The old Nono-Mindo Road is a narrow dirt tract leading from Quito down to Ecuador's birding capital of Mindo, passing through the Alambi River valley with its beautiful tracts of temperate and subtropical forest. Recently proclaimed an Ecoruta, the road is also known as el Paseo del Quinde, named for the many hummingbirds found in this section of the northwestern slope, most famously the rare and endemic Black-Breasted Puffleg. The road is popular with mountain bikers and off-road enthusiasts, but birders will still find plenty of peace and quiet as they search for western slope Choco endemics such as the Beautiful Jay. Indeed, I've yet to see the jay myself, and I spent many hours over the last two days driving around and listening for its distinctive call.
Instead of driving directly down from Quito, I chose to access the lower part of the road from the Tandayapa Valley, which better suit my needs anyway as the Beautiful Jay only ranges to 2000m. Although I dipped on the bird, which can also be searched for in the nearby El Pahuma Orchid Reserve, there was plenty else to see, including most impressively the Golden-Headed Quetzal, which seems particularly active this time of year and can be heard calling noisily throughout the day. The common but skittish Band-Tailed Pigeon especially thrives in this area, and on one occasion I startled a flock of perhaps sixty birds that soared away magnificently. Most notable for me at this site was finally locating the White-Winged Tanager, which can be found readily on both slopes in foothill forest; just after dawn I watched in shock as a colorful red male wolfed down a huge cicada. I guess it's true that most tanagers are omnivorous. Other fine birds included the Metallic-Green and Black-Capped Tanagers and the Red-Headed and Toucan Barbets.
There was plenty of seeding chusquea bamboo along the road, and I hoped to find the highly erratic Slaty Finch about, but these clumps offered little action except for Three-Striped Warblers and Tricolored Brush-Finches. Several species of hummingbirds were lekking at various points along the road, including the Andean Emerald. I also noted the White-Tailed Hillstar along a stream that I ascended back into the forest in my rubber boots. Somewhere along the road there is an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek as I bumped into many noisy males as well as a few brown-colored females over the two days. Despite its iconic status, this spectacular bird is always a treat to see, perched boldly in the subcanopy.
There are two substantial private reserves on the lower part of the road and several smaller ones on the upper part, as well as the various birding lodges in the Tandayapa Valley, but much of the remaining habitat appears unprotected. Just one homestead can wipe out a huge swath of forest, all for the sake of a humble crop of potatoes or a few mournful cows. While the Corporación Ecoruta has taken the lead on conserving the remaining habitat along the 75km road from Nono to Mindo, the project is definitely still in progress. Hopefully, it will also succeed in improving the standard of living in adjacent communities such as Nono and truly become a model suitable for export to other parts of Ecuador and South America.
Notable birds seen: Plumbeous Pigeon, White-Tailed Hillstar, Golden-Headed Quetzal, Red-Headed Barbet, Toucan Barbet, Crimson-Rumped Toucanet, Smoky-Brown Woodpecker, Golden-Olive Woodpecker, Uniform Antshrike, Streak-Necked Flycatcher, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Red-Eyed Vireo, Three-Striped Warbler, Russet-Crowned Warbler, Metallic-Green Tanager, Black-Capped Tanager, White-Winged Tanager, Russet-Backed Oropendola.