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Returned from 3 weeks in Ecuador, no Galapagos.

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Oct 14th, 2013, 11:21 AM
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Returned from 3 weeks in Ecuador, no Galapagos.

This won't be much of a report to start with but if anyone has questions I am happy to answer.

Quito airport
Lots has been written on the new airport. Transportation and lack of lockers are not the only problems, they put it in a location where high winds can close the airport in the afternoons! Instead of arriving at 3pm, LAN decided to divert us to Cali Columbia, sending panic through the ranks of tourists with Galapagos packages the next day. Apparently this happens all the time, the just sit in Cali for about 3-4 hours, and combined our flight with the regularly scheduled Cali-Quito departure at 5:30 pm. (Only a few seat conflicts thankfully). At the Quito airport immigration, there were about 5 stations opened for foreigners and about 15 open for nationals! So it took about an hour to clear immigration at 9pm at night, welcome to Ecuador. Your bags are x-rayed rather than inspected. No red light/green light system. There is a tourism info desk, and right next to it is the taxi booking desk. Prices should be fixed, it will be around $25-$26 to most hotels. I shared with two Aussies on my flight (we were going to nearby hotels) and the driver agreed to just add another $5 to the fare, so $15 each. They spoke no Spanish and were nervous about security, so we went to their hotel first. They did not like it when the driver stopped to take a phone call just around the corner from the hotel, so I asked him in Spanish to cut it out.

For my return, there was a tremendous afternoon rain storm so it 1.5 hours in bumper to bumper traffic from the center of Quito just to my hotel in Puembo. My hotel arranged the transfer for $20 but I felt a $5 tip was warranted. The next morning I left at 6:15 am for an 8:40 flight, but arriving 2 hours ahead was not necessary at that time. I was done with bag drop and immigration control in 20 minutes.

Hotels: Quito
JW Marriott, Heaven. Lucky to have found a 50% off price booked through the Marriott members website, two weeks prepaid and low season September. Absolutely perfect. If you decide to travel carry-on only, the spread of toiletries on offer should carry you through for a week! Roses and a soaking tub. Location is not the best unless you are using taxis, however it is close to the Interoceania Highway that leads to the airport. Luckily I eventually made it to the hotel at 10:30 pm after being diverted to Cali Columbia!

Eugenia: A decent mid-range hotel, with a helpful English speaking front desk. Rooms are a bit small and have no ventilation or conditioning other than windows (I had only two small ones that opened to the stairwell). Good mid-city location that feels safe, not actually in Mariscal (but nearby) and not much street noise at night. Decor may not be for everyone. They have an elevator!! Okay buffet breakfast. A few blocks to Orellana stop on the EcoVia.

Real Audiencia, Colonial Center. Awful front desk staff. The rooms are tiny, but some have updated bathrooms. Neighborhood slightly sketchy and too quiet at night (a bit too close to Santo Domingo Plaza and a bit too far from Plaza Grande). Just a block to Santa Domingo Trole, but this station is extremely crowded at times. Poor value, although the breakfast buffet from the hotel restaurant was excellent. Would not return.

Su Merced, Puembo (in the morning, about 15 minutes to the airport). http://www.sumerced.com/- Highly recommended, I loved this restored hacienda, operated by two families. One of the owners will take you personally to the airport at $15 for early flights, and can print out your boarding passes. I found quite a good single rate via booking.com. There is wi-fi only in the main house lobby and no TV. Can't recommend the prearranged dinner but the breakfast is fine. Communication can be a bit erratic depending on who is checking their emails.

Latacunga.
I went to partake of the Mama Negra festival, and didn't have time for any excursions. I found Villa de Tacvnga on booking.com and was given an upgrade to a lovely top floor room with a sitting area and a rooftop view. Very helpful front desk with some English capability. Breakfast is included but service is a bit slow, allow extra time if you have a tour to catch. The rooms have space heaters!! No issues with wifi or hot water during my stay. Colonial center location near various travel agencies. http://www.villadetacvnga.com/

Otavalo
Hotel Coraza, cheap basic hotel in the center of town on booking.com Major chaos during breakfast with a full house. Worn but functional, no elevator. Noise only a problem from other guests at night. Nice restaurants next door (SISA). OK, just a place to sleep.

Mindo.
Bio Hostal Mindo. Affordable basic option at the edge of town run by a Mindo birding guide (Irman Arias) who made us breakfast as early as 5 am. Large rooms, wifi, hot water work fine. Be careful in the showers, two of us slipped getting out (at different times!). I imagine most Fodorites stay at one or more of the luxury lodges but this isn't a bad choice for budget travelers.

Getting around Quito.
The Hop on Hop Off bus is a great way to orient yourselves to tourist Quito. It is $12 for all day, no need to buy ahead, tickets are on sale on the bus.
www.quitotourbus.com/
I basically rode it all day my first full day in Quito. The stop at Panecillo hill is for 30 minutes, which is plenty of time to take in the view and buy some "colada morada" or purple corn/fruit drink from one of the vendors. The stop at the Naciones Unidas is near a big modern shopping mall, the stop at Elijido park is not far from the excellent archaeology museum (free and a nice gold exhibit included).

Using the Trole/Ecovia/Metropobus (25 cents per ride).
Unless you get on at the right time and right place, these main north/south routes are extremely crowded, especially the Trole. It is not a good idea to try to do this with any kind of luggage (although I actually did). For the Trole and Ecovia, there are ticket booths that can make change, but that is likely to result in handfuls of Ecuadorean coins being given back. For the Trole you are given a ticket, for the Ecovia you drop a quarter in a slot to gain access.

Taxis. These are supposed to use meters. Official taxis have a number in an orange box on the side, two cameras, and a red panic button near the back seat (right side). Using the meter doesn't necessarily mean you won't be taken advantage of, though! Tricks like taking roundabout routes, etc....

Long distance bus terminals are located at either Quitumbe for the south and Oriente (a nice modern station) or Terminal Carcelen for the north. Taxi from Quitumbe to the colonial center was $7 (fixed rate). I used the meter to the north and got ripped off to the tune of $22!! There are ways to use public transport but it involves several transfers and is difficult with luggage, although I managed to do this without too much trouble in the return direction from Otavalo.
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Oct 14th, 2013, 06:52 PM
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Thanks for the report. Sounds like a good trip. We have 18 nights booked in February, also no Galapagos. Really looking forward to the trip, so it's nice to read a trip that isn't all about the Galapagos
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Oct 15th, 2013, 07:47 AM
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A note on food and eating in Ecuador.

I spent most of my time around the Andes, including the east and west slopes at birding lodges. Ecuadorean food is neither the most exciting nor the most boring in Latin America. In many cases, there is a "same old same old" quality, but certainly some dishes that I enjoyed.

Wonderful fresh "jugos" of tree tomato, guanabana, taxo (the banana passionfruit called tumbo in Peru)& naranjilla. Mango, maracuya aka passionfruit, frutilla aka strawberry and mora aka blackberry are other typical options.

Similarly the icy sorbets (mostly nondairy! in these fruit flavors. At Heladeria San Augustin in Quito you can also find uvilla (aguaymanto or goldenberry).

Ceviches. We tried chocho (Andean lupin bean), palm heart, and conchas (black clam). The Ecuadorean ceviches are not as tart as the Peruvian (made with a different citrus), and quite soupy.

Soups. I never met an Ecuadorean soup that wasn't delicious. There were more than a few meals that were soup only. Note that Caldo de Gallino is typically a morning to lunchtime dish, don't expect to find it after about 2 pm. A fish soup at Cevicheria Manolo was quite good. Many soups are thickened with green banana or plantain.

Breakfasts are hearty, a continental breakfast is not what I was expecting, but basically a full breakfast excluding meat. Many hotels include fresh juice, fresh fruit, eggs, breads, yogurt as part of their package. Real coffee can be found. Some local items such as quimbolitos or the fried balls of plantain and pork are interesting. If it's a cold day, try the "colada morada", purple corn and fruit beverage similar to api in Peru and Bolivia.

Almuerzos or lunch plates, and Meriendas or (early) dinner plates are cheap, usually including a soup that is the best part of the meal, as well as far too much white rice. Meats can be cooked within an inch of their lives, however. Trout is often on the menu.

In Quito I had the 'seco de cabrito' a few times, as I am a big fan of goat. The version at Heladeria San Augustin is famous. The meat was falling off the bone, but the I wished for a bit more "picante" flavor in general.

One place in Otavalo deserves special mention, the SISA cafe on the 3rd floor of the movie theater complex (next door to Hotel Coraza on Abdon Calderon Street. Had the mixed skewers and enjoyed the steak in particular, even the chicken had some juice left in it!

I didn't always eat healthy. In Latacunga, I could not resist a snack of a bowl of french fries, topped with a deep fried egg, mystery meat (heart?) in an aji sauce, cabbage salad, and various cremas. ($1.50, if I remember correctly it is on Orellana near La Merced).
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Oct 15th, 2013, 11:48 AM
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Great report mlgb, take me right back! I tend to agree with your comments on the food. Amazing soups but a lot of the same stuff everywhere made for a lack of variety. Didn't really like the Ecuadorian ceviche, much prefer the Peruvian variety. What I really miss though are the tree tomatoes, my new favourite fruit. Couldn't find it anywhere else in SA.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 04:13 AM
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Would love to hear a birding report! I'm in the early stages of planning a trip to Tandayapa lodge and the Mindo area,so any input would be greatly appreciated. I would like your thoughts on renting a vehicle and self driving vs transfers. Also haven't seen much on the best season to visit for birding or any time to avoid due to the weather i.e. rainy season.I know from your posts on Costa Rica that there had to be some pictures taken- any chance you could share? Many Thanks!
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Oct 27th, 2013, 12:11 PM
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Hi RTJ! Sad story re the bird photos. I lost my SD with 99% of the bird photos..in an attempt to safeguard it on a bus ride back to Quito, took it out of the camera and lost it somehow...what a fool.

Weather is different on the west slope vs east slope..I think west (Mindo) starts to get rain in late September early October. We were lucky, only one half day of heavy rain. Interesting is that the birding tours have a high season that starts in October, because that is when the migrants of the avian and Canadian human type start to arrive. I did however see an early Canada warbler so got a two-fer there.

There is some seasonality with the hummingbirds as well, although I still saw a bunch..I will post some lists tomorrow. I think the few that I missed were present in August.

The main roads and driving habits were much better than Costa Rica. Also gas is about half the price of the US. What I have been told is that the bigger problem is transit police making roadside checks. You may need to have an international driving license and probably a few "fines" may need to be passed. A few of the minor roads require a 4WD in wet season..such as the road to Refugio Paz de las Aves.

I will write more later tomorrow. In the meantime I recommend this website
http://birdsinecuador.com/en/

There is now a small pocket-sized bird guidebook, if you have not yet discovered the Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador (Lelis Navarette is one of the authors). Most guides will be using the plates from the Ridgely book (and even have some memorized by page and number).

There are some very good and not terribly expensive local guides in Mindo..Julia Patino, Marcelo and Irman Arias. Julia's driver Franklin is also a pretty amazing spotter.

They charged us $80 a day for Julia and $85 a day for the use of Franklin's truck (which really only holds 4 people comfortably). Even if you decide to rent a car you might want to contact Julia or Marcelo for a few day's worth of guiding.

Julia is at [email protected] , she also has some rooms for rent at her home.

Julia does have a pretty difficult accent which can be a bit frustrating. If you speak some "bird Spanish" it can be a little easier instead of saying "what what" every 5 minutes. But she does not like to use playback, and has a nice spotting scope, which makes up for that.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 04:50 PM
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Ohhhhh Nooooo(done in my best Mr. Bill impression from SNL fame!)That stinks about losing your memory card- I probably would have torn all my gear apart looking for it first and then tried to find a good tall bridge second!Thanks for the guide recs.- I'll look into those.I assume Mindo is high enough that AC is not necessary- what were the temps. like when you visited? How did you like Refugio Paz de la Aves? Looks like a cool place- would a day trip be enough? I'll probably only have around a week(total) to play with so would like to squeeze in as much birding and hiking as possible so if you have any tips- I'll take 'em! I was maybe thinking of using Tandayapa as my home base and making day trips from there- is that feasable or should I plan on a couple of locations? Thank you again and nice to hear from you!
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Oct 30th, 2013, 09:25 PM
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We used Mindo as a center and did day trips from there, and were pretty much up at dawn and back at dusk, although we lost some primetime due to driving it worked out pretty well.

9/24/13, this was the day I transferred from Latacunga to Quito, met my group, and continued to Mindo. We arrived in the afternoon, and checked in to the Bio Hostal in Mindo town. The lodging is run by a bird guide, they were willing to make us breakfast quite early or leave us sandwich fixings, thermos of coffee and fruit. Hot water in showers, free purified water, wifi. And very reasonable rates.

There was a vacant lot across the street, although I did not keep a list for this day we saw some of the common birds including the ever-present lemon-rumped tanager (which we came to short-hand as "lemon drop"), golden tanager, euphonia, blue-necked tanager. In the town square there were many Pacific Horneros, and a few hummingbirds. Our guide came by that evening to go over the plan for the next week.
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Oct 30th, 2013, 10:15 PM
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9/25 Our first priority was Paz de Aves for the "antpitta show". Yes, I think it is worthwhile, although there are now other shows with fewer species. I think you do need to call and reserve, and it may not be worth going if it is raining. In addition to the antpitta trails, there is a (FANTASTIC) house for rent that has a great hummingbird feeder. It is amazing to watch Angel and his brother call them out with "venga, venga" and their names.

http://www.refugiopazdelasaves.com/
http://www.pululahuahostal.com/html/..._las_aves.html

To see the Cock of the Rock you need to get up extra early, and if you've seen them elsewhere, you might want to skip that part of the tour. There isn't really a blind, and our view was pretty much obscured by shrubbery between us and the birds.

But we did see the giant antpitta (Manuel), the yellow-breasted antpitta (Esmeraldes), and two ochre-breasted (my favorites Shakira and her mate Pique).

José the moustached was missing. But there was a new friend, an attractive rufous-breasted antthrush, Pepita!

http://www.surfbirds.com/gallery/sea...ed%20Antthrush (none of these photos are mine, obviously).

Also on site are hummingbird feeders and Angel puts out some fruit to attract tanagers including golden-naped, golden, blue winged mountain tanager, black cheeked mountain tanager, crimson rumped toucanet, toucan barbet, and a sickle-winged guan. In addition we saw a yellow vented woodpecker which is unusual at this locations. Hummers (feeders at the refuge and at the house) were velvet-purple coronet, empress brilliant, fawn-breasted brilliant, rufous-tailed, violet-tailed sylph, buff-tailed coronet, andean emerald, booted racket tail,and purple-throated woodstar. The price of entry includes a cheese empanada and beverage. (We also snatched a few blackberries along the trails).

Our stop after lunch was along Cinto Road whhere we saw golden headed quetzal, whitewinged tanager, ornate flycatcher, common potoo, slaty throated whitestart.

Dinner in town on the main street was at El Tigrillo, excellent soup and the usual "merienda" choices such as seco de pollo, trout, pork, etc.
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Oct 30th, 2013, 11:02 PM
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9/26 was our trip to Bellavista (and I think along some of the roads around Tandayapa, but my notes aren't clear). About 50 species sighted this day, highlights include the hummingbird feeders (adding in purple-bibbed whitetip, collared inca, bronzy inca, white-bellied woodstar, purple-throated woodstar, sparkling violet ear, green violet ear, speckled, white=whiskered hermit, western emerald, mountain velvet breast,. The guide saw the gorgeted sun-angel but I missed it. Two euphonias (orange-bellied and thick-billed) and two flower piercers (masked and white-sided). We ran into several mixed flocks and various LBJs such as montane woodcreeper, olivaceous woodcreeper, buff throated saltator, pearled tree runner, cinnamon flycatcher, plain tailed wren, golden=crowned flycatcher, Ecuadorean thrush, great thrush and glossy black thrush. Tanagers and bush tanagers added to the list were golden-naped, white=lined, silver-throated, dusky bush-tanager (eating a moth under the restaurant stairs), yellow throated bush tanager. Tri-colored and yellow-tufted brush finch. Other flashy birds seen on forest trains were turquoise jay, platebilled mountain toucan (Yay!), blackburnian warbler, tropical parula, yellow-tufted dacnis, one of the flashiest birds of the day. After extensive debate it was also decided that we had seen a lesser goldfinch. Also it became a running joke that we heard red-eyed vireos nearly every day, but I could never find them!

Dinner back in town at El Tigrillo again.
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Nov 12th, 2013, 04:36 PM
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Thanks for the input- your bird list got me psyched and inspired me to get moving and well - I'm booked! Got first and last nights at Su Merced(although not happy about getting a smoking room) and 5 nights at Sachatamia lodge near Mindo. Still haven't decided about driving vs transports- In 7 trips to Costa Rica I have always driven and enjoyed it immensely, for both the freedom and the challenge so I'm tempted to rent and give it a go!
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Nov 12th, 2013, 04:37 PM
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Thanks for the input- your bird list got me psyched and inspired me to get moving and well - I'm booked! Got first and last nights at Su Merced(although not happy about getting a smoking room) and 5 nights at Sachatamia lodge near Mindo. Still haven't decided about driving vs transports- In 7 trips to Costa Rica I have always driven and enjoyed it immensely, for both the freedom and the challenge so I'm tempted to rent and give it a go!
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Nov 13th, 2013, 07:05 AM
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I actually had more days to report but got lazy! You really should go to Silanche and the San Lorenzo Road. I will try later today to cut and paste the rest.

They have smoking rooms at Su Merced?
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Nov 13th, 2013, 07:36 AM
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9/27 Friday 500 metres Silanche is at a lower elevation and is reputed to be one of the more accessible patches of lowland Chocó forest. There is a tower (good on the morning especially), trails and a fruit feeder. There is a combined admission with Milpe.
We first went up the tower and nearly immediately the guide excitedly pointed out a redcapped manakin in a tree, an unusal sighting.
Other endemics were dusky pigeon, Chocó toucan, orangefronted barbet, ochre breasted tanager, and purple chested hummingbird.

Raptors included the rate tiny falcon (from the tower), and a double toothed kite.
Tower sightings: golden olive woodpecker, lineated woodpecker, streaked flycatcher,
mealy parrot, maroon tailed parakeet,
snowy throated kingbird,
white bearded manakin,
purple honeycreeper, bay headed and golden hooded tanagers, and masked tatyra.

Along the trails: broadbilled motmot, purple fruit crow,
scarlet rumped cacique, cinnamon becard, buff rumped warbler aka riverbank warbler, rosefaced parrot, tawny breasted flycatcher, cinnamon woodpecker,
At/near feeders and plantingd blue chested hummer, stripethroated hermit, tawny crested tanager, plain xenops.

On the road driving back we had a good look at a laughing falcon through the scope, usual heard but not seen! Also heard but couldn't spot chestnut backed antbird at the reserve.
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Nov 13th, 2013, 08:23 AM
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9/29 Long-wattled umbrellabird at Coop 23 de Junio. I think you can see this at tour reserve. Otherwise it is up super early to drive to the farm, walk thru a cow splatted pasture to wait for the arrivals at 6 am. Afterwards an excellent cheese empanada is included in the fee for this community ecotourism project. Birds feed in some of the large fruiting trees on the farm.

Then on to Milpe Sanctuary for manakin-hunting.
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Nov 13th, 2013, 09:08 AM
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9/28 & 9/29 Milpe Sanctuary and Mindo Gardens for manakin hunting. But we never found their specialty, the club-winged manakin. (Later we found it on San Lorenzo Road above Mindo). We did see the golden-winged lek, with a dancing bird, very cool!

http://www.mindocloudforest.org/milpe-bird-sanctuary/
http://mindocloudforest.org/wp-conte...birdlist-1.pdf
The reserve features hummingbird feeders and trails, and a restaurant.

Mindo Gardens had a covered patio that was a good place to hang during the rains that started on the 29th.

Other sightings included
swallow tanager
band backed wren

orangebilled sparrow
lined tanager
green crowned woodnymph
green thorntail
green crowned brilliant
whitewhiskered hermit e

yellow capped brush finch
Guayaquil woodpecker

Mixed flock:
lineated foliage gleaner
buff-fronted foliage gleaner
immaculate antbird
greenish elania
plain brown woodcreeper
spotted woodcreeper
Chocó warbler
immaculate antbird

cinnamon becard
grey antwren
spotted nightingale thrush
maroon tailed parakeet
ochrebreasted tanager
yellowthroated bush tanager
slatycapped  flycatcher

On the 29th we gave up after waiti g to see if the rain would stop at Mindo Gardens. Franklin and Julia suggested going to the oilbird cave in Chontal (about 1.5 hrs from Mindo). Rains had not yet started there. We did the "easy" trail. A phone call is required in advance to meet the farmer with the key. Excellent viewing until kids started throwing rocks from above on the road. http://www.cuevadelostayos.com/

Finishing out the day was a stop for a meal at the Rio Blanco restaurant which has fruit feeders. Added two attractive tanagers not seen elsewhere, the Guira and rufous-throated. Food was okay and there is a great view of the river from the patio.
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Nov 13th, 2013, 09:53 AM
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Sunday 9/29and half-day Monday 9/30
At Mindo Cloud Forest we also added
orangebilled sparrow
goldenheaded quetzal
crimson rumped toucanet
black winged saltator
rustymargin FC
whitewing becard
whited fronted tyrannulet
red billed parrot
pale billed aracari

purple crowned fairy
dusky capped flycatcher
rufous motmot
flame-faced tanager
blue-necked tanager

At the bookshop at MCF there is a good little illustrated guidebook of local books, including tips on where to find them. It mentioned San Lorenzo Ridge Road for the club winged manakin. It turned out to be one if our favorite spots (and there is no admission fee). No feeders so not as popular for those on a short visit, but it was a lovely road with nearly treetop viewing. http://birdsinecuador.com/en/chapter...e-mindo-valley

We were lucky to find one bush in fruit and there was "clubby" feeding near one of the known leks. The second day he was also dancing in a different spot.
Other birds seen on this stretch included long tailed tyrant, ruddy pigeon (drinking from bromeliad), barred puffbird, wattled guan, russet backed oropendula, dusky flycatcher, metallic green tanager, booted rackettail & for the grand finale, Julia lured in a cloud forest pygmy owl (the video clip is one I regret losing)!
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Nov 13th, 2013, 01:55 PM
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Gotta love those Manakins! Watching several male redcaps do the electric slide down a vine near Shelter from the Storm was an awesome sight. How far out of Mindo is the MCF? Any restaurant recommendations for the Mindo area?
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Nov 13th, 2013, 09:51 PM
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MCF is the organization that owns Milpe/Mindo Gardens and Rio Silanche. The former is quite close to Mindo (and to your Lodge), as is the San Lorenzo Road. Less than an hour.

Rio Silanche is a bit farther, maybe 1 1/2 hours? If I had my photos I could check the times but, oh well...I think there will be less overlap with your lodge at Rio Silanche, you could check the bird lists.

http://www.mindocloudforest.org/rio-...ird-sanctuary/

If you decide to drive, Guango Lodge on the east slope has some good feeders and trails, and is right off the main highway toward the Oriente east from the airport. The sword-billed is there if you haven't seen it. I also managed to find Torrent Duck and the White Capped Dipper at the river at Guango. I think day visit fees are $5 pp.

I liked the soups at El Tigrillo, the Arepa place has decent soups and meriendas (early dinner). Actually the best food in my opinion was not on the main drag in Mindo but a block back, in the direction of the pharmacy and quesería, is an open air food court with various stalls that have ceviches (encebolladas), chicken, etc.
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Nov 14th, 2013, 11:10 AM
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BTW we tried CasKaffeSu, since one of our group was out of cash and they take CC. Overpriced by local standards, slow service, and not very good!
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