Finally about done wading through the nearly 3000 photos from my butterfly trip to Southern Ecuador from October 10-24 and thought I’d share a few of them and a bit of the story of the trip in this blog post. A rather time-consuming process, it can take weeks to go through all the pictures, first deleting the really bad ones and duplicates, separating the butterfly pictures from all the others, then attempting to organize the butterflies by family and genus, trying to identify them from my trip notes and various online resources, cropping and cleaning the RAW files up a bit with Adobe Lightroom, and setting them up for a website. Of the 2790 at the beginning, 2260 have now been deleted, 440 showed up on the website, and there’s still 90 left to figure out.
After flying to Houston and then a redeye to Quito, I checked into the Wyndham right there at the airport just after midnight, long enough to catch a couple of hours of sleep before the 3:45 am wake up call to meet the group downstairs to head for our 6 am flight to Loja in southern Ecuador. There we met our driver, Luis, and headed for Copalinga Lodge on the outskirts of Zamora and within walking distance of Podocarpus National Park (where we’d spend a number of days hunting butterflies). A very comfortable eco-lodge run by the delightful Catherine and her husband, we’d spend our first 3 nights there returning for 3 more nights after spending a few days at the more rustic Yangana Lodge in the Nangaritza Valley. Copalinga has an open dining room (with excellent food) looking out on the forest and Green Hermit and several other hummingbirds dropping in at the bar for a drink. One night we had this character show up on one of the support beams – might be the biggest beetle I’ve ever seen out in the open.
Another fun bug we’d see on the trip, and we’d see at least five different species, is a Walking Stick.
Lots of colorful birds and a variety of hummingbirds appeared as we’d gather every day for breakfast and happy hour. One morning we were treated to excellent views of an Andean Cock of the Rock, in my experience usually well-hidden in the trees but sitting out in the open in a cecropia tree that day.
There were even a few good butterflies on the grounds including this quite common Scarlet Peacock.
The trip was organized by Sunstreak Tours and led by Andrew Neild, a true neotropical butterfly expert and great guy, who I’d been with on another trip near Tena Ecuador back in 2012. Every day, we’d head out to spend most of the day exploring good butterfly habitat, taking ridiculous numbers of photographs, and attempting to identify most of the butterflies we’d see. Andrew would often go ahead and spray some of his special bait on trailside plants, which would draw in the most amazing variety of species. Unlike other neotropical trips I’ve been on, we’d regularly get a bit of rain usually in the afternoon which unfortunately would tend to wash away the bait. Once or twice we did get caught in pretty good rainstorms, but more typically they were pretty brief and not too heavy and provided a welcome break. Evenings we’d go through photos and nail down more of the species.
So after our first few days at Copalinga, it was off on the fairly long drive to the Nangaritza Valley and the Yankuam Lodge. Close enough to the Peruvian border that we saw areas that were barricaded off because of landmines from past conflict, this location was rather remote but is renowned for its good butterfly habitat. Passing through the small village of Orquideas on the way to the lodge gave a few indications of just how remote. First, after inquiring on main street we found the local equivalent of a gas station, a fenced-in stack of barrels the operator would stick a hose into and suck on to get the gas flowing and fill your tank. Then since it was about noon, things started picking up in town as all the schools let out. These kids were acting just like they do at home, fooling around, checking their cellphones, and ambling down the street – the only unusual part was most of them seemed to be carrying these huge machetes.
I don’t think the revolution was starting, just guessing they were all heading off to cut sugar cane somewhere, but we decided it a good time to climb back on the bus and head for the lodge. The lodge was comfortable enough and a good base for the next few days of great butterflying. On our first full day of butterflying there, Andrew’s bait pulled in one of the most fascinating species one can imagine, the Anteros renaldus, what I call “the butterfly with the fuzzy pink slippers”.
This tiny furry-footed wonder hung around for quite a long time and let me get a short video of it working its way along the leaf.
Late on the afternoon of the next day, clouds were keeping most of the butterflies hidden as we ambled down the road. About to give it up for the day, one of our group just happened to look down and spotted what for me was another major trip highlight – three fantastic butterflies, the incredible Agrias claudina, an Opsiphanes cassina, and in the background one of those leaf mimic Memphis butterflies.
Here’s a closer view of a Memphis from the next afternoon,
and another more commonly seen leafwing, Consul fabius.
The next day, the lodge owner pointed us to a trail he’d recently cut through the woods which would turn up the next major trip highlight. In the canopy darkness, all manner of very cool-looking satyrs would be seen flying close to the trail. A ripe banana smashed at one point along the trail drew in this large party of at least three different species.
One of these, the Cithaerias aurorina, is one of my all-time favorites.
Another one of these clearwings, Pseudohaetaera hypaesia, was a new one for me and obligingly posed for a photograph on a couple of trips around the loop trail.
Back up that long road for another three days at Copalinga where we’d spend most of our time working our way up and down the trails in the park and calling up incredibly large and diverse puddle parties along the riverside wherever Andrew left some bait. These included a good variety of a bunch of very similar appearing firetip butterflies such as this Jemadia I haven’t quite been able to identify to species level yet.
A couple other denizens of the beach included four species of Siseme,
at least six species of Marpesia,
and the gorgeous Necyria bellona.
The trailside bait drew in some other pretty cool metalmarks as well, such as Chorinea octauius (one of two species of Chorinea we’d see),
and four species of Ancyluris, including new for me A. formosissima.
A waterfall along the road on the way from the lodge to the park had lots of other good butterflies including all those Marpesia, several species of zebra swallowtails (Protesilaus), a crowd favorite Malachite,
and at several spots along the road the large (for its kind) Callicore excelsior.
Over the course of the trip we’d tick off plenty of similar colorful small species of Callicore, Diaethria (88’s), Perisama, Mesotainea, and Orophila.
With all the butterflies cruising around it wasn’t too much of a surprise to spot a few caterpillars about. No idea what species this might be, but it was one of the larger and more interesting ones I’d see.
By this time, you can probably imagine things were getting a little overwhelming in terms of the number and variety of species (not to mention loads of photos). It also might come as a surprise how exhausting it can be just wandering around all day stooping every now and then to get a close-up. So it was kind of nice taking a break after a few days to sit on the bus heading on to the lodge in Yangana.
For some reason since it looked a little more remote on the map and therefore expecting more (ahem) rustic accommodations, Hacienda Yangana (or Yangana Lodge) turned out to be a fabulous place to stay until the end of the trip. The newly-built duplex cabins were very well-furnished, and the dining room/lounge (shown above) in the restored sugar mill had the most delightful ambience for catching up at the end of the day. More of a country lodge and spa than your typical eco-lodge, the owners were incredibly generous and accommodating hosts. In addition to their lodging, the estate grows its own delicious coffee and the owner has established orchids and a variety of other interesting plants everywhere you look.
The woods right on the property hosted some pretty good butterflies, too, including (once more) new to me, the Elzunia pavonii, one of the only two species in this genus.
On several occasions while we were at Yangana, we’d head high into the nearby mountains for a number of cloudforest specialties, such as multiple species of Lasiophila, Lymanopoda, and at least five of Corades.
On one of these trips while off a short ways from the rest of the group, I spotted one of the cooler hairstreaks of the trip, Johnsonita auda. These have ridiculously longer and thicker tails than most hairstreaks and was a fun new addition to my list.
BOT (Butterfly of the Trip), however, also showed up that day and, astonishingly, we had another one the next day, Junea dorinda.
One of two species of a genus I’d never heard of before, these guys are apparently pretty unusual to see found only in high elevation cloudforest in the neotropics and having that exceptional camouflage. Pretty extraordinary to see it on the last full day of butterflying and really made the trip for me.
The next and last day of the trip was a long one, picking up a few more good butterflies on the way back to the airport in Loja, catching the flight back to Quito and around midnight the flight back to Houston and then home – super that all those connections worked right on schedule. A pretty wonderful trip all in all and I can’t help but start thinking about when and where to go on the next one.