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Has it really been nine years since
I visited Ecuador? Where does the time go? The country is, if anything, more
tourist-friendly than ever, with new lodges and reserves set aside to preserve the
wildlife. They even use the U.S. dollar as the official currancy! But the best
birding, however, is in the cloud forest, which is still cloudy. Always. Day
after day, with showers and sprinkles and steady downpours for good measure.
Charlotte and I arrived in Quito last night to begin a
personalized tour organized by Jane Lyons of Mindo Bird Tours. Our first stop is her
lodge, Las Gralarias, about two hours northwest of Quito. Surrounding the lodge is
Reserva Las Gralarias, the 1063-acre preserve that Jane founded and oversees. The
reserve boasts an impressive 276 species of birds, including 24 of the 44 birds endemic to
this region of Ecuador.
The hummingbird list totals 25 species. Most can be found at the
feeders outside the dining room and the guest house. As usual, we have one
pugnacious species, Buff-tailed Coronet, that dominates all the others.
feisty is a related bird, Velvet-purple Coronet, that is always near the top of every
birder's want-list. Seen in the right light, the male's head glows an iridescent
blue - a true avian gem.
Jane also maintains banana feeders, something of a rarity among Ecuadorian lodges and
reserves. Easily the most handsome visitor is Blue-winged Mountain-tanager, usually
dropping by in 2s and 3s. Plumbeous Doves, Masked Flowerpiercers, Golden Tanagers,
Blue-necked Tanagers, and White-winged Brush-finches round out the list. Even the
Rufous-collared Sparrow, common as dirt everywhere, has developed a taste for banana.
We've twice seen Plate-billed Mountain-toucans lurking out
in the fog-shrouded trees, but none come to the feeders.
Here in the
Andes, where hummingbird speciation is at its highest, you'd expect diversity in color and
form as well. And that's what we see. These hummers have gorgets of every
shape and hue, not to mention tails with rackets, like the Booted Racket-tail.
Sometimes they're just really long, as in the Violet-tailed Sylph.
|Another brightly colored member
of the tanager tribe, Orange-bellied Euphonia, comes to the banana feeder. I've
tried to be helpful by putting up several perches for these birds. But all seem
quite happy to land on that same limb, back beyond the feeder which is less in the
open. So it's that or nothing.