The afternoon of our first full day in Ecuador was spent at Yanacocha Preserve, a high-altitude elfin forest on the slopes of Volcan Pichincha, a property of the world-renowned Jocotoco Conservation Foundation.  The ride there from Pululahua through the northern suburbs of Quito was uneventful, even though one would think that a ride that takes one from the caldera of an extinct volcano to the slopes of an active one would be more exciting.  Instead of lava or ash or deadly fumes, however, we had a more mundane problem with which to deal: fog.  And lots of it!  Though, really, when one is at such a high elevation one wonders if fog is really the proper word considering that if we were at a lower elevation we would have been calling the moisture in the air above us clouds.  Whatever the gray stuff was it severely limited our vision and our ability to see colors on birds.

The first order of business upon our arrival at Yanacocha Preserve was to eat lunch.  That task quickly taken care of and we were off birding, making our way down the broad path labeled “Inca” that is illustrated in pale green in the trail map at right.  The high elevation took its toll and we took our time, marveling at plants, the lushness of the forest, and the fact that we were in Ecuador, less than a day after we were convinced that the airlines were conspiring to keep us out of the country!  The birds were pretty darn slow as well, with only a Tufted Tit Tyrant, a Glossy Flowerpiercer, and a Tyrian Metaltail at the entrance of the preserve checked off our list.

Spectacled Whitestart Myioborus melanocephalus

Then, as so often happens when one is birding the Neotropics (says the veteran of a total of two trips), we found ourselves in the middle of a feeding flock and it was a close race to see who was most frenzied, the birds or the birders!  We saw far more birds than we could identify in the fog but the ones we did get were pretty nice.  The Spectacled Whitestart above was one of the cooler birds, at least to this wood-warbler aficionado, but the best bird in the flock was a tanager so large that at first glance I thought it had to be some kind of jay, the Hooded Mountain-Tanager.

But what Yanacocha Preserve is known for isn’t a warbler or a tanager.  No, Yanacocha is known for a hummingbird, the critically endangered Black-breasted Puffleg, a bird known to exist only on the slopes of Volcan Pichincha.  Sadly, one had not been seen in awhile and we were not to see Eriocnemis nigrivestis either.  Maybe on my next visit…

Sword-billed Hummingbird Ensifera ensifera

Fortunately, birds like the hummingbirds above and below were a the feeders along the trail, as well as Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Golden-breasted Puffleg, and Black Flowerpiercer.

Sapphire-vented Puffleg Eriocnemis luciani

Despite the small number of species seen and the lousy atmospheric conditions in our too-brief visit to the slopes of Volcan Pichincha it was still a spectacular place to visit and I hope to go back someday when the air is clear enough to actually see the birds and the view.  Who wouldn’t want to return to a place with a trail with a name like the one in the picture below?

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.