Day 71: Birding an Ecotourism Hub

The Tandayapa Valley is largely preserved by the birders who want to use the land.

March 12, 2015, Tandayapa Valley, Ecuador — Edison and I started the day in the dark outside Pululahua Hostal near Quito, calling for a Buff-fronted Owl which never quite responded. As consolation, Pululahua’s proprietor, a friendly guy named Renato, cooked me a full breakfast of hash browns, eggs, sausage, fruit, and juice! I managed to waddle back out to spend a couple hours in the surrounding bamboo forest with Edison, and it was a fun morning. Pululahua is well worth a night or two for visiting birders; it’s close to Quito but tucked away at the bottom of a deep, forested caldera, and the hostel is a wonderful spot.

Our main plan today was to transit through the Tandayapa Valley, an eco-hotspot on the west slope of the Andes. This valley hosts a corridor of private reserves and several lodges popular among birders, and is covered in wet cloud forest. Edison says this area gets up to 3 meters (10 feet) of rain a year—and I thought the Amazon was wet!

This valley is an enclave of international ecotourism. Generally speaking, Tandayapa is an example of conservation by foreigners, for foreigners: Most of the reserves and lodges here were purchased and masterminded by non-Ecuadorians, and practically all the people who visit the valley come from other countries (most signs are in English). But it’s hard to argue with the results: It’s a beautiful area, the forest feels untouched (though most of it is fast-regenerating second growth), and the birding is good. Edison and I found more than 120 species today by jumping from one mixed flock to the next at different altitudes down the valley. When rain arrived in the afternoon, we sat under a roof for a while to watch an active set of hummingbird feeders at a place called Mindo.

Later, we passed a slow-moving truck loaded with massive logs. “Those trees are coming from the Choco lowlands, in northwest Ecuador,” Edison said, and explained that they had probably been felled illegally. A new Ecuadorian law requires three trees to be planted for every big one that gets cut, and the government has cracked down on loggers in some parks, but the truck was a reminder that not every valley is as green as Tandayapa.

New birds today: 35

Year list: 1594

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