Every serious birder who comes to Ecuador must surely bird the area around Bellavista. Not only is the reserve and the surrounding area the best place in the world to see threatened species like the Tanager Finch and the Toucan Barbet, it also home to the gorgeous Plate-Billed Mountain Toucan, which graces the cover of The Birds of Ecuador field guide. Indeed, beautiful birds abound in the cloud forest of the upper Tandayapa Valley, although I sometimes wonder whether if seeing the White-Faced Nunbird or Ocelated Tapaculo is worth putting up with the hordes that often stay at the lodge during the weekend. Seriously, the lodge doesn't specifically cater to birders and can be a frustrating place to bird when people are talking loudly on the trails or motorbiking on the road.
Anyway, the early mornings are peaceful at least, and this morning before dawn I stumbled into an older birder who had already been up for hours with his infrared digital video camera, waiting for the Common Potoo to perch in a particularly inviting spot (it hadn't yet). A few minutes later, Aimee and I were staking out the lodge's compost pile, where the White-Throated Quail-Dove was picking through the refuse. It was soon joined by a small group of Chestnut-Capped Brush-Finches while the Sickle-Winged Guan and Plate-Billed Mountain Toucan moved about overhead. This morning Aimee had her first looks at a lot of birds, so we took extra time to discuss the field markings and practice the names.
We continued along the H Trail, which traverses a steep ridge, and encountered several large mixed flocks as well as the more solitary Masked Trogon, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, and Common Potoo. As the trail turned up the ridge to meet the road to the research station, the Strong-Billed Woodcreeper called behind us as it swooped in, and we enjoyed excellent views of a pair of individuals that foraged in the subcanopy along the tree trunks. Note the massive dark bill, the heft of which is much more substantial than any other woodcreeper.
The research road was relatively quiet at mid-morning, but the area where it adjoins with the old Nono-Mindo road was being bombarded by mixed flocks, as well as by a large monospecific flock of noisy Turquoise Jays. Many tanagers and flycatchers later, we made our way back to the lodge via the R-Trail, which passes by a nice stand of chusquea bamboo towards the end. Although it was midday at this point, the Plain-Tailed Wren wasn't acting overly shy, and I had nice looks at it without the use of playback.
The hummingbird feeders at the lodge aren't nearly as great as those lower in the valley, but there was still some good action, including the Andean Emerald, Purple-Throated Woodstar, and Collared Inca. More appealing were the outdoor covered lamps, which fill up with moths all night and attract jays, trogons, and flycatchers during the day. It would have been nice to bird the trails during the late afternoon, but they were swarming with kids by this point. Birder beware.
Notable birds seen: Sickle-Winged Guan, White-Throated Quail-Dove, Common Potoo, Rufous-Bellied Nighthawk, Collared Inca, Buff-Tailed Coronet, Gorgeted Sunangel, Purple-Throated Woodstar, Masked Trogon, Plate-Billed Mountain-Toucan, Crimson-Mantled Woodpecker, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Strong-Billed Woodcreeper, Black-and-White Becard, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, Turquoise Jay, Red-Eyed Vireo, Glossy-Black Thrush, Plain-Tailed Wren, Blackburnian Warbler, Silver-Throated Tanager, Metallic-Green Tanager, Blue-and-Black Tanager, Southern Yellow-Grosbeak, Chestnut-Capped Brush-Finch.