Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring is finally here

     February and March brought several big snowstorms. I certainly had my exercise shoveling snow !  We enjoyed birds at the feeders, altho some mornings there seemed to be few birds. 
     4 species of woodpeckers have visited the suet offerings. A few Chickadees, House Finches, Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Cardinals, and the Carolina Wrens. A Pileated Woodpecker female came to eat suet everyday for a few weeks  She may be nesting in the area.
      This week has been truly Spring-like.  The Belted Kingfisher has returned, a Great Blue Heron was fishing at the edge of the river,  and I found American Tree Sparrows at the end of the road.  American Goldfinch males are bright yellow, and this morning a Chipping Sparrow came to the feeders.  Hooray for Spring !     Photo below is a Red-bellied Woodpecker.
     This Spring has had a somber note as well.  In mid-March Mom passed away.  It was a bit unexpected as she had been at her baseline in the nursing home. We have organized a Celebration of Life event to be held next week.  She will be missed by her family and community.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Fun photos

Flowers were spectacular.  I may not learn the names of these flowers, but I took their photos anyway.

Both of these were found at Yanacocha Reserve, a high-altitude cloud forest at 10,500 ft elevation on Pichincha Volcano west of Quito.  

I found this lovely cluster of tubular flowers at a stop in the Tandayapa Valley.

These yellow flowers may be orchids.  Photo taken at Guango Lodge in Provincia de Napo.

These flowers looked like red slippers.  taken at Poco de Choco Nature Reserve.

Another maybe an orchid. This one seen at Amagusa Preserve.  We saw wonderful hummingbirds and tanagers at this location.

a view from Yanacocha Reserve looking across the volcanic mountains. This is truly an incredible place.  We saw some amazing birds here,  Swordbill  (a hummingbird whose bill is longer than the bird),  Golden breasted Puffleg, Sapphire vented Puffleg, Tyrian Metaltail, and more. 

I snapped this photo at a quick bird stop along the road to Antisana and the Paramo. Horse is saddled and ready to go, with no rider in sight.

Friday, March 3, 2017

What to eat ?

Food we had in Ecuador was pretty good.  This was wonderful seafood dish with rice, salad, and a fried something (often plantains).
    The dish in the upper left of this photo has Fava beans (nicely seasoned) and Queso cheese, with an ear of corn (very large kernels).
     Upper right dish shows a  "platos tipicos"  which means  Typical plate of food.  It was usually rice, salad or vegetable, beef or chicken and often a bit of fried plantain or yucca.

This barbequed chicken on a skewer was quite tasty, served on a bed of french fries.  Notice the bit of sausage on the end.  The small food stall in Puembo had one choice on the menu.

This was a lovely lunch after a couple days of trail snacks and sandwiches.  Grilled Tilapa with vegetables and fried Yucca.  The restaurant is in a special place overlooking Rio Blanco.  Bird feeders and open bananas attract many birds to the patio for easy viewing.

View from a trail leading from the restaurant.

All photos on this posting taken by Susan Hochgraf.  I did not remember to take photos of the beautiful food we had.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ecuadorian Amazon

The Amazon rainforest,  a place I have read about and never thought I would actually see.  We returned the rental car to the airport, and boarded a domestic flight to the east landing at Coca, a city along the Rio Napo.  We traveled by boat downstream for an hour to Yarina Eco-lodge on the banks of Rio Manduro. This was an adventure in itself.
     Photo above,  Rio Napo is the biggest river I have ever seen.  Rainstorms cause temporary changes in the water level.  Riverbanks are dense with trees and bushes down to the eroded edge of the land.

We traveled in the boat on the left side of the dock.  ✽

That day's journey ended at the Zona de Embarque,  the boat dock at Yarina.
We had meals on the dining patio and slept in thatched roof cabins with sleeping nets around each bed.
    Birds were spectacular, colorful, and sometimes hard to see among the large leaves of the tall trees.  I saw over 40 new species in this area.

We spent a morning at this lovely Laguna and saw many beautiful birds.

 Hoatzins look like a brightly colored Roadrunner.  One of my few good bird pictures from this area.

Yarina Lodge is along Rio Maduro, a smaller channel teaming with birds.

 This forest is amazing. Many trees with tangled branches grow together.  Larger tree trunks have a community of vines, ferns, mosses, and other plants growing on the bark.  ✽

A view from the 3-story observation tower.  So many birds flitted thru the forest, flew overhead, and called from a branch as we watched from the tower.   A few of the highlights were 2 White-throated Toucans calling across the valley at sunset,  a pair of Paradise Tanagers in a tree,  a Broad-billed Motmot called from a branch for many minutes, a Russet-backed Oropendula at its nest site.   too many birds to list here.

On our way to an afternoon adventure, hiking in the rainforest with our guide. ✽

All the  ✽ pictures are photo credits to Susan Hochgraf.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Ecuador's High Country

The high elevation Paramo grassland is like nothing I have ever seen.  Vast expanses of cold humid grasslands with sporadic shrubs growing at an altitude over 14,000 ft.  We drove up a mountain road to  Antisana Ecological Reserve located on the oriental slope in the Andes Mountain range.  The Andes mountains are spectacular even on a cloudy day.  Each range seems to go on forever.  We saw wonderful birds,  Carunculated Caracaras,  Southern Lapwing,  Silvery Grebes on Mica Lake, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, and many more.  The most exciting was seeing the Andean Condor soaring over a valley.  After a hike, and more birds, we headed down the road and stopped at an observation platform.  The Andean Condor was across the valley sitting on a cliff ledge.  Two spectacular hummingbirds were flitting in the brush, Sparkling Violetear, and Black-tailed Trainbearer.

Above, a Carunculated Caracara waits in the grass. They were fun to watch.

To the right, the Antisana Volcano comes out of the clouds for a few minutes.

The other high elevation area we visited was the Papallacta Towers, the site of an array of tall antennas in the Pacque Nacional Cayambe - Coca. This ecological reserve has very high biodiversity and includes the Cayambe volcano at nearly 19, 000 ft.  This area is amazing. Tundra plants are not like anything I have ever seen.  Pointed leaf rosettes arranged in dense round mats so thick I could sit on one, and it did not compress under my weight.  We saw Sierra Finches, Stout
 billed Cinclodes, and a small rufous bird that may have been an Andean Tit Spinetail.
     We walked down a steep hillside looking for Seedsnipe.  At the elevation was near 14,000 ft. I had to stop several times to catch my breath walking back up the hill to the road.   I marveled at small flowers and these unusual high altitude adapted plants.
 Photo below.

The views were spectacular despite the oncoming rainstorm.

One of my few good bird photos, a Chestnut winged Cinclodes, a relative of the Ovenbird.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ecuador Chapter 3

     The Choco region of Ecuador is part of the larger Tumbes-Choco-Magdalena high biodiversity area that starts in eastern Panama and extends south along the Pacific coasts of Columbia, Ecuador, and a small piece of northwestern Peru.  Tropical moist forests,  tropical dry forests, rocky shorelines, and several other ecoregions provide a diversity of habitats for an amazing number of birds.  Ecuador has lost most of its primary forests from deforestation, leaving very few areas of native forest.
      We visited Estacion Biologica Un Poco del Choco, a Nature Reserve and Biological Research Station located in a beautiful area of tropical rainforest. They are making an important contribution to the conservation of the Choco region, education programs are offered, and students are welcome to work on their own research projects. This forest is amazing !  Enormous leaves, brightly colored flowers in unusual places, huge trees with a community of plants, ferns, moss, bromeliads, and more living on the tree trunks. And birds like I have not ever seen before. We spent a few days here hiking the trails and enjoying this very diverse forest.
So many plants competing for space and sunlight on the forest floor.

A community of moss, ferns, and other plants growing on a tree trunk.

This is a Bromeliad flower. The pink blade sprouts from the Bromeliad's center and the purple flowers grow from the edges of the pink blade.

     As we were leaving this area we stopped at another "Hummingbird Haven"  called Alambi.  Many feeders were hung at the edge of a dense hedge, with each feeder numbered.  It was a feast for the eyes, so many jeweled hummingbirds zipping around and sipping from their favorite feeder.  Two long boards with several bananas on each attracted bright larger birds who came to enjoy a breakfast of fruit. 

A Booted Racketail hummingbird shares the feeder with a White-whiskered Hermit.  I saw 13 species of hummingbirds, and probably more that I did not know their names.  Larger birds included Tanagers with names like Lemon-rumped,  Golden (he is beautiful),  White-lined (he has a cinnamon colored female), and Blue-gray.  A Chestnut-capped Brushfinch was very good-looking.  Photo below is a Buff-throated Saltator enjoying a banana.

Above is a link to a short movie I took at Alambi.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Ecuador next chapter

     After a spectacular introduction to this beautiful country on the first day, we visited more special locations. I wrote down 53 new birds on that first day.  We visited Refugio Paz de las Aves the next day. This special place is the hard work of a family keeping their land for conservation and for the birds.  We arrived before sunrise, walked over the recent landslide, and were treated to views of usually hard-to-find birds.  Birders with big cameras had some great photos.  We saw Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (a bright orange red Cotinga),  5 species of Antpittas, Tanagers, Hummingbirds, and more. I took this photo of a Chestnut crowned Antpitta that came when called for its morning treat of mealworms.   To read more about Refugio Paz, look at their website
      Cave of the Oilbird was next.  I find it amazing that this bird has survived through the years and did not become extinct.  The early settlers would take its young and burn them in oil lamps, hence the name Oilbird.  Oilbirds are in the order Caprimulgiformes, ancestors to the Nightjars. They are nocturnal fruit eaters who navigate using echo-location, much as bats do.
      We ended the day driving along Mashpi Rd to  Amagusa  Preserve.  Tanagers in colors I have not ever seen before  (bright green, yellow, or vivid blue) , and hummingbirds called Whitetips, Thorntails, and Hermits.  During the day we saw Swallow-tailed Kites, Swallow Tanagers, and Blue-and-White Swallows.  Photo to the left shows Blue winged Mountain Tanagers enjoying bananas at a feeder.

Typical forest in the Mindo area with Cecropia trees and other canopy species.  When birds come by in a flock they can be difficult to see high in the canopy hidden by large leaves.

More Cecropia trees and Bromeliads.

Bromeliad growing high on a trunk is flowering with a red flower.

Finding the Umbrellabird was another adventure.  We stayed overnight in a cabin belonging to the guide Luis.  In the pre-dawn darkness we drove up a steep dirt road, forded 2 rivers and stopped at the top of a rise.  The 3rd river was forded on foot.  We walked up another steep muddy road still under construction to become a road.  Luis guided us to the top of another hill and we waited.  Dense fog came and went, and enveloped us again.  Finally the Long-wattled Umbrellabird flew in to the tree and perched. The photographer had his photos and we walked down the mountain all happy birders.

 During the dense fog we heard other birds. 

Swainson's Thrushes, Blackburnian Warblers, Olive-sided Flycatchers, and other familiar neotropical migrants spend the winter in Ecuador.  A nice winter vacation for them.