Sumaco-Galleras National Park: December 23-29, 2007

This was a memorable trip for many reasons, although interacting with the White-Rimmed Brush Finch at close range would have sufficed on its own. Aimee and I were attracted to Andean Birding's "Mythical Volcano" trip for its unique combination of birding and mountain climbing in a remote and pristine area. Although Charlie Voigt, the owner of the company, had never technically run the trip before, we were willing to be the proverbial guinea pigs, just as long as there were plenty of porters to carry our gear up the muddy trail.

Our bird guide Borris Herrera and several members of the community of Pacto Sumaco guided us through the dense foothills of the volcano, where we witnessed such beautiful birds as the Crested Quetzal, Chestnut-Bellied Thrush, and Brown-Billed Scythebill. As we ascended to higher elevations, entering cloud forest, we encountered several rarities including the White-Rimmed Brush Finch, which was captured in a mist net, and were struck by the subtle variations in birds that range at similar altitudes in the Andes (Volcan Sumaco is significantly removed from the Eastern Cordillera and several bird species, most notably the Chestnut-Tipped Toucanet, exhibited what appeared to be significant species variation).

Volcan Sumaco is famous for its wet weather, and it certainly didn't disappoint, raining every day of the trip, sometimes all day, despite it being the "dry" season. But we persevered and reached the summit, enjoying spectacular clear views in several directions, catching glimpses of other distant peaks, including Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi. Camping in a refuge near the summit that night, Borris also made a sound recording of what might have been a Puna Snipe; several snipe were flushed the following morning.

Admittedly, if birding had been our sole aim, we could have seen much more than the approximately 170 bird species we did witness, but for Aimee and I this was a thrilling and remarkable trip, definitely our most grueling and spectacular experience together in Ecuador.

Notable birds seen: White-Rimmed Brush Finch, Crested Quetzal, Masked Trogon, Golden-Headed Quetzal, Andean Snipe, Rufous-Bellied Nighthawk, White-Capped Parrot, Green-Fronted Lancebill, Emerald Toucanet, Chestnut-Tipped Toucanet, Flammulated Treehunter, Great Potoo, Brown-Billed Scythebill, Slate-Crowned Antpitta, Blackish Tapaculo, Long-Tailed Tapaculo, Spillmann's Tapaculo, Red-Billed Tyranulet, Golden-Winged Manakin, Chestnut-Bellied Thrush, Yellow-Headed Manakin, Spotted Nightingale Thrush, Orange-Eared Tanager, Saffron-Crowned Tanager, Blue-Browed Tanager, Plushcap, Swallow-Tailed Nightjar.

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