With improved road access, Wild Sumaco Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the northeastern foothills of the Andes, is now only about four hours away from Quito by car. I left my house in the valley on Saturday morning well before sunrise and only made one stop along the way at the Guacamayos Ridge Trail, where just after dawn I spotted a solitary White-Capped Tanager moving noisily about the canopy right below the lookout. By mid morning, I was following a mixed flock along the road to Pacto Sumaco, the final leg of the journey. It's incredible to think that the same drive took almost twice as long just a few years ago (it's probably a little naive as well to think that the improved roads are going to last for very long). Consider it a fortuitous combination of factors, then, that allowed me to slip away to one of my favorite birding sites for the weekend.
I returned to Wild Sumaco this time with some definite target birds, including some skulkers that I missed on my last visit in addition to some of the regulars in mixed flocks. I lucked onto the Spot-Breasted Woodpecker, one of my targets, upon arrival as it was one of four species of woodpeckers traveling in a large mixed flock that was moving through a partially cleared field (the Yellow-Tufted and Golden-Olive Woodpeckers and LaFresnaye's Picculet were the three others). There is a lot of disturbed habitat along the Pacto Sumaco Road and simply walking it can be an excellent way to pick up a huge variety of tanagers, woodpeckers, toucans, antwrens, warblers, and furnariids; the entrances to various trails near the lodge offer similar opportunities.
At a site like Wild Sumaco, though, I never feel satisfied unless I'm walking the trails through primary forest, so I spent most of my time on the F.A.C.E and Lanissoma Trails, which pass through outstanding flat and ridge-line subtropical forest. Early one morning, I noted the terrestrial Short-Tailed Antthrush calling along the trail, and the wary Spotted Nightingale-Thrush was observed multiple times; not surprisingly the Plain-Backed and Ochre-Breasted Antpittas proved elusive, although I wasn't looking too hard as I saw both of them on my last visit. Along the lower parts of the Lanissoma trail, I observed the Fasciated Antshrike and Spot-Winged Antbird, two eastern lowlands species that are rarely noted at this altitude; the antbird was particularly special as it likely represents a first for the lodge (a solitary female moved slowly about the undergrowth right alongside the end of the trail).
The lodge has some outstanding hummingbird feeders in several locations, although the one near the guard's quarters in the Residence Area is certainly the best. Swarms of hummingbirds come surging to the forest edge, most notably the gorgeous Gould's Jewelfront and imperious Napo Sabrewing. Other fine hummingbirds include the Ecuadorian Piedtail, Many-Spotted Hummingbird, Black-Throated Brilliant, Gray-Chinned Hermit, and Booted Racket-Tail, whose bright orange boots vividly distinguish it from the western race. I also glimpsed the Violet-Fronted Brilliant in the area behind the feeders, a lifer hummingbird for me, an event which is becoming increasingly rare given the impressive feeder coverage throughout the country (amazingly, I've now seen over a hundred species of hummingbirds in Ecuador).
I also spent some time on the Piha trail, a steep trail that descends the ridge from the Residence area, named after the highly localized Gray-Tailed Piha that resides in the area. This bird and many others, including the Golden-Collared Toucanet and Yellow-Breasted Antwren, were heard above in the canopy while I was walking below and frustratingly went unseen. On the other hand, I did catch sight of the Ruddy Quail-Dove, Chestnut-Crowned Gnateater, and Ornate Antwren in this area, all of which are very unobtrusive and thus thrilling birds to observe going about their business. As always, the road in front of the Residence Area was highly productive offering the Smoky-Brown Woodpecker, Blackish Antbird, and Coppery-Chested Jacamar on different occasions, the latter being the emblematic bird of Wild Sumaco and one of the finest of the eastern foothills.
Although it's almost impossible for me to hang around the lodge during the day, there's excellent birding to be done from the grounds and the deck: mixed flocks come through regularly (this is where Maroon-Chested Ground-Dove and Straw-Backed Tanager were seen), various parrots and raptors pass overhead (the endangered Military Macaw was noted several times this year), and owls move up the ridge in the evening (the spectacular Band-Bellied Owl is a common sighting). Even the Wire-Crested Thorntail is also now a regular visitor at the flowering bushes in front of the rooms (it was also found all over in flowering inga trees). Personally, I can never shake the feeling that while I'm watching a nice mixed flock from the grounds I'm missing the Fiery-Throated Fruiteater somewhere on the trails, but for those lacking in stamina, or anxiety, the deck is a stunning place to bird in comfort.
Notable birds seen: Ruddy Quail-Dove, Chestnut-Fronted Macaw, Gray-Chinned Hermit, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Napo Sabrewing, Violet-Fronted Brilliant, Gould's Jewelfront, Many-Spotted Hummingbird, Wire-Crested Thorntail, Black-Throated Brilliant, Coppery-Chested Jacamar, Gilded Barbet, Red-Headed Barbet, White-Throated Toucan, Channel-Billed Toucan, Black-Mandibled Toucan, Smoky-Brown Woodpecker, Spot-Breasted Woodpecker, LaFresnaye's Picculet, Crimson-Crested Woodpecker, Wedge-Billed Woodcreeper, Streaked Xenops, Fasciated Antshrike, Ornate Antwren, Slaty Antwren, Blackish Antbird, Spot-Winged Antbird, Short-Tailed Antthrush, Chestnut-Crowned Gnateater, Yellow Tyrannulet, Black-and-White Becard, White-Crowned Manakin, Blue-Rumped Manakin, Rufous-Naped Greenlet, Musician Wren, Coraya Wren, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush, Golden-Rumped Euphonia, Orange-Eared Tanager, Chestnut-Capped Brush-Finch.