Watching Birds Above the Rio Blanco
SAN MIGUEL DE LOS BANCOS, ECUADOR, JANUARY 25, 2010 – One needn’t spend much time in Ecuador to recognize the country as a true birdwatching paradise. Just run down the checklist of essential features…
An insane to the point of incomprehensibility level of avian biodiversity… CHECK
Phenomenal hummingbirds everywhere you go… CHECK
A road consecrated to the indulgence of birders… CHECK
A town that celebrates birdwatching… CHECK
Really, all that Ecuador needed in my estimation to become the mecca to which all true birders must travel was a restaurant that catered especially to avian enthusiasts. Oh wait, that restaurant already exists!
Between our hard-won triumphs at Reserva Mangaloma and the torrential tragedy of our trip to Milpe Bird Sanctuary, we stopped for lunch in the town of San Miguel de los Bancos in Pichincha Province. Renato and Paola of Pululuhua Hostal brought David Ringer and me to the magical Mirador del Rio Blanco, a restaurant that offers something extra for birders. No, I don’t mean that they serve dishes named after or made from tropical birds; eating something like Toucan Tenders should give any nature lover pause. What Mirador del Rio Blanco does instead is serve up live birds in a very special way.
One wall of the restaurant is an immense plate glass window behind which is a fearsome array of fruit feeders. Diners are invited to sit so that they can observe the action at the feeders while feeding themselves. This was very cool, especially since tanagers are typically the stars of this dinner theater. During the rainy early afternoon we were at the Mirador, we observed Golden, Silver-throated, Blue-gray, and Lemon-rumped Tanagers enjoying the accommodations.
Silver-throated and Golden Tanagers dining on plantains
Of course, this restaurant observes the most excellent Ecuadorean tradition of setting up hummingbird feeders. The most common hummer at this stop was Rufous-tailed Hummingbird but we also saw stunners like Green-crowned Brilliant, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Velvet-purple Coronet, and Green Thorntail.
As if all of this avian entertainment wasn’t enough, we have to consider the stunning vista that gives Mirador del Rio Blanco its name; from the rear deck of the restaurant, one can gaze upon the Rio Blanco far, far, far below (seriously, the river is way down there!) Powerful optics might reveal Neotropic Cormorants spread-eagled on the rocks below but the real action is in the skies above the river. Vast swarms of White-collared Swifts almost certainly concealed other swift species, whereas Black Vultures were unmistakable. I was pleased to observe a Swallow-tailed Kite soaring in the distance…
…but even more thrilled when it swooped beautiful and big as life within 20 feet of me!
Swallow-tailed Kite up close
Mirador del Rio Blanco was truly inspiring, a mandatory stop for any birder in the Mindo area. The birds listed above are just a smattering of the species on this location’s expansive list, a list that includes a number of surprising rarities. Plus, the food is delicious! In a part of the world where the number of essential attractions gives birdwatchers whiplash on top of warbler neck, Mirador del Rio Blanco deserves attention.
Of course, any Ecuadorean ecosystem worth its salt will harbor some birds beyond a visitor’s identification ability. Here’s one beyond mine, a drab bird that lives with more drab friends in a bush on the grounds of Mirador del Rio Blanco. Any guesses?
Mystery Mirador del Rio Blanco bird