this visiting neighbor. The fruit trees in the back yard were a favorite habit for the Black-tailed Trainbearer as well as the Sparkling Violetear, a larger interloper that often resulted in quarrelsome exchanges concerning territorial disputes.

When I retired I moved to a much smaller house and I was afraid that my encounters with this lovely hummer would end. My patio area is less than the size of a normal bedroom and there are few flowers other than the tiny patch outside my front door. However, I was wonderfully surprised to see my diminutive friend resting in the ficus that I had placed outside my living room window. I have since then installed a feeder in this tree so that I can view his visits while I write my articles.

A couple of months ago I was writing an article when I heard a very familiar sound directly above my head. A female Trainbearer had entered the door that I had left open for my dog Boo. She was trying furiously to escape her confines but only succeeded in beating her head repeatedly against the ceiling. I became very concerned about the health of the little creature, as I know that the metabolism of the hummingbird is such that they can become exhausted quite easily. After several frantic moments I was able to extricate her from the captivity within the house. I later notice marks on the ceiling left by tiny feathers that had been shed from the hummer’s head.

The Black-tailed Trainbearer can be very aggressive and quite territorial. I have seen them attack much larger birds in an effort to protect their treasure trove of nectar. I myself have had close encounters with them while photographing them for my writing. They can be approached rather closely, if one is cautious, and will sit quite still while you observe and record their behavior. Last summer, while taking an early morning walk down the empty streets of Quito, I was shocked to stumble across a mating pair of birds in the middle of the sidewalk of one of the normally busiest avenues of the shopping district. The male, with his elongated tail feathers separated to form a giant “V” for victory, ignored my advance and went about his routine. Unfortunately I did not have a camera to record this unique display of disconcerting behavior.

In a country that is home to over 130 different species of hummingbirds it is difficult to say exactly which one is your favorite. However, I would have to place the Black-tailed Trainbearer somewhere within the top ten for its distinctive features and outgoing personality. Whenever you have an opportunity to visit this exciting birding paradise do not pass up the occasion to spend some time observing this phenomenal bird.  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Club-winged Manakin, Tropical Rainforest Wonder

Club-winged Manakin (Machaeropterus deliciosus)

When I started this blog I wanted to provide information on the various birds of Ecuador. However, what I accomplished was repost technical articles on the different species that I had already written. In an effort to dispense more pertinent material I have decided to give my personal observation on the varied birds and direct the reader to my other articles to get more technical information. I hope this makes for a more pleasurable experience.

So today I want to talk about the Club-winged Manakin, an unusual bird that inhabits the tropical rainforests of Ecuador and Columbia. For technical information on this species please see my article titled “Club-winged Manakin – Tropical Rainforest Casanova”.

Manakins are fascinating in that they are the only bird species that manifest “stridulation”, the rubbing of two specific body parts together to produce a sound. This is used in the mating rituals of the male to attract a suitable mate. When encountering a Manakin “lek”, a social meeting place for this unique creature, one can expect frantic activity and a cacophony of strange, melodious sounds.

Milpe Bird Sanctuary in the Mindo Valley is a wonderful place to encounter this captivating bird. When you arrive you need to head for the first overlook (Mirador 1). Here you will find a sign indicating the Club-winged Manakin trail. Travel this path about 100 m and you will come to a small hide where you can sit and enjoy the festivities. On my last visit I had the reserve to myself so I was able to relax and observe these lively birds during their courtship dances. If you remain quiet and still, the males will come within a few yards providing an excellent view. Since this species is often seen and not heard, this location furnishes an unprecedented opportunity for the avid birder. A Japanese movie company had just recently been there to do a documentary on the Club-winged Manakin.
Male with wings lifted
to produce mating call

The male birds are very active, jumping from branch to branch, using the stridulation of their wings to attract a curious female. Several males will be within close proximity barking out metallic sounding noise with their wings. Although these birds inhabit the sub-canopy of the tropical rainforest, with the proper equipment it is possible to record this activity with little difficulty. The mating rituals will continue for many hours, increasing in intensity if a female shows interest. The males will then compete for the affections of the feminine visitor. It is not much different than what you would see if sitting in a bar observing the courtship habits of humans.

I had a rewarding visit to Milpe and a delightful morning with the Club-winged Manakin. I visit this sanctuary quite often and I never tire of observing this unique and wonderful bird. I would recommend this trip to anyone who wishes to encounter one of the wonders of nature. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Antpitta of the Tropical Rainforest

Tawny Antpitta (Grallaria dignissima)
Photo taken at Yanacocha Reserve

The Antpitta, sometimes referred to as a “ground antbird”, is a plump little creature that stands majestically on its long legs. It is a woodland bird, hopping around the forest floor in search of insects, worms and other delicious morsels. It is combined with the antthrushes within the family “Formicariidae”. Although not a spectacularly ornate animal, its song can be beautiful and alluring. They are shy and allusive, generally heard and not seen.

In Ecuador there are twenty-three species of Antpitta in five genera. Some birds, such as the Giant Antpitta, are difficult to find and are listed as threatened by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Even the more abundant species are seldom seen although frequently heard.
Antpittas are curious little birds with rotund, egg-shaped bodies that sit upon long spindly legs. They have short, stout bills and virtually no tails. This intriguing creature is reminiscent of Humpty-Dumpty with legs. As is common with birds of the forest floor, colors are muted with shades of browns and grays. Some species, however, sport patterns that can be quite attractive.

The Antpitta can vary in length according to species, ranging from the diminutive Ochre-breasted Antpitta at 10 cm (4 in.) to the Giant Antpitta at 24 cm (9 ½ in.). (Note that birds are generally measured from the tip of the bill to the tip of the tail. Exceptions to this rule are birds that exhibit uncommonly long tail feathers.)
Giant Antpitta (Grallaria gigantea)
Photo taken at Paz de las Aves

Antpittas are very shy and stay hidden in the forest undergrowth, avoiding most human contact. They can be located at most altitudes, ranging from the coastal planes to the Páramo. More often heard than seen, their haunting melodies enchant the curious traveler.  Any glimpse of these elusive creatures is a boon to the avid birdwatcher and a cherished memory. There are, however, locations in Ecuador where some species can be viewed on a regular basis. Angel Paz, at Paz de las Aves (Birds Peace) near Mindo, has befriended a variety of Antipittas and visitors can observe birds such as the Giant, Mustached, and Yellow-breasted Antpittas in their natural environment.

Antpittas feed on insects and worms, scratching around the leaves and undergrowth of the forest floor. They generally forage alone, although they will remain in contact with their mates through vocalization. There vociferous call will also settle territorial disputes that may arise. Typically they can be heard in the early morning and late evening, although the Tawny Antpitta may sing throughout the day.

The Antpitta is a amusing little bird that can delight the enthusiastic traveler with its melodious song. Those who are fortunate enough to get a glimpse of this curious creature will have a memory that will become the highlight of their trip. When walking in the rainforest, be attentive to its song and stop for a moment of silence. By some blessed touch of fate this elusive little creature may appear and bring sunshine to an otherwise ordinary day. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Boobies – Clowns of the Pacific Coast

Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii)
Boobies are a delightful seabird of the Pacific Coast with a name, appearance and personality that draws smiles from curious observers. A common belief is that the name derives from the Spanish slang expression bubie, signifying “dunce”. As these tropical birds are quite uninhibited, they would often land on the decks of seagoing vessels where they would be easily captured by hungry sailors and became the main course during the afternoon repast. Their jocular appearance and waggish walk add to this conception of an obtuse creature.


Although the booby is commonly attributed to the Galapagos Islands, its range is much wider. Found along the Pacific coast from northern Mexico to northern Chile, this comical seabird finds refuge in the craggy boulders and scraggly brush of small isles and rocks of the seaboard. In Ecuador, boobies can be located on the islands associated with Machalilla National Park, Isla Santa Clara in the Gulf of Guayaquil, as well as the Galapagos Archipelago. Boobies remain in the tropics while their cousins, the gannets, occupy territory further north and south.

The Booby Family of Ecuador

There are five species of Boobies residing along the coast of Ecuador and its possessions. The Blue-footed Booby is the most prominent of this family and probably photographed more than any other seabird. The Nazca and Red-footed boobies are also quite common and can be found breeding on nearby coastal islands as well as the Galapagos. The Peruvian species is an irregular visitant to the southern Ecuadorian coast and the Brown Booby is uncertain as there are few records posted.

Nazca Booby (Sula granti)

Boobies are large seabirds between 66-86.4 cm (26-34 in) in length. They have powerful pointed bills, long sharply tapered wings, narrow tails and broad webbed feet. Males and females are very similar with the voice being the best indicator of sex. Feeding on fish, they can be seen diving from great heights, as much as 100m (330 ft) and then pursuing their prey after entering the water. Air sacks within their faces cushion the impact with the water. They breed in colonies and can be seen in large flocks along the craggy cliffs of offshore islands. Nests are built on the ground, and occasionally in trees, where one or more chalky-blue eggs are laid.


Male boobies will perform a courtship dance to impress the female, spreading their wings and stomping their feet as if to a listening to a melodious serenade. Once they are mated the male will remain monogamous, although they have been know to suffer from a roving eye. Both the male and female will share the incubation of the eggs, keeping them warm with their feet. Once the eggs are hatched, the adults will catch fish, swallow them, and then regurgitate the masticated nutrient to the young. The males perform the feeding duties during the first few days of the incubation period.


Boobies are a peculiar bird that will entertain and delight the curious visitor. Relatively friendly, they can easily be approached for photos and closer contact. However, respect the rules of the reservations and the personal space of the birds. These amusing creatures can be observed on the Galapagos Islands, Isla de la Plate in the Machalilla National Park, Isla Santa Clara in the Gulf a Guayaquil, and along the rock islands along the Ecuadorian coast from Esmeraldas south. A trip to the seaside is not complete without spending some time with these clowns of the Pacific coast. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sword-billed Hummingbird – A Tropical Rainforest Wonder

Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

Thousands of people journey to Ecuador to marvel at the astonishing biodiversity of this tiny nation. With over 1,600 species of birds to observe, none fascinates the spectator more than the Sword-billed Hummingbird of the tropical rainforest. Its impressive snout draws attention to this unusual species making it an essential addition to the journals of adventurous travelers. One glimpse at this astounding creature and it is easily understood how it acquired its Latin name, Ensifera: sword-wielder.


Although rare, there are certain areas where the Sword-billed Hummingbird can be viewed on a regular basis. Ranging from western Venezuela to western Bolivia along the Andean slopes, these spectacular birds can be observed from altitudes of 2,500 to 3,500 (8,000 to 11,500 ft). Although scarcely seen in the Inter-Andean valley, reserves such as Pasachoa Wildlife Refuge near Quito Ecuador claim regular visits by this welcome guest.

The Sword-billed Hummingbird is a regular visitant to the feeders at Yanacocha Reserve near Quito. Along with Golden-chested and Sapphire-vented Pufflegs, Great Sapphirewing, Buff-winged Starfrontlets and many more, this incomparable species can be observed vying for the nectar provided by the park. Seen both hovering and perching near the feeders, it is easily recorded by photographers hoping for an award-winning image.

Sword-billed Hummingbird

The Sword-billed Hummingbird is the only species where its bill exceeds the length of its body. From the base of the beak to the tip of the tail, this creature has a total length of 13- 13.5 cm (5 – 5 ¼ in). Its total body dimension minus the tail feathers makes it less than 9 cm (3.5 in). With a bill of 90 – 100 mm (3.5 – 4 in) one can see why this bird has such an astounding appearance. The beak is slightly upswept and exceptionally long. When perched, this little jewel will keep its head elevated as if to maintain its balance and reduce the strain on its neck. 

The male of the species is a brilliant green in coloration with a slight bronzy tint to the head and neck. It exhibits a small white spot behind its eye. There is a definite blackish hue to the throat with the chest and sides of neck displaying a duller greenish gleam. The lower under-parts are a mixture of gray and glistening green. The Sword-bill has a bronze tinted tail which is long and forked. The female can be distinguished by having a more coppery bronze on the head and whitish under-parts that are thickly spotted with green. The tail is much shorter and less severely forked.


Most observers barely have a glimpse of this illusive little creature as it zips by at break-neck speed. However, this bird is easily recognizable even if viewed for a second. Its distinctive bill betrays its identity as it scurries through the forest growth. While perched this hummingbird can look similar to a twig on a tree due to its habit of elevating its head while resting. Owing to its formidable bill, the Sword-billed Hummingbird can reach deep into flowers that other birds must attack from the base. Datura flowers are at the top of its menu. Although not exceptionally vocal, it is easily noticed by the audible hum of its wings while flying or hovering near delectable corollas.


The Sword-billed Hummingbird is an essential addition to any avid bird-watchers database. While rather scarce in most areas, visitors to Quito Ecuador have an occasion to observe this precious bird within a few minutes drive from the city. Yanacocha Reserve offers a window of opportunity for anyone who loves wildlife and wishes to see one of the wonders of nature.
In addition to Yanacocha Reserve, the Sword-billed Hummingbird can be observed at Guango Lodge & Reserve, Huashapamba Forest Reserve, Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge, Podocarpus-Cajanuma, and Papallacta Pass.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Masked Flowerpiercer of the Tropical Rainforest

Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossopis Cyanea)
The Masked Flowerpiercer is a distinctive little bird in the Tanager family inhabiting the higher altitudes of the tropical rainforest. Ranging from the mountains of northern Venezuela and along the slopes of the Andes from western Venezuela down through western Bolivia, this beautiful passarine (perching bird) is common within the mountain forests and nearby gardens.

In Ecuador, the Masked Flowerpiercer can be found inhabiting the woodland shrubbery from 2,400 to 3,500 m (8,000 to 11,500 ft). It can be observed on both the eastern and western slopes and locally within the Inter-Andean valley at reserves such as Pasachoa Wildlife Refuge near Quito, Ecuador. The Masked Flowerpiercer has been encountered at higher altitudes in patches of Polylepsis (trees belonging to the rose family growing at high altitudes up to 4,500 m). In southwest Ecuador areas such as El Oro and western Loja, however, it can be seen below 2,000 m (6,500 ft). There are eight species of flowerpiercers existent in the country.

Flowerpiercers are a tiny bird compared to most tanagers. They range is length from 11.5 to 14.5 cm (4.5 to 5.75 in). The Masked and the Glossy flowerpiercers are among the largest. Their most obvious characteristic is a distinctive upturned bill that is sharply curved at the tip. Other than the White-sided and Rusty species, the males and females are relatively similar with black, gray and blue hues predominant.
The Masked Flowerpiercer is distinguished by it piercing red iris contrasting with a fairly large black mask and its intense ultramarine blue plumage. The female is similarly adorned although slightly duller in appearance. The bill has a noticeable hook at the tip, which can help to differentiate it from similar species.

Masked Flowerpiercer
Other species that inhabit the same environments with the Masked Flowerpiercer are the Bluish and the Indigo Flowerpiercers. However, the Bluish lacks the large eye patch that is so pronounced in the masked variety and has an overall blue color and a less pronounced hook to the tip of its bill. The Indigo is much scarcer and it too lacks the distinguishable facial characteristics of the former. The Blue-and-Black Tanager is similarly colored but has a black iris, a normally shaped bill and black wing and tail feathers.

The Masked Flowerpiercer is often encountered in mixed flocks, frequently dominating the bird species in many upper-elevations rainforest locations. It is regularly observed with other flowerpiercers as well as various tanager species. Feeding primarily on nectar and small fruit, it is routinely detected in the company of hummingbirds, vying for the same source of nourishment. Its hooked bill allows it to attack the flower from its base, piercing the corolla and extracting the rich sugary treasure within. When in small flocks, flowerpiercers are normally heard before being seen, their high-pitched twitterings resembling chatter. A brief moment of quiet and patience will bring them into the open where they can be seen hopping nervously among the branches of low-lying bushes.

The Masked Flowerpiercer is a lovely little passarine that inhabits the high-altitude tropical rainforest of the Ecuadorian Andes. Its cheerful song and lively antics as it feeds upon the mountain flora will delight and entertain the wandering traveler. This beautiful bird can be observed at Bellavista Forest Reserve, Cantón Rumiñahui, Copa Linga Lodge, El Cajas National Park, Guango Lodge & Reserve, Huashapamba Forest Reserve, Mindo Valley, Podocarpus-Bombuscaro & Vicinity, Podocarpus-Cajanuma, Papallacta Pass, San Isidro Reserve, Tapichalaca Reserve, Tandayapa Valley, Utuana Reserve, and Yanacocha Reserve.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Collard Inca - Gem of the Tropical Rainforest

Collared Inca (Coeligena Torquata)
The Collared Inca is a colorful hummingbird of the Andes highlands, inhabiting the mountain forests of the tropical rainforest from 2,100 – 3000 m (7,000 – 10,000 ft). Ranging from western Venezuela down into central Peru and western Bolivia, it never ventures into the Páramo, keeping to the protective confines of the trees. Within Ecuador there are two similar races, the torquata of the eastern slope and the fulgidigula of the west. The western variety can be observed from the Columbian border south to Chimborazo, although it has not been witnessed as frequently below Cotopaxi in recent years. The torquata can be encountered along the full extent of the Andes on the eastern slope within the borders of Ecuador.

Western Slope Appearance

Collared Inca (Coeligena Torquata)
The Inca on the western slope is predominantly black on its upper parts, transforming to a brilliant dark green at the rump. There is a small luminous blue patch on the top of the head, although not always obvious in the field. In addition to a white spot behind the eye, it will have a sizable and conspicuous white breastplate. The throat will be glittering green and the lower section black with a green luster. The tail feathers are white with black tips contrasting with greenish-black central quills. The female on both slopes will be similar is pattern although not as flamboyant. The Collared Inca measures 11 cm (4 ½ in) in length with a long, straight bill of 33 mm (1.3 in).

Eastern Slope Appearance

On the eastern slope the Collared Inca will vary in that the crown patch will appear in a gleaming violet hue. The lower parts will be much darker than its western cousin, as will the throat. In all other aspects they are quite similar. Birds from Carchi, above Maldonado, appear to combine features of both nominate. Regardless of their location, there are no similar species within Ecuador that combine the conspicuous white chest patch with the white tail feathers.


This outstanding hummingbird of the upper-elevations woodlands is fairly common and noticeable as it gathers nectar from the abundant flora of the rainforest. It can be observed in open areas near sparsely populated villages and will ignore intruders if they are patient and cautious not to disturb the environment.


The Collared Inca is a delightfully colorful creature of the tropical rainforest that will enthrall the ardent bird watcher with its antics and beauty. It is one of the innumerable hummingbirds that populate the vast biodiversity of the beautiful nation of Ecuador. The precious little bird can be observed at Bellavista Forest Reserve, Copa Linga Lodge, El Cajas National Park, Guango Lodge & Reserve, Guacamayos Ridge, Mindo Valley, Podocarpus-Cajanuma, Tapichalaca Reserve, and Tandayapa Valley

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tyrant Flycatcher

Dusky-capped-Flycatcher (Myiarchus tuberculifer)
The Tyrant Flycatcher (Tyrannidae) is the largest family of birds in the world with nearly 400 distinct species. Of this number, Ecuador has 208 species in 78 genera. They are passerines, often referred to as perching birds and less correctly designated as songbirds. They are an extremely diverse avian family endemic to the Americas. Although some may resemble “Old World Flycatchers” (Tyranni), the Tyrants have a much more sophisticated vocal capability.

Flycatchers are abundant throughout the Americas, but virtually all of the species will migrate to the Neotropics during their respective winter seasons. They can be found across every terrestrial habitat in Ecuador, from the Páramo to the coastal and tropical regions. However, the greatest profusion can be located in the humid lowland forests. This is an avian family that can be spotted wherever the traveler roams.

Cinnamon Becard
(Pachyramphus cinnamomeus)
Although most passerines tend to be lackluster and ordinary in appearance, there are a few exceptions. The Vermillion Flycatcher, with its ebony mask, back and tail contrasting with a scarlet crown and stomach, is one of the most spectacular birds in the neotropics. For the majority of this avian family, colors tend towards olives or browns.

The Flycatchers can vary greatly in size, from the diminutive Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant at 6.5-6.8 cm (2:5–2.7 in.) to the significantly larger Great Shrike-Tyrant at 29 cm (11.5 in.). There are certain species such as the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that are larger in total length but this is attributed to the extent of its tail. The Flycatcher’s heads are generally large, sporting stout bills that are somewhat flattened with a hook on the upper mandible. However, the insect eating species have a much larger bill than the gleaners that possess a smaller, more pointed beak. Flycatchers have rictal bristles (stiff feathers) around the base of their mouths. With a few exceptions, the sexes are fairly similar in form and color. Some species, in particular the Elaenias, are nearly impossible to distinguish by their appearance and can only be identified by voice.

Black-capped Tyrannulet (Phyllomyias nigrocapillus)
As the name implies, Flycatcher’s primary diet is insects. They can be seen perched on wires or branches, sallying quickly into the air to snatch their allusive prey. They will then return to their perch waiting patiently for the next unwary victim. There are a few exceptions, as some flycatchers will glean their nourishment from trees and bushes. Larger species have been known to feast upon mice or small lizards.

Flycatchers are reclusive and are seldom seen in flocks. They are known to be extremely territorial and become quite aggressive during matting season. Building their cup shaped nests in trees and bushes, the female will incubate the eggs while the male assists in providing nourishment.

When traveling throughout Ecuador and the neotropics the avid birder will encounter an abundance of Tyrant Flycatchers. It is advisable to become familiar with the various species so that there will be less confusion when trying to identify a particular bird. Locating and recognizing the various species is part of the enjoyment of birding in Ecuador. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Green Honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper -Male (Chlorophanes spiza)

Tanagers are among the most colorful bird families in the world and the Green Honeycreeper, a member of the tanager family, is no exception. What is more interesting is the sexual dimorphism (difference in form and color) that exists within the species. In many cases, the male is significantly more vibrant than the female. However, in the case of the Green Honeycreeper, though the male and female are notably different, they both have strikingly brilliant plumage.

The Green Honeycreeper is fairly common from southern Mexico down to the extreme northwest of Peru and extends over into northern Bolivia and Amazonian Brazil. In Ecuador, this species inhabits both the western and eastern slopes of the Andes. Although it is seen regularly at up to 1,100 (3,300 ft.) meters of elevation, it generally resides lower, particularly below 800 meters (2.600 ft.). It is partial to humid forest and secondary woodlands.

Green Honeycreeper (Female)
The Green Honeycreeper is one of the smallest of tanagers, measuring a mere 14cm (5 1/2 in.). It has a stout bill but less decurved than other honeycreepers. The beak is yellow with the culmen (upper portion) dark in the male but yellow in the female. The eyes are a dark red. The male has a lustrous bluish-green plumage, almost a teal, with a contrasting black head. The female, on the other hand, is a brilliant green all over, similar to a green apple in coloration, with the under-parts a little paler. The male is distinctive among the tanagers, whereas the female can be confused with young tanagers of other species.

The Green Honeycreeper is arboreal like other tanagers but is generally seen in pairs, as opposed to small flocks. They will, however, frequently accompany other tanagers in mixed congregations hunting for fruits and berries among the rainforest foliage.

The Green Honeycreeper is a strikingly beautiful bird frequenting the rainforest in the foothills of the Andes. An observant adventure will draw great enjoyment from observing this jewel of the forest. Areas to encounter this colorful species are Buenaventura Reserve, Copa Linga Lodge, Cordillera de Condor, El para Reserve, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Manglares-Churute, Napo River Basin, Podocarpus-Bombuscaro, Pedro Vicente Maldanado, Rio Canande Reserve, Rio Palenque Reserve, Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary and Tinalandia.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Andean Gull

Andean Gull (Chroicocephalus serranus)

When visiting the beach there are three things that can be expected: water, sand and sea gulls. These ubiquitous clowns of the seaboard are certain to delight or plague the recurrent traveler as they swoop and dive, searching for tiny morsels of nourishment. It is sometimes refreshing to leave this watery playground, if for no other reason than to abandon these pesky little creatures at the waterfront.

The farther one travels from the shore, the less a person expects to see these lively creatures. However, the Andean Gull lives where it is least expected. High in the Andes Páramo, this fowl with its curious appearance lives a quiet, undisturbed life far from the maddening crowd of the boardwalk.
Andean Gulls at Lake Limpiopungo in Cotopaxi National Park
The Andean Gull is unique in that it is seldom found below 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) elevation and can be spotted at altitudes of 4,200 m (14,000 ft) around Páramo lakes and ponds. Ranging from extreme southern Colombia to central Chile, the greatest number is perhaps located around Laguna de Colta within the Chimborazo province of Ecuador. Nesting on grassy islets, these intriguing birds shun human contact unlike their seaside cousins.

The Andean Gull is predominantly white with a pearly gray mantel. A non-breeding male will show a black patch behind on the ear-coverts and a narrow black eye ring. While breeding, however, the male will display a lustrous black hood with distinctive white eye-crescents. (Refer to photos)

This gull species has murky red legs and bill: the eye dark. The tips of its primary feathers are black, this being much more obvious in flight. A juvenile will have brown mottling on the wing-coverts and a black lower tail-band.

Andean Gulls can generally be seen in small groups, mainly around isolated bodies of water in the Páramo regions of the Andes. (Páramo is a Spanish word meaning “desolate territory”, often compared to the Moors of Scotland.) They can also be observed flying high over the ridges and slopes of this inhospitable countryside. They feed on insects and worms scavenged from the adjoining regions. They will nest in small, scattered colonies, sometimes-solitary pair inhabiting a miniature patch of water.

When visiting the high Andes, this precious jewel can be the highlight of the excursion. Its squawking voice can be heard reverberating across the barren Páramo, breaking the deafening silence of this desolate dominion. Aside from Laguna de Colta, this fascinating avian species can be observed at Antisana Reserve, Cotopaxi National Park, El Cajas National Park, Podocarpus-Cajanuma, and Papallacta Pass.