Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mindo, Ecuador

Welcome to Mindo!
If we had known how much we would love Mindo, we would have planned to stay longer. But our plans and schedule only allowed 24 hours, so we enjoyed as much as we could in a short time. We vowed to the hosts of our lodge that we will come back in the near future and stay a whole week!

Ochenta y Ocho Butterfly (Eighty-eight) at our Lodge

Mindo is a town in the cloud forest about 100 km to the NW of Quito. The difference between dry Quito and green and lush Mindo appears pretty early in the journey as you cross into the western slopes of the Andes, and according to Wikipedia, "where two of the most biologically diverse ecoregions in the world meet: the Chocoan lowlands and the Tropical Andes". We drove for about 2 hours, most of the time on narrow and winding roads up and down through heavily forested mountains and foothills. Occasional farms, clear cut with grass and cattle, stood out against the otherwise thick vegetation. We understood from conversations with our driver that development is being controlled now by the government, but that it had not been so much in the past. Farming would be difficult on steep hills, but is probably an attractive alternative in a tough economy. Hopefully the people can be convinced that there is some benefit in conserving the incredible biodiversity of this region. We saw many signs for Eco-Lodges and Birding Tours along the way, so perhaps there is money to be made in Eco-tourism.

Mindo Lago Lodge

Our lodge, Mindo Lago, was a great example of conservation tourism. The owners took what had previously been a cattle farm and built rustic but comfortable hut-like cabins around a man-made lake. Then they planted native plants and laid out a network of nature trails through the forest and around the perimeter. There is still work to be done, removing invasives and planting more native plants, but the results have been wonderful. They told us that where there had once been only cattle and one or two species of frogs, now their lake, ponds and forest plants support around 25 different species of frogs and numerous other animals. As we first walked into the open-air registration area from the parking lot, we saw dozens of butterflies and birds, including at least one giant Blue Morpho butterfly bobbing around the banana trees and bromeliads. It was beautiful. Several times a week the lodge hosts an evening "Frog Concert". People from hotels and lodges from around the area are invited for a short lecture explaining Mindo Lago's conservation story, followed by a walk to look and listen for frogs. They do not allow photos of the frogs so that the animals are not bothered by constant flashes. I appreciated their concern, though it would have been nice to document what we saw! The night we were there, it was raining steadily and the night walk had to be shortened a bit, but we saw numerous frogs, spiders, walking stick insects, interesting plants and a Rufous Motmot. I wish I had been able to take a photo, but it was raining. I had some difficulty even looking at the bird because every time I turned my head up, the water poured into my nose and eyes. But I did see it and its wonderful long tail.

Godart's Altinote Butterfly


The next morning we got up very early and drove down the road to Las Cotingas Bird Reserve to see Tanagers, Toucans and Hummingbirds. We were still a little damp from the night before, but as soon as we saw the colorful birds, nothing else mattered. This locally owned reserve is another nice example of thoughtful eco-tourism in the area and is located just off the main highway on a tiered hill behind a modest house. The upper tier had benches in front of big trees festooned with bananas hung on nails. The lower tier had benches in front of an array of simple hummingbird feeders. It was a little past sunrise when we arrived and the owner had just put out fresh fruit. We sat for a couple of minutes and the birds started to appear. At first we saw a few colorful Tanagers and a Red-headed Barbet. The owner told us that the Toucans would show up a little while later, so we took a walk down to see the hummingbirds. They just blew my mind. I took a short video that doesn't do the experience justice. Click this link or visit my smugmug website and look at the Mindo photos. But I had a hard time even looking at the birds because there were so many and they were moving so fast. Many of my photos were blurry and grainy due to the low light, but I did get a few nice ones. I only identified a few of the hummingbirds because I couldn't see any obvious markers to help me. I think I need a hummingbird field guide.

Las Cotingas Bird Reserve

Feeding Station--Lots of Tanagers!

Golden-naped Tanager
Red-headed Barbet (M)

Blue-gray Tanager and Flame-rumped Tanager
White-necked Jacobin
Possibly a Sparkling Violetear

Back up to the banana station again, this time the light was better and more birds were arriving. Then came the Toucans! First the smaller green Crimson-rumped, then came the big, loud Collared Aracaris. Toucans are bossy and they chased away most of the other birds, but eventually they all came to a truce. We saw 2 species, and several individuals of each species. We also saw Toucan Barbets and a gang of Red-tailed Squirrels that had found that bananas were easy to come by at the Bird Reserve! I meant, but forgot, to ask the owner how many pounds of bananas and gallons of sugar water she had to put out every day. It must be a lot because they eat furiously.

Black-chinned Mountain Tanager

Crimson-rumped Toucan

Collared Aracari Toucan

Golden Tanager

Thick-billed Euphonia and Others
Toucan Barbet

Red-tailed Squirrel with a prize

Another trip back down to the hummingbirds. The light was a little better down there, too, and we saw big hummingbirds with long tails and tiny hummingbirds not much bigger than a bumblebee. There is great diversity of bill shape and size, too.
Beak Diversity

Tail Diversity

Velvet-purple Coronet

Another quick visit to the Toucans, and then our tour was over. If we had been able to spend more days we might have tried to see a "Cock of the Rock", a flamboyant crimson bird the region is famous for. That will have to wait until next time.

Wildflower that Looks Like a Rhexia. Not sure.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the nature trails and walking to the actual town of Mindo to see the waterfalls. On the trail I discovered a large woodpecker, about the size of a Pileated, and identified it as a "Powerful Woodpecker". We saw a few other birds on our walk and heard, but didn't see, parrots. At the waterfall, my eagle eyed husband caught view of an Owl Butterfly taking refuge from a light rain under the large leaves of a bush.

Powerful Woodpecker

Owl Butterfly

Mindo was a really nice change after 3 weeks in the busy and loud city of Quito. Next time we visit Ecuador, we will spend more time here. And in the Amazon. And at the coast. And in Cuenca. There is a lot to see in this small and beautiful country.

Mindo Toucan Mural


  1. Hi,
    What a wonderful trip to Las Cotingas Bird Reserve. I love your pictures and was wondering if you could help me with some Mindo questions?
    We are planning a trip for this February and I found Las Cotingas Bird Reserve website when I was searching for birding spots in Mindo. It looks very nice, do you think this is doable without our own car? Taxi? Do we need a guide to go there? Does the owner speak any english? We are looking for places nearby and ev an english speaking birding guide for a 1/2 day tour. Do you have someone you could recommend? We are not diehard birdwatchers so an english speaking local who has some knowledge would be fine. It looks like there should be lots of birds around Mindo area to explore.
    Thank you for sharing all your wonderful pictures, they make me really excited to get there soon.

    1. Hi there,
      I'm glad you enjoyed my post! We really loved Mindo and Las Cotingas Reserve and I would recommend it for sure. However, my experience in the area is very limited. We only spent 24 hours in Mindo. We did not have a car but were staying at the Mindo Lago Lodge and they arranged the trip to the Reserve. The Lodge was about a 20-30 minute walk from Mindo itself, and Las Cotingas was another 20 minute drive or so from the Lodge. I would recommend getting a ride. There are taxis available from town, and there are a number of other lodges in the area, as well as hotels in town that could probably arrange a ride for you. I don't know if would need a guide to go there because everything was arranged for us. You may be able to drop in, but you would want to get there at the right time of day to see the most. We were there early in the morning when the Tanagers and Toucans were feeding. The hummingbirds were amazing. My memory is a little foggy, but I recall that the one of the owners (the husband) spoke English and the wife did not. But we figured out how to communicate pretty well anyway. The Reserve is at a house by the side of the highway with feeders all around the back yard. It is very simple and very popular with the birds!

      If you haven't picked a place to stay, we recommend Mindo Lago. It was lovely. The daughter of the owners of speaks fluent English. Her parents speak some English, and my husband and I know a (very) little Spanish, so we basically understood each other. They can arrange birding tours. But I am sure there would be plenty of people in town and in the area ready to give you guided birding tours or to find someone to do it. If we had been able to spend more time, we would have wanted to go look for the Cock of the Rock, a brilliant red bird that can be found in the area. You have to get up very early to see them, too.

      I hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me for more info. I don't know if I'll be able to answer your questions, but I can try!

      Best wishes,