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Mindo Christmas Bird Count 2022

March 21, 2023

By: Lisa Mills at The Weekly Warbler

I was a part of the December 2022 banding and Christmas Bird Count team at Reserva las Tangaras (3rd from left on top). Here is the full team on the big day, all wearing our special shirts!

Mindo, Ecuador – A Global Hotspot For Bird Diversity

In December 2022, I had the honor to participate in the 28th annual Mindo Christmas Bird Count at Reserva las Tangaras. This annual event brings birding enthusiasts from all over the world together to document the number of bird species seen around Mindo, Ecuador. This area is continually ranked 1st or 2nd in the world for the total diversity, often with over 400 species reported.

The Mindo Christmas Bird Count at Reserva las Tangaras truly was a memorable adventure. Over 360 species of birds have been documented just in this single hotspot. So, in just one short day, an adept team of birders and I set out to find as many species as we possibly could in the boundaries of the reserve and two neighboring properties, and area of about 250 acres. We found an astounding 161 species in a single day.

Learn more about this once in a lifetime experience, and discover why the Mindo Christmas Bird Count at Reserva las Tangaras is a must-do for any birdwatcher.

Masked Trogons are a spectacular species seen and heard around the reserve.

What is the Christmas Bird Count?

The Christmas Bird Count is one of the biggest citizen science events in the world. Many places host this annual event including other areas of Ecuador, South America, and North America. Mindo was the first location in Ecuador to establish a Christmas Bird Count in 1994, and with only 12 participants, managed to find over 250 species during the first count. Since then it has blossomed into a huge event, with hundreds of participants and a pep rally in town the day before.

At Reserva las Tangaras, we had our own pep rally at the reserve the night before the event. Special shirts and posters were made up for the event, and we even got our own packed breakfast. The day before, the Reserva las Tangaras team meticulously planned our routes to try to get the most species possible in a single day. 

Our most enthusiastic birders eat their breakfast on the go. No stopping when there’s more birds to see!

The Bird Count Begins at Midnight

The Christmas Bird Count takes place in a 24-hour period, midnight to midnight, and one extra enthusiastic birder decided to go out at night to seek a few secretive species of owls to add to the count.

Before sunrise, we had already added 4 species of owls, 3 Common Paraques, and an Oilbird to the count. Special thanks to Nick, who took it upon himself to track down these elusive nocturnal species, and to Dusti who heard a few from her tent on the back porch! The rest of us were content to start around sunrise and get some sleep for the day ahead.

For my morning route, I was a part of a group with reserve manager Rushi and excellent naturalist Anna Belle. Our route covered a small section of the river, and a long climb up a mountain to the highest point of the reserve, where spectacular views, amazing birds, and a majestic waterfall were waiting for us.

The view from my morning route – well worth the long hike up the mountain.
A sneak peek of the waterfall at the end of our hike.

On our route we found 68 species… and we considered it a slow morning! Highlights of our route included a few North American migrants, a Summer Tanager and 2 Olive-sided Flycatchers, lots of spectacular Tanagers, including the elusive Glistening–Green Tanager, stunning Swallow Tanager, and the more common but always amazing Flame-faced Tanager. We heard Toucan Barbets honking at each other from across the valley, saw the iridescent masterpiece that is the Velvet-purple Coronet, and spotted a new species for our trip, a Strong-billed Woodcreeper.

A Velvet-purple Coronet. In the right lighting, the feathers on this bird explode into a rainbow of colors.

The Mystery Bird

Perhaps the highlight of our morning (other than getting to dip our toes in the waterfall) was tracking down an extremely evasive small yellow bird hidden in a brushy field on top of a mountain. An open field was a different habitat type than the rest of the routes, so we knew we could find a new species of bird if we looked hard enough.

I caught a glimpse of a plain yellow bird in the grass, followed by short and very indistinct chip note. We knew this was a new species for our count, but we didn’t have many ID cues to go off of.

Rushi was very invested in getting a photograph of this mystery bird, so we resorted to trying to flush it out of the grass. 

A bit of the field habitat where we found the mystery bird.

I’m sure the scene must have been funny if any non-birders happened upon us. Three people on top of a mountain with binoculars and cameras strapped to us, wading through wet chest-high grass, stalking a single nondescript bird. 

Only for the Mindo Christmas Bird Count!

Our efforts paid off however, as the mystery bird ended up being a female Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, which was not only was a new bird for our trip, but was a unique species for the entire Christmas Bird Count!

A Spectacular Finish to the Christmas Bird Count

The other groups had amazing success on their morning routes, and added a few more unique species to our total trip list.

Ornate Flycatchers are always a delight to see – we found 17 of them on the day of the count.

However, the biggest surprise of the day came at sunset, right when we thought our birding was done for the day.

A few of us decided to take a stroll along the river in the evening to finish off the big day. I was looking for Sunbitterns and Torrent Ducks, but Anna Belle found something even cooler.

A huge black bird with a giant mohawk swooped right behind me. I heard its enormous wingbeats, but I didn’t get a look at it. When Anna Belle said she saw a huge black bird, I figured it was a Black Vulture, and kept my eyes on the river.

Well… apparently it was the coolest bird of the entire trip, a Long-wattled Umbrellabird! Besides looking super cool, this is a fairly rare bird, and endemic to the Chocó bioregion of Ecuador and Colombia. And it was our final sighting for the Christmas Bird Count. Thanks again to Nick for getting the final ID on this spectacular species! 

The Final Results

The Reserva las Tangaras team identified 161 species of birds with our joint efforts, with a few exceptional finds and unexpected twists. 

Altogether, 26 routes participated in the 2022 Mindo Christmas Bird Count with a total of 354 species reported. Reserva las Tangaras contributed 9 unique species to the count that were found nowhere else that day, which included the Choco Screech-Owl, 2 migrant warblers, the Canada Warbler and Cerulean Warbler, and 2 species we found on my morning route, the Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and Olive-sided Flycatcher!

Here are just a few of the amazing birds we found on the big day:

It truly was such a fun day, and I would encourage anyone looking for a once in a lifetime adventure to come down to Mindo and explore the natural beauty that is Reserva las Tangaras. 

Being a part of the Mindo Christmas Bird Count was an incredibly enriching experience that I will never forget. The amazing scenery, along with the sheer diversity of bird species and enthusiastic people made for an adventure like no other.

If you’re a bird lover or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of nature, I highly recommend making the trip to Mindo and exploring the wonders of Reserva las Tangaras for yourself. Not only will you have the opportunity to see spectacular wildlife, but you’ll also be supporting a local non-profit that is committed to preserving and protecting the natural world.

Until the next Christmas Bird Count!

For more amazing birding and wildlife conservation stories, visit my blog, The Weekly Warbler!

And contact Reserva las Tangaras if you want to find out more about visiting this spectacular gem in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. I promise you won’t regret it!

A Rufous-tailed Hummingbird shows off his iridescent green throat.
One Comment leave one →
  1. March 30, 2023 1:45 pm

    Love it! Great to relive this wonderful 24 h.


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