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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.