Panama, February 2012

Trip Report Panama February 2012

This trip was organized by Al Thurman from Phoenix. He’s been collecting in Panama for over 30 years, and has permits, so this was mostly a collecting trip. Al invited me to come along as the only photographer. The collectors were very gracious and let me go through their specimens at night and shoot what I wanted, which was very helpful.

Participants: Al, John MacDonald (another collector with much experience in Panama, he drove the 2nd car), Gap and Terry Danish, Nathan Schiff, Paul Thompson, Dan Bogar, Larry Bezart, and Bill Tyson (the last 2 were into beetles), and Kim Garwood.

Feb 6 – fly in from Houston, 3 nights in Panama City at Amador Ocean View Hotel

Feb 7 – Cerro Jefe for the day, 900-1000m

Feb 8 – Bayano east of Bayano Lake for the day

Feb 9 – Santa Rita Ridge for the day east slope, move to Canal Inn B&B for 3 nights

Feb 10 – to Gatun/Canal Zone for the day

Feb 11 – to Cerro Campana for the day, 800m, then Cerro Anton late afternoon

Feb 12 – Advantage Panama Tours takes us to horses for ride to Cerro Chucanti Field Station 4 nights

Feb 13/14/15 – hike trails at Chucanti

Feb 16 – horseback downhill, then back to Canal Inn B&B in Panama City

Feb 17 – fly to David 9:15am, 3 nights at Finca Hartmann about 5,000’

Feb 18 – trails around Finca Hartmann

Feb 19 – drive north to Rio Candela, 5600’, on Costa Rican border

Feb 20 – drive to Mt Totumas for 3 nights, check it out and decide to stay at Finca Hartmann

Feb 21 – John and I go to Mt Totumas, stay only 1 night

Feb 22 – we meet the group at Rio Candela for a 2nd time, drive up higher to 6,150’

Feb 23 – fly back to Panama City from David at 5:15pm for 2 nights at Amador Ocean View Hotel

Feb 24 – back to Santa Rita ridge for the day

Feb 25 – drive to El Valle, I stay at Kevin’s house after working the trail at Hotel Campestre

Feb 26/27 – El Capitanes in El Valle 2 nights, change to new lodge at Rio Indio

Feb 28 – back to El Valle and Kevin’s house

Feb 29 – La Laguna w/Kevin, then back to Panama City Hotel Riande by the airport

Mar 1 – fly back to the US

Tues Feb 7 – we’re doing day trips out of Panama City for the next week. We drive to Cerro Jefe, where in August we had the fabulous Agrias tree pulling in all sorts of goodies. That was then, this is now, and we don’t see any leafwings at all. In August the tree was dripping/leaking sap for many places, it may be diseased, but now there isn’t any sign of sap, and therefore no butterflies. The guys hang traps there but get zero. This is also the place where we had the big gathering of clearwings on the blue mistflower/eupatorium on someone’s driveway up the little hill, but we strike out here as well. This is of course the dry season, but we didn’t think it would be this dry. Al has told us he has many specimens taken in February, but we’re not finding much. We get onesie twosies of a variety of species, but nothing in quantity. Most of what we see is very fresh, just small numbers. I have Morpho cypris fly right overhead and it looks mint. They have had all 5 Morpho species at Cerro Jefe, but not today.

Wed Feb 8 – we drive east to Bayano Lake, hot lowlands down logging roads off the highway. It takes close to 2 hours from the city, which makes for a long day. I’m not wild about this place but the others are keen to come back, so that’s fine. This is a good place for Heliconius, especially the erato/melpomene that just have the red on the forewings but no yellow on the hindwings, plus some combinations. Overall it’s very slow and it gets dark and cloudy by early afternoon, so we quit about 2:15 and head back.  For restaurants the guys alternate between Pencas, which is more convenient as its right by the Amador Causeway, and their all time favorite Jimmy’s in downtown towards the airport. Jimmy’s has killer steaks, I like their rez a la pimiento or pepper steak, so we pig out every night. Both places have excellent ceviche, and Pencas has delicious fruit blended drinks, or batidos. I alternate between mango and passionfruit or maracuya. Roughing it on these trips is tough duty.

Thur Feb 9 – we drive east to Santa Rita Ridge, just past where the cuota to Colon ends. This is up about 800-900’ at some microwave towers, a nice ridge where we have our best day yet by far. This is on the Atlantic side, so it’s considerably wetter than the dry Pacific side. Lots of Archaeoprepona flying and coming to the traps, and some new riodinids, including Symmachia virgatula caught by Nathan, I’m so jealous. At least he lets me shoot the specimen, a brilliant orange. John sees a Rodinia calphurnia metalmark like Rhetus but we can’t catch it, let alone take a photo. I’ve never seen this one. It’s a beautiful day, not too hot, bright sun, bugs flying. The trails head off in 3 directions, unfortunately they’re all down as we’re at the top w/the microwave towers. But we all have a good time all day long.

Fri Feb 10 – drive east past Santa Ridge towards Colon, take the shore road looking for the Portobello National Park. Al remembers it as a good place 30 years ago (!), but we can’t find it, even though he’s found it online. It has a waterfall, sounds like a nice park, but we hunt up and down the road all the way to the small town of Portobello w/out any luck. It’s a rainy morning and a pretty drive, but not many bugs. So we head over the canal at the Gatun Locks and go to an empty road off to the right that runs through nice forest w/some big trees. Not large numbers flying but we do find some things. The beetle guys find a big log pile and get lots of goodies.

Sat Feb 11 – today we head west to Cerro Campana, across the Bridge of the Americas about an hour or so. This is also about 800m, but much wetter and more cloud forest than Cerro Jefe. It is very foggy and also windy, which is an odd combination. The clouds blow in and out, and it keeps teasing us w/bits of sun, but it never burns off, so after several hours we decide to head back. There are some good things here, but you have to have sun. We check out Cerro Anton, or Anton Hill, which is right in town and Al has never been up there. After a certain amount of backing and filling we find the road to the top, where they have a nice park w/killer views over the city. But it is Saturday afternoon and lots of people want to go up, so we have to wait at a guard shack for 20 minutes or more. It is a narrow twisty road and they only let cars go one way, then they tell us there aren’t any parking places up top, but we finally make it. This would be a good spot to check out in the wet season, as there is lots of good looking habitat, but don’t come on a weekend, or come early in the morning.

Sun Feb 12 – off to Chucanti. They are supposed to pick us up at 8am, then 2.5 to 3 hours to where we get the horses for our 4 hour ride into the Darien. This turns into an ordeal, as first we can’t get Dan from the Amador Ocean View Hotel, where he had to stay due to a shortage of rooms at the Canal Inn. There is an international ironman race today, Sunday, and even though he had checked at the hotel desk to make sure he could get out Sunday morning, Al can’t drive into pick him up. But he can get a cab to the airport, so he manages to make it to the Riande Hotel at the airport, where he meets up w/Paul, who came in the afternoon before and went there, because Al wasn’t there to pick him up. So after much confusion we are all together and departing the Riande Hotel about 2 hours later than planned. We drive to Torti at the edge of the Darien w/Michael, a bird guide I met back in 2006. He now works for Advantage Panama. We have to keep one of the rental cars to drive us to Chucanti, due to another confusion. Al thought they were picking us up in Panama City, but they are only sending a car, which won’t quite fit all 8 of us. We stop for lunch which turns into another 2 hours ordeal at the restaurant in Torti, so we finally make it to the horses about 4pm. After having to stop at a checkpoint where the guard, having no idea what he’s doing, slowly and methodically writes down every bit of info on all 8 of our passports, taking at least 30 minutes to do so. So we start off on our smallish horses and it quickly becomes apparent that we are all a bit larger than the typical Panamanians riding these horses. Our feet, at least mine, don’t fit well in the stirrups, and poor Dan’s feet probably come w/in a foot of the ground, being over 6’6”. Paul, being the only one of us in good shape, chooses to hike up the 2000’ gain, probably 7-8 miles. But the rest of us struggle on, beating our poor underpowered horses. After a few hours it gets dark, and we do the last couple of hours in the pitch black, stumbling around hoping our horses know where to go. All in all we were very lucky not to have anyone get seriously hurt. Several of the guys fall off, Dan fairly seriously, but no broken bones. I was never so glad to get somewhere in my life. Once we manage to collapse off our horses, we ‘only’ have 10 minutes more to stagger uphill, a very steep hill. But we get to the top and drop dead. Once we get fed, which turns out to be excellent, we recover a bit, but we’re all pretty slow the next day. Naps are considered a good idea all around. My feeling is this place is good for young folk and those in good enough shape to make the hike. If you want to ride, you should be maybe 150 pounds, w/200 pounds as the absolute outside limit, and hopefully under 6 feet tall. Of course many gringo tourists, especially older ones like us, don’t meet those criteria. It also helps to have good knees, another weak point of several in our group. The trail is not only steep but rocky and covered in leaves in many places, so you can’t see the rocks as they roll out from under your feet. All in all, an exciting experience I wouldn’t plan to do again. And this is the dry season. Al was planning on bringing a group here next August, in the wet season, and I can’t imagine hiking up the trail when it’s slippery in the pouring rain. There’s also no electricity, as their generator was broken. We of course have hauled in our own generators for black lighting for moths, so we at least have some power at night.

Mon/Tues/Wed Feb 13/14/15 – we have 3 full days, 4 nights, to explore around the trails. There are some good butterflies around, John especially gets some nice metalmarks and hairstreaks. He finds a good light gap in the forest and lurks around there for a couple of days. We tend to get 1 of this species and 1 of another, except for Eunica pusilla which appears to be having a nice hatch. We get lots of females, which I have never seen. The guys are all very nice and let me photograph whatever they catch, which is helpful as most of what I see is out of photographic range. But the guys w/the nets can grab some. The beetle guys get a pretty good selection, over 40 genera which pleases them. I bet there is a lot more flying in the wet season, if you can get up here. I will be eager to hear how Al’s group does in August. The last day Dan is trying to catch a fresh Parrhasius orgia from the deck of the lower cabins, but it keeps landing on a tree just out of reach. So Michael, being clever, fashions a stick on a small rope and throws it out to the tree, entangling it in the branches, and hauls the small tree closer and ties it off on the porch. After several swings and adventures, fortunately the hairstreak keeps coming back to the same tree, and Dan finally catches it. It turns out to be a female, I’ve never seen a female so determined to return to the same place. One morning I find an ant swarm and sit and watch it for an hour or so. Not tons of bird species, but some good ones. There are about half a dozen ocellated antbirds, one of the gaudy species, and one I’ve only seen at ant swarms. Lots of bicolored antbirds, they come very close to me, and 3 or 4 different woodcreepers. Lots of Rusty Woodcreepers and a big Barred Woodcreeper, and lots of Black-striped. I haven’t seen an ant swarm in a couple of years, so this one is really enjoyable.

Thur Feb 16 – we have to ride back out, which several of us have been dreading, but it goes fairly well. I walk and ride, alternating about half and half, walking down the steeper parts. This makes it easier on the horse and lets my knees stretch out from the riding. I’m not near as worn out as the trip up, plus it’s much much easier doing it in the daylight. I even see king vultures on the way down. The only snag on the return trip is the guys w/the luggage horses take forever. We all make it down to the waiting spot, where our cars are, then have to wait 2 hours for our luggage. In my opinion this is inexcusable, to make the paying clients wait several hours after 4+ hours of riding. The baggage guys claim the horses couldn’t carry the weight, they need to get bigger horses, or maybe mules, if they want to take up older clients. By the time we make it back to Panama City it is 6:30 or 7pm, and we skipped lunch on the way back. The Canal Inn doesn’t have enough rooms, this is beginning to sound like a broken record, so poor Al has to take 2 of us to the Amador, then go pick up 2 more coming in at 10 pm. The rest of us crash after another pig out at Pencas. My favorite thing there is the mango batidos, or smoothie, absolutely delicious. They also have passion fruit, so it’s a very tough choice. Just have to go twice. This group has two favorite restaurants in Panama City, Pencas which is near the Amador Causeway, and the favorite, Jimmy’s Greek place downtown closer to the airport. (gives you an idea how important food was to us, I mention the restaurants twice!) With traffic it can take an hour to get to Jimmy’s at dinner time, which is a pain, but they have excellent steaks which the guys all love.  I’ve been wanting to go to Crepes y Wafles, but don’t think it’s going to happen w/this meat and potatoes group.

Fri Feb 17 – Al has to take 3 of us to Albrook airport for the 7am flight to David, than the rest of us are on the 9:15 flight. We all make it to David, get 3 rental cars, of course the original reservations aren’t any good so Al has to scrounge up another car. Fortunately there are 5 car rental companies at the airport. We make it to the nice restaurant in Volcan at Hotel Dos Rios by shortly after noon, then up to Finca Hartmann by 3 or so. What a treat to get here in the light. Last year we drove from Panama City and due to a variety of delays didn’t get here until about 9pm. More stumbling around in the dark. So it’s very nice to get here in time for the moth guys to set up their lights, unpack and settle in. I score by getting the small cabin to myself, such luxury. This keeps me away from the night moth/beetle activities. I even have a little table to work on the computer. This is a beautiful place. Lots of Leptophobia aripa flying, we’ll see if we can find much else, it’s very dry.

Sat Feb 18 – last night those working the black light got a pretty good haul, including several Chrysinae beetles, the gold shiny ones. Always big crowd pleasers. There are two or three species here, a gold one and a bigger green one, and a larger silver one.  When I wake up at dawn it’s in the high 50’s in my room, but comfortable w/the blankets. Down in the big house John has the fire going and Bill makes tasty omelets for breakfast, life is good. There isn’t any electricity except what you create if you bring a generator, so my little cabin only has a kerosene lamp and candles, very romantic. We brought generators for the black lights, so you can charge batteries and laptops at night at the big house. The dawn is perfectly clear, not a cloud in the sky, but it takes the sun a while to get over the mountain and onto our clearing, about 9am. When I was here last August it was raining and chilly. Walking the trails I head right at the ‘Y’ and up into the forest, not seeing much until about 10am as it warms up. Suddenly by 10:30 there are Marpesia marcella zipping around the trees, one we didn’t see last August. Now they are common. Along with the Morpho helenor maritita subspecies w/the blue line just on the forewing, very different looking, and some clearwings. We wander around the hills and coffee plantations of Finca Hartmann for the day. There are several forested areas with lots of edge around the coffee. There are a couple of trails that head up into the hills that go forever, or working the road back that we came in on can be good. There aren’t as many butterflies as last August, when I was here before, but we find plenty of stuff.

Sun Feb 19 – we drive over to Rio Candela about 5,600’, into La Amistad National Park. We park the cars at a clearing where a stream comes into a larger stream and split up into several directions. I walk uphill several hundred feet and find several species of crescents and lots of clearwings. We end up with a nice selection of clearwings, plus yellow kite swallowtails. No satyrs, which seems odd, and very few hairstreaks. Paul catches a large hairstreak that neither Dan nor John knows what it is, so that’s very interesting, and John finds a quetzal up above. Bellbirds are clanging away, it’s a beautiful place to spend the day. On our way back we step over the border and buy soft drinks at a little market in Costa Rica, no border guards here at all. We go through Serena, looking for ice, but can’t find any. We stop to visit the Hartmanns at their house and see their baby anteater, which crawls all over several of the guys. Its fur is very stiff, and with that long pointed face and the eyes sticking out on the side it is a bizarre looking little creature, but very friendly. It has strong claws, they don’t break your skin but you can certainly feel them grab on, and its tail wraps around peoples’ necks and holds on tightly. You can tell it climbs well.

Mon Feb 20 – we are scheduled to move to Mt. Totumas today for three nights, but there is some concern about them having enough room for the 10 of us. So Al, Bill and I drive over to check it out first. 20 minutes back to pavement, about another 20 minutes back towards Volcan and we turn off on the dirt road to Mt. Totumas. This turns out to be a tough road, it takes us an hour to do a bit less than 10 km. Very rough and rocky, fording a couple of streams, we climb from about 5,200’ to 6,300’ at the lodge, most of it the last 2 km past the Pozas Terminales, or hot springs which are about 7 km in. The lodge is a beautiful building w/a nice deck out the back and hummingbird feeders, we’re greeted by violet saberwings, one of my favorite hummers. But they only have 3 bedrooms in the main house, and they have another guest coming today. Jeff and Alma, the hosts, are extremely friendly and gracious. They are building a 2nd building which is not quite finished, and they have put 3 beds and 3 pallets on the floor in a giant sort of dorm room, but our folks aren’t going to be too happy like this, so we decide to stay at Finca Hartmann tonight and a few of us will come back tomorrow. Jeff, the owner, shows us the stump the quetzals are nesting in, just 70 meters in back of the lodge. They laid eggs last year the first week of May, and he says they are excavating a new hole this year. I want to come back and explore. There won’t be as many butterflies, but some different ones, and if it is cool and foggy I can always go birding. Alma is going to cook us dinner for $15 each, but we are responsible for our breakfast and lunch. Their main house is a regular house, w/a full kitchen and living room, nice view windows, very plush. They generate their own electricity w/a turbine on their stream, so they have power 24/7, which is a luxury. They even have internet during the day, as they are high enough to get a sight on the tower, but it is solar powered, so only works when the sun is up.

Tue Feb 21 – 2 cars head over to Mt. Totumas, John and I plan to stay at least one night, and the others are doing a day trip. Apparently the beetle guys don’t want the hassle of moving their black lights. So John and I will be the guinea pigs and see what we find. Other moth people have collected here, they just ran the sheet on the porch. We are sitting on their nice porch, watching 9 species of hummingbirds, when the pair of quetzals fly overhead, to much screaming and general excitement all around. There are lots of trails here, you can walk up to Amistad National Park and over the continental divide, if you’re a strong hiker. Several of the guys gets some good Pedaliodes w/a lovely rufous wash on the ventral forewing, which I’ve not seen before. Later Tomasz Pyrcz tells me it is P.lithochalcis, which he has split off from dejecta. The others leave and John and I stay for a tasty steak dinner. Jeff and Alma know how to buy their meat, as their steak is dramatically better than what we had at our place the night before, which was so tough we didn’t even eat all of it. They tell us you have to ask the butcher for filet, its $4/pound instead of the $1.60/pound Al had bought ours for. Unfortunately it’s very windy tonight, and the sheets John and Jeff put up are blown to shreds. John does get some good sphinx moths and some other things, but Jeff tells us the best time to come is July/August, the rainy time, and there is much less wind. Guess we’ll have to come back. Jeff had saved me a ‘huge skipper’ that was in his kitchen a week ago, but it turns out to be Pycina zamba, a beautiful Nymphalid that is hard to catch.

Wed Feb 22 – we get up, eat breakfast and drink their tasty coffee, and slowly work our way down the bad road. We head over to Rio Candela to meet the rest of our group and don’t get there until about noon. While we’re making sandwiches out of the back of the car another Pycina zamba zooms in and lands on John’s back, where Bill snags it. Bad timing for it, good for us. After sandwiches I work across the stream where Al has dumped a bunch of pee, and the Marpesia marcella are coming in, so I can get good dorsals and ventrals, plus a bunch of crescents. Then we drive on up the road several km further in, up to about 6,150’, where it is good forest. We meet the local ranger, a nephew of Don Chicho from Finca Hartmann (small world) who warns us to watch out for a female jaguar who has cubs and is dangerous. Too bad, no sign of the jaguar, but we do get lots of new butterflies for the list.  Another good day, we’ll be sorry to leave the mountains tomorrow. The beetle guys have done very well, 54 genera of beetles.

Thur Feb 23 – drive back to David and fly to Panama City, where we stay at the Amador Causeway Ocean View Hotel again for 2 nights, pigging out again at Jimmy’s.

Fri Feb 24 – back to Santa Rita ridge for the final day’s collecting w/the group. We find a number of new species flying, as compared to our earlier trip a few weeks ago. Dan gets a different pair of Symmachia metalmarks, which turns out to be new for Panama as S.multesima, Bill gets a fresh Eunica auarcana, and several other new species show up. For our final group dinner Al takes us to the Miraflores locks, which is always fun. We have their fancy buffet and watch the ships pass through the locks. Being as it is Friday during Lent, they have nothing but fish, good thing we all like fish.

Sat Feb 25 – Al takes me and 2 others to El Valle for the day, where they drop me off at Kevin’s house outside Coronado after we explore the trail at the Hotel Campestre. It is very dry and we see few butterflies, as compared to last August when it was a fabulous place for clearwings. However Al scores with a female Lyropteryx lyra, the beautiful Cherry-bordered Metalmark. He’s never seen this species in over 30 years of collecting in Panama. I’ve only seen female specimens a few times, never a male.

Sun Feb 26 – Kevin and I head back to El Valle, where I have reservations at Los Capitanes, a nice hotel run by a German. We stop to drop off my luggage and run into the owner, who invites us to go higher to his new eco-lodge in the woods at Rio Indio Arriba, maybe another 20 km up the bad dirt road. The cost is $60/person including 3 meals, as compared to $44 to stay at Los Capitanes w/out meals. Kevin had heard he was building a new place but didn’t know it was open, so we say yes. We follow him up the rough road in Kevin’s car, which is 4 wheel drive. It turns out to be a charming place, built out of stone and wood, decent rooms but w/a shared toilet and shower, and only cold water. A propane water heater would make it much nicer. But it is right on a pretty stream, and we see some nice butterflies. Again I’m sure it would be much better in July/August. We hike up the trail from the cabins maybe a mile or so, up and down over several ridges and ravines, and most of the area is being turned into small homesteads. People are living everywhere up here in the hills, w/their dogs and their chickens and their kids. We do see some fresh satyrs but nothing wildly exciting.

Mon Feb 27 – we drive as far up the road as we can, then get out and walk. Kevin has been up here many times. He says this road is only about 2 years old, and already wearing down. We see a few things flying, but our main score of the morning is a very fresh female metalmark who poses nicely on some tiny flowers on a low tree branch, Hypophylla zeurippa. That afternoon back at the lodge the guys find and kill a large fer-de-lance snake right by the cabins. It is over 4’ long and fairly thick, I wouldn’t have wanted to run into it on a midnight run to the toilet.

Tue Feb 28 – we take our time heading back on the road towards El Valle, and Kevin takes me to another of his favorite spots. On our way in we had turned left at the T, past the chicken ranches, so now we continue on straight to the right hand side, instead of going back, and come to a trail at Cerro Gaital preserve. We find a crew whacking away and removing all weeds, making a very wide trail, you could drive up it, but we still see some butterflies. Emesis cypria and one of my favorite skippers Mnestheus ittona, the one w/the beautiful white curves, are soaking up the sun and posed nicely.

Wed Feb 29 – Kevin takes me up to La Laguna, the next road south or east of his turn off a few km past Coronado. We go up about 30-40 minutes to almost 3,300’ where there is a very pretty little lake. They have made it into a park, however, and have a chain on the entrance where you have to pay .50 and it doesn’t open until 9:30am. We park outside and walk over the chain and around the lake. Kevin says 5 years ago he couldn’t walk around the lake, it was so overgrown, but now they have cleared it all and it is too immaculate. But we find a trail off into the brush in the back, climb under a fence and find lots of bugs. Everywhere is changing so fast here in Panama, many houses are being built and the older wild areas are rapidly disappearing. Afterwards we had back to Kevin’s house, pick up Sandy his wife and they take me into Panama City, about 2 hours, where she does their big shopping and he drops me off at the Riande Hotel near the airport. Al had made a reservation for me, and supposedly paid for it, but not according to the hotel, where I had to pay w/my credit card. It’s been a fun trip, but South America is better.  Panama is growning and changing so quickly, it has a real boom town feel to it. Hard to imagine what it will be like In another 5-10 years.

 

Peru October/November 2011



Trip Report Peru October & November 2011

(Photo Checklists now available for Central Peru: Pampa Hermosa and Pozuzo, and for Northern Peru: Chaparri, Owlet Lodge and Rumiyacu/Moyobambo, and eventually for Southeastern Peru: Cock of the Rock Lodge and above)

Participants/Photographers, central Peru: Priscilla Brodkin (PB), Deborah Galloway (DG), David Geale (DvG), Kim Garwood (KG), Eileen Mahler (EM), Glenn Mahler (GM), Sherry Nelson (SN), Dan Wade (DW), and Kay Wade (KW); northern Peru: Rick Cech (RC), Kim Garwood (KG), Tony Hoare (TH), Emily Peyton (EP), Willie Sekula (WS), Dan Wade (DW) and Kay Wade (KW).

The entire trip, close to 7 weeks, was organized through Tanager Tours, by David Geale, and I was very happy with him. www.tanagertours.com It was the first time I had used David. He came along on the 2nd part, so we got to spend a few weeks with him. He’s a keen birder, but he was very interested in the butterflies, and took lots of photos. I definitely plan to spend more time in Peru w/him. His driver, Juve, was also excellent and a knowledgeable birder, and was taking tons of good butterfly photos as well. I will hopefully be spending more time with both of them in the field in the future.

We have found when we’re with bird guides we often do a birding part early in the day, meeting at 5:30 or 6am for those who are interested, then the whole group meets at 7 or 7:30am for breakfast. Then we take off for butterflies after breakfast, often bringing sandwich makings and simple lunch w/us in the field. If we go back to the lodge for lunch I like to schedule it a bit later, maybe 1 or 1:30pm. The good butterfly time tend to be about 8 to 2pm. After that it gets much quieter in the forest for butterflies, except for crepuscular skippers.

There were 3 groups of friends who came along, so there was a lot of variety, but all are good photographers and good travel companions. Unfortunately my laptop seems to have acquired a virus and quit working, so my trip report will be briefer than normal (probably a good thing).

Part 1, Machu Picchu & Ollantambo:

Tue Oct 4 – fly to Lima, 1 night at Mami Panchita.

Wed Oct 5 – fly to Cusco, 1 night at Hostal Atlantis, barking dogs, US$35/single, $50/double.

Thur Oct 6 – train to Aguas Calientes, La Pequena Casita for 3 nights, US$64/double.

Fri Oct 7 – Machu Picchu, spectacular.

Sat Oct 8 – explore Aguas Calientes, walk the train tracks for butterflies and torrent ducks.

Sun Oct 9 – train back to Cusco & dogs at Hostal Atlantis.

Mon Oct 10 – Roger drives us to Cock of the Rock lodge for 3 nights.

Tues, Wed, Oct 11, 12 – work the road, different elevations.

Thur Oct 13 – drive to Ollantaytambo 3 nights at Munay Tika, Pisaq Ruins.

Fri Oct 14 – Abra Malaga AM 14,500’, more ruins PM, salt evaporation ponds.

Sat Oct 15 – wander Ollantaytambo AM, drive back to Cusco PM, more dogs at Atlantis.

Sun Oct 16 – Huacupay Lakes AM, supposed to fly back to Lima but flight cancelled, 1 more night at Atlantis.

Mon Oct 17 – get last flight out of Cusco, back to Mami Pachita, miss my group’s departure for Pampa Hermosa.

Part 2, Central Peru, Pampa Hermosa, Pozuzo & Villa Rica:

Tue Oct 18 – a driver takes me 7-8 hours to San Ramon and 2 hours more to Pampa Hermosa for 3 nights, arrive about 4pm.

Wed/Thur Oct 19/20 – trails and road at Pampa Hermosa, lots of firetips.

Fri Oct 21 – drive to Pozuzo through Oxapampa for 5 nights at Bungalows Maria Frau Egg’s.

Sat to Tues Oct 22 to 25 – different elevations on road above Pozuzo through Yanachaga-Chemillen National Park.

Wed Oct 26 – drive to Villa Rica for 4 nights at Rapallo Bungalows overlooking marsh and lake.

Thur to Sat Oct 27 to 29 – drive back up Bosque Shollet and around marsh to coffee plantations.

Sun Oct 30 – drive back to Lima, 10-12 hours w/stop for lunch in La Oroya, night at Mami Panchita.

Part 3, Northern Peru, Chiclayo to Tarapoto:

Mon Oct 31 – early flight to Chiclayo, drive 2 hours to Chaparri Lodge for 3 nights.

Tue/Wed Nov 1,2 – explore Chaparri, spectacled bear!

Thur Nov 3 – Juve takes us to Olmos, 1 night, stop at Bosque Pomoc for Peruvian Plantcutter.

Fri Nov 4 – drive to Gocta Lodge 200 soles/night double, 3 nights, stop at Abra Porculla 1800m.

Sat/Sun Nov 5/6 – road to Gocta, fabulous waterfall, Maranon Cresentchest.

Mon Nov 7 – Drive to Long-whiskered Owlet Lodge for 5 nights, $150/person/night, visit Marvelous Spatuletail at Huembo, 2100m.

Tue/Wed Nov 8,9 – trails at Owlet lodge, 2350m.

Thur Nov 10 – drive down slope to Royal Sunangel Trail, 1900-2000m

Fri Nov 11 – Owlet Lodge

Sat Nov 12 – drive to Moyobambo, stopped at swampy area, 3 nights at Rumipata Bungalows, Japanese couple w/fish ponds, 900m.

Sun/Mon Nov 13/14 – creek and trail w/horses, 2 days 1100m, Rumiyacu

Tues Nov 15 – drive to Tarapoto for last 2 nights at Hotel Rio Shilcayo, 240 soles/double, 200/single, oilbird crevasse on the way. Air conditioning and a full bar, white-winged parakeets in the trees and aracaris nesting in the garden.

Wed Nov 16 – spend the day in the Huallaga Valley, dry xeric habitat

Thur Nov 17 – fly back to Lima in the am, day rooms at Mami Panchita, US$25/room + $40 airport roundtrip transfer for 6, international departures that evening around midnight.

Wed Oct 5 fly to Cusco with my brother Dan and his girlfriend, Shelly, their first trip to South America. They wanted to see Machu Picchu, so we added this first part on to the central and northern Peru trips I had planned. We stay at the Hostal Atlantis, about 6 or 7 blocks away from the main square. It’s a pleasant hotel w/friendly staff, but it’s in a more residential neighborhood, which means lots of dogs. Next time I would pay a bit more and stay at a more upscale tourist hotel in the historical center, where there are not as many dogs. At times there are 8 or more dogs hanging around in the street in front of the hotel, and they seem to bark most of the night, one of my pet peeves. We walk into the center and eat at one of the fancy restaurants overlooking the square, w/blue balconies, and have a delicious dinner and enjoy people watching.

Thur to Sat, Oct 6,7,8 We take the early train to Aguas Calientes for 3 nights, where we stay at La Pequena Casita, a nice little hotel recommended by David. It overlooks the white water river, which is great because it drowns out any town noise. The bus to Machu Picchu is right down the road, and the next morning we hop on with almost no lines. It’s a rainy morning, and at first it is foggy around the ruins and we hike to the inca bridge, which looks pretty scary. Later it clears up and we see spectacular views. That night we eat at Toto’s, a lovely restaurant over the river w/a big open fire where they grill the steaks and the trout. We eat trout w/garlic, and it is some of the best trout I’ve ever had, plus a great salad buffet of all types of bean salads. One morning it is raining, and we go shopping. Dan and Shelley buy tons of weavings, they have to buy a couple of bags to carry all their spoils. Another morning we walk back along the railroad tracks, looking for butterflies. There are lots of torrent ducks on the river, squabbling over territory, and we have fun watching them race over the white water chasing each other. Plus there are some nice butterflies along the tracks.

Sun Oct 9 We take the train back to Cusco, another night w/the barking dogs, arriving back about 9pm.

Mon to Wed, Oct 10,11,12 off to Cock of the Rock Lodge, one of my favorite places in the world. Roger, our new driver, is very experienced on the road, and it’s much easier in a small car than in a big van or bus, as I’ve done it before. I had warned my brother about this scary road, but he didn’t see what the problem was. Much easier to squeeze by the big buses and trucks coming up the road. We leave at 6am, trying to get through some road work where they close the road at 6:30am until noon. We slip through at 6:38, but a short distance later have to turn around due to a landslides, common on this road. So we have to detour back to the main road to Puerto Maldonado, which adds a couple of hours to our drive. We still get there by 2:30pm, which amazes me, as previous trips have taken a good 8-9 hours. Roger tells me it usually takes about 5-6 hours without any road problems. Having our own vehicle and driver makes it a piece of cake to pop back up the road to higher elevations and walk the parts that look good for butterflies.

Thur Oct 13 leave Cock of the Rock on a beautiful sunny morning, so we stop a couple of times going up the road. I find a fabulous purple leafwing at km 56, 7500’. Roger shows me a trail that takes off from the sign Hito Pillahuata, he says it goes downhill a couple of kms and connects up w/the road, so a driver can meet you lower down. Looks interesting. Another good place to stop is the Biological Research Station at Wayqecha at 2,950m. You can stay here now, though I’ve heard it’s fairly simple and cold, not very many sunny days. But we find some good butterflies sunning in the road right in front of the sign, probably where folks have peed while waiting for a bus. We take a dirt road from Paucartambo, the main small town between Cusco and the high pass where Parque Nacional del Manu begins, and cut over to Ollantaytambo, stopping at the Pisaq ruins on the way. We buy tickets good for 2 days that includes admission to 4 different ruins, for 70 soles each. Roger gets us student rates, convincing the ticket seller we are biologists. Ollantaytambo is a pretty tourist town, lots of restaurants, and we stay at the pleasant Munay Tika, and eat a tasty dinner right across the street. I would stay here again. This is in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and there are ruins everywhere. Plus shopping of course.

Fri Oct 14 we drive up Abra Malaga, a high pass to 4320m (14,500’).

Abra Malaga pass

The bird tours come up here, and leave at some ungodly hour, like 4:30am, but we whine and convince Roger to leave later. He’s not quite sure what to do with us, as we aren’t hunting all the high elevation species. He shows me where there is a foot path coming down the road, crisscrossing it repeatedly, and the birders hike down most of it for the day. We go up, freeze to death, turn around and come down to a nice pullout about km 101 at 10,600’, where we find butterflies. Then we go to Urabamba and to Moray ruins and the salt ponds, ancient pools where they evaporate water for salt, pretty interesting. In the afternoon we do the ruins at Ollantaytambo.

Sat Oct 15 in the morning we wander the town, then drive back to Cusco and another night w/the barking dogs.

Sun Oct 16 we’re supposed to fly back to Lima this afternoon, but a rain squall comes in and the pilot of our incoming flight decides to not land, so our flight is cancelled, after hours of waiting. The crowd is pretty annoyed, as we have to queue up back at the ticket counters and rebook our flights, w/the rest of the 150 people on our flight. Some folks try to cut in the line and it gets violent, with lots of shouting and shoving, and LAN calls in the riot police, who respond very quickly. Perhaps this is not uncommon at LAN ticket counters in Cusco? I bum a phone from someone in line and call David in Lima, to let him know I’m stuck in Cusco for another night. He arranges a driver to pick me up the morning after I get to Lima and bring me to Pampa Hermosa so I can catch up w/the group. Of course we now have to stay yet another night back at the Atlantis, fortunately they have rooms. 15 soles for a taxi to take us back to Cusco, and $35 single/$50 double for our rooms. No credit cards, so good thing we have cash. The check in guy is very helpful, and even orders us pizza that is delivered to the hotel. My brother and his girlfriend miss their international connections w/American, which were at 10:45 that night, but they have a friend who works at AA and rebooks their flights for the next evening at no cost. We heard others in the LAN line saying they were having to pay $250 each at AA for their rebooking.

Mon Oct 17 We get the last flight out of Cusco at 4:50pm, and are waiting breathlessly for another storm to blow up, but we make it this time. Try to avoid scheduling afternoon flights from Cusco, especially as you get closer to the rainy season in November. They often have big thunderstorms, and the flights get cancelled. Locals tell us this is very common. Apparently Cusco is a VFR airport, and they don’t fly at night. So Dan and Shelley say goodbye at the Lima airport, where they plan to hang out until their evening international departure, and I head to Mami Panchita for the night. However, first I check w/Copa for Kay’s luggage, which has mysteriously disappeared on their flight from Panama. David had asked me to check when I arrived in Lima, but no luck. We seem to be hexed w/flights on this trip. Priscilla had her flight cancelled, by American, from Miami to Lima and it took her 2 extra days to get to Lima. Fortunately she had flown early, and David and the group picks her up at the airport at 8am, then drives to Pampa Hermosa.

Part 2, Central east slope Peru, Pampa Hermosa, Pozuzo & Villa Rica:

Tue Oct 18 - 7 friends had planned to meet me at Mami Panchita’s in Lima, but instead we meet at Pampa Hermosa that night, after David’s driver gets me over there. I expected to have to pay $150-200 for this, but David absorbs the cost, which is extremely nice of him, as it was in no way his fault that I was late.

Wed/Thur Oct 19,20 walk trails and the road at Pampa Hermosa, 1200m. This place is great for firetips. This is my third time here, and I really like it. The food is good, the cabins are very comfortable, it’s quiet and has power all the time, hot showers, and lots of butterflies! It’s a pain to get there, as the last 24 km is a bad dirt track, you really need 4 wheel drive. The lodge will arrange this last bit, but then you have to leave your rental car in San Ramon, which is expensive and not a good idea. So it’s awkward. The previous trip we rented 2 cars and drove them, then the cars sat at PH while we walked the trails, rather expensive. I wish the lodge could arrange the pickup in Lima. But once you’re there, it’s great. This place has more firetips than just about anywhere I’ve been, we probably have more than 10 species.

Fri Oct 21 drive from Pampa Hermosa to San Ramon w/a 4×4 van, 24 km of bad road. Meet our van in SR, then get stuck by construction until 12:30, so we go chase butterflies down by the river in San Ramon. Finally we get through, have 30km of mud roads of construction until the big bridge, turn left for Oxapampa 44 km on good road, then 77km of dirt road to Pozuzo. The last part takes about 3 hours, and we make it to Pozuzo before dark. We stay at Frau Marie Egg’s bungalows, and they are great. Simple rooms but quiet, plenty of hot water and electricity, and delicious breakfasts. She is a great cook, and makes us homemade brown bread that we fight over every morning. She makes several loaves, and it all disappears down our gullets like snowballs in hell. I would definitely recommend this place as a base to work the Pozuzo road. We drive back uphill to the National Park Yanachaga-Chemillen, mostly working the road at different elevations.

Sat Oct 22We start off near Pozuzo, mostly pasture and scrub, stopping at the first two stream crossings. We put out lots of pee and spitwads, up to maybe 1000m.

Sun Oct 23 Today we go higher, to the park headquarters just before my favorite bridge at km 60. We pay 5 soles each, and spend the day working the triangle from the headquarters up to the bridge and up to the next corner, where a trail cuts down back to the headquarters. Some people take the trail, I walk back down the road to the bridge. This bridge is great, lots of good riodinids and tons of Actinotes and satyrs, plus Catastictas and other lower cloud forest species. We’re about 3800’. Behind the headquarters there is a suspension bridge, newly built, and the trail comes in over it. Just over the bridge is a great spot for butterflies, and Kay gets shots of Pycina zamba, the first live shots I’ve seen. Around the headquarters is also very good, stuff landing all over the cement around the buildings.

Mon Oct 24 overcast and not much happening. We go up to the Cock of the Rock lek and have lunch, then some of us walk back down while others watch the cocks displaying. It starts to rain when we’re a mile or so down the road, and we huddle under a cliff (not having our umbrellas like peabrains), waiting for the car who doesn’t come and doesn’t come. Finally they all show up. The others were into the displaying birds, until Juve our driver finally made them get in the car to come get us.

Tue Oct 25 a bright sunny day, you just never know what the weather’s going to be like in the mountains. We go up to 4300’, where there is a higher trail off to the left, and some work the bridge again at 60km. We all have a great day, we find 2 different dead snakes that really bring in the butterflies, and Marie makes us lasagna, with homemade noodles, for our departure dinner. Pozuzo is a great spot, I’ll be back. Another nice part of the Pozuzo experience is that poor Sherry has a terrible allergic reaction to some substitute chemical stuff she brought instead of Deet, and she develops horrible hives that get worse and worse. Finally after several days she comes out one morning w/nasty red welts on her face, and we go to the local hospital for a shot. We had taken her to a farmacia a few days before where she got pills. The pharmacist then said she should go get a shot, but she hoped it would get better. Unfortunately it didn’t, so one morning we track down the local hospital. The first one won’t deal with her, as it’s only for people w/the government health plan, but the 2nd hospital takes her right in, she sees a doctor, gets the shot and is out in maybe 30 minutes, for a grand total of 12 soles, about US$3-4, including the shot. The best part is her hives go away almost immediately, and by that afternoon she is much better. It wouldn’t have been near that easy, or cheap, back in the US. So it’s not a nice experience for Sherry, but nice to know how quickly the local health care place was able to help her.

Wed Oct 26 drive from Pozuzo to Villa Rica, take dirt road for 30.5 km so we don’t have to go back thru Oxapampa. This goes up over a high point, about 1800m through Bosque Shollet where we will be butterflying this same road the next couple of days. We stop at km 12 at a bridge late afternoon and still find satyrs and the purple leafwing. We’ll be back here.

Thur Oct 27 we’re at the Rapallo Bungalows for the next 4 nights, a nice location with great views out over the marsh/lake at about 1500m, surrounded by mountains. Our cabanas face the east, so we have beautiful sunrises as the sun comes over the mountains and lights up the marsh, all misty, very Chinese looking. We even have some nice butterflies on the grounds, with a patch of blue flowers right below the restaurant that is pulling in clearwings and tons of buckeyes. Below it is tall grass with many peacocks and buckeyes basking in the early sun. The food here is hit and miss, more miss than hit. The woman owner seems a bit lackadaisical and not terribly helpful. We have towel wars, where it is difficult to get new towels, towels disappear off the drying racks in front of some of the rooms, soap vanishes daily, minor but annoying hassles. Weird. And she smokes constantly, and the first couple of nights the food is very late, and average when it comes. Oh well, can’t win them all. I probably wouldn’t come back here. However, we do find some nice butterflies back up the hills. Today we drive around the lake and work the coffee plantations, but it is very dry and there aren’t many butterflies flying, plus it is overcast and cool.

Fri Oct 28 we head up the road, back on the cutoff to Oxapampa/Pozuzo. We walk a couple of different trails but they all just lead to fields. Another cool cloudy morning, but it burns off by 10am or so, and we do have stuff flying. We keep driving and make it over the top, where it is too cool for bugs, and down the other side back to the bridge I wanted to explore, at 12 km. We pass some cabins off to the left, as you drive away from Villa Rica, that Marie Egg has told us belong to a family member, and these have great potential for future trips. David has the phone number and is going to check them out, they might be much better than staying in town where we are. Plus you would be in the good habitat. The town is growing and has expanded out to where Rapallo Bungalows are. The previous time David was there, 18 months ago, they could walk the road in front of the lodge and go birding, but it has all been chopped now. Anyway, we get to the bridge about 11am, and all sorts of stuff is flying. We put out the magic elixir and immediately a Potamanaxas is there. We spend a couple of hours, have lunch and chase bugs, taking lots of photos. A good day.

Sat Oct 29 we plan to go back up the hill, but the road is closed for roadwork. We try another road, also just recently paved and it is closed as well. Out of desperation we try a 3rd alternative, crossing the bridge on the other side of town and turning left onto a short dirt road, less than a mile. We explore down it, following signs for a cascada (waterfall) and the signs point across a ford w/a higher foot bridge. Juve doesn’t like the look of the ford, so we park and take the foot bridge. This turns out to be another good spot, w/butterflies coming to the ford and up the steep rutted road that leads to the waterfall. Some of us walk up maybe a km or so, never making it all the way to waterfall. We spend the morning going back and forth up this road and on both sides of the ford, finding more and more species as it warms up. After lunch, which as usual we have w/us (juve’s tasty tuna w/onions and lime) we try again to go back up the road to the Bosque Shollet forest on top, and this time the road is open. We make it up to the top, about 1800m, and it is sunny, for once. Even though it’s about 2-2:30pm, we find some excellent bugs. I catch the purple leafwing, finally, on some poop behind the sign on top, always a good spot to check. This turns out to be Polygrapha tyrianthina, a truly spectacular butterfly, and we also get great looks at Junea dorinda, another dramatic high elevation satyr, plus more Pedaliodes of course. A great way to end this part of the trip. Walking down the road late in the afternoon, about 4 or 4:30pm, a car of locals stop and warn me that this is a dangerous road and we shouldn’t be on it after dark. It is a man and woman in the car, and the woman is the one talking to me. I was walking w/one of the other women in our group, so perhaps they were worried about us being 2 women. They tell me there are ladrones, robbers, who come out after dark. We go on down the road, Juve picks us up and we all get back to Villa Rica without any incidents, but it is something to keep in mind. When I mention this to David, he says he has been warned not to camp up there, which some birders used to do, but he’s never had any problems during the day.

Sun Oct 30 long drive from Villa Rica to Lima, too long 10 hours+. We stop for a good lunch at the Michelin restaurant in La Oroya. Next time I will spend the night in Tarma, nice hotel there. 30km of muddy roads in construction to get back on paved highway at San Ramon. Then we get stuck in a horrible traffic jam back in Lima, and end up having to take Glen and Eileen straight to the airport for their international departure that night. We don’t get to the airport until 8 or so, and finally back to Mami Panchita’s about 9pm, where we meet the next group of valiant photographers for the northern leg. Some go out to eat, I crash and we all say goodbye to David, who has done a bang up job, and turned into a keen butterfly photographer. I’ll be spending more time w/him in the field, that’s for sure.

Part 3, Northern Peru:

Mon to Wed, Oct 31 to Nov 2 6:45am flight to Chiclayo, so we have to leave Mami Pachita’s about 4;30. We get to Chiclayo, and the driver from Chaparri Lodge is waiting for us. About 1 hour 15 minutes to the turnoff to Chaparri, about 75 km, where we have to buy tickets to enter the reserve, 30 soles each, about $10-12. Good thing I had a couple of hundred soles in my pocket! Then another 45 minutes on a bad road across the very dry, actually parched, habitat. They have not had rain in almost 2 years, and everything is grey-brown, except for where they are irrigating. We get a local guide, Salvador, a young guy who knows the birds quite well and is very nice. He’s only 18 and quiet and shy, but quite helpful, and enjoys chasing butterflies and taking photos. Chaparri only gets a bit of rain from December to March, and didn’t get any this year. It would be fascinating to come back here in the rainy season and see everything greened up. I assume there would be more butterflies flying then, but we still get more than 40 species. This is Tumbesian habitat, very similar to Urraca Lodge in southern Ecuador, where I was in March 2011. There it was green, and we had lots of special species. Most of what we see here at Chaparri we also had at Urraca, but this is a bigger piece of habitat, over 34,000 hectares, and I suspect they would have more butterflies in the rains. They do a lot of work with the spectacled bear, and have several they are rehabilitating to release. We luck out and see a wild mother and cub, coming in close to a bee hive they have dug up in the ground across the valley from the mirador, very convenient for digiscoping. I am surprised to see bears in such dry habitat close to the coast, but this is probably one of the best places to see them in the wild. Plus we see a number of Tumbesian bird endemics, much more than we saw at Urraca. Elegant crescentchests are common, believe it or not, and we see them daily from the comedor, the open restaurant, as many as 3 at a time. The birds and animals are coming so close because there is a spring here, and small pools of water down the middle of the ravine. The lodge is doing a lot of drip irrigation on the hillsides, to keep the plants alive and probably to bring in the animals and birds for the tourists. The animals are quite tame, we get foxes coming through the dining area, and peccaries, and a collared antshrike joins us for breakfast at the buffet table. A very special place.

Thur Nov 3Juve, our excellent driver, shows up w/Guido from Lima, and Miguel, David’s birding partner, has come along as well. We take off for Olmos after lunch, about 2pm, 2 hours back to Chiclayo, then east for another couple of hours. We stop at Bosque Pomoco to look for Peruvian plantcutter, which we find after an hour or so of looking, thanks to Juve. We get to Olmos just after dark and stay at a new hotel, not quite finished and a bit rough around the edges, but they have a restaurant next door and it’s just for a night.

Fri to Sun, Nov 4,5,6 We leave Olmos and take a dirt road off to the left about an hour or so out, to go up to Abra Porculla about 1800m. We bird here for an hour or so, seeing a few things but not as many as expected. Probably because we didn’t leave early enough to get here at the crack of dawn, as the bird tours do. It is very dry, if more rains had come I’ll bet we would see more butterflies here. On to Gocta Lodge, south of Pedro Ruis. This place is known for its spectacular waterfall, actually 2 waterfalls falling from the huge box canyon. The lodge is in a wonderful scenic location, but unfortunately they have chopped down most of the surrounding forest, so not too many birds. We do see Maranon crescentchest on the road, skulking in the scrub. We spend 2 days up and down the 5-6 km dirt road up from the highway, and get some new species but we have to work at it. The guys find a trail off from where we have lunch, Juve’s special tuna w/onion and lime, and down the trail there is a nice clearwing lek and some white flowers the clearwings like. Different from the usual clearwing white flowers, but lots of varieties are here. We go back the next day and probably get 8 to 10 species. This is just past the Km 02 mark, on the left side of the dirt road as you go uphill, just before a steep right hand turn. There is also a decent trail that takes off to the right a turn or two further uphill. This trail actually goes all the way down to the paved highway, but we only go up and down for 30 minutes or so.

Mon Nov 7 Drive back to Pedro Ruis and east to Abra Patricia, first stopping at Huembo for killer looks at Marvelous Spatuletail, surely one of the world’s top hummers. They have built a place with hummingbird feeders before the pass, about 2100m, and we have very satisfying looks at both males and a female. The male is wonderful, and comes again and again, even though the chestnut-breasted coronets constantly chase him off. Tony calls them chestnut thugs, an apt name. The guys bring down lunch so we can eat at the feeders, talk about spoiled, and the sun comes out and we even get butterflies. Several species of orange banded Pedaliodes, so a great day is had by all. Then we drive about another 2 hours plus, through lots of construction where sometimes we have to wait, but we get here well before dark, even though we left Huembo about 2:30pm. This is the new Long-whiskered Owlet Lodge at 2350m, built by Ecoan, a Peruvian NGO. This is a great place to stay, they even have internet.

Tue to Fri, Nov 8,9,10,11 explore the trails at the Owlet lodge. When the sun comes out, which is spotty and around intermittent showers, we get a good variety of satyrs. Many are the same as I had at San Isidro in Ecuador in the spring, which is about 2000m, but some are different. Good humid montane forest, cool and wet. On Wed Nov 9 we wake to a brilliant almost cloud free morning and a beautiful sunrise, and it turns into a gorgeous sunny day, unusual at this elevation. First off, at 6am, we meet the guy here who is feeding the undulated antpitta, and he shows us the short trail across the street and uphill about 5-10 minutes. The bird comes in immediately and we get fab looks. They have only been feeding it for 2 months. There are 2 pro photographers staying here w/monster lenses, and the antpitta comes so close they can’t shoot it. The local guy throwing out the worms moves the bird closer to us, for the folks w/small cameras (us), and then further away for the big guns. After 7am breakfast we have tons of butterflies flying, the problem is getting them to stop. Fortunately we have the magic elixir, male human pee. The guys are all saving their pee in plastic bottles and it gets sprinkled all over the trails, plus everyone is peeing at likely looking sunny spots or stumps along the trails. After a while we find piles of satyrs here, there and everywhere. From in back of the highest set of rooms there is a trail that leads to the tower, about 200m, then another 100m to a split. You can take the left fork which is called the Grallarias trail and it goes down and around back to the main road coming in off the highway, 1200m long. They have it nicely signed every 100m, which is a big help. At the junction it is open and sunny, and this is a good spot for butterflies to come in, plus we have several pee spots at the base of the tower, and on the 200m trail to the tower. On this sunny day I walk the Grallarias trail down from the tower, which is the easier way to go, as it’s more downhill this way. About 700m at some steep switchbacks there is a clearwing gathering place, and I finally get one to pose, an Oleria near makrena, lots of markings. Wonder if they are here all year? You go down to about 600m, then start up slowly. About 400m is another spot I put out spitwads the day before, and pee, and we get a couple of good skippers here, a new Thespieus and a rubyeye w/a white line, by Dan. It will be interesting to figure out how many satyr species we end up with. We all get great shots of Parataygetis albinotata, a big satyr with prominent white lines. I’ve seen it at Cock of the Rock but these are the first live shots. We don’t hike down to look for the owlet, which you do at night. It is at least 900m down a steep muddy trail, and often you have to go an additional 300m + further down. It helps to take Roberto, the local expert who has the most experience finding this smallest owl in the world, smaller than your palm. The pro photographers find it and get fabulous shots, which they show us when they come back up, but another group tried 3 nights in a row and missed all 3.

Thur Nov 10 we drive down slope about 20-30 minutes to the Royal Sunangel trail, a pullout to the left. We crawl under the barbed wire and head down to the right, though I think the actual trail to the hummingbird goes to the left. Juve tells me the left hand trail is much rougher, steep up and down, and he suggests we do the trail to the right. This is also steep, wet and dark, over mossy slippery rocks, so we really have to watch our footing. It is another gorgeous sunny day, but we don’t see as many butterflies as I would expect. We do get several new species, Tony scores Anteros formosus, Dan and Kay get a new Oxeoschistus satyr, and we all see a fresh riodinid Teratophthalma, a very striking looking butterfly. Back up on the highway late in the morning Tony has walked a bit further downhill and finds a large pullout on the right where the water ditch is running, and lots of wet cliff face, and there are a bunch of butterflies coming to the gravel. A different Catasticta and some Dalla skipperlings, plus a beautiful Perisama gold with white dashes, probably P. philinus. Late in the afternoon, on the trail to the tower at one of the pee stumps, I found the first Corades ulema w/beautiful gold bands on the ventral, only the second time I’ve seen this species. We have had 4 species of Corades here, the odd teardrop shaped satyrs.

Sat Nov 12 we drive to Moyobambo for 3 nights, but stop at a few places on our way. First we walk a short old road that cuts around the paved highway and comes back just before a big bridge, looks promising but too overcast. I think this is Afluente. “Afluente is a town on the road at roughly 1000 m. elevation. A few kilometres down the road you cross Puente Serranoyacu (I think), and a few km. below that you come to Puente Aguas Verdes – this would be where you walked the parallel gravel road. I’m guessing that’s around 900 m. elevation. Just below that is the turn-off to Playa Mariposa, which I’ve never taken – elevation about the same. Then the TOWN of Aguas Verdes is another 5 (?) km. down the road – a lot of birding groups visit some white sand forest just outside that town. So though I don’t know the elevations, you want to make sure which Aguas Verdes (bridge or town) the Field Guides participant was talking about. No matter what, Aguas Verdes and Afluentes are certainly different places, though separated by less than 10 km.” From David about the 2 locations.

Then we stop a bit further down the mountain at Playa Mariposa, just before the small town of Aguas Verdes. There is a road sign to the left for Playa Mariposa (a subtle hint), we park the car and walk in 700m to what looks like a perfect butterfly spot. The road walking in looks good too. Beautiful habitat coming down the opposite hillsides, a nice flowing small river, big gravel/sand bars, looks like people picnic here (which means pee spots), unfortunately all we need is sun. It’s a dark and stormy looking day so no butterflies. Except out of nowhere a large tigerwing floats through and lands over our heads about 15’ up. It is Pterourus zagreus, the first time I’ve seen this species. The folks w/long lenses manage to get decent shots of it, I’m amazed because we have such low light. This place looks like it has great potential, I will definitely schedule some time here when I come back to Tarapoto on my way to the Owlet Lodge. It reminds me of Bocatoma at Gomez Farias in Tamaulipas, Mexico, a place we have driven to many times. That place is fabulous for butterflies, but you have to avoid the weekends, when locals use it for picnics and swimming.

The 3rd stop is an open swampy area for pale-eyed blackbirds and a few other birds. Dan and Willie find a small trail off to the left, we all troop in and find a number of good swamp butterflies. A real crowd pleaser is the Paches loxus, a brilliant blue skipper that appears to be common here. We get to our home for the next several days, Rumipata Bungalows, which are simple but comfortable. Except for super hard mattresses, but we get used to those after the first night, sort of. The food is very tasty, fresh and lots of vegetables and salads, and fish from their ponds. The Japanese couple works very hard to take care of us, and the food is an interesting blend of Peruvian and Japanese, w/delicious sauces. They also have some interesting trails on their property, you could spend a day just walking the trails here.

Sun/Mon Nov 13/14 we drive back out to the entrance, next to the Banos Termales (hot springs, jammed on the weekend), turn left then an immediate left again on a dirt road and go up the hill. Several km up the road we pass a creek that comes out of the hills to our right and runs across the dirt road. Juve was expecting to take us there, but it’s crowded with lots of people, so we keep going uphill. We get up to the pass and start down the other side, but there are people everywhere w/crops and animals, very little good habitat. We turn around, go back to the pass, get out and walk downhill for an hour or so, but are only seeing common roadside edge butterflies, so we decide to go back to the hotel and explore the trails there. However, we pause when we pass the creek again, this time there are much fewer people, and we see butterflies flitting around, so we get out. Great decision, as this turns out to be a goldmine. We spend several hours here and come back the next morning. I originally thought they were giving horseback rides, but actually folks are riding down out of the hills from their isolated fincas, tying up their horses and getting a moto, the 3 wheeled taxis that are everywhere, into town, doing their shopping and coming back, loading up their horses and riding back to their fincas. Early that morning it was more crowded, but by 10am or so they’re all in town. We jump rocks, cross the creek and explore a short distance up the trail, finding butterflies everywhere. It’s a bit of a culture clash, as we’re crawling around shooting butterflies, and the locals are doing their washing in the creek. At one point a woman w/beautiful hair to her waist walks up to the creek where some of the guys are shooting butterflies at the edge, she whip off her shirt and dunks her head in the small waterfall and starts washing her hair, so the guys leave quickly. That’s probably the only water she gets all week to wash with. It makes us appreciate what we get to do, a bit easier of a life. Anyway, we get a long list of species seen here, and we find some new ones when we come back the 2nd day. My favorite was one of the last species seen, a beautiful Ridens skipper that most of us got to photograph. Only the 2nd time I’ve seen that genus, and certainly the best photos I’ve ever gotten. Another place to come back to.

Tue Nov 15 drive to Tarapoto to Hotel Rio Shilcayo for our last 2 nights, a nice place in town w/gardens and a good restaurant, and air conditioning, good to have in the lowlands. We plan to spend the morning on the trails at the hotel, have another tasty lunch (much better than anything we can find on the road) and drive the 3 hours to Tarapoto in the afternoon. But we have our first rainy morning, all morning, so Willie and I just hang out watching birds from our room, 10 species of hummers at the feeders and black-bellied tanagers (replacing silver beaks) in the garden. Some more energetic folks walk the trails anyway. We have a noon lunch, early as we’ve usually aimed more at 1 or 1:30pm, then take off for Tarapoto. We stop at the oilbird bridge about 20 km from Moyobambo, and Rick gets stunning photos of oilbirds flying below us in the chasm, an amazing sight. It’s at the Quiscarrum bridge about km 515. We finally leave and make it to Tarapoto before dark. Excellent pisco sours at the restaurant.

Wed Nov 16 our last day, que lastima. Juve and Miguel take us an hour or two away to another special habitat, very dry, must be in a rain shadow, in the Huallaga Valley. We find many butterflies very similar to northeastern Mexico, which seems strange to me. Very dry, we put out pee but it disappears almost immediately. We do get some nice Caria metalmarks and a number of different species for our list. It’s very hot, so we’re glad to get back to our air conditioned rooms and a shower. One advantage of spending more time in the mountains is the cooler climate, as compared to the hot lowlands.

Thur Nov 17 our flight from Tarapoto to Lima is about 10:30am, on time and no problems. I think there are only 2 flights to Lima/day, and the other was late in the afternoon, so we went with the morning flight. Our international departures are around 11pm to midnight. We have day rooms at Mami Panchita for $25/room, plus $40 for the round trip transfer for 6 of us. $20 each, well worth it for a place to shower, rest and do final reorganization and packing. We eat down the road at Lorenzo, tasty food and plenty of it, then hit a panaderia on the way back at Renzo’s. Our final Peruvian goodies. Peru is full of wonderful butterflies and lots of places to explore, and friendly people. I will be back many times. Next time I want to go to Cajamarca, stay at the Hotel Laguna Seca.

 

 

Panama, August 2011

Trip Report for Panama August 2011

Author: Kim Garwood

This trip is timed for the rainy season, which runs May or June through November. December to March is dry and often windy, especially in January/February. The Panamanians call this time winter, and the dry months summer, the reverse of North America. So it’s less crowded in hotels at this time. In my experience more species are flying now, when it’s wet, but Al tells me the hairstreaks are more common in the dry season, when many trees and plants bloom.

July 30 – fly nonstop from Houston to Panama City on Continental, night in Canal Inn B&B

July 31 – drive to Finca Hartmann for 5 nights, 1400-1500 meters

Aug 1,2,3,4 – explore trails at Finca Hartmann

Aug 5 – drive to El Valle, 2 nights at El Campestre, 650-700 meters

Aug 6 – walk the trail at Campestre, 800 meters and lots of Ithomiinae

Aug 7 – walk Ichiro’s trail (Cerro Gaital), then after lunch drive to Burbayar Lodge for 3 nights, 1450’/400 meters

Aug 8 – we hiked the trails at Burbayar, very few butterflies

Aug 9 – we go to Lake Boyano for the day, road 12 km southeast of the bridge to the left

Aug 10 – leave Burbayar, back to the Canal Inn for 2 nights, work Cerro Jefe for the day

Aug 11 – day trip back to Cerro Jefe, top about 950 meters

Aug 12 – fly back to the US

Saturday July 30 – fly to Panama City where I’m met by Albert Thurman, our fearless leader for the next 2 weeks.  Al has spent a ton of time in Panama, after living there for 5+ years in the 70’s and doing many trips back there.

Our trip was organized by Expeditions Travel out of Gainesville, FL, and is a collecting trip with permits. We have an interesting group, some after beetles, many after butterflies, and most after moths.

We go to Pences for a delicious dinner, out towards the causeway. I get fajitias for $12 and tasty corvine ceviche for another $5, such a deal.

Sunday July 31 – we head to David and Volcan, to our home for the next 5 days at Finca Hartmann. This is a coffee finca where Al has collected for 30+ years. They have a large building with 4 bedrooms upstairs and 2 more downstairs plus 3 beds in the main room.

The best thing is there is a nice fireplace and the guys, mostly John MacDonald, keep the fire going 24/7. We’re about 1400-1500 meters and it’s often foggy and cool, in the 60’s, so the fire feels great. There is also a small cabin w/a large bed and a separate kitchen, so a couple could stay here very nicely. I manage to score this honeymoon suite, which is pretty cool. We even have hot water with propane showers and flush toilets, but no electricity. However, as the guys are collecting moths they have generators so you can charge batteries and run computers at night off the generators.

We bring our own food and Al cooks most of the dinners, while the Rileys volunteer to handle breakfast and do a bang up job. There are 15 of us, a large group, so cooking is no small task.  But it seems to go easily, if somewhat casually, and we all have plenty of food.

The first night we plan to eat at Il Forno, in Volcan, a tasty Italian restaurant that is run by one of the Hartmann daughters. We were supposed to get to the restaurant by 4:30pm, but due to a variety of factors (having to get the 3rd rental car in the morning, 2 hours at a leisurely lunch in Santiago at La Hacienda) we don’t arrive until closer to 7pm, then finally make it up the mountain to the Finca by 10 or 11. The van won’t make the last 2 miles of bad road, so they have to shuttle the little cars to haul in all our luggage.

But we finally get in, except they are short a couple of beds, so Al and Mike go back to town to get a hotel. The Hartmanns bring out a few more mattresses the next morning and Ichiro moves into my cabin, he gets the kitchen.

Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday August 1/2/3/4 – wander the trails at the Finca. The best trails are the roads, both back the way we came in and continuing a bit further on from the Finca, plus there is a long road back from the Y, which is about half a mile or so from the cabins.

I walk maybe a mile or two along this road, into good forest, while several of the hikers go much further. There is a trail off this track that heads to Amistad National Park, another 2 miles, and several other trails through the woods, but they aren’t well maintained and it’s very dark and wet in the woods.

We have heavy rain every day, often by early afternoon, and lots of fog, so the weather isn’t in our favor. We see some good things, but the numbers of butterflies seems low to me. I get some new species, which is always fun, but the overall diversity isn’t much. Probably the best is a gorgeous bright blue Flat, Celaenorrhinus aegiochus, which looks like a Two-barred Flasher at first. I always wonder what it’s like at a different time of the year. Al says the dry season is good for hairstreaks, February being the best. Some of my other favorites are the Mesosemia, lots of M.asa, a beautiful dark blue male and the female has a white stripe on the forewing. Plus 2 new ones for me, M.grandis, with a spectacular bright turquoise blue stripe across both wings, and M.harveyi, all rufous w/small tails.  Later, when I get home to my reference books, I realize this brown one is really a female M.grandis.

Friday August 5 – We leave Finca Hartmann about 8:30am, and fortunately they come up with a big truck to haul all our luggage, otherwise it would have taken us several trips to get it all out in the little cars. We get down to their house, about 100 meters lower at 1300 or so,  and wander around for an hour. It’s nice and sunny there, and they have some trails down to a stream, plus a little museum of pre-Colombian artifacts they have found on their land. Most of us buy some coffee to take home.

There are a number of species we see just around the house and garden and trails, like Rusty-tipped Page and Archaeopreponas and Sulphurs. We finally get under way, say goodbye, and make it to David where we have lunch at the KFC, then leave there about 1pm.

It takes us to just about 6pm to make it to the Hotel Campestre at El Valle. The turn off to El Valle is about 98 km from Panama City, and it seems to take forever to drive back down the bumpy road, around trucks and many cops w/radar.  It appears that we have the hotel to ourselves, which is good so the moth people can string up their sheets and lights. We have a tasty dinner, steak with pepper sauce for me, at the hotel restaurant which is outdoors and has a great view of the valley and the sunset.

Saturday August 6 – There is a nice trail about 800 meters long that starts from the garden of the hotel, you can see the sign from the restaurant for the ‘square trees’, arboles cuadernos?, you cross the small stream and walk a short distance, under a large limb that hangs over the trail, and there is a great spread out lek of Ithomiinae sitting around in the dappled shade, perfect for photos. John MacDonald tells me he had 21 species of clearwings here last year on August 13. I have 16 species today, and miss several of them.

This would be a great trail to walk once a week, or at least monthly, and see how the species mix changes throughout the year. When you get to the big tree, where they have several benches, there is a sign returning to the hotel to the left, but if you go to the right a short distance you hit a barbed wire fence. Turn right, follow the fence line maybe 100-200 feet and there are a couple of places where the wire is down so it’s easy to step through into the meadow full of impatients. Here it’s more open and sunny, instead of in the dappled woods, and there are different butterflies. Many crescents, Eresia and Castilia, and at least 2 species of Parides, including childrenae the beautiful green one.

So a great morning is had by all, most of us don’t get back for lunch until mid afternoon. Ichiro takes another trail down the street to the right, he’s going to show it to me tomorrow. He gets some different stuff, including a yellow Melete, looks like a different subspecies. That afternoon Kevin Painter, a guy who’s been sending me photos from El Valle, comes to meet me and takes me to dinner at Bruschetta, a delicious restaurant in town, and we sit around and blab for hours, plus Berto, another photographer from El Valle, comes by to meet. It’s always fun to get to put faces to folks you have only known online.

Sunday August 7 – Ichiro, Dave and I head for Ichiro’s trail, which is called Cerro Gaital. Ichiro found it by using the book Where to Find Birds in Panama. We have the morning here, than we’re heading to Burbayar Lodge for 3 nights.

You drive, from Campestre, by taking the first right from their driveway, then the first left, then the next right, and you can drive out maybe 500 meters or a km and park where the road dead ends, at a sign that says Bienvenides a Cerro Gaital. You hike uphill several hundred meters and come to a yellow empty hut, where the trail goes to the left. Better is to take a cut through the woods to the left, you go through a barbed wire fence, a little before the yellow hut. This is a decent trail about a km or so which then intersects w/the main trail. The cut through is better to walk, as the ‘main’ trail is overgrown, w/grass over rocks, so it’s difficult to see where you’re putting your feet. The cut through is more across the hillside through waist high undergrowth, and there are lots of Ithomiinae again sitting around, waiting to be photographed. I saw several different species from what I had the previous day. First butterfly I saw, however, was a fresh Riodinid, Ithomeis eulema imitatrix, a dramatic orange,black and white bug. It was on territory, flitting from bush to bush, and Ichiro patiently waited for me to take lots of photos before he collected it. The Ithomiinae were interesting as the dark tigerwings tended to lek together, and the translucent bluish ones grouped together. In the tigerwing group I had lots of Napeogenes tolosa , Hyposcada virginiana, Tithorea tarricina, very similar looking but three different sizes. The Napeogenes is the smallest, up to the Tithorea. I also got good shots of Yellow-banded Ruby-eye, Orses cynisca.

For birding, I saw the rare rufous-vented ground-cuckoo extremely well. I was lurking around quietly, waiting for clearwings to settle for photos at a lek, when this clacking comes from the bushes and the ground-cuckoo dashes up the hill close to me. Then it flew up about 20’ in a tree and sat there clacking its bill at me, maybe 40-50’ away. Finally it quieted down and just sat there watching me for 5 minutes or more. Best looks I’ve ever had at that usually shy bird, maybe I was near a nest?

After lunch we drive back to Panama City and a couple of hours southeast to Burbayar Lodge, turning left off the Pan American Highway at the signed road to Ceti about 60-70 km from PC.

The road up the hill to the lodge was only paved about 2 years ago, and it’s still a steep slow drive, only about 14 km in from the main highway. Simple little thatched cabins, I score my own cabin w/a porch over the forest, no electricity except when they run the generator for the evening hours. No hot water but we do have flush toilets, and the food is excellent, and they even include wine with dinner, very civilized.

Monday August 8 – Mike and I explore the white trail, only about 500 meters along the creek. You have to cross the creek a couple of times and it’s fairly deep, deeper than my borrowed boots so I have to stop and dump the water out of my boots on the far side. Plus the boots have a hole in the left one.

Then I walk the red trail, which starts about 50’ or so down from the entrance on the main road. The first km or so is nice, crisscrossing the stream many times but not deep, though very nice looking forest but almost no butterflies. It’s a sunny morning, and we’ll all puzzled by the lack of butterflies. Maybe another time of the year.

The red trail loops around to the top of the cabins, about 2.5 km, so I figure I’ll end up back there. However they don’t have it marked at a key intersection (actually a couple of key intersections, but I guess right on those). When I come to a choice where there is a sign for the blue trail to the right, I ‘assume’ my red trail goes straight. At this point I’m within 300 meters of the cabins, after a couple of hours of slogging up and down hills on muddy slippery trails, and I’m ready to be back home. But I go half a km or so, and nothing. So I backtrack to one of the junctions, no signs, and try a different tack, but again nothing after half a km or so.

By this time I’m getting very tired and low on water, and worried that I may have to go all the way back to the start, 2.5 km away, and afraid that I don’t have the energy to do that. Finally I get back to the junction w/the sign for the blue trail and try that one as a last resort, and eureka that is correct. Thanks for the signs, guys. It would have been easy to have a red arrow, or a sign saying ‘lodge’ or exit, but no…Another confusing aspect is they have had pink tape tied to trees every now and then counting down the meters left (which is why I thought I was w/in 300 meters).

Once I get on the blue trail the pink tape shows up again, counting down 200 meters, 100 meters, 0 meters, and I’m at the bottom of a ravine standing in the creek, no signs anywhere. Say what??? Fortunately I continue another couple of hundred meters and find one of the traps the guys have put up in a tree, so I know I’m close. Boy am I glad to climb yet another hill and pop out of the woods at the upper cabins.

I stagger back to my cabin, take off my wet boots, and collapse at the lunch table, about 1:30pm, where everyone says, oh good Kim’s back. Then it starts to rain, so good timing on that part, but I was never so glad to get back, and drink a couple of pitchers of cold water.

Tuesday August 9 – we drive back to the main highway and continue to the east (or south, it’s confusing here in Panama, towards the Darien and Colombia).

Be sure to carry your passport, as on a previous trip everyone in the car had to show their passport and the policia copied down all the numbers, but today we sail right on through.

A little less than an hour we have crossed Canita and the Bayano bridge over Lake Bayano, and another 12 km to the not very noticeable gravel road into the bushes. Al and John found this spot scouting earlier, and our 3 cars pull in and we wander around.

These may be logging roads, or tracks, but they are somewhat open and lots of butterflies. Before we are out of the cars we can see Heliconius erato or melpomene with just the red band on the forewing but all black on the hindwing. It’s interesting, as we see both ones with the yellow line on the HW, and ones without the yellow.

Unfortunately it clouds up, gets darker and darker, the wind kicks up and most of us make it back to the cars before the heavens open, except for Ichiro and Chris who come back as drowned rats. Dave runs back and just beats a tree crashing down on the road. The wind brings down several trees, it’s a bit scary.

We go have an early lunch at a decent restaurant back in Canita, then get back to the field by noon, the sun comes out and things are hopping. There was even a big tree down on the highway, but they’re clearing it by the time we return from our early lunch. We stay until about 4pm, and John MacDonald shows me a new Mesosemia hypermegala, mostly black with a blue ring, a stunning bug. Another good day, funny how different from the day before.

Wednesday August 10 – we depart Burbayar after breakfast, after saying goodbye to the bats. I’ve had bats flying through my room every night, and last night they left presents on my floor and even on my pillow. Apparently they were eating some fruit with large seeds and deposited the seeds as they flew over my bed.

I wake in the middle of the night and feel smooth slippery slimy things on my pillow, get my flashlight and see weird shiny egg looking things all over. The guys in the kitchen tell us they are seeds from the bats, and I can’t think what else they could be. Lisa even had a bat hit her in the head last night while she was in bed, so we won’t miss the bats too much.

We head to Cerro Jefe, a famous collecting site. In the DeVries Costa Rica Riodinid book it is interesting to see how many of the Riodinids were collected here at Cerro Jefe.

We drive back to Panama City and take the Cerro Azul turnoff, then branch to Cerro Jefe. On the way up we stop at a house with eupatorium all over their driveway and hillside and probably a thousand Ithomiinae, mostly tigerwings, coming to the blue mist flowers. I’ve never seen so many nectaring. Mostly Hypothyris euclea, but I suspect we’ll end up with 7 or 8 or more species once we sort them all out.

The house is almost at the end of the paved road, across from Finca Luna, about 2,000’. Then we head on up, onto the dirt road, stopping at several spots the guys have had good luck with putting out their traps. John has caught Agrias amydon smalli here, and he scores another as soon as he hangs his trap. Lisa also catches one in the same spot, it must be a pass over the hills. John also takes us to a spot where they catch Morpho cypris, another holy grail for the collectors.

We eventually work our way to the top, to what they call elfin forest, about 950 meters/3200’. Here the fog is rolling in, so we have lunch (always a good time to eat, when the weather is bad), it brightens up and we get butterflies flying. Dave tells us he has some good skippers up at the antennae tower a bit up the road, so several of us head up there. He caught Myscelus perissodora. The collectors get several good riodinids, which they let me shoot later in the hotel, Mesenopsis melanochlora and Panaropsis elegans. I miss a couple of different Vettius grass skippers, both V.artona and V.layrenaye, plus several different dark big satyrs that I haven’t seen before.

This is a good spot, different species flying, you can only imagine how good it could be if it was a sunny day. We make it back to the Canal Inn, some go
to the artisanal market for shopping, and the whole group goes to Jimmy’s for dinner, a tasty Greek restaurant.

Thursday August 11 – I head back to Cerro Jefe w/2 car loads, but the 3rd car goes to the Pipeline Road. Up on Cerro Jefe we have a great day, with the collectors getting several Agrias, Preponas, and John gets Baeotus beotus, which he had never seen before and I had not seen north of Amazonian Peru.

Unfortunately it was foggy again up at the tower, so I only saw Ancyluris inca at the riodinid spot. The dark satyrs flying around are Praepronophila petronius, I think, though Dave also caught a brighter rufous satyr that looks just right for this species. So the dark ones may be something else.  The Rileys also score and catch 3 Morpho cypris, which gives us 5 species of Morpho up there.  Many of the Nymphalids are flying around the special tree, where the collectors now have 3 or 4 traps hung.

On further examination, Tom finds sap leaking from the tree in several places, it forms drip spots under the branches, and many butterflies are attracted to this hanging sap. Good thing John noticed the butterflies flying around this tree on his initial scouting trip before our trip started, and choose to hang his trap here. This has been a magnet for the gaudy sap-sucking Nymphalids. Perhaps the tree is diseased, a healthy tree wouldn’t be producing sap like this, usually.

So our final day is much fun for all. That night, back at the Canal Inn, just as we’re ready to go to dinner the heavens open and torrential rain pours down. We wait half an hour or so, while the streets flood over the curb, and decide to go back to Pences for dinner, instead of out to the Miraflores Locks as planned.This turns out to be a wise decision as the power is out over much of the city, except Pences has their own generator.  I enjoy their delicious fruit freeze drinks, batidas. This time I get passionfruit. A good way to end a good trip.

Ecuador, March/April 2011

Trip Report for Ecuador March/April 2011

Participants: Kim Garwood

Author: Kim Garwood

General Comments – Photos from the different locations of this trip will be posted on Flickr, under Kim Garwood, Ecuador 2011. I will be putting them up slowly over the next several months, and will also add some from the other photographers as they send them to me, and as I get id’s figured out.

Ecuador divides into 3 regions for nature tours, in my opinion. This time I’m doing 2 of the 3 regions, southern Ecuador and eastern Ecuador. There is also western Ecuador, which includes Mindo and the great birding lodges Bellavista and Tandayapa, also Tinalandia, but that will be other trips.

Our Part 1 is southern Ecuador, where you fly to Loja or Guayaquil and visit the several Jocotoco lodges around the south, and Copalinga Lodge outside Zamora, plus Vilcabamba and Podocarpus National Park.

Then our Part 2 is the fabulous eastern transect over the Papallacta Pass at 4,000 meters, and dropping down the eastern slope. You can stay at Termas Papallacta, the wonderful hot springs/spa resort at 3,300 meters, or Guango Lodge, owned by the folks at San Isidro, a little below, about 8 km down from the village of Papallacta, spectacular hummingbird feeders. Then down to Baeza and south to Cabanas San Isidro, a bit lower at 2,100 meters. Then down to the turnoff east towards Coca and Loreto, where you find the new lodge WildSumaco about 1,400 meters. Then you can head to Coca and take a boat trip to one of the many great lowland lodges on the Rio Napo.

Our Part 3 is a week camping at the Rio BIgal Reserve 2 hours hike above Loreto, also in eastern Ecuador.

This trip was organized and booked in 3 parts. Part 1 is southern Ecuador, booked through Bird Ecuador and Carmen Bustamente from Cabanas San Isidro, http://cabanasanisidro.com/pages/tours.htm . Part 2 is eastern Ecuador, led by Andrew Neild, http://www.thebutterfliesofvenezuela.com/butterflytours.html and Part 3 is camping at Rio Bigal Biological Reserve above Loreto, eastern Ecuador, with Fundacion Sumac Muyu, http://bigalriverbiologicalreserve.org/english/index.php .  Andrew also leads private butterfly photography tours, you can contact him directly at his website.

There are many good bird guides and tour companies here in Ecuador, and lots of great lodges to choose from. Bird Ecuador is very good, our trip through Carmen was flawless, but another good ground agent is Mindo Bird Tours, w/Jane Lyons. I used Carmen this time because I started with Copalinga Lodge outside Zamora. I asked Catherine there if she could coordinate the rest of our trip, Part 1, and she recommended using Carmen.  It also helped that we could send all the money for Part 1 to Carmen’s bank account in Miami, just by mailing US checks, and she passed the money onto Copalinga as well as the Jocotoco lodges. Otherwise we would have had to wire the money to Copalinga, which is always a minor pain.

Part 1 we fly to Loja, drive to Zamora and Copalinga Lodge, then work our way to the west, flying back from Guayaquil. Participants in Part 1 are Dan and Kay Wade, Hank and Priscilla Brodkin, Jim Snyder, Kristine Wallstrom and Kim Garwood.

Our Part 2 is with Andrew Neild as the leader, organized by Geodyssey Tours, a British tour company. They used Andean Travel Connections as their ground agent. Andrew has done the beautiful books Butterflies of Venezuela, Vol 1 and 2. He’s been a great help to me over the last several years on Nymphalid identifications, and I’ve been looking forward to getting to spend some time in the field w/him, and several of the other British photographers, as well as Bill Berthet from Florida.

Part 3 has us being met at the docks in Coca, on our way back from Napo Wildlife Center, by Thierry Garcia of Fundacion Sumac Muyu, who takes us to Loreto then up hiking 5 km to our comfortable camp site, using mules to haul in all our food and stuff. Just 3 of us, Kim, Bill Berthet and Kristine Wallstrom, who is with me for the entire 6 weeks.

Weather in Ecuador is complicated and variable, and it changes depending on where you are. In eastern Ecuador, where we spent most of our time, we were coming into the rainy time of the year, in April/May/June/early July. Then it dries out a bit in Aug/Sep, then rainy again in Oct/Nov, and drier in Dec/Jan/Feb. Because they’re on the equator they have 2 rainy seasons.

Day 1 – Sat Mar 19 – fly Houston to Quito, 1 night Hotel Sebastian

Day 2 – Sun Mar 20 – fly to Loja, drive to Copalinga Lodge east of Zamora for 4 nights, 950m

Day 3/4/5 – Mon/Tue/Wed Mar 21/22/23 – explore trails and road at Copalinga

Day 6 – Mar 24 – Carmen’s bird guide picks us up from Copalinga and takes us to Tapichalaca, Jocotoco Antpitta lodge, 2400-2600m

Day 7 – Mar 25 – see the antpitta in the am, heavy rain all day

Day 8 – Mar 26 – morning at Tapichalaca, drove to Loja after lunch, 3.5 hours, night in Loja at Hostal Aguilera Internacional, about 7,000’

Day 9 – Mar 27 – early departure from Loja to Urruca for 2 nights at 820m, several birding stops on the way

Day 10 – Mar 28 – walk the road at Urruca lodge, Jorupe reserve, another Jocotoco reserve.

Day 11 – Mar 29 – drive to Buenaventura, Long-wattled Umbrellabird lodge, 3 nights, 500-700m

Day 12 – Mar 30 – walked down the road from the lodge, Umbrellabird in the afternoon.

Day 13 – Mar 31 – drove to the higher part of the reserve, 2nd looks at Umbrellabirds.

Day 14 – April 1 – drove to Guayaquil and flew back to Quito for a night.

Day 15 – Apr 2 – a free day in Quito, met Andrew Neild and the others for dinner, Part 2.

Day 16 – Apr 3 – over the Papallacta pass, 2 nights at Termas Papallacta, 3,300m

Day 17 – Apr 4 – work the Jatuntinagua bridge at 2,100m & the meadow at 1,800m

Day 18 – Apr 5 – work the dirt track above Termas, 3,500m, then the bridge and to San Isidro for 2 nights

Day 19 – Apr 6 – the road in front of Cabanas San Isidro, 2,100m

Day 20 – Apr 7 – move to WildSumaco Lodge for 3 nights, 1,500m

Day 21,22 – Apr 8,9 – explore the road and trails at WildSumaco

Day 23 – Apr 10 – transfer to Yachana Lodge for 4 nights, Amazon lowlands on Napo, stop at Rio Pingullo 950m

Day 24/25/26 – Apr 11/12/13 – explore trails at Yachana

Day 27 – Apr 14 – transfer to Coca for the night at Hotel El Auca, butterfly oil field road at Anaconda in the afternoon

Day 28 – Apr 15 – transfer to Napo Wildlife Center for 4 nights

Day 29/30/31 – Apr 16/17/18 – explore trails at NWC

Day 32 – Apr 19 – transfer back to Coca, met Thierry for Part 3, 1 night in Loreto

Day 33-37 – Apr 20-24 – mule trek 5k into Rio Bigal Reserve for 5 nights camping

Day 38 – Apr 25 – mule trek back out, 1 night in Loreto

Day 39 – Apr 26 – fly from Coca back to Quito for the night

Day 40 – Apr 27 – early flight back to Houston and home on Continental

Day 2 – Sun Mar 20 – our driver, Luis, was supposed to pick us up at the hotel at 5am for our 6:30 flight to Loja, but he was late. He did show up about 15 minutes late, but we got to the airport and made the flight, no problem. He was driving a large bus, so the 7 of us had loads of room. He will be our driver for the rest of the trip when we leave Copalinga. He had trouble with a tire.

When we made it to Loja, about a 50 minute flight on Tame, the next driver wasn’t there either, so we were starting to feel jinxed. I asked a guy there to call our contact, and found out there had been a miscommunication w/the driver when our flight was changed to the early one. But the driver showed up in an hour or less, and carefully drove us through Loja, about 45 minutes from the airport, then onto Zamora and a short distance past to our very comfortable home for the next 4 nights, about 2.5 hours.

I’ve been here once before and wanted to come back. Copalinga is on a dirt road about 2.5 km from an entrance to Podacarpus National Park, and the road is a great place to walk for butterflies.

We had lunch at 12:30, then wandered up the road, and got lots of nice shots of 3 species of emperors and a number of other species, including the gorgeous Kite-Swallowtail Eurytides serville, which zoomed up and down the road several times.

It was overcast and fairly dry, no mud puddles in the road, so we didn’t see as many species as I had here in Nov of 2009. But late that afternoon it started to rain, and rained nicely all through dinner. Tomorrow should have some puddles.

There is a great spot just a few hundred meters right of the entrance to the lodge, on the one dirt road towards the park, which last time was the best for butterflies. We have high hopes for tomorrow.

Catherine, the Belgian owner/cook at Copalinga, is an excellent chef (and speaks 5 or 6 languages), and we have fabulous chicken w/pineapple and grapes and apples for dinner, after a delicious mozzarella/tomato/avocado in balsamic salad. A good place to eat for the next several days.

Day 3/4/5 – Mon/Tue/Wed Mar 21/22/23 – We explore the road to the Bombuscaro entrance to Podacarpus National Park, and trails inside the park, plus trails around the lodge, for the next 3 days. Catherine is a wonderful host, very friendly and helpful, and she takes whoever wants a lift each morning up the 2.5 km to the park entrance about 8am, after breakfast. This allows you to get further into the park, then we walk back on the road. I only do this 1 day, but some of the others do it several times, and see different species each day. You see quite different species in the forest, as compared to the road.

The road is fabulous when the sun’s out, 5 species of Daggerwings/Marpesia, several Swallowtails, including one that I’m not sure what it is, tons of Emperors/Doxocopa, Actinotes and Perisamas and Satyrs.

The rains appear to just be starting, we have good rain every day and every night, which builds up the road puddles. The butterflies appear to be just hatching out, as almost everything we see is very fresh, and we’re seeing new species daily, so we all have a ball. A number of Riodinids show up, and mostly are willing to pose, 4 species of Sisters/Adelpha, and a number of skippers who aren’t as cooperative. Jim gets photos of at least 2 different Dalla, maybe more.

This is a very interesting location because we’re at the high end of lowland species plus the bottom end of higher elevation/cloud forest species. The lodge is at 950 meters, and the park is 100-200 meters higher, plus you can hike up quite a bit if you want in elevation.

One day I work the trails at the lodge and get killer shots of 2 of the big satyrs, the beautiful pink tipped one, Cithaerias pireta, which is a lowland species, and the Pierella hyceta, which I usually see in cloud forest, w/bright rusty on the DHW. Copalinga is a very comfortable place to base out of, and lots of goodies to track down, plus the food is delicious. A dream lodge, I’ll be back a number of times.

Day 6 – Mar 24 – Mauricio, our bird guide, and Luis the bus driver, pick us up at breakfast and we take off. We bird the old Loja-Zamora road, starting at Zamora, and get out and walk at the bridge. This looks like it would be really excellent for butterflies if we had some sun, but we’re early, about 7:30am and overcast. But as we work our way up the road it warms up and we find a goodly number of butterflies, several new species for our trip.

Mostly fairly common roadside edge species, but some nice metalmarks like the beautiful black and red Amarynthis meneria, always a crowd pleaser. Mauricio is a very good guide w/wonderful eyes, and he nails a Lanceolated Monklet right off the road. He’s very helpful and quick to get onto finding butterflies for us, he’s going to work out well.

We stop at the top of the pass where you can access the start of the old road. In a car you can drive down maybe a km or so, but in the bus (we have a huge 20+ person bus, just for the 7 of us) we walk a bit down and see several new high elevation satyrs, the orange banded Pedaliodes I’ve seen in Colombia and a different Corades, even a hairy orange skipper.

We get some good photos and have to drag ourselves away to drive on to Vilcabamba, another 1.5 hours down the road for lunch, and it’s now noon. We drive through Loja and down the mountain to Vilcabamba, a pleasant well-known tourist town. This is the famous valley where people live to be more than 100 years old, and the temperature is perfect.

After a simple lunch of vegetable crepes for $2 each we head on south for what should be a 2 hour drive, but there is lots of construction and we are held up frequently, so it turns into more like 4 hours.

We finally get to the famous Tapichalaca lodge, the flagship reserve of the Jocotoco Foundation. We crash early after dinner, tomorrow we hope to see the antpitta.

Day 7 – Mar 25 – Breakfast at 7am, then up the road and a 3 km hike in to the where they feed the antpitta w/earthworms. Since Angel Paz has started feeding antpittas outside of Mindo, a number of the birding lodges have trained their local antpittas to come for feedings, and you get outrageous looks at birds that 5-10 years ago were almost impossible to find.

So the Jocotoco antpitta comes right in front of us, a fabulous bird almost as big as a football w/a stunning white patch under the eye. We all take tons of photos, even in the pouring rain. They tell us more come when it’s not raining, but we’re happy w/what we get. They also have a feeder table w/corn where white-throated quail-doves come, and a blind to photo them from, so we get excellent looks at those too.

We finally head back to the lodge and spend some time at the feeders there, then after lunch we take the bus downslope, left from the entrance. Mauricio takes us past the town of Valladolid where we walk the road and see some good birds, Maranon Thrush, Spectacled Wren and several tanagers.  It’s not raining lower down, we go under 5,000’,  but then it does start raining and we head back upslope to our lodge. We stop and walk several places, probably the best bird we see is bearded guan, great looks from the bus. No butterflies today at all, but some stellar birds.

Day 8 – Mar 26 – after breakfast we go back to the entrance of the road to the antpitta feeding place, but this time we’re looking for golden-plumed parakeets.

Yesterday in the rain we didn’t have any visibility and couldn’t see down the ravine to the nesting boxes, but this morning is clearer and we can see 5 different nest boxes. We get great looks at the parakeets, some even coming to the nest box, plus Hank flushes band-winged nightjar which gives us great looks, plus several other goodies. One of the prettiest is black-throated pygmy-tyrant, a beautiful little bird.

Then we work the road below the lodge again, and kick up a few more goodies, one of my favorites, crimson-mantled woodpecker. We even see a few butterflies, but it stays rainy and overcast most of the day. After lunch, when we’re loading up the bus, it brightens a bit and sulkowsky’s morpho flies overhead.

We walk up the road briefly and get a beautiful orange and black skipper, good photos by all, so we have a few nice bugs. If we could get a sunny day here it would be great. Oh well.
Then back to Loja and stay in town at the pleasant Hostal Aguilera Internacional, where we eat dinner in their restaurant and hit the sack.

Day 9 – Mar 27 – early departure after a 6:00am breakfast. Mauricio has several birding stops for us today. We drive back to the Loja airport near Catamayo, above it in the hills where it’s a dry desert-type habitat. It takes 45 minutes to do 30+km, so we’re up in the habitat by 7:30am or so.

We find lots of local special birds, one of the best is short-tailed woodstar which comes to Mauricio’s tape, and buzzes between us repeatedly. We’re looking for Anthony’s Nightjar, which Mauricio has seen here before, but not today.

By 8:30 or 9 it gets warmer and butterflies start to appear, so we switch into photography mode, and spend another hour having a great time chasing bugs. Jim in particular gets lots of great shots, as he hangs behind when we hike off on the bird hunt.

Then we head west 2 hours to Cariamanga, where we had planned to have lunch, but couldn’t find any decent restaurants, and the bus had to back and fill a couple of times to get through town, as several roads were blocked. We finally just stopped at a panaderia and got some cheese and pineapple empanadas and yogurt to go, which was perfect.

About 15-30 minutes past Cariamanga we go up to the small town of Utuana and straight through to another Jocotoco preserve about 2500 meters. We walk in about 30 minutes to their feeders and see several fabulous hummers; rainbow-fronted starfrontlet, purple-throated sunangel and speckled hummer. Several Pedaliodes (satyrs) were on the trails but were difficult to get ventral shots of.

Then we stopped at Sozoranga to look for chestnut-collared swallows that nest there in the church. We found lots of nest but no birds.

We make it to the next Jocotoco lodge at Jorupe reserve, about 5 km from Maraca on the border w/Peru. This is dry tumbesian habitat, w/a strong dry and a wet season, deciduous forest. Fortunately we’re in the early wet season and everything is green. The dry season runs from June to December, and the trees drop all their leaves in Nov/Dec. Then the rains start in January and it greens up again.

Day 10 – Mar 28 – We wake up to spectacled owl and west Peruvian screech-owls calling all around our cabin, which is a great way to start the day before dawn.

An early 6am breakfast and we’re off up the road, looking for black and white tanager. We never get to see that one, but have many other specialty birds of the area. White-edged oriole, henna-headed foliage-gleaner, white-tailed jay, constantly calling Watkin’s antpitta, a number of species I’ve never even heard the name of.

This has been a great birding trip, many new species for all of us, and most of this group has been in the Andes many times. For butterflies, we see lots of Elzunia pavonii, the big black and yellow striped ithomiinae that looks like a swallowtail. There is another Heliconius w/a very similar pattern, looks sort of like a zebra but different. Plus Kristine gets great shots of a little Aeria tiger striped clearwing w/the similar pattern. We score good shots of a number of crescents (oh joy), and several different riodindis. A new Synargis, a female laying eggs who comes and poses, and a very pale Tegosa that I think is something different.

Back at the dining area they have feeders out and they put out a bunch of our rotten mangos. We went wild at Copalinga, Catherine served fabulous mangos, then made the mistake of telling us they were only 4-5 for a dollar. So we each gave her a buck and she bought us a bunch on her next trip to town. She got 6/$1, so we had 40 mangos. But we’ve managed to eat most of them, except for a few rotten ones, which go to the butterflies. Many crackers come to the mangos, several species. 1 red cracker and lots of variations on grey cracker, w/different amounts of white. I suspect there is more than 1 species here that look like that.

Day 11 – Mar 29 – Another early departure, then we stop at one of Mauricio’s spots, about 3,800’, and tape in white-headed brush-finch, white-winged brush-finch, and a gorgeous skulky elegant crescent-chest.

Then we head north towards Balsas, but we first stop about 5,300’ and walk a road down to the river at Catacocha, which has a number of new species of butterflies for us. Lots of rusty-tipped pages, malachites, a different 88 and a different sailor, this road reminds me of the Ocampo road in Tamaulipas.  Orange mapwings, some hairstreaks, a different Emesis, maybe E.diogenia, not quite red enough for mandana.

At the river we find a bunch of white-patched skippers, Theagenes aegides, 6 to 8 puddling. There are several Actinotes coming to tall yellow daisies, and a red and yellow crescent that looks like a Heliconius, but I don’t think it is.

We have our box lunch, then drive about another 3.5 hours, get north of Balsas and turn right towards Pinas. About half way there (the sign says 25 km to Pinas) we turn off to the left at a signed intersection for Long-wattled Umbrellabird lodge, 5 km, and drive up through progressively nicer looking habitat. Kay sees a grey-backed hawk perched obligingly in a tree, and we get good photos, and make it to the lodge about 4pm. Dumping our stuff in our rooms, we head for the dining area and the famous hummingbird feeders, which are a sight to behold. They have the nectar in big flat pans, like garbage can lids, and there must be 15-20 hummers sitting on the edge and sucking up the sugar water. Quite a spectacle.

Day 12 – Mar 30 – Breakfast w/tons of hummers, then we walk down the road back to the bridge, which takes all morning. Luis our driver brings down the bus at 1pm and collects us, so we have lots to time to work the road and not have to worry about slogging back uphill in time for lunch. Pretty easy work.

Heavy rain at night but the mornings are bright and sunny. Lower down we get several species of Daggerwings or Marpesia, including the beautiful blue and orange one M.furcula, which I finally get good dorsal shots of.

Many of the species we see are the same ones we would find in Mexico and Central America. Many of them come south, hit the Andes and curve around to the right, hugging the west coast, but there are some different ones. Several great Heliconius or Longwings zip around, different subspecies of erato and maybe melpomene that is blue w/pink vertical bands on the FW and w/a wide white fringe on the trailing edge of the HW, a striking bug. Plus cydno and eleuchia, w/broad white or cream edges to the HW and a couple of pale bands on the FW, plus another that looks very close to the Elzunia but is different.

We have heavy rain, sometimes very heavy, every afternoon and night, but all 3 mornings are clear, typical rainy season weather. One evening it is raining so hard we have to put on rain gear to get to the dining hall, but we manage. Overall here I wish there were more forest trails, so we didn’t stay just on the main road. No traffic, as the roads deadends into the reserve, but it’s mostly roadside edge species, lots of common grass skippers like Trailside or Anthoptus epictetus and some veined skippers like Callimormus radiola.

The trails are narrow, steep and muddy, and not very well maintained, except for the trail to the Umbrellabird lek which is a really good trail. Lots of steps but not too hard, and only takes about 15 minutes. It starts about a km up from the lodge, then straight down towards the river. We get fabulous looks this afternoon, we go about 4pm, Mauricio finds a male who just sits on the branch and looks at us.

The next afternoon most go back for 2nd looks, and this time he is displaying, leaning forward, swinging his long wattle (which he can make go up and down) and blowing out his cheeks. He swings the wattle side to side and puffs it out, an impressive show. Certainly the easiest look possible at this difficult species. Plus song wren, immaculate wren, club-winged manikins displaying, the bird list goes on and on. You would think this was a birding tour. The feeders are great here, rufous headed chachalacas and bronze-winged parrots which are beautiful.

Day 13 – Mar 31 – Today we drive back to the road, up about 10 km, then in to another higher part of the same reserve. We get dropped off and walk down the road a couple of km, chasing lots of green and black striped frogs, probably poison arrow frogs, but don’t see many new butterflies.

This is being reforested, and was purchased for the El Oro Parakeet, which we hear fly over but don’t see. It’s still pretty pasteurized for good butterflies, we’re wading through a couple of million red peacocks and a few higher elevation things like Leodontas. One of the cooler things is found by Mauricio, duh, who points out to me some Heliconius sara who are just hatching out and the males are hanging from the pupa, waiting to breed.

Day 14 – Apr 1 – A long drive back to Guayaquil, about 5+ hours. We come out of the mountains and onto the coastal plain and head north, w/big mountains on our right.

Mauricio finds us horned screamers out on the rice fields, but otherwise it’s pretty boring. We drop off Dan and Kay at their nice hotel in town, they’re flying directly back tomorrow from Guayaquil.

The rest of us take an early evening flight to Quito, which is late, but we finally get to our hotels. Kristine and I are taken to the fancy Patio Andaluz right in the old colonial part of the city, a great location but expensive, and the other 3 go back to the Hotel Sebastian. The Brodkins go out tomorrow to a week at Septimo Paraiso near Mindo, and Jim has to head back to work. This is the end of Part 1.

Day 15 – Apr 2 – Kristine and I have a free day in Quito, and she wanders around the old town and takes in the gorgeous churches and beautiful buildings. I wake up w/a killer migraine, probably from the altitude and the long day yesterday, so I spend the morning in bed while she checks in periodically and brings me coca tea. I recover by lunch time and we go out and have great ice cream, just the cure for a recovering migraine. We’re meeting Andrew Neild, the leader of Part 2, tonight for dinner, along w/the rest of the Brits on his tour. We’re being joined by Bill Berthet, another American friend from Florida who is a great photographer and been on a couple of trips w/me before. So we’ll be an international group. Andrew has written the wonderful books on Butterflies of Venezuela, and has been a big help to me w/id’s on Nymphalids, so I’m really looking forward to getting to spend time in the field w/him.

Day 16 – Apr 3 – leave Quito 7am and drive over the Papallacta Pass at about 4,000 meters. We find Altapedaliodes tena right at the top, on a beautiful sunny morning, a new genus for me.

Then we come down to the Termas Papallacta, a lovely hotel at the hot springs, where we will be staying the next 2 nights. We drive a dirt road up behind the hotel which goes up into some very nice looking habitat, but it clouds up and there are few butterflies, plus it’s a Sunday and there are many people at the hotel for the baths, and driving up the road for hiking.

So we head on down the slope and stop at a bridge at the Rio Jatuntinagua about 2,100 meters, 18km below Guango, the nice birding lodge. Here we spend 1-2 hours chasing all sorts of great stuff. Many satyrs, 2 beautiful Catastica or Dartwhites, yellow Leptophobia, Orophila cardases – like a Perisama, and a great unknown hairstreak w/purplish bands.

After blocking the road and causing much amusement from the traffic we head on down to Baeza and turn south about 5 km to a meadow on the right where Andrew has worked before, about 1,800m. Last time, in August he caught 32 species of Ithomiinae here. It’s raining when we arrive, but we wait and it dries out and brightens and all of a sudden we have butterflies. Lots of photos of several metalmarks, including a new one for me that neither Andrew or I know, a beautiful Necyria, the great pair of Heliconius telesiphe and Podotricha telesiphe and our first Oressinoma typhla.

We have only a short time here before it rains again, but this is a place worth coming back to. We go back to Baeza and have coffee and hot chocolate at Restaurant Gina, suggested by Giovani, our bus driver. A nice little place to eat, good to know.

We get back up to Termas, about an hour, and enjoy the hot, 41C, pools right in front of our cabins, and almost melt it feels so good and relaxing. This tropical travel is tough.

Day 17 – Apr 4 – We wake up to fog, so head down to the bridge about 9am. It’s still cool when we get there, so we head on down to the meadow from the day before. By the time we get there it’s about 10am  and things are starting to brighten.

Andrew spews his fish bait all over, the sun pops out lightly, and we have butterflies everywhere. We spend the day chasing up and down this small meadow, less than 100 meters, w/a small stream coming down the side, and 10 of us keep busy taking tons of photos.

Many new species that we didn’t see yesterday, several Catastictas, another fabulous large white metalmark, Hermathena candidate, that Andrew gets excited about. We don’t get bored, new stuff keeps being drawn in, but we finally head out about 3pm, back up the road and stop at Guango to visit the hummingbird feeders. For $5 you can photograph there to your heart’s content and they serve tea and hot chocolate, well worth it.

Day 18 – Apr 5 – we say goodbye to Termas and head to Cabanas San Isidro for 2 nights. We hang around the high elevation and work the dirt road behind the Termas, hoping for some sun. Ian got a great shot here the first afternoon of a new genus, Neopedaliodes, probably an undescribed species. It has big orange spots on both wings on the dorsal, and I’m eager to find it again.

We futz around the track, dodging the rain and sometimes getting wet, but when it lighens even a bit the butterflies come out. Probably our best butterfly of the morning is a white Lymanopoda that pops in and settles down in front of us, posing nicely for lots of photos. These are very high elevation butterflies, I’ve only seen one like it once in Colombia, also at almost exactly 3,500m. We also manage to find Ian’s Neopedaliodes again and get some photos. Bill and Tony find some Pedaliodes (maybe) to shoot, even in the rain, and they are gorgeous below, lots of bright rufous, almost red. These will be tough to sort out, but hopefully Andrew has some expert assistance on these high elevation satyrs.

Then we go back down the road and stop at ‘our’ bridge, and again find a number of new species. A little brown job that we’re not even sure of which family it is, plus a couple of more satyrs. We make it to San Isidro about 3pm and work the dirt road a km or so from the entrance, and have a fabulous couple of hours until about 5pm. The sun is out and lots of stuff is flying.

Again the fish bait pulls lots of species down to the road. Probably the most exciting thing we see is a spectacular hairstreak, all green and blotchy w/etchings near the body. No idea even what genus it is, but it poses wonderfully for 30 minutes of photography by all of us. It’s difficult to get the color right, but she lets us shoot over and over. Andrew collects it, so we know it’s a female. At first I called it a Sarota, it has the hairy legs and acts like one, but Andrew realizes it has black and white antennae and lobbed tails, no long hairs but definite bumps, so it’s a hairstreak and not a riodinid. It will be fascinating to try and figure out which species it is. Andrew later id’s it as a Rhamma species, hopefully he can tell me which species.

Day 19 – Apr 6 –First we go watch the white-bellied antpitta come in to the worm feeder, a new one for the Brits. After breakfast we take the bus up the road a couple of kms and find some great areas to explore, even after torrential rains all the previous night. It’s about 10am, and stuff is just starting to crawl out and bask, so it is great for photography. Lots of species are sitting around w/wings wide open, trying to warm up.

We take tons of photos of the common yellow Leptophobia, which are usually impossible to get dorsal shots of, and lots of satyrs, and some beautiful grass skippers. A strongly veined one, maybe a Parphorus, with some nice yellow dashes on the FW, some dark skippers w/lots of spots, and lots of Vettius coryna, plus some fresh dark skippers w/big orange bands in the FW, maybe Lynchnuchoides.

Unfortunately it goes back to raining by lunch time, we eat our sack lunches in the bus and finally give up and head back to the lodge for most of the afternoon. The sun finally breaks through about 4pm, and all of a sudden the road is full of butterflies. I’ve not seen them come out this late after a day of rain, but I guess these guys can’t wait for decent weather.

Folks get lots of nice photos in the last hour, including a great Oxeoschistus flat open by Tony and a few others. The next morning we spend time photographing the tons of spectacular moths that have come into the lights. Lots of big yellow and rufous imperials, and a hieroglyphic sphinx moth different than I’ve ever seen.

Day 20 – Apr 7 – We drive to WildSumaco Lodge for 3 nights, a relatively new lodge at just under 1,500 meters 5 or 10 km up off the road to Loreto.

On the way we stop first at the mirador close to San Isidro, where the Guacamaya trail takes off on the ridge. On a clear day this is a wonderful view over the amazon basin, but not today. We head down and turn left for Coca and Loreto, 146 km to Coca, then stop at Comedor Susanita, about 20-25 minutes east, at a big bridge.

There are 88’s/89’s in the dirt parking lot, and there is a trail heading down to a nice waterfall in back of the lot. Below a post w/tires up on it, we head down the narrow muddy trail to the waterfall and we find the white flowers the clearwings love, and get 4 species of Ithomiinae hanging from them. It’s difficult to take turns photographing them on the slippery trail, but we get Ithomia salapia, I.terra, Pteronymia amandes and the beautiful Greta libethris w/the yellow band. Andrew tells me I.salapia comes in 2 versions, one w/the black box on the HW and one w/out.

On a sunny day you can see lots of butterflies on the big rocks down by the waterfall, but unfortunately the rain gradually gets stronger as we wander around. Andrew shows us a 2nd place he really likes to stop, about another 15 minutes east at another bridge, but by now it’s raining steadily and we head onto WildSumaco.

Here we enjoy the hummingbird feeders and find some nice satyrs around the road and the entrance, plus lots of moths left over from the night before. The rains appear to have started, and perhaps the moths are heavier when it’s rainier. Andrew was down the east slope in August and saw very few moths, but had better, sunnier, weather. Bonnie and Jim, the owners of WildSumaco, have kept rain records for the last couple of years, and they say April is the start of heavier rains, through May/June/July, same as at Copalinga. These 2 lodges are both on the east slope and similar elevations, Copalinga about 1,000m.

Day 21 – Apr 8 – Kristine and I take the F.A.C.E. trail in about a mile or so to look for the place where I saw tons of clearwings last time I was here, in late Oct 2009. The others walk back down the road about 1-2 km to the lower cabins and garage, where there are a number of trails through the forest. The best for butterflies is probably the power line cut, where it’s open but w/forest on both sides. The guys put out fish bait and get lots of goodies. Several Adelpha, 2 new species of Memphis, M.anassa and M.lineata, and Les even gets open shots of lineata. Lots of Catonephele salambria, the list goes on. In the forest we find some clearwings, not the numbers I had in 2009 but some good ones nevertheless. A common species here is Godyris duilia and the smaller version, Greta alphesiboea, both beautiful w/rufous edges on the hindwing and yellow on the forewing, spectacular.

Day 22 – Apr 9 – heavy rains in the night, and they continue almost all day. Occasionally it brightens a bit, and I head down the road to the lower area and watch the hummingbird feeders there for an hour or so, but no butterflies.

After lunch it lets up and we all go back down the road where we find several new metalmarks coming to some white flowers overhead and new skippers for the list, especially coming to the little fuzzy pink flowers on the power line cut, right at the high point where it drops off downhill. Unfortunately we can’t get close to them, but one of the spectacular grass skippers, w/the white swirl and spangles, flies close to some of the guys and they get killer shots, dorsal and ventral, so hopefully Richard and I can figure it out. Andrew also catches a huge Taygetis, and it’s not mermeria, which don’t get this high, so it’s something new. We walk back up the hill and get home just before the rains start again, about 4:30pm, so we have a good time after all.

Day 23 – Apr 10 – more heavy rain in the night and morning. Our van shows up on time at 9am, but Andrew wants to hang around a bit and let the weather lighten up.

We play w/the big green and brown caterpillars on the small tree next to the dining room, and Bill cuts off 2 of the different pupa and mounts them in the dining room so Bonnie can see what comes out. We leave about 10:30, it gets lighter, and we stop at one of Andrew’s spots on the Rio Pingullo, maybe 30 minutes from WildSumaco.  This turns out to be a fabulous spot, w/tons of stuff coming to Andrew’s fish bait.

My personal favorite is an unknown spreadwing, similar to Mictris crispus but different, but there are a number of other goodies. Probably the rarest is the beautiful pierid Cunizza hirlanda, a white w/a swirly yellow and orange ventral, and I get great ventral and dorsal shots, only the 3rd time I’ve seen this species.

We finally leave about 2:30pm, after 3 hours, and take a right turn before Loreto and drive another 2 hours to Agua Santa, where the boat from Yachana Lodge is waiting for us. 10 minutes to cross the Napo river and we’re at our new home for the next 4 nights.

This lodge is owned by the local indigenous tribe, who have done a bangup job w/this lodge. Lovely gardens, good food, a spectacular porch and dining area w/bar from which to watch sunsets over the river, comfortable rooms w/large just screens, so you get what movement of air there is.

It’s warm but not unbearable, it cools off to low 70’s at night, though we sweat like pigs during the day hiking in the forest.  This is upstream from Coca towards the mountains.

Day 24/25/26 – Apr 11/12/13 – First day we hike up the hill from the lodge to a couple of miradors and on a ridge trail into the forest. Our local guide is Abel, who grew up here. He’s very helpful and nice, and he knows many of the birds.

We find some butterflies but overall it seems slow to both Andrew and myself. We have 3 nice sunny days, but I wonder if the heavy rains of the previous 3 or 4 days knocked many species down. We do find 1 of these and 1 of that, but very small numbers.

The 2nd day we go back across the river and take a great double decker bus they have made and cruise the dirt road back to the Yachana reserve, about an hour. It’s lots of fun to sit on top and watch the world go by, the bus is slow and cumbersome but the driver is very good. Again, good looking forest but not many bugs. We do find a patch of taller forest and get several Adelpha coming to the road, and a fresh Eunica alpais, but the star of the show is the killer Dynamine gisella, a stunning purple/blue sailor, and everyone gets marvelous shots, after messing w/it for half an hour or more.

After lunch, which is delivered hot from the lodge, we take the new road that is being built to Tena, to the west or left from Agua Santa, the village across the river. This looks nice, but it’s getting late in the afternoon.

Kristine and I get good shots of a fresh Chloreuptychia tolumnia which she finds, beautiful blue w/an orange streak on the VFW. The 3rd day we take the motorized canoe upstream about 45 minutes towards Tena, to Abel’s uncle’s farm, and hike trails there. This is very nice looking forest, probably the best of the 3 days, and it should be quite productive at a different time.

We find Hatarea pirea, the transparent satyr w/orange, and some other stuff but not much again.  Though I do get 2 new Euselasia metalmarks I have not seen before. Probably the most exciting thing found by the guys is an Amazonian puffing snake, and Andrew gets marvelous video, so even though I don’t see it, I get to enjoy the video that night. There is argument whether it’s 7 or 9’+ long, but all agree it’s a pretty big snake, and watching it climb into the trees and puff up like an adder is pretty cool.

Day 27 – Apr 14 – We wake to heavy rains and have a wet 2 hour boat ride down river to Coca, but they have good ponchos and we stay relatively dry, considering.

Coca is a scruffy river port town that mostly services the oil industry, so it’s not very scenic, but we stay at the Hotel El Acua, a very pleasant place and surprisingly quiet for being in town. Be sure to get rooms on the garden side of the hotel, not over the street. It’s only $54 for a double, nice big rooms, good internet hookup, big showers, so we’re happy.

Andrew takes us to dinner at the restaurant right on the dock over the river, so we get to watch the lightning show and the clouds which are spectacular. Delicious food, I have the pepper steak and others have what looks like fabulous avocado stuffed w/chicken or shrimp. I’m a little cautious about salad stuff, after being sick the night before w/stomach problems, but hopefully everyone will be ok.

That afternoon we go out to the Anaconda oil field road, where Andrew found good stuff last August, but it is still very slow for butterflies. We kick up a few things, a fresh lovely Caria castilia and some new Marpesia or Daggerwings for the trip, which keep people happy, but overall it’s surprisingly quiet.

Andrew talks our way in past the guards and shows us one of the working oil fields, where they have a huge flame shooting in to the air burning off excess gases. Many moths come to this flame which burns 24 hours a day, and they’re all singed and lying around the base. He says there were many more when he was here before, but it’s still strange to see them all lying on the ground.

Day 28 – Apr 15 – a leisurely morning, we don’t have to be back to the docks until 11am for our 5 hour boat trip to Napo Wildlife Center, 3 hours by motorized canoe then transfer to paddled canoes for 2 hours.

It’s raining again this morning, it didn’t start until just before dawn, hopefully it will rain itself out by boat time. I’ve heard great things about NWC, so I have high expectations. Unfortunately we have to wait for other clients bound for NWC that are arriving from Quito on the flight, and it’s delayed due to the rains. Apparently the airport is VFR, so the pilots need a certain visibility.

We hang out on the docks at the same restaurant where we ate the night before for several hours, and finally get underway about 1:45pm. We make it down the Napo and to the transfer point, where we change to smaller paddled canoes for the last 2 hours or so.

This last part is a wonderful trip, going slowly through a small creek w/amazing trees, vines and plants everywhere, and wonderful bird sounds. We find frogs, snakes, all sorts of goodies, and get to the lodge just at dark. The lodge has a great location on a large lake, and all the cabins have a great view over the water. Another place you could easily hang out and just watch the clouds over the lagoon.

This is a very upscale lodge, probably the snazziest I’ve ever stayed at. It’s not cheap, I was told almost $200/day/person, but the meals are delicious, the staff very attentive, the rooms sumptuous, especially when you consider where you are, and they have some lovely forest. You have to take a canoe to get back to the parrot clay lick, which we do one morning, and to get to their birding tower, which we do another morning, and we walk trails around both areas.

The butterflies are still slow but we manage to keep finding stuff to keep us busy. Mauricio, our boatman, has amazing eyes, and Juan Carlos, our guide, is very adept at taking care of us. They find more snakes, amazon jungle dragons (like a small iguana), birds, and even butterflies. Juan Carlos tells me they have 2 rainy seasons, and we are in the April/May/June rainy time.

Then it is a bit drier July/Aug/Sept, then back to rains Oct/Nov, and it is drier Dec/Jan/Feb. Now the trees are fruiting, there is much rotten fruit on the ground, which attracts satyrs. Some of the most common butterflies we see are the large Pierellas which glide over the ground, and many of the Ithomiinae also come to the small orange seeds of the Tamia-muyo Tree, from the weird white golfball sized fruit that grow from the main trunk.  But again the forest doesn’t seem as full of butterflies as it should be, maybe in the drier season. The star for us are the many Helicopis cupido we find in the Montrickardia plants from the canoe rides. This is a beautiful riodinid w/very long tails, silver spots on the underside, a truly spectacular butterfly. We cruise the canals and take many butterflies for photos.

Day 29/30/31 – Apr 16/17/18 – We explore several options for trails, having to use the canoe to get almost everywhere. This is a slight pain, as we all have to move as a group, and walking through the forest w/6 or 8 people trying to photograph is almost impossible. But the canoe rides are one of the highlights, it is magical gliding over the black water surrounded by swamp and forest.

This lodge is basically in the middle of a swamp, but extremely comfortable, and very few mosquitoes. We sleep under mosquito nets inside our luxurious cabins and enjoy being taken care of.

I like the morning where we go to the tower, again by canoe, because we have more time to wander the trails by ourselves. I find a fruiting tree w/clearwings and get some nice shots. This would be a very romantic place to bring a partner and be away from the world, but I prefer better habitat w/more trails I can walk myself. It’s flooded lowland forest, and has special species that like that type of swamp, lots of hoatzins and snail kites. I’m glad I came but probably won’t be back, too expensive for my budget and I prefer a little higher elevation forest, better mix of species.

Day 32 – Apr 19 – Early departure for our 5 hour transfer back to Coca, the Brits have an 11am flight to catch to Quito. It rains, big surprise, so their flight is delayed, fortunately.

We make it back to the docks and meet our guide for Part 3 of our trip. Thierry Garcia is an energetic Frenchman who lives here in Loreto w/his wife Marion. They have a private reserve, Fundacion SumacMuyu, and they have bought about 150 hectares of forest about 2 hours above Loreto.

We spend the night in Loreto at the basic but comfortable Monte Azul hotel for $10/room, quite a switch from the NWC. It’s funny, as we’re going from the most luxurious accommodations to the simplest on our trip, but that’s how it worked out.

After adventures w/Thierry’s giant boat car, an ’87 Ford Crown Victoria that he drove here from Louisiana where we back into a curb and jam the muffler into the tire, then have to limp around Coca finding a mechanic to fix it, we make it to Loreto and have a tasty lunch and dinner at 2 of the new restaurants in town. Our favorite is the Colombian fruit stand, where the owner makes delicious fruit smoothies, batidos. I get durazno (peach) and they get mora or blackberry, w/milk they’re like shakes.

Day 33-37 – Apr 20-24 – After breakfast back at the Colombian fruit stand, we meet Jamie, our taxi driver, who takes the 5 of us and our ton of gear up an hour on the newly improved gravel road and drops us off where the mules are waiting.

The 3 of us, Kristine, Bill and myself, start walking w/Marion while Thierry and the mule driver load the mules. Immediately we find lots of the weedy tall dandelion type white flowers covered with clearwings, so it’s going to be a very slow walk. It’s about 5 km/3 miles and we gain about 300 meters/1,000’, so it’s not a difficult walk, though it is muddy. We’re in rubber boots, and there is a certain amount of sucking and pulling your boots out of holes.

But there are lots of butterflies, and what takes the locals an hour takes us more than 4 before we make it to the camp. The lower part of the road is lined w/the white flowers, plus there is a yellow composite on tall stalks the butterflies also like, so we stop every 10’ to take more photos. No hurry, we have all day, plus the next 5 days, to do just this, photograph butterflies.

This is heaven, we spread out and move at our individual pace, not having to stay w/a group is wonderful. Thierry and Marion have built a great structure for camping, a 2 story large open wooden platform. The tents are pitched on the top level, w/hammocks, and we eat and hang out below. They have a cold water shower and a dry composting toilet, so all the comforts of home are there. Marion is a great cook and turns out amazing meals from her open simple kitchen, some over a wood fire and some using propane, which had to be hauled in by mule. She has a local woman, Nancy, who she is teaching to cook. Nancy is very shy but very helpful, and a big improvement over the poor girl they had last time.

We really enjoy our 6 days here, and have some of the best butterflying of our entire trip. We do have lots of rain, but some sun every day, and when it’s not raining there are more butterflies everyday. We see new species on our last morning. The leafwings seem to be coming out, we have seen very few on the earlier part of our trip, but more Memphis, Preponas, Fountainea, Zaretis and Consuls are evident daily, all very fresh. Maybe they fly more in the wet season.

It’s very humid, but mostly quite pleasant temperatures. It cools off to mid 60’s at night, I sleep in sweats in my sleeping bag and am comfortable.

During the day it only is in the 70’s, but hot in the sun and we’re sweaty and looking forward to our chilly shower at the late afternoon. The big thing we miss is electricity, it would be fun to work on the computer and play w/our many photos at night. We brought enough batteries for our cameras for the 6 days, as they don’t have a generator and don’t really want the noise. Maybe solar panels would provide battery charging, but they don’t stay here all the time so they can’t leave expensive things like solar panels lying around.

This is a new camp from the one I saw in 2009, and much improved. They have bought this land, so they have total control over it and can invest their sweat equity to build some nice things. Thierry loves going for night walks in the forest, and finding snakes and frogs and stuff. He has some herp groups come here, and they spend 6pm to 1am every night in the woods. We only go out w/him for 1 night, we’re usually too tired, but he has great eyes and knows his area very well.

This is a fabulous place for amphibians, he has 23 species so far. He finds a snail eating snake one night and we take photos, holding the very calm snake on our arms. One of my favorite butterflies is a new spreadwing skipper, a green headed Nisoniades I finally see, not a Chloracephala. Their butterfly list was about 430 species, and we add close to 50 new species, so we have a great time. Thierry and Marion are fabulous hosts, they work very hard to please you and make sure you have a great time. They are passionate about what they’re doing, and well worth supporting.

Day 38 – Apr 25 – we mule trek back out, leaving after lunch and taking a slow stroll down the boot sucking trail so we meet Jamie at 5pm, late enough to hopefully avoid the taxi strike scheduled that day. 1 night in Loreto back at the Hotel Monte Azul, even the cold shower there feels good. Fruit batidos back at the Colombian fruit stand, empanadas and his delicious pan de yucca for dinner, and we’re ready for bed.

Day 39 – Apr 26 – a casual morning at Thierry’s office transferring photos, then Jamie takes us back to Coca to the airport, where we fly Tame back to Quito for the night for $65 one way, a short 30 minute flight.

We spend the night in Mirasol, or gringolandia, at the Vieja Cuba, a nice old building converted to a B&B. It looks very nice but is unfortunately noisy all night. Of course it doesn’t help that we go to bed early, as we have a 3;25am departure for the airport. Other folk come in about 1am, and there are lights in the halls all night that come in thru the windows in the doors, clouded but the light still comes through, plus weird plumbing noises that keep us up.

Day 40 – Apr 27
– we catch the early 6:30am flights back to Miami and Houston, so we get back home that afternoon. Except for Kristine in New York, she doesn’t make it home until 1am, so she has an exceptionally long day. A great trip, lots of new photos, good travel companions, some tasty food, friendly helpful people, all in all most enjoyable. Ecuador is probably one of my favorite countries, along w/Colombia. Great diversity in a small country and lots of wonderful places to stay.

Mexico – Finca Monte Carlo, Oaxaca, November 2010

Trip Report for Finca Monte Carlo, Oaxaca

Participants: John Drawe, Kim Garwood, Richard Lehman, Willie Sekula

Author: Kim Garwood

Sat Oct 30 fly to Bahia de Huatulco, Oaxaca and transfer to Finca Monte Carlo, 600 pesos/person/night, including all meals. www.fincamontecarlo.com, ricaemax@hotmail.com

Sun Oct 31-Sat Nov 5 – explore around the finca

Sat Nov 6 – fly back to the US

Sat Oct 30 – we fly Continental nonstop from Houston to Bahia de Huatulco on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca. They only fly on Saturday, at least at this time of the year. It cost me about $650 w/taxes. The price went up about $150 Nov 1st, so that’s why we went the last Saturday in Oct.

We take a van from the airport for 492 pesos to La Crucicita, about 20-30 minutes. A bit expensive, but 2 taxis would have been 350 pesos each. These are set prices on the board, so they appear to be fixed and non negotiable.

Efren, the owner of FMC, has arranged for a driver to meet us at La Crucicita and bring us the 2+ hours up to the finca, but he couldn’t come in and get us at the airport. It is restricted to drivers in the local taxi guild. He will be able to take us directly back to the airport, however. The 2nd leg cost us 800 pesos more, so the transfer’s not cheap, but it is about 2.5 hours.

Pay attention, as we were told by Efren the transfer would be 600 pesos, but Saul the driver charged us 800. The return trip was 600, after Efren ‘talked’ to him.

The last part of the road up to the finca is fairly steep and rutted. You could do it in a pickup, but you might have trouble in a regular car. The turnoff from highway 200 is now signed with a big blue official road sign that says something about coffee fincas or ruta cafeteria.

Sun Oct 31-Sat Nov 5 – We spend the week walking the trails and the road around FMC. This is an old coffee finca, and Efren owns it w/his brothers. He and his wife, Anna, take good care of us. Nadia, the Russian assistant, is a good cook along w/Anna, and we have lots of delicious food. The info email address on his website doesn’t work, so use this address to contact him – ricaemax@hotmail.com He doesn’t speak much English, but he and Anna work very hard to make you happy.

The butterflies are great. I was here in May this year, at the end of the dry season, and wanted to come back at the end of the wet season. There are many more butterflies flying now, as compared to May, but I saw some species then, like Dallas, that I don’t see now.  One of my favorites is Blue-collared Firetip, Mysoria amra, which we see repeatedly and get killer shots of.  I also get great shots of Orange-rimmed Firetip, Pyrrhopyge chalybea, another new one for me. Richard scores the first day with photos of the white morpho sitting on some coffee, the only time we see it landed anywhere. They usually just drift by overhead.

This place is crescent heaven. There are many Anthanassa species, probably 6-8, and they like to come to wet spots on the road, as well as Castilias, Eresias and Tegosas.

We have several pee spots by creeks on the trails, and these are worth repeated visits over the days.

One day we walk down the road back towards town, seeing lots of good stuff, including a great big tan riodinid, Synargis nymphidioides. We have to wade the creek about 200 meters down from the finca. In May I could hop across on the rocks, keeping my feet dry, but now it’s all under water. It’s about knee deep in the middle, but trucks manage to cross. A beautiful creek, a bit chilly for swimming, we pee on the side and attract lots of bugs.

A little after noon Efren and Anna drive down, pick us up and take us for a picnic to an uncle’s ranch down below Xadani, the village about 9km below Monte Carlo. The uncle’s ranch is back towards the main highway 200, but off to the left on dirt roads. It’s located right on a larger river, another beautiful swimming hole, where we have a delicious lunch under their palapa where they’re building a restaurant. There’s quite a current but nice water for swimming. We don’t see many butterflies but it’s a gorgeous spot.

Another day Saul, the driver, comes back up and takes us down the 9km to Xadani, about 30 minutes, then 5km to Llano Grande, where there is a waterfall (los cascadas) and a mariposarium, or butterfly house. The whole drive takes about an hour, so it’s not close, but very pretty. We take the tour through the mariposarium, and it’s very well done. It costs 30 pesos each, plus a tip to the guide. It’s one of the nicer butterfly houses I’ve been in, very neat and professional, with lots of Owls, including larvae on the bananas, and Tigerwings of various sizes. It’s at Finca La Gloria, and they also sell coffee and have a restaurant. Nobody’s there but us. They want an additional 50 pesos each for the entrance to the waterfalls, a 15 minute walk, even though we tell them we only want to walk the road and photograph butterflies, not go swimming. So rather than spend the 200 pesos, we head back along the 5 km road. This is a very nice looking road through good forest with large trees, you could probably spend most of the day driving and walking this road.

We head back, stopping along the road at several wet spots, and see a number of new species. The best is the fabulous Siproeta superba, or Broad-banded Page. This is one I’ve wanted to see for years, and it’s a shock to find it coming to the middle of the road. We all get great shots and have a blast. We get back home for another tasty lunch, then it rains all afternoon. The rest of the time we’ve had perfect weather, bright sunny days and clear nights w/fabulous stars from the porch.

The other days we hike around the finca and see many good bugs. One of my favorite trails heads up past the finca, to the right after the waterfall over the small wall. You come to a creek crossing maybe a half a km, not far.

In late morning, after about 10:30am, the sun hits this stretch of rocky trail and it’s full of butterflies. We pee several places along here and get good things every day I go check it. From mid morning to about 2pm it’s great. This is where I get photos of both species of firetips, plus a couple of new sisters and lots of crescents. Another good spot is right by the creek below the finca where the road crosses the creek. Before, in May, you could hike up the far side of the creek and find several good sandbars w/lots of mudpuddling, but now the water is too high and the trail has become overgrown, so I don’t find anything up there.

Our last morning we’re still finding new species. The leafwings seem to be getting more numerous. I see our first Holey Leafwing, Zaretis ellops, a couple of dark blue Memphis species and Richard sees a Red-patched Leafwing, Siderone syntyche. We’ve been here a week, and we’re seeing a change of species in that time. Species we saw the first few days have gone, and new ones are showing up everyday. It would be a great place to spend lots of time, or come back monthly. I’m told by the guide at the butterfly house that summer is the peak time, July and August. Of course, that’s hurricane season and the time of heavy rains, so you could lose days to bad weather. But when the sun’s out, it would be fabulous.

This year Efren tells me August and September were very wet, but they haven’t had hardly any in October. Peak tourist season on the coast is the winter, November to April, so flights are more expensive and the coastal resorts are more crowded. You could easily combine this place with some days on the beach. All in all, we’re sorry to leave, and we look forward to coming back.

Colombia July-September 2010

Colombia Aug/Sept 2010

This trip is going to be split into 2 parts w/2 sets of participants.

The 1st part is mostly in the eastern andes with Mike Chapman, Deborah Galloway and Sherry Nelson.

The 2nd part is out of Medellin and the central andes w/Richard Lindstrom, Shirley Sekarajasingham and Fred Heath.

Guide – Pablo Florez paflorez13@hotmail.com

Fri July 30 – I flew to Miami, spent the night at the Comfort Inn and Suites near the airport, $98

Sat July 31 – met Mike Chapman at the airport and we flew to Bogota, 2 nights at Casona del Patio, $58/single

Sun Aug 1 – day trip to La Vega, Laguna de Tabacal 1400m & hummingbird garden 1500m

Mon Aug 2 – drive to El Silencio 3 nights 2700m

Tues/Wed Aug 3/4 – walk trails at El Silencio

Thur Aug 5 – drive to La Mesa and walk road at Pedro Palo 2100m, 1 night in La Mesa

Fri Aug 6 – work Pedro Palo road again and lower part 1600m, drive back to Bogota 2 nights

Sat Aug 7 – day trip to Bio Andino 3000m east slope and 3500m pass paramo

Sun Aug 8 – drive to Monterredondo for the day, 1900-2100m, and onto Villavicencio for 2 nights at the Travel Blue hotel.

Mon Aug 9 – Bosque Bavaria 10 minutes outside Villavicencio, 1100m walk down to 750m

Tue Aug 10 – fly to Macarena for 4 nights at La Cascada Hotel, Cano Cristales, 500 meters

Wed/Thur/Fri Aug 11/12/13 – explore Cano Cristales

Sat Aug 14 – fly back to Villavicencio for 3 nights

Sun Aug 15 – Buenavista at 1400-1500m, change hotels for next 2 nights

Mon Aug 16 – Buenavista in the morning, then lower Bosque Bavaria in the afternoon

Tue Aug 17 – leave Villavicencio, stop at Monterredondo for the day, then onto Bogota 1 night

Wed Aug 18 – take the bus to Rogitama for 3 nights w/Mike, Deb & Sherry fly back to the US

Thu/Fri Aug 19/20 – explore Rogitama gardens and trails, 2600 meters

Sat Aug 21 – get a ride to Tunja, catch the bus back to Bogota, I fly to Medellin to the Casa Asturias, Mike goes back to the US after a night in Bogota. This is the end of the first trip.

Sun Aug 22 – Richard and Shirley join me go to La Romera, road above Medellin, w/Juan Guillermo

Mon Aug 23 – drive to Piha reserve at 1400m for 4 nights, stop at Oficina de Tablon 850m

Tue/Wed/Thur Aug 24/25/26 – explore trails and road at ProAves Piha reserve

Fri Aug 27 – driver takes us back to Medellin, 4 hours, to Hotel Casa Asturias for 3 nights

Sat Aug 28 – day trip to Humidal de Bramadora, 500 meters near Sopetran northwest of Medellin w/Juan G and friends

Sun Aug 29 – day trip to La Romera

Mon Aug 30 – early departure to Rio Claro for 3 nights, walk road to Cocorna

Tue/Wed Aug 31/Sep 1 – trails at Rio Claro

Thur Sep 2 –  6 hour drive to Jardin for 3 nights at Hacienda Balendu, eastern slope of western andes, cross the cauca river. 1750 meters, José Castaño as guide in Jardin

Fri Sep 3 – go up the mountain to 2900 meters

Sat Sep 4 – down to Monserrate Road below Jardin, 1700 meters

Sun Sep 5 – leave at 6am, meet Pablo at Jerico, 2 nights in Manizales at Casa Galvez

Mon Sep 6 – to the high paramo for bearded helmetcrest hummer at Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados above Manizales, 4000m
Tue/Wed Sep 7/8 – drive to Rio Blanco for 2 nights, cool and rainy 2400-2700m

Thu Sep 9 – drive to Montezuma for 3 nights, 1400m, western slope western andes

Fri/Sat Sep 10/11 – explore road and trails at Montezuma, 1400-2000m

Sun Sep 12 – morning at Montezuma below the farmhouse, then drive to Otun above Pereira for 3 nights, 1900m back to the central andes, west slope

Mon/Tue Sep 13/14 – walk the road and trails at Otun

Wed Sep 15 – morning at Otun, then fly from Pereira to Bogota to Santa Marta, 1 night at Minca at Sierra’s Sound Hostal

Thur Sep 16 – drive up the rough road to El Dorado, ProAves reserve for 3 nights, 1900m

Fri Sep 17 – drive up to 2600 meters for the morning

Sat Sep 18 – walk the road and gardens around lodge

Sun Sep 19 – morning at El Dorado, drive back to Minca for the night

Mon Sep 20 – drive to Guiara Pennisula for the night in Riohacha at Barbocoa Hotel

Tue Sep 21 – back to Santa Marta, fly to Bogota for last night in Casona del Patio

Wed Sep 22 – fly back to the US

Sat July 31 – arrived in Bogota about 1pm, Pablo’s ‘trusted driver’ was waiting for us outside with our names on a sign. We hit the Davivienda atm right in front of the airport and got 720,000 Colombian pesos, about $350. There’s also Bancolombia, but it only gives 400,000 COP, while Davivienda gives 720,000. The current exchange is about 1850 pesos/$1, so I use 2000/1 in my head. 35,000 for the transfer, or about $17.

We’re staying at a nice little hotel, Casona del Patio, in a pretty yellow building around a little patio. www.lacasonadelpatio.net Mike took off for the Gold Museum, which is well worth your time, but I’m staying in the room.

We didn’t get into our rooms until 2:30pm, and I didn’t feel like fighting the traffic. Plus it’s raining and quite cool, only about 55F. We see the standard rufous-collared sparrows and some great thrushes on the rooftops.

Sun Aug 1 – 6am pickup by Manuel, a bird guide friend of Pablo’s, who’s taking us to La Vega for the day. It’s about an hour and a half drive, and we stop for breakfast at a little roadside restaurant for coffee and arepas, tasty corn fat sweet tortillas.

We turn off the main road at La Vega on a sort of paved 7 km steep road signed to Laguna de Tabacal. Up at the top we park, pay our entrance fee and walk in.

Almost immediately we see some Sarota metalmarks chasing each other and landing on big heliconia leaves. Unfortunately the leaves are above our heads, so it’s impossible to see the undersides of the butterflies. It’s cool and cloudy, about 8am, and they are spreading out to bask, in between attacking each other.

Tromping around in the wet grass stirs up lots of very fresh Trailside Skippers and a few other goodies. We finally head up the trail which looks great for butterflies. Lots of flowers and open areas but nice trees and bamboo along a stream. As usual on a cool wet morning we don’t see tons of stuff, but what we see is more concerned with warming up, so they’re basking and posing for photos. We get several satyrs, good dorsals of Pareuptychia ocirrhoe and others, Eresia polina found by Mike, one of the purple Eyemarks, several red Rayed Longwings and a great Dismorphia. We chase some birds, getting nice looks at velvet-fronted euphonia.

As we walked to the end of the trail that overlooks the lake, we found several bushes that were attracting clearwings, and there were at least 4 species, 2 clear ones and 2 tigerwings, 1 was Ithomia iphanassa and the other 1 similar but a different black pattern on the forewing.

As we were photographing them, it started to rain, and got steadily harder, until we had to quit. By the time we made it back to the car it was really starting to come down, and it just got heavier the rest of the day, so it was a good thing we left.

We then drove to San Francisco, where we had lunch at a new Spanish restaurant and had good paella, then went to the Jardin Encantado, www.jardinencantado.net.

This is a private home where they have been feeding hummingbirds for 11 years, but only in the last year opened it to the public. It cost 12,000 COP/person, or about $US6. In a small space, about 10-12’wide and maybe 50’ long, they had over 30 hummingbird feeders overlooking a ravine, and there must have been a couple of zillion hummers.

I’ve never seen so many black-throated mangos, males and females, as well as at least a dozen more species. The woman told us she had had 26 species in total. Some of them were white-bellied and gorgeted woodstars, several violetears, indigo-capped hummers (an endemic), lots of rufous-tailed, green hermit, white-necked Jacobin, and a lifer for me – Lazuline Saberwing.

We finally left, drove back to Bogota and met Debbie and Sherry for dinner at Crepes y Wafles. This is a great chain restaurant found in major Latin cities that I highly recommend. They have both savory (meat, chicken, veggie, cheese) crepes and killer dessert crepes, so go hungry.

Later that night we met Pablo Flores, who has organized the trip for us and will be traveling w/us most of the time. He lives in Medellin and had just flown in for our trip. This is my 3rd trip using Pablo, and he’s a great birding guide, and very patient w/our hunting for butterflies. The advantage of being w/a birder is when we get cloudy drizzly weather, which is common in the andes, we can always look for birds. He has tapes and knows most of the calls, and is a very good bird guide, plus he’s a really nice guy.

Mon Aug 2 – after breakfast at the hotel we drive to El Silencio for the next 3 nights. We head northwest on the main road to Medellin, then turn off to Subachoque, where Claudia the owner meets us to lead us in. This is a private dairy farm about 2700 meters on the east slope of the Magdalena Valley, or the west slope of the eastern andes.

The andes split into 3 chains in Colombia, with 2 major valleys in between, which is what leads to the tremendous diversity in Colombia. When we get to El Silencio, only about 1.5 hours from Bogota, we find a charming simple little place that has 3 rooms in a row and a kitchen w/a dining table, and 2 women who will be cooking for us.

Lunch is tasty, chicken in rice w/lots of vegetables, great fresh tomatoes in herbs, much more than we can eat but we manage. We walk down the road which turns into forest very quickly. It is a somewhat steep muddy rocky road, and we spend several hours going slowly downhill, from about 9:30am to 1pm when we get back for lunch. We see several satyrs, lots of Pedaliodes and an obliging Manerebia rubescens.

We see some great birds, starting w/chestnut-crowned antpitta that Pablo tapes in very close, posing and singing nicely. We find a couple of flocks with flowerpiercers, scarlet-bellied mountain-tanagers, white-throated tyrannulets, and my favorite, a brilliant grass-green tanager right in front of us.

After lunch we walk the opposite direction, back the way we drove in, to the owner’s beautiful home, which they use as a weekend place. We spend time on their back porch which has a wonderful view and a nice garden with some fuschias flowering that the hummers are coming to. Woodstars and violetears back there, then Pablo sees a black-tailed trainbearer in the front of the house, where there is a big hedge of small pink flowers that the hummers like. We spend time hanging around and see tyrian metaltail coming in several times.

We take a different way back which is more in forest and see more flocks, including one of my favorites, pearled treerunner, plus a nice selection of high elevation birds. Back for complimentary malbac wine while we sit outside doing our bird list, then a tasty dinner in the cozy kitchen heated by a wood burning stove. Life is good. We even have very hot water showers.

Tues Aug 3 – We planned to get out early and hike down the steep road, but it was raining after breakfast and quite chilly, so we got the people to give us a ride to another family house a couple of miles down the valley, about 150 meters lower. This is next to an old oak forest w/beautiful trees, and the family there has collected about 80+ species of orchids. Unfortunately not many of them were blooming, but it was fun to explore around there, and we saw a few new birds. Great looks at long-tailed sylph and golden-bellied starfrontlet, a new one for me.

Sherry had one of the stinging bright green io moth caterpillars fall on her from a tree and stung her arm. It swelled up immediately but then fortunately backed off, and after a couple of hours you couldn’t even see it. The forest looked really good, but we didn’t see much, and almost no butterflies. This could have been because it stayed cold all morning, in the 50’s, and frequent drizzles.

It finally warmed up a bit by lunch, and afterwards we went back down the steep trail and saw several new satyrs. At least 2 new Pedaliodes and the very pretty rufous Lymanopoda obsolete w/pinkish bands on the ventral. I’ve seen this one before in Colombia at Rio Blanco. We came back about 5pm, but Pablo stayed out and saw black-billed mountain toucan and red-crested cotinga, so we’re heading back down tomorrow morning.

Wed Aug 4 – more drizzles this morning, but looking out from the porch we can see across to the central andes and snow covered peaks. The central andes are the highest of the 3 chains. It’s sunny out there, so hopefully our clouds will move away later today.

After breakfast we head back down the steep trail, and the sun comes out and it’s a beautiful morning, and there are lots of butterflies. Mostly high elevation satyrs, but a great selection, and we take tons of photos. We walk down maybe 200 meters in elevation, and find more stuff as we get a bit lower, and it gets warmer.

Mid morning we have to step aside for a herd of cows being moved to a lower pasture, and they don’t want to pass us, so a few stragglers get left behind. One cow in particular hangs back and keeps sneaking up on us, then turns and runs back. We finally get her to pass us, so we can go back and forth on the trail chasing butterflies. We have many new satyrs for our trip, and most are quite fresh. Mike finds a couple of different skippers, and there are many that get away. None of the Leptophobia will stop for pictures, but due to all the fresh cow poop on the trail many of the satyrs are at our feet and happy to pose. At least 4 species of Pedalioides, Corades chelonis, Lasiophila prosymna, Lymanopoda obsoleta – with the pink bands below, Pronophila orcus, and several others we’ll have to figure out later.

The sun comes and goes all day, but stays out until 5 or later, so it’s a wonderful day. Because we’re on the west side of the mountain it takes longer for the sun to get on the trail, but once it’s out for a while, even if the fog comes in again (which it does several times) the butterflies stay active. I think if it’s cool and drizzly all morning the butterflies don’t ever come up from where they’ve snugged in for the previous night.

Thur Aug 5 – our driver comes for us and we leave at 7am to drive back towards Bogota and to the southwest, to La Mesa. We are stuck in heavy traffic w/lots of trucks, and realize we should have left earlier, maybe at 5am, to avoid some of the traffic. Pablo usually leaves early, but he has bird groups, and our butterfly group isn’t as hard core. Anyway, what normally takes him an hour and a half takes us over 2 hours, but we’re still in the field walking the road by 9:30 or so.

We turn off the main road up to the right on a paved cement road, right past a tasty restaurant El Rancho de Jario, where we have a late lunch afterward.  We get out of the van after driving up 10-15 minutes and immediately see new butterflies. Marpesia corinna males and a white banded female are nectaring on a nearby bush, similar to cordia flowers, along w/waiter daggerwings, M.zernythia.

As we walk the road we see lots of new stuff. One of the most exciting is one we don’t get shots of, Cybdelis mnasylus, a beautiful purple spotted nymphalid. We walk in about a km and find some great stands of white flowers that the clearwings are coming to, and get many new species. The common pattern here seems to be the transparent amber ones, like Dircenna, and we get probably half a dozen variations. We get good shots of our first hairstreak, Theritas mavors, in the parking lot of the restaurant after lunch.

We also see a bunch of birds, everyone’s favorite is the black inca.

After lunch we drive down to through the small town of Tena, to a bridge and an old trail paved w/large stones that goes up to the left, about 1600-1700 meters. This is called Salto de Tambo, and we find out from a local the road is from colonial times, probably 150 years ago. Here we find lots of a new dartwhite or Catasticta, and Deb gets some shots of it. I try to catch it to shoot the dorsal, but no luck. This looks like a good butterfly spot, but it’s now 4:30pm and overcast, so we don’t see much, but some new sulphurs.

More new birds, as I find Colombian wren.

We drive on to the town of La Mesa where there are a couple of hotels. Pablo has reservations at one but we don’t like it and go to another. His original is El Recreo, but it is dark, smelly and has a noisy barking dog in the courtyard. We find the Santa Barbara Hotel which is new and much nicer, even if it is on the street. I have a room overlooking the street, but it quiets down nicely about 8:30pm. No a/c or hot water, but they do have a nice fan, and it’s fine.

Fri Aug 6 – back to El Rancho de Jairo for breakfast, they open at 7am, then back up the road towards the laguna at Pedro Palo. We have to hunt for the turquoise dacnis, the speciality bird here, but we manage to see it several times, always at the top of the tree so we don’t get killer views. This is a good birding place, we’re constantly serenaded by yellow-backed orioles and lots of black-capped tanagers.

Today we walk in another km past the white flowers, where the road gets too muddy and we leave the van. We walk down towards the laguna seeing many birds in the melastoma which are fruiting, but few butterflies because it’s overcast. Nothing on the white flowers today.

After several hours we decide to go back to Salto de Dambo, as it might be warmer lower down, and we strike it rich there. The sun comes out and we spend another several hours chasing bugs, skipping lunch and starving poor Pablo and the driver. We need to carry lunch stuff w/us, even tuna or peanut butter and crackers, because when the sun does come out you don’t want to waste prime butterfly time sitting in a restaurant somewhere.

We see many hairstreaks, Mike seems to have a knack for finding them. He gets the big damo, silver-banded, fine-lined stripestreak, and lots of garden skippers, like glassy-winged, Xenophanes tryxus and Pompeius pompeius. I catch a new Mimoides swallowtail, our first swallowtail, and there are Pink-checked Cattlehearts, Parides xxx. Lots of butterflies, totally different range of species than the higher spot just 400-500 meters higher up the hill.

Interesting that yesterday the higher spot was better, and today the lower spot was the hot location. We then drive 2 hours back to our hotel in Bogota. We can’t get a taxi for Crepes y Wafles, it’s Friday night and it looks like everyone is out on the streets as we drive in through horrendous traffic. Even the hotel desk can’t get through to the taxi place, so we walk to Wok where we get delicious sandwiches and stir fry.

Sat Aug 7 – 5:30am departure for an hour drive east to Guasca for breakfast at a simple bakery, then an hour more towards Chingaza National Park up at 3000 meters. We turn off to yet another slow dirt road and walk along, finding 3 great birds right away. Mattoral tapaculo responds to Pablo’s tape and we get to see a mythical tapaculo actually singing not 5’ from us. Then we find a pair of black-billed mountain-tanagers that pose nicely for photos, and then several groups of brown-breasted or flame-winged parakeets fly around and perch several times for more photos.

Then the sun breaks through briefly and we see lots of 2 new species of satyrs, probably both Pedaliodes. One with beautiful orange bands on the dorsals of both wings, and a bigger one with bright rufous on the ventral hindwing. I chase them back and forth through a barbwire fence, becoming adept at slithering through the strands, and Mike gets good shots from the road. We eventually get good shots, and the bigger one poses nicely on Mike’s camera and his hand, sucking up sweat. We also see a big Lasiophila, which I get to shoot in the hand when it tries to hide in some bamboo when it starts to rain.

So we have a great day in the higher elevations, also finding a few new hummers including coppery-breasted puffleg and amethyst-throated sunangel, both new for me. Pablo was hoping for blue-throated starfrontlet, but the flowers weren’t right.

On our way back we stop at a high pass about 3500 meters and get out to look for hummers coming to the special Espeletia plant, an amazing composite that looks like an agave. It only grows in the paramo, above the tree line, in Colombia and a bit of Venezuela. It’s taller than Pablo, and the hummers love it. I’ve never seen hummers come to composites before, but many things are new here. Pablo has seen the bronze-tailed thornbill here, but not today.

We finish our day by stopping at a marsh near Bogota where Pablo finds us Bogota rail, and noble snipe, 2 more new ones for me. Not bad for a butterfly trip.

Sun Aug 8 – we leave Bogota and drive east again 2 hours to Monterredondo for the day then another hour to Villavicencio for 2 nights. This is on the eastern slope at a lower elevation about 600-700 meters.  We turn off the main highway at the small town of Monterredondo about 1400 meters then climb a steep rocky road to about 1900, where we have to park and walk from there.

We climb another 200 meters slowly over the morning, seeing lots of new butterflies who are zipping by up and down the hill and not stopping at all. There are 2 species of Panacea, the one I know with the bright red ventral hindwing, Panacea prola, and a new one that is dark below. It’s frustrating as they don’t even perch anywhere to allow you to check them out w/your binos, but finally Pablo scores with a great dorsal, and Deb gets a good ventral. That’s why it’s nice to have a number of photographers along. I never even get a look at one. More different satyrs, a couple more new Pedaliodes and a darker Pronophila that Deb gets good shots of. We get a fabulous new brushfinch, the Ochre-breasted, bright orange head and breast, a truly beautiful bird, probably the prettiest brushfinch I’ve ever seen. Pablo is looking for Cundinamarca antpitta, which they usually find a bit higher on this road, but he only hears it distantly.

We’re probably going to stop here on our way back to Bogota next week and rent a jeep to drive us higher up on the road. There is a major landslide between here and Bogota, which has been opened a bit for one lane traffic. It just happened about 2 weeks ago, good thing we’re here in August and not July. Apparently the rains were very heavy this July.

We get to Villavicencio about 5pm, which is kind of a grotty lowland town, and find our hotel the Travel Blue. Our rooms are right over the noisy street, and seeing as the hotel is empty we bitch and snivel and finally get the clerk to let us switch to the back side of the hotel. I don’t know why she was giving us those not nice rooms, when much better ones were open. But we get rooms at last where we can get a decent night’s sleep. She was telling us the rooms on the back side were all 3 and 4 beds, so more expensive, but when we got her to open them for our inspection, surprise only 1 bed. We eat dinner at the Chinese restaurant right next door which is a bit pricey but very tasty.

Mon Aug 9 – take a jeep about 10 minutes to the good birding habitat, where we have the jeep driver take us up about 400 meters on a steep rocky road to the Orange-breasted Falcon reserve by ProAves. ProAves has bought land and set up about a dozen reserves around Colombia, and they are doing a fabulous job of conservation. Several of their reserves now have simple lodges where you can stay, we will be visiting a couple of them on the 2nd trip. This reserve doesn’t have any place to stay, it’s just land they have set aside.

We get out of the jeep about 1100-1150 meters and start exploring. This area is called Bosque Bavaria. The name Bosque Bavaria means the forest next to the beer distillery, which owns a big chunk of forest for their water supply. We spend several hours just at this spot and a couple of hundred meters up the road before slowly walking back down the road, photographing all the way.

We see lots of butterflies, including lots of the Panacea prola but none of the new Panacea from yesterday. Lots of Heliconius and lower elevation satyrs and some new Riodinids, including the great Lyropteryx apollonia metalmark. There were also lots of Ithomiinae, mostly tigerwings. I shot several new species, big ones like Melinaea and little Hypothyris, and several in between. The pattern here appears to be much blacker than in other places I’ve seen. The hindwings are often almost all black, maybe an orange trim, very beautiful. It will be fun sorting them all out when I get home. We don’t see tons of birds as we’re concentrating on butterflies, but a moustached puffbird can’t be ignored, and paradise tanagers are always appreciated.

Tue Aug 10 – we spend a few hours back at the lower part of the Bosque Bavaria road, then fly to  Macarena to the south, about an hour on a great old DC3. It has jump seats on the sides and is carrying mostly freight, including a motocycle right in front of Sherry and me.

The plane must be older than I am, but lots of fun. Then they unload the luggage using a horse drawn wagon, great for photos. The guy from the hotel meets us at the airport and we walk a couple of blocks to our home for the next 4 nights, the simple but friendly Las Cascades.

We’re going to be exploring Cano Cristales, a beautiful clear stream that is lined with colorful mosses. The first afternoon we take a ride on an open narrow wooden boat on the good sized river, Rio Guayabero. We get caught in a good squall, so we dash upriver to a house we hide out in while the storm blows over. In an hour we’re back on the river, seeing all sorts of gallery forest birds like hoatzin, capped heron, great ani and several macaws. Tomorrow we’re off to Cristales.

Wed Aug 11 – We take the boat again for about 10 minutes upriver, then take a great old Toyota land cruiser, made in 1982, across about 8 km of very bad road, through stream beds and over rocks. The driver is very good and obviously knows the road extremely well, because he takes that car places I would never think of driving, but we get there in one piece.

Pablo has gotten us special permission to drive in the last 2 km, to save us the walk. We first think it’s because he tells the military that we’re doing scientific research on butterflies, but then we find out it’s because he told them we were old and needed the extra transport. Whatever works, it saves us several km of walking. So we make it to the river, where we have to show our passports and check in again. We had to show them at the boat landing in town as well.

This area was until very recently quite dangerous and tourists couldn’t come here, but the military has moved in with a very large presence, and all movement is strictly controlled. This is the base for all the amazon military operations, so there are lots of trucks and tons of soldiers. But, as always in Colombia, they are extremely polite and friendly and very professional, and it makes you feel safe to have them around. At the river they even happily pose for our cameras, smiling like the nice young men they are.

The river is amazing, words can not describe it. It is filled with soft flowing puffy pink and purple plants that look like moss but they are soft to the touch, truly magical stuff. The water is clear and just the right temperature, and the rocks are carved into fantastical shapes and holes. The pink plant only grows at a certain depth, close to the sun and the surface, so the deeper pools are lined w/pink and then clear and green in the center. We take a couple of million photos trying to capture it, and I’m sure we fail utterly. You have to see it to believe it.

Pablo tells us the pink stuff is endemic to the Macarena Mountains, which go up to about 2000 meters. There is another ancient endemic plant, Bellasia macarenensis, and many weird looking plants all over. And we see good butterflies, even though it is a overcast, dark day. I hope we get some sun in the next couple of days, because I think the butterflies will be great, and Pablo also says the pink plant gets even more gorgeous in the sun.

This is the lowest elevation of our trip, and we see a number of metalmark species, many of them in our southern Amazonia book. Alesa amesis, several Nymphidium, and Mike finds a very fresh cassiope owl, Selenophanes cassiope. I catch it to shoot the dorsal, and when Mike comes out of the bushes to see it he runs into a wasp nest and is attacked, so we all have to run. Fortunately I hang onto the owl, so we can stop and take our photos a 100 meters or so down the trail.

Thur Aug 12 – back to the boat/land cruiser transport, and to the pink river. Today we cross the river, having to wade, then go a couple of km up the road. This is an illegal road made by the guerillas about 10 years ago. It goes up a small hill, maybe 75 meters or so, then down into taller forest.

The morning is again overcast and dark, sprinkles of rain on and off, and it’s very quiet for birds and not too many butterflies either. But after lunch the sun comes out and we find several new goodies. My favorite is a large brown and orange Myscelus that is hilltopping on our way back. This turns out to be Azonax typhaon, a new genus for me. We keep trying to get his picture when he lands on a couple of bushes above our heads, but he always quickly moves and orients towards us. We can’t run him off, but we can’t get the definitive photo either, though we get shots good enough to id it, hopefully.

More new riodinids, and big sulphurs start to come out. We make it back to the river and spend an hour or more in the water, which feels fabulous. This is probably the best swimming hole I’ve ever been in, in any country. The guys lead us to a large pool, a couple of hundred feet long w/a waterfall coming into the upper end. Yerlis the local guide has a mask so you can swim upstream, close to the waterfall, exploring underwater, then let the current take you down into the pool over long areas of pink moss, which is luxuriously soft to the touch, then out over the dropoff into the cool green water, truly magical.

This is a unique place, and we have it all to ourselves. Don’t come on the weekend, as they tell me there can be 50-100+ visitors. You can walk upstream for 10-20 miles, so you can always walk a long way and get away from the crowd, but now we only see a few people all day, and have the whole enormous pool to ourselves, except for the occasional soldier who strolls by w/his rifle.

Fri Aug 13 – our last day at the pink river. We have to choose whether to go back through the pasture to the edge of the woods, where we went the first day, or back up the hill across the river from the second day. Or we can rock jump upstream and bushwhack up the river. The guys tells us there are beautiful cascades about 15-30 minutes upstream, but we’re more interested in butterflies and birds. Not enough time to fully explore this exceptional area.

Last time Pablo camped at the river, w/the solders, but our group preferred to stay in the small friendly town in a nice simple hotel La Cascada, email jofremoar@hotmail.com, and eat our meals at the restaurant Fondo Azul they sent us to. The food is tasty, the dorado fish is excellent, they get up early to have our breakfast waiting, preordered the night before, when we get there at 6am, and the owner personally serves us. Eggs scrambled with onions and tomato is called perichos, and served with arepas this is a tasty breakfast.

This town has only recently started seeing international visitors, so we’re happy to spend money around the town w/different stores. Of course we have to check out the different panadarias near by, the turnovers w/areiquipe (caramel) are good.  All in all a very comfortable place to spend several days.

For our last day we choose to go back and work the forest trail, through the pasture, where we were the first day. This turns out to be a good choice, as the sun comes out and it is nice and sunny all day long, after morning drizzles. The difference between today w/sun and 2 days ago w/overcast is very interesting, as we see almost all different species. Before we had many riodinids, now we get the big nymphalids or brushfoots. Many typical Amazonian lowland species like Dirce Beauty or Colobura dirce, 2 species of Catonephele, and we start to see some leafwings, both Memphis and Zaretis. Also a goodly selection of Adelpha or Sisters.

We stay busy most of the day and make it back to the river by mid afternoon, where Debbie and Sherry go to the lower big pool and the others hike up to a higher pool, where we find the soldiers. I go across the river and behind a big rock to change clothes and find another soldier, who graciously offers his hand and helps me jump across some rocks, his rifle in his other hand. I change and come back to the lovely big pool, where again it is delightful. This place looks like it was designed as a movie set, it doesn’t look real.

I’ve never swum w/soldiers before, who leave their rifles on the bank, across the water from us, some of them using their vests because I don’t think they can swim. This pool is deeper then yesterday’s, maybe 10-20’, gloriously clear and cool. Then Pablo and Yerlis take me upstream to the cascade, about a 20 minute rock scramble along a small trail. The river is quite low for this time of the year, normally this is the rainy season but not too heavy. The heaviest months are May and November, and the dry season is late December, January and February. But the river is a couple of feet below normal for this time of the year. I highly recommend this trip, as the river is truly unique and the people here are very friendly and happy to see tourists.

The soldiers make you feel safe, and they are also very welcoming. Yerlis is a great local guide, always attentive and jumping in to help, he carries our bolsas de agua (you have to buy plastic bags of water 5 liters for 3000 pesos about $1.50) and he develops an excellent eye for finding butterflies, especially under leaves.

And there are good butterflies. The 2 trails we worked had almost completely different fauna, you could probably assemble an impressive anazonian list here, with some input from the llanos and some Andean species as well. Today on the way out we had 3 new species, Mimoides pausanias, a new Memphis and a great skipper, the black with blue spots Mictris crispus, and Yerlis found me a new Nascus, a big orange spreadwing skipper.

Sat Aug 14 – we have a couple of hours to bird and butterfly on a road out of town, then catch our flight at 11:15am back to Villavicencio. Apparently all the flights to Macarena come from Villavicencio.  We take a couple of motos, which are 3 wheel motocycles that work as taxis, out of town on the dirt road to Cachicamo, stopping at La Balastrera.

After passing through another inspection point where we have to show passports to soldiers, we get out and walk a mile or so along a very promising looking road, forest on one side and more open shrubby stuff on the other. Even though it is drizzling, we find some pale yellow clearwings coming to yellow flowers on small trees, probably Callithomis of some sort, but we can’t get any photos. We do see great looks at yellow-bellied dacnis.

Sun Aug 15 – today is our first real rainy day. We go up to Buenavista, about 1400-1500 meters above Villavicencio, and get dropped off by taxis at La Piedra del Amor, a mirador turistico which is closed. Unfortunately it’s raining by 9am. We hang around in a few different shelters waiting for it to clear, but it just continues to get heavier, so finally we throw in the towel, call the taxis and head back to the Travel Blue hotel.

We’re changing hotels, as we aren’t thrilled with the Travel Blue. Pablo has found us a nice place a few steps up in quality, which should be much quieter, cleaner, and hopefully friendlier, for $14/person/night more. It’s a deal, at the Hotel El Caimito, near a big shopping center so we have more choice in restaurants as well.

We have a late lunch at the fish restaurant across the street on the corner, and the fish soup is delicious. 8000 pesos for a big bowl of soup and fried fish with rice, so it’s cheap too. Good thing we came back, as it rains heavily all the rest of the afternoon. For dinner we go to the Unicenter giant mall right down the street, the hotel has recommended Oliva in the food court, and it is a great recommendation. Delicious pizzas, great maracuya con leche drinks (passion fruit w/milk) and tasty bruschetta, plus we pig out on ice cream at Polys on the floor below. If you can’t chase butterfies, might as well eat, that’s my motto. We also hit the atm here, a safe place to get more money.

Mon Aug 16 – We decide to try Buenavista again, as the day looks a bit brighter than yesterday though still overcast. This turns out to work well, as the sun comes out by mid morning and pretty soon we have tons of bugs.

This road has people living along it in places and there are several simple wood frame structures being built where small clearings have been made. This means lots of weedy open areas, and lots of the small white flowers the clearwings like, so we’re busy photographing a variety of small tigerwings, satyrs, and several new species for our trip. By noon we decide to get taxis and head over to Bosque Bavaria, which is about 600-700 meters lower, so it’s a quite different mix of species.

Bosque Bavaria is much better forest, no people living there, but it’s a very steep road. After yesterday’s heavy rains even a jeep is going to have trouble getting up the road, so we just take taxis and have them drop us at the bottom, then walk up the lower part of the road. There are lots of butterflies here, such a difference some sun makes. So we have a great afternoon there, and come home w/lots of photos to keep us busy. Villavicencio is a good base to work out of with these 2 locations near town. It’s a good sized city, maybe 500,000 people, so it’s crowded, noisy and not quaint, but a good variety of butterflies near town.

Bosque Bavaria is maybe 10 minutes by car, and Buenavista is maybe 20-25. You can move easily between the 2, as we did today. You do need a cell phone to call a taxi from Buenavista, but from Bosque Bavaria we just walked to the bottom of the road and flagged one down to head back to town. Taxis are inexpensive, we paid 5000 COP to come back from Bosque Bavaria, maybe 15 minutes to our hotel. That’s $2.50 for 3-4 of us.

Tue Aug 17 – we leave Villavicencio and drive back towards Bogota, stopping again at Monterredondo. This time Pablo has hired a jeep to take us up the steep rocky road, so we can get higher than we could get w/our van. The van driver wasn’t too happy about going back up that road anyway. The jeep wasn’t in our budget, so it costs an additional $11/person, so jeeps aren’t cheap.

But he gets us up quite high, about 2400-2500 meters, and leaves us so we start walking down. He’ll be back about 2:30pm and find us along the road. It’s nice and sunny when he leaves us, about 10:30am (there was lots of road construction between here and Villavicencio, which added at least an hour to what should have been only an hour trip) and we see some new Pedaliodes, but then it clouds up and by 12:30 we’re worried about rain.

It looks very threatening, so Pablo calls the jeep guy and begs him to come back early. One of the amazing things about Colombia is Pablo has cell coverage almost everywhere. So he can call up a taxi or his driver at any time, even when you’re out in the boonies and haven’t seen a soul all day. Very convenient.

We’re looking for Cundinamarca Antpitta, this road is the place for them. Pablo tapes one in, but I miss it, I’m behind the wrong tree and can’t see it. The others get decent looks, just another reason to come back. Of course, now it clears up by 2pm and is sunny again, and suddenly we get several new butterflies. The most spectacular is a very cooperative Elzunia xxx, which after much patience on our part decides to sit on the road, and eventually even on Mike’s finger. This is a fabulous black, yellow and dark orange ithomiinae, found in cloud forest. A very different genus from the other Ithomiinae. We also get a Potomanaxas skipper, a fresh female Catonephele chromis, and we find a tree that is full of the dark Panaceas, plus a couple of big leafwings, Archaeoprepona meander. They’re clustering around the main trunk of a 6” diameter tree with lots of lichen on it.

There’s at least a dozen butterflies up about 20’, so we play w/digiscoping them. We can’t figure out what they’re eating, if it’s the sap or something in the lichen. It’s odd, as there are many similar trees, but they’re only on this one. We can’t see any sap wounds on the tree, but it’s fun to watch so many fighting and interacting together.

We finally make it back to Bogota and Casona del Patio for our last night together, and our final Crepes y Waffles dinner. Tomorrow Debbie and Sherry fly back to the States, Pablo flies back to Medellin (his home town) while Mike and I head to Rogitama near Arcabuco off the main highway to Bucaramanga, on the east side of the eastern andes about 2600 meters. This place has been regenerated in only 20 years from an open paddock to a great hummingbird garden and some forest by Robert and Ginette Chavarro, and it’s a particularly good spot for black inca, which is their star hummer.

Wed Aug 18 – Mike and I take a bus from the huge bus station in Bogota heading northeast to Bucaramanga for 27,000 pesos (about $14-15) and get off at a restaurant in Arcabuco, where the bus stops for a rest break.

There are many bus lines to choose from, but Pablo recommends Berlinas. You have to ask the taxi driver to take you to the terminal for buses going to the north, terminal 3. Biggest bus station I’ve ever seen, very clean and lots of security. We need to show passports to get our tickets, then again to get into the waiting area.

A driver is waiting for us in Arcabuco, and takes us the 10 minutes to Rogitama, where we’ll be for the next 3 nights. They have nice, simple rooms, hot water which is critical at this elevation, and very tasty food. And a garden full of hummers.

It’s cold and rainy when we arrive, and stays that way most of the afternoon, so we don’t do too much exploring today. The wife of the caretaker, our cook, is very accommodating, and brings me delicious hot herbal tree from leaves in their garden. Hopefully tomorrow morning will be sunny, and we can look for butterflies.

Thur Aug 19 – We wake early to fog at dawn, but by breakfast it’s clearing off, and the morning gets nice and sunny. We explore up a trail off the right side of the house, as you face it, and come to some old fields where they have a few horses who are happy to see us because they think we bring food. When they realize we don’t have any, they go away, and we chase butterflies all morning.

There are gorgeous Colias sulphurs where the front wing is bright orange and the hindwing paler yellow, several new satyrs including a Pedaliodes with bright rufous on the trailing edge of the dorsal hind wing, and many different species that get away. I find out later from Hannier this is an undescribed species of Pedaliodes. One I really wanted is a new crescent with dark orange on the fw and white on the hw, it looks like a small Adelpha or sister on the wing.

We bushwhack above the paddocks up to a ridge, then work out way back down to more meadows out north of the house which are full of clover, and many more Colias sulphurs. After lunch Yinette the cook takes us and shows us roosting tropical screech-owls. Not a bad day, except for our shoes are soaked walking through tall wet grass everywhere. We get more heavy rain late in the afternoon about 4:30pm, but we’re in by then so no problem.

Fri Aug 20 – After talking to Roberto last night, we go up through the right hand horse pasture, fighting off the aggressive colt who’s starting to feel his oats and is possessive about ‘his’ field. There are several pastures above, steeply climbing (we can feel the elevation) and lots of flowering shrubs. They have a maze of small pastures, divided by hedgerows and mora or blackberry lines. Many of the pastures have tall wet grasses w/lots of small flowers, so it’s a good habitat to wander around in.

Lots of satyrs come out of the shrubby bits and bask in the grasses. Probably 5-6 species of Pedaliodes, Lymanopoda obsoleta (which seems to be common at elevation), a couple of Catastictas or Dartwhites, and we finally see Morpho sulkowski sailing through like a glowing lavender lantern. There are lots of Vettius coryna, more than I’ve ever seen before.

Today Yinette gives me a pair of rubber boots to use, which saves me from wet shoes. I wear a woman’s size 9, which is a metric 42. This is about as big as boots get here in South America, so if you have larger feet than that, as many guys do, you’re out of luck. I often buy a pair in country and leave them at the end of my trip, so I don’t have to haul them along on the international flight. This place is a good place for boots, not that it’s terribly muddy but you’re walking through tall wet grasses a lot, as they don’t have wide trails, just paths or often we just wander around in the pastures/meadows.

Up higher, above the pastures into the woods, we have a batch of pine trees where everything is covered w/needles and no butterflies. We continue on up and find a small path off to the right into oaks, a very quick habitat change. Into the oaks we find clearwings, at least 2 species – Oleria makrena and a Greta with a lovely peachy band on the fw. They’re coming to small white flowers growing on shrubs that reach about 10-12’ high, difficult to pull down for photos. Most of the flowers are past blooming, it would be great to see them when the flowers were fresh.

After lunch the driver comes and takes us to see the tourist town of Villa de Leyva, where I thought the Instituto Humboldt was located, but I’m wrong. It’s nearby in another town, so we just drive around the clean, uniformly built colonial town, all buildings are white w/red tile roofs. Many foreigners are building houses up in the hills nearby, it’s become another retirement destination. Seems somewhat Disneyland-ish to me, a bit artificial, but I’m glad to see it. Lots of tourists and students on the streets, which are old cobblestone and tough on cars, not to mention walking. We’re glad to get back to Rogitama, where it’s quiet and peaceful.

Sat Aug 21 – the last morning, and we decide to wander the pastures around the house instead of hiking back up the hill. We kick up several new satyrs and manage to catch a Lasiophila and shoot it in the hand, which will help w/identification.

We have an early lunch and Ginette takes us out their bad road to meet a taxi on the main highway, who takes us an hour to Tunja where we catch an immediate bus back to Bogota for 17,000 COP. It takes about 2 hours to the edge of Bogota, then another hour+ to get to the bus terminal, in what seems to be a perpetual traffic jam.

Traffic is horrendous in Bogota, I’m glad I don’t live here. At the bus terminal you stand in line for a taxi, tell the woman where you’re going and get a piece of paper w/your cost, then go outside and take the first taxi and give him the paper. It’s organized so you know you’re getting a regular taxi and you know the cost. Dash to the local El Puente Aereo (air bridge) for my Avianca flight to Medellin, about an hour flight. I make it to the Casa Asturias by 9:30pm, after leaving Rogitama at noon.

Sun Aug 22 – Richard and Shirley flew in yesterday, but their luggage didn’t make it. So today they have to go back to the airport, 45 minutes away, and pick up their luggage, check it through the x-ray, and bring it back to the hotel. This is the only country where I’ve had lost luggage not be delivered to your hotel. At least American Airlines provided the taxi to pick them up and take them back, but it’s a waste of a couple of hours of their time.

We’re told by Colombian friends this has happened to them as well. But Juan G. meets us at noon at the Carrefour de Las Vegas, a big shopping center, where we ride in his car up to La Romera road, about 1900 meters. Medellin is about 1500 meters, so we have nice views over the city.

One nice thing that happens to me at the shopping center is I leave my binoculars in the taxi that drops us off to meet w/Juan (like a peabrain), and don’t realize it until we’re pulling away from the pickup spot. Juan is trying to call our hotel, as they ordered the taxi, when we see our taxi driver across the big street, across the median. He’s waving my binoculars, he’s found them, circled back and found us, and brings my binos back to me. What a nice guy! So we’re off to La Romera, binos in hand. This is a good road near town for birds and butterflies, and we have a great sunny afternoon.

Juan has some rotten fish bait, and it works like a magnet. Very fresh Rhetus dysoni, Napaea, several species of crescents including a new white banded Anthanassa, and a cooperative Heliconius. Juan gives us a bottle of his fish bait to use at the next location, and we buy a small batch of shrimp at the store and talk the hotel into letting us use their blender to liquefy them with water. Talk about strange looks. When we explain it’s for butterflies, they really think we’ve lost it.

Mon Aug 23 – off to ProAve’a Piha reserve, or Arrierito Antioquenuo, for 4 nights about 4 hours north of Medellin. This is where the central andes come to their end in the north, and is a great area for endemism.

We stop at a road to the offices and some brick houses for the large dam they’ve built at the river at the bottom of the valley before climbing up to the Piha reserve. There is a road to the right, just before the major bridge across the river, where you see a sign Oficinas de Tablon a bit up the hill. We continue up the paved road until it turns to dirt, past the brick houses on your right, and get out and walk a bit. The dirt road Y’s, we go down to the left and cross a small stream. This place is loaded with butterflies.

Of course it’s the middle of the day and sunny, but it is a good place to explore. It’s about 850 meters. We only walk a couple of hundred meters to the stream, Pablo arranges some rocks so we can hop across, and up to a large gate to a big field. There are lots of new species for our trip, several leafwings (a new Memphis and Archaeoprepona amphimachus, both of which are coming to some poop so I get good shots) and lots of skippers coming to the flowers. Some beautiful Callicore pitheas, the pink one with 2 big circles, and another Callicore I’m not sure of. Wish we had more time here, lots of stuff flies by, tigerwings and other Nymphalids and Skippers.

At the stream we see out first Gorgopas chlorocephalas, a black skipper with a stunning green head. We finally make it on up to the Piha reserve, one of the great ProAve reserves. This has 4 nice rooms, and they’ve added hummingbird feeders in the last 6 months, so it’s buzzing w/hummers. We see western emerald, Andean emerald, green-crowned woodnymph, green-crowned brilliant, a nice mix of Andean and a few choco species.

The choco wraps around the northern end of the central andes here, so it’s a transition zone. Lower down, about 1100 meters on our way up the hill, we stopped and looked for scarlet and white tanagers, a choco speciality which Pablo has seen here. It was hot and about 1pm, so not a good time for birds. The reserve is in cool often foggy cloud forest, but when the sun comes out there can be lots of butterflies. We walk up the road after lunch for maybe a km and find purplish-mantled tanager, one of my favorites, and later Shirley and Pablo get great looks at the chestnut-capped piha, the namesake and reason for this preserve.

Tue/Wed/Thur Aug 24/25/26 – We walk the road and explore the trails here at Piha reserve. It’s nice not to have to use a vehicle. The dirt road is good to work in both directions. To the left there is a big left hand turn over a creek and a ravine, and we make this an official pee spot, maybe 5-10 minutes away. Butterflies often like to use these ravines and seem to like curves.

A bit past this curve are the steep stairs leading up to the start of the trail system, good thing they’ve got study handrails.  At the top of the stairs there is a ‘Y’, the left hand trail is new to me. It goes more through second growth and is more open. Shirley goes up there one day and gets a number of different species, a lovely Oxeoshistus that poses well, and some different Ithomiinae.

One morning I go up and flush a white-tailed nightjar from the start of this trail. The main trail goes to the right paralleling the small stream, and it goes for miles. Most people spend a full day up this trail, it climbs quite a bit to some ridges and is in good, dark, wet forest. Jose the ranger even brings you a hot lunch at noon, so you can spend the entire day on the trail.

Shirley spends the first day up here w/Pablo, looking for birds, and they get good looks at multicolored tanager, one of the specialities here, plus lots of purplish-mantled tanagers and more pihas. Richard and I work the lower parts of the trail, before it starts to climb so steeply. He puts out tons of spitwads, using salt water instead of spit. This way he can refresh them a couple of times/day w/a spray bottle.

Some of the best bait to use is human urine and feces, we call it poop. The leafwings and owls in particular come to the poop. Richard gets shots of one I’ve never seen, Consul panariste. I go back and hang around some the next 2 days, but no luck. A very fresh Caligo atreus is so engrossed that I pick him up and shoot him in the hand, showing his beautiful creamy band around the hindwings and the rich purple on the forewing. I have to use 2 fingers to hold his wings open, he’s so large.

We have 1 fairly nice, sunny day, but the other 2 days are more fog and cool overcast than sun. We find some butterflies everyday, but on the overcast days it’s more walking than photographing. On the sunny day we see a number of species we don’t see again. To the right, from the reserve, you can walk a km or so through increasingly better habitat, past another big curve this time to the right where there is another good ravine. It can be productive to walk this way on the road, to the right, for birding as well. I’ve seen several good flocks on this part of the road, and easy looks at the piha, plus brown-billed scythebill, a real stunner.

Pablo had pavonine cuckoo here in January at one of the overlooks. One day I go quite a ways to the right on the road, and find different species, including a new gorgeous satyr that keeps landing too high up the fern covered bank, then is scared off by a bus and comes back low down so I can photograph it. It looks like a cross between Pareuptychia metaleuca and a Splendeuptychia species, I’ll have to figure it out when I get back to my books. It’s one I’ve never seen. It’s nice to have several days to work the area, as the weather is so changeable it’s impossible to predict. We have rain everyday, but not hours of it. It would have been nice to have more sun, but that’s why it’s a cloud forest.

Fri Aug 27 – After our last morning here, our driver shows up after lunch and takes us the 4 hours back to Medellin, to the Casa Asturias. Juan Guillermo has us to his home for dinner w/his wife and a few friends, Martin Moreno and Luis Alvardo, both butterfly photographers.

Sat Aug 28 – Juan, Martin and Luis take us to their new favorite place, Humidal de Bramadora near Sopetran to the northwest of Medellin. This is through the tunnel and to a much drier habitat, with cactus.

Many of the butterflies we see are from Mexico and Central America, but either are different subspecies than I’m familiar with, or at least new to my Colombian list. I get great photos of a new skipper for me, Aethilla lavochrea, the Yellow-rimmed Skipper. We have a great day, as it’s sunny but with some high clouds so it’s not too hot. They tell me this place can be really hot, and I believe them.

Sun Aug 29 – Pablo takes Shirley and me back to La Romera, but it’s a rainy, cool day and we only see a few butterflies. We do get killer shots of a fresh Marpesia corinna, one of the orange and purple daggerwings. We also have a gold Perisama that likes my sweat and spends time on my hand for photos. Fred flies in tonight, so we’re all together for the rest of the trip.

Mon Aug 30 – 6am departure for breakfast on the road and a butterfly stop on the way to Rio Claro. We have breakfast at Palacio de los Frijoles, a tasty restaurant about 1.5 hours from Medellin.

Afterwards we wander down the dirt road just a few 100 meters from the restaurant, the old road to Corcona. At first it’s slow, but then we find some good butterflies, including a fresh Pyrrhopyge phidias (probably) that lets me lift his wing to shoot the ventral with the thinner white section and several other grass skippers w/white below coming to poop.

We get great shots of Panoquina evadnes and a Niconiades, probably N.nikko. We get all the way down to the big bridge over the river and go to a beach a bit beyond where we see, and photograph, my first Cunizza hirlandiaXXX a spectacular yellow and orange Pierid.

Shirley finds her life beautiful woodpecker on the way back to the car, so a good day is had by all. Then we drive about another 1.5-2 hours to Rio Claro for the next 3 nights, arriving late afternoon. We are in Cabanas La Mulata, the new cabins before you get to the restaurant. There are some old dorm type places behind the restaurant, where Pablo stays, and another dorm set several hundred meters up river. There is a trail that runs along the river for a long way. This is a favorite swimming retreat on the weekends for folks from Medellin.

Tue/Wed Aug 31/Sep 1 – The first night we have a tremendous thunder and lightning storm, it must last 3-4 hours and makes it difficult to sleep. The cabins are open windows so you really get to experience the storm, even though we’re on the bottom floor.

There is a 2nd floor of rooms above, where I was the first time I was here, and the walls are only waist high, so the rain blows in. At first I’m disappointed we’re not on the top floor, and they tell us we can move the 2nd day, but after the previous night we all vote to stay where we are. We must have gotten 6” or more of rain, I’ve never been in a storm that intense. It knocks out the power which takes 2 days to restore, so we have to be judicious w/batteries. Pablo even takes Richard and Shirley’s batteries into town the 2nd night to recharge them. We get power back the afternoon of our 3rd day, so we can look at our photos.

And we have lots of photos. Richard puts out his salt water spitwads, and the skippers come out in droves after the heavy rain. It will be interesting to get our final count, but we have many species. Just working the road from our cabins to the restaurant, maybe a 5-10 minute walk, can take an hour or more w/all the skippers to shoot. We see lots of different species from when I was here before in July 2008, so I’m very glad we’ve come back. There is also a trail that heads up to the ridge that is very productive, though it gets steep and muddy. All in all we wish we had more time here.

The last night we walk about 20 minutes up river from the restaurant and come to the oilbird cave, where we sit on the beach and wait for them to come out at dusk from the cave across the river from us. The river is high, due to the rains, and there is a small waterfall pouring out of the cave where they nest, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. At dark they start to come out, making all their weird squawks and squeals. Then we have to walk back in the dark w/headlamps, but well worth doing.

Another possibility we didn’t have time to do is to go to the Condor Cave, where you walk up a shallow stream and can see oilbirds in another cave. Last time my friends went here and had a number of different species of butterflies as well.

Thur Sep 2 – drive back to Medellin, about 3 hours, drop Pablo off at a bus stop, and head onto the west, crossing the Cauca river, to Jardin, a lovely little coffee town about 1750-1800 meters.

We stay at the nicest hotel around, about a km beyond the town, the Hotel Hacienda Balendu. This is an upscale resort place that pretends it’s a farm, so they have horses and chickens, etc. The food is fine, the rooms are nice, and it’s a good location to take a jeep up the rocky road to the ProAves reserve on top for the yellow-eared parrots. Pablo and Jose, his friend who is our guide for the couple of days we’re here, studied the parrots 10 years ago, so they’re the experts.

Fri Sep 3 – We decide to try it up the mountain. It’s always a gamble, because you don’t want to go up if it’s going to be bad weather, but the weather changes so quickly in the mountains you never know. We luck out and get some sun, not lots but enough to get several good species of high elevation satyrs, and we get good photos of almost everything we see. We don’t see the parrots, however, so Fred and Shirley opt to leave very early on Sat, at 4:30am, to try again for the parrots at their roosting site.

Sat Sep 4 – Fred and Shirley take off early w/Jose and Jorge, the driver, then Jose comes back and gets myself and Richard, who have a civilized breakfast and see them about 9:30. Then we all go back through town, after stopping for tasty strong coffee at one of the many cafes lining the square, and drive back towards the small town of Andes. We turn down to the left at Fondo Monserrate, a steep road w/2 tracks of lined cement that takes us down towards the river, through coffee fincas.

We get out and walk until about 2:30pm and see many butterflies. The track is lined w/flowers and weedy patches and is crescent heaven. We also chase the gorgeous Heliconius erato chesterXXX, a beautiful blue endemic subspecies w/a yellow horizontal stripe. I get lots of shots down by the river of 2 species of Tegosa for comparison.

Then we stop in town at Dulces de Jardin, a nice little handmade candy shop, and get back to the hotel late in the afternoon. And F&S did manage to see the parrots!

Sun Sep 5 – 6am departure to meet Pablo at a restaurant for breakfast, then butterflying at a private reserve near Jericó about 1600 meters. This finca has been working with macaw restoration and houses a number of macaws being rehabilitated to be released in the wild, plus Pablo did some studies here for the cerulean warbler. The warblers like shade grown coffee, and this place used to grow shade grown cardamom. Pablo thought it might be good for butterflies, and he was right, it’s great! We can barely get past the farm house, a huge tree has dropped small fruits and there are many butterflies all over the ground in front of the house.

We spend a couple of hours until it starts to rain about 1:30pm, and get tons of shots of many species. Lots of tigerwings on the wide track, big enough to drive on, that slowly goes up the hill next to a stream and is lined with ornamental bananas. The ithomiinae are eating small piles of dark stuff that are on top of the banana leaves, and we see quite a few different species. R&S start putting out spitwads and immediately get lots of skippers as well, many new for our trip. They pose nicely for photos, so we’ll have lots of work sorting them all out.

Pablo says there is a nice hotel in Jericó, about 20 minutes away, and the owners of the finca are thinking of starting an eco lodge, which I think would be a good idea. I hope to come back here and spend at least a full day, maybe 2. The track goes for several kms, per Pablo, and there is much to explore.

Then we drive about 3.5 hours south along the Cauca river, a beautiful drive, then cross back to the central andes to spend the next 2 nights in Manizales in town at the very pleasant Casa Galvez, a brand new hotel that is reasonably quiet even though it’s in the middle of the bustling city of 400,000. They even have menus from some restaurants that will deliver to the hotel, so we don’t have to go out.

Mon Sep 6 – 6am departure to head up to the National Park Los Nevados above Manizales, around the Volcano del Ruiz which is snow covered all year. My target is bearded helmetcrest, a hummingbird I’ve wanted to see for years. Pablo has almost promised it to me if I go here, we’ve talked about this hummer a couple of times. Apparently they live at the visitor center at 4,050 meters, over 13,000’. They nectar on the strange flowers around the center, including a different species of Espeletia that we saw in the eastern andes.

Unfortunately it is a cold and foggy day, and much of the morning it’s hard to see much of anything. But the paramo, above tree line, is always fascinating and fun to visit. The flowers and plants and mosses are different and great to photograph. A bold tawny antpitta strolls across the road at the visitor center, right in front of us. We go down to an older hotel, the Hotel Termales del Ruiz, that is being refurbished to look for black-thighed pufflegs, another very rare hummer. This is about 3500 meters, and there is hot water running along the rough road for the hot springs.

We finally find the puffleg after the fog lifts a bit, they’re coming to the dark red flowers of the melastoma, similar to one we saw above Jardin. We even find a new butterfly, one of the high elevation Lymanopoda white species, which poses nicely for lots of photos.

The sun has come out briefly, so we decide to head back up to the visitor center for a last minute try for the helmetcrest, and get great looks at a feeding female. She hangs from the flowers and walks across the stiff plants, doing very little flying, weird looking behavior for a hummingbird. So the day ends well.

Tue Sep 7 – drive 30 minutes to Rio Blanco, our home for the next 2 nights. We arrive fairly early and it’s raining, but we go up the road about 10 minutes or so to their relatively new antpitta feeding station. The caretaker puts out earthworms every morning about 7:30am, and he has 3 species of antpittas coming: brown-banded, chestnut-crowned and slate-crowned, a small one. The chestnut-crowned is the biggest and the most aggressive, and chases the others off. She must have a nest, because she stuffs as many as 10 worms in her beak and takes off to the bushes, then comes back shortly for more.

These worm feeding stations are a fabulous way to see antpittas, started in Ecuador by Angel Paz outside Mindo, and they’re spreading through the andes at birding lodges. The real excitement for me is they also have ocellated tapaculo coming in here sometimes. The caretaker says more birds come when it’s not raining, as the rain brings out the worms, so when it’s dry the birds are hungrier. We have a lot of rain most of the day, and finally get a bit of sun mid afternoon and then see a few species of Pedaliodes.

At the research station they have a pretty good butterfly collection, inside a room from the dining room where they keep a heater and a dehumidifier going all the time. I photograph their drawers and note down the names. They claim to have 350 species of butteflies here, I would love to get the list. After dinner we go owling, as it’s not raining, and Pablo manages to bring in white-throated screech-owl in the woods behind the lodge.

Then later, back up at our higher rooms across the road he hears, and finds, rufous-banded owl as well. They only have 2 rooms in the main building, where we eat and where the hummingbird feeders are all around the porch. There are a few more rooms w/3 or 4 beds, for students, in the higher building across the road. Pablo and I take 2 of the student rooms, so we have to walk down for our meals, and to watch the hummers.

We find 9 species of hummers at the feeders, and Pablo tells me their total list is 12 species. We also luck out and have a large fruiting tree in the clearing, and get both rusty-faced parrots and golden-plumed parakeets flying around and feeding in the trees. Rio Blano is actually owned by the water company, and they keep the forest as a watershed for Manizales. It’s gated, and you have to get permission to get in, but Pablo knows the right people and brings groups here for birding. The road is steep but the birding is great, and if we just had some sun the butterflies are good too.

Wed Sep 8 – We start w/a not rainy day, which is a plus, and at 7:30 we get all 3 antpittas plus my life look at the ocellated tapaculo, finally. I’ve chased this bird several times, but usually by myself w/out a tape, and could never see it. What a great way to start the day!

We then walk on up to the top where you can go either left or right. Left leads to open pasture after several hundred meters, but the first part along the ridge can be good. To the right you pass a house then a construction site w/lots of bags of gravel, then get to good forest. The right trail goes a long way, far longer than I’ve been. They tell me January is the best month for butterflies, they have the most sun then. Guess I’ll be coming back in January.

Thu Sep 9 – We decide to leave right after breakfast and drive the 5 hours to Montezuma where we stay w/a simple farm family for 3 nights. This is our western most location on this trip. We had planned to spend the morning down at the river below the lodge at Rio Blanco, but w/the poor weather we figure it’s better to move on. When I was here before in July 2008 I spent 2 days photographing down along the river, the butterflies were quite good there, but I had sun.

We drive to Parque Nacional Tatama, crossing back over the Cauca river and back to the west slope of the western andes. We’re staying at a very simple farm house, but the food is quite tasty and the family very friendly, and they’re into birds as well.

We have to take a jeep down from Rio Blanco to Manizales, where we change to a van and drive to Virginia, then change back to another jeep to get up the dirt road to the farmhouse. Walking to the bridge, going on up the hill to the left from the entrance to the farmhouse you come to a bridge that looks great for butterflies, but it’s drizzly and cool. We do get killer shots of an Oleria with bright orange edges at the back of the hindwing which poses nicely.

Fri Sep 10 – Fred and I ride horses 2 hours to about 2,000 meters from 1400 at the house, about 7-8 km, while Pablo and Shirley walk, then we all walk back down for the day. It takes us about 2 hours to get to where we leave the horses, and P&S take about an extra hour to join us. I’m amazed, because on our way back down we find lots of spitwads that Shirley put out on her way up, and managed to do the climb. I couldn’t have done it. The spitwads turn out to work great here, we find lots and lots of skippers on them, as well as a few Heliconius and Dismorphia.

We eat lunch, brought to us on horseback, at the top in one of their little plastic shelters, and get great shots of a friendly Elzunia humboldt who thinks this is his place. We have fog for our walk back down the hill, but see many new birds. This is a wonderful spot for birds, we get Buffy Tuftedcheck, Fulvous-dotted Treerunner (my favorite), Beautiful Jay (in heavy fog, good thing they come close), and killer looks at Black Solitaire, several feeding in a fruiting tree, flying back and forth and flashing their white tails, as well as a whole slew of higher elevation tanagers. I love purplish-mantled, but we also get black-chinned mountain-tanager and the spectacular gold-ringed tanager.

The next day Pablo and Shirley perservere in the rain and also get black-and-gold tanager. This is the same set of birds they used to get at El Cairo, where I went last time and is a bit further south. But the local birders are using this farmhouse now, above Pueblo Rico and La Virginia, and it’s much less driving from the house to the habitat. Good forest is only about 10 minutes walk from the house.

We go up this first day, past a few houses with horses, then up through a gate and down to the first major bridge, about 45 minutes walk. This bridge becomes a magnet for butterflies, as everyone pees here and the horses tend to leave their dropping both up and down. From the bridge it’s a steady climb up at least 600-700 meters, for 4-5 kms. On our way back down this day we find many skippers on the spitwads Shirley put out in the morning. As it gets later in the afternoon, and dark and foggy, we keep finding skippers, many new ones, and even some of the Dyscophyllus and others that like it dark, like Lychnuchus basta. We finally make it back to the house at dark, after a very long day as we left at 6am. We all fall asleep tired but happy.

Sat Sep 11 – Today we have a more leaisurely breakfast at 7am, then walk back to the good bridge. This morning is brilliant and sunny, lots of blue sky, so we have tons of butterflies. This is a great spot, I’m definitely coming back for more time. We keep finding new species all day long, including 7 species of Adelpha or Sisters, 3 of which are new for me. Pablo shows us a sunning White-tailed Hillstar from the bridge, where Fred and I spend an hour or more, and Fred gets a great shot, it’s so close. 2 species of Morphos, 2 species of Owls, lots of crescents, a new Myscelus and several riodinids, it keeps going all morning.

Lunch is again brought to us in the field, a brother finds us on the trail and the lunch is hot from the kitchen. Life is good. But early, right after lunch, it starts to darken, we hear thunder, and by noon it is pouring. Fred and I go back to the bridge and up the hill towards the house and stop in one of their plastic shelters, where we’re joined by Richard and Leo, the woman who owns the place. She’s walked w/us both days, and led Fred’s horse the day before. It was Fred’s first time on a horse, pretty gutsy on his part.

We decide to make a dash for home from the shelter, which turns out to not be such a good idea, as the heavens open and we’re all drenched, even w/umbrellas, by the time we get back. The road turns into a river, and we end up wading through 6” to a foot of running water, so we’re soaked to the knees. Yesterday I borrowed a pair of rubber boots, but didn’t really need them, so today I wore tennis, which are now completely wet. Oh well, they will dry. We had a fabulous morning, it was well worth it.

Sun Sep 12 – This morning is overcast and drizzly, so we work on photos for an hour or so after breakfast. P&S go birding, back up the road, but the other 3, Fred, Richard and me, go down the road to the right, instead of up to the left, and find a whole new set of butterflies as it brightens a bit.

We leave after our last delicious lunch, planning to definitely return for more time. We take a jeep back to our transfer point, load up the van and drive back over the cauca river to the central andes, through Pereira for atm’s, then up to Otun, a regular hotel/lodge about 45 minutes east of Pereira at 1800 meters. This is a reserve, Otun Quimbaxxxx of about 500 hectares, and they have great birds. You wake up every morning hearing red-ruffed fruit crows making their low, blowing across a bottle sound, and we see them daily, a wonderful bird. They also have lots of cauca guans. But we concentrate on the butterflies, and they have tons of those.

Mon/Tue Sep 13/14 – I take over 900 photos in our 2 days here, and we only butterfly until lunch each day. We walk up the road, to the right from the entrance, a nice gradually climbing dirt and gravel road w/secondary forest on both sides. R&S put out lots of spitwads, and they work wonderfully here. This is the highest I’ve ever had the spitwads work. We get lots of skippers, but also Heliconius and Ithomiinae. A number of new species for me, one of the fanciest is Sacrator sacrator, a big dark skipper w/the back third of the forewings yellow with several brilliant silver spots at the edge of the yellow, a real killer.

On the 2nd day we find a couple of poop spots which prove to be magnets for the leafwings, and we get lots of Memphis and several different Adelpha and a zillion Fountainea nessus, the beautiful pink and purple banded leafwing. I’ve never seen as many as they have here of this species, they like to fly around us on the road, probably attracted to our sweaty bodies.

Another place you could spend a lot of time. I was here in July 2008, and we’re seeing more butterflies now, even though we get heavy rain both afternoons by lunch. This is typical rainy season weather, sunny mornings then the clouds build up and it rains in the middle of the day. When it’s sunny there are lots of butterflies.

Wed Sep 15 – we have a final morning at Otun, and I check out the trail through the forest. Richard has spent some time here putting out spitwads, and I’m hoping for clearwings. I’ve id’ed 4 species so far, but some have not posed for photos, and I particularly want Patricia dercylidas which I’ve seen both days but it’s never stopped. One can dream.

We leave Otun about 11am for the hour drive to the airport at Pereira, where we fly to Bogota and connect on to Santa Marta for our last week. We spend the night in Minca at a new hotel Pablo has found, Sierra’s Sound right on the river. You can hear the white water loudly, which I guess is the sound in the name of the place. They have a nice restaurant on the river and the rooms are fine, this will be a pleasant place to come back to after our time up at El Dorado. We even see a few birds and butterflies early the next morning.

Thur Sep 16 – We spend the morning driving up the bad road to El Dorado after stopping and birding/butterflying for an hour or so at Pozo Azul about 750 meters. We find a few specialities and several new butterflies, then head up to higher elevations.

There is a small tienda that everyone stops at to buy a coke and look for blossomcrown hummer at their flowers, about 1600 meters. We get good shots of an orange banded Pedaliodes that is common there, as well as several other butterfly species coming to the blooming mora or blackberry bushes. We finally get to El Dorado, the ProAves comfortable lodge, for a late lunch. They have nice gardens and lots of hummingbird feeders, but unfortunately we get rain all afternoon. It knocks out the power, which turns out to the common state of affairs for the next 3 days. We are without power most of the time. P&S go looking for the newly described Colombian screech owl that night, don’t find it but they do get good looks at night monkeys in the cecropia trees right near the lodge. So we all go out the 2nd night but aren’t as lucky, even though it’s clear and moonlit.

Fri Sep 17 – our driver spent the night, and we head up to the top of the road early in the morning. The road is terrible, we drive up many places that don’t look passable to us, but the driver is experienced w/this road and calmly, slowly coaxes the car over all sorts of rocks and giant washouts.

We luck out today and have sunshine changing w/clouds, but some nice sunny moments. The sun brings out the butterflies, and we get lots of shots of several Pedaliodes species, not sure of how many different ones there are. This is an extremely tough genus, I’m hoping my friend Hannier who’s working on this genus can help me out w/some id’s. We also get a ton of photos of a very friendly Adelpha corcyra salazari which is all over us, a beautiful endemic subspecies of sister. We stop at the national park lodge, San Lorenzo, on the way back down, about 2200 or 2300 meters, to check their flowers but don’t see anything. Back to El Dorado for another late lunch, and more rain that afternoon.

Sat Sep 18 – we wake to fog and rain, and it stays that way all day. It lightens a few times, but shortly returns to heavy fog. I walk the road a bit, find a few hardy butterflies and see several flocks in the trees, but the fog is too heavy to id any birds. We hang around the hummingbird feeders and enjoy the common violet-crowned woodnymphs and the speciality, the white-tailed starfrontlet, which likes the feeders in front of our rooms.

Sun Sep 19 – we have our last morning here at El Dorado, then the driver comes back to get us and take us down to Minca. As we’re driving away from the lodge we spot an Adelpha sitting on a leaf, and we pile out and get great shots of a very fresh Adelpha zunia inachia, a rare subspecies.

We spend the day working our way back down the road, stopping at the tienda again for an extended lunch, but the rain stays w/us most of the day. We get back to Sierra’s Sounds Hostal and another tasty dinner on the river.

Mon Sep 20 – We go back up the road a few kms on a bright sunny morning and see a goodly number of butterflies, then drive to the east along the coast to Riohacha for 1 night. We go out to the supposedly desert, but it’s raining here as well, and we end up sitting under a palapa on the beach drinking beers and soft drinks and watching it pour. We do manage to get 3 or 4 life birds before the skies open. There are about 15-20 specialities in this area, so hopefully tomorrow will be sunny.

We get very close to a flamingo, first one I’ve seen this close. Usually they’re pink dots across the marsh in a scope. We spend the night at the Barbacoa Hotel which is fine. Pablo had originally had us in another hotel, closer to downtown and restaurants, but when he called this morning to confirm our reservations, they had lost them, so he had to scramble and find us another place. This is not uncommon in Colombia, so you have to confirm and reconfirm, and still reservations aren’t always there. So don’t arrive at your rooms late.

Tues Sep 21 – We wake to a spectacular clear day and head back out to the peninsula. We drive back towards Santa Marta about 20 km and turn off to Camarones, an indigenous village. Pablo gets a local guide, always a good idea in indigenous areas, who’s quite knowledgeable about the bigger birds.

We see lots of wet birds preening on top of the bushes, and get great looks at one lifer after the other. Everyone’s favorite is the vermillion cardinal, but we have lots of bare-eyed pigeons, green-rumped parrotlets, buffy hummingbird, russet-throated puffbird,and lots of shorebirds. We’re in migration, so the flats are teeming w/a great mix of shorebirds. This would be a good spot to come if you were from Europe and wanted to see lots of the American shorebirds, at least at this time of the year.

In the trees we have lots of North American warblers as well, prothonotory and chestmut-sided warblers plus others. We even get a few skippers, our first elves and Erichson’s white-skipper who poses nicely. Very different birding from the rest of our trip. Late in the morning they go to a very wet area and I head back to the car, not having rubber boots. I get the driver to go back to Camarones and we visit a panaderia or bakery in town, at the farm supply store, and stock up on Arequipa cake and cookies for everyone.

Then we go back to the beach palapa and have cold drinks and pastries. It gets very hot here when the sun’s out, and you wouldn’t want to bird, or butterfly, through the hot part of the day. About 11 we head back to Santa Marta, about a 3.5 – 4 hour drive, stop for a nice fish lunch on the river and head straight to the airport where we catch our 5:15pm flight back to Bogota on Avianca.

It’s back to Casona del Patio for our last night in Colombia. Shirley and Richard go do dinner w/a friend, and Fred and I hit the Wok restaurant, 2 blocks from the hotel, and have a great meal. They have killer desserts, try the lemon and grapefruit tart, and Fred swooned over the chocolate and more cake, more like fudge.

Wed Sep 22 – We go our separate ways back to the US. I fly to Miami and spend the night, then back to Texas tomorrow. A great trip, lots of new species photographed and lots of Colombia seen. It’s a wonderful country, I notice the improvements just in the last 3 years. More peaceful, less military, the hotels and food are getting better. Pablo is a wonderful guide, I highly recommend him for birds and butterflies. He’s learning more and more about traveling around the country, and his English is much improved. All in all, what’s not to like? I’ll be back many more times.

US – Seattle, WA July 2010

Trip Report Washington State July 2010 LepSoc Meeting and afterwards

Participants: Kristine Wallstrom, Shirley Sekarajasingham, Richard Lindstrom and Kim Garwood

Tues July 6 – fly to Seattle

Wed July 7 – drive to Leavenworth for LepSoc, 4 nights at Enzian Inn

Thur/Fri July 8/9 – meetings

Sat July 10 – field trip up Chumstick Mountain

Sun July 11 – Reecer Creek, night in Soap Lake

Mon July 12 – Moses Meadow, night in Tonasket, Red Apple Motel

Tues July 13 – drive through the burn to Mazama, 2 nights North Cascades Lodge

Wed July 14 – Harts Pass

Thur July 15 – drive back to Seattle

Fri July 16 – fly to Dallas

Tues July 6 – Kristine and I fly into Seattle from different cities and Richard picks us up at the airport. Richard and Shirley live on Bainbridge Island, a beautiful peaceful place in the Puget Sound. We get to take a ferry for about 35 minutes across to their island for the night.

Wed July 7 – The next morning Shirley, Kristine and I take off and drive, back across the ferry and east across Washington to Leavenworth, the site of the Lepidopterists’ Society meeting for the next 5 days.

We take Highway 2 over Stevens Pass about 4,000’, and stop and explore a couple of different trails. We hike a bit at Wallace Falls State Park and also along the Pacific Crest Trail, which crosses the highway at the top of the pass.  It’s a beautiful clear blue sky day in the low 80’s, but not many butterflies. The weather here in Washington has been quite cool, everyone is saying summer has just arrived.

The trails are nice, through dark woods and lots of shade, with bits of open meadow and lovely views. Up on top, on the PCT, we see lots of Parnassus clodius, but they rarely stop for photos. I do get a few shots of a Comma, we think it’s Oreas Comma, but we need to get someone who knows to verify that. The next 4 nights are in Leavenworth at the Enzian Inn for the LepSoc meeting. Leavenworth is a funny place, sort of a Disneyland in a Bavarian theme. Even the banks look Bavarian.

There are dozens of restaurants, many of course with a German theme. Our favorite is South, with food from South American, worth going back to. The Enzian Inn is not cheap at $140/night, but a great breakfast and snazzy rooms. There are many places to stay in town, and several people are at cheaper motels closer to $50-75/room.

Thur/Fri July 8/9 – I’m in meetings all day, but Shirley and Kristine go out and have a great time.

Sat July 10 – I finally get to go on a field trip, and we go w/Bob Hardwick who leads our group up Chumstick Mountain, up Derby Canyon road to about 5,000’. It’s hot, bright and sunny, and the sky is so blue it hurts your eyes. We don’t see much at first, but as it gets warmer we gradually see more butterflies.

We look for seeps, where water is on the road, and we get to see some different blues and a couple of the difficult fritillaries. The checkerspots and crescents are also a tough group here. One of the more exciting moments is when Shirley and Kristine find a rare endemic plant they have been looking for. Lewisia tweedyi is a low ground hugging plant with large beautiful peachy salmon colored blooms, and when we accidentally find them on the drive up there is much gnashing of teeth because we can’t stop, being in a caravan of cars. But later they find the plants right at the summit, so many photos are taken.

We end up almost on top of the mountain, but there is a forest fire on the other side of the ridge, so we decide not to go that close. We go to Eagle Creek road, up about 2 miles past where the pavement ends, and there is a nice seep with the best selection of butterflies we’ve seen all day.

That’s a nice way to end a lovely day, except coming back down we get a flat tire in Shirley’s car, so we have to unload everything, change the tire, put on the donut and make it back to town. But it’s Saturday after 5pm, and they can’t get it changed until tomorrow.

Sun July 11 – R&S get the tire fixed, then we leave Leavenworth and head south on Highway 97 and took Old Bluett Road, stopping several places. Then we went to Reecer Creek, near Ellensberg.

We see several new trip species, starting with Greenish Blues on clover, both males and a wonderful female who I first think is a copper, and a nice mudpuddling group of swallowtails, mostly Pale and Western Tiger. Reecer Creek proves to be good, with lots of confusing checkerspots and some blues. Shirley and Kristine had come here on one of their days, and liked it. On the way up to Reecer Creek there is a big patch of white daisies which had been great for hairstreaks and fritillaries, but today it’s very windy so there are fewer butterflies around. We still manage to photograph a couple of skippers, probably Common Branded Skippers but maybe a 2nd species as well, but you have to carefully hold the flower stem to even have a chance of taking the photo.

Up Reecer Creek there is a big left hand turn where many people have camped and left charcoal rings, and the butterflies are coming to the charcoal. Mostly dozens of checkerspots, and we try to sort them out. I think they are mostly variable checkerspots, but there may well be edith’s also. We see more Parnassius butterflies, and this time we get some shots.  After leaving Reecer Creek we drive for an hour or two east and north past Soap Lake and up to Dry Falls State Park, where we look for Yuma Skipper but fail to find any.

Spectacular scenery heading up Lower Coulee where we find out about the great floods back in the ice ages, where the ice would block the river then eventually break loose in massive floods.

We end up at back south about 20 miles at Soap Lake for the night at the surprisingly nice little motel on the lake called Masters Inn & Healing Resort, www.mastersinn-retreat.com . It costs about $75 for a double, and our room is much more than a room, but an apartment, with a full kitchen, wifi, table for 4, a nice living room and separate bedroom w/2 queen beds, very comfortable.

There’s only 1 restaurant in town, so we eat at Don’s, where Richard has eaten many times before over the years. R&S split a salmon dinner that they are very happy with. We enjoy ourselves too long, and just miss getting to the grocery store before it closes at 8pm, so we don’t have breakfast makings and it doesn’t look like there are many restaurants open for breakfast.

Don’s doesn’t open until 11am. Asking the hotel manager, she says there is a place that opens at 7am, so we’ll try and find it. Shouldn’t be too hard, as town is small, along the lake.

Mon July 12 – Couldn’t find an open place for breakfast, so we bought over priced snacks at the gas station. Next time, be sure to bring your own breakfast stuff. Amazing, the town has 3 motels but no breakfast places, or bakeries. Or coffee drive throughs, it doesn’t even look like Washington.

So we finally get on our way up to Moses Meadow, after driving by Grand Coulee Dam and up Hwy 155. Moses Meadow is great. It’s about 10 miles in on a dirt road signed towards Lyman Lake/Moses Meadow, then you drive a large loop around the huge meadow, stopping frequently to walk the roads and the beautiful flowering meadows.

The flowers are fabulous, and we find a goodly number of butterflies. I take more photos than the previous couple of days. One of the most common is the Chryxus Arctic, which are all over the road. We get to compare them to the Great Arctics which we photographed the day of the field trip. Lots more checkerspots, both field and northern crescents, some new blues, and good looks at arctic skippers, which is new for us. Wonderful flowers across the meadow, we’re doing some botanizing as well so there’s lots to see.

Tues July 13 – the drive through the massive burn. We go up to Oroville then west to Palmer Lake, south to Long Swamp and over the hills to Winthrop. This is mostly dirt roads at about 2000 meters. We were hoping to find some higher elevation butterflies, but we didn’t know there had been a couple of monster fires through the whole area, and we spend most of the day driving through burnt, dead trees as far as we can see.

It was an amazing sight, endless grey and black spires over the mountains to the horizon, and very few butterflies. Plus it was overcast and cold, in the 40’s, so we didn’t do a lot of walking around. But it was a very interesting drive, far and away the largest burn I’ve ever seen. It would have been faster to drive back to Omak and to Winthrop on paved roads, but we wanted to explore.  We did have some interesting birds, at Long Swamp we find breeding spotted sandpipers w/newly hatched young, which I had never seen before. And Townsend’s Solitaires also w/young.

We made it to Winthrop and went to our lodge, North Cascades Base Camp Lodge about 2 miles west of Mazama, which is about 14 miles west of Winthrop. We’re staying here for 2 nights so we can spend the next day at Hart’s Pass. It’s about $90/room. It’s like staying in someone’s house, there are 3 bedrooms on the 2nd floor that share 1 bathroom. The rooms include 1 queen bed and a set of bunk beds, so it’s more for families rather than 2 adults, as 1 of us in each room has to sleep in the bunk bed.

We have the full run of the house, which includes a complete kitchen which we can use to cook our meals. But you have to bring all your own food, which requires more planning.

The nice young couple, Steve and Kim, have just bought it 5 weeks ago, so they’re not doing meals yet, but they plan to in the future. It would be nice w/a large group of family and friends, but if you were just a couple it might be a bit more intimate than you would like w/strangers.

Wed July 14 – Drive up Hart’s Pass, about 20 miles to 2100 meters. Fortunately the weather goes back to bright sunny skies today, after the overcast and cold of yesterday. The road is closed by a snow bank, so we can’t go all the way to the top. We could have walked, it was another couple of miles, but we just wandered around some at that elevation and slowly worked our way back down hill.

Richard conveniently moved the car down as the rest of us walked most of the way, finding a good variety of butterflies, many of them new for our trip. The scenery was breathtaking, surrounded by peaks still with lots of snow, and magnificent fields of wildflowers.

We got pacific fritillary, sheridan’s green hairstreak, two-banded checkered-skipper, and many crescents and checkerspots, plus lots of new flowers. At the snow melt we had fields of yellow glacier lilies. This spring has been very late due to cold weather, so many things are blooming about 3-4 weeks behind ‘normal’. This has also impacted the butterflies, and we see some spring species flying late, mixed in with summer flyers. We have orangetips everywhere.

We get some nice birds, a female spruce grouse and young slowing walking across the road in front of the car, very slowly so we won’t see her right in front of us. I see evening grosbeaks, unfortunately the others miss them as we’re spread out along the road.

This is a beautiful drive, well worth spending the day here. I’m glad we planned 2 nights at the base. There is a nice country store in Mazama, very upscale and full of yuppie goodies, plus a café that looks quite good. We get the best ginger snaps I’ve ever had, wish we had bought more. They’re $1 each but they’re huge and full of pieces of ginger, so very strong.

Thur July 15 – Unfortunately we have to head back to Seattle. We go over the North Cascades on Highway 20, a spectacular drive with vistas everywhere. We stop at Rainy Pass and hike the mile trail to the lake, which is also spectacular, well worth the walk.

Wonderful waterfalls coming down from the cirque above which surrounds the lake, very isolated. It’s much cooler and wetter here, so few butterflies, even though we’re only about 1500 meters. Totally different from yesterday at Hart’s Pass, which was more open meadows and flowers. We do see a new species, Common Alpine, but it doesn’t stop for photos.

We also find a great flock of evening grosbeaks at one of our stops, eating seeds from the grass by the outhouse, and we all get killer looks. Such a beautiful bird, I haven’t seen them in years. We stop at Cascadia Farms, a little store that sells U-pick raspberries and blueberries, and of course ice cream. Home made blueberry ice cream, plus all the great coffee drinks. A good place to stop.

We get back to Seattle, take the ferry across to Bainbridge island for the night, and Richard takes me to the airport the next morning.

Mexico – Oaxaca/Chiapas July 2010

Trip Report Oaxaca/Chiapas, Mexico

Participants:Judi Ross, our fearless driver, Bill Berthet, Fred Heath, and myself, Kim Garwood

Author: Kim Garwood

Wed May 5 – Bill and I fly to Oaxaca, 2 nights in Villa del Campo, 380 pesos/single

Thur May 6 – Gucamaya Road and 5 km spot

Fri May 7 – drive to Pluma Hidalgo, 1 night in Posada Isabel, 300/double, 400/fancy single

Sat May 8 – drive to Finca Monte Carlo for 3 nights, 600 pesos/person/night w/3 meals

Sun/Mon May 9/10 – walk the trails at Finca Monte Carlo

Tue May 11 – drive to Tuxtla Gutierrez, 2 nights at Palmareca Best Western, 950 pesos/night/double

Wed May 12 – butterfly Canyon de Sumidero

Thur May 13 – drive to Palenque, 2 nights at Chan-Kah, 999/double/night

Fri May 14 – explore waterfalls around Palenque, Agua Azul & Misol-Ha

Sat May 15 – drive to Lacanja and Bonampak, 2 nights at Campamento Rio Lajanja, 490/double

Sun May 16 – worked the road and went to Bonampak

Mon May 17 – drive to Las Guacamayas, 1 night, 780/double

Tue May 18 – drive to Comitan, explore Lagos de Montebello, 1 night El Castellano, 490/double

Wed May 19 – drive to Tapachula, 2 nights Hotel Loma Real, 2014/4

Thur May 20 – explore Volcano Tacana, up to about 1800 meters

Fri May 21 – transfer to Finca Hamburgo 1300 meters, 2 nights, 710/double

Sat May 22 – walk trails at Finca Hamburgo

Sun May 23 – get driven to Finca Argovia for the day, 700 meters, then back to Loma Real

Mon May 24 – drive to Tuxtepec, 1 night 580/double Villa Esmeralda

Tue May 25 – to Valle Nacional, 1 night 380/double, and work Hwy 175 up the hill to 1700m.

Wed May 26 – work back up Hwy 175, 1 night at Ixtlan Ecoturixtlan Center, 550/double

Thur May 27 – work road off about Km 138, drive to Oaxaca for last 3 nights, Andrium Hotel 550/single, 700/double

Fri May 28 – Guacamaya Road north of Oaxaca

Sat May 29 – Valle del Teotitlan

Sun May 30 – fly back to Texas

Expenses – The 3 of us paid for all gas and tolls, which was about 6400 pesos for the entire trip. The current conversion rate is about 12 pesos/1 US$. So our gas and tolls were about $530 for the 3 of us, not bad considering how much driving we did.

Our hotels ran from the cheapest at 300 pesos/double to the Loma Real in Tapachula, which was 2014 for a 2 bedroom suite for the 4 of us, so about 1000/double. Most of them were around 490 to 700/double. My total was 9300 pesos, or about $775 for 25 nights. Our food was reasonable, and we ate in nicer restaurants, not the cheap roadside places.

It ran between 100 to 200 pesos each for breakfast and dinner, and we usually only ate 2 meals/day. And we were generous tippers, as Judi’s family runs a restaurant and like most folks in the business, they appreciate the waitpeople’s efforts. So if we estimate 200-250/day for food, that’s about $20 x 25 = $500.

I don’t think it was that much, but I didn’t keep track of food. This gives us a total budget of about $180 for the gas, say $800 for hotels and $500 for food, or $1500, plus snacks and cokes (and Bill’s shopping!) I had estimated $100/day as a budget, and we were well under that, more about $60-70/day. Of course we didn’t have to rent a car, which would have added considerable to the cost, as cars are about $100/day.

Wed May 5 – We fly Continental nonstop from Houston, about $400. Judi meets us at the airport and takes us to Villa del Campo, a simple but perfectly acceptable hotel in town.

Oaxaca has tons of places to stay in every price range, but this is ok w/me. Inexpensive and close enough to town so you can walk to the center and lots of restaurants, quiet and safe.

Thur May 6 – We spend the morning at Gucamaya Road, north of town. It’s very dry, as we expected, the rains haven’t started yet. But we have a surprisingly good day, lots of crescents, patches, both blue and white morphos, several species of swallowtails and some very fresh skippers.

Then we go to the famous 5 km trash pullout just up Highway 175 east, where we have lots of Mylitta Crescents, which we didn’t see up at Gucamaya. Oaxaca is about 1500 meters, the wet turn in the road at Guacamaya is a bit over 1900m. It’s very hot in Oaxaca, much more than usual, so we’re happy to get up the next morning to drive up 175 west of town.

Fri May 7 – Drive west to Pluma Hidalgo and look for a hotel Judi has been told is in town. You take a dirt road off Hwy 175 about km 200 or 202, it’s signed 12 km to Pluma Hidalgo if you’re coming from Oaxaca, not if you’re coming up from the coast.

This can be an excellent road to butterfly. But they’re doing lots of construction, so there are guys everywhere working, and lots of traffic. Everything is very dusty, so we don’t spend much time on the road, though we do stop a few places and see several species of crescents. Most of what we’re seeing is very fresh, I think everything is ready for the rains to hit.

We find the Posada Isabel, a large bright green building w/out any signs behind the church on the centro. We have to ask to find it, but once we get there, after parking Judi’s monster car in the square and walking around, we find our gracious host who welcomes us to very nice rooms, especially the fancy matrimonial suite on the 2nd floor which Bill takes for 400 pesos.

Judi and I get one of the 6 2 bed doubles on the ground floor for 300 for the 2 of us, hard to beat. We walk back for dinner at the very simple little restaurant for 135 pesos for the 3 of us, black beans, mystery meat and onions, but ok. Except we have slight diarrhea the next day, but we recover quickly. I would go back to Posada Isabel, it’s a great location for working the road there. The butterflies are much better between the Hwy175 turnoff and Pluma Hidalgo, once you get below PH the habitat deteriorates quickly.

We check out another potential place to stay, if Posada Isabel is full. A ways south of Pluma Hidalgo, continuing on the dirt road, you see a regular green street sign for El Refugio, pointing to a dirt road off to the left. It’s quite steep, and looks a bit intimidating if you’re not in a truck, but we made it in the intrepid van.

El Refugio has 26 rooms, some w/nice windows and views over the pool, some musty and dark w/out any windows. They all seemed to be about the same price, based on the number of beds. 1 bed was 300 pesos for single or double, 2 beds was 450 or 500 pesos. I would get the 300 as a single, much nicer rooms.

Sat/Sun/Mon May 8/9/10 – drive on through Santa Maria Huatulco to Hwy 200, near the airport, and turn left, east, for about 40km and turn left just before the Puente Zimatan (bridge) about km 274 or 275 and drive about 27 km on a dirt road that gets progressively worse, especially past the village of Xabani or Xadani.

Be sure to fill up w/gas at the gas station on 200 just east of where you join, as there aren’t any more gas stations until you get quite a ways east of the turn off for Finca Monte Carlo. The last several km up is steep with tight switchbacks. Judi got stuck on the last one in her Ford van and almost shredded one of her new Michelin $200 tires, and then we had to get pulled out by some friendly locals who just happened to have a nice Toyota truck. She had driven here twice before and made it in her car, even when it was wet. She thought it would be easier when it was dry, but no. I would suggest 4 wheel drive in the future.

We finally made it to Finca Monte Carlo, www.fincamontecarlo.com, a lovely old coffee finca run by Efren and Anna. Efren’s email is ricaemax@hotmail.com.

They’re located at the end of the road, up against a hill of great looking habitat about 900 meters.  There is a sign in the village saying Finca Monte Carlo 9 km, then a second sign saying 3 km to the left at a small bridge, but it’s more like a good 3 miles from the second sign, and took 30 minutes. Anna is a great cook, so it’s a wonderful place to spend some time. The cost is 600 pesos/person/night w/all meals, hard to beat.  We’re here for 3 nights, fortunately, as there’s lots to explore.

The rains should have started here, but they haven’t, so it’s dry but there’s still a good selection of butterflies flying. Judi says there are many more on the wing if you come in the wet season, probably best in November after the rains. She’s been here in October and November. Efren will pick you up at the airport in Huatulco, if you want to fly down, or you can drive and he will arrange for you to leave your car lower down at a friend’s and come get you in his jeep, or arrange a transfer.  Efren tells us the best time for butterflies is August and September, in the wettest time of the year. He says it’s typical rainy season, with clear sunny mornings and cloudy afternoons w/rain most afternoons/evenings.

We have 2 full days to explore the trails, and find lots of stuff. They have irrigation canals running down the valley surrounded by all sorts of plants and bamboo, and it’s very pretty.  You can walk on the edge of the canal up the ravine and there are large limestone cliffs We find the best places are down by the stream where they’re building a new irrigation canal, and probably the workers have peed.

You have to ford a small stream (could be bigger in the wet season) w/your car about 200 meters before you arrive, and this is where you walk back down and cross over the rocks then go right, paralleling the stream. We found several places where lots of species were mudpuddling at the edge of the stream. Lots of crescents, one of my favorites, 2 new species of Dalla, lots of spreadwing skippers, sulphurs, even the white morphos were coming to the mud.

The 2nd day unfortunately some campasino came down from the hills and was hanging around the stream crossing, waiting for a friend in his truck. The only problem is he had 4 mean dogs who attack Bill while he’s kneeling down photographing by the stream and he was bitten 3 times. This is unusual in Mexico, but that doesn’t do Bill any good. The bites aren’t bad, but they do break the skin and bleed. We’ll just assume none of the dogs are rabid.

Efren shows us his butterfly photos, and he has a huge cycad in his front stone garden area that is the host plant for Superb Cycadians. He has shots of all the stages, and we look the next morning and find egg casings and a big batch of larvae, plus empty pupa cases. The cats are bright red w/raised white stripes, they look like pieces of candy. They must taste bad, to be so brightly colored.

Tue May 11 – drive 400+ km to Tuxtla Gutierrez. It takes about 6 hours, with a few toilet stops. Bill has a newer map which shows a new cuota (toll road) from Arriaga up to Tuxtla, so we drive an extra 40 km or so to get to Arriaga rather than go our original planned route up from Tapanatepec. This turns out to be a wise decision, as it’s a nice new road and the old road is steep and twisty through the mountains.

We still need to get a new tire, after shredding one of Judi’s on the way up to Finca Monte Carlo. Judi had planned to go Wed morning to find a Goodyear/Michelin shop, but eagle eyed Bill spots one as we drive in on the main road. Fortunately they have it in stock and do the swap in about 30 minutes, a world class record for Mexico tire shops. This frees us up to do Sumidero Canyon as planned Wednesday morning. Fred flies into Tuxtla Gutierrez and joins us at the Best Western hotel that night, so he’s ready to go the next morning.

Wed May 12 – We spend most of the day on the 22 km road inside the National Park at Sumidero Canyon and exploring the 5 miradores (viewpoints).  It costs 25 pesos/person, well worth it. It’s still very dry, so we don’t see lots of butterflies, but some real goodies.

We have 2 new species of Codatractus flying around, C. uvydixa, which Bill gets some good shots of, and C. cyledis, which gets away. The cyledis has a bright white area on the edge of the hindwing which looks like it’s been painted or enameled on, very striking. There are lots of fresh blue morphos flying around, but not a single white one.

The day ends with huge thunderheads towering over the sunset on our way back from dinner at Appleby’s, first clouds we’ve seen on this trip, so maybe the rains are coming.

Thur May 13 – another driving day, as we take the cuota to San Cristobal de las Casas then wind through the mountains through Ocosingo to Palenque, only about 300 km but it takes a good 6 hours and is a tough road to drive. Judi does yeoman duty, avoiding big trucks and doing death defying passes, and we make it to Palenque just fine. We turn left and head to the ruins, and check out the fancy hotel Chan-Kah, about 3 km below the ruins.

This is a snazzy place to stay, w/nice rock cabanas scattered around in the jungle. The guide book says $145, they ask for 1400 pesos, and we negotiate them down to 999/double.   Bill and Fred take off to go up to the ruins, while Judi and I check in. We wander around the grounds a bit, take a swim in the fancy pools, and enjoy our large shared porch. We get 2 rooms connected w/a porch that look out into the jungle, very nice. Bill comes back w/some good photos from the ruins, while Fred was exploring the temples. Bill got some good shots of Red-spotted Firetip and our first Mexican Cycadian.

Fri May 14 – we backtrack on Hwy 186 (or 199, depending on which map you use) towards Ocosingo to visit a couple of the famous waterfall spots, hoping for butterflies by the river. We don’t have much luck, as there are lots of people at both Agua Azul and Misol-Ha, but they are beautiful spots.

The local ejidos, or communities, have learned to ask for money from the flow of tourists coming to the waterfalls, and we repeatedly run into groups holding a string across the road, blocking our way. Some are on the main highway back to the turnoff to the falls, but these we just say no to, and eventually they let us through.

Once we turn off to Agua Azul, which we do first as it’s the furthest back on the road away from Palenque, we have to pay 10 pesos/person at the first stop, then 25 pesos each at the second stop. They’re all ‘official’ and you must pay to gain entrance. I would pass on Agua Azul in the future, as it’s mostly lined with vendors selling clothing which mostly looks like it’s from Guatemala and snacky things to eat. The vendors are pleasant, they don’t hound you to buy, but it’s not exactly a nature experience.

The falls and the water are beautiful, but they’re full of folks swimming, and not a butterfly to be seen. Judi was here in August, in the rainy season, and she says then the water was mud colored. Now it’s the beautiful turquoise color you see on the posters, so it is very pretty and we take lots of photos.

This is about 60 km from Palenque, and on this twisty road, behind slow trucks, that can take considerable time. On our way back we stop at Agua Clara, 10 km closer to Palenque from Agua Azul, and they want another 20 pesos/person, and tell us there are more toll stops on our way in, and it’s only 2 km in, so we turn around.

We get to Misol-Ha, about 18 km from Palenque, and again have to pay twice, 5 pesos/person at the first stop, then 15 pesos/person at the waterfall. This one is beautiful, and a lot less people and no vendors. I would recommend you skip Agua Azul and just do Misol-Ha, plus it’s only 18 km from Palenque as compared to 60+.

Bill gets a few good bugs here, several new for our trip: Euptychia westwoodi, and Red Rim.  That night as we eat dinner at the open air restaurant the dark clouds build up, and just as we get back to our rooms the skies open up and there is a lovely thunderstorm w/lots of rain.

The next morning is much cooler and fresher, and everyone is happy, the first rain of the season.

Sat May 15 – we depart Palenque and head south towards Bonampak, stopping at a couple of balnearios (swimming holes) and taking a few dirt roads off to the side looking for butterflies. We pay more cuotas to get to the river, find a beautiful spot but very few butterflies, and continue to Lacanja, where I’ve been told is a nice place to stay w/the Indians in the forest. Campamento Rio Lacanja is simple but nice, and the people are helpful. 490 pesos for a double room w/a fan, no a/c but lots of very hot water, and they cook a tasty chicken soup w/all the rice and tortillas we can eat, plus good lemonade. www.ecochiapas.com They have a trail through nice forest, mostly second growth but it gets into some taller old trees as well.

As we drive in, after turning off the main highway towards Bonampak, then turning off again to the right at the well signed intersection and driving over the bridge onto the caliche road, we start seeing lots of dark kite-swallowtails flying up and down the road, dozens and dozens of them. We drop off Fred and Bill and then Judi and I continue on to find the place and see if they have rooms.

We have been told by 2 people, oh don’t worry, you don’t need reservations for this place. I had emailed them a few times and they had first said ok, then it was full for Sun and Mon night, but they had rooms for Saturday. So we decide to show up and see what happens. Now they only have 1 room in the ‘upscale’ enclosed rooms (of which they have 3 in 1 building) and only 1 of their rustic cabins, which are pretty rustic. Shared toilets/showers quite a ways along rocky paths from the cabins, and the cabin is a small wooden hut on the river w/a small mattress in an open door.

These are very trusting folk, as even in our room, which has 2 doors and a deck, and push in locks on the doors, there are no keys. So everything is left open all the time. Anyway, we take the 1 enclosed room and walk to the next place right up the road and get a 2nd room there for Fred and Bill. Same architect, basic design, and theirs is only 325 pesos/double.

So the guys stay up the road and come eat meals w/us, as our kitchen looks much better. The best butterflies we see are 2 Eurtyides salvini, or beautiful Salvin’s Kite-swallowtails, hanging out at the steps to our cabin. Judi scores and gets some great shots, life bug for both of us. I’m hoping to find some of the yellow and orange kites on this trip, as well as the Salvin’s, so I’m happy.  Bill scores with a great Historis archeronta that he finds outside the shared toilets, always good places to check out. We have rain again that evening, right after dinner, it’s nice to sit in the room w/the windows open and listen to the rain.

Sun May 16 – we walk back along the caliche road this morning, before it gets too hot, but we don’t find tons of stuff. It looks good, puddles on the road, lots of snow square stem blooming, but not large numbers of butterflies. As the day gets hotter more start to appear, and in the hot afternoon there are quite a few, mainly pierids and kite-swallowtails, flying up and down the road. The problem is they rarely stop. I don’t know why they’re not mudpuddling, lots of puddles to choose from, but we only find a few puddle parties, and they scatter once and don’t come back. So photography is tough.

Judi, Fred and Bill go down to Bonampak in the middle of the day and see some stuff, but not great numbers. They visit the ruins, while I stay at the camp and work the forest, but don’t see much that we didn’t see yesterday. I do get a fresh Carrhenes calidius that poses nicely, and the others manage to get some good shots of dark kite-swallowtails, but overall it’s not as good as we hoped.

The people at the lodge (the Indian family that runs it) look through our butterfly books at dinner and point out lots of goodies, including some of the orange kites, and say June is the month to come, they’re everywhere. They point out crackers and make crack-crack noises. It appears that we’re a bit early coming in May. We’re seeing a lot of 1’s of each species, so the numbers should go up over the next several weeks.

The locals say this is the start of the time of butterflies. Some friends have told me they have stayed at Frontera Corozal, where there are 2 simple hotels. Some people use Escudo Jaguar, and others have used Nueva Allianza, but we decided to move on. The only down side to these is they are in town, so you have to drive to get to the forest, while at Rio Lacanja you’re in the trees and can walk roads. Most people who stay at Frontera Corozal are taking the boat trip to Yaxchilan.

Mon May 17 – drive to Las Guacamayas, about 4-5 hours from Lacanja. Be sure to gas up at Benemerito de las Americas, the only official Pemex station between Palenque and Comitan.

There are lots of folks selling gas in little containers along the roads, and this gas station was only recently built. We are all amazed by how badly cut over the entire area is, nothing by cattle pasture, and not even many cows, all along the road. We take the smaller road just south of Benemerito de las Americans that cuts west, thus avoiding the longer road that hugs the border.

Las Guacamayas is well signed, official green road signs, and when we get there, about a km off the highway on the right, we find it hard to believe there’s much here as decent habitat. They have lots of signs about preserving the selva, but few trees. We do see a small family of howler monkeys on the grounds, eating mangos, and across the river, where the reserve is, we see some spider monkeys in the trees. But the grounds themselves are very manicured, the rooms are on wooden platforms connected by walkways, 2 rooms sharing a porch.

We watch rufous tailed and green sided hummers fight over heliconias in front of our shared 2 room cabin. We get a cabin that does not have a river view for 780/double, the river view cabins are 900/double.

The restaurant is very tasty, and it’s a beautiful view over the river, but not many butterflies in this sanitized area. The reserve is across the river and it looks beautiful, tall trees and wild looking, but no access. They do offer a boat trip for almost 1500 pesos (!) for 2 to 3 hours, where they take you up a tributary and maybe let you out to walk around for a short while. But they have no trails, and they don’t appear to want you to wander around much by yourself. They have a couple of guided walks, for ridiculous prices of 600 pesos for 2 hours, so we just explore along the river, looking for mudpuddling parties. We don’t find much, but we do see a very fresh whitened bluewing that Fred and Bill get some nice shots of. There are some things flying, kites going by and common pierids, but nothing worth getting excited about. They have some macaws in a small cage, and some deer in a bigger cage, but it feels very much like a zoo, and a not well run one at that. We do see a pair of wild scarlet macaws fly over from the restaurant at breakfast, they head across the river and disappear into the reserve, so at least there are some macaws there. I wouldn’t go back.

Tues May 18 – We depart and drive west to Tziscao and Lagunas de Montebello. We pay 10 pesos/person to enter the town of Tziscao, and be sure to keep your ticket as we use it to get into all the other string of lakes as we proceed westward. We were thinking of staying at Tziscao for the night, the town is full of cabanas, but we checked out a few of the ‘nicer’ ones by the lake and were not impressed. We had hot chocolate at the 2nd one, where the guy proudly told me he learned English when he spent 3 years in jail in Atlanta, Georgia for robbery, which didn’t lead to much confidence in staying at his establishment.

So we moved on, pulling into each of the following lake spots along the road, and butterflying the short roads off the main highway. We found a number of bugs, but not big numbers. Got good shots of Hedemman’s Satyr and cooperative Crimson Patches and a few other fairly common species. A beautiful day and we were up at elevation in the pines about 1500 meters+, so much more pleasant temperatures.

We drove onto Comitan, 1900 meters, where we looked for an inexpensive hotel mentioned in the Moon handbook, Posada El Castellano. We hadn’t realized that Comitan has small narrow cobblestone streets, much like San Cristobal, and in Judi’s large van it was a challenge. Glad she was driving and not me.

Fred navigated the streets and she drove, then we realized the street our hotel was on was being rebuilt and we couldn’t get there. So we decided to try the nicer hotel where other tour groups stay, Hacienda de las Angels. They were almost full, and only had a double for 1000 pesos and a junior suite for 1400, so we kept looking. We managed to find our original goal, got some rooms, and even found a place to park.

Nice little hotel, tasty restaurant, splashing fountain in the courtyard, I would go back to this place. If I did a trip again I would probably come stay at Comitan from Tuxtla Gutierrez and work the lake area as day trips. Then drive across to Bonampak and stay at Rio Lacanja, where there’s decent forest. I wouldn’t bother w/Palenque, probably turn around and drive back to the west.

Wed May 19 – Drove back past our turn from Lagunas de Montebello and headed south over the mountains to Tapachula, on the Pacific coast near Guatemala. This was a beautiful drive, about 5 hours on some twisty mountain roads, lots of gas stations.

Got to our hotel, the Loma Real, just off the main highway 200 up on a hilltop overlooking the city in nice gardens w/a good restaurant, and found out they were full due to a convention. Fortunately they had some 2 bedroom suites, so we get to live together for the next couple of nights, at 2014/4, including their snazzy breakfast buffet.

We watched giant wrens from the restaurant w/our large pizzas, way too much for one person, and Fred found white-bellied chachalacas later on the grounds, while Bill got nice shots of Cissia themis. Some nice stuff, in spite of being mostly a travel day. Plus we were able to get hold of the folks at Finca Hamburgo, one of the coffee fincas up above Tapachula, and they’re picking us up Friday morning for 2 nights at their place.

The road up is bad and requires 4 wheel drive, and after our experience w/tire eating roads going to Finca Monte Carlo, Judi is a bit cautious w/bad mountain roads.

Thur May 20 – We’re off to explore the Volcano Tacana. The road is very well signed to Union Juarez and Santo Domingo, and it takes an hour or two to get there. We drive paved roads all the way above Union Juarez, steeper and steeper, to another small pueblo of Txxx, find a place to park the car and walk down a trail into the woods.

Unfortunately it’s quite cloudy, with fog right over our heads rolling up the valley at 10:30am. It doesn’t get any lighter as the morning wears on, so we don’t walk in too far. We do see golden-banded dartwhites and mountain whites, and Judi gets a shot of our first Consul excellens or Black-veined Leafwing, which then sails down the trail in front of the rest of us.

Then a school group comes up of teenagers, who are amazed to find gringos up the trail, and have to stop and talk and get their pictures taken with us. We talk to their guide, who lives in Union Juarez, and who also says the verano (summer) or time of no rain is much better for butterflies. That would be Dec/Jan/Feb, maybe to March. It would be very interesting to come back here after a trip to El Triunfo in March, as that trips ends in Tapachula. You could come up and check it out for a day, see if what they say is true.

We head back down, check out Santo Domingo but don’t find much, stop a few places along the road but there are few places to pull off the twisty road, and no dirt side roads to explore. Crimson Patches are the most common bug of the day, they’re everywhere. We stop closer to Tapachula at INIFAP (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestal, Agricolas y Pecuarias), talk our way past the guard at the gate (Judi has to leave her identification) and ask for someone who knows something about mariposas (butterflies) in our limited Spanish.

They’re very helpful, and get us a woman who is an expert in ornamental flowers, like heliconias. Aida Olivera de los Satos spends quite a bit of time with us, graciously taking us out and showing us her test plots of cacao, orchids and many types of heliconias. She also says come back in Dec to March, not many butterflies now. Maybe they’re right, as we don’t see many, or maybe they just don’t notice them.

Fri May 21 – Pablo, the driver from Finca Hamburgo, picks us up at our hotel at 9am. The Loma Real hotel lets Judi leave her car in their parking lot for 150 pesos/day, or 300, about the same it would cost her to leave it in a parking lot in town. We had hoped they would let us leave it here for nothing, as we’re staying a couple of nights before, then 1 more afterwards, but they don’t like the idea, and we’re lucky they let us leave it at all.

So we head up to Finca Hamburgo, about a 2 hour drive. www.fincahamburgo.com We pass Finca Argovia after about 50 minutes, which is where the paved road ends. You can drive a regular car to Argovia, but they recommend 4 wheel drive beyond that.

The Hamburgo van isn’t 4 wheel drive, but the driver is very experienced on this road. These 2 fincas work together, and are on La Ruta del Café, which is their attempt to draw tourists. We get to Hamburgo about 11am and immediately wander around their manicured garden at the top. Bill finds the bug of the place as he finds a lek of Symmachia probetor, a different subspecies than the one in Boquete, Panama in Dan and Kay’s backyard. We all get great shots, as they are low and cooperative, a beautiful bluish/green riodinid w/red edges on the hindwing. We even see a female later that day, very different looking, but she just pops in and pops out, so no photos.  This is at the far edge of their garden near the restaurant, at the top of the stairs in the dirt. Bill also finds another great riodinid at this same location later in the day, Mesene crocella. It’s overcast and the fog comes and goes all afternoon, but we manage to scrounge up some goodies. There is a flat area down the road a bit where several species of swallowtails are hilltopping, so some of us spend time there.  The Polydamas Swallowtail is landing on bushes and spreading flat, which they almost never do, and Bill and I both get decent dorsal shots, one I’ve tried to get for a long time. There are also Orions, Variable Crackers, and our first Archaeoprepona, A. demophoon.

Our rooms are up on a higher hill top, so we have some stuff up there as well. This is a very well maintained coffee finca, and the rooms, 3 to a building with 3 buildings, have nice porches from which you can enjoy the view. At night we can see the lights of the town down below, when the fog lifts. There are fireflies and lightning and thunder, so it makes for a spectacular evening.

The restaurant is also very nice here, someone has spent a lot of money developing this finca for tourism. Some of the fincas are more homegrown, where you stay in somebody’s bedroom and feel like you’re part of the family, but this is an actual lodge.

We wander the trails Saturday, looking for bugs. That morning when we woke up there was heavy fog, we could only see about 10’ off our porch, but after breakfast it broke up, the sun came out, and there were butterflies flying. The weather seems to change here every 10 minutes, as the clouds move up and down the foothills. We kick up some new ones, but it seems slow, though this would be a lovely spot to come back to.

We see the Broad-banded Page flying around, sometimes briefly landing on the coffee flowers, but none of us manage to get a photo. The coffee flowers smell wonderful and are a beautiful white cluster. Bill scores w/several new bugs, he gets Theritas mavors and our first Theope. We’re going to try and leave early tomorrow, about 9am, and have them drop us at Finca Argovia, the one closer to town. So we can explore there, then get a lift back to the Loma Real in Tapachula. That way we can compare the 2 fincas. You can stay at both of them. This one the owner, who we talked to ahead of time, offered us a ‘Texas’ discount and charged us only 710 pesos/double, while he said the normal price is 1000 pesos/double. This would be a nice place to bring a group, as they have 18 beds in 9 rooms, in groups of 3, plus you pay for your food at the restaurant. He included the roundtrip transfers, which the Moon book says is $12.50/person.

Everyone here only speaks Spanish, and they seem to have a tough time understanding Judi’s and my Spanish, but we manage. The trails are just the farm roads through the coffee, with red clay dirt, the kind that gets very slippery when wet, especially when the moss grows on it. So you have to watch your step.

Sun May 23 – for an additional 450 pesos for our group, Finca Hamburgo takes us down to Finca Argovia www.argovia.com.mx in their safari truck, an experience in itself, about an hour trip, then the Argovia people will take us back to Tapachula. If we had gone straight to Tapachula, there would not have been any extra charge. The folks there are waiting for us and seem quite eager to see what we’re doing w/the butterflies, and a young biologist from Mexico City, who is there for a month studying birds, comes along. He gets pretty bored watching us photograph a bunch of swallowtails we find at a mud puddle, several Polydamas and a big Ruby-spotted Swallowtail. We also find a beautiful Eunica mygdonia, and all of us get great shots, after being patient w/it.

This is another fancy finca, about an hour from Tapachula, and the 2 fincas compliment each other, as Argovia is about 700 meters and Hamburgo is higher, about 1300 meters.

We eat lunch at Argovia, and it is delicious, if not very cheap. We check out a room, and it is very romantic, w/a beautiful private porch, for 1250 pesos. They might be open to a discount if you’re not on a weekend, which is when they get most of their visitors.

There are several species of tigerwings flying in the shaded ravines, and Bill also finds several new hairstreaks for our trip. We also see, and photograph, Iaspis castitas. There are 2 of them, and 1 lets Fred and Bill get some good shots. Then their driver takes us onto Tapachula, about another hour, where our Hotel Loma Real is waiting for us, our 2 bedroom bungalow, and Judi’s car is safe and secure. The next 2 days will be travel days, first to Juchitan, about 400 km, then up to Tuxtepec and west to Valle Nacional, about another 250 km.

Mon May 24 – Judi drives like a demon, 250 km from Tapachula to Arriaga in 3 hours, a great 4 lane divided highway. Then about another 1.5 hours to the turnoff at La Ventosa, so we were there shortly after 1pm, and we’re making such great time we decided to head on to Tuxtepec, another 250 km.

It was funny, today several times we were pulled over at the military checkpoints and questioned, especially coming out of Tapachula. They thought we had been in Guatemala, and were very confused by Judi’s Missouri plates on her car. But she convinced them we weren’t doing anything sneaky, and we continue on.

The 2nd part was on more windy, slower roads, but we still made it to Tuxtepec and were in the Villa Esmeralda by 5:30pm, 9 long hours on the road but now we’re in good position to hit Valle Nacional tomorrow, only about an hour away. We’ll snag the hotel rooms in town, then head up the mountain on Hwy 175. From Valle Nacional it’s about 6-7 hours to Oaxaca, but we’ll spend probably the next 2 days walking the roads and photographing. This stretch goes through great habitat which changes quickly as it climbs steeply.

Tue May 25 – drove to Valle Nacional, got our hotel rooms at the simple hotel right off the zocalo (the rates have increased from 280/double to 380, still a good deal), then headed up Highway 175 to km 74 and km 84, where I had good luck 2 years ago when I worked this road. We went to the higher location first, and were fogged out, but we did see our first purple and orange daggerwing, Marpesia corita. We had much better luck at the lower elevation, about 1400 meters. Km 84 is about 1700, where a small waterfall comes down the cliff, and I have seen Cloud-forest King in the past, but not this time. So we return to Km 74, which keeps us busy for several hours chasing a good variety of nymphalids, 3 species of Mapwings and our first Pedaliodes, big dark higher elevation satyrs.

We finally head back down the mountain and stop at the dirt road off to the left, or north, about Km 55 or 56. This is about 600 meters, so we had tons of Crimson Patches and several species of crescents and other lowland things.

Wed May 26 – after a tasty breakfast at the big palapa restaurant across from the Pemex, the only place to eat in town, we check out and head back up the hill. This time we stop at the 600 meter spot first, before it get too warm. We had rain when we woke up, but it clears by mid morning. We get great looks at One-banded or White-banded Satyr, Pareuptychia metaleuca, which are chasing each other vigorously and fortunately we find a shrub where they like to pose with wings open. Interesting, as we didn’t see any late yesterday at this spot.

We continue on up the hill, stopping at the same couple of spots, and get several new goodies at Km 74. Great shots of a very obliging Turquoise Emperor, both open and closed, and Godman’s Mapwing, plus a constant stream of 88’s, mostly Anna’s but a few Faded, with their glorious dark blue above. Today we continue up to the pass, and visit another dirt road off to the left, or south, as we’re climbing, just before Km 103. It’s easy to miss, as it drops off the main highway, but is a well maintained road down to a waterfall that’s no longer visited much, it appears. We don’t see a soul, and it’s quite cool and dark, we’re about 2400 meters. But we find a couple of species, a strongly marked Cyllopsis and Blazing Skipper, or Vinpeius tinga. Unfortunately later John Kemner corrects this to just a female Fiery Skipper, oh well. This looks like a great spot, good high elevation habitat in the pines. We were told there were 2 species of Dalla here, but didn’t see either.

It’s about an hour + to Itzlan, where we spend the night in their ecotourism cabins, very nice for 550 pesos/double. It’s in the pines about 2100 meters, so it’s cool and you can enjoy the wind in the pines. Not easy to find, as you have to drive through the town and up a paved road about another 3.5 km. We eat pizza in town before driving out, as we think we have to check in at the office in town, which is closed until 5pm. But it turns out that’s not true, we can drive directly to the cabins and pay there. They have a huge restaurant there, but it’s only open when there is a large group staying. So it’s a good thing we had the pizza, which was right to your left as you came into the square. Our cheapest meal yet, 200 pesos for all of us, and we couldn’t eat it all.

Thu May 27 – John Kemner drove up from Oaxaca, about 2 hours, and met us in town at Itzlan, after we had a tasty breakfast at Jemina’s. Then we drove back up Highway 175 to a dirt road off to the right, about Km 138, that was signed for 2 villages and goes in for 60km or more.

We drove in about 15-20 minutes to a wet meadow on the left filled w/yellow composites, about 9,500’ or 2800 meters. It was only about 9:30am, which was too early for this high elevation, so we drove on. We didn’t see much, as it was still too dry and we had overcast and cool weather, but it was beautiful habitat. John was full of nuggets of info, and was fascinating to spend time with in the field. At one spot we had Cloud-forest King flying overhead, but it never stopped for photos.

We finally turned around and went back to the meadow, where there was now some sun and it had warmed up, and we spent a couple of hours chasing Poanes monticola and some dark frosted females which could be Poanes taxiles or Poanes zabulon or maybe Poanes melane. Interesting that we didn’t see any males. We also got good shots of Piruna ceracates and a different looking crescent, Phyciodes mylitta mexicana, much darker than the Mylittas I’m used to.

This would be a great spot to come back to in the rainy season, if you were lucky and could hit a sunny day. The problem is once the rains start, it’s overcast and cool up here, so John says it’s almost impossible to hit the few sunny days this high. He feels the better time is Feb through May, but you just know if you could time it right you might find all sorts of goodies at a place like this.

Fri May 28 – John joins us again for a day up at Guacamaya road north of Oaxaca, after we drive on into town and get rooms at the Anturium Hotel, across the street from the new first class bus station. This is a nice hotel, 550/single and 700/double, that has a very nice restaurant in the courtyard for breakfast, very pleasant, and they take credit cards, which is a plus for us at the end of our trip and cash is running low. It doesn’t have air conditioning, as only the really upscale hotels in Oaxaca have that luxury. Usually the weather doesn’t need it, but it’s been very hot, in the 90’s. The rooms do have nice ceiling fans, and you can open the window, and we sleep fine.

So Friday morning Judi picks us up, after reuniting w/her dogs the previous night, then we stop at John’s house and head up to Guacamaya. This is off the libre or free road to Mexico City, you take the libre to the right where the cuota starts heading to Mexico City, then turn right on a signed road to Guacamaya and ecoturismo. It’s very dry up the canyon, but the mala mujer is blooming and this is a magnet for butterflies.

We find the special hairstreak again that Judi and I photographed here last July, and John collects several of them. It’s close to Satyrium favonius/ Oak Hairstreak or Poling’s Hairstreak, but this is a large range extension for either species, and Bob Robbins suspects this is an undescribed species. I had sent him our photos from last year, and he needs some specimens to determine the species for sure.  So we’re happy to find the same species flying a bit earlier. We also have a good selection of other skippers coming to the white flowers of the mala mujer. This is a plant that you need to know in Mexico, as it’s a nasty painful nettle that likes blooming alongside roadways, and the hairs can go right through pants and socks. I speak from personal experience, be wary of this plant. But it has large white clusters of flowers that stick up, and butterflies of many types seem to really like it. Or it blooms when not much else is blooming, but it’s always worth checking out.

We see White-crescent and Pipevine Swallowtails on the mala, Mexican Silverspots and Gulf Fritillaries, and lots of big skippers, Gold-costa Skippers are abundant, 1 fresh Valeriana Skipper, plus some Roadside Skippers and some fresh Codatractus that I think are Codatractus bryaxis or Tawny Mottled-Skipper, but John tells us that species flies more in the east, where it’s wetter, and here it’s what used to be called Arizona Mottled-Skipper but it’s not that either. Andy Warren has named it Sally’s or Confused Mottled-Skipper, Codatractus sallyae. This is a new one for me, but John says it’s common in the Oaxaca valley. It’s very bright rufous above, we watch them flying around, much brighter than Arizona.  We also have a good study of Banded-skippers, as we have both Chisos Banded-Skipper, Autochton cincta with the white fringe and narrow gold band, and Autochton cellus, Golden Banded-Skipper.  John points out some of the differences with Sonoran Banded-Skipper, Autochton pseudocellus, which is a confusing pair to me. He says pseudocellus is smaller, and the ventrals are different. 2 years ago we had good looks at pseudocellus up higher, at El Cumbre up Highway 175 from Oaxaca.

There is a 2nd place a bit up the road, where the water runs over the road from some drainage pipes and the road makes a big right hand turn, maybe 5 km up from the highway. This is a great spot for butterflies, as many species come to the water, especially now when it’s so dry.

We have Pallid Tilewhites, lots of blues of several species, more hairstreaks, lots of sulphurs – mostly Mexican. One of the interesting aspects is how different the 2 spots are in the species composition, even though they are very close. There are Red Satyrs patrolling the road, and Red-spotted Patches posing for photos.  The water spot is a great place for Checkered Scallopwings, I almost always see them here, and today is no exception.

We head back to town about 3pm for a late lunch/early dinner at my favorite pizza spot in Oaxaca, Mezzaluna. They have a thin crust, crispy pizza which I really like, however Fred, being from New York, turns up his nose at it. He does enjoy his shrimp risotta, so all is not lost. Mezzaluna just happens to be next store to a fabulous bakery, Pan & More, which is European style croissants and artisanal breads, another nice place to visit here in Oaxaca.

Then we wander around downtown, visiting several of the fabulous old churches and hit a few of the many art galleries and shops. You could spend a lot of time, and money, exploring Oaxaca, a fascinating and unique city.

Sat May 29 – Our last day in the field, and we go east on Highway 190 about an hour to Valle del Teotitlan, a Zapotec village and a great valley on a dirt road where there are many places to explore for butterflies. This is the weaving village where many tours go, everyone here makes their living weaving fabulous rugs, and you can see big looms in every house. More shopping, if you’re into that this is the place to do it.

We work our way up the dirt road that winds its way up the valley, gradually gaining altitude until we’re about 2300 meters. John notices the blooming acacia trees with white spikes of flowers, so we stop, and hit it big time with hairstreaks. They love this plant, it is the same flower that Judi had the mystery Satyrium hairstreak on a little lower down last July, on Guacamaya Road.

We have lots of butterflies, more hairstreaks today then we’ve had the entire trip. Unfortunately the trees are downslope from the road, so you can watch the butterflies easily w/binoculars, but it’s a bit far for photographs. Certainly not w/my camera, but Bill and Judi take some shots w/their longer lenses. Probably the best one we find is Atlides carpasia, a beautiful one similar to Great Purple but with red at the base of the wings and big white spots, very dramatic. We also have lots of Ziegleria and maybe some Electrostrymon, and several green species: quite a few Telea Hairstreaks, Clench’s Greenstreak, even an Erora or two.  It’s a great way to end our trip.

Sun May 30 – Judi graciously takes us to the airport for an early departure, and we all make it home fine. Thanks to Judi for doing all the driving and, and to John for the 3 days he spent with us, I’ll definitely look forward to going back to Oaxaca, probably next summer a bit later in the year. Give the rains a chance to get going, maybe in June or July. But if you want the higher elevation species, you should probably plan on March/April.

 

Honduras June 2010

Trip Report Honduras June 5 – 21, 2010:

Participants: Kim Garwood,Richard Lindstrom, Shirley Sekarajasingham

Author: Kim Garwood

The currency in Honduras is the lempira, and the current exchange rate is about 18.5 or 19 to 1$US. The places we stayed all took dollars, but if you go out in the boonies you need local money.

Sat June 5 – I flew in from Miami on AA to San Pedro Sula, then flew SOSA to La Ceiba, 7 nights at the Lodge at Pico Bonito.

Sun June 6 to June 12 – explore around Pico Bonito

Sat June 12 – visit Robert Lehman’s collection and go up Cangrejal valley, move to Villa de Soledad for 5 nights

Sun June 13 – hike across swinging bridge to Pico Bonito NP

Mon June 14 – hike trails at Omega Tours

Tue/Wed June 15/16 – back to Robert Lehman’s collection for the day

Thur June 17 – drive to Tela to Maya Vista for 2/3 nights, visit the botanical garden

Fri June 18 – changed our mind, transfer to airport hotel Metrotel Express for last 2 nights

Sat June 5 – Richard and Shirley flew to Houston on a redeye from Seattle, then to San Pedro Sula on Continental, so they landed about 10:30am. Then they took the 4 hour bus ride from SPS to La Ceiba, having to wait until 2:15 to depart and arriving about 6:30-7pm.

The Lodge at Pico Bonito includes free transfers from the airport at La Ceiba, but if you come on the bus they charge an additional $25/person to go get you in town. The flight cost $85, and the lodge can arrange it for you, so you just pay the extra money to them when you check out. I recommend the flight, as the bus costs about $25 + the extra pick up charge, so the flight is only about $35 more, and it’s much quicker and easier.  It was a bit of touch and go, however, as my flight from Miami was about 45 minutes late and I only had 1.5 hours between my scheduled arrival at 1pm and the La Ceiba flight at 2:30pm. But I got nice people in the customs line to let me jump to the front of the line, and I made it, but it was tight.

I’m going to spend a week at the McGuire Center in Gainesville, FL after this couple of weeks in Honduras, so I wanted to go back to Miami, otherwise I might have come straight from Houston. I find often the AA flights from Miami are cheaper than Continental through Houston to any destination in Latin America, because there is more competition w/Latin American airlines from Miami. But you never know, so it’s always a good idea to check.

I wandered around a bit late in the afternoon when I arrived, saw several Cattlehearts, mostly females but one green winged male, either Parides sesostris or childrenae. I’ll have to get a better look at one stopped sometime, I can separate them when they’re flying.  Later talking to the local guides they tell me childrenae is noticeably bigger and brighter than sesostris.

We had a fabulous dinner at the lodge restaurant, killer shrimp, delicious conch soup, perfect grouper, and key lime pie, all for $30 flat rate. I could learn to like this place. Lunch is $15 and dinner is $30.

Then when we went back to our rooms, I had a gorgeous riodinid on my screen door, coming to the light over my door, like a moth. It was Ancyluris jurgensenii, one I don’t have good shots of. Shirley and I messed with it for quite a while but couldn’t get it to hold the wings up for a good ventral, though I was happy w/the dorsals I got. You just never know what’s going to show up.

Sun June 6 – Went up the trail into the forest, after a killer breakfast of French toast. Yes, food is a big part of the experience here at Pico Bonito. The trail goes up the hill fairly steeply on large stone steps they have built to the ridge, then runs along on top. There is another trail off to the right to Las Pilas, down to the river on the right of the property. They have streams/rivers on both sides.

The woman at the desk had told me there were 162 steps to the river, which I thought was odd that she knew exactly how many steps. But when I got there and saw a substantial wooden stairway disappearing over the edge, I understood why. It’s a giant stairmaster to the water. I passed, and continued up the trail and took the route down to the 2nd water crossing, Mermaid Falls. This was also down to the river, but it meandered more and wasn’t as steep. Mermaid Falls is one of the more beautiful swimming holes I’ve seen, and I had to go in, clothes and all. I could have left my clothes on the bank, as I didn’t see a soul, but I was very sweaty and figured my clothes could use the wash as well as me.

It was delightful, a clear emerald green color and a perfect cool temperature. But no butterflies on the edges, though there were several flying by. I did have a big ruby-eye skipper along the trail that posed nicely for photos, and several riodinids who didn’t pose nicely. Shirley got nice shots of Juditha caucana and several good hairstreaks, including Iaspis castitas which I had chased and missed, so good thing she came along.

It’s always a good idea to check all the screens in the open air restaurant and hotel lobbies, as butterflies often get stuck inside. After lunch I went down another trail behind our cabins toward the other stream, it was on the shady side of the slope and out of the sun, and there were many things hiding out down there in the dark. Lots of Cattlehearts or Parides sitting on leaves resting, and I got a few shots, though most of them flushed away.

We’re meeting Robert Lehman here in La Ceiba, where he runs a museum and has a great butterfly collection. We’re going to see his collection, and he’s going to take us out a few days to some good spots.

Mon June 7 – Today we got a couple of guides to take us to the cemetery. James Adams, the director here at Pico Bonito, is into herps, and he’s also been a key figure in setting up the researcher cabins, where we’re staying. Robert Lehman, the guy w/the collection here at La Ceiba, introduced me to James, and James is the one who got us into the researcher cabins, so he’s a good man to know. He’s been extremely helpful and friendly, very supportive of what we’re doing w/the butterfly photography, and he offered to have one of his guides show us some good butterfly spots.

We took the trail in back of our cabins to the serpentarium (a project of James’) then on to the butterfly house and their larvae house, where they rear the caterpillars. Then through the fence and into the fields and away we went, past a great blooming tree covered in soldiers and big tigerwings. They caught Thyridia psidii melantho for me, when it was nectaring up high, so I could shoot it in the hand. This subspecies looks totally different from the South American Thyridia psidii, so I was really happy to get it.

The cemetery is maybe a mile or two away, but it took us a couple of hours to get there, as we were stopping and photographing everywhere. Then we took a different route on our way back, through palm tree orchards then peppercorn plantations, which were very interesting. I had never seen peppercorns grown in the New World before. They use tree stumps and the peppercorn plant wraps around the stump as a vine, w/clusters of peppercorns dangling all around, very pretty. Guess this is where the green peppercorns came from for my excellent steak last night. Plus we saw a number of new species on our jaunt. A different yellow Calospila and a fabulous black and yellow riodinid, Symmachia tricolor which Shirley and I got decent shots of.

There were lots of butterflies today, as we were more out in the open field and meadows. There’s an extensive mosaic of different habitats, some shaded some not, with little flowers everywhere. In the darker parts we had Purple-washed Eyemarks and some Ithomiinae.

We really needed a guide, especially the round about way we came back. I may try to retrace our steps tomorrow. I’m pretty sure I can find the cemetery, but coming back through the peppercorns might be a bit tricky. The 2 guides, Jose/Pliny and Santos were very friendly and helpful, they spoke very good English, and they also knew the birds, so it was 2 for 1.

Pliny is taking Shirley out tomorrow morning to look for a couple of her target birds. They were catching butterflies for their butterfly house, apparently the cemetery is the hot spot to go to when you want butterflies. So they would catch the big gaudy ones and ask questions about the little ones, which were more what we were after anyway, so it was lots of fun all around. They know which species are flying here, and can separate them easily on the wing, without binoculars, even the tigerwings which isn’t easy. Amazing what you learn by just doing it. I was impressed w/both of them.

Tue June 8 – Shirley is up and out at 5:30am w/Pliny looking for birds, while Richard and I have a more civilized breakfast at 6:30am. We had done breakfast at 7:30am the first morning, but moved it up to 6:30. It starts to get light quite early, before 5, and the bird song wakes us up every morning about 4:45am. Plus it gets very hot, so it’s better to be out early.

Today Richard and I backtrack our trail from yesterday, through the serpentarium, the butterfly house, past the blooming tree, through the fence, past the big tank, down the trail and turn right, into deeper woods, rather than left through cut over stuff to the cemetery. We make it back to the peppercorns and notice lots of small trails wandering off into the bush. It would be easy to get lost as there aren’t any signs, just tracks and trails through a variety of habitats. We find a number of different species that we had not yet seen.

Probably my favorites were some spectacular riodinids, the best being a very fresh Ancyluris inca which I chased for 10 minutes or more. It kept flitting under another leaf, usually quite low, and wouldn’t let me get a good shot, but I finally prevailed. This was after we had seen a worn one on the blooming tree and Richard had caught it, then it got away before we could shoot it. But the 2nd one was much fresher and beautiful, big orange stripes on the forewing and metallic blue on the hindwing. There was a fresh Perophthalma lasus inside the hotel lobby screens, and a lovely Anteros formosus, one of the small cream jewelmarks with red and silver markings.

Another trail I’ve gotten to like is the one from the serpentarium down to the river. This is good in the hot afternoons, in the dark shade and butterflies are resting down there. Yesterday I had a fresh Vettius marcus there, and today I chased a gorgeous red Rayed Longwing, or Laparus doris. I was able to get good ventrals, but he kept flying another 10’ down the trail, landing, opening and closing his wings just until I was on top of him and ready to shoot, then he would close up.

These come in different colors, and in South America they seem to be blue, at least that’s the usual color I find. The ones here appear to be red, and I would like a good dorsal shot, but so far they’ve eluded me.

Finally this afternoon we get a bit of rain. Every day it’s gotten dark with lots of clouds, but they dissipate and nothing happens. Today has been the darkest yet. We had a few sprinkles before lunch, then about 2pm it rains pretty good, just not long enough. It should be raining now, thunderstorms in the afternoon, but it’s been dry for over a week.

We haven’t seen many Crackers, just Gray Cracker, but today we find a weird mushroom, sort of a white stalk with orange lace all over the top, and both a Variable Cracker and a Blue-frosted Catone are eating on it, plus lots of flies. It’s growing from the bottom of a palm, and doesn’t look very appetizing, but the butterflies seem to like it.

Wed June 9 – We pay the lodge to take us up to CURLA (Centro Universidad de Litorio Atlantico), a university area for research that we have been told is good for butterflies. It’s $30/person for a driver and a guide. Herman the guide has a brother, and a large extended family, that all work at the CURLA area as park rangers and working on building a couple of houses up there. It’s in Pico Bonito National Park, and you take a gravel road right past the edge of the airport.

We drive to the brother’s house and walk in from there, up hill a couple of hundred meters in elevation and maybe a couple of kilometers long. It seems a lot longer on the way up, in the hot sun, but on the way back down it seems easy, plus we have cloud cover. You need 4 wheel drive to get in very far, and we just have a van. Herman tells me they usually do this trip early in the morning, leaving the lodge at 6am and getting to where you start to walk by 7, instead we leave at 8 and get there at 9. It might be better to plan this trip a day ahead, instead of asking about it after breakfast which is what we did.

They are building a campamento, or camping area, up on top, and we walk up to that. Eventually they plan to have cabins in the woods, toilet facilities, who knows what, but right now you can just camp. The road up, once we get past the goat pastures and mahogany plantation, is very pretty, and we see a number of new species.

At the edge of the park we get into good forest habitat. Several hairstreaks are hiding along the dark edges, and we get good shots of Calycopis trebula and Calycopis demonassa, one of my favorites. Several good bugs get away, unfortunately. We find my first Mottled Purplewing, or Eunica caelina, very fresh and dashing around us on the road, but it won’t stay still very long. There’s also our first, for this trip, Little Banner or Nica flavilla. We do get great shots of a fresh Paches loxus gloriosus, a brilliant blue skipper with 2 shades of blue on the wings. Probably the star of the day for me is the spectacular Morpho cypris aphrodite.

Several of these beauties sail overhead or over the treetops below us, so we can see the brilliant purple/blue and white dorsal, but no possibilities for a photo. I wonder how people have managed to collect these high flyers. Richard scores with a nice dorsal of the regular blue morpho, which comes and rest flat open next to him while he’s sitting quietly on a rock. Talk about luck. No, I’m sure it was skill on his part. Shirley gets a great shot of a strange red and black insect, very small, something with wings that Herman thinks is related to a cicada. It looks wild, but who knows what it is. The forest is full of wonderful things. We find an amazing peanut head bug as well up at the camping area.

Thur June 10 – we try to find a trail to cross the Coloradito river, the one on the west side of the property, to your right as you face the lobby. We go down the entrance road to the guard shack, where they keep a chain across the road, and down a bit further to a road to the left, as we’re going out from the lodge.

There’s a sign for a balneario, or swimming hole. It’s a short walk to the river, where someone has it set up for picnics and it looks like they sell food and beer, probably on the weekends. But there’s no one there now on a Thursday morning. You could probably find a way to rock hop your way across the stream here, there’s certainly lots of rocks. But we don’t see any sign of a trail on the other side. It looks like fairly dark forest down to the water’s edge, so we decide not to risk jumping our way over. Besides, Richard’s not much into rock hopping, it’s a real good way to break an ankle. Better to wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet.

I’m looking for purplewings down by the river, but all I see are dingy purplewings. We run into another Symmachia tricolor on theroad to the river, and I chase it both going down and find it again going up, but it’s very shy and won’t even give me a good look w/the binoculars. It always dives under a low leaf, so it’s impossible to get a good look at it. It’s extremely small, I don’t remember the earlier one being this tiny, so maybe it’s a moth. But from what I can see of the antennae it sure looks like a rio, too bad I couldn’t get a good shot.

We continue on down the main dirt road, chasing skippers on the small white flowers that line the road, and find several new species for the trip. Then suddenly we stumble on another big Eunica alcmena, the gorgeous purplewing I had at the pool the first morning. He’s also extremely shy and won’t let us get w/in 20’, but Richard gets a distant shot.

All of a sudden the skies open up and we get the first really good rain we’ve had. Of course, we a mile or so from the lodge, and I’m not carrying my umbrella, but I do have my ziplock baggie for my camera. So I walk quickly back towards the lodge and take the road signed to the serpentarium, not having gone this way before. The gate is closed, but there is an obvious walkway around to the side and over the barbed wire fence, so we make it back there, where there’s a porch to wait out the rain.

It pours a good 45 minutes, floods the paths, lots of standing water, so we finally dash back to our cabins. I’m soaked but it’s warm, high 80’s, and my camera is dry. I jump in the shower and when I get out, shortly before noon, it’s sunny and steaming. We decide to go to lunch, which turns out to be a mistake, as by the time we’re done w/lunch it’s clouding up again. That becomes the pattern for the day. It started out clear blue, not a cloud in the sky at 7am, then pouring by 10:30, clear by noon, pouring by 2pm, clear again then heavy rain and some intense thunder cracks at 4pm.

Richard and Shirley time a quick dash out to the trails after 2 to check their spitwads (they’ve covered the trails with ugly clumps of white tissue and salt water for skippers). They find a couple of new skippers for the trip, Synale cynaxa is probably the best, a big ruby-eye with black veins. The spitwads have been bringing in some skippers one by one. Not big numbers, but here and there we have been getting different species. It’s been so hot the spitwads dry out quickly, so they have to keep spraying them to keep them wet.

It would be interesting to really monitor a batch of spitwads, as we’re seeing some of them with brown deposits. This makes it looks like something is using them, we’re just not seeing much of what it is.

Fri June 11 – I go back down the entrance road and the gardens around the butterfly house, finding some different species that are willing to sit for photos. It clouded up early, by 9:30am, but didn’t rain until later that afternoon. A small tree by the pool, in front of the cashew tree, came into bloom and was attracting hairstreaks, so I spend some time there and got a few new ones for the trip.

More stuff is showing up on the spitwads, so Richard and Shirley keep checking them regularly. I think the rains are hatching new ones out daily.

The night before there was a big celebration in El Pino, the nearby town, and we could hear the pa system most of the night, so Richard and Shirley didn’t get much sleep. James graciously offers them one of the nicer cabins, which are on the other side of the restaurant and far from the potential noise, so we get to see how the upper half lives. Of course, tonight it’s quiet, and I’m glad I stayed where I was. The town is several miles away, and normally you don’t hear them at all, but James tells us there was some sort of fair. Amazing how far the noise carries on the quiet night.

James also shows me a nice hedge of what he calls jasmine, with small white flowers, right next to the lobby to the right. He says earlier this month and May it was covered with flowers, and the butterflies were all over it. We see a few bugs, but the flowers are mostly done. It could be well worth checking out on future trips.

Sat June 12 – Our last morning at Pico Bonito. Robert Lehman comes to pick us up and takes us to see his great collection in La Ceiba. Robert has lived here over 30 years, and has collected many insects. He has a very nice museum, and he graciously lets us photograph whatever we want.

Unfortunately after an hour or so the power goes out, so we decide to drive up the road and look for butterflies. It’s an overcast morning, the first one we’ve had on this trip, so we don’t see much, but Robert shows us several places he likes to do black lighting for moths at night. He takes us to our home for the next 5 nights, Villa de Soledad, run by his friend John Dupuis, who also writes Honduras Tips.

So John is a very knowledgeable guy about things Honduran. This is a small, new b&b up on a hill w/a killer view over the river Cangrejal, about 15 km out of La Ceiba. It’s nice and quiet, except for river noise. And their 3 dogs who like to bark a lot the first night, but we explain how that bothers our sleeping, and they lock up the dogs the rest of the nights.

We’re paying $60/night for my single and $70/night for R&S’s double, plus lunch and dinner. John charged $100 for the transfer to Tela at the end of our stay, and we got the 5th night free. The food ended up being about $75 for the 4-5 days, which was quite reasonable. It was like staying with your friends, the family was all very friendly and helpful, and worked hard to please us.

Sun June 13 – We walk a short distance back down the road towards La Ceiba, just a few hundred meters, and there is a visitor center for another entrance to Pico Bonito National Park. There is a large swinging bridge to cross the river, and a fee of 20 lempires, or about US$1. We cross the bridge, swinging and swaying, and hike up the trail to the left. They suggest we go that way, as it’s much steeper to the right, so we take sendero La Roca. They tell us it’s only 3.5 km to the cascadas, or waterfall, which we could see from the road on our way up yesterday, but we think they’re lying.

We spend all morning, from 8am to almost 2pm, on the loop trail, not going out to the waterfall, and are pretty tired when we make it back to our late lunch at the b&b. We only climb about 175 meters, but we do it repeatedly, up and down little ravines. It’s an interesting trail, crossing several creeks and wet spots, but we don’t see many butterflies. We do get great shots of one of the ghost skippers, Phanus vitreus, and some gorgeous Calycopis trebula. And we see our first Honduran white morpho sail by, like a huge Kleenex or dinner plate floating in the air. I didn’t expect to see them this low, we’re only about 250 meters. It rains heavily after we get back home, good timing on our part.

We sit on the open porch under the overhanging roof working on our computers and photos, and have to move in a bit to avoid the rain.  Since the rains have started it’s much more comfortable, you don’t actually sweat all the time, and the evenings are much more pleasant. Soledad, John’s wife, makes us a great lunch of steak and potatoes. It sounds simple but it’s delicious. It may help that we’re starved after our forced march up and down the mountain. The beef here in Honduras has been fabulous, some of the best I’ve had in a long time. Having good cooks probably helps.

Mon June 14 – Shirley and I walk up the road today, in the opposite direction from yesterday, to another rafting company/hotel/restaurant called Omega Tours. There are several rafting companies along the Cangrejal river, it’s become very popular, mostly run by Europeans who also have small hotels or b&b’s.

We ate lunch here the first day w/Robert Lehman, and went back for dinner, and they offered to let us explore their trails. They have 3, marked 1, 2, and 3, conveniently enough. 1 being the shortest and 3 the longest, so we take 3. They all go up hill through the horse pen, up through the orange and mango orchards and into the forest. #3 is very pretty but looks like it hasn’t been used much lately, as there are a number of downed trees and slippery rocky scrambles up and down.

Good thing Richard didn’t come today, as he wanted a day to rest his knees after our up and down hike yesterday. This trail is steeper than the one we were on yesterday, no switchbacks just straight up and down. Honduras is mostly mountains, and it appears they are steep mountains, at least the ones we’re on. We don’t find too many butterflies but always a few.

I like coming up through the open meadows surrounded by forest, these can be productive to explore. Shirley gets good shots of a new Astraptes, one of the Flashers, probably janeira. Very dark blue above, it hides under leaves and makes it tough to shoot.

Tues June 15 – Richard and I go into La Ceiba to work on Robert Lehman’s collection. John takes us in w/him, he goes in to work in the morning.

Wed June 16 – I go back for another day at the collection, while Richard and Shirley walk the trails.

Thur June 17 – John Dupuis, the owner of Villa de Soledad, drives us to Tela, about 2 hours back west towards San Pedro Sula, to the Maya Vista hotel where we plan to stay the next couple of nights and explore the huge botanical garden at Lancetilla, just outside Tela.

We get to the hotel by 9:30am, drop our bags, and John takes us out to the garden, only about 1 km outside town. We get senior discounts, so it’s 58 lempiras each, about $US3. We arrange with the hotel desk at Maya Vista for a taxi to come get us later that afternoon, as there aren’t any taxis out at the garden, 150 lempiras ($8). We wander around for hours, exploring the many paths, but don’t see many butterflies.

This is an old garden left over from the banana company days, and we don’t think it’s being too well maintained. We’re told it’s the 2nd largest tropical botanical garden in the world, the biggest being in Malayasia. There are mostly larger trees surrounded by grass, so we go to the weedy edges to find butterflies. We see just common, widespread open edge species, like banded and white peacocks, pasture skippers, a few scallopwings but not much we haven’t seen in many locations.

Shirley and I walk up the road quite a ways, into the more woodsy areas behind the garden, though we never know when we leave the garden. We get into other areas where people are living, with trucks and chickens and dogs and houses. This is better habitat, along a small river, but still not many butterflies. I wouldn’t recommend spending the time to come out here.

We get back to the Maya Vista late afternoon, which is an interesting little hotel more like a tree house, with 4 or 5 levels stacked up in the trees, up on top of a hill. It’s not an easy walk to the beach, which is fine as we’re not going there.

Tela is apparently a beach weekend town for folks from San Pedro Sula, another hour or two to the west, where the airport is for our international departures. Unfortunately it’s extremely noisy that night, and we have difficulty sleeping. Apparently this is the week in celebration of the local patron saint, and everybody gets the week off, no school, no work, just party party.

We do have small air conditioners in our rooms, we’re sharing a 2 bedroom suite for $85, but even with the windows shut and the a/c on, you still hear music and street noise rising up from below.

They have a great location for their restaurant with a wonderful view, but the camarones con ajo (shrimp with garlic) isn’t up to what we’re used to in Mexico. They do have great pina coladas, however, my favorite tropical drink. The breakfast was fun, as we watch spot-breasted orioles, yellow-shouldered tanagers, and a number of butterflies hilltopping on the tops of the trees from our table while eating good French style crepes, as the manager/owner is from Quebec.

But due to the noise and the lack of butterflies at the garden,  the next morning we decide to go ahead and move to the airport hotel in San Pedro Sula, as I have a 7am departure and was concerned about doing the drive at 4am. Hopefully the hotel there will be quieter and have better food. We get a shuttle for $60 for the 3 of us through the hotel.

Fri/Sat June 18/19 – after a leisurely morning at Maya Vista, enjoying the view and the pleasant breezes on the decks, we take their shuttle into the airport at San Pedro Sula and get dropped off at the Metrotel Express hotel, about 15 minutes past the airport toward town. It’s on the main highway in a quiet area, and has a nice green garden area in the back. This is a good spot to stay if you have early morning flights. A single is $60, a double $70, plus 16% tax. There is a decent restaurant right next door, Larson’s, where you can sign for your meals and have them included on your bill at the hotel.

We hit on the quesadillas, which are tasty. Their guacamole isn’t worth bothering with, however, too bland.  Shirley leaves the next morning with Robert Gallardo, a bird guide who lives here in Honduras and has a lodge at the Copan ruins. She’ll be doing more exploring for the next week or two, but Richard and I will fly back to the US the following morning.

Overall I’ve been a bit disappointed in the butterflies here in Honduras, but I think we were hurt by the late rains. The butterflies may be much better in July, at least this year. Robert Lehman tells me this is normally the best time. He said he waits all year for June and July. I will be interested to hear how Shirley’s additional part of the trip goes, as she is going up to more mountainous areas. The luxury lodge at Pico Bonito is very comfortable, and it will be interesting to hear from the groups at the McGuire Center, who have been running collecting trips down here quite a bit in the last year, how they’re doing. They have 2 trips in June and 2 in July this year.

Mexico – El Triunfo, Chiapas, Mar 2010

Trip Report for El Triunfo, Chiapas, Mexico March 2010

Participants: Kim Garwood

Author: Kim Garwood

The trip was arranged by my friends Will and Gill Carter. There were 7 of us plus our Canadian guide, a knowledgeable young bird guide named Amy McAndrews, aemcandrews@yahoo.ca. The regular guide is a Mexican called Jorge who leads birding trips all over Mexico and is also Amy’s partner. But due to conflicts in scheduling, Jorge wasn’t available and Amy, who had met Will and Gill last year, was able to help out. She was very good, knew all the bird calls, and was interested in butterflies as well.

The prime time for the horned guan is the spring before the rains, in Feb/March. Then the guans are calling, a low humming, blowing over a bottle noise, and when they’re not calling they’re much more difficult to find. Amazing how such a large bird can hide in the trees, but they do. Several bird tour companies run tours, VENT has done it the longest, since the late 70’s, and Legacy Tours also does trips every spring, but Will and Gill have done it several times and they arranged it directly with the Mexican foundation that runs the reserve.

Claudia Virgen is the director of Ecobiosfera, the NGO in charge of tourism. Her email is cvirgen@ecobiosfera.org.mx. My understanding is that Ecobiosfera doesn’t want tours in after March, because that’s when the guans are nesting and they don’t want to disturb them. I’m thinking of trying to do a trip in the late fall, after the rains, maybe November, as the butterflies might be quite good then. Vamos a ver.

Wed Mar 10 We flew to Tuxtla Gutierrez from Reynosa through Mexico City, which was cheaper than going through Houston if you live in the Rio Grande Valley. We went one way on Mexicana and the return from Tapachula was on Aeromexico, for about $500 total. The flights were fine and relatively on time.

The Reynosa airport is easy to get to from the Pharr bridge, it took about 45 minutes-an hour from Mission, including crossing the bridge. It takes longer coming back, as entering the US is slower. You could leave your car at the airport for about $10/day, but my friends preferred to drop their cars at my place and John dropped us off and came back and got us when we returned.  Mexicana charged me 440 pesos for my 2nd bag, which just had my sleeping bag and a pad. Fortunately Aeromexico was more relaxed and I didn’t have to pay it on the way back, even though their sign said only 1 piece of luggage.

We spent the first night in Tuxtla Gutierrez at the Best Western Palmareca, cost about 1,000 pesos or about $75 for a room. Nice hotel, very comfortable and they have a great brunch which is included.

Thur Mar 11 We went to Sumidero Canyon for the morning and the Tuxtla zoo in the afternoon. It was very dry and not too many butterflies on the canyon. Compared to last July when I was there before, there were much fewer butterflies to be seen. Good birds, however. We were there early, and Amy had arranged permission so we could go in before the normal opening time of 7am.

We heard buff-collared nightjar calling before dawn, unfortunately it didn’t come in. This is still one of my jinx species. Good looks at belted flycatcher, one of the specialties there. The zoo is good for the great currasows wandering around, we had males calling and walking right up to us. There were also some tigerwing butterflies hanging out near some water. After a late brunch (it goes to noon) we did the zoo, then drove to our basic hotel for the night at Jaltenango, about 4 hours. This is quite cheap, 200 pesos/double, 150/single, but it was fairly quiet and it had hot water.

Fri Mar 12 an early 5:30am breakfast, which we had ordered the night before, and we load all our luggage into the heavy truck and we’re off. It’s about 3-4 hours drive on dusty bad roads to where we start walking, and of course we birded along the way, so we didn’t start the hike until just after noon.  We had white-faced ground-sparrows, a beautiful sparrow.

The horse guys are there waiting for us at Finca Prusia, an old coffee finca that they tell me was who originally created this trail over to the Pacific; they load all our gear and luggage on horseback and we start off. They have a guy w/a mule carrying water who stays w/us, so you don’t need to carry all the water for the entire hike.

It’s about 12 km, or 7 miles, and you gain about 1,000 meters, starting about 1,200 and ending around 2,200 meters. The trail is wide and not too steep, so it’s a fairly easy hike, just long and uphill. We made it to camp just at dark, about 6:30pm. We had our headlamps but we didn’t turn them on. You come to a crest about 9 km up, then the last 3 km is slightly downhill or level.

The camp is about 1900 meters. They have 2 large rooms w/mattresses on the floor, we had the bigger room. We also had 2 smaller rooms off our big room, and 2 of the couples took those. Will put up his tent outside, so there were just 3 of us in the big room on the mattresses.

We had 2 communal toilets and showers, which worked out fine. They even have hot water, not a large quantity of it so you wet up, shut off the water and soap up, then turn it on again to rinse. The first night or two it wasn’t very warm, then Lico, the camp guy in charge, managed to fix something on the boiler and we had hot water for the last couple of nights, enough to wash my hair which was great.

There are 3 main trails from the base camp: the one we came up on, the one we left on for the Pacific, and the one that runs up the valley, crossing the stream several times. This is where we found the horned guans our first full day, but we heard them several times in our 3 days/4 nights at the base camp. We found a fruiting tree a half a km or so back on the trail we had hiked in on, and that was a magical spot.

Watching highland guans eating in the trees, a stunning male quetzal swooped in and posed perfectly, taking everyone’s breath away, then a horned quan walked out on a branch. We went back to this tree several times, and there was always something fantastic there.

One of the most memorable aspects of this trip are the sounds. You are surrounded by brown-backed solitaires singing constantly, quetzals calling in the morning, yellow grosbeaks, blue and white mockingbirds, the songs never seem to stop. I had heard that this was a magical trip, and it lived up to all my expectations and more.

The butterflies weren’t abundant, but I saw several species I had never seen before. One of my favorites was the stunning red w/black veins Fountainea noblis, or Noble Leafwing. I only saw it once, after flushing it up from the trail (probably on a pee spot) but it landed about 10’ up in the tree in the sun and let me watch it for a while. Not close enough for a photo (if only one of my friends w/a longer lens had been there!) but a great look. We did see Abderus or Magnificant Swallowtails frequently floating through the canopy, and another Leafwing, Consul excellens, were common when the sun was out and it warmed up. Last July I had seen these for the first time at Sumidero Canyon, this year not one because it was so dry, but they were up here at El Triunfo.

One of the local guides told me the rainy season is much better for butterflies, as I would expect, but getting up slick, muddy trails wouldn’t be much fun. I’m thinking of trying to come back right after the rains, in November. The guide said it doesn’t get cold until December, and November is usually the best time for butterflies in northeast Mexico and south Texas, so it probably is the same here.

After 4 nights at base camp, with very tasty food, we woke up to rain on our departure morning. Our only rain the whole trip, and it had rained fairly heavily all night, lots of standing water on our way to breakfast. They had tarps for our luggage to go on the horses, and we put on our rain gear and took off about 6:30am. We had to climb a km or so out of the bowl and over the continental divide, where we walked out from under the clouds into the dry, just as Lico had said we would.

Then we wind our way down to 3 nights of camping at various elevations as we work out way down the pacific slope to the lowlands on the coast. The first camp is Canada Honda, home of the azure-rumped tanager. We had 10 people supporting our group of 8, so we had lots of horses and helpers. They went on ahead and pitched our tents and had food ready when we showed up, after birding our way down slope all day.

The camp is about 1400 meters, and it’s interesting as you cross through different habitats on the way down. We had solitaires nesting in the banks next to the trail, and they would bomb out as we passed, almost running in to folks a few times. We found the nest w/the white and brown speckled eggs, very nice.

About 1500 meters, an hour or so above the camp, we started seeing lots of butterflies, including our first morphos. We had stopped for lunch at a creek where we had my first Anthanassa drymaea or Weak-banded Crescent, one of the last Mexican crescents I hadn’t seen. If I was to do the hike again I would let the others go on to camp and spend a couple of hours stalking butterflies on this last part. It drops fairly steeply, so you don’t want to hike back up once you’re in camp. It crosses several ravines, and if there was water there could be butterflies everywhere.

The bird specialities of this camp are the azure-rumped tanagers, which we had come right into camp to bath in the stream. Due to the dryness, probably some of the only water around, and we watched 5 or 6 birds for quite a while, the Carters getting stunning photos. This is a bird that looks better from the back, and we got lots of wonderful looks. Watching a wet tanager preen and organize it’s feathers was great.

The next morning we get up to a hot breakfast and head off on a shorter hike, about 4 km to the 2nd camp, Limonal. The day before we had hiked about  9 km, so this is the easiest day. We found a blooming tree, or a tree covered in vines, and there were lots of hummingbirds coming. We must have spent an hour or two at this vine, saw 9 species of hummers, and killer looks at both sparkling tailed woodstars and a fabulous male black-crested coquette. Both posed very obligingly on favorite perches, so we could set up the scope and get more killer photos. Best look I’ve ever seen at a coquette, you could see the tan and black individual feathers around his face.

The 2nd camp was my favorite, more spread out w/lots of room for the tents. They have 2 outhouses, very clean and not odiferous, and a shower using stream water. A bit chilly but very refreshing. You could have used stream water at the 1st camp, but it was still cool and the water was cold, so I passed. The 2nd camp is about 1100 meters high, so it was getting a bit warmer, but my sleeping bag still felt good at night.

The 3rd camp is in the lowlands, about 500 meters and 10 km away, so we didn’t have as much time to dawdle and look at birds. The day before we took 6 hours to do 4 km, so we had to move a bit faster today. It was overcast, fortunately, so it wasn’t as hot as it could have been. We dropped down through oak forests, where along a ridge we had lots of butterflies. Some coming to the sapsucker holes in the oaks, we had 5 orions on one tree, plus crackers and blomfild beauties.

We had several species of our first metalmarks on a particular bush on the ridge, including Hades noctula or White-rayed Metalmark. The trail was steeper with lots of rolling rocks, like walking on ball bearings buried under 6 inches of dry leaves, so you had to pay attention to where you were walking. Tough on older knees and toes, but we all made it. We were tired by the time we reached camp, and it was hot and dry, not particularly pleasant. But they had a small river, and some of us went swimming. It felt great to just sit in the water, even though you had to look to find a spot deep enough to cover yourself.

The last morning we birding a couple of hours, seeing lots of great birds in the dry brush. Here’s where we got our last 2 species of motmot, for a total of 5 for the trip, and we had been surrounded by the ‘to-le-do’ calls of long-tailed mannakins the last 2 days, some folks even saw their bouncing, whirling display. We had to cross our swimming creek and walk the final 400 meters to the waiting trucks, where we said goodbye to our faithful support crew, horsemen and cooks.

We were driven in 2 small pickups an hour or so to the main highway at Mapastepec, where we had a cold drink and changed to an air conditioned van for the hour or so drive south to Tapachula. Before they had eaten lunch at the simple restaurant where we met the van, but Will suggested waiting until we got to our snazzy hotel in Tapachula, much better food, so we did.

We stayed at the Loma Real right outside Tapachula for the last night, very nice. http://www.allmexicohotels.com/hotel/loma-real-tapachula/
About 1100 pesos including breakfast, and the food was tasty. Plus they have giant wrens on the extensive grounds, and white-bellied chacalacas, which we saw easily wandering around that afternoon. We also had turquoise browed motmots in the trees and scrub right in back of the hotel.

It’s a bit outside of town, so it’s quiet, and they also have a nice pool. I would definitely use this hotel again if I go back. We got taxis to the airport the next morning and flew back to Reynosa, where our friend met us and brought us back across the border to Texas. No problems

All in all a great trip to some fabulous isolated mountains in Mexico. We went through lots of beautiful scenery, it was nice to know there are still areas like this left. One of the nicer hikes I’ve done in a long time, well worth doing. The people work hard to take care of you, and it’s quite comfortable for camping.