Having just returned to Ecuador from a two-week trip to Brasil, I was pleased to see that the prolonged stretch of good weather has continued through the new year. Instead of getting some much-needed rest before work resumed on Monday, I decided to hit the northwestern slope for a full day of subtropical and temperate forest birding in the Tandayapa Valley. Upon reaching the Tandayapa Pass just after sunrise, I noticed that the trail along the oil pipeline that runs through the glorious Mindo-Nambillo Reserve is now open to the public. Although I had heard that part of this area is actually the new Mindo Cloudforest Foundation reserve, I wasn't sure as there are no signs posted nor entrance fee collected. Given the huge quantity of Plate-Billed Mountain-Toucans present along the trail, though, this simply has to be it; indeed, all throughout the day noisy groups of mountain-toucans came by to check me out as I walked the ridgeline, rattling their bills and calling raucously when I passed by underneath.
Although the early morning was a little too sunny for my tastes, even blindingly bright at times, the birding for most of the day was outstanding. Highlights included seeing an Ocellated Tapaculo out in the open for a few seconds as it fell out of the undergrowth as I passed by; I tracked the bird for a minute as it recovered from the surprise in deep cover off the trail. A massive raptor also caught my attention as it soared over the primary forest several kilometers away; it passed just overhead several hours later, but as I couldn't see more than a silhouette, it's difficult to say whether it was actually a raptor, such as the Black-and-Chestnut Eagle, or just a Turkey Vulture. Another mystery was this bird I photographed as it accompanied a mixed understory flock. In my humble estimation, it looked, and acted, like a bush-tanager, but it has little in common with the Dusky Bush-Tanager and it's way too high in elevation to be the ultra-rare Yellow-Green Bush-Tanager. Isn't it amazing how you can be pretty familiar with the avifauna at a particular site (I've birded this area many times over the years), and then be stumped multiple times in just a few hours, even with a decent photograph of the bird?
Update: Mindo Bird Tours guide Dusan who runs the wesbite Aves Ecuador has informed me that this mystery bird is actually a juvenile Dusky Bush-Tanager; the bird's head and belly should turn gray shortly, and its iris is likely more reddish when seen in a different light, he says. Now, there's a guy who really knows the birds of the region.
Notable birds seen: Sickle-Winged Guan, White-Throated Quail-Dove, Scaly-Naped Amazon, Tawny-Bellied Hermit, Gorgeted Sunangel, Masked Trogon, Plate-Billed Mountain-Toucan, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Strong-Billed Woodcreeper, Chestnut-Crowned Antpitta, Spillmann's Tapaculo, Ocellated Tapaculo, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Red-Crested Cotinga, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, Sepia-Brown Wren, Capped Conebill, Rufous-Chested Tanager, Blue-and-Black Tanager, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Dusky Bush-Tanager, Scarlet-Bellied Mountain-Tanager, Grass-Green Tanager.