Poor weather in the paramo this morning forced me down the eastern slope to Guango Lodge, where I had some remarkable good fortune. The lodge is one of the few sites on the east slope that cater to birders, especially at its specific elevation, and is unique for the stunning variety of hummingbirds that visit the feeders. Although no atypical hummingbirds were present this morning, it was still hard not to gawk at the incredible diversity on display: Sword-Billed Hummingbird, Long-Tailed Sylph, Tourmaline Sunangel, White-Bellied Woodstar, Collared Inca, and Golden-Breasted Puffleg created an impressive juxtaposition.
Walking towards the Rio Papallacta along one of the lodge's trails, I stopped short at a fruiting tree, where a variety of birds were feeding just above, including the Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Andean Guan, and Northern Mountain-Cacique. Hidden behind the leaves, though, was the stunning Gray-Breasted Mountain-Toucan, who was feeding surreptitiously at first and then becoming more bold as the other birds moved on. Soon there were two toucans moving about in the open and calling occasionally while I quietly fired away on a borrowed camera. Although I've encountered this magnificent bird on a variety of occasions in the last year, this northern population is indeed distinct from the birds I've seen in southern Ecuador, having a deeper colored maxilla as well as a dark iris.
Elated, I continued down to the river where I watched a mixed flock of large birds patrol the banks for fruit and insects; the Turqoise and Inca Jays were particularly impressive, the former appearing to drink from the rushing river once. Walking up the river with hopes of reuniting with the toucans, I spotted the Torrent Duck out of the corner of my eye. A female was poised on a boulder in the middle of a particularly rushing section of the river, her rich rufous underparts in sharp contrast with her spiny and powerful tail. Continuing towards the water for better views, I startled another three ducks, two females and a male, who all plunged noisily into the rapids and swam away downstream. I think the photograph expresses just how aptly these wonderful birds are named.
Having carefully observed two scarce and difficult birds at length within the span of a half an hour, I was rather impressed and had to reevaluate the lodge as a birding site. Originally, I had written Guango off as a hummingbird zoo with little more than disturbed montane forest to offer, but it's worth repeated visits for someone in my situation and definitely warrants an overnight stay for traveling birders. Sitting at the bottom of a river gorge with ample forest on both slopes, it functions like a bridge, boasting a variety of edge species and the occasional wandering forest bird.
Notable birds seen: Torrent Duck, Andean Guan, White-Bellied Woodstar, Speckled Hummingbird, Collared Inca, Sword-Billed Hummingbird, Buff-Tailed Coronet, Chestnut-Breasted Coronet, Tourmaline Sunangel, Long-Tailed Sylph, Gray-Breasted Mountain-Toucan, Turquoise Jay, Inca Jay, Masked Flowerpiercer, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Northern Mountain-Cacique.