Chestnut-breasted Coronet

This lovely little bird was sitting above a trail at the Hospedaje Panticucho near Baños. He is a temperate loving bird and can be found in a narrow altitude range throughout the length of Ecuador.

This lovely little bird was sitting above a trail at the Hospedaje Panticucho near Baños. He is a temperate loving bird and can be found in a narrow altitude range throughout the length of Ecuador.

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Alambi – A Hummingbird Paradise

Breakfast with a view of dozens of hummingbirds. It's hard to know where to focus - on the great food or the stunning wildlife.

Breakfast with a view of dozens of hummingbirds. It’s hard to know where to focus – on the great food or the stunning wildlife.

On the highway heading from Quito to Mindo, there is a small dirt road leading up into the mountains just before the town of Nanegalito. It is normally a way to the subtropical cloud forest of the Bellavista Reserve but the road is in bad condition and not recommended for the faint of heart. But just a short distance up the road, before the worrisome parts, there is a small home called Alambi. Most people just drive on by, not even realizing that this property provides a small oasis for hummingbirds and those that appreciate seeing them. It is a spot where you can stop for a few minutes, an hour or two and include a meal, or overnight in the beautiful home itself. All you need is a reservation.

We only discovered Alambi because on our first visit to the Bellavista Reserve, our driver was replaced last minute by the caretaker of this property. He had us visit for a few minutes so that we could marvel at the plethora of hummingbirds in the small garden. Since then, I have been waiting for an excuse to return.

I found the reason a few weeks ago when I planned a trip with friends to the Bellavista Reserve. Our itinerary included a morning visit to Alambi where, for the very reasonable cost of $10, we breakfasted on the back patio with a view of at least a dozen hummingbird feeders and the constant movement of tiny birds. I found it very hard to sit down even for the excellent breakfast of scrambled eggs, croquettes made of yucca stuffed with fresh cheese, home-made ají, freshly squeezed orange juice, freshly brewed coffee, and a bowl of fruit salad. The breakfast was stellar but I couldn’t get enough of the birds, their tiny feathers shining in the morning light. Both my husband and I photographed prolifically. Here are some of the better shots of the morning.

If you prefer larger photos, click on any photo and you will be taken to a new page where you can scroll through the entire album at your leisure.

Brown Violetear Hummingbird

This uncommon hummingbird, a Brown Violetear, makes its home near Alambi, Ecuador. His only spots of color are the violet on the sides of his head and the splash of green turning to blue turning to violet at his throat. Capturing all colors at the same time is a rare event... almost as uncommon as seeing the hummingbird itself!

This uncommon hummingbird, a Brown Violetear, makes its home near Alambi, Ecuador. His only spots of color are the violet on the sides of his head and the splash of green turning to blue turning to violet at his throat. Capturing all colors at the same time is a rare event… almost as uncommon as seeing the hummingbird itself!

If it’s raining, it must be winter

The first lake on the trail.

The first lake on the trail.

I wanted to write about Cayambe Coca National Park but the truth is that I can’t do it justice. The park is a grand 3,700 square kilometers (1,430 square miles) and much too large to describe in a single blog post. Its terrain runs from the high moors to the low jungle and everything in between. We explored a single ecosystem – the high mountain lakes and grassy hills that can be found just 20 minutes from the parking lot of Las Termas Papallacta.

Only 36 people a day are permitted to enter the park from this entrance – the high paramo is a very delicate eco-system. During our trip, we saw about a dozen other people, all of them fishing in the high mountain lakes. As far as we know, we were the only hikers of the day even though there are several trail heads that start at the small ranger station. The weather may have had something to do with it. The day started cloudy and overcast, with low lying fog in many places and it only turned to mist and rain later in the day. At times, we felt like we were crossing the moors of Scotland in a hunt for mysterious elk.

The trail we chose, El Agua y La Vida, is really a dirt road that is blocked to large vehicles. We did have one 4-wheeler pass us on the trail but otherwise the road was quiet and we shared it only with a few Antpitta and nothing more. Early on the trail there were a few places to explore – one particularly intriguing trail led to the base of a waterfall that we could see in the distance. It’s on our to-do list for the next visit. But as we hiked further in the ground became muddier and the road was less a path than it was a bog. We passed beautiful mountain lakes that mirrored the gray cloudy sky.

As the mist turned to rain, we decided that the hike was finished for the day. We came away with stark photos of high mountain lakes, pants covered with mud, and a desire to return with the sunshine.

At the ranger station, we asked about the persistent rain and we learned an important lesson. Although it is summertime in Quito, a mere 24 kilometers away, in Cayambe Coca NP June is winter time. Life on the equator is full of conundrums like this. And though we’d like to believe it’s winter because Cayambe-Coca is south of the Equator, Quito lies south as well. Seasons have less to do with actual location and more to do with weather conditions. If it’s raining most days, it must be winter.

Flowers from the Bellavista Reserve, July 2014