Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Final days in Mindo

I had promised myself that I would pay Mindo a visit on the way back to Quito. So there I was, at the turnoff to Mindo, standing beside the largest cock-of-the-rock I had ever seen. It looked rather hideous but then who am I to judge something that I could not even create myself. After contorting my body in many different ways to get a photograph of the bird without any distracting sign posts in the background, I was on my merry way downhill. Downhill to Mindo without having to stroke a pedal. Real bliss, but knowing full well that returning along this road, the only road, will not be so much fun.

Turning off to the right to get to Mindo.

The cock-of-the-rock over-looking the turnoff to Mindo.
Mindo is a rather touristy town. Its small, but has more travel agencies than bakeries. I stocked up on some supplies before finding a cheap hostel for the night. The next day I would take a road that hugs the Mindo River, towards a place called Mindo Garden (a guest house of sorts). So I was up early, eager to see some new species – I had heard a lot about Mindo, so was expecting nothing less than the best in birding. On the edge of town I saw my first Black-striped Sparrow and then the very vocal and very present Pale-legged Hornero – a pair was strutting across a four-way intersection as if they owned it. Further on the road did not reveal much in terms of unique bird habitat, as most of what I saw was secondary growth. There was an abundance of the usual species such as Lemon-rumped Tanager, Tropical Kingbird, Smooth-billed Ani, Bananaquit, and Yellow-bellied Seedeater among others. It was not until just before Mindo Garden, near the end of the road, that things started to look better. A patch of secondary forest revealed a handful of lifers, and some nice ones too – White-winged Tanager, Guira Tanager, and Yellow Tyrannulet. The canopies of the trees were alive with a large mixed flock of birds, including Brown-capped Vireo, White-shouldered Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, and Tropical Parula. There were others too which I am sure I missed – too much all at once. 

The main road leading into Mindo.
A locked gate on the bridge crossing the river signaled the end of the road for me. From here it was possible to get some views up and downstream of the Mindo River, with hopes of seeing White-capped Dipper and Torrent Duck. Having seen the former before, I was still happy to see it again, but it was the duck that eluded me. And it would not be the first time. While watching a Black Phoebe perched on a rock beside the river, a Green-fronted Lancebill flew in to perch on a rope drooping across the waters. It spent quite some time there, making short sallies for what I suspect were minute airborne insects. Sneaking into the garden at the guest house (the gate was wide open), I got views of Slaty-crowned Flycatcher, Slate-throated Whitestart, Three-striped Warbler, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Cinnamon Becard and Buff-fronted Foliagegleaner.

A Green-fronted Lancebill; that bill is unmistakable!

Time to move on, I turned back towards Mindo. Instead of returning to the town I took a turn to the left before crossing a small bridge straddling the river. From here it was uphill again. Too make the ride more entertaining, it started to rain, drizzling at first before becoming a drenching and steady downpour. I was not keen to get soaked, as I was hoping to find a spot to camp somewhere along the road. While taking cover from the rain under a meager roof top beside the road, I had a glimpse of a parrot lifer through the blurry streaks of rain. A pair of Rosy-faced Parrots moving rather sluggishly through the branches in search of fruit. Fruit that I would eaten too if I could have got my hands on them, as I was rather hungry myself by this time. The sighting of the parrots had lifted my spirits, and so I was ready to tread on after the first break in the clouds. I arrived at a small cable-way station, used for ferrying tourists across the wide forested valley. This is also where a short walk to the Nambillo Waterfall finds its beginning. No one was about, and not surprisingly as it was late afternoon by now. I cooked dinner on one of the small tables in the open building, before hanging my hammock between the foundation pillars below. Sweet, I was ready for the night, and surrounded by what seemed to be good forest. But I would have to wait till morning to see what birds lurked in this neck of the woods.

The cable-way house; I found a dry camping spot below it.

The cable car starting its voyage across the valley.
I was up, packed and ready long before I figured the first people would arrive to glide across the valley in the dainty cable car. Besides, no one needed to know I had spent the night there; I prefer being discrete. I continued with the road until I was sure that it was making a descent. Though I had passed through some excellent forest, I was not keen on having to make the return a slog. From my map, I knew the road would end soon anyway, making a return along the same road inevitable. Despite the seemingly good habitat, the birds were coming in at a slow pace, with no new lifers other than Olivaceous Piculet. Some interesting ones were Red-headed Barbet, Red-billed Parrot, Choco Toucan, Swallow-tailed Kite, Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, Tri-coloured Brushfinch and Squirrel Cuckoo. Slaty Spinetail managed to stay well out of sight, despite getting a good earful of its characteristic call from the roadside thickets. Another heard-but-not-seen bird was a displaying Club-winged Manakin. It somehow managed to keep a fair amount of foliage between itself and my prying eyes. I missed my most sought-after bird, which is said to be found along the road. So I would have to wait for another chance to see the elusive Scaled Fruiteater.

Canopy adventures are popular around Mindo.
A quaint house on the outskirts of Mindo.

Back in Mindo I was greeted by a Masked Water-tyrant taking a bath in a pool of rain water in the road. It seemed to be enjoying the refreshing splash-about. Blue-black Grassquit and Variable Seedeater occupied the tall grasses on an empty plot while a pair of Bran-coloured Flycatchers was perched nearby. 
A Masked Water-tyrant giving a show in the middle of the road.

Almost as drab as its name, the Bran-coloured Flycatcher deserves more credit.

Variable Seedeaters are common where ever there is tall grass.
After a little birding I wasted no time in leaving Mindo for one last road to explore, the one that leads southwards to Cinto and Lloa. I had one night left in the area and I was going to spend the early part of the evening looking for a crepuscular bird, one I had just a fleeting view of some months earlier in Colombia. I had a stake-out, a small roadside quarry. So after off-loading the bike and setting up my hammock beside a rushing river, I headed back along the road to the excavation site. And just in time. After arriving at the quarry all seemed still, deserted. But then, in the beam of my flashlight, an elegant male Lyre-tailed Nightjar glided silently passed the rocky wall of the quarry. The tail really does seem rather a little too long! There was also a female bird, and the two took turns in flying back and forth across the quarry in search of prey. Not wanting to disturb the birds, I did not stay long before returning to my campsite by the riverside. 
No Torrent Ducks here!

Nothing duck-like seen this side either.

The sun rose to find me searching in vain for Torrent Duck from a nearby bridge, which had good views over the river. The duck would just have to wait until I eventually find it someday, somewhere else. For my efforts I was rewarded with a brief view of two Little Cuckoos in an aerial pursuit, followed by my first Yellow-billed Casique. The casique was quietly foraging in a dense bamboo stand beside the road; a rather unobtrusive bird. After passing through Mindo I climbed the ascent to the main road that would take me back to Quito. After a few kilometers on the main road, I opted to take the longer but safer back road to Quito, via Bellavista, Tandayapa and Nono. I also passed the 30 000 km mark on my bicycle’s trip computer – I had started my travels in Norway on 2 977 km, so I could now account for 27 023 km on my travels. It would not get much more than that, the next day the trip computer got wet (once too many) and stopped working for good!

Taking the safer eco-route back to Quito - virtually no traffic and great scenery.
'Bumpy and steep' are synonymous with the eco-route.

My battered trip computer did not last much longer after 30 000 km.

Highland hills on the way to Quito.
And so I passed Nono yet again, and slept in the same small building I shared with two Argentinian cyclists three weeks earlier. The atmosphere was not as lively this time, but at least I could enjoy a dry night under the perforated roof. At daybreak, while loading my bike for the last time (sigh), I noted that a pair of Brown-bellied Swallows had a nest with hungry offspring under the roof. So I was not alone afterall. As I ambled up the final climb some usual highland species showed themselves, Yellow-breasted Brushfinch, Great Thrush, Spectacled Whitestart, Buff-breasted Mountain-tanager and the ever-present Rufous-collared Sparrow. After some 10 kilometers, the gradient turned in my favour and so I was well on my way to Quito. I could not help but wonder if this was truly the end, the end of my travels. I guess time will tell…   

A view over northern sprawling Quito.

 Someone in need of a haircut!