Category Archives: Ecuador

A First Look Back at My Trip to Mindo

(Green) Crowned woodnymph, Septimo Paraiso, Ecuador, 2019 (photo by Thomas Shahan via Flickr Creative Commons license)

9 February 2023

Here’s a first look back at my WINGS trip to Mindo and the Northwest Andes. I guarantee I’ll write more about Ecuador in the days ahead.

First a big thank you to WINGS Birding Tours, our superb group leader Jon Feenstra, skilled driver Edwin (who was also a great bird finder), and fellow participants Bob, Mary, Peter, Gail, Jeff, David and Kay. We all had a great time and became friends. It was hard to leave.

Even though I’d seen some of Ecuador’s birds in Costa Rica and Panama I came away with 206 Life Birds!

I was hard to pick only a few Best Birds.

Best Hummingbird: I saw 31 species of hummingbirds on the trip so it was hard to choose and Best one, however … The crowned woodnymphs (Thalurania colombica) I’d seen in Panama had purple crowns but in the Mindo area they are quite impressive with emerald green hoods and purple chests, shown at top. You have to see this bird move its body to appreciate that it usually looks dull and dark, then catches the light to reveal its stunning green head and brilliant purple chest. The best views were at Alambi Reserve where this video was filmed in 2018.

video embedded from @andeanbirding on YouTube

Best Tanager of the 40 species of tanagers I saw in Ecuador, my Best one was a three-way tie: Black-capped (Tangara heinei) and beryl spangled tanagers (Tangara nigroviridis) are similar but different …

Black-capped and Beryl-spangled tanagers (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

… and the stunning blue-necked tanager (Tangara cyanicollis) glowed in the forest with a neon blue head and neck.

Blue-necked tanager (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Best Big Birds were the swallow-tailed kites (Elanoides forficatus) that live in Ecuador year round. Though not a Life Bird they were exhilarating to watch and there were lots of them. This image is a plate from the Crossley ID Guide.

Swallow-tailed kite from the Crossley ID Guide via Wikimedia Commons

Unexpected Lifer: Water birds are few and far between in the Andes but Jon knew where to find them. On the way back to Puembo Birding Garden we stopped by the side of the road near Quito Airport and scoped the drainage pond. Ta dah! The gull of the mountains: Andean gull (Chroicocephalus serranus).

Andean gull in breeding plumage (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re interested in a trip to Ecuador’s Mindo and Northwest Andes I highly recommend WINGS Birding Tours and Jon Feenstra.

p.s. A surprising discovery: There are no crows in Ecuador but there are many free-ranging dogs. Dogs lounged in the middle of village streets and on the pavement of quiet streets in Quito. Without crows to do it the free ranging dogs were the ones to break into garbage bags on garbage day. To prevent this people in the countryside placed their garbage bags on waist high platforms and in Quito on the median of busy streets but the dogs crossed in front of traffic to get at the garbage. Dogs partially filled the crow niche.

Perhaps dogs make it a dangerous place for cats. In 8 days we saw only two cats.

p.s. Looking back at the hummingbirds I’d say that the velvet-purple coronet (Boissonneaua jardini) is a contender for first place.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Flickr via Creative Commons license; click on the captions to see the originals, video embedded from @andeanbirding on YouTube)

Does the Coriolis Force affect the drains?

Wind direction of tropical cyclones in northern and southern hemispheres due to Coriolis effect (image from Wikimedia Commons)

8 February 2023

In physics the Coriolis force (also called the Coriolis effect) is …

an effect whereby a mass moving in a rotating system experiences a force (the Coriolis force ) acting perpendicular to the direction of motion and to the axis of rotation. On the earth, the effect tends to deflect moving objects to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern and is important in the formation of cyclonic weather systems.

Definition from Oxford Language via Google Search

We see this in North American hurricanes, nor’easters and low pressure systems, all of which spin counter clockwise. Because of this, the first winds to hit the Atlantic coast come from the northeast, hence the name nor’easter. Satellite images look like the storm pictured at left below.

Conversely, tropical cyclones in Australia spin clockwise like the one at right. (Cyclone is another name for hurricane.)

Spin direction of Northern versus Southern Hemisphere cyclones (image from Wikimedia Commons)

I’d heard that the Coriolis force spins water down the drain just like the cyclones so my journey in Ecuador provided an opportunity to find out how water drains at the equator. Does it spin or does it go straight down?

With many opportunities to make on-the-spot observations my results were inconclusive. Sometimes the water spun as it drained. Sometimes it went straight down.

It turns out that the Coriolis force is infinitesimal on draining water. The shape of the basin causes the water to spin! At home in Pittsburgh I have a sink that drains straight down and one that spins clockwise like cyclones in Australia.

Here’s the real story about the Coriolis effect.

video embedded from @SciShow on YouTube

Does Coriolis Force affect the drains? No.

(images from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals, video embedded from @SciShow on YouTube)

Flying North

View from an airplane window (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

6 February 2023, on the plane heading home

Today I’m on a “red eye” flight from Quito to the U.S. If all goes well I’ll be home tonight after 15 hours of pre-flight waiting, flying, layovers, and ground transportation.

It will take a lot longer for the Blackburnian warblers we saw in Ecuador to reach their breeding grounds in North America.

Blackburnian warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)
Blackburnian warbler (photo by Steve Gosser taken in Pennsylvania)

I wonder when they’ll start flying north.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and by Steve Gosser)

Last Day in Ecuador, Birding Our Way Home

Chestnut-crowned antpitta (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 8, last full day, birding on our way to Puembo

Today we leave Séptimo Paraíso Lodge, birding on our way to Puembo and the airport. Tonight I leave Ecuador on a red-eye flight for home.

Refugio Paz de las Aves was one of the highlights of our trip. Their video below is a good summary of the wonders saw in Mindo and the Northwest Andes.

Army Ants Build A Bridge

Army ants (Labidus spininodis) in Mindo, Ecuador (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

4 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 7, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

Antbirds — antshrikes, antwrens, antvireos, etc. — keep track of army ants who flush tasty insects as they march through the forest. Army ants do the work, the antbirds get an easy insect meal.

Seven years ago when the old Greenfield Bridge was missing over the Parkway East I learned that army ants can build bridges and they seem to be quick about it. It took two years to build the new Greenfield Bridge. The ants would have been faster (but unable to carry traffic).

Find out how ants build bridges. Check out the video at:

p.s. The Anderson Bridge that carries the Boulevard of the Allies into Schenley Park closed this week for at least four months because inspection revealed a “weak member” — i.e. unsafe to drive on! We need those army ants again.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Tanagers Galore in Ecuador!

3 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 6, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

I used to think hummingbirds (Trochilidae) were the most numerous bird family on our WINGS trip in Ecuador until I looked at the tanagers.

Tanagers (Thraupidae) are the second largest family of birds(*) and a Neotropical specialty. Nearly 40% of Thraupidae species live in Ecuador; 20% of the family is on our tour checklist.

Graph based on Thraupidae information, an article on Ecuadoran tanagers and the WINGS checklist

Thraupidae membership is constantly in flux as DNA tests move birds in and out of the family every year. Some species names no longer match their family(**). There’s a tanager called a “cardinal” and members of the Cardinal family Cardinalidae called “tanagers.” To make matters worse some members of the family aren’t called “tanagers” at all, including honeycreepers, conebills, flowerpiercers and saltators.

To bring some order out of the chaos I looked at colorful Thraupidae on our tour checklist whose names include “tanager” and picked 17 of the best for the slideshow. Here they are in order with links to their eBird descriptions and [photo] on Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Beryl-spangled tanager (Tangara nigroviridis) [photo]  
  2. Black-chinned mountain tanager (Anisognathus notabilis)   [photo]
  3. Blue-and-black tanager (Tangara vassorii)   [photo]
  4. Blue-capped tanager (Thraupis cyanocephala) [photo]  
  5. Black-capped tanager (Tangara heinei)  [photo]
  6. Blue-necked tanager (Tangara cyanicollis)   [photo]
  7. Blue-winged mountain tanager (Anisognathus somptuosus)   [photo]
  8. Fawn-breasted tanager (Pipraeidea melanonota)   [photo]
  9. Flame-faced tanager (Tangara parzudakii)  [photo]
  10. Glistening green tanager (Chlorochrysa phoenicotis)   [photo]
  11. Golden tanager (Tangara arthus)  [photo]
  12. Golden-naped tanager (Tangara ruficervix)   [photo]
  13. Grass-green tanager (Chlorornis riefferii)   [photo]
  14. Guira tanager (Hemithraupis guira)   [photo]
  15. Hooded mountain tanager (Buthraupis montana)   [photo]
  16. Scarlet-bellied mountain tanager (Anisognathus igniventris)   [photo]
  17. Swallow tanager (Tersina viridis) [photo]

(*) The largest family of birds on earth are the Tyrant flycatchers Tyrannidae.

(**) The red-crested cardinal at left is a Tanager (Thraupidae) while the scarlet tanager on the right is a Cardinal (Cardinalidae).

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the links above to see the originals)

Cock-of-the-Rock Throws a Party

Male Andean cock-of-the-rock in Colombia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 5, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

Male animals have many different ways of courting females, from individual solicitation to showing off as a group. Their rituals are closely tied to the females’ preferences. For Andean cock-of-the-rock, the females want to see all the guys in one place — in a lek — displaying and competing with each other. Witnessing an Andean cock-of-the-cock lek is one of the highlights of our trip.

As a member of the Cotinga family, the Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana) is very sexually dimorphic. The males are stunning red, black and white with a large red crest from crown to beak.

Male Andean cock-of-the-rock in Colombia + a lek in Peru (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

The males throw a loud and boisterous party at the lek, hoping that the much less colorful females will show up. While we humans focus our attention on the beauty and behavior of the males, a lot is happening behind the scenes.

See and hear the males at the lek in these two videos.

video from William Shaughnessy on YouTube
video from American Bird Conservancy on YouTube

p.s. Today is Groundhog Day back home in Pennsylvania where the northern hemisphere has reached the celestial midpoint between winter and spring. On the equator, days and nights are the same length all year long. The winter and summer solstices have no meaning in Ecuador.

Day and night lengths vary a lot from the Arctic to the Equator, illustrated below by yearlong day/night lengths for three locations: Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) Alaska, Pittsburgh and Mindo, Ecuador. These Day/Night graphs are screenshots from

Screenshots of Day/Night Length for Utqiagvik (Barrow) Alaska, Pittsburgh PA, Mindo Ecuador at

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals. Day/night graphs from; video from William Shaughnessy and American Bird Conservancy on YouTube)

How Big is a Giant Antpitta?

Giant antpitta in Mindo, Ecuador (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 4, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

Antpittas (family Grallariidae) are forest birds of Central and South America that specialize in eating ants. Though they nest in trees, they spend most of their time on the ground where their brown-rust plumage provides excellent camouflage. They are usually heard, not seen.

The typical antpitta is often described as a “ball on sticks” because most of them are small, plump and nearly tailless with long legs.

The giant antpitta (Grallaria gigantea) is far from typical. He’s the length of an American robin but weighs four times as much. He’s same weight as a pileated woodpecker and triple the weight of other antpittas in his area. Wikipedia explains:

G. gigantea is, as its name suggests, a huge antpitta. Length ranges from 24 to 28 centimetres (9.4 to 11.0 in) and weight is up to 300 grams (10.6 oz), which makes it easily the heaviest of all tracheophone suboscine birds. Its nearest rival, the chestnut-throated huet-huet [native to Chile], is not known to exceed 185 grams (6.5 oz).

Wikipedia: Giant antpitta

Usually a giant antpitta is never seen but you know he’s out there when you hear a sound like an eastern screech-owl that rises at the end. (Do you hear the rain in this audio clip?)

We expect to see him at Refugio Paz de las Aves because bird whisperer Angel Paz can call them into view to snack on earthworms.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, audio from Xeno Canto; click on the media links to se the originals)

Iconic Bird in Mindo

Toucan barbet photos from Wikimedia Commons (originals at links left, right)

31 Jan 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 3, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

Now that we’re based at Séptimo Paraíso Lodge in the Mindo Valley we expect to see this iconic bird several times in the next five days.

Bright and colorful, the toucan barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus) is about the size of a starling though heftier. He uses his short fat beak to eat fruit, squeeze nectar from flowers, and dig nest holes in trees.

Toucan barbet (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Toucan barbets are very social, living year round in a family group of six+ birds that claim 30 – 40 acres of mountain forest. The group consists of the breeding pair plus their offspring from prior years who help raise the young during the February-to-May (or as late as October) breeding season.

Cloud forest near Mindo, Ecuador (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The group starts the day with a duet to tell the neighbors: “Good morning! We are here! This territory belongs to us! We will fight you if you come here!” Other groups will sneak onto their land if they think the owners are far away.

Watch them eat, preen and “sing” in this video.

video from Edison Ocaña on YouTube

p.s. Seen at Reserva Amagusa on 4 Feb 2023.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, video from Edison Ocaña on YouTube, online resources: Birds of the World: Toucan barbet)

Loads of Hummingbirds!

30 Jan 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 2, Yanacocha Reserve on Pichincha Volcano

If you want to see hummingbirds, Ecuador is the place to be. It holds the worlds record for the highest number of species and contains about 40% of the total.

The checklist for our tour has 51 hummingbirds on it, 28 of which have been seen every time WINGS makes the trip. The slideshow displays 20 that we’re certain to see. I tried to memorize them in advance but there are just too many!

As you look at the hummingbirds, here’s something to watch for: Nearly every species has a white dot, called a post-ocular spot, or a white stripe of feathers behind the eye. Why do they have this and what is it for? My Google searches cannot find an answer.

Here are the species in slideshow order with links to their eBird descriptions and [photo on Wikimedia Commons].

  1. Andean emerald (Amazilia franciae) [photo] 
  2. Gorgeated sunangel (Heliangelus strophianus) [photo]
  3. Booted racket-tail  (Ocreatus underwoodii) [photo] 
  4. Brown Inca (Coeligena wilsoni) [photo] 
  5. Buff-tailed coronet (Boissonneaua flavescens) [photo] 
  6. Collared Inca (Coeligena torquata) [photo] 
  7. Empress brilliant (Heliodoxa imperatrix) [photo] 
  8. Fawn-breasted brilliant (Heliodoxa rubinoides) [photo] 
  9. Great sapphirewing (Pterophanes cyanopterus) [photo]  
  10. Purple-bibbed whitetip (Urosticte benjamini) [photo] 
  11. Purple-throated woodstar (Calliphlox mitchellii) [photo] 
  12. Sapphire-vented puffleg (Eriocnemis luciani) [photo] 
  13. Sword-billed hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) [photo] 
  14. Sparkling violetear (Colibri coruscans) [photo]
  15. Speckled hummingbird (Adelomyia melanogenys) [photo]
  16. Tawny-bellied hermit (Phaethornis syrmatophorus) [photo] 
  17. Tyrian metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina) [photo] 
  18. Violet-tailed sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis) [photo] 
  19. Velvet-purple coronet (Boissonneaua jardini) [photo] 
  20. White-whiskered hermit (Phaethornis yaruqui) [photo] 

NOTE: The photos may not match exactly to the Mindo Valley hummingbirds because some species vary by location. For instance, see this illustration of the booted racket-tail.