Tandayapa Bird Lodge is one of the pioneering birding institutions in Ecuador, offering high quality accommodation in outstanding habitat for more than a decade now. Located near the bottom of the Tandayapa Valley, which ranges from 1500 to 2400m at the pass, the lodge boasts access to both subtropical and temperate forest, and birders could easily spend a week in the area birding the lodge, the road to the pass, Bellavista Lodge, and the old road to Quito that passes through the town of Nono. With approximately twenty Choco restricted range species on the valley's bird list, including the Beautiful Jay, Tanager Finch, Gorgeted Sunangel, Toucan Barbet, and Plate-Billed Mountain-Toucan, a visit to the valley for visiting birders is simply imperative.
I have birded the valley quite a bit, especially along the forested sections of the old road to Mindo, but for whatever reason have never stayed at the lodge nor walked its trails. Given that it's such a storied institution, the lodge gets a lot of traffic from big birding groups, and I think that's what has kept me away until now. Who wants to pass twelve people on the trail when you're stalking the Rufous-Breasted Antthrush, for example? October is a pretty quiet month for tourism, though, so I decided it was time to take the plunge. Arriving at 6am just as it was getting light enough to see properly, I paid $15 and spent the next twelve hours in birding heaven with the hide, the trails, and the famous hummingbird feeders all to myself, as there were no other guests.
Although there are many birds on the valley's list that I've never seen before some of the most critical ones for me are to be found on occasion at the hide. The hide is exactly what it sounds like, a large structure where birders can hide while shy terrestrial birds come in to root through the compost pile that's just in front. It's a pretty unique structure from what I've seen in Ecuador so far, and should the Scaled Antpitta or Rufous-Breasted Antthrush come in, you can fire away on your camera from just a few meters away. I probably didn't establish myself inside early enough, but I still had up-close looks at the White-Tipped Dove and Sepia-Brown Wren; White-Throated Quail-Dove cruised by later in the afternoon as well. Ultimately, it's hard for me to sit inside a room and wait for birds, so I was back out on the trails within an hour.
Along the Hide Trail the Scale-Crested Pygmy-Tyrant showed nicely, stopping momentarily to bash a relatively large arthropod against a branch before choking it down. Rufous-Breasted Antthrush could be heard giving its two-note call down in the neighboring ravine, but it seemed impossibly deep in cover. Barred Forest-Falcon was also calling nearby the lodge, probably attracted to the hectic activity at the hummingbird feeders, but it seemed pointless to even look for it, as these forest falcons are legendary for hiding themselves in the dense crown of trees. Ascending up the ridge on first the Potoo Trail and then the Antpitta Trail, I noted some spectacular male birds, including the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Golden-Winged Manakin, the latter of which was displaying vigorously at the lek, extending its strangely plumed head as it emitted a loud burp. Ochre-Breasted Antpitta called twice and then didn't respond to playback, but I saw a pair of Rusty-Winged Barbtails at a tree fall near the junction with the Nunbird Trail.
Descending back down to the main road along the Potoo Trail, I worked through several mixed flocks, one containing White-Winged Tanager and Black-and-White Becard while the other had a pair of Uniform Antshrikes tagging after it. I also came across a good-sized mammal rooting around in a stream bed; later in the afternoon I would find it again as it climbed a tree in self defense, looking like a cross between an anteater and an opossum. The valley definitely has its share of large mammals, and the Spectacled Bear has been recorded on the lodge's property, probably wandering across the main highway from the much larger Maquipacuna Reserve. Completing this rather intense circuit, which could use some cleaning with a machete, I took a break at the hummingbird feeders for a few hours.
The activity at the feeders is stunning and diversity is incredibly high, making this site probably the best in the world for watching hummingbirds. I saw nineteen species at the feeders on this day, and two more on the trails, which is simply staggering to contemplate. The highlight for me was the Purple-Bibbed Whitetip, a Choco endemic that has eluded me up until now, but other excellent hummingbirds included the Empress Brilliant, Violet-Tailed Sylph, Purple-Throated Woodstar, and Gorgeted Woodstar. While other hummingbird sites in Ecuador are exciting, the scene here is overwhelming as approximately one hundred hummingbirds compete at any given time for space at one of the twenty or so feeders placed around a 25 square meter patio. There are several fruit feeders nearby as well, where Blue-Winged Mountain-Tanager, White-Winged Brush-Finch, and Red-Headed Barbet can be seen and photographed at close range.
I was relieved to get back out on the trails in the early afternoon, looking for understory flocks and skulkers. The robust Streak-Capped Treehunter was foraging stealthily near the ground while a noisy group of Three-Striped Warblers were moving just overhead in the undergrowth. I also spotted the Narino Tapaculo in the leaf litter, perhaps building a nest. An odd understory flock with Crimson-Mantled Woodpecker and Orange-Bellied Euphonia moved along the Potoo Trail, the former calling like from the base of a tree trunk like a woodcreeper or furnariid. There's a resident Tawny-Throated Leaftosser along the same trail that I was hoping that the call was coming from. While activity was pretty quiet, it being a sunny afternoon in the dry season and all, I did have relatively good looks at the Lineated Foliage Gleaner later that afternoon; a pair was giving their strangely harsh call from the undergrowth along the Hide Trail. As workers constantly rake this trail for leaf litter, this is a great place for stalking birds as you can walk along without making a sound. At one point, though, I turned around to see a White-Throated Quail-Dove actually stalking me!
Notable birds seen: White-Throated Quail-Dove, Tawny-Bellied Hermit, Purple-Bibbed Whitetip, Empress Brilliant, Green-Crowned Brilliant, Velvet-Purple Coronet, Gorgeted Sunangel, Masked Trogon, Red-Headed Barbet, Crimson-Mantled Woodpecker, Rusty-Winged Barbtail, Lineated Foliage-Gleaner, Streak-Capped Treehunter, Uniform Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Narino Tapaculo, Scale-Crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-and-White Becard, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Golden-Winged Manakin, Red-Eyed Vireo, Gray-Breasted Woodwren, Bananaquit, White-Winged Tanager.