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WINTER BIRDING IN ECUADOR – 2015 – PART 8. THE LORETO ROAD FROM PHIL’S JOURNAL.

February 10, 2017

 

After a 6am breakfast, we grab the box lunches that have been prepared for us and head out with our driver/guide Mauricio for a full day of birding along the famous Loreto Road. (Famous, that is, to birders in Ecuador.) We start out on the same highway that brought us to San Isidro, and follow it easterly up and over Guacamayos Pass and then down some rather steep grades toward Amazonia. At the turn-off for the Loreto Road that will take us to Wild Sumaco Lodge in a day or so, there’s a tiny cluster of buildings and we stop for a bano break. One shop sells tires and auto repairs, and six more are cafes – tiny kitchen-sized establishments with total seating capacity for 8-10 patrons . . . hard to see how anyone can make a go of such a small business. All offer 2-3 brands of bottled beverages, 2 or 3 kinds of prepackaged cookies, some chips, and not much of anything else. And the meager offerings of any one place are nearly identical to what’s offered in all the others. Perhaps they are all catering to the same limited palates and pocket books. But we were glad for the bano and to buy a few snacks.

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Our excellent guide, Mauricio

Paved highways in Ecuador, at least the parts we’ve travelled, are crowned two-lane affairs with a deep, concreted V-shaped trough at either verge intended to carry heavy rainwater accumulations quickly and safely off the travel lanes, but they make driving particularly harrowing as there is just no place to go should a diversionary maneuver become necessary. And in a country where no pavement is ever slick enough, no curve so blind nor slope so steep nor line of sight so limited as to make anyone slow down, and where no driver is long content to be driving behind any other, well, you get the picture. We are grateful that Mauricio is driving.

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Our excellent guide, Mauricio

So he pulls over to the shoulder, on a sharply curving stretch of road, and eases his passenger-side tires down into the V and up onto the curb at the far side, leaving the driver’s side wheels just inches off the main roadway. And he turns off the motor and says, “We’ll start birding here.” And it starts to rain again. Ann wants no part of this, and elects to stay in the car. Mostly, the V portion of the verge is too slippery and the chopped, coarse vegetation alongside too treacherous to offer safe footing, and so Mauricio and I bird from the strip of white paint at the edge of the pavement. Drivers swerve around us as though it is not at all unexpected to have people standing in the road peering up at the forest and looking through binoculars. We work the treetops on either side of the pavement for birds. You might think that these circumstances would be unproductive, but our efforts over the next hour-plus yields 22 species that are new for the trip, none lifers for Phil.

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Ristorante Susanna, Hollin

We decide to escape the rain by going to a roadside café, Ristorante Susanita at the tiny settlement of Hollin that Mauricio says hangs feeders that might attract new hummers for us. We find another group of birders already there, guided by a young man with a very familiar face – Julio, who was our guide from San Jorge de Quito on our last Ecuador jaunt in September of 2013 – and he remembers us also. Also in the group was Juan Carlos Calvachi, another guide we had used on a previous trip. We all huddle under a tin roof and peer out at the feeders, watching and waiting for hummers to come in. We then order lunch – a huge bowl of noodle soup (Sopa de Fideo) and a plate of chicken and rice, along with a glass of iced tea we elect not to drink. We could have eaten the box lunches prepared for us by San Isidro, but I felt better giving some business to these avian caretakers. Later, we sent the uneaten lunches home with Mauricio to share with his family. We scored a bunch of great birds here, and upon leaving I gave a five-dollar bill to the proprietor: “Asucar por los aves.” (Sugar for the birds.) I was rewarded with a big warm smile.

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Ristorante Susanita Shrine

We U-turned upon leaving the restaurant and headed back the way we came. We found a pull-off near a steep road cut, and pulled off to give a search for the rare Cliff Flycatcher. Mauricio used tape playback to call in the bird, and got immediate glares from the guide and birders of a different group who were also looking for this species, and who’d managed to find two close by without use of a tape. This technology is considered by many birders to be an intrusive birding behavior that could interfere with normal patterns of territoriality and courtship. But we were glad to see this beautiful bird, all rufous underneath with a speckled face.

Back on the road again, we encountered two large semis with their passenger-side wheels down in the drainage V. I feared mechanical damage or worse, but as we eased around them, we peered in between the front of one rig and the rear of the other and there we saw the two drivers, stripped down to their boxers, showering in a small waterfall that cascaded down from the cliff above.

Mauricio makes a couple of notable stops on the way back – one to see a pair of Blackish Nightjars asleep at their roost for the day. They looked for all the world like two charred pinecones sitting stock still on black volcanic rocks. How to find them was handed-down information; how the first hand came to know the location is a puzzlement. But we were glad Mauricio knew where to look.

After a couple more stops and as many lifers, we gather in the San Isidro dining hall for a final tally of the list, and bid farewell to Mauricio. He had been hired to drive and guide us by Carmen Bustamante, one of the owners of Guango and San Isidro. Actually, she helped us plan and made arrangements for our whole trip.

I can still hear Mauricio saying, “Sir, coming.” when he wants me to step up and see what he’s seeing, “continuing” when he wants us to move on down the trail, and “above my green light” whenever he uses his laser pointer to help direct us to where he’s seeing a bird. We would miss him, but were going to be heading east toward Amazonia, which was out of his territory.

From Ann’s Field Notes: 19 new birds today including the Violet-fronted Brilliant, Fire-throated Fruiteater, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Glittering-throated Emerald, and a Marble-faced Bristle-tyrant. What names! It’s easy for you to see how amazing they all are – just google their names and look at their pictures.

 

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