Welcome to Birdquest
Wednesday 3rd August - Friday 26th August 2011
Our 2011 tour was different yet again as we had almost no migrants from the north. One could imagine that an August tour would have a smaller list than usual but in fact we managed to record 814 species! Considering the lack of migrants it was a highly successful tour to see the special birds of this fantastic country! Out of this grand total, 749 bird species were seen and 65 birds were heard only. All I can say yet again that there has probably never been a better time to visit Ecuador. Bird watching and eco-tourism has grown in Ecuador over the years and many new lodges have opened allowing relatively easy access to previously ‘off the beaten track’ places. Also many difficult-to-find birds have been staked-out or even habituated. In addition to these factors the travelling distances are short and our itinerary has been designed to give a fantastic overview of the northern part of this country. From 2012 we have a revised itinerary for this tour yet again which should see even more birds! Please check out our website for the new Northern Ecuador tour!
Birdquest has operated a very long series of successful tours to Ecuador over the last 18 years. This tiny South American country undeniably offers the best of the ’Bird Continent’ with the most species of birds per square mile in the World. In 2011 we travelled through a wide range of habitats and saw a good number of Ecuadorian and other South American specialities. The regular birding hotspots were visited but as usual there were some unexpected surprises along this action-packed tour! Our first base was the Septimo Paraiso Lodge in the western Andes close to the famous town of Mindo. Our first afternoon was spent along the Milpe Road where an obliging Barred Forest Falcon and Club-winged Manakins were the main attractions. A superb morning at Angel Paz was as action-packed as usual with Giant, Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpittas and Dark-backed Wood-Quails seen in one morning. Still in the Mindo area we made a short visit to the Rio Silanche reserve, where we added lots of goodies like Lanceolated Monklet, Stub-tailed Antbird, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Green (Chocó) Manakin and Scarlet-browed Tanager just to name but a few. We visited the newly discovered Mashpi area again after our pioneering trip in 2010 where Barred Hawk, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Orange-breasted Fruiteater and many Moss-backed Tanagers were the highlights. The Bellavista area did not disappoint with good views of Plate-billed Mountain Toucan and White-throated Quail-Dove. A few days west flank birding was followed by a full day of birding at high elevation near Papallacta Pass but unfortunately the highest parts were out of reach because of weather conditions. The superb selection of hummers gave us some consolation! Our next port of call was the fantastic Wild Sumaco Lodge in the eastern foothills. The best birds here included Orange-breasted Falcon, Foothill Screech-Owl, Band-bellied Owl, Lazuline Sabrewing, White-tipped Sicklebill, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Plain-winged Antwren, Red-billed and Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulets, Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant, Foothill Elaenia, Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater, Grey-tailed Piha, and Blue-browed Tanager. From the eastern foothills we descended to the rolling ‘terra firme’ forest of the rather basic Gareno Lodge albeit with electricity now! Birding was fantastic and birds came thick and fast with two different male Fiery Topaz and daytime Rufous Potoo seen to everybody’s delight. Other highlights here included White Hawk, White-throated and Yellow-throated Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Jacamar, Spotted Puffbird, Fulvous-crested Tanager and Red-rumped Cacique. From this lowland Amazonian site we were back to cool montane forests of San Isidro and the nearby Guacamayos Ridge. This area can produce rather slow birding sometimes but our persistence always has great results! The undoubted highlight yet again (following our 2010 success) was fantastic looks of a male Peruvian Antpitta but the enigmatic ‘San Isidro’ Owl feeding young, the rare White-chested Swift, White-bellied Antpittas and noisy White-capped Tanagers, closely followed it. After this very friendly lodge we had two days of high elevation birding again. This time we managed to secure the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe at Papallacta and had a great morning at the magnificent Antisana Volcano in the heart of the National Park of the same name. Our last lodge on the main tour was the somewhat faded Tinalandia back on the west flank again. This is still a good base to explore some lower elevation western foothills and lowland sites. We had White-throated Crake, Black-and-white Owl, Spectacled Owl, Black-headed Antthrush and Choco Trogon in the garden plus a great selection of goodies in Rio Palenque nearby such as Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Pacific Pygmy Owl, Ecuadorian Trogon, Barred Puffbird and Grey-and-gold Warbler. After the main tour some of continued on the ’La Selva extension’ and we were soon back to the steamy lowlands of the Amazonian Basin. This was the first Lodge to be established along the Napo River and still serves a fantastic location to see the special birds. A few days of birding produced a whole range of specialities like Zigzag and Agami Herons, Sungrebe, Long-tailed Potoo, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, White-lored Antpitta, Noble Antthrush, Black-spotted Bare-eye, Spot-backed-, Dot-backed- and Riparian Antbirds, Riverside Tyrant, Johannes’s Tody-tyrant, the secretive Orange-crested Manakin, and a fantastic selection of cotingas like Amazonian Umbrellabird, White-browed Purpletuft and Purple-throated Cotinga!
Hummingbirds were unbelievable and undoubtedly this is the best tour in the World for this special family! Our efforts this year resulted in an incredible total of 75 species of hummingbirds, which is the highest total for any Birdquest tour ever (we beat yet again our record of 73 from the same tour in 2010)! This list included species like the diminutive Gorgeted Woodstar, the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird, the gaudy Fiery Topaz, the lovely Wire-crested Thorntail, the rare Lazuline Sabrewing, the huge Giant Hummingbird and Ecuadorian Hillstar just to name but a few. In our new itinerary from 2012 we have the potential possibility to break the 80 species barrier in 22-day tour (not designed only for hummers!). We also had numerous breathtaking encounters with colourful cotingas, toucans in the lowlands and multicoloured manakins and tanagers on both slopes of the Andes. It would take a long time to list all the goodies and specialities that performed beautifully on the tour (and not yet mentioned) but the rare Andean Ibises, the seldom seen Slender-billed Kite, the localised Cloud Forest Pygmy Owl, the roosting Marbled Wood-Quails, a day-roosting Tawny-bellied Screech Owl, males of Lyre-tailed and Swallow-tailed Nightjars, the hard-to-come by diminutive Rufous-breasted Piculet, the gaudy Napo Sabrewing, Gould’s Jewelfront and Rufous-vented Whitetip, the strange Long-billed Woodcreeper, the very handsome Yellow-browed Antbird, the shy Short-tailed Antthrush, the superb Chestnut-belted Gnateater, the neat Spotted Nightingale-Thrush and the colourful Wire-tailed and Golden-winged Manakins spring to mind!
In the steamy lowland and foothill jungles featuring hundreds of tree species we found an enormous diversity of tyrant flycatchers and recorded a staggering total of 108 species of them! There were many rare or difficult to observe species like the three species of ‘hemitricky’ tody-tyrants (White-eyed, Buff-throated and Johannes’s) or the large White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant. Other ‘family’ totals to highlight this year’s tour were 77 species of antbirds which included 10 seen antpittas, 11 species of trogons; 5 species of kingfishers; 6 species of jacamars including coppery-chested and yellow-billed; 6 species of barbets; 14 species of toucans, 25 species of woodpeckers; 16 species of cotingas; 13 species of manakins and 93 species of tanagers which included 8 species of flowerpiercers. We also should give a special mention to the 29 species of night birds we have recorded, of which we managed to see 22! This amazing selection of ‘seen’ night birds included 4 potoos, 6 nightjars, 12 owls, and was again a Birdquest record within a single tour! Every tour to this wonderful country is different but there is always something really special for us Birdquesters! It will certainly take some time to ‘digest’ all the fantastic experiences we took home from this memorable tour!