Bob and I celebrated our thirty year anniversary with a trip to beautiful Ecuador in 2017.
Click here to visit Bob's Flickr page to view larger images of his bird photos
by Gina Ames

Wednesday, February 22nd
After traveling for nearly 24 hours on three flights (Seattle to LA to Mexico City to Quito) we arrived in Ecuador in the early morning. We rented a car and drove through chaotic Quito north and then west to Mindo. Our first destination was Mindo Gardens where we had some much needed sleep. We awoke refreshed and went to explore the town of Mindo and lush surrounding countryside. We dined at the excellent Dragonfly Restaurant before returning to Mindo Gardens for a good night's sleep.

Heading to Mindo Gardens

Flora of Mindo

Mindo; The Dragonfly

Thursday, February 23rd
We arranged to meet a birding guide before sunrise. Irman Arias turned out to be excellent at spotting and identifying birds. He took us to a popular spot high above Mindo - an overlook near a cable car that transports people across a high ravine on the weekends. From this vista we saw three types of toucans, Chestnut Mandable, Choco, and Collered Aricari in the nearby trees. 

Toucan; Cable Car

Aracari; Quetzal

Potoo; Hummingbird
Irman took us to several places, including a private garden where we saw a variety of colorful birds. After four hours with Irman we saw 41 bird species, including the Squirrel Cuckoo, Sun Bittern, Golden-headed Quetzal; Common Potoo, Hook-billed Kite, Blue-necked Tanager,  Rufous Motmot, Blue Gray Tanager, Masked Trogan, the Swallow-tailed Kite, and many others.

Motmot; Tanager

Hook-billed Kite; Tanager

Trogan, Kite
After our successful morning we drove to Bellavista Lodge at a much higher elevation. The sun was out and the scenery gorgeous. The hummingbirds here were different than those in the lower area. We had an excellent lunch and chatted with other birders. We returned to Mindo to look for our next lodging, a place recommended to us called Hosteria Septimo Paraiso. The lodge was a lovely mixture of tropical and antique. We were offered a good rate by owner Anna Lou, so we decided to remain for a few nights. We had an excellent dinner and officially celebrated our 30-year anniversary in style.

Bellavista; Sun Bittern

Septimo Paraiso Pool and Patio

30 Years; Septimo Lobby

Friday, February 24th
It was still the rainy season in Ecuador and we detected a pattern: rain through the night that gradually cleared to sunshine through the day, then rain in the mid afternoon that increased into the night. We took a drive back to the Cable Car spot at pre-dawn and welcome the sunrise with more toucans. We drove higher into the hills and saw parrots, hawks, and many other birds and butterflies. After lunch at Septimo we explored further west and found a secluded place called Reserva Mangaloma. We hiked down to a small river and across a footbridge, seeing many new birds. The cicadas were very loud and the air was heavy and humid. Large Blue Morpho butterflies danced in the sun and Maroon-tailed Parakeets squabbled in the palms. We drove through a tremendous rainstorm on the way back to Septimo Paraiso where we enjoyed another great dinner before heading to bed.

Mangaloma; Cool Cicada

Footbridge; The Car

Hummingbird; Tanager

Saturday, February 25th
We awoke to a sunny day and after wandering the Septimo trails we headed back toward Bellavista to explore the "Nono" road. We saw a beautiful Cinnamon Flycatcher and a Scarlet-rumped Toucanet. The road went into deep valleys and over high peaks in the lush jungle wilderness... fabulous! We came to the Tandayapa Bird Lodge where we saw many more beautiful hummingbirds. The road continued for miles past tiny high mountain communities and eventually dropped into sprawling Quito. We realized that Carnival celebrations were going on and we traveled back to Mindo in a long line of traffic.   

Cinnamon; Wilderness

Toucanet; Blondie

Tandayapa Hummingbirds

Slo-mo Tandayapa Video 

Sunday, February 26th
Our plan was to head over the Andes to explore the Amazon side of Ecuador. Anna Lou helped us make reservations for the next three days. We wanted to make sure we had a place to stay through Tuesday - Carnival (or Mardi Gras). Apparently we were at risk of being egged and floured or worse during this festive celebration. We said goodbye to Septimo Parasio and took the Nono road again all the way into Quito. We headed east over Papallacta pass (elevation ~13,000 feet). Along the way we passed many tiny Andean communities and saw several indigenous Ecuadorian people who live in this high place. They have maintained their own unique language, clothing, and culture. We stopped at Papallacta Hot Springs at the top of the pass. Many people were camping and enjoying their four-day Carnival weekend. 

Ecuadorians

Guango; Guango River

Photos; Neil and Barb
We arrived at Guango Lodge on the rushing Rio Guango and struck up a quick friendship with Neil and Barb Fox from Toronto. Bob was happy to hang out with Neil, a retired photography professor! We chased the elusive Torrent Duck, bud sadly just missed seeing a pair with their chicks. We had a great dinner and were sent to bed with hot water filled heating pads to keep the high mountain chill away. Cosy!

Monday, February 27th
We awoke at dawn and carried our hot coffee out to the parking lot to meet a Guango guide who called in a Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, an elusive ground-dwelling bird. We spotted a White-capped dipper on the Guango River during a morning hike. After lunch we parted ways with the Foxes and headed down the Amazon side of the Andes to Cabanas San Isidro. Along our drive we saw people preparing for Carnival; vendors were selling things to spray on people passing by. We skillfully avoided the towns, enjoyed the beautiful drive, and arrived safely at San Isidro where we were warmly welcomed. The place had several large separate cabanas and a big main building with a large deck lined with hummingbird feeders and many bird watchers. The noisy Green (Inca) Jays were fun to watch. 

Dipper; Antpitta

San Isidro; Our Room

San Isidro Owl; Green jay
Dinner was excellent and we met some interesting people. Bob struck up a friendship with an avid birder from the Philippines who had some impressive photography equipment. We joined a night walk and saw the San Isidro Owl, one of the rarest birds in the world. It's only found in the high jungle around the San Isidro area on the east slope of the Andes mountains. 

Tuesday, February 28th
We joined a group in the early morning sun to see the White-bellied Antpitta. After a delicious breakfast and spotting the gorgeous Ling-tailed Sylth hummingbird we took a long drive. We passed through open jungle and many rural farms (fincas). We saw Oropendolas nesting and several other colorful birds, such as the Summer Tanager, ButterFlycatcher, Golden-naped Tanager, and the Blackburnian Warbler. We drove over rickety bridges and sometimes through shallow streams until we came to a place called Sierr Azul Mountain Rainforest Reserve. We crossed a long footbridge over a beautiful river and took a hike.

Sylth; Antpitta

Tanager; Oropendola

Warbler; Bridge
When we returned to San Isidro for lunch we discovered that all of the other guests had left to attend Carnival events. We had the place to ourselves! Bob set to work organizing his photos and I took a long walk. I returned and explored the lodge area, discovering another common area with a game room that included a pool table. We hung out there for a while, then went to see more hummingbirds before having another delicious dinner and then to bed. Cabanas San Isidro was great!


Shooting Pool; Hummingbird


Selfie; Exploring


Siesta; Butterflycatcher


Wednesday, March 1st
After breakfast we headed south toward the large city of Cuenca. Since this was too far to drive in one day a San Isidro bird guide suggested a hosteria in the town of Macas. We headed out in the rain and traveled through the Amazon highlands. We passed many tiny towns crowded close to the roadside. We saw lumber being harvested using horses for transportation. We were unable to find the hosteria in Macas, so we went back to a place we had recently passed that looked very grand. 

Work Horses; Thatched Roof

Mansion Amazonia

Mansion Amazonia
The Mansion De La Amazonia was really cool! It was large, with marble floors, hardwood furnishings, and lots of Spanish-style ironwork. Our room key was a large iron antique. Apparently the place had been full for the busy Carnival four-day weekend, but was now empty. Once again we were the only guests. It was warm and muggy in this low and southern area. We added several additions to our mosquito-bite collection as we roamed the beautiful grounds. We had a simple dinner and a good night's rest.

Thursday, March 2nd
It was pouring rain when we awoke with thunder rumbling through. We found some coffee and spread out the map to plan our day. We decided to continue south and visit the Incan ruins called Ingapirca. We drove through high ranges of dense fog and clouds, past rushing cascades, tiny mountain villages, and dozens of rivers. As we went on it stopped raining, the fog cleared, and we could see breathtaking Andean views. Each town had a unique character and interesting buildings. We went past a large dam with police roadblocks on either side. They did not speak English and we spoke very little Spanish, but they understood that we were tourists heading to the Incan ruins and let us pass through. 

Town Feature; Andes Village

Old Church; Ingapirca

Ingapirca; Temple of the Sun

Ancient Stones

Ingapirca Ruins

Foundations; Our Guide
When we arrived at Ingapirca the sun was out. We were provided an English-speaking guide who dramatically revealed the fascinating history of these ancient Incan ruins built atop an even older settlement of the indigenous Canari people of Ecuador. After the tour we returned to the car and it began to pour. It was growing dark by the time we came to El Choro Hosteria. We had a good meal in the hosteria restaurant and slept well, in spite of the unaccustomed humidity.

Friday, March 3rd
We decided to head toward Guayaquil in the marshy southern lowlands to see some waterfowl. We passed densely populated cities and towns that appeared run-down and chaotic. It continued to pour as we drove through endless heavy traffic of huge public buses, large freight trucks, small underpowered and over-loaded produce trucks, motorcycles carrying multiple people, and bicycles. Driving is a competitive sport here and we did our best to stay alive. The roads had no shoulders and we found very few side roads, so it was very hard to get photos of the many marshland birds we passed.

Jacana; Limpkin

Stilt; Kingfisher

Night Heron; Spoonbill
We saw many birds, such as the Wattled Jacana, Limpkin, Snail Kite, Black-necked Stilt, Ringed Kingfisher, Black-crowned Night heron, and a beautiful Rosette Spoonbill in the flooded fields. We stopped for coffee and a pastry in one of the many cities along our route, but we found the torrential rain and the stray dogs roaming the streets depressing. The weather forecast looked grim for the next several days, so we fed our pastry remains to the hungry dogs and decided to return to Mindo.

Wet City Video
We had been advised to stay at the Yellow House and we found it (officially called the Hacienda San Vicente) above Mindo as it was growing dark. We were provided with a three-room suite adjoining a spacious covered balcony. The rain continued to fall as we drove into town for diner at the Dragonfly before returning to the Yellow House and crawling exhausted into bed. 

Saturday, March 4th
Sunshine and a chorus of birdsong greeted us when we awoke. Seen by daylight, the Yellow House property was lovely. Tropical plants, ponds, streams, and flowers of every color were spread before us from our balcony view. Several toucans shared a treetop with a flock of noisy parrots. The spacious balcony was the perfect place to set up the tripod and camera with tables and chairs for the laptop and bird books. We photographed dozens of birds and enjoyed the warm and peaceful atmosphere. We went to the main house for a wonderful multi-course breakfast on a deck lined with hummingbird feeders.

Yellow House; Breakfast

Tanager; Agouti

Mojitos; Hummingbird
We spent a relaxing day enjoying the beauty of our surroundings. Chickens roamed the yard, an occasional agouti wandered through, and we saw a several new birds, such as the beautiful Blue-necked Tanager. We hiked up one of the trails and returned to the balcony to watch the setting sun. Darkness comes quickly on the equator as compared to our northwest Washington area. The rains returned and we went into Mindo and found a Mexican restaurant that served a unique type of mojito made from cane alcohol stuffed with fresh mint. We returned to our balcony and sat in the darkness listening to the night sounds. It had been a good day!

Sunday, March 5th
We headed up to the cable car lookout before sunrise and watched the Toucans and a couple of Pale Mandibled Aracari. A group from the US was there with a guide, so we tagged along as they walked up the road. We saw a rare Crimson-bellied Woodpecker. We returned to the Yellow House and after doing some laundry I sat in the sun while Bob worked on his photos. We saw Blue-Grey and Lemon-rumped Tanagers, and a variety of hummingbirds. We dined at the China House in Mindo and went to bed.

Aracari; Tanager

Woodpecker; Seedeaters

Yellow House Hummingbirds

Monday, March 6th
We decided to remain at the Yellow House indefinitely; we loved it there! According to Bob's "Birding Ecuador" book, the Milpe area looked interesting. It was a beautiful drive; we saw an endemic bird called the Pacific Hornero, several Smooth-billed Ani, and many other interesting birds. We passed the San Jorge De Milpe Birding Lodge, stopped, and were invited to tour the grounds. A guide showed us a sleeping Black and White Owl in a high tree canopy. We climbed a three-story tower from the main lodge and could see for miles above the green tropical canopy. We sat for a while enjoying the view and a refreshing Ecuadorian pilsner.

Hornero; Ani

In the San Jorge Tower

Black and White Owl; Milpe
We returned to Mindo and wandered the town before selecting a restaurant that served Mexican food; another good meal. We had recently befriended another Yellow House guest, a birder from England named James. We arranged for the three of us to go and see the famous Andean Cock-of-the-Rock at a local bird lodge, so we agreed to meet well before daylight for this interesting tour. Another fun-filled day!

Tuesday, March 7th
The three of us reached Refugio Paz de la Aves just before dawn. We met Anjl Paz, a guide and owner, and the other tour group members on a very muddy mountain road. We descended a slippery trail in the dark to a small make-shift shelter and waited for daylight. We could hear a couple of the Cock-of-the-Rocks in their lek as they postured noisily. When daylight came we strived to catch a glimpse of the birds. Only one could be seen now and then, so we didn't get very good photos. We returned to the road and over the next hour or so we climbed up and down some treacherous trails in the slippery mud to see up to five different Antpittas. We were not that successful, but did see three: the Yellow-bellied, the Ochre-breasted, and another Chestnut-crowned. We ended the tour at a shelter on a high ridge. Colorful birds visited us while we ate a delicious breakfast and some hot coffee (finally!). We saw a colorful Tucan Barbet, lots of Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers, and many hummingbirds.

Cock of the Rock; Overlook

YB Antpitta; OB Antpitta

Tucan Barbet; Tanager
It  started to rain as we descended the mountain and the road was running with mud. Back at the Yellow House we relaxed on the balcony and the rain turned torrential. We enjoyed another dinner at the Dragonfly and returned to the Yellow House with some carrot cake and wine.

Wednesday, March 8th
After breakfast we explored the grounds and discovered a secluded pond covered with blooms. A little covered bridge led to the tiny island. We saw a Water Tyrant, a Turquoise Tanager, a Scarlet-backed Woodpecker. We decided to find another birding spot recommended by the "Birding Ecuador" book called Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary. The location in the book was wrong, be we eventually found it down a long road of open farm and pasture. We saw a small flock of Pacific Parrotlets - very cool! No one was around as we walked through woods with cicadas so loud they hurt our ears. We climbed a five-story tower in the hot and humid afternoon, but saw very few birds. We would have been smart to have visited this spot in the early morning when the birds were more active.

Bridge and Pond

Tanager; Tyrant

Parrotlets; Woodpecker
It was pouring rain by the time we returned to the Yellow House. The town streets were flowing with muddy water. We dined once again at the Dragonfly, a place fast becoming a favorite.

Thursday, March 9th
The sun emerged during breakfast on the main house deck while we chatted with guests from upstate New York and Toronto. We did some early morning birding and then headed into Mindo for a tour of the El Quetzal De Mindo Chocolate Factory and Restaurant. We toured the grounds to see the cacao plants and the other ingredients grown on the property. We saw how the beans were processed and tasted several chocolate samples with different purities and additives, such as chili pepper and ginger. Delicious! 

Chocolate Tour

Chocolate Tour

Chocolate Tour
We discovered that the El Quetzal restaurant was excellent and after lunch we headed across town to check out the butterfly garden. The Mariposario Nathaly was pretty cool. We roamed around inside an enclosed area full of colorful butterflies. The place also had many hummingbird feeders. 

Butterflies

Butterfly Video

Butterflies
We took an afternoon drive and discovered a new road along the Rio Mindo. We returned for dinner at El Quetzal and enjoyed chicken with chocolate sauce and their homemade ginger ale. What a great day!

Friday, March 10th
We decided to explore a larger town west of Mindo called San Miguel de los Banco. We walked the busy streets and explored several interesting shops. We drove the Milpe road again and saw toucans and parrots, then headed to El Quetzal for a latte and chocolate brownie. The typical rain started in the ealry evening and we dined at the Mexican restaurant before heading back to the Yellow House for bed. 

Produce; Fresh Cooked

Hog Head; Chicken Feet

Candy; Town Square

Saturday, March 11th
It rained from sunup to sundown, so we remained at the Yellow House and enjoyed a restful day on our big balcony - me reading and Bob taking some new and sorting some prior photos. We met James for dinner at the El Quetzal and highly approved of their chocolate martini made with Ecuadorian cane alcohol. James shared some stories about birding in the UK and we learned more about his world travels. A very relaxing day. 

Sorting Photos; Heliconia

Dante and Rex; Hummingbird

At Breakfast; Dove

Sunday, March 12th
Bob spotted a Cock-of-the-Rock in the Yellow House grounds during the morning - very cool! We took a long walk above the cable car overlook with James. It was warm and humid in the jungle after all of the recent rain and we saw several birds. In the early evening a new Yellow House guest showed up: a herpetologist student who was looking for nighttime snakes and frogs. He and Bob did a night tour around the property with flashlights and saw several types of frogs, but unfortunately (or fortunately?), no snakes. 

Hummingbirds

Woodcreeper; Hummingbird

Frog; Hummingbird

Monday, March 13th
Bob replaced the aging avocados on the Yellow House platform feeder with fresh bananas and very soon a colorful Motmot flew in; a Squirrel Cuckoo soon followed. We headed back up to Bellavista and chatted with several birders visiting from Europe, Canada, and the US. It was pouring when we arrived back at the Yellow House. We had dinner at the Dragonfly: a sizzling steak on a hot stone. 

Squirrel Cuckoo; Hummingbird

Flowerpiercer; At Bellavista

Hummingbird; Swallow

Tuesday, March 14th
Our last full day in Ecuador - we fly out Wednesday morning. After breakfast we said our farewells to the Garzon Jaramillow family who had taken such great care of us. We went with James back up to the cable car overlook and took another hike. We stopped by the private hummingbird garden and had some coffee and empanadas while we enjoyed the many hummingbirds again. We returned to the Yellow House and packed up our belongings in preparation for a very early start in the morning. Another excellent dinner and chocolate martini at El Quetzal before turning in for one last night's sleep in Ecuador.  

Garzon Jaramillow Family

At the Hummingbird Garden

Hummingbirds

Thursday, March 16th
We left Ecuador Wednesday morning, traveling from Quito to Mexico City to LA to Seattle. Granddaughter Alyssa had a warm welcome ready for us when we arrived early morning on Thursday. We had a wonderful thirty-year anniversary trip, but it was wonderful to be home! 
  

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