II Travel Diary - p 4 of 5
Yesterday Jorge Luna of Milmoon Transporte y Guias drove us in his van out of the Mindo highlands and
down through the endless sprawl that is Quito. Then
we ascended the Papallacta Pass and crossed into the the eastern
mountains below which is the Ecuadorian Amazon. Our base for the next
two nights is Guango Lodge. At an elevation of 8800', it is even
colder and more rainy than Las Gralarias. The fire that was laid
in at dusk was welcome - we huddled around it and drank Pilsener beer
until the evening meal at seven.
Here the Rio Papallacta is a wild, raging torrent. Its
feature bird is ... Torrent Duck. We saw two males on our
first walk to the river. The next day I photographed this male (left)
and female. Later, at the evening meal, they served what we assumed was chicken breast. But the next day, try as I might, I found no Torrent Ducks... I'm
just saying.. Duck or chicken, it sure was tasty.
But seriously, the food at Guango is to die for. For breakfast we
drink jugo de tomate de arbol, the juice of a fruit that really
is in the tomato and potato family. No less divine is their
tortilla de papas con queso. And how about that platanos con
queso for dessert!
But there are some birds here. Another coronet,
Chestnut-breasted, is the bully at the sugar-water feeders.
You don't see this every day - a bird whose beak is almost as
long as the rest of him. This Swordbill is holding that beak in the upward
position for a good reason. It is so heavy that should he lower it, he
would likely topple over.
Amazingly enough, he's learned to drink from Guango's sugar-water
feeders, and in fact is a frequent visitor. But there must be co-evolution at work here. Somewhere out
there is a flower or two whose corollas are so long that only the Swordbill can
reach the nectar and in drinking, effect pollination. One good candidate is
Brugmansia sanguinea, Red Angel's Trumpet.
In fact, there's a video crew here, shooting footage for a
BBC documentary on the evolution of hummingbirds. They do set up some Red
Angel's Trumpet flowers, which the Swordbill visits at rare intervals. But
like most hummers, he prefers the easy life - drinking sugar-water at the
After a morning walk to the
river, it's back to photographing hummers like Long-tailed Sylph, Tyrian
Metaltail, and Tourmaline Sunangel. Jorge's keen eyes spot a mixed
feeding flock at the edge of an open area between the lodge and the
river, and as well a Masked Trogon. The handsome male lingers long
enough for a few photos before moving on.
One of the most handsome of Guango hummers is Collard Inca. The
bird is a challenge to photograph because it zooms in, drinks at the
sugar-water feeders, then zips away again. We finally get one who
occasionally perches on an open limb. This one was reacting to a
threat by a Chestnut-breasted Coronet.
||It's only appropriate that
the common nectar thief here wears a mask! It's the Masked