Trip Report for Ecuador Oct. - Nov. 2009
Participants: Kim Garwood
Author: Kim Garwood
Ecuador October/November 2009
Ecuador is a very difficult country to figure out the weather, as many regions of this small country have very different weather patterns. The west slope, especially Mindo and the Tandayapa Valley area, are much drier than the east slope, and it has distinct wet and dry seasons. The rains ‘usually’ start in Oct and run to April/May, with the heaviest rains Jan to March. But this year the rains were late, and I was at Tandayapa Nov 4 to 9 with not a drop of rain, and the forest was parched. This negatively impacted the butterflies, I suspect. The guys at Tandayapa say they had heavy rains several weeks ago in Oct, about 10 days of solid rain, then it stopped and nothing since. The east slope, on the other hand, is more of a wet and wetter climate, with the heavier rains in May/June/July, and Sept/Oct being drier, relatively. At the Rio Bigal reserve, above Loreto, we wore rubber boots all the time and had lots of overcast and drizzle. But at WildSumaco, just an hour closer to the Andes and 500 meters higher, the trails were dry and I only wore rubber boots 1 day, on the hike w/Jonas on the mule trail. We had rains most afternoon and evenings, but the forest was drier than normal. In the south, at Loja and Zamora, it was also very dry, much more so then usual. At Cajanuma entrance to Podacarpus NP, they hadn’t had any rain in 3 or 4 weeks, and all the mosses and ferns on the side of the hill were shriveled. You could sit on the mossy sides of the trail and it was dry. There were much fewer butterflies than on the same trip in November 2008, according to Chris who had been on that trip.
First 2 weeks w/Thierry Garcia of Fundacion Sumac Muyu at his Rio Bigal Reserve, near Loreto on the east slope, www.reservadelriobigal.googlepages.com He’s asked me to come down and help w/a butterfly list for his reserve, plus he’s offered to take me to a couple of other places, so we’ll be spending the 1st week on the west slope near Santo Domingo, then Banos down to Tena, and the 2nd week at his reserve.
Then I spent 6 nights at WildSumaco, a new lodge an hour west of Loreto, then to Quito, then to Tandayapa lodge for 5 nights, back to Quito where I met a group of moth & butterfly collectors from Expedition Travel through the McGuire Center in Gainesville, FL. We fly to Loja for the last 2 weeks at Podacarpus NP and Zamora in the south.
Mon Oct 12 fly to Quito, night at Hotel Hothello, $28/room single, $40/double
Tues Oct 13 – Thur Oct 15, 3 nights La Esperanza reserve, 1500m west slope, $10/night
Fri Oct 16 drive to Banos for 1 night, Villa Santa Clara, 1800m $10/person, 2 rooms
Sat Oct 17 –Sun Oct 18 spend 2 more nights in Banos, work Rio Zunac 1300m
Mon Oct 19 drive to Puyo, stopped by landslide, night Safari Hosteria 1100m, $24/room
Tues Oct 20 drive to Loreto, spend 1 night in town, $10 Monte Azul
Tues Oct 20 –Sun Oct 25 5 nights to Rio Bigal Reserve
Mon Oct 26 1 night in Loreto, Monte Azul again
Tues Oct 27 – Mon Nov 2 to Wildsumaco for 6 nights, www.wildsumaco.com, 1400 mtrs, $120/person double, $134/single w/meals
Mon Nov 2 transfer to Quito for 2 nights, Hotel Sebastian through Tropical Birding, $87/single
Wed Nov 4 – Sun Nov 8 transfer to Tandayapa Birding Lodge, west slope for 5 nights, 1750 meters www.tandayapa.com, www.tropicalbirding.com $109/single, $185/double
Mon Nov 9 back to Quito after Aves de la Paz’ antpittas, meet Expedition Travel group, spent the night at Hotel Quito
Tues Nov 10 flew to Loja then drove to Copalinga Lodge outside Zamora, 950 meters for 4 nights, Nov 10-13, near the Bombuscaro entrance to Podacarpus National Park. $60/person/night double including meals. www.copalinga.com
Sat Nov 14-19 drove to Malacatos to spend 6 nights at Hosteria Las Lagunas, 1500 meters, and work the higher elevations at Cajanuma ranger station of Podacarpus NP, 2750 meters and up. $45/person/night I think, including meals.
Fri Nov 20 move to Catamayo to be near the airport for an early am flight to Quito. www.vivacatamayo.com/granhotelmarcjohns
Sat Nov 21 fly back to Quito, spend the night at the Hotel Quito.
Sun Nov 22 fly back to the US.
Mon Oct 12 fly to Quito on AA, arrive about 7pm and Thierry is there to meet me. He takes me to the Hotel Hothello on Av. Amazonas N 20-20 y 18 de Septiembre, a $5 cab ride from the airport, half a block from the hotel Hilton Colon, as they say on their card. www.hotelothello.com
It’s $28/single, $40/double, simple but functional, feels safe, plenty of hot water. Quito has a zillion hotels with prices all over the map, from dirt cheap sleazy hostels to $250/night and up. Quito is at 9,200’, so it takes a bit of getting used to the altitude the first few days. It’s in the 50’s, and everyone is wearing these lovely wool sweaters. Quite a shock coming from the Rio Grande Valley, where it hasn’t been under 80 degrees in many months.
Tues Oct 13 we meet for breakfast in the ‘cozy and elegant café’ downstairs, then go to the grocery store to stock up for the next 3 days, and we’re off to La Esperanza, a preserve owned by friends of Thierry over by Santo Domingo on the west slope. The Supermaxi doesn’t open until 10am, so we lurk on the sidewalk w/Thierry’s giant blue Ford Crown Victoria until the guards will let us into the downtown parking lot for the grocery store. $70 later and an hour later, we’re on our way. Thierry’s wife has made him a shopping list w/menus for our 3 days at the preserve, where it turns out he will cook for us. He’s French, and claims not to be a cook, but he makes some pretty tasty scrambled eggs & ham for lunch, and nice pork chops w/potatoes, onions and garlic for dinner. An unexpected bonus for me, I was prepared for peanut butter sandwiches and canned veggies, what we would be eating if it was my job to cook.
The preserve is nice, wattled guans are calling from the wooded valley right below the house and we wake up the next morning to motmots. And chickens, but hey, the caretakers have to eat. No hot water, and it’s a bit brisk for my cold shower. But the cost is only $10/night/person, and you have to bring and cook your own food. Tomorrow I’ll shower a little earlier in the day. But the rooms are nice, we each have our own room, and the upstairs where the kitchen is is huge. They have electricity, including a nice plug and little desk to work on in each room, so we can use laptops and recharge batteries, and lots of windows. Great for birdwatching, as you look out into the trees. Except they’ve painted a big white streak on each window due to lots of bird strikes. Ornate flycatchers hang out in the clearing, and there is a noisy tanager flock moving through frequently. The house is on top of a hill w/trees coming up all around. The first butterfly I photograph is a very cooperative Archaeoprepona amphimachus, coming to some sap on a small tree at the edge of the clearing. The only problem is it’s heavily overcast and drizzly, so not many butterflies. We go down the trail a bit to explore and find a couple of clearwings, 2 different species, coming to some almost finished eupatorium.
Wed Oct 14 we wake up to light rain, hopefully it will lighten up as the day goes on. We walked back down the dirt track towards the main road, and saw lots and lots of grass skippers. The road gets more jungley in places and we get Oxeoschistus and some other higher elevation satyrs, even though we start out in mostly pasture.
Thur Oct 15 Today we go into the forest, as it’s brighter w/more sun today. More bugs, and different species. Lots of clearwings, including some I haven’t seen before. Along the trail there are places w/large stands of eupatorium, unfortunately almost bloomed out, and the white flowers the clearwings like, so in places we have lots to chase. The trail is narrow and on a steep hillside, so we can’t get off it, but Thierry gets some nice shots w/a longer zoom. We head down towards the river, but after dropping steeply a way, we decide it’s not worth going all the way down, as we will then have to come all the way back up the steep trail. The best area is up on the top, a bit below the house, along the ridge w/pasture on one side and forest on the other. There are lots of satyrs, many of the high elevation genera – Pedaliodes, Lasiophila, Pronophila, Corades. We also get 2 species of Actinote and my favorite, a beautiful Symmachia accusatrix on territory, chasing everything that moves. We get back to the house mid afternoon, as it clouds up, cools down and starts to drizzle.
Fri Oct 16 our last morning at La Esperanza, so we go back to the ridge area that was so good yesterday. It’s bright and sunny, the nicest morning we’ve had, and there are lots of new butterflies flying high over the canopy. Mexican Silverspots/Dione moneta, four species of Sisters, and several new spreadwing skippers, including one I’ve never seen, dark with a white band on the hw, maybe a Mylon or Potamanaxas. Plus we get good shots of a different Astraptes, one w/a white tip on the tail, as well as one w/blue above and yellow below, either A. latimargo or A. chiriquinsis. Then we head out to Banos for a night, then downhill towards Tena. I’ve been told by collectors this is a great area, but that was a while ago, before they paved the road. Now it’s a major highway, so we’ll have to look for places away from the traffic. The drive back to the Pan American Highway takes a while due to very heavy truck traffic. They’re widening the road to 4 lanes, which will make it much quicker. Finally we turn south to Banos, then find a sign just before Ambato pointing to Banos and we take what looks like a nice new road. It leads up into the hills, winding between a series of small villages where we get lost a couple of times. It doesn’t seem to be much of a shortcut, it would probably have been better to stay on the main road and take the cutoff from Ambato over to Banos that Thierry has used before. But it’s very scenic. We get to Banos, a popular tourist town with hot springs, and check a couple of hotels. We find prices from $20/room w/3 beds, to $40/room, and end up w/$10/room at the Villa Santa Clara, up next to the hot springs. www.hotelvillasantaclara.com Quite nice rooms on a little courtyard, a place to park the car off the street, no internet but there are tons of internet cafes for $1/hour.
Sat Oct 17 We head down the hill towards Puyo, amazing gorge with lots of long DARK tunnels, and unfortunately the lights on Thierry’s blue bomber don’t work very well. So a couple of times it’s pretty scary in the tunnels, black as pitch. We start taking the old side roads,used mainly now by bicycles, and we manage to survive. We get to Rio Zunac, off to the left about 30 km from Banos. The turn off is marked El Tope, a big arch on the left, drive up a short distance to a few houses, park and walk to the right, paralleling the river. Thierry explored here a few years ago, looking for land, and remembers many butterflies. However, this morning it’s raining, just after we start walking up the dirt road next to the river, so we go back to the car. It keeps raining, on and off all morning. We drive up the dirt road towards the national park, but there aren’t any signs at all, just one for Colonia Azul. We get in 30 minutes or so, park when the road gets bad and walk a couple of kms, still having cool intermittent rains, never get to the park and finally head back to get some lunch. We go back to Rio Negro on the main highway, a little ways back uphill towards Banos, and eat a tasty lunch at Los Abuelos, very good pollo a la plancha, and they have fresh trout. All of a sudden, about 1pm, the sun comes out, we dash back to Rio Zunac, and have a fabulous afternoon. There is a sandy area next to the river a ways up the dirt road, and we have 5 species of firetips/Pyrrhopyge all of whom pose nicely, plus lots of other bugs, including Eurytides dioxippus. We’re swamped for several hours, almost everything is new and different from the west slope, a great afternoon. We decide to spent the next 2 nights back at Villa Santa Clara, so we risk the black tunnels and drive back to Banos, have a very nice Italian dinner in a restaurant on main street, and hit the sack.
Sun Oct 18 back to Rio Zunac, after rain at dawn. We plan to eat breakfast at some place near Rio Zunac and hopefully get more sun. We make it to Rio Zunac about 9:30, and it’s sunny! We have a great morning, finding a number of new species and getting better shots of some of the same ones as yesterday. We walk to the end of the road you can drive on, and there are several fabulous puddle parties there, full of Actinotes, Firetips, 2 new species of Emperors, and a few metalmarks. We walk up the muddy trail a bit, it goes for several kms according to Thierry paralleling the river, but it’s dark and muddy, and I vote to go back to the more open dirt road. I chase a different looking Tegosa here, I think it’s Tegosa claudina, much blacker edges than the common T. anieta, but we can’t get good dorsal shots. There are a number of different clearwings in one spot along the road, coming to their favorite little white flowers, so we spend some time there as well, getting a big Melinaea and a yellow banded Pteronymia, plus a few others. About 1pm folks start showing up for swimming and barbeque, it is Sunday after all, and it starts clouding up by 1:30 and raining by 2, so we head back to Banos.
Mon Oct 19 drive to Loreto, spend the night in town and get ready to head for Thierry’s preserve the next morning. At least, this was the plan. However, between Puyo and Tena there was a small landslide that closed the road. It must have happened shortly before we got there, as there were only about 5 or 6 cars waiting when we came around the corner. We hung around an hour or so, but there wasn’t any sign of earth moving equipment showing up, and we were still about 3 hours from Loreto, and Thierry’s car doesn’t have lights, so we decided to go back to Puyo and find a place for the night. We had noticed the Safari Hosteria on the way, about 3 km north of Puyo, so we went back there. $24 each for our own room, including dinner and breakfast, and they have some trails through second growth habitat, so we took it. We even found a number of different butterflies in their small patch of forest. Good shots of Lysippus Metalmark in the garden, several species of Nymphidium, which seem to like second growth, and lots of satyrs, mostly the confusing Pareuptychia ocirrhoe, those these have only one white band but they don’t look like metaleuca. But a few other nice satyrs, a lovely Lamia Pierella, but it’s very rusty on the dorsal hw. Can’t get a photo, but will try again in the morning. And my first Tolumnia Satyr, very fresh and beautiful bluish with orange. Tomorrow we’ll see if the road is open, keeping our fingers crossed.
Tues Oct 20 After a couple of hours on the trails behind the Safari Hosteria, getting good shots of the Pierella, the landslide is still closed, bummer. But we wait an hour or so, and it finally opens. Good thing we didn’t race to get there first thing in the morning. We finally get to Loreto about 3:30pm, where Thierry’s wife, Marion is awaiting us at their office. After lunch, chicken and French fries for $2.25 each, they drop me at the hotel, simple but fine (for $10 you can’t complain), and they go shopping. We have to bring all our own food and everything we might need for the next 5 nights/6 days, plus they’re bringing a cook. We’ll be staying in a ranger cabin for the Sumaco National Park. They’re charging me $10/night for the reserve, $10/night for the cook, and the groceries, about $100, plus $20 each way for the truck to take us there. Not bad, and it would be cheaper/person if there were more than just me. I spend the night in Loreto at the Monte Azul, $10, no hot water but it’s warm so you don’t need it. A decent simple hotel, but people get up early and start their cars, which are in the courtyard right next to the rooms, but I sleep ok.
Wed Oct 21-Sun Oct 25 5 nights at the Rio Bigal Biological Reserve (RBR). We hire a small truck for $15-20 to take the 4 of us in, plus our ton of food. There is Thierry and Marion, plus Nati the cook, plus her pet chick, the pollito. The truck takes us about 1 and a half hours up a progressively worse gravel road, then drops us off and we have to schlep the last half a km or so. We’re staying in the guard house, no electricity or running water, but we have beds and a roof and a kitchen, no refrigeration. Marion does a great job of feeding us for the next 6 days, w/help from Nati. She’s training Nati to get her used to tourists and to learn about cooking something besides chicken and French fries. The night before we ate at Nati’s restaurant in town, and she made spaghetti for the first time. People were stopping to ask, what is that stuff? Hard to imagine there are people in this world who have never seen spaghetti, but that’s the case in Loreto.
The next 6 days we tromp up and down the wide dirt road, looking for butterflies. We have quite a bit of overcast and rain, which negatively impacts us, but we still get about 175 species. Many clearwings and tigerwings and satyrs. There is a school about 15 minutes up the road that they never used, and the clearing around it is full of the white flowers the clearwings like, so we spend lots of time there. We probably have at least 20 species of Ithomiinae, hard to tell at this point as many are very similar. We’re staying about 900 meters. One day we hike into the Rio Bigal Biological Reserve, the place Thierry and Marion are working on, about 1100 meters. They’ve built a structure where you can pitch your tents and be out of the rain, plus a cooking area. It’s 7 km each way, and we do the hike in and back in the same day, so we’re pretty tired that night. They plan to build a more elaborate structure out of bamboo for people to stay in this coming January. It will be interesting to see how it develops over the years. Next time I plan to spend a few nights in the reserve, but this trip we couldn’t haul all the needed stuff in w/us, being 3 women and Thierry.
Mon Oct 26 the cab is there to meet us 5 minutes early, what a shock, and we get back to Loreto by 3pm. The shower at the hotel feels great, even w/cold water, having unlimited water and not having to haul it by bucket is a treat. We had a 55 gallon drum that collected rainwater, but 4 people use a lot of water for 6 days.
Tues Oct 27 Thierry and Marion take me to WildSumaco Lodge for the next 6 nights, and I say goodbye to them. WildSumaco is about 1500 meters, half way between Loreto and the main highway, up another gravel road where there’s a big sign for Ministerio del Ambiente center about 10 km or so, almost to Paco Sumaco, a small community. It rains right after we get there, and I get to eat snazzy food and watch hummers at their feeders for lunch. Life is good.
Tues Oct 27 – Mon Nov 2 I explore the trails at WildSumaco. The road is very good for Nymphalids the first morning, lots of sun, 4 species of Marpesia/Daggerwings, 3 species of Eunica/Purplewings, about 50 species all together. No swallowtails or hairstreaks, not many Pierids, lots of satyrs, including several new ones for me. It clouds up about 12:30, just in time for lunch at 1pm, and is much cooler in the afternoon, very pleasant temperatures but not many bugs after lunch.
One day Jonas, the bird guide/owner at WildSumaco, invites me to come along w/him on a hike from the village Paco Sumaco, a km up the road and back into the mountains. He’s going to check out a ridge above the river w/some locals, and I come along and stay by one of the small creeks/quebradas to chase butterflies. We get there about 7:15 on a beautiful clear sunny morning, good butterflies for a couple of hours, but it clouds up by 9:30 and is pouring by 10:30 for our hike back out. Amazing how quickly the weather can change, so always carry your umbrella. I find a number of different species, several crescents and a gorgeous fresh new skipper for me, Mnestheus ittona, with a beautiful white swirly pattern on the ventral.
Karen and Mark Pretti show up at the lodge for 3 nights, and I get to enjoy talking and sharing notes with them. They come back one morning with photos of one of the spectacular clearwings I’m looking for, and tell me they found a blooming tree with flowers all over the ground, and the clearwings were feeding on the flowers on the ground. I can’t find the tree on the trail they mentioned, so Mark goes back to find it, then tells me the tree is way down the trail (of course) at the bottom of the stairs. The trails here are very good, especially for Ecuador, where the trails are often extremely slippery and tough to walk. The people at WildSumaco have spent a lot of time on their trails, nice wood steps w/screen over them to give you something to grip.
You have to walk about a km down the road to get to the main set of trails, where they have a couple of resident houses for the staff, and they have more hummingbird feeders there. They tell me people have counted 18 species of hummers at their feeders, and I see 14 or 15 just casually watching. There is also a trail that goes along the power lines (electricity has just been brought in to the community in the last few months) and power line cuts are often good for butterflies, so I lurk there one day and get a beautiful fresh blue skipper, a new Sostrata for me that poses for shots.
Interesting how different the butterflies are here at WildSumaco from Thierry’s reserve above Loreto. Yes, the elevation is a bit higher, 1400 meters compared to 900-1100, but almost everything I’m seeing is different. A nice comparision. Not as many clearwings here as above Loreto, but I think that’s because I’m not finding many of the white flowers to lure them in. The flowers were common at RBR (Rio Bigal Reserve) but I’ve only seen one bush here. Jonas gallantly scrambled into where the bush was, in mud almost up to the tops of his boots, and got me some photos of the 1 species on the flowers, about 5-6 individuals, different from any I saw before.
Today, Oct 31, I hit the mother lode on Ithomiinae/Clearwings. Went looking for Mark and Karen’s mystery clearwing spot, down the F.A.C.E. trail, which is down the main road to the right from the lodge about 15 minutes walk, then the trail takes off on the left side of the road. This is a very nice trail, runs along next to the pasture for a ways, than goes down a bunch of stairs, steps of wood w/wire on many of them so you can get a grip. Go down past where the boards end and you’re walking on dirt/leaf litter, continue through a few low places where they have put a few more boards, duck under a big fallen tree that’s broken off over the trail, about another 5-10 minutes to a large tree on the left of the trail, sort of along a ridge. It sounds like a long way but it’s probably less than a mile. All of a sudden there were clearwings everywhere, fluttering along the trail and the ground. They were eating the sap from flowers fallen on the ground. I thought at first they were coming to the flowers for nectar, but I put some on leaves and watched the clearwings suck from the broken stem end, not the flower end. They were also coming to some broken sticks on a vine. I couldn’t tell where the flowers were coming from, whether a big tree or a vine. I’ve never seen clearwings come to this type of flower before, and there were lots of them. The most common was the gorgeous Godyris duillia, a big gaudy clearwing with lots of rufous on the edges of the hindwing. There were several other species as well, all large ones coming to the flowers, 2 species of Melinaea and a couple of Olyra types I wasn’t familiar with. There were smaller clearwings around, but they didn’t seem to be eating the sap like the big ones. I walked 50-100 meters either side of the congregation and found other species sitting around on the leaves, but not coming to the flowers. All together probably a dozen species, maybe more once I sort them all out. A great morning, and it was probably the sunniest morning I’ve had here. No thunder until about 12:30. I stayed at the area from about 8-11am, and the clearwings kept coming. They slowed down a bit after the first couple of hours, but there were still plenty of them there when I left. I would love to know the type of plant these flowers came from, and which months of the year the flowers are there, and the clearwings.
Mon Nov 1 Jonas took me down to the lower part of the road, near to the highway about 1100-1200 meters. We had seen tons of butterflies flying all along the dirt road on our way in, but then it was the middle of the day and sunny. Jonas also had many butterflies yesterday, when he drove back from Quito. Today unfortunately was early in the morning and cool and overcast, so there were very few butterflies. I wandered around for a few hours, but eventually got a ride back up the hill to the residence house trails. It was interesting that I did see a few of the same common edge satyrs from RBR that I have not seen up at WildSumaco, 300 meters higher. Later that morning, near the entrance to the manakin trail on the main dirt road I got great shots of 2 species I had been chasing, the Callicore eunomia and a very fresh Necyria duellona. One advantage of cloudy cool weather, you may not see much but sometimes what you see is more cooperative for photography. I also got good shots of a fresh cracker that has been puzzling me. It looks like Variable Cracker/Hamadryas feronia above, but below it is a bright peachy color, not clear white like I’m used to. Nice to get a fresh one to pose. After lunch I went back to the clearwing feeding spot on the FACE trail, but there were only a few around. It was about 2pm, and still somewhat cloudy, so that’s probably not surprising.
Rainy season in Mindo = Dec/Jan/Feb/Mar, dry season is May/June/July. Opposite from here at WildSumaco, where the rainiest time in 2009 has been June/July. The guys who climb the mountain, Sumaco, say Nov to April is the driest time.
Tues Nov 2 WildSumaco takes me back to Quito for $200, about a 6 hour drive over the Papallacta Pass, a famous birding location. Supposedly the road is all paved now and much faster than it used to be. I moved my departure up a day to coordinate the trip w/another client, so they gave me a $75 credit. I’m spending the next 2 nights at the Hotel Sebastian in Quito, recommended by Tropical Birding. We had tremendous rain going over the Andes, I thought we were going to wash off the mountains, but the driver was good and we got through w/out any problems.
Wed Nov 3 in Quito, I wake up w/a blinding headache which just gets worse when I take aspirin on an empty stomache than throw it up. Fortunately for me, 2 friends happen coincidentally to be staying in the same hotel, and Richard and Shirley take care of me, get me some coca tea and come pester me to drink a cup every half an hour, and I survive. So I spend that day in bed in the hotel. I think the problem was I was dehydrated and didn’t eat any dinner the night before, so remember to drink lots of water at higher elevations, especially when you fly in to Quito at 9,200’.
Thur Nov 4 the driver from Tropical Birding is here early to pick me up by 9am, $75 for the transfer of 1-3 people from Quito, and we’re off to Tandayapa Lodge at 1750 meters, about 1.5-2 hours from Quito on the west slope, just above Tandayapa Village on the old Nolo-Mindo Road. Bellavista Lodge is 6 km further up the dirt road up the valley, about 600 meters higher. I’ve been there a couple of times, but this time I wanted to try Tandayapa Lodge. Tropical Birding now owns Tandayapa, and the hummingbird feeders are famous to birders. Both are excellent birding lodges, but Bellavista gets more non-birders, and younger backpacker types. One down side to Tandayapa is the steep hike up a paved trail to get to the lodge. They had a big landslide in March 2009, which cut off their usual carpark, and that made the hike up longer and steeper. They have a guy who comes and carries your luggage, but it’s still a drag. They obviously know this, as they have decided to put in some sort of lift that will get the clients up to the lodge, at least the older lazy ones like me. The problem is this caused them to chop down a wide swath of trees to put in the lift, and this has exposed a bunch of forest and opened it up, which caused a noticeable dropoff in the tanagers and toucans coming to the fruit feeders at the lodge. Also it was extremely dry at Tandayapa, leaves cracking underfoot and everything that moves in the forest crunches loudly. There were still lots of hummers at the feeders, I had 18 species in the first 2 days. A tree is fruiting right over the porch, and the red-headed barbets are there much of the day, plus 3 species of brush-finch, so it’s not too bad. I think once the lift is done and plants grow up again, it will probably make the lodge more comfortable for older tourists, but right now it’s unsightly and somewhat impacting the birds. A year or 2 from now it will probably be much better.
However, the best part of Tandayapa for me is the fabulous wonderful clearwing lek right down the trail towards the hide, maybe a couple of hundred meters from the lodge. When I arrive there is a group of photographers working the hummers, and they show me some of their photos of clearwings/Ithomiinae and tell me where there is the big concentration. I spend the next couple of days photographing about 14-15 species of clearwings, the biggest group I’ve ever seen anywhere. Within 100 to 150 meters along the trail there must be hundreds of butterflies, sitting in groups of 10-20 clustered on bushes or floating through the air. I go early the 2nd morning, about 7:30am, and by 8 to 8:30 they start floating down the hillside in numbers, like snowflakes. They’re active all day long, but more active in the morning after it warms up, about 9-noon. I went back at 4pm and they were still hanging around. Mostly clear ones w/a white band, but a few yellowish species and a few larger ones, but all different species from the group at WildSumaco. 7 species of Ithomia, 4 of Pteronymia, several Oleria and Greta, an amazing collection. They’re hanging out on a steep hillside where the trail cuts across relatively flat, so I can watch them both above and below me. The trail is narrow and it’s impossible to scramble up or down, so I have to get them on the trail. But they seem to like gathering right next to the trail, so when you walk down the trail through their area, they rise up around you like a cloud, a truly unique experience for me. One afternoon I went to the hide at 5pm to watch for white-throated quail-dove, which comes in late, saw the dove at 5:40 and returned to the lodge after 6pm, almost dusk, and there were still a few clearwings around. I’ve seen a similar gathering in southeast Brazil at Serra dos Tucanos Lodge above Rio, not these numbers but the trail was in very similar terrain. A steep hillside, 2nd growth and some dappled sun, a narrow trail that goes relatively flat around the hillside, and clearwings drifting past, floating up and down the hillside. Wonder why they pick that particular stretch of trail?
One day I walk down to Tandayapa Village, maybe a km downhill, then over the bridge and go a couple of kms back on the Nolo-Mindo road. It’s a beautiful sunny day, but I see almost no butterflies. Some standard Daggerwings/Marpesia and Banded Mapwing/ Hypanartia dione in the small village on wet areas, but nothing on the road except the common Harmonia Satyr/Hermeuptychia harmonia which has been abundant almost everywhere. One exception was the very obliging Noreppa chromus on poop on the road, a fabulous leafwing very close to Archaeopreponas. First time I’ve shot this species live. He also came to the fruit feeders at the lodge. I plan to come back either later in the rainy season, or maybe April/May, hopefully at the end of the rains. The forest looks very good, and this is birder heaven, so there should be lots of butterflies.
Another day I hike in on the potoo trail, up past their water cisterns for the lodge and to the antpitta trail. Another nice sunny day, gorgeous weather, and I get some excellent looks at dark-backed wood-quail, one of the real skulkers. I’m by myself and being very quiet on the trail, and the birds don’t even know I’m there, so I get to watch them scratch around for quite a while. On the way back I watch several groups of butterflies chasing each other and posing on top of broadleafed plants growing up in the steep ravines. Way too far for photos, but it’s interesting to watch their behavior. Several species of Leptophobia or Mountain Whites and the first Leodonta dysoni/Dyson’s White I’ve seen on this trip. I do get killer shots of a beautiful blue/green Mesosemia. On the way back by the water tank I’m kneeling to shoot an Adelpha or Sister on the ground when I flush a female cock of the rock off her nest, right on the trail. She startles me so I almost fall off the steep trail, exploding right in my face, then I go back and find her nest, a lovely mossy cup w/2 eggs. She must have sat still when I passed her earlier in the morning, and only flew because I was crawling around right next to her. The nest is only about waist high on the rock wall. Right after that I run into another batch of clearwings, almost all Ithomia terra, again clustering on the hanging ferns and plants on the trail. This is the abundant species in these gatherings, probably more than half of the individuals are I. terra. The 2nd most common species is the Greta with 2 clear spots in the apex, plus there is at least one each of Pteronymia, Oleria and Ithomia with a very similar pattern of the white band half way across the forewing. I don’t even realize these others are here until I start looking very closely at my photos. There are even more of them here than on the lower trail, I can count 20-30 easily in a few feet, plus quite a few more I don’t see until they fly up in a swarm. Does this go on all year? Or which months? Depending on the rains? Lots of questions, few answers.
Sun Nov 8 my last day at Tandayapa, and I find 3 more new species of clearwings on both the trail to the hide and the higher potoo trail to the water tank. Watching the butterflies fighting over the leaves in the ravine, today I finally get some to sit and see they are brilliant blue/violet Mesosemias w/white bands on the dfw. I didn’t know Mesosemias did that displaying on the tops of trees, I always see them skulking near the ground. And the cock of the rock eggs have hatched! Tiny pink babies, which I photograph after noticing the female flying back and forth to the nest. I wait until she’s gone to check them out briefly.
Mon Nov 9 my driver comes to pick me up at 4:45am to take me to the antpitta place, Paz de las Aves, where a local farmer has trained 3 or 4 species of almost mythical antpittas to come to his call for earthworms. For $15 entrance I get to watch the whole show, plus lunch. Such a deal. Then I’m taken back to the Hotel Quito where I meet up w/the group of collectors for the last 2 weeks of my trip. I always enjoy the Hotel Quito, even though it’s a bit old, but the location is great. Up high on the ridge looking down both sides, very quiet away from the noise in gringolandia, and the restaurant up on the 7th floor is tasty and a fabulous place to watch the sunset and the lights come on over Quito.
Tues Nov 10 the Expedition Travel group meets in the lobby at 4:45am, 2 days in a row! to catch the early flight to Loja. We make it just in time, then drive from the airport to the town of Loja, where we get caught in the taxi drivers strike. They have shut down the entire city of Loja, blocking all the roads in and out w/their taxis, something about they don’t want any more taxis allowed. It’s a royal pain in the ass, as we can’t get through town, and we can’t even get to a good restaurant to wait it out. We weasel through one blockade after another, but keep running in to another one. We must hit at least 5 different blockages. Sometimes the police come along and make them break it up, we whiz along for a short distance then run into another one. All in all it probably ties us up for 3-4 hours, so what should have been a 3 hour trip to Copalinga Lodge turns into more like 6, but we finally make it by the afternoon. I have heard this is a great birding lodge, and get to see a spangled coquette hummingbird at lunch, not a bad way to start. This is 950 meters on the east slope, and they tell us they have also been very dry. But it’s better than the west slope. I find 5 species of Actinote on the road, plus a new pierid, Perrhybris lorena.
Copalinga is about 2 miles/3 km down the road from the Bombuscaro entrance to Podacarpus National Park. It’s an easy walk on a nice dirt road surrounded by good forest, and when it’s sunny it can be very good for butterflies. We find the favorite spot, a bunch of mud puddles only about 5 minutes up the road from the lodge, and we have to share it between the photographers and the collectors. There’s only 5 other guys along, and some of them are more into moths and beetles, so we work it out. There’s also a black phoebe who sits on the road in the middle of the puddles, catching all the butterflies he can, so we have to compete w/him as well. He’s not too happy to have us hanging around ‘his’ fishing hole.
One day I hike the forest trails, and they have a lot of them, mostly steep and narrow and dark, so there are more butterflies on the road. But of course there are some you only find in the forest. I see a gorgeous new satyr, probably Splendeuptychia toynei, and finally get some decent shots of it. Also the same rusty Pierella I had at Safari which I think is P. hyceta, and a number of other satyrs. However the guys who worked the road that day, a nice sunny day, get lots of goodies, several species of firetips and the first Dalla of the trip. They share their photos and let me shoot their specimens, which is very generous of them.
Another day we get a cab to take us to the park entrance and drop us off. Unfortunately, this day turns out to be rainy and cool, so not a good day for bugs. It rains almost all day, so I watch some birds instead. This is a good place for umbrellabird, but I miss it. I do get a close small flock of paradise tanagers, so things could be worse, and lots of ornate flycatchers. One of my favorite flycatchers because they’re easy to id, and colorful. Hopefully we’ll have another sunny morning, and I can walk back up to the park, only about 50 meters higher than the lodge. Good thing I brought my umbrella, as I walk all the way back in the rain.
The gardens around the lodge are crawling w/birds, especially in the morning, lots of calls. This has been the birdiest and noisiest place I’ve been on this trip. Green and gold tanagers nesting right next to the cabins, and coppery-chested jacamars nesting in the bank just up the blue trail. It’s an interesting location, as they get a combination of higher and lower elevation stuff, both birds and butterflies. We have lots of Actinotes, several of which I’m more used to finding at 1800 meters and higher. And I find one of the white ring Mesosemias in the forest, what I think of as a lowland species. But no blue Mesosemias, which are higher elevation. Last month they had cock of the rock coming to fruiting melastoma right below their deck. Catherine, the Belgium owner, says the rainiest time is May/June/July, and the driest time is now, Oct/Nov/Dec. We suspect April/early May might be a good time to come back for butterflies, though Patricio who is our Ecuadorian leader, suggests Feb/March. Catherine says mid Sept to mid Oct this year was great for birds, much more around then right now, hard to imagine. She has a small butterfly collection, plus a database of butterfly sightings, and she lets me photograph her specimens and gives me a copy of her list. They have a beautiful pale Morpho fustrofori, which I’m not at all familiar with. They also have been invaded by the sparkling violetears, same as WildSumaco, and they’re so aggressive they drive away most of the other hummers. But here they have huge hedges of porterweed, the purple flower the hummers love, so the little hummers have lots to choose from.
I haven’t found the magic clearwing spot here, even though I’ve been looking. None of the white flowers the clearwings like, and I don’t find any gathering spot in the forest. We don’t see many clearwings flying around either, just the same Melinaea w/the yellow band from WildSumaco. This is also an interesting location to compare to the Rio Bigal Reserve above Loreto, as they are at almost the identical elevation. They have better forest here, being close to Podacarpus, but it’s not near as wet. I get shots of several species I missed at RBR, like the Claudina Crescent, and some of the firetips are the same.
The next two days we have lots of sunshine, and I walk the road back to the park, seeing lots of Doxocopa and tons of Marpesia. We continue to see new species on the road, and we’re sorry to leave the comfortable Copalinga Lodge the afternoon of Nov 14 to drive back to Loja and about 45 minutes on to Malacatos for the next 6 nights. This is back to the dry west slope, and it’s much much drier.
Sat Nov 14 – Fri Nov 19 at Hosteria Las Lagunas, a weekend resort place with swimming pools and a million Ecuadorians on Sunday. But they all leave at dark, and we have the place to ourselves the rest of the week. The food is ok, the rooms are cavernous and a bit grotty but there’s lots of hot water and the people work hard to please us.
Sun & Mon Nov 15/16 – we drive back up to the Cajanuma ranger station of Podacarpus NP and pay the entrance fee of $10/person/day at the bottom, where you have to stop at the chained entrance and pay your money. Then you drive up the 8.5 km dirt road to the ranger station at 2,750 meters, where the truck from the hosteria drops us off and comes back to get us at 3pm. Patricio likes to use a small truck, as he has been stuck a couple of times before in a van, but now the road is dry. We have brilliant sunshine all day, both days, which is extremely unusual for this place. Usually it’s cool and cloudy, and butterflies are over by 1 or 2pm, if you’re lucky. It can easily drizzle all day, with patches of sun here and there. They don’t really start flying until almost 10am, so it makes for short days in the field. But because it’s so dry, there are many fewer butterflies. The first afternoon I walk several kms back down the road and see almost nothing, even at the couple of seeps and wet spots. I was hoping for Catastictas in the streams, but nada. Chris and Ian, the stronger members of our group, hike up both days to the higher elevations, and Ian makes it to the top on the 2nd day, 12,000+’, where he collects a number of real high elevation goodies, 3 species of reddish hairstreaks and different satyrs. Both Chris and Ian get a spectacular reddish Catasticta, along w/several other species, but they are few and far between. Ian is looking for Leptophobia, but doesn’t see one in two days. I suspect both Leptophobia and Catasticta like it a lot wetter. Charlie works the road below the ranger station and gets totally different species, several fabulous big satyrs including Apexacuta orsedice and Junea whitelyi, which I shot here in August 2003. D’Abrera says this is rarely encountered, interesting we find it in the same location 6 years apart. It’s nice the guys are willing to share their specimens w/me, and it’s nice they’re working different elevations, as they collect quite different species. Charlie gets a different Catasticta too. It’s tough for photography, because many of these satyrs rarely seem to land, so I watch in frustration as one after the other sail by into the bamboo. Walking the trails you keep flushing them up, but it’s impossible to see them before you step on them. I spend lots of time waiting for them to return, but they usually don’t. I do get some good shots, but it takes lots of patience.
The 2nd day it’s much windier, and 3 of us head up the mirador trail, to the left from the station. This trail is much shorter, therefore steeper, then the trail to the right, but it gets you to paramo in about a forth the time, if you can scramble like a goat. I’m going slowly up the trail when I meet Chris and Ian charging back down, saying the gale force winds up on top make it impossible to collect, so they’re going to use the longer right hand trail, which is more on the lee of the mountain. So I turn around and follow them back down to the ranger station, then up the right hand trail, where I spend the rest of the morning. On Wednesday Ian is going to hike in 14 km to the lagunas, where he’s going to camp for 2 nights. Hopefully it won’t be as windy that day. I only make it to about 3000 meters/10,000’ and get high enough to get into some different Pedaliodes than the common ones around the ranger station. You could spend a lot of time working the different elevational bands on this mountain, and they tell me there are many special species found only here around Loja.
Tues Nov 17 – we go to a location Keith Willmott has recommended to Ian, who works w/Keith at the McGuire Center. We drive up a dirt road to Charlie’s cabanas, which are closed, from Vilcabamba south of Malacatos along the Rio Yambala, where the driver drops us off and we walk up along the river from the end of the road. There are people living all along here, growing shade grown coffee about 1700-1800 meters, with the river running down the middle of the small valley, and we find lots of Ithomiinae/clearwings in the coffee. We first start seeing the big red and yellow Elzunia perching on leaves next to the river, then a bit up the trail Ian comes back to tell me about a fabulous patch of clearwings he’s found. He takes me up and shows me several coffee bushes covered w/clearwings on the other side of a fence, then we go back a bit and find the owner who’s working his crops. Miguel Leon graciously lets us onto his land, and we hotfoot it into the coffee and spend a while photographing an amazing collection of clearwings. There must be hundreds of individuals, and we end up w/10 species when we go through our photos and specimens that night. A few of them are the same species I had in Tandayapa, but most of them are different. There are 3 species of yellow and black ones, at least 2 look like Napeogenes, and 2 larger clear ones w/rufous edges, an Ithomia and a Pteronymia. Amazing how similar they appear in the field, you have to study them very closely to separate them out. Away from the river it’s extremely dry, parched brown hills and no butterflies, so we spend all our time down in the coffee near the running water. Again, the rains should have started but not this year. We’re having scheduled power outages at the hosteria both in the morning and the evening, from 7-9am and again from 6-7pm, due to the power shortages due to the lack of water for hydroelectric plants. It’s actually very pleasant to sit outside our rooms by the pool and watch the fireflies come out in the evening w/out any lights, waiting for dinner. We’re usually sorry to see the power come back on after a peaceful hour watching the skies darken.
Wed Nov 18 – we go back up to Cajanuma to drop off Ian for his backpacking adventure. Better him than me. That morning the mountains are shrouded in clouds and it’s cool and drizzly, so I decide to stay at the hotel and work on the computer. Poor Ian gets up the mountain and reconsiders, as it’s almost freezing and very windy, plus he’s carrying a huge pack, so he calls for a ride back to the hotel that afternoon. The rest of us just hang out at the hotel for the day. That evening it is beautifully clear and the stars are brilliant, so we’ll see about tomorrow.
Thur Nov 19 – we go to the old Loja/Zamora road. You have to drive back to Loja, where we drop off Ian to pick up a rental car at the Hotel Bombuscara, then on to Zamora. Unfortunately it’s another very windy, overcast morning, and when we get to the turnoff we decide it’s too cold for butterflies. The dirt turnoff to the old road is at the top of the pass between Loja and Zamora, about 2800 meters, so the start of the walk would be chilly. We’re there about 10:30am, and it’s still way too cold for butterflies, so maybe another time. It would make more sense to spend a couple of nights in Loja and work this track. This is a well known track for birding. I believe you walk down a ways and the car can pick you up after half a day of walking, but I’m not sure where. So we head back to the hotel for an early lunch, where it’s much warmer and sunny and the Sulphurs are flying in numbers. Charlie catches several species at the bouganvilla, including a small female I’m not sure of, plus lots of Statira flying all over for the first time. The light rains we had yesterday must have brought them out. He also gets a couple of different Strymon hairstreaks. Then we go back to Rio Yambala, where the Ithomiinae are still flying in Miguel Leon’s coffee patch. We find several new skippers and some hairstreaks. I get a beautiful green Cyanophrys at the stream edge, maybe C. amyntor, as it’s brown above when it flies, and Charlie catches a couple of different Cyanophrys, w/a large dark patch next to the body.
Fri Nov 20 – our last day in the field, que lastima. It’s too cloudy to go up the mountain, so we head back to Miguel’s coffee patch for a couple of hours in the morning. We find a number of new skippers and lots of hairstreaks for the first time. There is a weedy bush coming into bloom the hairstreaks seem to like, so we see quite a few. Mostly Ministrymon azia or Grey Ministreak, I think. It has the thin red edge to the wings, but it seems cleaner than the ones we usually see in Mexico. I get great shots of a fresh swallowtail that looks similar to Thoas but different, turns out to be Heraclides paeon , and lots of sulphurs. Charlie gets a nice Aquamarine Hairstreak/Oenomaus ortygnus that I thought was the larger Damo Hairstreak/Pseudolycaena damo but once we see it in the hand we realize it’s the smaller species, with fewer black spots. Interesting how many new species we find here on our third visit, but this is the sunniest and the earliest we’ve been here. It’s also interesting how many of the species are the ones found in Mexico and Central America. We are on the west slope, and many species come down, hit the Andes and turn to the right around the west slope of Ecuador. Then we drive to Catamayo to the Gran Hotel Marcjohn’s, probably the best place in town. This is close to the airport for our early departure, so we can sleep an extra hour rather than spending the night in Loja.
Sat Nov 21 – fly back to Quito, spend the night at the Hotel Quito. People do some Christmas shopping at the markets, and stock up on chocolate (Ecuador makes great dark chocolate) and coffee at the SuperMaxi. I get my favorite manzilla con miel (chamomile with honey) tea there to take back home.
Sun Nov 22 – fly back on American Airlines, takes about 12 hours w/3 flights through Miami.