Visting Cerro Toledo in between stops at Cajanuma and Tapichalaca Reserve might seem a little redundant, considering all three sites are in close proximity to each other and protect basically the same habitat: temperate and elfin forest; however, the Cerro Toledo Entrance to Podocarpus National Park is unique because you can drive straight up to the páramo, passing through several kilometers of pristine treeline habitat. This makes for excellent roadside birding, and there’s little to no traffic. Reaching treeline at either Cajanuma or Tapichalaca involves a fair amount of high-altitude hiking, which can wear you out and leave you with relatively little time for birding the desired habitat. Because they are perched on the tip of the eastern slope of the Andes, the weather is notoriously bad at all three sites as well, and so it’s smart to hit all three sites in order to increase the odds you’ll find an interval of decent weather.
I spent a comfortable night in Vilcabamba at Hosteria Izhcayluma, knowing that I didn’t have much at stake for my visit the next morning to Cerro Toledo. I had already seen my main target bird, the Neblina Metaltail, at Cajanuma, and I was confident that I would find both the Orange-Banded Flycatcher and Black-Throated Tody-Tyrant at Tapichalaca, my next stop. The road from Vilcabamba to Zumba is now almost entirely paved, and the turn off to Cerro Toledo was easy to find, an obvious left marked with a sign just beyond the town of Yangana. I had miscalculated the time it would take to drive to treeline from Vilcabamba, and hence I was early enough to flush a number of Band-Winged Nightjars from the dirt road as it switchbacked up the mountains for 20km. While trip reports often decry the state of this road, warning birders only to attempt it in a 4x4 high clearance vehicle, my Chevy Spark performed well with nary a scrape to the undercarriage.
Unfortunately, because of poor weather in the parámo dawn was slow to arrive due, and it was misty and very windy as I slowly birded my way back down the road. In the gloom, I paid close attention to the hummingbirds zipping around, noting Rainbow-Bearded Thorntail and Glowing Puffleg, but striking out this time on the Neblina Metaltail. A few Golden-Crowned Tanagers, another showy Iridosornis tanager, popped up from the bamboo-choked shrubbery, and I also spotted a Plushcap briefly. Mouse-Colored Thistletail is another key species to look for at this site, and I found several without much effort (Masked Mountain-Tanager is another goody here). Even though I was wearing appropriate clothing, I didn’t make it much longer than an hour in the rough weather before my hands started to get numb. I continued downslope in hopes of ducking out of the rain, which often just hugs the treeline, and did find a few mixed flocks, eventually deciding to move on to Tapichalaca midmorning.
Notable Birds Seen (heard only): Band-Tailed Pigeon, Band-Winged Nightjar, Glowing Puffleg, Rainbow-Bearded Thornbill, Flame-Throated Sunangel, Turquoise Jay, Mouse-Colored Thistletail, Rufous Antpitta (h), Páramo Tapaculo (h), White-Banded Tyrannulet, White-Tailed Tyrannulet, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, Spectacled Whitestart, Bluish Flowerpiercer, Masked Flowerpiercer, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Blue-and-Black Flowerpiercer, Golden-Crowned Tanager, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Pale-Naped Brush-Finch, Rufous-Naped Brush-Finch, Plushcap.