Monday 15 October 2012

Ecuador Part 2

Ecuador tour – August 2012 – Part 2.

Hummingbirds, tanagers and more

hummingbirds! . . . and still cold!
Sachatamia Lodge was high on a hill. It was an impressive timber lodge with a very cosy bar/dining-room and fairly distant, well-spaced chalets for guests. Each chalet was surrounded by forest. There wasn’t much lighting away from the dining room/bar; just the odd, weak lamp.

Golden tanager

Halfway to the bar once, well before dawn, in near pitch blackness I had to return to the room to get something. I left Lynne to carry on to the dining room. I was quick, and I was surprised that Lynne had managed to get so far ahead of me without a torch! She wasn’t at the bar so I retraced my steps to find her almost in tears after she had taken the wrong path! Here is our chalet:
Our chalet at Sachatamia Lodge

And a carved wooden ‘Yumbo’ hunter outside the bar:
A Yumbo hunter at Sachatamia Lodge

It was still pretty cold at this altitude, even at the Equator! Survival depended on being well tucked up in bed each night!!
Our first morning at Sachatamia involved getting up before 06.00 and being ready to start at 06.30. The carpark had a strong light that burned all night, attracting many moths and other insects which landed and stayed on the main pole of the light and on the surrounding bushes. At dawn, birds would come to feast on the unsuspecting insects. 
Red-eyed vireo
After breakfast we drove to various places/reserves. We had morning coffee in a café with a lovely garden where fruit was left for the birds.
Green thorntail (a hummingbird)
There was also the obligatory battery of hummingbird feeders. It was really relaxing. Drinking coffee and watching all manner of hummingbirds, tanagers and other birds. What could be better? The tanagers are a large group of colourful birds. I love them!
Brown violetear (another hummingbird)
Here is the 'café' called Jardin de Orquideas (Orchid Garden):

Café 'Jardin de Orquideas'
Next day was spent entirely at Milpe, at a very productive nature reserve.
Lemon-rumped tanager
We never got up later than 06.00 and sometimes it was an hour or two earlier depending how far we had to go! Certainly, every day involved a very early start so I won’t bother to mention it each time from now on!
Swallow tanager
We didn’t mind these early starts (well, I didn’t mind; not sure about Lynne) because until we got used to the time difference we found ourselves awake by the small hours anyway. It was no big deal then just to get up!
Blue-grey tanager
More early-morning birdwatching around the lodge on Sunday before setting off for Quito again for the night.
White-whiskered hermit (another hummingbird)
En route to Quito, we went in search of the rare ‘white-tailed shrike-tyrant’. (Most of the birds here have really long names!) This involved a long walk and a climb up the foothills, forcing our way through thorny bushes. Lynne, sensibly, stayed back. I went most of the way but stayed behind when the others pressed on, further along the ridge.   I enjoyed the solitude of the place, and, in the calm after the others had left, I noticed a burrowing owl sitting on the dry branch of a nearby bush. 

Burrowing owl

My comrades had pushed another couple of hundred metres along and they called and gesticulated to me. I went to join them and saw the shrike-tyrant further up the hill. It was rather distant, so the photo is not too good.

White-tailed shrike-tyrant

We went back to the same hotel in Quito for a relaxing shower, a very pleasant evening meal, a lovely bottle of red wine – followed by. . . . .  another pre-dawn start!

Ecuador - Part 1
Ecuador - Part 3   
Ecuador - Part 4

Saturday 6 October 2012

Ecuador Part 1

Ecuador tour – Part 1 – August 2012.

1.      Long flights, lost luggage, freezing cold (yes, even at the equator!)

We started well from Heathrow after the taxi dropped us off. A long flight to Miami, followed by one to Quito, where, after delays, we arrived at 23.30 on Tuesday 31 July, dog tired. We waited for our cases, which didn’t appear, though many of the locals had trolleys piled high with 6 or 8 really large cases. We were really worried as we had never lost any cases before, but, as we made our claim to American Airlines and spoke to others, it became clear that non-arrival of luggage was commonplace. They simply didn’t have room on the plane for all the cases.
Giant antpitta
We had only the clothes we stood up in, and I had only flight socks (those knee-length, tight socks to prevent blood clots). At 00.30 we left the airport, relieved to find that our taxi driver had waited for us. We were soon at the hotel and asleep. We were woken by a call at about 5.45 from Gustavo, the guide, inviting us down to breakfast. He thought our cases would turn up in a day or two! In the meantime, I had no tripod, and neither of us had anything else! It was quite unsettling. However, as we made our way to the Bellavista Lodge in the cloud forest, all worries about lost suitcases were temporarily forgotten!

Red-headed barbet

Quito is about 2,800m high so it wasn’t that warm. Just as well! At least we didn’t sweat very much and start to smell!

Andean condor
Our group was small, only 5, plus Gustavo and our driver. It was a nice number for birdwatching. Too many and those at the back of the group often arrive too late to see a bird.
Great saphirewing

We drove out of Quito, stopping occasionally to search an area for birds. One of the rarest on the first day was the Andean condor which we were lucky enough to see in flight on the first morning. Photographically, those first two days were frustrating. I had my camera, but no tripod! I had my battery charger but no cable! Hand-holding a camera weighing 5.5Kg isn’t easy for more than a minute or two. Keeping it still to take a picture is even harder.
Here we are on a high mountain path in the Andes
Bellavista Lodge was also high, at about 2,300m in the Tandayapa Valley, about 2 hours North West from Quito if you took the fast route. We took all day, naturally. This map shows where the reserve (coloured green) is in relation to the capital:
Bellavista Lodge (in green) high in the Andes
The Lodge was quite remote and natural. Our room was basic but attractive. We both had a shower and dressed again in the same clothes before going to dinner. The cloud forest lived up to its name and it rained quite a lot. One of the receptionists lent me a cable so I could charge my camera battery. Gustavo rang American Airlines. There was only an answering machine. Gustavo told them we were leaving the following afternoon and that if they didn’t send our cases soon, they would have to deliver them to somewhere much further away!! It was true.
Our room at Bellavista Lodge
On Thursday 2 August, we woke at 5 and left at 5.30. This was to be the pattern for the whole holiday. We had a packed breakfast and spent the morning birdwatching around the lodge. This was very enjoyable and took our minds off the subject of cases. As soon as we stopped and came back to the lodge for lunch, the thought of having to manage without our luggage loomed large again. Fortunately, while we were out that morning a taxi had arrived from Quito with our cases. We were over the moon! We had a shower, changed into clean clothes, I assembled my tripod and we went out twice as happy as before lunch. What a relief!
Dining room at Bellavista Lodge
We then loaded the van and made our way to another high area, Sachatamia Lodge. We arrived as darkness fell but there was enough light to see that this was a haven for hummingbirds!

Ecuador - Part 2    
Ecuador - Part 3
Ecuador - Part 4