Knowing full well that the western lowlands around San Lorenzo have been mostly denuded, I pushed on after an outstanding morning of birding along the road to La Union. I had reservations to stay at Tundaloma Lodge, where there is decent secondary forest, and I figured I could poke around the road to Concepción as well, searching for a few more Chocó lowlands species, including Five-Colored Barbet, Black-Breasted Puffbird, and Slaty-Tailed Trogon. I had stopped once at Bosque Protector Humedal del Yalaré in 2010 on my way to Playa de Oro, and while all were critical of the integrity of the reserve several trip reported enough success to tempt me to revisit the area. After checking in at Tundaloma, a lovely hillside lodge with comfortable private cabins, I got back in the car and drove towards the city of Esmeraldas. Nearly thirty minutes later, I turned left on a narrow gravel road towards the town of Concepción, which looked vaguely familiar.
Following directions that were nearly five years old and continuing for eight kilometers, I realized that I had either taken a wrong turn or that there was no longer any roadside forest left. Indeed, after backtracking and exploring up and down the highway further I realized that the modest site I had birded in 2010 had completely disappeared; that is, colonists had completely cleared the area, wiping out all bird habitat. I stopped at one point to admire a Blue-Necked Tanager, and I watched a Yellow-Crowned Tyrannulet regurgitate some berries into a nest, but otherwise there was nowhere to look for my target species except along the main highway between San Lorenzo and Esmeraldas. Considering there’s no way I was birding along that road and getting wiped out by an out of control lorry filled with bananas, I returned dejectedly to Tundaloma Lodge.
Fortunately, the next morning turned out to be much better birding than I expected. It took an hour of scanning treetops along the entrance road, but I eventually spotted a spectacular male Blue Cotinga from the beginning of the Cuckoo Trail. Amazingly, in the dining area there is a photograph of a Blue Cotinga in hand; apparently, one had flown into a window and was temporarily knocked out. Indeed the trees around the deck of the lodge are excellent for birding, especially when they are fruiting. I found Fulvous-Vented Euphonia and Pied Puffbird in the few minutes I lingered here. There is also a trail running along the river nearby, which was unfortunately overgrown during my visit. Judging from the guestbook, this is a good place to look for Brown Wood-Rail, Slate-Throated Gnatcatcher, and White-Ringed Flycatcher.
However, the Cuckoo Trail had recently been cleared, and I decided to explore it for a few hours before having a late breakfast. Although the birding was a little slow, I took my time, stopping in places to play tape for a few species, including my targets: Five-Colored Barbet, Black-Breasted Puffbird, and Slaty-Tailed Trogon. Eventually, I heard a response from the Black-Breasted Puffbird and luckily spotted two calling from far up the ridge, definitely distinct in appearance from the White-Necked Puffbird, which is also found in the area. Further ahead I surprised a raptor from a low perch along the trail. Amazingly, it only flushed a few meters and then watched warily from its new perch, giving me ample time to identify it as a Plumbeous Hawk. In the last three days, I had had better luck with raptors than the last three years I lived in Ecuador, or at least it seemed that way at the moment.
The trail loops around to the lodge, and after switchbacking up the ridge I heard a Great Jacamar calling. I got a response from playback, although it was difficult to locate the jacamar, especially after a Roadside Hawk also started calling from the forest edge. Eventually, I gave up and continued along the trail, finding a group of Stripe-Billed Araçari to admire instead. Back at the lodge, breakfast was a real treat: bolones con café with the fiery house ají. At this point in the late morning, I had to weigh my options: I could continue exploring the secondary forest in hopes of finding the barbet or the trogon, I could return to the foothills and revisit La Union Road, or I could stop somewhere in the highlands on my way back to Quito (the rental car was due at the airport that evening). After some deliberation, I judged my best bet for seeing lifers was to try Laguna Yaguarcocha for the Subtropical Doradito and Ecuadorian Rail, both species I could conceivably see at midday.
Notable Birds Seen (heard only): Little Tinamou (h), Roadside Hawk, Hook-Billed Kite, Plumbeous Hawk, Rufous-Headed Chachalaca, Rufous-Breasted Wood-Quail (h), Red-Lored Amazon, Blue-Headed Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-Chested Hummingbird, Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird, Green-Crowned Woodnymph, Stripe-Billed Araçari, Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Ringed Kingfisher, Pied Puffbird, Black-Chested Puffbird, Great Jacamar (h), Western White-Tailed Trogon, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Western Slaty Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, Slaty Antwren, Yellow-Crowned Tyrannulet, Bright-Rumped Attila (h), Black-Headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Buff-Rumped Warbler, Blue Cotinga, White-Bearded Manakin (h), Tropical Gnatcatcher, Southern House Wren, Bay Wren, Fulvous-Vented Euphonia, Buff-Throated Saltator, Variable Seedeater.