Cabañas San Isidro: August 7-8, 2009

I've been to Cabañas San Isidro a half-dozen times in the last year, and I could still happily stay for a week exploring the area on my next visit. It's a rich, extremely birdy place with classy accommodations and delicious food. When Rudy Gelis, birder and guide extraordinaire, saw me walk my father into the dining hall on the night of our visit, he remarked that this was the ultimate destination to take your family members for them to understand what makes birding in Ecuador so special. A visit to San Isidro encapsulates it all, he implied. Unsurprisingly, then, my father was immediately impressed on our arrival, especially when a few hours later as we sipped beer on the porch of our cabin a Chestnut-Crowned Antpitta hopped by.

Having taken our fill of the mystery owl that drops by the lodge every evening, we spent the following morning enjoying close looks at the birds that visit the outdoor lights in search of insects. Inca Jay, Masked Trogon, Black-Billed Peppershrike, and Subtropical Cacique presented themselves for careful study, and a Strong-Billed Woodcreeper came in briefly before moving on. Unfortunately, the White-Bellied Antpitta didn't show for its morning feeding, so we hit the trails soon after for some difficult but rewarding forest birding. Two feeding Barred Parakeets were undoubtedly the highlight, but my father was also pleased with the Yellow-Vented Woodpecker, Beryl-Spangled Tanager, and Streaked-Tuftedcheek in a mixed flock. Actually, he was happy to lock onto any bird, as he struggled to find them in his binoculars once he had located their position with his naked eye.

We lounged by the hummingbird feeders as it started to rain mid-morning, enjoying the usual visitors as well as the White-Bellied Woodstar, which rarely appears according to the notes in the lodge's bird list; these bumblebee-like hummingbirds always make a powerful impression upon visiting birders. Next, a busy mixed flock moved through the area, which has dramatically changed in appearance due to a recent tree fall, so we followed it behind the dining hall, where we had incredibly close and prolonged looks at a female Crimson-Mantled Woodpecker drilling into a dead tree. I also found a delightful Rufous-Crowned Tody-Flycatcher, but didn't bother to tell my father, who would never have located this elusive, tiny bird in the bamboo as it flitted about.

I ran into Rudy again before we left, who has spent considerable time at Yanayacu Reserve just up the road, and he kindly asked whether there were any birds still missing from my area list. Having picked up the Barred Parakeet earlier that morning and the Oleaginous Hemispingus in a mixed flock on the previous afternoon, I was feeling pretty good, but I asked him anyway about the Bicolored Antvireo, a rare and local species sometimes seen at the lodge. Having heard and seen it just the day before, Rudy explained carefully the exact site and conditions of the sighting, imitating the bird's call with great aplomb. While I still missed the bird on our final excursion, I was touched by the spirit of generosity that seems to pervade the birding community here in Ecuador.

Notable birds seen: Barred Parakeet, Rufous-Bellied Nighthawk, Tawny-Bellied Hermit, White-Bellied Woodstar, Masked Trogon, Crimson-Mantled Woodpecker, Yellow-Vented Woodpecker, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Strong-Billed Woodcreeper, Olive-Backed Woodcreeper, Long-Tailed Antbird, Chestnut-Crowned Antpitta, Long-Tailed Tapaculo, Rufous-Breasted Flycatcher, Rufous-Crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Flavescent Flycatcher, Black-and-White Becard, Black-Billed Peppershrike, Andean Solitaire, Glossy-Black Thrush, Sepia-Brown Wren, White-Sided Flowerpiercer, Oleaginous Hemispingus, Black-Eared Hemispingus, Yellow-Billed Cacique.

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