Whilst in the Mindo area we stayed at the Septimo Paraiso Lodge, one of several lodges in the wider vicinity all of which have been built since my original visit to cater for the growing number of visiting birders and other tourists. Like most lodges Septimo Paraiso has some excellent hummingbird feeders in the garden which allow superb viewing opportunities for a wide range of species including the spectacular Booted Racket-Tail and the Chocó endemic Violet-tailed Sylph. Those two were easy enough to see in the old days but others such as the super smart Purple-bibbed Witetip and Velvet Purple Coronet (both endemic to the Chocó region) were considerably harder to find. The total number of hummingbird species that can be expected on a trip now far exceeds that achievable previously, when searching for flowering shrubs around villages or blooms in the forest interior were the only options. Dawn and dusk walks along the entrance road yielded a lot of frustratingly close encounters with several owls which resolutely refused to budge from concealed perches, just too far in to the impenetrable forest for us to locate them. Notable among these was a Colombian Screech-Owl, the earliest local records of which by Paul Greenfield, Bret Whitney and Colin Bushell were first detailed in the 1996 review paper referred to in my previous post. We did however encounter my first Kinkajou and Central American Wooly Oppossum. Another new species for me was Wattled Guan which cross the roadway in the evenings on their way to a roosting area. To hear the bizarre whirring screech given by this species is almost as much fun as seeing one, with its distinctive yellow and red wattle and pale legs. Whilst searching for these we picked up a nice bonus in the form of a Barred Forest Falcon which gave excellent views.
A very early start was required one morning in order to search for a very localised Chocó endemic en-route to Bellavista, another lodge located in the Tandayapa Valley. Tanager Finch is known from one locality on the road side but has become difficult in recent years, perhaps due to the amount of attention it receives as it appears to have become unresponsive to playback. Birds are generally only seen during a short time window in the early morning and Jonás ensured we resisted the temptation to dally and arrived on time. This was as well because after a half hour or so one of the group, Herman, noticed a movement under some large leaves at the roadside and peering in to the gloom discovered that it was a pair of Tanager Finches feeding unobtrusively a few metres away.
Tanager Finch, Bellavista. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.
It was hot by the time we arrived at the lodge, having walked in along the final approach and the birding was rather slow in the forest. After lunch though things picked up nicely and most notably with views of Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Spillman’s Tapaculo and Plushcap. Stopping off at another new feeding station to add Black-chinned Mountain Tanager to the list we moved on to Milpe for a couple of hours. This area is now heavily deforested but we saw a few nice birds including Ruddy Pigeon, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush and Metallic Green Tanager. Towards evening I got to see Mindo briefly! A peculiarity of the changes that have taken place is that none of the birding done by visitors these days is undertaken on the slopes immediately around the village. Driving through the village was quite an odd feeling after all that time and we passed the now derelict hosteria where Guy and I, and one of the other tour participants Rob had once stayed. Whilst the village has grown it has not done so immensely but there are many more shops and a far busier atmosphere, though it was never sleepy. Most of the forest cover appeared as I remember it and I would be fascinated to know how the birding compared. Whilst these slopes were difficult to access they held some great birds, they remain for example the only place I have seen Black Solitaire. We were on our way to see a species I missed previously and now I know why. Lyre-tailed Nightjar favours cliffs and the best known site near Mindo is along the side of a road I suspect may not have existed when I was last there. Not only did we see it but we had excellent views of a male with full tail streamers, a genuine spectacle. Somewhat further afield we visited a site for another absolutely unique and truly weird caprimulgid also new to me. Oilbird is frugivorous and generally day roosts in caves but in NW Ecuador is known from a couple of gullies at Chontal which have the advantage of letting in some natural light.
Oilbird, Chontal. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.
It was historically suggested that as Oilbirds regurgitated seeds in the roosting caves where they failed to germinate the species was not an effective dispersal agent. Recent radio telemetry studies have shown that individuals will forage on extended trips travelling up to 120km or more from the breeding caves and that when they do they roost overnight in the forest. Calculations have suggested that Oilbirds may well be one of the most important long range seed dispersal vectors in Neotropical forests and a critical link in the ecological chain. Again local people are able to make some income from eco-tourism by charging a small fee to visit, protecting the birds and perhaps playing a far greater role than might be imagined in preserving the integrity of surrounding forests and those further afield.