Saturday, 11 November 2017

11th November 2017 Quito to Papallacta, Ecuador

Being fortunate to make my third trip to Ecuador we planned a 'last-minute' trip to concentrate our efforts on visiting sites on the east slope of the of the Andes east of Quito being an area I'd previously not visited, although I well-remember standing alongside JFC at Papallacta in 1994 looking east at the then largely untouched forests stretching away into the distance. Having arrived on-time with KLM the evening before we had collected our car booked online through Holiday Autos but supplied by Avis - that proved to be literally brand new with only 165km on the clock - the only downside was that we would clearly be responsible for any scratch, dent or other mishap that might occur over the next four weeks! We spent the night in a hotel close to the airport with jetlag ensuring that we were awake pre-dawn and ready to head for Papallacta. We set off and our over-enthusiasm meant that we took a wrong turn at virtually the first roundabout we encountered with us not being certain of our mistake until arriving in El Quinche c.15km later - leaving us wondering if saving the cost of hiring a satnav had been sensible?! We retraced our steps and soon found the correct road to Papallacta soon leaving behind the Quito traffic and climbing in elevation. It was good to see plenty of remaining Polylepis forest as we crossed the Andes, various signs indicating plenty of areas are now owned by conservation bodies and none of the many firewood gatherers seen in the area back in 1994. The weather on leaving Quito had been overcast but dry and clear but as we approached the pass we ran into low cloud, thick fog and then steady rain as we descended to Papallacta town on the east slope. We were both soon feeling the effects of the high altitude with dull headaches and breathlessness but a cup of coffee and something to eat at a roadside stall helped greatly. We had booked a room at the excellent good-value Hosteria Pampallacta Termales not to be confused with the nearby more expensive resort of Termas de Papallacta. Despite arriving before they were open to serve their guests breakfast, they were happy to show us to our room so that we could leave our luggage there. The fog had cleared and the rain had eased a little so we drove through Termas de Papallacta and found the gate (that is open from 8.30am) to the 5km track that leads north to Cayambe Coca reserve. The track leads through a superb Andean valley with intact cloud/elfin forest habitat all around and it felt a privilege to be birding there. We were soon enjoying watching the antics of territorial Shining Sunbeams albeit in the rain. A stop along the track in a promising area of dense bamboo had us try playback of Crescent-faced Antpitta as the area is a known site for this enigmatic species. Much to our surprise one immediately responded by calling back although it was down a steep slope and clearly rather distant. We saw that another track approached the area so drove back down the road to the trailhead. Walking the track produced our first mixed-species flock of the morning that fortuitously included Black-backed Bush Tanager (or Stolzmann's Tanager) being one of our target species for the area as it is the sole representative of its genus, placed by the IOC alongside Tanager Finch, and being localised restricted to the east slope of the Andes of Colombia and Ecuador above c.3,200m. The same flock also included Agile Tit-Tyrant being a second new bird and a Chusquea bamboo specialist restricted to the temperate zone of the Andes from Venezuela to Ecuador. By then, we had approached the area that we felt was closest to where we had heard the Antpitta and I noticed a short c.10m trail leading into the forest to a moss-covered fallen trunk. I entered and used playback again. An immediate response with one calling back probably no more that 3m away, panic, but unfortunately try as I might, I simply couldn't see it - incredibly frustrating! The bird had presumably seen me as it soon fell silent and my chance of the 'dream start' to the trip had gone. We continued along the track seeing a couple more flocks including Black-backed Bush-Tanagers and several other species I've not seen for many years including a smart Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager. With the rain worsening we headed downslope in the pursuit of better weather but not before unsuccessfully looking for the Antpitta again. A male Tourmaline Sunangel, another species restricted to Colombia and the east slope of the Andes in Ecuador was seen near the resort car park being my third addition of the day. We walked the Jamanco track bordering the north shore of Papallacta Lake for a couple of km until dark but it proved rather quiet although as the cloud cleared we enjoyed the views of the snow-capped Antisana volcano.

Neotropic Cormorant 3
Snowy Egret 4
Black Vulture 1
Variable Hawk 1
Spotted Sandpiper 3
Andean Gull 1
White-collared Swift 1
Shining Sunbeam 6
Buff-winged Starfrontlet 1
White-chinned Thistletail 2
Pearled Treerunner 1
Tawny Antpitta 1
White-throated Tyrannulet 2
White-banded Tyrannulet 2
Great Thrush c.15
Brown-bellied Swallow c.12
Grass Wren 1
Spectacled Whitestart 4
Blue-backed Conebill 4
Masked Flowerpiercer 1
Glossy Flowerpiercer 4
Black Flowerpiercer 1
White-sided Flowerpiercer 1
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager 3
Pale-naped Brush-Finch 6
Rufous-collared Sparrow c.25

the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta

Elfin forest along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta

Orchid along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta


Shining Sunbeam along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta
Previously seen in both Ecuador and Peru this species certainly lives up to its name even on a dull grey day

Scarlet-belled Mountain-Tanager along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta
Previously seen in both Ecuador and Peru but still a strong contender for 'bird of the day'!

Tawny Antpitta along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta
This species of Antpitta typically proves easy to see but this individual had clearly been taking lessons in remaining concealed from the nearby Crescent-faced Antpitta!

Male Glossy Flowerpiercer along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta

White-chinned Thistletail along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta
I had only previously seen this species with JFC 23 years ago - at Papallacta!

Pale-naped Brush-Finch along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta
Another treeline species I'd only previously seen 23 years ago

White-throated Tyrannulets along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta

Female Great Thrushes along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta

Pearled Treerunner along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta

Blue-backed Conebill along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta

Spectacled Whitestarts along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta

Black-backed Bush-Tanagers along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta

Agile Tit-Tyrants along the Cayambe Coca track, Papallacta
four today being the only ones we saw during our trip

Antisana Volcano from the Jamanco track, Papallacta

Hosteria Pampallacta Termales