Ecuador- an introduction

I have been Ecuador for just over a week now, and have gradually improved my identification of most of the resident species around Bellavista, although the calls continue to prove a little trickier to learn! The internet here is rather limited, and so I will try and do a post once every couple of weeks, as it takes about that long to upload the images! I will give a brief introduction to the birding and habitat around Bellavista, and try and explain some of the details related to this area of the country.

Bellavista is a lodge that has been operational for over twenty years now (since 1991). It owns a tract of 700 hectares of forest, which is a mixture of primary (untouched), and secondary (has been felled at some point during the past). Within the lodge’s reserve are more than 10 kilometres of trail systems, which climb up and down the very steep ridges in the surrounding area. The lodge itself is functional as a centre for visitors to stay for a few days (or more), and it provides an excellent service for those staying to enjoy the birds, the plants, or just the forest environment in general. My job here is as a bird guide, taking groups of people out on the roads and various trails to point out the wonderful variety of species that inhabit the area.

The lodge itself is located at 2250 metres altitude, at the top of a forested ridge, on the upper slopes of the Tandayapa Valley. At such a high altitude, the forest ecosystem is classed as upper montane rain forest. The area is part of a broad area called the Choco region, which extends from western Colombia through to North-west Ecuador. This area is said to have one of the wettest non-seasonal climates on Earth, receiving between two and six metres of rain per year. The climate and altitude supports a very unique ecosystem, which in turn supports a large number of species of flora and fauna, some of which are completely restricted to the Choco region.

Volcan Pichincha from Bellavista, visible once the mist clears and occasionally dusted with snow
A typical view of the cloud forest canopy from within the forest. Most days either light rain or mist rolls in during the early afternoon, but clears away again by midnight. Clear skies often remain until 9am. This daily pattern seems very much the standard at the moment.
The view from just above the lodge, looking over the Tandayapa Valley to nearby forested ridges
The Birds
As eluded to earlier, there are number of species found here which are restricted to the Choco region. Species such as the Plate-billed Mountain-toucanToucan BarbetOcellated Tapaculo and Tanager Finch are not found anywhere except for in this region. For several of these species, Bellavista is one of the best places in the Choco region to see them! For example, a small stretch of road two kilometres away is home to about four pairs of Tanager Finches, which is a very rare species that inhabits the mountainous region. Aside the near-endemic species, the surrounding area is a great place to see gaudy Tanagers, loads of cool hummingbirds and plenty of brown-looking furnarids too! A total of 360 species have been seen in the vicinity of Bellavista, and about 70 of these can be encountered on a good day. Some common species around on a day-to-day basis include Masked TrogonsStrong-billed WoodcreeperBlue-winged Mountain-tanagerTurquoise JayBlackburnian WarblersSlate-throated Whitestarts and Russet-crowned Warblers.
The stunning Plate-billed Mountain-toucan can be found most days around Bellavista’s trail systems, often feeding on small fruits. The largest flock I have seen so far is ten.
Toucan Barbets are an extremely pretty species of barbet, belonging to an obscure family called Semnorsnis. They are very large, hence the name, as often this species can be confused with a toucan in flight!
Bellavista is the only place in the world where this species, the Tanager Finch, is seen with any significant frequency. There are probably around four pairs breeding in the area, which makes them fairly tricky to find. 
Fawn-breasted Tanager
Blue-winged Mountain-tanagers are a much more common species which are seen every day around the lodge, and can be heard in mixed feeding flocks around the forest canopy.

Slate-throated Whitestart- a very common species around Bellavista
A short distance from Bellavista is a place called Pas de las Aves, where Angel Pas has gradually befriended a range of antpitta species and other forest floor species that are otherwise very hard to see. Calling them out by name, Angel also gives his avian friends a few worms to encourage them out to the astounded birders. Perhaps the most famous species that Angel has befriended is that of ‘Maria’, the Giant Antpitta. Before Pas de las Aves, this species was a near-mythical bird. These two antpittas are the more common species found here: Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (top), Ochre-breasted Antpitta (middle) and Yellow-breasted Antpitta (lower).

Rufous-breasted Ant-thrush

Hummingbirds abound all over the valley, and there are a variety of different lodges with a good array of feeders placed out to attract these sugar-loving species. At Bellavista, the most common hummingbird species is the Buff-tailed Coronet (top), along with Speckled Hummingbirds (middle), and a few of the Purple-throated Woodstars (bottom), which are truly tiny and sound like bumble bees when they fly on by! Amongst the most attractive species here are the Booted Racket-tail and Violet-tailed Sylph- pictures to follow!

The moths at the lodge come in an incredible array of shapes colours and sizes. There are a handful of lights left on around the lodge to help people find their way around at night. These attract hundreds of moths every night, which are unfortunately then massacred in the morning by a large variety of birds. There have been some truly stunning moths, but unfortunately there is no literature or info here on the moths, so I am working in the dark- literally!

The plants around the rainforest are incredible, although I haven’t managed to include many of them in this post. The trees are covered with epiphytes, such as bromeliads (top), ferns and moss

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