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Ecuador - the West Slope

Part 6: Arashá Resort

If you were going to drag a non-birding spouse with you, this would definitely be the place to bring them!  This was a beautiful place, with gorgeous landscaping and very comfortable rooms (complete with phone, TV, and fridge, and even those little shampoo bottles)!  It was a very secure place, too: you didn't get past the guard without being cleared, and even then you're not allowed to drive in: if you're driving there yourself, you have to park your car in the upper parking lot by the guard shack and either walk down the hill or take their shuttle down to registration!  They had a very nice restaurant where, unlike the other places, you just went in whenever you wanted and ordered off the menu (at least that's the way my package was set up).  In addition they have a nice pool, spa, massage therapy building, volleyball court, putt-putt course (what we called miniature golf in Michigan...), and even a trout pond!  At first I thought the landscaped area (plus the heavily wooded entrance road) was the only areas I'd be able to bird in, but my hostess Erika pointed me to a trail that went down to the Negrito River, and THAT was fabulous!  The trail was nice and wide, and an easy slope, and was just loaded with rainforest birds!  Beyond the little Negrito River the trail continues (you have to wear rubber boots to cross because you WILL get your feet wet) and eventually goes to the larger Caoni River (but even that isn't very big: looks rather like the Rio Grande at Falcon Dam...).  That part of the trail was quite steep in spots, but they also put "steps" in the trail in the form of little stumps, and going down the hill to the Caoni was a series of switchbacks that made it MUCH easier to negotiate (although there were still a couple of dicey spots).  I went with one of their local guides the first morning (Benito) to just basically get the lay of the land, and he introduced me to the "hummingbird sanctuary" and the upper garden near the parking area where's there's an overlook of the complex (when it's not socked in, which it was most mornings).  My cabana was on top of the far hill, and I had a glorious view of the complex and hill across the way, making it easy to spot for raptors and swifts!  The dawn chorus usually consisted of Little Tinamous, Pacific Horneros, and Rufous Motmots, and other things as it got lighter!


Left:  Main road.  Center:  My cabaña on the right.  Right:  Colorful grasshopper


Left and center:  Views from the balcony.  Right:  Owl Butterfly sp. blends in with the restaurant floor!

My routine basically consisted of birding the entrance road first thing, where a pair of Bay Wrens were always exploding forth in song, and Golden-faced Tyrannulets gave their little warbly notes.  Occasionally Streak-headed Woodcreepers would go for the bugs attracted to the lampposts!  Up at the parking areas I usually ran into Scrub Blackbirds and Maroon-tailed Parakeets in the palms, and Pacific Antwrens around the "sanctuary".  The only hummer to investigate the feeders was a Rufous-tailed; they seemed more interested in the flowers!  Thick-billed Euphonias were common in the garden area, and this was the easiest place to actually SEE Pallid Doves.


Left:  Usual view of the entrance road at first light...   Right:  The "hummingbird sanctuary" didn’t host many hummers, but other birds came to visit



Left:  Upper garden area  Center:  Fuzzy pod (whatever it was, it was pretty big!) and exotic flower  Right:  Dew-drenched spider web

   After birding that area I'd head down to breakfast, then head to the cabana to don the NEOSes for the River Trail.  In the landscaped areas Lemon-rumped Tanagers were all over (I started calling them the Ecuadorian Butterbutt), and Rusty-margined Flycatchers were also numerous.  Blue-and-white Swallows were thick, and they would occasionally say hello to me by lighting in the rafters of my porch!  White-whiskered Hermits were easy to catch amongst the exotic-looking flowers, and Horneros were easy to see (and hear) as well.

Like the other places, though, it pays to know your vocalizations, as things weren't easy to see (primary among these were the big toucans and the trogons).  But things like the Chestnut-backed Antbirds would actually come out occasionally, and the beauty of spending five full days hiking the same trail is that eventually most of the stuff DOES show itself!  Woodcreepers were quite varied, and there were several species of woodpeckers as well.  A pair of Orange-billed Sparrows was quite consistent, and Western Slaty Antshrikes were quite common.  I saw most of my birds by sitting quietly for five minutes for every ten of walking, and many were surprisingly responsive to pishing!  The "Far Trail" (that portion on the other side of the Negrito) tended to have more deep-woods birds such as the Rufous-fronted Wood Quail and Black-headed Antthrush, but I would also occasionally hear them on the "Near Trail" as well.  I only went as far as the Canoi River once, just to check it out (it turned out to be a six-hour round trip hike for me).


Trail to the Negrito River, with stairs going down (and up, right) to the river


Left and center:  Negrito "Beach" and River.  Right:  Leaf-cutter Ants   


Left:  Heliconia.  Left center:  Crossing the Negrito River.  Right center:  Shy Armadillo  Right:  "Ecuadorian Jumping Bean"


Left and center:  Views of the Caoni River.  Right:  Little white mushrooms along the trail


Left:  Lizard sp.  Center and right:  Giant Snail

   I'd come back in time for lunch, have siesta (that was often a good time to watch for raptors), then tackle either the entrance road/garden or the River Trail again in the afternoon; the garden seemed to attract the Masked Water Tyrants more in the afternoons.  All in all I was pleasantly surprised at how birdy this place was!

Sam Woods had drawn me a map of the famous "PVM Road" that all the tours go to, so we made arrangements to go there one of the days (I was impressed: when I showed Erika the map, on her own volition she made a copy, grabbed a driver, and went out there herself to scout it out before we went, and she was overwhelmed with the place!).  Interestingly, the birdlife was very similar to what could be had at Arasha; I've listed the unique birds encountered there at the end of the illustrated bird list.  They were in the process of building a canopy tower, which will be wonderful, and the trails were nice and wide, too.  We got excellent looks at the Red-rumped Woodpecker here.


Left:  Erika and Henri at the famous "PVM Preserve".  Center:  The manager himself works on building a canopy tower!  Right:  Typical lowland rainforest habitat, which is sadly being destroyed at an alarming rate.


Left and center:  Views of the trails.  Right:  Henri can’t wait for the bridge to be completed before trying it out...


Left:  Palm nuts.  Center:  Wasp nest.  Right:  Henri and Erika take a breather



Left:  Road-birding on the way out...  Center and right:  Touch-sensitive fern: normal appearance (left) and after it’s been whacked (right)

Link to Bird list and Photo Gallery


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