The green and lush cloud forest of the Bellavista Reserve is an absolute pleasure after the noise and traffic of Quito. Leaving the city, we drove past crowded city streets and watched the buildings shrink in size, the road narrow in width, as we drove further and further away from the city center. The first stretch of land outside the city is dry and dusty, the home of industrial parks and brick making facilities. It is almost unbelievable that just on the other side of this mountain desert we would find a rain forest. But find it we did!
The far side of the mountain is like a different world, the sides of the mountains covered in trees with an occasional clearing for a plot of farm land. We drove the winding highway, closing our eyes as the driver passed trucks on the steep mountain curves, and with each added kilometer the land felt a little more foreign. The leaves on many of the trees were huge, big enough to be umbrellas, and some shone silver in the early morning light. This was a forest like none we have in North America. We soon left the main highway and we headed straight up the mountain on a dirt road, bouncing along as our driver occasionally pointed out a bird in the brush or a view that we shouldn’t miss. Our adventure was beginning before we had even left the van.
The Lodge is right beside the road but it’s tucked in behind a gate and walls. Once we walked inside the compound, the first thing we noticed were the hummingbirds. They were flitting and flying everywhere. Within the naturally landscaped gardens on the very mountain edge, were several sugar water feeders that were the main attraction for the hordes of hummers. At first, it was impossible to focus on any of them. They were so fast and they exchanged places so quickly that my eyes could not focus. I, too, was caught up in the rush for sugar, my eyes darting back and forth almost as fast as a hummingbird could fly. After a few moments, I was able to feel the rhythm of the feeders and could see that some birds would wait nearby for a turn, sitting patiently on an empty branch or perched on a nearby leaf.
Some hummingbirds own the feeders. They are the ones that can sit for an extended amount of time and not expect to be hurried away. Others wait until there is a moment of calm and slip in quickly for a few sips and then hurry away – the Violet-tailed Slyph was like that, coming only rarely and then always to a feeder that was low to the ground and a spot free. Then there are the loud and buzzy hummingbirds, the ones that sound more like bumblebees than birds. The other hummers didn’t enjoy their company and would often fly at them to scare them away. And sometimes we got in the way, those sharp beaks and batting wings coming so close to our heads that we would have to duck to avoid collision.
But it isn’t just hummingbirds that are attracted to the feeders. The area around Bellavista is a reserve for a reason; this is a bird watcher’s paradise. We saw the brilliant blue Masked Flowerpiercer take advantage of the easy access sugar water. At times, the Blue Winged Mountain Tanagers would take over – once I saw as many as five hanging out by a feeder hidden in the far back by the kitchens.
In the brush around the feeders, shyer birds hopped around. On the paths, you could see thrushes, both the common Great and his Glossy-black cousin. The White-sided Flowerpiercer could be seen stabbing the base of Chinese Lantern flowers. And a large, strangely quiet bird, the Strong-billed Woodcreeper could be seen in these parts as well. Of course, we didn’t see all of these birds in a few minutes, but with a little patience and some quiet time on a bench, we saw them all and more. It would be completely possible to never hike a trail at Bellavista Reserve yet still be able to mark off a huge number of birds on your checklist, if that’s the way you travel. Or you could just sit there with your camera and enjoy the challenge of capturing each and everyone.