In my attempt to see as many hummingbirds in Ecuador as I possibly can, I stayed at another East Slope lodge a little higher up the mountainside than Wildsumaco called Cabañas San Isidro. The lodge is well-known by birders and is a popular place to stay for its quiet location and their excellent food. And the lodge is only about a three-hour drive from Quito and is located just outside the town of Cosanga.
Overall, the experience was a good one.
We saw seven species of hummingbirds while there, two of them were completely new to me (the Bronzy Inca and the Long-tailed Sylph) and the already known varieties provided me with some unique opportunities for photography. The lodge has arranged a quiet garden area, removed from the main grounds, for sitting and observing these little beauties. And because they have designed the site to include many native plants, it is possible to capture shots of hummingbirds in a more natural state, not just on the feeders themselves.
(click on any photo to see a close-up)
If you are an early morning riser, it is also possible to see some local birds, like the Russet-backed Oropendula, the Sub-tropical Cacique (with his bright red rump), Mountain Cacique (with bright yellow rump), and the Green Jay, the most colorful large bird we saw the entire trip. We also caught glimpses of Montane Woodcreeper, the Pale-edged Flycatcher, and the Mountain Wren. Our guide, Marcelo, seemed disappointed in the number birds that showed up for the early morning hike and hoped we would see more while walking the road on our mid-morning trek. Unfortunately, that was not the case. We all wondered what was different because the birds were extremely quiet and though we know that not all birding trips will be excellent, the lack of birds seemed strange. We wondered if the heavy rains from the days before, and the strange El Niño weather, might have been part of the problem. It was also close to fruiting time and if a set of trees had fruited slightly early, the birds could have been congregating there. Marcelo did his best to call birds by using both taped calls and his own skill but the birds refused to cooperate.
It was only the next day that we realized what part of the problem could have been. The lodge is building a new reservoir at lower levels in order to attract migrating species and to encourage tapirs to stay on the reserve itself. After breakfast on our final day, a worker arrived and started a huge excavator that had been parked up near the main road. We learned that the lodge had been waiting for a long time for this work to be finished and could not choose the exact timing of the arrival of the excavator. But it obviously had been delivered a day or two before our arrival and Sunday was the day to finish the work. The machine was incredibly loud, especially in reverse as it chimed a warning to all that was nearby. We can only imagine that the arrival of this piece of heavy equipment sent birds to locations a little further away, even if just temporarily.
Hiking in the area was also disrupted because as the machine made its way down the mountainside to the site of the future reservoir, its engine rumbled every inch of the way. We managed to escape its sound on part of the Tapir Trail but had not realized that the trail we chose that morning would begin and end near the work itself. Unfortunately, the manager at the lodge, nor the owners themselves, had warned us at dinner the night before or at breakfast the day of to expect the inconvenience. We could have changed plans with that kind of forewarning. After voicing our complaints, we were told about the project and the difficulty of working with the local government. Later that morning, the manager kindly apologized and discounted our final bill. For that, I was very thankful. It has made it much more likely that I will return later this year to try again.
I highly recommend that before visiting Cabañas San Isidro, you ask about any planned work. In fact, it might be a good thing to ask at any of the lodges you plan to visit in Ecuador. It was certainly a lesson learned for this amateur birder.
Since the writing of this article, I did return to Cabañas San Isidro – please read about it here.