Ecuador February 2002

Trip ReportsEcuador February 2002

A non-profit private tour organized and led by Adrian Hoskins.

After the long flight from England, our first day was spent relaxing in the high altitude capital Quito, where we visited a local park. There, we saw a Hesperiine skipper, a Eurema, 2 Catasticta species, and the Neotropical Painted Lady Vanessa carye.

The following morning we caught a domestic flight to Coca, and then enjoyed a relaxing 3-hour cruise down the Rio Napo by motorised longboat. We disembarked on a sandy beach and hiked for about a kilometer along a boardwalk, which took us through secondary forest and palm swamp. Upon reaching a narrow stream, we boarded dugout canoes and were rowed upstream, emerging after a few minutes onto a serene lagoon.

Sacha Lodge, constructed from timber and palm thatch, was set on the opposite side of the lagoon. The lodge had its own large butterfly enclosure, behind which was primary forest. Satyrines including Pierella astyoche and Haetera piera sat motionless until we approached, and then disappeared into the undergrowth. The narrow trails and dense forest made butterfly observation and photography difficult, so much of our time was spent in the more open secondary forest, or on the sandbanks of the Napo river.

Lantana bushes in a small glade by the bungalows attracted many butterflies including Dryas iulia, Junonia evarete, Arawacus aetolus, and other common species. Far more productive, however, was the board-walk route through secondary forest to a nearby village. Along the track were several transparent Ithomiines, 4 species of Mesosemia Metalmarks, and many Nymphalids including the amazing dead-leaf butterfly Coenophlebia archidona, and the gaudily marked Nessaea hewitsonii.

Representatives of several families, especially Nymphalidae, Pieridae, and Hesperiidae were also found in abundance puddling at urine-soaked sand along the shore. Callicore hystaspes was particularly common, and was joined by singletons of Marpesia berania, Philaethria dido, Lasaia agesilas, and Eurytides dolicaon.

Our next destination was Cuyabeno River Lodge, where unfortunately the weather was overcast and often rainy. Butterfly photography was confined to snatched moments between showers, but there was an excellent fauna including several stunning skippers – Haemalacta sanguinalis, Jemadia gnetus, and Paches loxus. Other exciting finds included the tailed metalmarks Rhetus periander and Ancyluris meliboeus, and the beautiful green striped day-flying moth Urania leilus which was often seen puddling in groups of 3 or more.

I spent several minutes one day photographing a little transparent butterfly deep in the forest. At first glance, I thought it was an Ithomiine, but close examination showed it to be a Pierid – the mimic Dismorphia theucharila. It was quite approachable and returned several times to the same perch. Unfortunately, whenever I tried to focus on the butterfly an extremely irritating mosquito landed on my ear and gave me a painful bite! Doubtless the beautifully marked ‘dead-leaf’ lizard which sat nearby found it quite amusing.

After another night in Quito, we then drove to Tinalandia in the western Andes. The weather during our 4-night stay was mostly cloudy but there was sufficient sunshine to enable regular close views of several very beautiful Heliconiines including Heliconius erato cyrbia, H. cydno, H. sapho, and H. sara. We also saw several fresh Monarchs Danaus plexippus, some interesting Dismorphia species, and the lovely pink-flushed transparent Satyrine Cithaerias pireta which proved as beautiful and elusive as ever. From Tinalandia we took day trips to Rio Palenque, which produced an immaculate Owl butterfly Caligo bellepheron and an Eryphanis polyxena; and to La Perla, where we saw Catonephele nyctimus and the attractive and very common Coolie Anartia amathea.

Next, we drove to Maquipucuna, a rustic lodge set in cloud forest at an altitude of 1700 meters in the western Andes. Our time at Maquipucuna was blessed by beautiful sunny weather, and many splendid butterflies were seen along the access road and by the streams, including Necyria duellona, Marpesia zerynthia, Marpesia marcella, Arawacus sito, Hypanartia godmannii, Jemadia gnetus, Heraclides thoas, Altinote ozomene, Cithaerias pireta, and an enormous and beautifully patterned skipper Phocides thermus.

The forest trails were easy to walk and produced many interesting Ithomiines, plus an interesting selection of cloud forest Satyrines which included several Euptychia species, a Corades, and an Oxeoschistus. An amusing finale came when an immaculate Owl butterfly Caligo illioneus flew out from the undergrowth and landed on my nose!

The final site we visited was Pululuhua Crater, a misty but fairly dry forest-clad inner caldera, with a dirt road winding to the bottom. The road was an excellent site for strange and unfamiliar high altitude Satyrines including Pedaliodes, Lymanopoda, and the splendid Junea doraete, all of which were attracted to the corpse of a snake which had been run over by a vehicle.

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