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A windy and mountainous two hours outside of Northern Quito is the small town of Mindo. The terrain surrounding the pueblo feels like a low river valley but the altitude is still a respectable 4101 feet (1250 meters). That makes for a lot of down in the ups and downs coming from Quito, which is over 9,350 feet (2800 meters) above sea level.

Mindo is famous for a very good reason - this small town in Ecuador has had the top Christmas Bird Count in the world for a number of years. More than 125 volunteer birders have regularly counted over 400 species of birds in a single day of the event.

We had already visited an area that is often counted as part of the Mindo, Bellavista Reserve and I wrote about it a few weeks ago. A couple of weekends past, we stayed at a different lodge and a different altitude in hopes of seeing different birds. That's the way it works around here - just stay 5 kilometers away and change your altitude by 200 feet higher or lower and you're bound to different birds!

And we weren't disappointed! Even with the beginning of rainy season, we saw a healthy dose of new birds... and some old favorites as well.

A White-whiskered Hermit attacking a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.

Downtown Mindo on a quiet Monday morning.
The town of Mindo is really not anything special. Like any tourist town, it's full of restaurants, travel agencies, a grocery store or two, a plaza, and a pharmacy tucked away in the back (we unfortunately had a need to know as one of us was hit with a stomach bug on the way into town).

We arrived on a three-day holiday weekend and the streets were absolutely packed with vactioning Ecuadorians. No, they don't all come for the birds. They come for the tubing on the river, the ziplines at several resorts, the waterfalls that are not dramatic compared to Yosemite but are scenic enough to attract tourists and cameras, and for the butterfly gardens at the Hostería Mariposa. Most people buy a package deal and see a little of everything. Very few Ecuadorians look at birds.

Butterflies from the Mariposario. For more butterflies, visit my blog.
On the advice of some friends who were planning on meeting us for one of the three-days of our trip, we stayed at the Hostería Mariposa, a couple of kilometers outside of town. We liked the place. The cabins were understated and nothing fancy but the beds were comfortable and the bathroom was more than spacious. The food was good, especially the local trout wrapped in banana leaves.

Their butterfly house was fun, especially in the late afternoon after the tourists had been asked to leave. At that hour, guests of the hotel could enjoy the enclosed garden to their hearts' content. The witching hour started at about 6pm. Within the confines of the butterfly house, the largest varieties would take flight, those that had large owl like spots on their outer wings but were deep bronze or lapis-lazuli blue on the inner wing. As they circled around the enclosed space, they looked more like strange bats than butterflies. What was worse is that they would land on your head and if you don't have any hair, their wiry little legs would scratch at your scalp. It was bad enough for me and my curly locks as each little pair of legs felt as if it was caught and couldn't get free. But my poor husband kept ducking and swiping in order to escape this small form of torture.

While we liked the butterfly house, we liked the outdoors so much more. As Americans with access to butterfly gardens in many natural history museums or botanical gardens, we're very fortunate. For Ecuadorians, however, the mariposario is unique and creates a great space for local tourists to learn about the life cycle of the butterfly and the importance of protecting and creating new butterfly habitats.

But this place had more than butterflies. Like Bellavista, Hostería Mariposa has sugar feeders placed to attract the wide variety of local hummingbirds. The best time to see them is early morning and late afternoon, again after the hordes of visitors coming to see the butterflies have left. I have a feeling this place would be heavenly to visit mid-week or even on a non-holiday weekend.

My favorite hummingbird visitor was easily the White-Whiskered Hermit. His tail is scalloped and the his face marked by striking white stripes above and below his eyes. He's a feisty little bird and we often saw him fighting with the other hummingbirds for his place at the feeder. Once, we were fortunate to notice him sitting in the dark shadows of the bamboo growing just outside one of the restaurant windows. I had noticed his sillouette from afar and made my way over to the window to get a closer look. There he was, sitting like he didn't have a care in the world. Those few pictures are the best of the entire trip.

A Blue-manteled Thornbill Hummingbird

A Green-crowned Woodnymph

A White-whiskered Hermit where you can actually see his whiskers.

White-necked Jacobin Hummingbird

Green-crowned Woodnymph

Female Andean Emerald Hummingbird

A Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird
Those restaurant windows provided a pleasant view of more than hummingbirds. In the afternoon, while sipping on a glass of mango and blackberry juice (yes, the juices around here deserve a diary all their own), I saw un monton de pajaros. The regulars seemed to be the Lemon-rumped Tanagers and a Thick-billed Euphonia. Many came to eat the seeds from the split plaintain that had been nailed to the trunk of the tree directly outside the window but they also enjoyed the small, round orange fruit of the tree itself. While sitting there enjoying the day, we also saw gorgeous Fawn-breasted Tanager, a Blue-Gray Tanager, and an Orange-billed Sparrow. We were told by one of the staff that is was a slow weekend for birds as they were a little shy with the amount of visitors to the area.
The male Lemon-Rumped Tanager, probably the most common bird here that isn't a hummingbird.

A Fawn-breasted Tanager - I just love his fine touch of powder blue. It's my favorite color.

A Thick-billed Euphonia who always seemed to follow the male Yellow-rumped Tanager.

A female Lemon-rumped Tanager enjoying an afternoon snack.

Thick-Billed Euphonia from behind... notice how blue the feathers appear from this angle.

A Blue-gray Tanager

Orange-billed Sparrow coming for the fruit.
Our simple cabin.
I also took the time to sit outside our small cabin and just observe the clearing. I enjoyed watching a small hummingbird, probably a Rufous-Tailed, feeding from the flowers on the low lying banana-like plants. He would flit among the broad green leaves and I would barely get a look at him before he was off to another plant. Several times, I also heard from behind another hummingbird; it made a deep thrumming sound that was more like a cat purring than a bird's wings. My guess is that it was a type of hermit - either the White-whiskered that we had already seen or a similar bird with the same scalloped tail. I think that tail makes them louder than all the others. The female Lemon-Rumped Tanager bounced around from low lying cover to branch to low lying cover again. I must have spent a good ten minutes following the path of a Red-faced Spinetail. For the longest time, even after I got home, I thought this bird might be a type of woodcreeper and he had me fooled until I asked for some help from a birdwatching forum. He was acting so creeper-like, his tail almost gripping the tree trunks, but he insisted on straying from the trunks to the fan-like leaves of a shrub even more. He would hang upside down and sideways as he pecked away at hidden insects.

For a brief moment, I shared the view of the open clearing with a Roadside Hawk. He perched high up on a branch where he could see the nearby road, possibly parts of the river, and the clearing where I sat. I caught a blurry but decent photo as he flew away.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

The female Lemon-rumped Tanager hanging out near our cabin.

A Red-faced Spinetail

A quick shot of a Roadside Hawk in flight.
We saw more than birds along the dirt road.
My husband and I also took the opportunity on Sunday morning to walk the dirt road that led back to Mindo. We did this early before the tubing started on the river that ran parallel to the road. The bushes and low growing trees provided ample cover for lots of birds. We saw some regulars - like those Lemon-rumped Tanagers - but also the smallest little Scale-breasted Pygmy Tyrant that patiently let me follow him around until I got a decent picture. I was thrilled as the little birds always seem to escape my lens. We watched Black Phoebes dance from power lines to rocks in the water to the hard packed dirt ground of the parking lot, snatching up the small no-seeums that like to bite people around the ankles and leave angry red marks as bad as mosquito bites. I highly recommend long pants and hiking boots - most American tourists we saw were wearing shorts and sandals as well as the tell-tale marks of insect bites.

On our walk, we found a bridge that led to a different lodge. It allowed us a great view of the river and a lone Cattle Snowy Egret that was hunting alone the rocky shore. We had been watching egrets fly overhead all weekend and had wondered if we would be lucky enough to see one on the ground. We also spotted a Neotropic Cormorant high in a tree. And I twice saw a lone Toucan fly by so quickly that my husband couldn't turn fast enough to see him. Later in the morning, he caught a glimpse of what we think might have been the same bird and he identified it as a Pale-mandibled Aracari. It definitely had a pale colored bill and that is the only good fit for the area.

A Black Phoebe.

A quizzical little Scale-breasted Pygmy Tyrant.

A Cattle Snowy hunting among the rocks.

Roadside Hawk drying his wings.
Coming back from this walk but on the grounds of the hotel, we once again saw the Roadside Hawk. He was all puffed up, probably drying his wings from the early morning fog. And as luck would have it, we also saw a Rufous Motmot, one of my favorite if most aggravating birds of the entire trip. We actually saw him more than once. He would sit so still in a tree that he would be nearly impossible to see until my husband, and always my husband, would point and whisper, there he is! And by the time I could focus my camera, this beautiful red-brown bird with the striking black eye stripe and deep green wings would be gone and we would enjoy the view of this gorgeous tail feathers waving goodbye. I got one picture and one picture only of the stately fellow and unfortunately it only shows his head. The tail will have to wait for the next trip.
The elusive Rufous Motmot.
On that same Sunday, we decided to walk to the end of the road to find a restaurant that claimed to sell pizza... great motivation for a teenage boy. We not only found pizza, we found the lodge where we plan to stay next time. It is situated right on the river. We ate lunch with Black Phoebes as our dining partners and the roar of the river drowned out the voices of the other diners at the restaurant. Luckily we were well protected by an awning because it also started to rain. And it rained hard. We took our time eating and once it slowed down, the damp didn't stop us from looking around and walking a few of the paths that lead to small cabins tucked away in the sub-tropical forest. This place was more secluded than the butterfly lodge and fewer people bother to venture this far out of the city of Mindo. And in just the short time we spent there, we saw a stunning little Tawny-breasted Hermit Hummingbird, not far from where a hammock was set up. I could just imagine laying down by the river with my camera by my side and letting the weekend just pass by. Next time we head back to Mindo I think this is where we will stay.
An unidentified bird. Any ideas?And nookular has it! A Tropical Kingbird
Another unidentified bird... this one was sitting by the side of the road.

Originally posted to Birds and Birdwatching on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kitchen Table Kibitzing.

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