Trip Report for Ecuador March/April 2011
Participants: Kim Garwood
Author: Kim Garwood
Photos from the different locations of this trip will be posted on Flickr, under Kim Garwood, Ecuador 2011. I will be putting them up slowly over the next several months, and will also add some from the other photographers as they send them to me, and as I get id’s figured out.
Ecuador divides into 3 regions for nature tours, in my opinion. This time I’m doing 2 of the 3 regions, southern Ecuador and eastern Ecuador. There is also western Ecuador, which includes Mindo and the great birding lodges Bellavista and Tandayapa, also Tinalandia, but that will be other trips. Our Part 1 is southern Ecuador, where you fly to Loja or Guayaquil and visit the several Jocotoco lodges around the south, and Copalinga Lodge outside Zamora, plus Vilcabamba and Podocarpus National Park. Then our Part 2 is the fabulous eastern transect over the Papallacta Pass at 4,000 meters, and dropping down the eastern slope. You can stay at Termas Papallacta, the wonderful hot springs/spa resort at 3,300 meters, or Guango Lodge, owned by the folks at San Isidro, a little below, about 8 km down from the village of Papallacta, spectacular hummingbird feeders. Then down to Baeza and south to Cabanas San Isidro, a bit lower at 2,100 meters. Then down to the turnoff east towards Coca and Loreto, where you find the new lodge WildSumaco about 1,400 meters. Then you can head to Coca and take a boat trip to one of the many great lowland lodges on the Rio Napo. Our Part 3 is a week camping at the Rio BIgal Reserve 2 hours hike above Loreto, also in eastern Ecuador.
This trip was organized and booked in 3 parts. Part 1 is southern Ecuador, booked through Bird Ecuador and Carmen Bustamente from Cabanas San Isidro, http://cabanasanisidro.com/pages/tours.htm . Part 2 is eastern Ecuador, led by Andrew Neild, http://www.thebutterfliesofvenezuela.com/butterflytours.html and Part 3 is camping at Rio Bigal Biological Reserve above Loreto, eastern Ecuador, with Fundacion Sumac Muyu, http://bigalriverbiologicalreserve.org/english/index.php . Andrew also leads private butterfly photography tours, you can contact him directly at his website.
There are many good bird guides and tour companies here in Ecuador, and lots of great lodges to choose from. Bird Ecuador is very good, our trip through Carmen was flawless, but another good ground agent is Mindo Bird Tours, w/Jane Lyons. I used Carmen this time because I started with Copalinga Lodge outside Zamora. I asked Catherine there if she could coordinate the rest of our trip, Part 1, and she recommended using Carmen. It also helped that we could send all the money for Part 1 to Carmen’s bank account in Miami, just by mailing US checks, and she passed the money onto Copalinga as well as the Jocotoco lodges. Otherwise we would have had to wire the money to Copalinga, which is always a minor pain.
Part 1 we fly to Loja, drive to Zamora and Copalinga Lodge, then work our way to the west, flying back from Guayaquil. Participants in Part 1 are Dan and Kay Wade, Hank and Priscilla Brodkin, Jim Snyder, Kristine Wallstrom and Kim Garwood.
Our Part 2 is with Andrew Neild as the leader, organized by Geodyssey Tours, a British tour company. They used Andean Travel Connections as their ground agent. Andrew has done the beautiful books Butterflies of Venezuela, Vol 1 and 2. He’s been a great help to me over the last several years on Nymphalid identifications, and I’ve been looking forward to getting to spend some time in the field w/him, and several of the other British photographers, as well as Bill Berthet from Florida.
Part 3 has us being met at the docks in Coca, on our way back from Napo Wildlife Center, by Thierry Garcia of Fundacion Sumac Muyu, who takes us to Loreto then up hiking 5 km to our comfortable camp site, using mules to haul in all our food and stuff. Just 3 of us, Kim, Bill Berthet and Kristine Wallstrom, who is with me for the entire 6 weeks.
Weather in Ecuador is complicated and variable, and it changes depending on where you are. In eastern Ecuador, where we spent most of our time, we were coming into the rainy time of the year, in April/May/June/early July. Then it dries out a bit in Aug/Sep, then rainy again in Oct/Nov, and drier in Dec/Jan/Feb. Because they’re on the equator they have 2 rainy seasons.
Day 1 - Sat Mar 19 – fly Houston to Quito, 1 night Hotel Sebastian
Day 2 - Sun Mar 20 – fly to Loja, drive to Copalinga Lodge east of Zamora for 4 nights, 950m
Day 3/4/5 - Mon/Tue/Wed Mar 21/22/23 – explore trails and road at Copalinga
Day 6 – Mar 24 – Carmen’s bird guide picks us up from Copalinga and takes us to Tapichalaca, Jocotoco Antpitta lodge, 2400-2600m
Day 7 – Mar 25 – see the antpitta in the am, heavy rain all day
Day 8 – Mar 26 – morning at Tapichalaca, drove to Loja after lunch, 3.5 hours, night in Loja at Hostal Aguilera Internacional, about 7,000’
Day 9 – Mar 27 – early departure from Loja to Urruca for 2 nights at 820m, several birding stops on the way
Day 10 – Mar 28 – walk the road at Urruca lodge, Jorupe reserve, another Jocotoco reserve.
Day 11 – Mar 29 – drive to Buenaventura, Long-wattled Umbrellabird lodge, 3 nights, 500-700m
Day 12 – Mar 30 – walked down the road from the lodge, Umbrellabird in the afternoon.
Day 13 – Mar 31 – drove to the higher part of the reserve, 2nd looks at Umbrellabirds.
Day 14 – April 1 – drove to Guayaquil and flew back to Quito for a night.
Day 15 – Apr 2 – a free day in Quito, met Andrew Neild and the others for dinner, Part 2.
Day 16 – Apr 3 – over the Papallacta pass, 2 nights at Termas Papallacta, 3,300m
Day 17 – Apr 4 – work the Jatuntinagua bridge at 2,100m & the meadow at 1,800m
Day 18 – Apr 5 – work the dirt track above Termas, 3,500m, then the bridge and to San Isidro for 2 nights
Day 19 – Apr 6 – the road in front of Cabanas San Isidro, 2,100m
Day 20 – Apr 7 – move to WildSumaco Lodge for 3 nights, 1,500m
Day 21,22 – Apr 8,9 – explore the road and trails at WildSumaco
Day 23 – Apr 10 – transfer to Yachana Lodge for 4 nights, Amazon lowlands on Napo, stop at Rio Pingullo 950m
Day 24/25/26 – Apr 11/12/13 – explore trails at Yachana
Day 27 – Apr 14 – transfer to Coca for the night at Hotel El Auca, butterfly oil field road at Anaconda in the afternoon
Day 28 – Apr 15 – transfer to Napo Wildlife Center for 4 nights
Day 29/30/31 – Apr 16/17/18 – explore trails at NWC
Day 32 – Apr 19 – transfer back to Coca, met Thierry for Part 3, 1 night in Loreto
Day 33-37 – Apr 20-24 – mule trek 5k into Rio Bigal Reserve for 5 nights camping
Day 38 – Apr 25 – mule trek back out, 1 night in Loreto
Day 39 – Apr 26 – fly from Coca back to Quito for the night
Day 40 – Apr 27 – early flight back to Houston and home on Continental
Day 2 - Sun Mar 20 – our driver, Luis, was supposed to pick us up at the hotel at 5am for our 6:30 flight to Loja, but he was late. He did show up about 15 minutes late, but we got to the airport and made the flight, no problem. He was driving a large bus, so the 7 of us had loads of room. He will be our driver for the rest of the trip when we leave Copalinga. He had trouble with a tire. When we made it to Loja, about a 50 minute flight on Tame, the next driver wasn’t there either, so we were starting to feel jinxed. I asked a guy there to call our contact, and found out there had been a miscommunication w/the driver when our flight was changed to the early one. But the driver showed up in an hour or less, and carefully drove us through Loja, about 45 minutes from the airport, then onto Zamora and a short distance past to our very comfortable home for the next 4 nights, about 2.5 hours. I’ve been here once before and wanted to come back. Copalinga is on a dirt road about 2.5 km from an entrance to Podacarpus National Park, and the road is a great place to walk for butterflies. We had lunch at 12:30, then wandered up the road, and got lots of nice shots of 3 species of emperors and a number of other species, including the gorgeous Kite-Swallowtail Eurytides serville, which zoomed up and down the road several times. It was overcast and fairly dry, no mud puddles in the road, so we didn’t see as many species as I had here in Nov of 2009. But late that afternoon it started to rain, and rained nicely all through dinner. Tomorrow should have some puddles. There is a great spot just a few hundred meters right of the entrance to the lodge, on the one dirt road towards the park, which last time was the best for butterflies. We have high hopes for tomorrow. Catherine, the Belgian owner/cook at Copalinga, is an excellent chef (and speaks 5 or 6 languages), and we have fabulous chicken w/pineapple and grapes and apples for dinner, after a delicious mozzarella/tomato/avocado in balsamic salad. A good place to eat for the next several days.
Day 3/4/5 - Mon/Tue/Wed Mar 21/22/23 – We explore the road to the Bombuscaro entrance to Podacarpus National Park, and trails inside the park, plus trails around the lodge, for the next 3 days. Catherine is a wonderful host, very friendly and helpful, and she takes whoever wants a lift each morning up the 2.5 km to the park entrance about 8am, after breakfast. This allows you to get further into the park, then we walk back on the road. I only do this 1 day, but some of the others do it several times, and see different species each day. You see quite different species in the forest, as compared to the road. The road is fabulous when the sun’s out, 5 species of Daggerwings/Marpesia, several Swallowtails, including one that I’m not sure what it is, tons of Emperors/Doxocopa, Actinotes and Perisamas and Satyrs. The rains appear to just be starting, we have good rain every day and every night, which builds up the road puddles. The butterflies appear to be just hatching out, as almost everything we see is very fresh, and we’re seeing new species daily, so we all have a ball. A number of Riodinids show up, and mostly are willing to pose, 4 species of Sisters/Adelpha, and a number of skippers who aren’t as cooperative. Jim gets photos of at least 2 different Dalla, maybe more. This is a very interesting location because we’re at the high end of lowland species plus the bottom end of higher elevation/cloud forest species. The lodge is at 950 meters, and the park is 100-200 meters higher, plus you can hike up quite a bit if you want in elevation. One day I work the trails at the lodge and get killer shots of 2 of the big satyrs, the beautiful pink tipped one, Cithaerias pireta, which is a lowland species, and the Pierella hyceta, which I usually see in cloud forest, w/bright rusty on the DHW. Copalinga is a very comfortable place to base out of, and lots of goodies to track down, plus the food is delicious. A dream lodge, I’ll be back a number of times.
Day 6 – Mar 24 – Mauricio, our bird guide, and Luis the bus driver, pick us up at breakfast and we take off. We bird the old Loja-Zamora road, starting at Zamora, and get out and walk at the bridge. This looks like it would be really excellent for butterflies if we had some sun, but we’re early, about 7:30am and overcast. But as we work our way up the road it warms up and we find a goodly number of butterflies, several new species for our trip. Mostly fairly common roadside edge species, but some nice metalmarks like the beautiful black and red Amarynthis meneria, always a crowd pleaser. Mauricio is a very good guide w/wonderful eyes, and he nails a Lanceolated Monklet right off the road. He’s very helpful and quick to get onto finding butterflies for us, he’s going to work out well. We stop at the top of the pass where you can access the start of the old road. In a car you can drive down maybe a km or so, but in the bus (we have a huge 20+ person bus, just for the 7 of us) we walk a bit down and see several new high elevation satyrs, the orange banded Pedaliodes I’ve seen in Colombia and a different Corades, even a hairy orange skipper. We get some good photos and have to drag ourselves away to drive on to Vilcabamba, another 1.5 hours down the road for lunch, and it’s now noon. We drive through Loja and down the mountain to Vilcabamba, a pleasant well-known tourist town. This is the famous valley where people live to be more than 100 years old, and the temperature is perfect. After a simple lunch of vegetable crepes for $2 each we head on south for what should be a 2 hour drive, but there is lots of construction and we are held up frequently, so it turns into more like 4 hours. We finally get to the famous Tapichalaca lodge, the flagship reserve of the Jocotoco Foundation. We crash early after dinner, tomorrow we hope to see the antpitta.
Day 7 – Mar 25 – Breakfast at 7am, then up the road and a 3 km hike in to the where they feed the antpitta w/earthworms. Since Angel Paz has started feeding antpittas outside of Mindo, a number of the birding lodges have trained their local antpittas to come for feedings, and you get outrageous looks at birds that 5-10 years ago were almost impossible to find. So the Jocotoco antpitta comes right in front of us, a fabulous bird almost as big as a football w/a stunning white patch under the eye. We all take tons of photos, even in the pouring rain. They tell us more come when it’s not raining, but we’re happy w/what we get. They also have a feeder table w/corn where white-throated quail-doves come, and a blind to photo them from, so we get excellent looks at those too. We finally head back to the lodge and spend some time at the feeders there, then after lunch we take the bus downslope, left from the entrance. Mauricio takes us past the town of Valladolid where we walk the road and see some good birds, Maranon Thrush, Spectacled Wren and several tanagers. It’s not raining lower down, we go under 5,000’, but then it does start raining and we head back upslope to our lodge. We stop and walk several places, probably the best bird we see is bearded guan, great looks from the bus. No butterflies today at all, but some stellar birds.
Day 8 – Mar 26 – after breakfast we go back to the entrance of the road to the antpitta feeding place, but this time we’re looking for golden-plumed parakeets. Yesterday in the rain we didn’t have any visibility and couldn’t see down the ravine to the nesting boxes, but this morning is clearer and we can see 5 different nest boxes. We get great looks at the parakeets, some even coming to the nest box, plus Hank flushes band-winged nightjar which gives us great looks, plus several other goodies. One of the prettiest is black-throated pygmy-tyrant, a beautiful little bird. Then we work the road below the lodge again, and kick up a few more goodies, one of my favorites, crimson-mantled woodpecker. We even see a few butterflies, but it stays rainy and overcast most of the day. After lunch, when we’re loading up the bus, it brightens a bit and sulkowsky’s morpho flies overhead. We walk up the road briefly and get a beautiful orange and black skipper, good photos by all, so we have a few nice bugs. If we could get a sunny day here it would be great. Oh well. Then back to Loja and stay in town at the pleasant Hostal Aguilera Internacional, where we eat dinner in their restaurant and hit the sack.
Day 9 – Mar 27 – early departure after a 6:00am breakfast. Mauricio has several birding stops for us today. We drive back to the Loja airport near Catamayo, above it in the hills where it’s a dry desert-type habitat. It takes 45 minutes to do 30+km, so we’re up in the habitat by 7:30am or so. We find lots of local special birds, one of the best is short-tailed woodstar which comes to Mauricio’s tape, and buzzes between us repeatedly. We’re looking for Anthony’s Nightjar, which Mauricio has seen here before, but not today. By 8:30 or 9 it gets warmer and butterflies start to appear, so we switch into photography mode, and spend another hour having a great time chasing bugs. Jim in particular gets lots of great shots, as he hangs behind when we hike off on the bird hunt. Then we head west 2 hours to Cariamanga, where we had planned to have lunch, but couldn’t find any decent restaurants, and the bus had to back and fill a couple of times to get through town, as several roads were blocked. We finally just stopped at a panaderia and got some cheese and pineapple empanadas and yogurt to go, which was perfect. About 15-30 minutes past Cariamanga we go up to the small town of Utuana and straight through to another Jocotoco preserve about 2500 meters. We walk in about 30 minutes to their feeders and see several fabulous hummers; rainbow-fronted starfrontlet, purple-throated sunangel and speckled hummer. Several Pedaliodes (satyrs) were on the trails but were difficult to get ventral shots of. Then we stopped at Sozoranga to look for chestnut-collared swallows that nest there in the church. We found lots of nest but no birds. We make it to the next Jocotoco lodge at Jorupe reserve, about 5 km from Maraca on the border w/Peru. This is dry tumbesian habitat, w/a strong dry and a wet season, deciduous forest. Fortunately we’re in the early wet season and everything is green. The dry season runs from June to December, and the trees drop all their leaves in Nov/Dec. Then the rains start in January and it greens up again.
Day 10 – Mar 28 – We wake up to spectacled owl and west Peruvian screech-owls calling all around our cabin, which is a great way to start the day before dawn. An early 6am breakfast and we’re off up the road, looking for black and white tanager. We never get to see that one, but have many other specialty birds of the area. White-edged oriole, henna-headed foliage-gleaner, white-tailed jay, constantly calling Watkin’s antpitta, a number of species I’ve never even heard the name of. This has been a great birding trip, many new species for all of us, and most of this group has been in the Andes many times. For butterflies, we see lots of Elzunia pavonii, the big black and yellow striped ithomiinae that looks like a swallowtail. There is another Heliconius w/a very similar pattern, looks sort of like a zebra but different. Plus Kristine gets great shots of a little Aeria tiger striped clearwing w/the similar pattern. We score good shots of a number of crescents (oh joy), and several different riodindis. A new Synargis, a female laying eggs who comes and poses, and a very pale Tegosa that I think is something different. Back at the dining area they have feeders out and they put out a bunch of our rotten mangos. We went wild at Copalinga, Catherine served fabulous mangos, then made the mistake of telling us they were only 4-5 for a dollar. So we each gave her a buck and she bought us a bunch on her next trip to town. She got 6/$1, so we had 40 mangos. But we’ve managed to eat most of them, except for a few rotten ones, which go to the butterflies. Many crackers come to the mangos, several species. 1 red cracker and lots of variations on grey cracker, w/different amounts of white. I suspect there is more than 1 species here that look like that.
Day 11 – Mar 29 – Another early departure, then we stop at one of Mauricio’s spots, about 3,800’, and tape in white-headed brush-finch, white-winged brush-finch, and a gorgeous skulky elegant crescent-chest. Then we head north towards Balsas, but we first stop about 5,300’ and walk a road down to the river at Catacocha, which has a number of new species of butterflies for us. Lots of rusty-tipped pages, malachites, a different 88 and a different sailor, this road reminds me of the Ocampo road in Tamaulipas. Orange mapwings, some hairstreaks, a different Emesis, maybe E.diogenia, not quite red enough for mandana. At the river we find a bunch of white-patched skippers, Theagenes aegides, 6 to 8 puddling. There are several Actinotes coming to tall yellow daisies, and a red and yellow crescent that looks like a Heliconius, but I don’t think it is. We have our box lunch, then drive about another 3.5 hours, get north of Balsas and turn right towards Pinas. About half way there (the sign says 25 km to Pinas) we turn off to the left at a signed intersection for Long-wattled Umbrellabird lodge, 5 km, and drive up through progressively nicer looking habitat. Kay sees a grey-backed hawk perched obligingly in a tree, and we get good photos, and make it to the lodge about 4pm. Dumping our stuff in our rooms, we head for the dining area and the famous hummingbird feeders, which are a sight to behold. They have the nectar in big flat pans, like garbage can lids, and there must be 15-20 hummers sitting on the edge and sucking up the sugar water. Quite a spectacle.
Day 12 – Mar 30 – Breakfast w/tons of hummers, then we walk down the road back to the bridge, which takes all morning. Luis our driver brings down the bus at 1pm and collects us, so we have lots to time to work the road and not have to worry about slogging back uphill in time for lunch. Pretty easy work. Heavy rain at night but the mornings are bright and sunny. Lower down we get several species of Daggerwings or Marpesia, including the beautiful blue and orange one M.furcula, which I finally get good dorsal shots of. Many of the species we see are the same ones we would find in Mexico and Central America. Many of them come south, hit the Andes and curve around to the right, hugging the west coast, but there are some different ones. Several great Heliconius or Longwings zip around, different subspecies of erato and maybe melpomene that is blue w/pink vertical bands on the FW and w/a wide white fringe on the trailing edge of the HW, a striking bug. Plus cydno and eleuchia, w/broad white or cream edges to the HW and a couple of pale bands on the FW, plus another that looks very close to the Elzunia but is different. We have heavy rain, sometimes very heavy, every afternoon and night, but all 3 mornings are clear, typical rainy season weather. One evening it is raining so hard we have to put on rain gear to get to the dining hall, but we manage. Overall here I wish there were more forest trails, so we didn’t stay just on the main road. No traffic, as the roads deadends into the reserve, but it’s mostly roadside edge species, lots of common grass skippers like Trailside or Anthoptus epictetus and some veined skippers like Callimormus radiola. The trails are narrow, steep and muddy, and not very well maintained, except for the trail to the Umbrellabird lek which is a really good trail. Lots of steps but not too hard, and only takes about 15 minutes. It starts about a km up from the lodge, then straight down towards the river. We get fabulous looks this afternoon, we go about 4pm, Mauricio finds a male who just sits on the branch and looks at us. The next afternoon most go back for 2nd looks, and this time he is displaying, leaning forward, swinging his long wattle (which he can make go up and down) and blowing out his cheeks. He swings the wattle side to side and puffs it out, an impressive show. Certainly the easiest look possible at this difficult species. Plus song wren, immaculate wren, club-winged manikins displaying, the bird list goes on and on. You would think this was a birding tour. The feeders are great here, rufous headed chachalacas and bronze-winged parrots which are beautiful.
Day 13 – Mar 31 – Today we drive back to the road, up about 10 km, then in to another higher part of the same reserve. We get dropped off and walk down the road a couple of km, chasing lots of green and black striped frogs, probably poison arrow frogs, but don’t see many new butterflies. This is being reforested, and was purchased for the El Oro Parakeet, which we hear fly over but don’t see. It’s still pretty pasteurized for good butterflies, we’re wading through a couple of million red peacocks and a few higher elevation things like Leodontas. One of the cooler things is found by Mauricio, duh, who points out to me some Heliconius sara who are just hatching out and the males are hanging from the pupa, waiting to breed.
Day 14 – Apr 1 – A long drive back to Guayaquil, about 5+ hours. We come out of the mountains and onto the coastal plain and head north, w/big mountains on our right. Mauricio finds us horned screamers out on the rice fields, but otherwise it’s pretty boring. We drop off Dan and Kay at their nice hotel in town, they’re flying directly back tomorrow from Guayaquil. The rest of us take an early evening flight to Quito, which is late, but we finally get to our hotels. Kristine and I are taken to the fancy Patio Andaluz right in the old colonial part of the city, a great location but expensive, and the other 3 go back to the Hotel Sebastian. The Brodkins go out tomorrow to a week at Septimo Paraiso near Mindo, and Jim has to head back to work. This is the end of Part 1.
Day 15 – Apr 2 – Kristine and I have a free day in Quito, and she wanders around the old town and takes in the gorgeous churches and beautiful buildings. I wake up w/a killer migraine, probably from the altitude and the long day yesterday, so I spend the morning in bed while she checks in periodically and brings me coca tea. I recover by lunch time and we go out and have great ice cream, just the cure for a recovering migraine. We’re meeting Andrew Neild, the leader of Part 2, tonight for dinner, along w/the rest of the Brits on his tour. We’re being joined by Bill Berthet, another American friend from Florida who is a great photographer and been on a couple of trips w/me before. So we’ll be an international group. Andrew has written the wonderful books on Butterflies of Venezuela, and has been a big help to me w/id’s on Nymphalids, so I’m really looking forward to getting to spend time in the field w/him.
Day 16 – Apr 3 – leave Quito 7am and drive over the Papallacta Pass at about 4,000 meters. We find Altapedaliodes tena right at the top, on a beautiful sunny morning, a new genus for me. Then we come down to the Termas Papallacta, a lovely hotel at the hot springs, where we will be staying the next 2 nights. We drive a dirt road up behind the hotel which goes up into some very nice looking habitat, but it clouds up and there are few butterflies, plus it’s a Sunday and there are many people at the hotel for the baths, and driving up the road for hiking. So we head on down the slope and stop at a bridge at the Rio Jatuntinagua about 2,100 meters, 18km below Guango, the nice birding lodge. Here we spend 1-2 hours chasing all sorts of great stuff. Many satyrs, 2 beautiful Catastica or Dartwhites, yellow Leptophobia, Orophila cardases – like a Perisama, and a great unknown hairstreak w/purplish bands. After blocking the road and causing much amusement from the traffic we head on down to Baeza and turn south about 5 km to a meadow on the right where Andrew has worked before, about 1,800m. Last time, in August he caught 32 species of Ithomiinae here. It’s raining when we arrive, but we wait and it dries out and brightens and all of a sudden we have butterflies. Lots of photos of several metalmarks, including a new one for me that neither Andrew or I know, a beautiful Necyria, the great pair of Heliconius telesiphe and Podotricha telesiphe and our first Oressinoma typhla. We have only a short time here before it rains again, but this is a place worth coming back to. We go back to Baeza and have coffee and hot chocolate at Restaurant Gina, suggested by Giovani, our bus driver. A nice little place to eat, good to know. We get back up to Termas, about an hour, and enjoy the hot, 41C, pools right in front of our cabins, and almost melt it feels so good and relaxing. This tropical travel is tough.
Day 17 – Apr 4 – We wake up to fog, so head down to the bridge about 9am. It’s still cool when we get there, so we head on down to the meadow from the day before. By the time we get there it’s about 10am and things are starting to brighten. Andrew spews his fish bait all over, the sun pops out lightly, and we have butterflies everywhere. We spend the day chasing up and down this small meadow, less than 100 meters, w/a small stream coming down the side, and 10 of us keep busy taking tons of photos. Many new species that we didn’t see yesterday, several Catastictas, another fabulous large white metalmark, Hermathena candidate, that Andrew gets excited about. We don’t get bored, new stuff keeps being drawn in, but we finally head out about 3pm, back up the road and stop at Guango to visit the hummingbird feeders. For $5 you can photograph there to your heart’s content and they serve tea and hot chocolate, well worth it.
Day 18 – Apr 5 – we say goodbye to Termas and head to Cabanas San Isidro for 2 nights. We hang around the high elevation and work the dirt road behind the Termas, hoping for some sun. Ian got a great shot here the first afternoon of a new genus, Neopedaliodes, probably an undescribed species. It has big orange spots on both wings on the dorsal, and I’m eager to find it again. We futz around the track, dodging the rain and sometimes getting wet, but when it lighens even a bit the butterflies come out. Probably our best butterfly of the morning is a white Lymanopoda that pops in and settles down in front of us, posing nicely for lots of photos. These are very high elevation butterflies, I’ve only seen one like it once in Colombia, also at almost exactly 3,500m. We also manage to find Ian’s Neopedaliodes again and get some photos. Bill and Tony find some Pedaliodes (maybe) to shoot, even in the rain, and they are gorgeous below, lots of bright rufous, almost red. These will be tough to sort out, but hopefully Andrew has some expert assistance on these high elevation satyrs. Then we go back down the road and stop at ‘our’ bridge, and again find a number of new species. A little brown job that we’re not even sure of which family it is, plus a couple of more satyrs. We make it to San Isidro about 3pm and work the dirt road a km or so from the entrance, and have a fabulous couple of hours until about 5pm. The sun is out and lots of stuff is flying. Again the fish bait pulls lots of species down to the road. Probably the most exciting thing we see is a spectacular hairstreak, all green and blotchy w/etchings near the body. No idea even what genus it is, but it poses wonderfully for 30 minutes of photography by all of us. It’s difficult to get the color right, but she lets us shoot over and over. Andrew collects it, so we know it’s a female. At first I called it a Sarota, it has the hairy legs and acts like one, but Andrew realizes it has black and white antennae and lobbed tails, no long hairs but definite bumps, so it’s a hairstreak and not a riodinid. It will be fascinating to try and figure out which species it is. Andrew later id’s it as a Rhamma species, hopefully he can tell me which species.
Day 19 – Apr 6 –First we go watch the white-bellied antpitta come in to the worm feeder, a new one for the Brits. After breakfast we take the bus up the road a couple of kms and find some great areas to explore, even after torrential rains all the previous night. It’s about 10am, and stuff is just starting to crawl out and bask, so it is great for photography. Lots of species are sitting around w/wings wide open, trying to warm up. We take tons of photos of the common yellow Leptophobia, which are usually impossible to get dorsal shots of, and lots of satyrs, and some beautiful grass skippers. A strongly veined one, maybe a Parphorus, with some nice yellow dashes on the FW, some dark skippers w/lots of spots, and lots of Vettius coryna, plus some fresh dark skippers w/big orange bands in the FW, maybe Lynchnuchoides. Unfortunately it goes back to raining by lunch time, we eat our sack lunches in the bus and finally give up and head back to the lodge for most of the afternoon. The sun finally breaks through about 4pm, and all of a sudden the road is full of butterflies. I’ve not seen them come out this late after a day of rain, but I guess these guys can’t wait for decent weather. Folks get lots of nice photos in the last hour, including a great Oxeoschistus flat open by Tony and a few others. The next morning we spend time photographing the tons of spectacular moths that have come into the lights. Lots of big yellow and rufous imperials, and a hieroglyphic sphinx moth different than I’ve ever seen.
Day 20 – Apr 7 – We drive to WildSumaco Lodge for 3 nights, a relatively new lodge at just under 1,500 meters 5 or 10 km up off the road to Loreto. On the way we stop first at the mirador close to San Isidro, where the Guacamaya trail takes off on the ridge. On a clear day this is a wonderful view over the amazon basin, but not today. We head down and turn left for Coca and Loreto, 146 km to Coca, then stop at Comedor Susanita, about 20-25 minutes east, at a big bridge. There are 88’s/89’s in the dirt parking lot, and there is a trail heading down to a nice waterfall in back of the lot. Below a post w/tires up on it, we head down the narrow muddy trail to the waterfall and we find the white flowers the clearwings love, and get 4 species of Ithomiinae hanging from them. It’s difficult to take turns photographing them on the slippery trail, but we get Ithomia salapia, I.terra, Pteronymia amandes and the beautiful Greta libethris w/the yellow band. Andrew tells me I.salapia comes in 2 versions, one w/the black box on the HW and one w/out. On a sunny day you can see lots of butterflies on the big rocks down by the waterfall, but unfortunately the rain gradually gets stronger as we wander around. Andrew shows us a 2nd place he really likes to stop, about another 15 minutes east at another bridge, but by now it’s raining steadily and we head onto WildSumaco. Here we enjoy the hummingbird feeders and find some nice satyrs around the road and the entrance, plus lots of moths left over from the night before. The rains appear to have started, and perhaps the moths are heavier when it’s rainier. Andrew was down the east slope in August and saw very few moths, but had better, sunnier, weather. Bonnie and Jim, the owners of WildSumaco, have kept rain records for the last couple of years, and they say April is the start of heavier rains, through May/June/July, same as at Copalinga. These 2 lodges are both on the east slope and similar elevations, Copalinga about 1,000m.
Day 21 – Apr 8 – Kristine and I take the F.A.C.E. trail in about a mile or so to look for the place where I saw tons of clearwings last time I was here, in late Oct 2009. The others walk back down the road about 1-2 km to the lower cabins and garage, where there are a number of trails through the forest. The best for butterflies is probably the power line cut, where it’s open but w/forest on both sides. The guys put out fish bait and get lots of goodies. Several Adelpha, 2 new species of Memphis, M.anassa and M.lineata, and Les even gets open shots of lineata. Lots of Catonephele salambria, the list goes on. In the forest we find some clearwings, not the numbers I had in 2009 but some good ones nevertheless. A common species here is Godyris duilia and the smaller version, Greta alphesiboea, both beautiful w/rufous edges on the hindwing and yellow on the forewing, spectacular.
Day 22 – Apr 9 – heavy rains in the night, and they continue almost all day. Occasionally it brightens a bit, and I head down the road to the lower area and watch the hummingbird feeders there for an hour or so, but no butterflies. After lunch it lets up and we all go back down the road where we find several new metalmarks coming to some white flowers overhead and new skippers for the list, especially coming to the little fuzzy pink flowers on the power line cut, right at the high point where it drops off downhill. Unfortunately we can’t get close to them, but one of the spectacular grass skippers, w/the white swirl and spangles, flies close to some of the guys and they get killer shots, dorsal and ventral, so hopefully Richard and I can figure it out. Andrew also catches a huge Taygetis, and it’s not mermeria, which don’t get this high, so it’s something new. We walk back up the hill and get home just before the rains start again, about 4:30pm, so we have a good time after all.
Day 23 – Apr 10 – more heavy rain in the night and morning. Our van shows up on time at 9am, but Andrew wants to hang around a bit and let the weather lighten up. We play w/the big green and brown caterpillars on the small tree next to the dining room, and Bill cuts off 2 of the different pupa and mounts them in the dining room so Bonnie can see what comes out. We leave about 10:30, it gets lighter, and we stop at one of Andrew’s spots on the Rio Pingullo, maybe 30 minutes from WildSumaco. This turns out to be a fabulous spot, w/tons of stuff coming to Andrew’s fish bait. My personal favorite is an unknown spreadwing, similar to Mictris crispus but different, but there are a number of other goodies. Probably the rarest is the beautiful pierid Cunizza hirlanda, a white w/a swirly yellow and orange ventral, and I get great ventral and dorsal shots, only the 3rd time I’ve seen this species. We finally leave about 2:30pm, after 3 hours, and take a right turn before Loreto and drive another 2 hours to Agua Santa, where the boat from Yachana Lodge is waiting for us. 10 minutes to cross the Napo river and we’re at our new home for the next 4 nights. This lodge is owned by the local indigenous tribe, who have done a bangup job w/this lodge. Lovely gardens, good food, a spectacular porch and dining area w/bar from which to watch sunsets over the river, comfortable rooms w/large just screens, so you get what movement of air there is. It’s warm but not unbearable, it cools off to low 70’s at night, though we sweat like pigs during the day hiking in the forest. This is upstream from Coca towards the mountains.
Day 24/25/26 – Apr 11/12/13 – First day we hike up the hill from the lodge to a couple of miradors and on a ridge trail into the forest. Our local guide is Abel, who grew up here. He’s very helpful and nice, and he knows many of the birds. We find some butterflies but overall it seems slow to both Andrew and myself. We have 3 nice sunny days, but I wonder if the heavy rains of the previous 3 or 4 days knocked many species down. We do find 1 of these and 1 of that, but very small numbers. The 2nd day we go back across the river and take a great double decker bus they have made and cruise the dirt road back to the Yachana reserve, about an hour. It’s lots of fun to sit on top and watch the world go by, the bus is slow and cumbersome but the driver is very good. Again, good looking forest but not many bugs. We do find a patch of taller forest and get several Adelpha coming to the road, and a fresh Eunica alpais, but the star of the show is the killer Dynamine gisella, a stunning purple/blue sailor, and everyone gets marvelous shots, after messing w/it for half an hour or more. After lunch, which is delivered hot from the lodge, we take the new road that is being built to Tena, to the west or left from Agua Santa, the village across the river. This looks nice, but it’s getting late in the afternoon. Kristine and I get good shots of a fresh Chloreuptychia tolumnia which she finds, beautiful blue w/an orange streak on the VFW. The 3rd day we take the motorized canoe upstream about 45 minutes towards Tena, to Abel’s uncle’s farm, and hike trails there. This is very nice looking forest, probably the best of the 3 days, and it should be quite productive at a different time. We find Hatarea pirea, the transparent satyr w/orange, and some other stuff but not much again. Though I do get 2 new Euselasia metalmarks I have not seen before. Probably the most exciting thing found by the guys is an Amazonian puffing snake, and Andrew gets marvelous video, so even though I don’t see it, I get to enjoy the video that night. There is argument whether it’s 7 or 9’+ long, but all agree it’s a pretty big snake, and watching it climb into the trees and puff up like an adder is pretty cool.
Day 27 – Apr 14 – We wake to heavy rains and have a wet 2 hour boat ride down river to Coca, but they have good ponchos and we stay relatively dry, considering. Coca is a scruffy river port town that mostly services the oil industry, so it’s not very scenic, but we stay at the Hotel El Acua, a very pleasant place and surprisingly quiet for being in town. Be sure to get rooms on the garden side of the hotel, not over the street. It’s only $54 for a double, nice big rooms, good internet hookup, big showers, so we’re happy. Andrew takes us to dinner at the restaurant right on the dock over the river, so we get to watch the lightning show and the clouds which are spectacular. Delicious food, I have the pepper steak and others have what looks like fabulous avocado stuffed w/chicken or shrimp. I’m a little cautious about salad stuff, after being sick the night before w/stomach problems, but hopefully everyone will be ok. That afternoon we go out to the Anaconda oil field road, where Andrew found good stuff last August, but it is still very slow for butterflies. We kick up a few things, a fresh lovely Caria castilia and some new Marpesia or Daggerwings for the trip, which keep people happy, but overall it’s surprisingly quiet. Andrew talks our way in past the guards and shows us one of the working oil fields, where they have a huge flame shooting in to the air burning off excess gases. Many moths come to this flame which burns 24 hours a day, and they’re all singed and lying around the base. He says there were many more when he was here before, but it’s still strange to see them all lying on the ground.
Day 28 – Apr 15 – a leisurely morning, we don’t have to be back to the docks until 11am for our 5 hour boat trip to Napo Wildlife Center, 3 hours by motorized canoe then transfer to paddled canoes for 2 hours. It’s raining again this morning, it didn’t start until just before dawn, hopefully it will rain itself out by boat time. I’ve heard great things about NWC, so I have high expectations. Unfortunately we have to wait for other clients bound for NWC that are arriving from Quito on the flight, and it’s delayed due to the rains. Apparently the airport is VFR, so the pilots need a certain visibility. We hang out on the docks at the same restaurant where we ate the night before for several hours, and finally get underway about 1:45pm. We make it down the Napo and to the transfer point, where we change to smaller paddled canoes for the last 2 hours or so. This last part is a wonderful trip, going slowly through a small creek w/amazing trees, vines and plants everywhere, and wonderful bird sounds. We find frogs, snakes, all sorts of goodies, and get to the lodge just at dark. The lodge has a great location on a large lake, and all the cabins have a great view over the water. Another place you could easily hang out and just watch the clouds over the lagoon. This is a very upscale lodge, probably the snazziest I’ve ever stayed at. It’s not cheap, I was told almost $200/day/person, but the meals are delicious, the staff very attentive, the rooms sumptuous, especially when you consider where you are, and they have some lovely forest. You have to take a canoe to get back to the parrot clay lick, which we do one morning, and to get to their birding tower, which we do another morning, and we walk trails around both areas. The butterflies are still slow but we manage to keep finding stuff to keep us busy. Mauricio, our boatman, has amazing eyes, and Juan Carlos, our guide, is very adept at taking care of us. They find more snakes, amazon jungle dragons (like a small iguana), birds, and even butterflies. Juan Carlos tells me they have 2 rainy seasons, and we are in the April/May/June rainy time. Then it is a bit drier July/Aug/Sept, then back to rains Oct/Nov, and it is drier Dec/Jan/Feb. Now the trees are fruiting, there is much rotten fruit on the ground, which attracts satyrs. Some of the most common butterflies we see are the large Pierellas which glide over the ground, and many of the Ithomiinae also come to the small orange seeds of the Tamia-muyo Tree, from the weird white golfball sized fruit that grow from the main trunk. But again the forest doesn’t seem as full of butterflies as it should be, maybe in the drier season. The star for us are the many Helicopis cupido we find in the Montrickardia plants from the canoe rides. This is a beautiful riodinid w/very long tails, silver spots on the underside, a truly spectacular butterfly. We cruise the canals and take many butterflies for photos.
Day 29/30/31 – Apr 16/17/18 – We explore several options for trails, having to use the canoe to get almost everywhere. This is a slight pain, as we all have to move as a group, and walking through the forest w/6 or 8 people trying to photograph is almost impossible. But the canoe rides are one of the highlights, it is magical gliding over the black water surrounded by swamp and forest. This lodge is basically in the middle of a swamp, but extremely comfortable, and very few mosquitoes. We sleep under mosquito nets inside our luxurious cabins and enjoy being taken care of. I like the morning where we go to the tower, again by canoe, because we have more time to wander the trails by ourselves. I find a fruiting tree w/clearwings and get some nice shots. This would be a very romantic place to bring a partner and be away from the world, but I prefer better habitat w/more trails I can walk myself. It’s flooded lowland forest, and has special species that like that type of swamp, lots of hoatzins and snail kites. I’m glad I came but probably won’t be back, too expensive for my budget and I prefer a little higher elevation forest, better mix of species.
Day 32 – Apr 19 – Early departure for our 5 hour transfer back to Coca, the Brits have an 11am flight to catch to Quito. It rains, big surprise, so their flight is delayed, fortunately. We make it back to the docks and meet our guide for Part 3 of our trip. Thierry Garcia is an energetic Frenchman who lives here in Loreto w/his wife Marion. They have a private reserve, Fundacion SumacMuyu, and they have bought about 150 hectares of forest about 2 hours above Loreto. We spend the night in Loreto at the basic but comfortable Monte Azul hotel for $10/room, quite a switch from the NWC. It’s funny, as we’re going from the most luxurious accommodations to the simplest on our trip, but that’s how it worked out. After adventures w/Thierry’s giant boat car, an ’87 Ford Crown Victoria that he drove here from Louisiana where we back into a curb and jam the muffler into the tire, then have to limp around Coca finding a mechanic to fix it, we make it to Loreto and have a tasty lunch and dinner at 2 of the new restaurants in town. Our favorite is the Colombian fruit stand, where the owner makes delicious fruit smoothies, batidos. I get durazno (peach) and they get mora or blackberry, w/milk they’re like shakes.
Day 33-37 – Apr 20-24 – After breakfast back at the Colombian fruit stand, we meet Jamie, our taxi driver, who takes the 5 of us and our ton of gear up an hour on the newly improved gravel road and drops us off where the mules are waiting. The 3 of us, Kristine, Bill and myself, start walking w/Marion while Thierry and the mule driver load the mules. Immediately we find lots of the weedy tall dandelion type white flowers covered with clearwings, so it’s going to be a very slow walk. It’s about 5 km/3 miles and we gain about 300 meters/1,000’, so it’s not a difficult walk, though it is muddy. We’re in rubber boots, and there is a certain amount of sucking and pulling your boots out of holes. But there are lots of butterflies, and what takes the locals an hour takes us more than 4 before we make it to the camp. The lower part of the road is lined w/the white flowers, plus there is a yellow composite on tall stalks the butterflies also like, so we stop every 10’ to take more photos. No hurry, we have all day, plus the next 5 days, to do just this, photograph butterflies. This is heaven, we spread out and move at our individual pace, not having to stay w/a group is wonderful. Thierry and Marion have built a great structure for camping, a 2 story large open wooden platform. The tents are pitched on the top level, w/hammocks, and we eat and hang out below. They have a cold water shower and a dry composting toilet, so all the comforts of home are there. Marion is a great cook and turns out amazing meals from her open simple kitchen, some over a wood fire and some using propane, which had to be hauled in by mule. She has a local woman, Nancy, who she is teaching to cook. Nancy is very shy but very helpful, and a big improvement over the poor girl they had last time. We really enjoy our 6 days here, and have some of the best butterflying of our entire trip. We do have lots of rain, but some sun every day, and when it’s not raining there are more butterflies everyday. We see new species on our last morning. The leafwings seem to be coming out, we have seen very few on the earlier part of our trip, but more Memphis, Preponas, Fountainea, Zaretis and Consuls are evident daily, all very fresh. Maybe they fly more in the wet season. It’s very humid, but mostly quite pleasant temperatures. It cools off to mid 60’s at night, I sleep in sweats in my sleeping bag and am comfortable. During the day it only is in the 70’s, but hot in the sun and we’re sweaty and looking forward to our chilly shower at the late afternoon. The big thing we miss is electricity, it would be fun to work on the computer and play w/our many photos at night. We brought enough batteries for our cameras for the 6 days, as they don’t have a generator and don’t really want the noise. Maybe solar panels would provide battery charging, but they don’t stay here all the time so they can’t leave expensive things like solar panels lying around. This is a new camp from the one I saw in 2009, and much improved. They have bought this land, so they have total control over it and can invest their sweat equity to build some nice things. Thierry loves going for night walks in the forest, and finding snakes and frogs and stuff. He has some herp groups come here, and they spend 6pm to 1am every night in the woods. We only go out w/him for 1 night, we’re usually too tired, but he has great eyes and knows his area very well. This is a fabulous place for amphibians, he has 23 species so far. He finds a snail eating snake one night and we take photos, holding the very calm snake on our arms. One of my favorite butterflies is a new spreadwing skipper, a green headed Nisoniades I finally see, not a Chloracephala. Their butterfly list was about 430 species, and we add close to 50 new species, so we have a great time. Thierry and Marion are fabulous hosts, they work very hard to please you and make sure you have a great time. They are passionate about what they’re doing, and well worth supporting.
Day 38 – Apr 25 – we mule trek back out, leaving after lunch and taking a slow stroll down the boot sucking trail so we meet Jamie at 5pm, late enough to hopefully avoid the taxi strike scheduled that day. 1 night in Loreto back at the Hotel Monte Azul, even the cold shower there feels good. Fruit batidos back at the Colombian fruit stand, empanadas and his delicious pan de yucca for dinner, and we’re ready for bed.
Day 39 – Apr 26 – a casual morning at Thierry’s office transferring photos, then Jamie takes us back to Coca to the airport, where we fly Tame back to Quito for the night for $65 one way, a short 30 minute flight. We spend the night in Mirasol, or gringolandia, at the Vieja Cuba, a nice old building converted to a B&B. It looks very nice but is unfortunately noisy all night. Of course it doesn’t help that we go to bed early, as we have a 3;25am departure for the airport. Other folk come in about 1am, and there are lights in the halls all night that come in thru the windows in the doors, clouded but the light still comes through, plus weird plumbing noises that keep us up.
Day 40 – Apr 27 – we catch the early 6:30am flights back to Miami and Houston, so we get back home that afternoon. Except for Kristine in New York, she doesn’t make it home until 1am, so she has an exceptionally long day. A great trip, lots of new photos, good travel companions, some tasty food, friendly helpful people, all in all most enjoyable. Ecuador is probably one of my favorite countries, along w/Colombia. Great diversity in a small country and lots of wonderful places to stay.