View of Portoviejo Ecuador from a trail on ‘La Tomatera.’

Portoviejo, Ecuador

My friend Dady sent a reminder this morning that April 27 is Dia del Ceibo in Manabi Province.   Dia del Ceibo?  Really?   Yahoo! Yay for Manabi!  This post will be a little tardy, but the Ceibos and their special realm deserve some recognition.

Ceibo Loco – Watercolor y Acrylic – Copyright Lisa Brunetti

Jardin Botanico

Jardin Botanico – Portoviejo, Ecuador

Ceibo y Iguana – Hojas de Jaboncillo/Portoviejo, Ecuador

A large Ceibo at Hojas del Jaboncillo/Portoviejo Ecuador

Oftentimes a person is needed to show the scale of a tree like the above, and that same tree seems to dwarf my friend Giovanni in the next image.

Only a few kilometers from the city of Portoviejo, I have been blessed to bask in the presence of some powerful specimens of this species.  The rainy season prompts the vegetation into Jack-in-the-Beanstalk growth, and clouds of mosquitoes guard seldom-used trails.  After two weeks of heavy rains, the rank growth at the refuge and bike park, La Tomatera, had all but claimed my favorite trail: La Pika.

Ignoring both challenges, I embark on bird-finding treks several times each week and am almost instantly immersed in the magical realm of the Ceibos.  No city sounds intrude; no taxis blaring their horns, no sirens – not even sounds of chain saws whittling away this impressive refuge.  One slow step at a time, I ponder what the early botanists and naturalists thought when they first viewed similar scenes.


Vasconcellea parviflora “Matchstick Tree.”

Vasconcellea parviflora, an ancient relative of the Papaya

I have no idea what this is! iNaturalist will surely provide some answers.

Cousin to the grape, Cissus

“Did someone say, ‘grape’?”

(Peering beyond a Ceibo) – Peace lives here.

Every few weeks, the botanicals rotate shifts.

A petite and spindly – and endangered -hibiscus.

Apply your mosquito repellent, put on your mud boots, and let’s go see some great Ceibo trees.  Warning: we won’t walk far, but a kilometer usually takes me several hours!


Pacific Parrotlets say, “Let’s Go!”

Seven or eight trails spider from the cyclists’ second ‘refugio’ (rest stop) and I was happy to see that my favorite route offered ample space for inspecting high and low.

A Ceibo anchors a ‘Y’ where one cyclists’ trail drops toward the valley at a severe angle. Thank you, but I’ll keep walking forward!  The hole in the tree captures my interest, and I wonder what species has sculpted that new home.

Do you see the eye in that tree above?  Below?  Ceibos often have ‘eyes,’ or at least that is what my imagination sees.

Vasconcellea parviflora “Matchstick Tree.”

Ah, nice! Birds were high and low while anoles and whiptails skulked in and out of sun and shadow.

Grey-capped Cuckoo

Scarlet-backed Woodpecker – did you make that hole, Mr. Woodpecker?!

Aha!  La Pika veers to the right.  The Pale-browed Tinamou whistles often from the area behind the sign, as if the terrestrial bird has no fear of revealing its hiding place.

Only ten or so steps, and the trails reverts back to ‘wild and rank.’    Is everyone ready to move forward? Of course – let’s go, intrepid trail mates!

Hmmm. What’s ahead?

Last Saturday something in that dense growth began to ‘growl’ at me.  Barely moving forward, I set the camera on video and recorded the ‘rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr—— rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr——- rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr——‘ and hoped for a glimpse of the mystery animal.   I was able to spot it briefly – and I laughed.  It was a male Collared Antshrike!

The one that growled at me was about a foot from the ground.

There are various options of refuge and biodiversity – from filtered sun to dense shade, scrubby open areas, thickets of small trees, and the ever-changing samples of botanicals.   It’s human nature to want to whack it all back into submission, but this is a very fragile and rapidly-vanishing ecosystem.

Birds flit and chatter; some seem comfortable with the human presence while others are skittish.  Look high, peer low, attempt to see what’s hiding in those deep shadows…

…and then one catches a glimpse of the elders:

Immense, they need no vocal chords to speak to us.  One stands and gapes skyward in humble appreciation.  No words are needed to acknowledge their presence – they surely feel our awe, our respect, yet look – even out here in the presence of a thriving paradise, someone has scrawled his/her initials on this magnificent tree.  Moving closer, I touch the tree with the back of my hand and offer silent apologies.

Just beyond this monster is the hiding place of the Black Billed Cuckoo, the Grey-capped Cuckoo, the Black and White Tanager – three jackpot species that bask in the protective energy of this grand tree.

The tree has cousins – family, dotted along the trail:


It’s no surprise that on every outing, there seems to be a new species of bird that tolerates a few seconds or minutes for photos to help identify and sometimes confirm the sightings:

Adorable Ecuadorian Piculets.

Equally adorable Necklaced Spinetails. (They are quite chatty.)

The Chivi Vireo – and yes, it repeats over and over ‘Chivi! Chivi! Chivi!’ (split from Red-eyed Vireo.)

and butterflies, which will provide caterpillars for the cuckoos.

This past Monday a buzz of activity proved that my camera gets poor results in low light.  In the midst of at least eight different species, one ‘I-have-no-clue Mystery Bird allowed a few photos before it moved out of sight.

I wondered if the bird belonged to that nest – can you see the nest?

But no, the owner of the nest is a Bran-colored Flycatcher:

A Streaked Flycatcher was near – maybe I did not see it well?  That’s why I try to photograph every bird, then confirm when at home.

VIP birds continue to bless my outings:

The eye ring was strange, as were the white bars on the wings…

A few days later, after Daniel Arias politely helped with identification, he stated, “Amazing. Another new species for Manabi.”

The “I-have-no-clue’ bird was a Blackpoll Warbler, which usually vacations on the eastern side of the Andes.  eBird/Cornell states, ” Known for its exceptional fall migration over the Atlantic Ocean; can travel from East Coast of U.S. to South America in one nonstop flight! “

My eBird report stated, “Time of sighting: 4:33 pm. The trail is rank and rarely traveled by cyclists during the rainy season. Tropical Gnatcatcher, Elegant Crescentchest, Female Black and White Becard, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Necklaced Spinetails, Collared Antshrike – all competing for which one to try to photo, as most were darting around in perpetual motion — and then a Streaked Flycatcher started its normal loud-mouth calls, and I switched to it to confirm – yes/ click click, and then it flew away and I saw the mystery bird and managed to take several photos and a short video before the bird moved away – and I then saw a nest hanging from the tip of a supple limb – about fifteen feet from where the Warbler had been perched, so I froze and watched the nest – and yes, movement – but it was the Bran-colored Flycatcher tending that nest…. This is the same area as the Black-billed Cuckoo, the Gray-capped Cuckoo, and where Cullen and Daniel reported the Black and White Tanager — a true magical spot.”

So we wean back to the magic of the spot, and it’s starting to get dark so we’d better turn around.  Can you see the trail?

Several birds conspire to lure me off the trail with their mystery calls – “What WAS that sound?” but the sun setting toward the horizon waits for no one!  Vamos!

We pause to tell the elders, ‘Goodbye’ in a silent communication only they receive…

Ugh. When Mother Earth hurls her temper on our species, can you blame her?

Oh!  Another Necklaced Spinetail!

Almost back, and the Tinamou calls from its hiding place:

Tinamou, tinamou, where are you?

Ah!  Back on the good trail – and a brief glimpse of the city…

And back to reality. 

The Burrowing Owl welcomes us back to the city, but a part of me remains behind with those grand Ceibos.