Skip to content


October 19, 2013

Day 3, Friday, Sept 27, 2013.  Yanacocha Ecological Reserve, Fundacion Jocotoco

Yanacocha Reserve

This would be our first day with Julio Ayala, our driver and birding guide. He ate breakfast with us at 6:30 and by 7, we were on our way in one of San Jorge’s mini-vans. We didn’t find out until our last day that Julio had been staying at San Jorge Lodge for the three days he would be with us, since his home was more than an hour away near Tandayapa. He ate all his meals with us, but we thought it was just because he was there to guide us. We thought he went home every night! He did speak English fairly well, but he wasn’t always forthcoming with information. We would have to get better acquainted, and this might be a challenge. If you know me, though,  you know I ought to be able to get acquainted with a rock!

Whenever you head out on a hike, you always have decisions to make. What to wear? What to bring? Julio had warned us to layer our clothes because the first few hours might be chilly since we’d be fairly high up – Yanacocha, on the northeast slope of Pichincha Volcano, is about 10,500 feet high. The temperature was in the low 50’s when we started out. Phil used a small day pack that fastened around his waist and that held his bird book, camera, notebook and pen, 2 bottles of water and a couple of bags if GORP he had brought from home. (GORP is an old backpacker’s  term meaning Good Old Raisins and Peanuts.) I used my shoulder bag (a field bag/purse) which held my bird book, camera, notebook, pen, and miscellaneous “purse” items. We also had rain jackets with us, but left them in the car as there was no rain predicted. They were in the last of their dry season days, so we hoped rain would not be a problem. Julio carried a scope, his bird book, and over his shoulder had a small amplifier which he could use with his iPod to play bird songs and bring birds closer to us. He would also use the “pishing” method of luring birds closer by making little shushing noises, like we do in North America. It works on these southern birds also!

Phil was using a new Ecuador field guide – “Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador” by Miles McMullan and Lelis Navarrete  (2013) – and would be trying it out. I carried  my old bird book plates (the pictures of the birds)  from Robert Ridgely’s huge, unwieldly book, “The Birds of Ecuador” (2001). Ridgely wrote the foreward to McMullan/Navarrete’s book and said, “I am pleased that the authors of this volume have generously offered to give Fundacion Jocotoco . . .that now owns and manages no less than ten private reserves scattered across the country, each of them protecting a critically rare bird species or habitat, a substantial portion of the proceeds from the sales of this book.” Julio wasn’t familiar with the new book, but he would be by the time our 3 days was over. Phil and I compared them endlessly, arguing their relative merits, providing amusement for Julio.

The drive from San Jorge Eco-lodge to the paved road was about 5 minutes down a very rough rock/dirt road. A few minutes west on the paved road took us to the turn off to Yanacocha Reserve, and from that point it is 5 miles up to the trailhead, and the road is very rough. (Sounds like all the roads in Ecuador are very rough. Well, they are.) This is an area that still has remnants of the “Old Inca Trail”, if you know where to look, which we didn’t. About 5,000 years ago, (hard to believe) the Incas blazed a trail for trading that was built along the Nono Alto Plateau, along which we would be hiking and driving  during the next few days. Also, in the Yanacocha area there are remnants of the “Inca Ditch”, which was used (and is still used today!) to bring water down from the mountains to Quito.


Unknown-1           As we went slowly up the rough road, Julio kept an eye out for birds along the road. Phil and I kept an eye out over the surrounding mountains and valleys looking for an Andean Condor, one of our “target birds”. Since the clouds had settled over us, this wouldn’t be easy. I was surprised to find many wildflowers blooming along the roadside – things that looked like yellow Hawkweed and Lupine in lovely shades of lavender.As we rounded a bend a couple of miles along, we spotted a “cottontail” rabbit on the edge of the road about 50 feet in front of us. We stopped,  the rabbit hopped, and out of the brush at the edge also hopped a Tawny Antpitta! This was not a new bird, but lots of fun to see. They hop or walk along the ground on longish legs and are very upright in their stance,  about the size of an American Robin only perhaps a little rounder. Julio got out the scope and we got to see the cooperative antipitta very well as he stood in the road, keeping an eye on us.DSC00601Back in the car and climbing higher, the clouds dissipated, and all was clear and blue and we could see for many miles. We kept driving along slowly, stopping occasionally at places Julio thought might yield some birds, and they usually did. We watched Brown-bellied Swallows zooming around the side of the mountain, and a few Purple Martins, recently arrived from the North America. I added a few birds to my notebook that we didn’t see, but Julio heard, such as an Ocellated Tapaculo and a Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant. We did manage to see a Crowned Chat-Tyrant that was new for us. One of the times we were out of the car, I saw a bird soaring high above the forest near a large rocky cliff. There were 2 of them – raptors – moving around, soaring, wheeling, then landing on a tree. They were pretty far off, but since they landed once in a while, Julio could get the scope on them and we got to see our first Aplomado Falcons, not a common bird. That was pretty exciting. Julio said he had only seen one once before!We finally arrived at the trailhead, Julio paid our entrance fee ($15 per person) to the Yanacocha  Reserve, protected and managed by the Fundacion Jocoto, we signed in, and headed up the trail. One of the birds we kept hearing all along the trail was Spectacled Whitestart, a kind of warbler,  which took us a while to find. What a beautiful song, highpitched and twittery like you’d expect warblers to sound. Their dark colors and white tail feathers reminded me of the Fan-tailed Warbler I found in Arizona 3 years ago.

IMG_0643This was our 3rd or 4th walk up this trail (including previous visits) and I am always slowed down by the amazing plants, both flowering and non-flowering.  And of course the dramatic views looking off toward the mountains and valleys as you walk along are always breath-taking.  You skirt the side of the mountain on a relatively flat trail, and at one point, even cross what looks like a concrete footbridge (with a rail of course), with  deep canyons way down below you, and planted fields way off against the sides of other mountains and many peaks absolutely covered by forests. It is really astounding scenery  – one of the reasons we are attracted to this area of Ecuador. And of course, all those mountains and forests are habitat for wildlife – such as birds!

We continued our hike and Julio found a Red-breasted Cotinga, which was new for us.  At several spots along the trail the Foundation Jocotoco has erected and maintains  hummingbird feeders,  and  near the end of our hike we came to some that were near a covered  seating area  where we saw dozens of hummingbirds – most spectacularly  the Swordbilled Hummingbird. It’s hard to believe they could hold up their bill, since it’s about as long as their entire body! Other birders were there, a group of about 8 and 2 guides, huge cameras clicking furiously, and another 2 men whom Julio knew and chatted with. We learned that his 2 friends had seen a female Black-breasted Puffleg that morning, the endangered endemic bird that is the specialty of that area, and the reason the Reserve was created. Julio told us they were doing some research on the bird for the Ecuadorian

IMG_0644Unknown-2 Conservation of Birds organization, which was studying the endemics of the country. They very proudly showed us their photos from that morning.  At the feeders, we watched Buff-winged Starfrontlets, Green-tailed Trainbearers, Sapphire-vented Pufflegs, Golden-breasted Pufflegs, and Mountain-Velvetbreasts. An impressive mass of buzzing, zipping around, whirring, darting, zooming and swarming handfuls of colorful iridescent feathers.            Our time was running out as we had to return for 1pm lunch. On our way back down the trail, we got into a mixed feeding flock of birds and added Stripe-headed Brush-Finch, a Blue-backed Conebill (which was new for us), a Pearled Treerunner, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Barred Becard, Golden-crowned Tanager (also new), and a Black-chested Mountain-Tanager. And we were late for lunch.

NOTE: The photos of the Tawny Antpitta and Sword-billed Hummingbird are credited to and, respectively.


From → Uncategorized

  1. Denise Clarey permalink

    Most spectacular post about your Ecuador adventure. This only spurs me on to travel here. Your pictures are as delightful as your descriptive prose! See you for breakfast soon, Denise

  2. Joanne Anthony permalink

    Thanks Ann 😊😊😊

    Sent from my iPhone


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: