Ecuador Day 10: Cloud Forest, Toucans, and Chocolate

This day dawned damp and dreary. We four Travelers ventured into the depths of giant fern ruled forest. Down we went into the Tandayapa Valley, down and farther down. Something moved. Something big. Stalking us. The raucous calls of of the archaeopteryx stopped. All was silence. The raptors burst through the ferns. Traveler Nine went down first, dragged into the underbrush never to be seen again. I began running. I heard the screams of Travelers Ten and Thirteen as they fell behind me. I then felt the sharp claws of the velociraptor...

Okay that's not at all what happened...

Turquoise Jay on light

I once again got up before dawn to meet our guide for an early morning birding walk. This time Traveler Nine joined me. I was immediately confronted with the problem of it being dark, needing to find my belongings and not being able to turn any lights on so as not to wake sleeping Travelers. I finally managed to find my camera bag and my shoes without bumping into too many things.

Our guide picked us up and took us down to the lodge where we were again treated to seeing an incredible number of species in a very short time. And, finally, the sun came out. We walked a short way up a trail to a look out area and for the first time could truly see how high up we were and how far below us the valley dropped. We also walked through a bamboo grove positively swarming with Plain-tailed Wrens.

Turquoise Jay


A very brief break in the clouds shows the valley below.

 A tree as its own ecosystem/habitat.

We returned to the lodge to find everyone in a tizzy. A Crimson-rumped Toucanet was putting on a show in one of the trees right next to the lodge. Finally, I got to see a member of the toucan family. I was struck how the bird's coloring and shape of bill allowed it to so perfectly match the surrounding foliage. At all angles the bird really looked like a leaf.

 Crimson-rumped Toucanet

 Crimson-rumped Toucanet

 Crimson-rumped Toucanet

Traveler's Ten and Thirteen joined us for breakfast. Then the four of us went off on our separate ways. Thirteen headed out on hike down to a waterfall. My recently uncasted left foot wasn't up for such an adventure. Ten headed off with another group on a slightly easier hike. Nine went back to sleep. And I went wandering off my own. It wasn't the best day for photography because the clouds took over the mountains after the brief respite early in the morning.

 Giant Fern Tree

 Detail of a plant. No that's not a huge spider but it does look like one.

I got dropped off at the head of the A trail, which is a self guided nature trail that goes through primary and secondary forest. I was wearing a red jacket, which attracted hummingbirds. I kept getting buzzed by Tawny-bellied Hermits, which are a rather large hummingbird with a long white tail. They don't visit feeders very often so the forest is the best place to find them. I then wandered down the road toward the research station and was treated to watching flocks of Three-striped Warblers, Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers, Dusky Bush Tanagers, and White-sided Flower-piercers. All the while various species of hummingbirds buzzed by. 



 Detail of a huge leaf



 Tree with white leaves


As I made my way down to the lodge I stumbled across an amazing site. Two Speckled Hummingbirds were having a fight. One pinned the other down onto the ground. They finally both flew off but it was the most violent bird fight I've ever seen.

Speckeled hummingbirds fighting

Collared Inca

Collared Inca showing off its iridescent blue head.

I then hung out at the lodge taking photos of hummingbirds and awaiting the return of my fellow travelers. It began raining in earnest.

 Buff-tailed Coronet

Booted Racket-tail, male

Booted Racket-tail, female

 Speckled Hummingbird

On our return drive up to our cottage Traveler Nine finally spotted the bird I'd been looking for all along: The Plate-billed Mountain Toucan. Two, and they are usually found in pairs, were feeding from trees along side the road. 

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan

After lunch we four Travelers boarded Frodo the truck and headed down into the town of Mindo. Mindo is kind of an interesting, yet touristy, little place. There are lots of other lodges and places to stay. We went to a butterfly farm. This is a bit of a tourist trap but it was still amazing wander around with butterflies flapping all around you.

Also, the drop in elevation meant that completely different species of hummingbirds could be seen.

Empress Brilliant

We then went to El Quetzal, a cafe and inn where amazing chocolate comes from. We went into a chocolate binging frenzy. We had a chocolate tasting, we had hot chocolate, and we had the best brownies on the planet. They even make chocolate beer. We were positively buzzing as we drove back to the cottage thanks to our chocolate highs.

That night after dinner I finally caught bats on camera.

Smaller of the two bat species
Larger of the two bat species

Mammals: Red-tailed Squirrel, Opossum (species unknown), Bats (species unknown)
Birds: Tawny-bellied Hermit, Collared Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Green Violet Ear, Speckled Hummingbird, Purple-throated Woodstar, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Purple-billed White Tip, Gorgeted Sunangel, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Empress Brilliant, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Great Thrush, Brown-capped Vireo, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Blue and White Swallow, Masked Trogon, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Azara's Spinetail, Plain-tailed Wren, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Montane Woodcreeper, White-throated Quail Dove, White-tipped Dove, Chestnut-capped Brush Finch, White-winged Brush Finch, Slate-throated Whitestart, Russet-crowned Warbler, Three-striped Warbler, Masked Flowerpiercer, Rufous-chested Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Turquoise Jay, White-tailed Tyranulet, White-sided Flowerpiercer,