Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruvianus)

The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruvianus), also known as tunki (Quechua), is a large passerine bird of the cotinga family native to Andean cloud forests in South America. It is widely regarded as the national bird of Peru.

IMG_2873 DSCN1081 DSCN1076 DSCN1083 DSCN1074Watching their antics as they dance around hoping to attract the ladies is one of the highlights of a birding trip to South America.  There are a few leks easily accessible to tourists- Paz de las Aves (Angel Paz) near Mindo in Ecuador; Jardin in Colombia & the Cock of the Rock Lodge in Manu, Peru.

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LEARN MORE ABOUT COCKS OF THE ROCK

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Neotropical Birds

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This is a case where you need to see and hear the birds to fully appreciate them.  Here’s a few clips filmed (in order) in Mindo, Jardin & Manu.

 

Morning Birding At Paz De Las Aves (Angel Paz), Mindo

The Refugio Paz de las Aves, also known as Angel Paz’s place is a highlight for all visitors to Mindo whether they are primarily birders or not.  Angel and his sons make it easy for everyone to see some really amazing birds.  Our guide was Venecio who speaks English well and knows all the birds.  The location is off the main road and uphill quite a bit so it’s best to organize some transport through your lodge.  We had Sachatamia organize a driver named Daniel who took us here (leaving at 5am), waited for us to see all the birds, then took us to the Oilbird cave and back to Mindo.  I also emailed Angel Paz to book in advance so he knew to expect us.  It’s $30 for the full morning tour (April 2016) which includes the Cock of the Rock lek, several antpittas, birding along the roadside and close-up viewing of hummingbirds and tanagers back at the lodge where breakfast is served.  This is a prime example of how local people embrace eco-tourism and protect the wildlife on their property.  Map & Description

COCK OF THE ROCK LEK

First stop at 5:45am was the Cock of the Rock lek.  We spent about 45 minutes here just watching these amazing birds dance around trying to attract the ladies.

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Dark-backed Wood Quail near the lek.DSCN1093 DSCN1095 DSCN1097 DSCN1103

ANTPITTAS

Then we drove to a few places where Venecio coaxed normally shy antpittas out with worms which form part of their normal diet.  We saw two species – Yellow-breasted Antpitta (2 different ones), Giant Antpitta (Maria).  Shakira didn’t show up that day.

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Near the Antpitta place, we saw a beautiful Golden-headed Quetzal perched high in a tree.

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BIRDING THE AREA – ROADSIDE

Next we drove up and down the road looking for birds and stopping to observe them better.  Here are a few highlights that I managed to get photos of.  My full bird list is on eBird.

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Orange-breasted Fruit-eaterDSCN1172 DSCN1179 DSCN1174

Golden-headed QuetzalIMG_2908 IMG_2891 IMG_2883

We also saw some Red-billed Parrots fly over but I missed the photo.

LODGE AREA

There are a couple areas to see here.  One deck overlooks a banana feeder where tanagers and toucans can be seen.

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Blue-Winged Mountain Tanager DSCN1200

Crimson-rumped Toucanet DSCN1210 DSCN1208 IMG_3139 IMG_3104

More Blue-Winged Mountain TanagerIMG_3129 IMG_3138 IMG_3121

Toucan BarbetIMG_3127

Flame-faced TanagerGolden-naped Tanager IMG_3149 IMG_3143

Blue-grey Tanager

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HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS

There are several hummingbird feeders at the deck where breakfast is served and I was so engrossed by the tiny beauties I almost forgot to eat breakfast!  Highlights here were Booted Racket-tails, White-necked Jacobin, Velvet-purple Coronet, Violet-tailed Sylph, Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird and more!  Full list as per Venecio is on eBird.

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Difficult as it was to tear ourselves away from the hummingbirds, our birding day was just beginning and we had a 2 hour drive to the Oilbird Cave so off we went!

Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis)

The Volet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis) is a species of hummingbird.which lives in areas from 300–2,100 metres (980–6,890 ft) in elevation, though typically above 900 metres (3,000 ft) on the west slope of the Andes.

I may not go in much for “selfies” but I am more than happy to take “sylphies”!

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They are found in Ecuador & Colombia.  Probably the most easily accessed locations to eco-tourists would be the hummingbird feeders at lodges in the Mindo area.  I took these photos at Sachatamia Lodge.

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LEARN MORE ABOUT VIOLET-TAILED SYLPHS

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Neotropical Birds

VIDEOS

This clip stands out for not being on a feeder.

In this clip you can see the Sylph with other hummingbirds at one of the Sachatamia feeders.

 

Lodge Review: Sachatamia, Mindo, Ecuador

When you are in one of the top birding spots in the world such as Mindo, Ecuador, you need a lodge that understands the need of birders and Sachatamia easily ticks all the boxes!

Beautiful birdy location – check!

Attractive cabins  rooms – check!

Friendly staff who can cater for birders, book good guides, early breakfasts, etc – check!

Full service restaurant with ala carte menu – check!

Easy to find location on main road but away from traffic, near birding reserve – check!

Let’s take a closer look.

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This statue always freaked me out at night, I think someone is standing there!DSCN1528

There are several nice porches where you can sit and relax and watch tanagers * hummingbirds coming to the feeders.DSCN1525 DSCN1526 DSCN1527

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The grounds are spacious and have paved walkways between cabins and facilities.  They are light at night but it’s still best to bring a torch.DSCN1530

I didn’t get a photo of the pool and jacuzzi as my battery was dead when we used it after the first day of birding.  See them on the website.  It was great to have a hot soak after a full day birding!DSCN1529 DSCN1531 DSCN1532 DSCN1533 DSCN1534

This was our cabin.  It’s a duplex but no one was in the room next door so we had it all to ourselves.DSCN1535 DSCN1536

Views to die for!DSCN1537 DSCN1538

We actually arrived at night so one of the staff had to show us how to get to the cabin.DSCN1072

Rooms are attractively furnished and have bird artwork.  Wifi doesn’t reach to the cabins but you can get online at the restaurant & front porch.DSCN1071 DSCN1070 DSCN1069 DSCN1073

This is the lobby which is next to the restaurant.  You can sit here and watch birds even when it’s raining.DSCN1516 DSCN1519 DSCN1521 DSCN1524 DSCN1515 DSCN1514

We like a window seat for meals so we can enjoy the view.  DSCN1509

 

Enjoying our breakfast while watching hummingbirds enjoy their breakfast!DSCN1512 DSCN1513 DSCN1510 DSCN1511

Sachatamia was my personal favourite out of all the accommodation on this trip and I hope these photos show you why.  They have also earned a Certificate of Excellence on TripAdvisor so others agree.  It’s reasonably priced and can be booked direct with them on their website or use a booking portal to get airline miles like Rocketmiles, Pointshound or Hotels.com via TopCashBack.  The staff here are lovely and always happy to help with anything you need.  We stayed 3 nights and wish it would have been longer!

 

Planning A Birding Trip To The Mindo Area, Ecuador

The area around Mindo in the western Andes of Ecuador is rich in birdlife and you could easily spend several weeks here visiting all the different birding hotspots.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that kind of luxury and have to pick a few hotspots based on target species.  I use eBird a lot to track other peoples’ sightings and see data on the hotspots so I can make choices that cater to my interests.

GETTING FROM THE AIRPORT TO MINDO

If you fly into Quito, the easiest way to get to Mindo is by official taxi which you can book in the arrival hall.  They even take credit cards!  The fare was $95 which seems high but it’s a 2.5 hour trip and the driver has to return empty.  If we had arrived earlier in the day, we probably would have taken the bus but as it was, we arrived around 5:30pm.

I had looked at rental cars but decided against it as I was worried about road conditions and the cost of an automatic SUV would have been more than using a combination of taxis and buses.  The route gets very twisty & mountain-y once you get past the Mitad del Mundo monument.

There’s no need to spend a night in Quito unless you arrive so late at night you can’t get to Mindo unless you particularly want to see the city.  Since we had limited time, I just wanted to get to the birds asap!

If you do choose to stay in the city, you can economize by taking a bus to Mindo for around $2.50.  Keep an eye on your bags, preferably with you on the bus!

 

  • Flor del Valle has direct buses from northern Quito’s Ofelia bus station:
    • During the week: 8:00, 9:00, 16:00
    • Saturdays: 7:40, 8:20, 9:20, 16:00
    • Sundays: 7:40, 8:20, 9:20, 14:00, 17:00

 

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UIO to Mindo DSCN1061

We passed some toll roads but these were included in the fare.DSCN1062

Even though we skirted the perimeter of Quito, we still caught the evening rush hour.  Scenery was pretty cool until it got dark.  DSCN1063 DSCN1064 DSCN1065 DSCN1066 DSCN1067

Once we got past the city, we were hungry so asked the driver to stop at a roadside cafe where we bought sandwiches, chips & drinks.  I knew we would be up at 4:30am the next day so wanted to eat in the car so we could sleep as soon as we checked in.  We bought the driver dinner as well but the whole bill came to around $15 so no biggie!DSCN1068

CHOOSING THE BEST BIRDING HOTSPOTS

In Mindo, you are spoiled for choice!  There is an excellent overview on the Birds In Ecuador site. After reading through all their descriptions, comparing the sightings on eBird and consulting with our guide, Alex we came up with a good list where we would hopefully find the target birds.

Mindo area

  1.  I really wanted to see the Cock of the Rocks, Antpittas and Hummingbirds at Angel Paz Refuge.
  2. Oilbirds can be elusive and in places that are hard to get to but near Mindo you can drive right up to one oilbird cave and have only a 5 minute walk.
  3. The trail above Mindo, sometimes called the waterfall trail has lots of good birds and is known for Rose-faced Parrots.
  4. Milpe & Rio Silanche are also good spots for parrots, quetzals & trogons.

We stayed 3 nights at Sachatamia Lodge (review to come) and I organized 2 full days of birding.  The final day we had a full morning available but I wanted to save it to chase up any species that we didn’t get the previous days.

The first day, I grouped the places which had their own guides (you pay an admission fee which includes the property owner or family member as guide) and all we needed was transportation.  I had Sachatamia book us a driver, Daniel for $150 full day to take us to Angel Paz & the Oilbird Cave (Cueva de los Tayos), then drop us in Mindo town so we could wander around.

The second day, I booked a full day birding with one of Mindo’s top birding guides, Alex Luna for $160.  I told him which species I was especially interested in (parrots) so he could recommend the best places where parrots have been seen by him and other guides.  The guides in Mindo are all friendly with each other and share information so that makes a better birding experience for everyone!

If we had had a third full day, we would have gone to Bellavista or Tandayapa.  There really is so much to choose from and we made choices based on best places to see parrots, quetzals, trogons and a couple specialty local birds – Cock of the Rock, Antpittas & Oilbirds.  Everyone has different interests so I suggest reading through all the descriptions to make sure you choose the best ones for your own interest.

CHOOSING A BIRDING LODGE IN THE MINDO AREA

It’s pretty hard to go wrong here.  The Mindo area is blessed with some really fantastic birding lodges and all of them can organize transport and guides.  We are on a pretty tight budget but still wanted to have beautiful birdy grounds, hummingbird feeders and located near birding hotspots.  I also like to maximize my travel expenses by earning miles for bookings so I considered several options like Hotels.com, Rocketmiles & Pointshound.  Not every lodge is represented on every booking site.  At the time of booking, I needed 3 nights on Hotels.com to get a free night for a future booking and I used TopCashBack as a portal to save more money.  You always need to check a few options and do the math as you never know who could be running a promo or have the best deals on offer!

Since we wouldn’t have our own car and would be dependent on taxis and buses to get around when we weren’t birding, I wanted to be near a main road, not too far from town.  I also prefer a-la-carte restaurants to fixed meals or buffets.

Sachatamia Lodge fit all the requirements – birdy grounds, hummingbird feeders, well located and easily bookable on my preferred booking sites.  It was also one of the cheaper options in the category I was looking at.  It turned out to be a great choice and we loved it!

I also heard great things about Bellavista & Tandayapa so it’s always a good idea to check a few lodges before choosing one that suits your needs.

 

Red-footed Booby (Sula sula)

The Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) is a large seabird of the booby family, Sulidae. As suggested by the name, adults always have red feet, but the colour of the plumage varies. They are powerful and agile fliers, but they are clumsy in takeoffs and landings.  We were lucky enough to see them very close up as some young birds decided to hitch a ride on our boat!  You can see in the photos below how some birds still have the dull juvenile feet where the one closest to me is changing into his adult red feet!

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Red-footed Boobies have a pretty large range geographically around the world just north & south of the equator.  In the Galapagos, they are easily seen at Punta Pitt on San Cristobal.

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LEARN MORE ABOUT RED-FOOTED BOOBIES

Wikipedia

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National Geographic

Audubon

American Bird Conservancy

VIDEOS

See them in Belize.

And the Galapagos!

This video filmed in Australia shows the difference between adult & juvenile feet very nicely.

 

 

 

Can A Coup In Turkey Affect Your Travel Plans?

I am sure that everyone has seen the news reports of an attempted coup in Turkey and the temporary shut down of Istanbul’s airport.  The FAA has banned flights from Turkey landing in the USA until further notice.  Reports on Flyertalk show that Turkish Airlines has been very difficult to contact regarding upcoming flights.

Turkish Airlines is one of the members of Star Alliance and a popular redemption for people traveling between the USA or Australia via IST to Europe or Africa.  If you have an African safari booked and are depending on Turkish airlines to get you to your gateway airport you need to call your ticketing airline (UA, SQ, SA or ??)  immediately to see what the options are.  Award tickets issued by United are being rebooked on other airlines provided saver space is available.  If you are coming from the USA, try one of Ethiopian’s or South African’s USA flights or route through Europe on United, Lufthansa, Swiss or TAP.  Coming from Australia, try routing via Singapore or Bangkok to Africa and connecting to Ethiopian or South African.

This is a good example of why I always encourage people to build in a buffer day or even two before starting a prepaid Africa safari.  Travel insurance usually doesn’t cover “acts of war” and you could lose your prepaid safari if you can’t find other flights.

It’s impossible to predict world events that could affect your travel plans, especially if you are booking 11 months in advance to score those elusive award seats.  We are going to Africa next year and things I considered among routings and airline quality also included airline reliability and how they respond to emergency situations.  In the case of the FAA blocking TK from flying to the USA, you don’t even get the choice of using IST as a transit point should flights be restored.  Turkish Airlines has an excellent product and great in-flight service but their ground service and phone agent availability has been lacking.  In our case, we aren’t using a pre-booked safari and are arranging things independently but I still chose to go with Etihad to AUH (VA miles booked before devaluation), spend a couple buffer days in Dubai and use Kenya Airways (Flying Blue) to get to our first stop in Uganda.  If Etihad is delayed we just miss out on extra shopping in Dubai.  We arrive in Entebbe around noon and if this flight is delayed we would miss an afternoon of birding locally but we can still get to these locations the next day.

In this day and age, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing your flights so look at all the options and try to imagine the worst case scenario and what alternatives you would have if it happens.  Always build in a couple days buffer, especially if you have expensive prepaid travel arrangements like a safari or a cruise.

Birding By Sea – A Day Trip To Punta Pitt, Galapagos

Now I am the first to admit I am not a fan of small boats due to being prone to sea-sickness but if you want to get to Punta Pitt and see 3 species of Boobies, Frigatebirds and more you have to do a day trip in a boat.  These trips don’t go out every day so I recommend checking out several tour operators when you first arrive, book your tour and then you can fit in other land tours around this trip.  The tour is supposed to be a complete circle around the Island of San Cristobal but in our case they only went to Punta Pitt and back.  I didn’t care because Punta Pitt was my target and I am not really a snorkeler.  Lunch is provided but they only serve a seafood dish and rice.  I don’t eat seafood so my husband ended up with a double portion and I got some bread rolls.  This was actually a blessing in disguise because when we came back via Kicker Rock, the sea was so rough I would have lost the lunch!.

We booked at Dava Tours and it’s called the 360 Tour.

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This is a cruise ship that travels around the Galapagos Islands.DSCN0944

We headed to Punta Pitt passing some very spectacular scenery.  DSCN0949 DSCN0950 DSCN0955 DSCN0958

We spent a couple hours cruising around Punta Pitt going up close but not docking or getting off the boat.  This wasn’t a problem as we could see all the birds easily enough from the boat.  DSCN0966 DSCN0968 DSCN0970 DSCN0972 DSCN0986 DSCN0988 IMG_2516 IMG_2517 IMG_2514 IMG_2527 IMG_2530 IMG_2538 IMG_2543 IMG_2549 IMG_2569 IMG_2570 IMG_2572 IMG_2575 IMG_2577 IMG_2582 IMG_2584 IMG_2585 IMG_2594 IMG_2616 IMG_2617 IMG_2630 IMG_2631 IMG_2641 IMG_2644 IMG_2647 IMG_2648 IMG_2650 IMG_2660 IMG_2665 IMG_2670 IMG_2691 IMG_2698 IMG_2702 IMG_2738 IMG_2739 IMG_2743 IMG_2757 IMG_2759 IMG_2774 IMG_2781 IMG_2804 IMG_2811 IMG_2815 IMG_2823

BOATING WITH BOOBIES!

When we left Punta Pitt, we picked up a few hitch-hikers.  Some adventurous young Red-footed Boobies landed on the boat for a joy ride!  It was pretty cool to watch them having fun as the boat sped over the waves, rocking them as they tried to hang on with their webbed feet.  If they lost their balance, they would fly off, circle around the boat and land again on that rail with passengers cheering them on!  It was awesome and the highlight of the trip for me!

DSCN0992 DSCN0994 DSCN0998 DSCN1002 DSCN1005 DSCN1014 DSCN1017 DSCN1020 DSCN1023 DSCN1025 IMG_2738We stopped for lunch at a beach halfway back to town but before Kicker Rock and we were able to jump in for a swim.  I should caution that it is really hard to get up the ladder back on the boat!

Like I said, Kicker Rock was meant to be a snorkel spot but the sea was so rough we didn’t go in.  We did see other people snorkeling from other boats.  Our hitch-hiking Boobies had left us by this time but there are still other birds to see on Kicker Rock.

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Arriving back in town.DSCN1048 DSCN1049 DSCN1050 DSCN1052

Here you see the boat we were on.  It looks more like a dive boat with the seating platform in the middle.  I would have preferred a boat with proper seats as it was kind of uncomfortable.  DSCN1053 DSCN1054

Since I didn’t eat lunch, I was happy to see a hot dog stand near the pier!  They were good hot dogs too!DSCN1055

Over all despite me being a reluctant boater; it was a good trip.  Mission accomplished and we saw all the target birds!

The Darwin’s Finches Of The Galapagos

Darwin’s finches (also known as the Galápagos finches) are a group of about fourteen [1] species of passerine birds. They are often classified as the subfamily Geospizinae or tribe Geospizini. They belong to the tanager family and are not closely related to the true finches.  You can see them on most of the islands in the Galapagos.  This video does a great job of explaining where all these finches came from.

I saw several species of Darwin’s finch on San Cristobal but I am having trouble sorting them all out!  I am pretty sure I have a Cactus Finch, Tree Finches, Ground Finches and a Vegetarian Finch but I can’t differentiate between the “small” and “large” varieties!

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