Friday, September 16, 2016

Das Bird

You may have noticed that it has been almost 6 months since my last post.  This isn’t because I haven’t been birding. No way!  If anything, it's because I've been birding too much. In fact I’m in the middle of the biggest birding year of my life (1200+ species, more on that later).

No, what’s been happening is that... how do I say this... writing this blog is a routine. It's something I do regularly and habitually and that I make time for in a normal life schedule.

The problem, though not really a problem at all, is that life has been anything but ‘normal’ or ‘routine.’ Here are some quick highlights of the past 6 months:

-I graduated and earned a PhD
-I got engaged (to Natalia, my birding partner and best friend)
-I bought a house
-I sold my car
-I moved to Switzerland

On top of all that, I’ve been travelling, often in places without much infrastructure, for about 2 of those 6 months.  In fact, as I type this I’m sitting in the Zurich airport about to depart to Singapore for a ~1 month trip to Indonesia—my first time visiting Asia.

But you came here for birds, right? To keep this on topic here’s a bird:

Red Crossbill crush, Lucerne, Switzerland

It’s been a bit of a hectic transition with moving flats, assembling furniture and trying to figure out how transportation and waste management work in this organized little country called Switzerland. I did manage to get out on a couple outings in the 10 days I’ve been here.

Natalia’s work group had a paid hike to Entlebuch a UNESCO world-heritage area and RAMSAR site (wetland of international importance) in the forearc of the Swiss Alps. It features a huge karst formation, bogs and beautiful views of the Swiss countryside. 

Karst slope at Entlebuch - we were hoping to find Rock Ptarmingans here, but they all hid from us

Though we didn’t realize it, we had signed up for a 16 km trek up and down steep grades.  The Swiss are serious about their hiking.  It’s the default hobby here and with lots of mandatory paid vacation time, the modal Swiss person is a super-fit alpine enthusiast. This meant that the pace was a bit too fast for birding. 

Nice view from our picnic spot photo-bombed by a wing-suit diver

Nevertheless we managed to spot a few birds.  My favorite was the Alpine Chough.

Alpine Chough, apparently this is a borderline trashy bird, but it was new for me, so I wasn't complaining

A flock of 50 or so of these nice-looking corvids came cruising along the ridgeline while we ate a picnic lunch. A few stopped close to check us out, probably because they’ve learned that people can be an easy source of food.

Other than that and the crossbill (above) birds were pretty few and far between.  I’ve been told that 16 birds is not a bad number for birding in non-aquatic areas of Europe. This will take some getting used to.

Yesterday I went out with Florian (the same guy who led our Entlebuch hike) out to Neracherried, a Birdlife Switzerland reserve on a remnant wetland near Zurich.  There’s not much to the place: a little visitor’s center and modest-sized patch of reeds with some open water, but it attracts the birds well enough. What it seems to attract best though is photographers.  We showed up during prime sun on a Wednesday evening and could barely wedge ourselves in among the bazooka-sized lenses.

A normal Wednesday afternoon at the Neeracherried photo blinds

I picked up 6 lifers in fairly short order: Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Common Ringed Plover, Stock Dove and Marsh Harrier.

Marsh Harrier, Zurich, Switzerland. Kühl!

The birds were kinda far off, so it was mostly scope work. Enjoy these shanks, three green and one spotted red

Common Ringed Plover. Now I'm prepared to find one in North Carolina 

It was great to see some of these European shorebirds. They’re the kinds of birds I always had half an eye out for showing up somewhere in North Carolina.  Now that I’ve seen them in the field, hopefully I’ll have an easier time spotting and identifying one out of range.

The rarest bird of the day ended up being an Osprey, of all things. They’re an uncommon migrant in Switzerland and this was only Florian’s fourth he had ever seen.  All the shutterflies went a bit giddy over this one, even the ones who had no idea what they were shooting picked up on the excitement and rushed outside to get shots as it passed over the blind.

Next post should be about birds in East Kalimantan, or depending on how the flights goes, perhaps an account of some of the cools stuff I’ve been meaning to share from the hiatus.  So we could end up in the Grand Canyon, or somewhere in South America. Who knows!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Blogging Belizean Birds

Natalia and I defended our dissertations last month (!); I'm sure you can guess what we did to celebrate.

We set this trip in motion last fall, whimsically looking around for the cheapest flights to promising birding destinations. The clear winner was Belize City;  $350 r/t from Durham was just too good to pass up.

As it turns out Belize is no slouch for birding--even for the relatively seasoned neotropical birder. We hadn't birded all that much in Central America, so the eBird targets function gave us each a nice hit list of 80+.

We focused our birding effort in the northwest corner of the country in the Orange Walk District.

From the airport we went straight to the community of Crooked Tree, which hosts a mixture of dry forest habitats including some pine savanna.  Most birders opt for the lagoon boat tour which offers great opportunities to photograph aquatic birds. A year or two ago the prospect of Agami Herons, Jabirus and Whistling-Ducks would have been irresistible for this wetland scientist, but since all our targets were land birds, skipping the boat to prowl the pine savannas for Yucatan endemics was our choice.

Yucatan Woodpecker - Crooked Tree, Belize
We found that the endemic Yucatan Woodpecker were pleasantly plentiful and easy to see along the roadside of the Trogon Trail (a road).

Yucatan Woodpecker - Crooked Tree, Belize

Confusingly there are also the Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, which are in the same genus and are completely lacking any golden color.  The Yucatan Woodpeckers DO have gold around the bill.  This was so counter-intuitive that I at first assumed these similar birds were mis-labeled in the plates of Birds of Belize.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker, identified by the lack of any golden coloration - Crooked Tree, Belize

The Yucatan isn't a huge region for endemics by South American or Greater Antilles standards, with a dozen or so specialties, depending upon how generous one is with defining the region.  Several of these don't even make it into Belize and a couple more are nocturnal caprimuligids, too difficult even for the American Birding Association's Birders Guide to Belize to devote serious attention.

After knocking out the woodpecker, we lucked into the forgettable Yucatan Flycatcher, one of those myiarchus flycatcher dopplegangers.

The boring Yucatan Flycatcher - Crooked Tree, Belize

But the biggest prize at Crooked Tree was the charming Yucatan Jay, which was near the top of my target list for this trip.

Yucatan Jay (adult) - Crooked Tree, Belize
This jay is one of those rare birds where the immatures are better-looking than the adults.

Yucatan Jay (immature) - Crooked Tree, Belize

In the large flock we passed we even got to see a couple adolescents caught in that awkward transitional phase between immature and adult plumage.

Yucatan Jays ('tweeners) - Crooked Tree, Belize
It turns out Belize is also a gold mine for neotropical migrants, which in mid-March are in a pre-migration hyperphagic mania.

Orchard Oriole (adult male) - Crooked Tree, Belize

We ended up logging 22 warblers during the trip; spring migration (which for birders in eastern North America might as well be Christmas) came early for us this year.

Hooded Warbler - Crooked Tree, Belize

If you're interested in birding Crooked Tree, I'd highly recommend the Crooked Tree Lodge. It's reasonably-priced, family-owned and the food is excellent.  If you go, bring bug repellent and watch out for chiggers.

Vermilion Flycatcher, Crooked Tree
Plain Chachalacas - Crooked Tree

Rose-throated Becard at power pole nest hole - Crooked Tree


After a night at Crooked Tree we continued north along the Philip Goldson Highway to Orange Walk Town where we ate lunch before veering west.

We stopped off at some extensive rice fields.  I was hoping for a Bronzed Cowbird.

Jabirus made for a nice consolation.

Jabiru - Gallon Jug Road rice fields

Our ultimate destination was the pristine forest of the Rio Bravo Conservation Area in the extreme northwest of Belize, crammed into an armpit between Mexico and Guatemala, but we had planned to spend a night at a B&B in the Mennonite community along the highway.

It's a bit disorienting to be traveling through a country of English-speaking Mayans and Afro-Belizeans and then stumble upon a Kansas-like landscape of white Dutch-speakers with overalls and cowboy hats. We ended up missing out on getting an inside scoop on the local history because the B&B owners were out of the country.  Luckily we were able to get ourselves beds in the vacant researcher dorm at La Milpa Lodge where we were going to be staying the following two nights anyway. The dorm was nearly as nice as the cabana we moved into and, after some aggressive haggling, ended up costing half as much.

La Milpa was packed with a large group of birders from Massachusetts Audubon, so we had a chance to swap stories over meals.  The day before we arrived they had lucked out with a Crested Eagle, but without even hiring a local guide, Natalia and I were able to pick up a lot of the birds they had missed.

One example is this curious Crested Guan that lumbered around in a tree at close range.

Crested Guan - La Milpa

We saw quite a few birds at La Milpa, but other than the compost dump, which acts almost like a permanent ant swarm, the birding was a bit slow. 

There were a few odd things about staying at La Milpa as a birder: 1) They make you have breakfast at 7:30, which eats up the best possible hour for birding; 2) the local guides charge by the 'segment,' with a segment being either pre-breakfast, 10-noon (lunch), or 3:30-6 (dinner). After talking with the guides we weren't blown away with what they had to say and so were not tempted to break the bank with a full day's worth of guiding fees.

We hired Francisco for an afternoon, partly out of sympathy (we do like to support the local guides) and partly because he alluded to a Central American Pygmy-Owl stake out. We birded the Mayan ruins with him, which was nice because he also was knowledgeable about the ongoing archeological research. He was also familiar with most of the local bird vocalizations which helped us tick off some target species.  Unfortunately the pygmy-owl was a bust.

Collared Trogon - La Milpa

We woke up pre-dawn our second morning at La Milpa to drive down for a day at the swanky Chan Chich Lodge, built atop the grand plaza of an un-excavated ancient Mayan city. I don't know what it is about Chan Chich--perhaps it was because we happened to be there on Natalia's birthday--but whatever the reason, the birding there was far superior to La Milpa.

With little effort wandering around the lodge grounds before breakfast (which we were glad to find could be served any time during a 2 hour window) we spotted a few of our most-desired targets, including gems such as: Black-throated Shrike-Tanager and Black-faced Grosbeak.

Black-throated Shrike-Tanager - Chan Chich

Red-capped Manakin (of Michael Jackson youtube video fame) were plentiful in the fruiting bushes of Chan Chich

Other eye candy came in the form of this Golden-hooded Tanager - Chan Chich

We were then faced with a bit of conundrum.  We came across a good-sized army ant swarm (which is a birder's gold mine), just 20 minutes before the last call for breakfast. Stay and skip breakfast, or not? We ending up opting for breakfast, but at the last minute and not before enjoying some great views of attendant ant-tanagers, woodcreepers and my first ever sighting of a Bright-rumped Attila, a bird whose loud song had so often taunted me from the deep woods of Ecuador and Colombia.

Bright-rumped Attila, a common bird that's uncommonly seen - Chan Chich

After breakfast we prowled the bottomlands and eventually came across Natalia's birthday present along the Bajo trail, a Gray-throated Chat!

Gray-throated Chat - Chan Chich

This small-ranged bird is one less she has to find on her quest to see the all the world's pink(ish) birds. Finding it came with some personal vindication, as the La Milpa guides said it couldn't be found in the area; they recommended some other lodge that was not on our itinerary.

One of the birds I most wanted to see on this trip, the near-threatened, gaudy and yucatan endemic, Ocellated Turkey turned out to be a trash bird at Chan Chich.  We had been thrilled to spot one lurking at the forest edge of the La Milpa Mayan site, but at Chan Chich, grandiose males prowled the grassy lawns, defiant to approach and menacing with their spurs and testosterone.

Ocellated Turkey, near-threatened Yucatan Endemic and local yard bird at Chan Chich

How does it see with all those warts covering the eye?

We even got caught in a standoff with one territorial male on the drive down.  After some fancy maneuvering I was able to coax our rented Equinox past him. At this point a dinosaur-SUV chase ensued reminiscent of the T-Rex scene from Jurassic Park.

Angry Ocellated Turkey; note deadly-looking spurs - road to Chan Chich
During the afternoon doldrums we drove our way back toward La Milpa with a few stops here and there in futile hopes of scoring a glimpse of the highly desired and extremely improbable Lovely Cotinga. Instead we were rewarded for our patient ears with the long-winded and lonely checkpoint guard by one final lifer for Natalia's birthday: a Black-cowled Oriole.

Much shyer than the turkeys were the Great Curassows, but we did see a few along the road between La Milpa and Chan Chich, including this male

We found just a handful of new trip birds on our final morning at La Milpa. Since it seemed as if we were hitting diminishing returns we weren't too sad to leave, especially since our next destination was Ambergris Caye for some diving!

We spent most of our final Belize days underwater looking for sharks, rays and sea turtles, but we rented a golf cart one afternoon to explore and bird the mangrove habitats north of San Pedro.  We were rewarded with three more Yucatan endemics: the Yucatan Vireo, Orange Oriole and Black Catbird.

Black Catbird - Ambergris Caye

As a bonus I finally spotted a Bronzed Cowbird.

It was a fun and birdy trip! We logged 225 species in about 4 days of birding and each picked up 40+ lifers. Unfortunately Natalia left Belize 4 life birds short of 2000; poor thing will now have to cope with having her 2000th be some bland Eurasian species.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Carolina Bird Club Ornithological Workshop at Tiputini Biodiversity Station

Nine brave souls joined Natalia and I for an ornithological expedition to Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. Lying on the equator at the base of the Andes, Yasuni is widely regarded to be the most biodiverse place on earth and provides habitat for ~600 bird species. Our base of operations would be the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a remote research outpost operated by the University de San Francisco de Quito.
Rather than a standard birding tour with endemic species targets, we ran this tour as a more holistic ecological learning experience with evening lectures paired with related field activities the following day. For the purposes of this write-up, the focus is rather strictly on the birding to suit the intrepid readers of this blog and our sponsoring organization, the Carolina Bird Club.

Given that it takes four legs of travel and a full day to reach Tiputini, we scheduled buffer days on either end in case of any international travel delays.  We used the first of these days to visit the Paramo ecosystem of Antisana National Reserve. We explored high altitude grasslands at ~12,000 feet of elevation at the base of the active, glacier-capped Antisana volcano, a world apart from the Amazon or anything in the Carolinas.

Our group from the Carolina Bird Club bravely birding at the foot of the Antisana Volcano - ~3400 masl
On the way into the park we stopped to bird stunted tree-line forest and were rewarded with birds such as the abundant Black Flowerpiercer and Spectacled Redstart, a real crowd-pleaser, especially for the warbler fans among us. 

Black Flowerpiercer - common in the elfin treeline forests near Antisana

A midmorning stop at the Tambo Condor restaurant gave us scope views of Andean Condors on the nest, the first of many condors we would see during the day. 

Andean Condor - we saw several in the Paramo near Antisana

Among the throngs of Sparkling Violetears mobbing their feeders, several Giant Hummingbirds could be seen. We even witnessed a few visits by the spectacular Sword-billed Hummingbird.

Giant Hummingbird - cooperatively attended feeders at the Tambo Condor restaraunt

The high grasslands were littered with Carunculated Caracara and Andean Gull, with the prizes hidden among them being the charming Andean Lapwing and odd Black-faced Ibis, representing a small population disjunct from the core range in southern South America.
Black-faced Ibis - an isolated population lives in the paramo around Antisana

We birded so intensely, puzzling over the different color morphs of the well-named Variable Hawk and the subtle differences between Chestnut-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, that by the time we reached the park visitor’s center, we scarcely had time to hike out to the laguna to see the Slate-colored Coot, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Ruddy Duck, Andean Teal and Silvery Grebe. We practically had to kick the Plumbeous Sierra-Finches, Tawny Antpittas and Grass Wrens out of the way to get there.

Plumbeous Sierra-Finch - common and tame in high altitude grassy areas (and parking lots)
After a late lunch back at Tambo Condor we tallied up 51 species for the day, a great haul for the relatively depauperate Paramo. Crowd favorites were the condors, the Sword-billed Hummingbird and the nearly endemic Ecuadorian Hillstar (Colombia has a habit of nullifying Ecuadorian national endemics and just a couple handfuls remain), but the ‘best’ bird in terms of rarity and surprise was a Blue-mantled Thornbill at a stream by the visitor’s center.

Blue-mantled Thornbill - a surprising rare find at Antisana

We returned to our Quito hotel, Café Cultura, just in time for a lecture about Tiputini Biodiversity Station by its founding director, Professor Kelly Swing of the University of San Francisco de Quito. He explained to us how he canoed and camped along the length of the Tiputini River before selecting the site for the research station in 1994, and how he and other researchers have been working to catalogue the biodiversity present. Prof. Swing also gave us a glimpse of the socio-political context of nearby semi-contacted indigenous communities and insatiable oil extraction.

Rufous-collared Sparrow - the trashiest of trash birds in Quito and the paramo
We were up early the next morning to catch our flight to Coca, a ramshackle Amazonian outpost where we would board a boat to take us meandering down the Rio Napo. In the blinding late-morning brightness we disembarked at the Repsol security checkpoint, a gateway to Amazonian wilderness with little of humanity other than Waorani communities and oil platforms beyond. We rode a truck two hours down an immaculately maintained gravel service road until we reached the Tiputini River for one final leg to the station by motorized canoe. The trip to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station eats up the better part of a day, but seems to always run flawlessly and provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities: a Neotropical River Otter swam by our boat with a fish in its mouth and of course we saw birds—some familiar Carolinians such as Osprey and the odd Spotted Sandpiper, but most totally alien, such as King Vulture, the ubiquitous Drab Water Tyrant, and miraculously, an Orange-breasted Falcon.   

Orange-breasted Falcon - Near-threatened and a rare find for the lowlands (photo by Jeff Maw)

The latter was perhaps our ‘best’ bird of the trip as it is known to be a foothill species (and a rare, near-threatened one at that), reports from the Ecuadorian lowlands had been yet to be documented by photos, an eBird reviewer would later tell me.

The station has an excellent network of trails, but as we found on our first morning, searching for birds on a footpath in a primary Amazonian forest is a recipe for frustration. The canopy birds are all 40 to 50 m overhead and silhouetted against the sky, while the understory species never run out of leaves and vine tangles behind which to hide.

Birding in dense lowland rain forest is hard!

Blue-throated Piping-Guan - common thanks to the lack of hunting pressure at Tiputini...we would see several Salvin's Curassows and Spix's Guans as well

Green-backed Trogon - formerly known as Amazonian White-tailed Trogon; in this case most of the white tail is missing, probably from repeated entry into a tight nesting cavity

Slate-colored Hawk - a forest hunter
On top of their propensity to skulk out of sight, when one finally does get a glimpse of the lower strata birds it is rarely sufficient to confidently identify a woodcreeper or ant-thing from the several pages of vaguely similar brown/black birds.  For a better handling on those difficult understory species we set up a dozen mist nets, which revealed the presence of several birds we would not otherwise detect on the trip.
We caught 13 species including Common Scale-backed Antbird, Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper, a pair of Blue-crowned Manakins and incredibly, a Green-backed Trogon.

Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper

His and hers Blue-crowned Manakins - note the female (right) shows a few blue plumes on the head. The local manakin expert explained to us that it is common for older females to show hints of male plumages

Green-backed Trogon

Peruvian Warbling Antbird (male) - we caught his female partner at the same time

Common Scale-backed Antbird - Amazonian birds bite

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper - Natalia displays the rarely seen under-wing pattern

An excellent method for viewing birds at Tiputini is by boat and we put one the station’s crafts to excellent use.

On the Tiputini River - Jose was our faithful captain and Mayer (not pictured), our diligent spotter

It’s not just great for the expected riverside species like kingfishers…

Green Kingfisher - we saw four kingfisher species along the Tiputini
…it also gives an unobstructed view of all forest levels from the soil to the treetops. From the boat we saw canopy species like Paradise Tanager and Purple-throated Cotinga as well as terrestrial species like Undulated Tinamou and Ruddy Quail-Dove.

A loving pair of Chestnut-fronted Macaws along the Tiputini

Common Potoo on 'nest' - we later saw its white egg

Great Potoo - the greatest of potoos in my opinion

White-eared Jacamar - seen frequently along the Tiputini

Ladder-tailed Nightjar - miraculously spotted while roosting in a beached jumble of branches along the banks of the Tiputini
By boat we travelled the short 20 minutes to a clay lick where six species of parrots practice geophagy.  What a spectacle!

Clay lick chaos - pictured are: Mealy Parrot, Blue-headed Parrot, Orange-cheeked Parrot, Dusky-headed Parakeet

We also used the boat to visit an oxbow lake where the bizarre Hoatzin breeds by the dozens.

a pair of Hoatzin - in case you were still on the fence about whether birds are dinosaurs

Hoatzin nestling

A couple unexpected gems here were a Rufescent Tiger-Heron on a nest and one of my long sought-after species, Agami Heron.

Rufescent Tiger-Heron on nest

Agami Heron!

For better viewing of the birds flitting around high overhead we employed the station’s sturdy 50 m high canopy tower, which sits within the crown of an emergent ceiba tree, giving a commanding view over a sea of pristine climax forest.  Indeed the feeling up there is reminiscent of pelagic birding, except with the platform mercifully still and the blue cresting waves replaced the green humps of tree tops. Instead of shearwaters, petrels and storm-petrels there are toucans, macaws and gaudy flocks of tanagers.
Unfortunately I was bed-ridden with flu on this crucial morning, so missed out on some amazing birding and photography. So it goes. Reports of crippling views of Black-bellied Cuckoo and Golden-collared Toucanet were enough to make me jealous.

Black-bellied Cuckoo - photographed not from the canopy tower
At Tiputini we racked up species, but inevitiably, in a place with such a long list of rare and local birds we left a lot on the table. On our last day we added 20+ new species to the trip list including great spot lit looks at Spectacled Owl and Crested Owl right over our cabins. We were nowhere close to hitting diminishing returns and had we stayed a 7th day, I’m sure we could have added another ~20 more.

Carolina Bird Club group at the entrance to Tiputini Biodiversity Station

Crowd favorites for Tiputini were Golden-collared Toucanet, Agami Heron, Golden-headed Manakin and Pavonine Quetzal.

Golden Headed Manakin

Pavonine Quetzal
On the trek back we out we added one new trip bird: Broad-winged Hawk, a rare bird for the amazon and a lifer for nobody in our group except our 72-year-old guide!

Broad-winged Hawk - a rare find for the lowlands and a lifer for Mayer, our 72-year-old guide
For our final day of the tour we dropped down the western slope of the Andes to visit one of the most famous birding sites in all of South America—Refugio Paz de las Aves. Here outside the rural town of Nanegalito, Angel Paz invented and perfected the art of worm-feeding antpittas. 

Happy 51st birthday Angel!
We started the day in the pre-dawn gloom at a lek of Ecuador’s national bird, the Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Several blood-red males danced and sang their ethereal warblings. But soon Angel whisked us off on a mad dash to the various Antpitta feeding areas. They would only come out in the morning and were a bit spread out, so time was tight. Thus we had to don blinders and ignore several mixed species flocks, no doubt packed with additional trip birds and lifers, but it was a worthy sacrifice as Angel delivered.

'Angelita,' Chestnut-crowned Antpitta - the least rare, and arguably, the prettiest of Refugio Paz de las Aves' Antpittas

When I had been to visit Angel before, only Maria, the Giant Antpitta had made an appearance. But on this day—incidentally, it was his 51st birthday—Angel procured for us a sweep of 5 of 5 possible antpittas: Maria, the Giant, endangered and endemic to the Choco bioregion; Willy, the Yellow-breasted; Angelita, the Chestnut-crowned; Shakira, the petite Ochre-breasted with her swinging hips; and Susan, the Moustached, vulnerable and endemic to the Choco.
'Shakira,' the hip-swinging Ochre-breasted Antpitta
 The hummingbird and banana feeders with gems like Velvet-purple Coronet and Purple-bibbed Whitetip were icing on the cake. Choco endemic Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, Toucan Barbet and Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan (featured on the cover of our field guide) were cherries on the frosting.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager - drawn close by bananas left out by Angel

Dusky-capped Flycatcher - my favorite Myiarchus rudely interrupted breakfast

Golden Grosbeak (female) - nice view from breakfast at Refugio Paz de las Aves
By the time we finished a delicious breakfast, it was afternoon and we were hopelessly behind schedule. We had lunch soon-after overlooking another array of hummingbird and banana feeders that provided dozens of hummingbirds and tanagers included White-whiskered Hermit, Western Emerald and Silver-throated Tanager. 

The best way to eat lunch: with a pile of bananas and 15 hummingbird feeders
We took a short walk along a stream laden with White-capped Dipper to find a an active Cock-of-the-rock nest under a bridge.

We took the old scenic highway back toward Quito and as we climbed up the Andes stopped to ogle a Crimson-bellied Mountain-Tanager that flew across the road before we reached the charming town of Nono. Here we sipped tea spiked with homebrew while ticking some final trip birds such as Mountain Velvet-breast, Collared Inca and Rufous-chested Tanager.

After the final accounting, we logged a mind-boggling 381 bird species in just 10 days in the field, enough to smash the North Carolina big year record. In reality, omitting heard-only birds and those seen by others in the group, each individual participant probably ticked 300-330. I usually make a point of ignoring non-birds on this blog, but in the case of this trip, that seems a bit criminal, as we saw 16 large mammal species including 9 types of monkeys at Tiputini. The myriad snakes, turtles, lizards, bats and kaleidoscope of butterflies, will go otherwise unmentioned. 

Apart from Natalia and I getting sick (a trip tradition), everything, the birds, the weather, the group seemed to coalesce flawlessly. All left Quito with memories for a lifetime and plenty of stories to tell at holiday gatherings and Christmas Bird Count dinners.