Wednesday, 9/ 9
Working with the travel agency, we narrowed down the day trip to either Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, a national park of more than 80,000 acres surrounding Volcán Cotopaxi, or Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, a 1700+-acre private conservation area ranging from 4200′ – 7500′ in altitude. What a great win-win situation. The costs were similar (~$200 for transport, a guided hike, and 2 meals for 2 people); the time spent in travel was basically the same; and we were guaranteed to see interesting things either place. We rather arbitrarily decided that, since we had actually seen a volcano already but we had never seen a cloud forest, we’d spend the day at Bellavista. For information about Bellavista, just continue scrolling down. A list of the birds we saw on the guided hike can be found on page 2. And if you want to skip ahead to photos of the hummingbirds at the Bellavista feeders, click on page 4. (Click here to jump to the page numbers; click on the number you want.)
We awaited the Bellavista van on the steps of our hotel; pick-up was scheduled for 6:30 a.m. and the van arrived around 6:45, after picking up another couple. As we headed north out of Quito, we picked up Andrea, who would be our naturalist guide. She was just ending a week off and would be staying at the Bellavista Lodge for the next 2 weeks, leading walks 2 or 3 times a day. Andrea provided a narrated tour for the entire 2 hours we were on the road, pointing out buildings and landmarks of interest as we drove past. (Since Johnny, our driver, didn’t speak much English, we were grateful for the bonus.) Just as we turned off the main road and started our final ~7-mile climb to Bellavista, she spotted a Pacific Hornero in a shrub by the roadside, which Johnny obligingly stopped the van for us to see. Bird #1 for the day! According to Andrea, “hornero” derives from “horno” (“oven” in Spanish); the nests they build are reminiscent of ovens, as you can see in the linked photo.
Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve is located on a high ridgeline above the Tandayapa Valley, on the western slope of the Andes northwest of Quito, along the old Nono-Mindo Road. (This and the other photos of the Bellavista property were downloaded from the Bellavista Web site.) Cloud forests—more precisely, pre-montane/subtropical rain forests—can be found along the slopes of the Andes from altitudes of 2700′ – 7500,’ teeming with biodiversity. The species list of birds for Bellavista and the Tandayapa Valley numbers 330 and still counting. (In fact, since 2006, this region has recorded the highest number of species found in one day during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Counts.) Bellavista boasts 8 – 14 species of hummingbirds at their feeders at the lodge daily.
We arrived at the lodge and had breakfast (cereal and eggs to order) in the geodesic dining room. After breakfast, Andrea gathered us up to point out a female Masked Trogon perched on the rafters of the covered walkway. (These photos, which from here on are ours, are more like pointillist paintings than decent photos—don’t look too closely. She was almost too close for the camera to focus well.) We then headed up a series of trails, listening and watching for birds as we went.