The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Ecuador Tours

BEST OF ECUADOR – Antpittas, Potoos & Hummingbirds

Tuesday 1st June – Sunday 13th June 2021

Leader: Juan Carlos Calvachi

13 Days Group Size Limit 7


Birdquest’s Best of Ecuador birding tours are a fabulous birdwatching experience in South America’s most popular destination. Our exciting Best of Ecuador birding tour samples the full range of Ecuadorian habitats, from the Pacific lowlands across the Andes to the edge of Amazonia, and in doing so turns up an extraordinarily large bird list in less than two weeks, as well as numerous specialities!

Ecuador, bisected from north to south by the mighty Andes mountains and from east to west by the equator (after which the country is named), offers wonderful birding amidst magnificent scenery in one of the smallest countries in South America.

Once part of the Inca empire that stretched from Chile to Colombia and later a Spanish colony before it gained its independence during the 19th century, the small country of Ecuador possesses an extraordinary range of environments. Here. in a comparatively limited area, one can travel from towering snow-capped volcanoes to steamy Amazonian rainforests and from windswept grasslands to temperate cloud forests. It is thus not surprising that Ecuador has the highest bird species diversity for an area its size in South America. Over 1600 bird species have already been recorded from this beautiful country, twice as many as from the whole of Europe, and yet many areas still remain ornithologically unexplored! In addition to having many species that are widely distributed in South America, Ecuador has a fine selection of endemics and other species only shared with neighbouring areas in Colombia or northern Peru.

This wonderful country offers not only the ultimate in Neotropical birding, but also the richest birding experience on earth! This superb sampling tour takes in an amazing array of habitats and bird communities, and produces an extraordinary bird list (in both size and quality) in under two weeks in the field in Ecuador.

During our travels through Ecuador we shall look for cryptic Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe high above the Papallacta Pass, gorgeously-plumaged quetzals and gaudy tanagers amongst the moss and bromeliad-encrusted trees of the cloudforests, the amazing ‘tame’ antpittas of Angel Paz’s forest home, colourful toucans, cotingas and manakins in the Amazonian lowlands, skulking antbirds deep in the rainforest, scintillating hummingbirds breaking all the laws of aerodynamics as they search out blossoms, confusing woodcreepers and ovenbirds, retiring doves and exotic trogons. Ecuador’s astonishing diversity of birdlife, welcoming people, short travel distances and good accommodations make birding here a delight.

Starting in Quito, a pleasant colonial city nestled in the central valley of the Andes below the Pichincha volcano, we shall explore verdant cloud forests and paramo grasslands in the surrounding highlands and on the western slope of the Andes around Mindo. This is one of the most exciting areas for birds in Ecuador and amongst a plethora of new birds we will be wanting to see Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Empress and Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Buff-tailed and Velvet-purple Coronets, Great Sapphirewing, Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted Pufflegs, the extraordinary Sword-billed Hummingbird, the gorgeous Golden-headed Quetzal, the splendid Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, the impressive Toucan Barbet, White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, Streak-capped and Uniform Treehunters, Ocellated, Nariño and Spillmann’s Tapaculos, Club-winged Manakin, Scaled Fruiteater, Olivaceous Piha and Beautiful Jay. A star attraction in the Mindo region are the Giant, Yellow-breasted, Ochre-breasted and Moustached Antpittas that have been habituated to eat provided earthworms by the phenomenal Angel Paz!

Farther west, we will explore some remnant lowland forest for such Chocó specialities as Green Thorntail, the handsome Purple-chested Hummingbird, Chocó Trogon, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Lanceolated Monklet, the inconspicuous Double-banded Graytail, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Stripe-throated Wren, Chocó Warbler (split from Golden-bellied), and the near-endemic Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, the oddly-shaped Moss-backed Tanager, and Gray-and-gold and Scarlet-browed Tanagers.

After returning to Quito we will sample the rich birdlife of the high Andean paramo of Ecuador at Antisana National Park and at the Papallacta Pass, looking for such great birds as Carunculated Caracara, Ecuadorian Rail, Noble Snipe, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, the endemic Ecuadorian Hillstar, Paramo Tapaculo and Black-backed Bush-Tanager.

After spending some time on the western slope of the Andes and in the western lowlands, our spectacular descent into the upper tropical zone at the base of the eastern slope of the Andes will come as a total ornithological contrast. Here we will visit both Wild Sumaco and Gareno Lodges. Birdlife is extraordinarily rich here at the edge of Amazonia, and amongst many special birds are Rufous Potoo, the wonderful Pavonine Quetzal, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Yellow-browed and Hairy-crested Antbirds, Reddish-winged Bare-eye, Purple-throated Cotinga, Foothill Elaenia, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Buff-throated and Black-and-white Tody-Tyrants, the pretty Golden-winged and Blue-rumped Manakins, Olivaceous and Rufous-naped Greenlets, and Olivaceous Siskin.

As we make our way back to Quito we will explore progressively higher areas as we ascend the verdant eastern slope of the Andes to famous San Isidro lodge. There are so many specialities in this fantastic area that it is hard to know which to pick out, but amongst the many good birds here are Rufous-banded Owl, Swallow-tailed Nightjar, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black-mandibled Toucan, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, White-bellied Antpitta, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Black-billed Peppershrike and Golden-collared Honeycreeper.

By the time we complete our journey through Ecuador, we will have experienced a remarkable transect of the Andes extending from the western lowlands through the cloudforests and the paramo right down to the Amazonian foothills!

Birdquest has operated Ecuador birding tours since 1989.

This tour can be taken together with GALAPAGOS

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of good or medium standard. At Gareno Lodge the rooms are rather simple and there is no electricity, but all rooms have private bathrooms. Road transport is by small coach and roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during Best of Ecuador is mostly easy, but there are a few moderate grade walks.

Climate: Rather variable. At low and middle altitudes many days are warm or hot, dry and sunny, but it is sometimes cool and overcast. At the highest altitudes conditions range from cool to decidedly cold. There is regular rainfall (and it could even snow at the highest altitudes) and it can be rather humid in the lowlands.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during Best of Ecuador are worthwhile (good at feeders).


  • An extraordinary 2-week tour with around 600 species regularly recorded!
  • Too many highligts to list them all! Definitely the best 2-week option in one of the richest countries for birding in the world
  • An endless variety of habitats visited, ranging from the Pacific shore to the lowland forest of the Choco, the high Andes and Amazonia
  • More than 60 species of hummingbirds usually seen, including the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird
  • Very good photographic opportunities. Many tanagers, toucans and hummingbirds coming to feeders
  • A visit to the world-famous Angel Paz reserve, home of tame antpittas and lekking Andean Cocks-of-the-rock
  • The incredible Plate-billed Mountain Toucan and tame Toucan Barbets of the Mindo area
  • A visit to the extremely birdy Wild Sumaco Lodge, where more than 500 species have been recorded!
  • A visit to Gareno in the Amazonian lowlands that produces many new species
  • Chances of seeing the impressive Spectacled Bear in the Andes.
  • Birding along the Guacamayos Ridge, searching for Peruvian Antpitta, while based at the famous San Isidro lodge
  • Enjoying Ecuadorian Hillstars and Andean Condors in the high andean paramo, where the scenery is breathtaking!


  • Day 1: Evening tour start in Quito area.
  • Day 2: Drive to Mindo on west slope of Andes via Yanacocha.
  • Days 3-5: Mindo area, including Angel Paz antpittas.
  • Day 6: Rio Silanche reserve in lowlands, then drive to Quito area.
  • Day 7: Antisana NP, Papallacta pass, then contine to Wild Sumaco lodge on east slope of Andes.
  • Day 8: Wild Sumaco.
  • Day 9: Wild Sumaco, then drive to Gareno Lodge in Amazonian lowlands.
  • Day 10: Gareno Lodge.
  • Day 11: Return up east slope to San Isidro Lodge near Cosanga.
  • Day 12: San Isidro and Cordillera de Guacamayos.
  • Day 13: San Isidro, then to Quito airport for late afternoon tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)

2021: £3370, $4590, €3710, AUD6100. Quito/Quito.

Single Supplement: 2021: £330, $460, €370, AUD610.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.


Best of Ecuador: Day 1  Our tour begins this evening in the Quito area, where we will stay overnight at a pleasant rural guesthouse. An airport transfer will be provided.

In the garden, we might see Eared Dove, Blue-and-white Swallow, Cinereous Conebill, Golden-rumped Euphonia, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Southern Yellow Grosbeak and Hooded Siskin, while flowering bushes act like magnets for Sparkling Violetears and Black-tailed Trainbearers.

Best of Ecuador: Day 2  Quito, the charming colonial capital of Ecuador, sits at the foot of Pichincha (15,424ft or 4701m), one of four huge volcanoes that dominate the surrounding area. On clear days the towering snow-capped peaks of Cayambe (19,017ft or 5796m), Cotopaxi (19,345ft or 5896m) and Antisana (18,715ft or 5704m) can be seen in the distance. While the city-facing slopes of Pichincha have long since been brought under cultivation, the western side of the mountain is clothed in uninterrupted and magnificent cloudforest from the treeline down to upper tropical elevations.

Travelling via a maze of little country roads, we shall drive up the volcano to Yanacocha, an area of extraordinarily beautiful upper temperate forest that seems light years away from the bustling city. Here an amazing set of feeders attracts a bewildering variety of hummingbirds, and we are likely to see Shining Sunbeam, Mountain Velvetbreast, Great Sapphirewing, the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird, Golden-breasted and Sapphire-vented Pufflegs, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Tyrian Metaltail and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, whilst sneaky Glossy and Masked Flowerpiercers, their sharp bills crossed at the tip like tiny secateurs, steal away the sweet liquid by nipping at the bases of some nearby flowers. This is also one of the best places in the country to see the exquisite Black-chested Mountain-Tanager.

Among the other birds we may find in this invigorating habitat are Andean Pygmy-Owl, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Azara’s and White-browed Spinetails, Pearled Treerunner, Blackish Tapaculo, White-throated Tyrannulet, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, Barred Fruiteater, Brown-belied Swallow, Great Thrush, Rufous Wren, Spectacled Whitestart, Blue-backed Conebill, Golden-crowned Tanager, Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Rufous-collared Sparrow, and Rufous-naped and Stripe-headed Brush-Finches. If we are very fortunate we will even come across the delightful Rufous Antpitta or the much larger Undulated Antpitta.

Later we shall descend the western slope of the Andes to the Mindo area for a four nights stay.

Best of Ecuador: Days 3-5  There are many excellent birding places around Mindo and certainly one of the highlights is a visit to Angel Paz’s property. In recent years, Giant, Yellow-breasted, Moustached, Chestnut-crowned and Ochre-breasted Antpittas have been habituated to eat provided earthworms by the deservedly famous local farmer and his brother. As long as these individuals survive (or are replaced), we will have a good chance of seeing up to all five of these normally very elusive birds! Recently, even Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Dark-backed Wood-Quail and Ocellated Tapaculo have been tamed by the ‘antpitta team’. We will also visit a lek of the superb Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks, where the smart males perform their courtship rituals whilst emitting their most unusual calls.

On the western slope of the Andes, we will visit the Milpe Bird Sanctuary (which protects some remnant upper foothill forest) and the Mashpi Road. A wide range of exciting birds possible at these locations such as Pallid Dove, Chocó Trogon, Uniform Antshrike, Esmeraldas Antbird, Uniform Treehunter, the localised Club-winged Manakin, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, the superb Glistening-green Tanager, the odd-shaped Moss-backed Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager and Indigo Flowerpiercer. We shall concentrate on the mixed flocks that make their round here, looking for such specialities as the gaudy Red-headed Barbet, Scaly-throated and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Chocó Warbler (split from Golden-bellied), Silver-throated, Rufous-throated and Ochre-breasted Tanagers, and Yellow-throated and Ashy-throated Bush-Tanagers. Hummingbird feeders attract White-whiskered Hermit, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Andean Emerald and Green-crowned Brilliant, and we will take our time studying these beautiful, sugar-driven little creatures.

Other birds we will look for in these interesting areas are American Swallow-tailed Kite, Black and Turkey Vultures, Ruddy and Dusky Pigeons, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Bronze-winged Parrot, Squirrel and Striped Cuckoos, Smooth-billed Ani, Chocó Toucan, Slaty and Red-faced Spinetails, Zeledon’s Antbird, Ashy-headed Tyrannulet, Western Wood-Pewee, White-thighed and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Tropical Parula, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Swallow-Tanager, Buff-throated and Black-winged Saltators, Variable and Yellow-bellied Seedeaters, and Shiny Cowbird.

In the lush subtropical forests near Mindo, we shall enjoy a lovely dawn chorus amidst splendid mountain scenery. Here the beautiful antiphonal song of the shy Russet-crowned Warbler fills the crisp morning air, Turquoise Jays add a touch of blue to the green wilderness and gaudy Toucan Barbets utter their haunting duets. Pearled Treerunners, Streaked Tuftedcheeks and Montane Woodcreepers search the moss and bromeliad-encrusted branches whilst White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts fly at tremendous speeds overhead. As the sunlight penetrates the canopy it may illuminate the splendid plumage of a Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, whilst a Golden-headed Quetzal may dazzle us with its fantastic attire. As the mist rolls in, swirling flocks of dazzling Rufous-throated, Fawn-breasted, Golden, Flame-faced, Golden-naped, Metallic-green, Beryl-spangled, Black-capped, Blue-capped and White-winged Tanagers may be seen feeding on the fruits of the silvery-leaved Cecropia trees.

Several sets of hummingbird feeders in the area, including one on our lodge’s porch, provide an unrivalled spectacle as Tawny-bellied Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Green Violetear, Western Emerald, Speckled Hummingbirds, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Empress and Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Brown and Collared Incas, Buff-tailed and Velvet-purple Coronets, Gorgeted Sunangel, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph and Purple-throated Woodstar indulge themselves on the artificial nectar.

Other species we may well see in this area include Barred and Roadside Hawks, Band-tailed and Plumbeous Pigeons, Red-billed Parrot, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Masked Trogon, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Crimson-mantled and Powerful Woodpeckers, Azara’s Spinetail, Spotted and Rusty-winged Barbtails, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Streaked Treehunters, Slaty Antwren, Streak-headed Antbird, Nariño and Spillmann’s Tapaculos, Sierran Elaenia, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Black Phoebe, Streak-necked, Ornate, Flavescent, Cinnamon and Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Green-and-black and Scaled Fruiteaters, Olivaceous Piha, Swainson’s Thrush, Mountain Wren, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Brown-capped Vireo, Spectacled and Slate-throated Whitestarts, Black-crested and Three-striped Warblers, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Dusky Bush-Tanager, Western Hemispingus, Dusky (split from Tricoloured), White-winged and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finches, and Masked and White-sided Flowerpiercers. If we are fortunate we will even see the retiring Colombian Screech-Owl (often lumped in Rufescent), the elusive Beautiful Jay or the striking Tanager-Finch.

Best of Ecuador: Day 6  This morning we will leave the Mindo area, and will continue further west into the lower foothills and western lowlands of Ecuador. In the early hours of the day we will visit the Rio Silanche reserve near Pedro Vicente Maldonado. Nowadays the reserve is only a tiny patch of remnant forest is a southern outpost of the Chocó lowlands, but still many exciting specialities can be found. We shall make a concerted effort to find several bird species typical of the Chocó forests of southwestern Colombia that reach their southern limits here, such as the handsome Purple-chested Hummingbird, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Scarlet-browed, the scarce Blue-whiskered and Rufous-winged Tanagers and, with luck, the unobtrusive Lanceolated Monklet, the striking Spot-crowned Antvireo or the near-endemic Scarlet-breasted Dacnis.

Many other lowland birds are possibilities here, including Plumbeous Kite, Laughing Falcon, Dusky Pigeon, Pacific Parrotlet, Blue-headed Parrot, Grey-rumped Swift, Stripe-throated Hermit (split from Little), Green Thorntail, Purple-crowned Fairy, Chocó and Western White-tailed Trogons, Broad-billed Motmot, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Olivaceous Piculet, Lineated, Black-cheeked and Guayaquil Woodpeckers, Pacific Hornero (split from Pale-legged), Western Woodhaunter (split from Striped), Streaked and Plain Xenopses, Plain-brown, Black-striped, Spotted and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Pacific and Dot-backed Antwrens, Sooty-headed, Brown-capped and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets, Yellow-bellied and Grey Elaenias, Black-capped and Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrants, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-margined Flatbill, Dusky-capped, Social and Rusty-margined Flycatchers, Tropical Kingbird, Cinnamon and One-coloured Becards, White-bearded Manakin, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Band-backed, Bay, Stripe-throated and Southern House Wrens, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Buff-rumped Warbler, Bananaquit, Yellow-tufted Dacnis (split from Black-faced), Guira, Grey-and-gold, Blue-necked, Golden-hooded, Bay-headed, Blue-grey, Palm, Lemon-rumped, White-shouldered, Dusky-faced and Tawny-crested Tanagers, Slate-coloured Grosbeak, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Scrub Blackbird, Yellow-tailed Oriole and Yellow-bellied Siskin.

After this foray into the lowlands, we will return to the Quito area for an overnight stay.

Best of Ecuador: Day 7  This morning we will explore Antisana National Park, which encompasses one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. Around the mountain an extensive national park has been created, mainly consisting of dry paramo grassland and stony hillsides. On our way to the park, we will drive through some pine plantations where llamas can be seen quietly grazing on the understorey. A beautiful lake at the foot of the volcano is the haunt of Andean Teal (split from Speckled), Blue-winged Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, the elusive Ecuadorian Rail, Andean Coot, Andean Lapwing, Lesser Yellowlegs and Andean Gull. The surrounding plains, slopes and shrubbery hold Carunculated Caracara, Aplomado Falcon, Black-winged Ground-Dove, Streak-backed Canastero, Paramo Ground-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch. If we are lucky we will also find Black-faced Ibis. Climbing further up towards the snowline we shall look for Streak-backed Canastero in the low shrubbery and check the orange Chuquiragua-flowers for the endemic Ecuadorian Hillstar.

Afterwards, we shall drive up to the high Papallacta pass at around 13,100ft (4000m), first used in the 16th century when Francisco de Orellana led his expedition from Quito down into Amazonia. Nowadays the pass provides the only direct road access from the country’s capital to the vast eastern lowlands of Ecuador. At the top of the pass, there is a small pond surrounded by damp paramo characterized by the huge flowering stalks of the Puya, a terrestrial bromeliad. Here, if we are fortunate, a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle will be sailing by the jagged rock-faces and the secretive Noble Snipe could be encountered amidst the boggy ground, whilst in the shrubbery we can look for Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail, Many-striped Canastero, Tawny Antpitta, Paramo Tapaculo, White-throated Tyrannulet, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Vermilion Flycatcher, Red-crested Cotinga, Grass (or Sedge) Wren, Black Flowerpiercer, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Pale-naped Brush-Finch, Plain-coloured Seedeater and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch.

Nearby are a few patches of stunted Polylepis woodland where we may see the nuthatch-like Giant Conebill and, with luck, we will encounter a family group of Black-backed Bush-Tanagers. Overhead we may see Variable Hawk, while Brown-bellied Swallows often hawk for insects over the area. Stout-billed and Chestnut-winged Cinclodes hop over the rocky terrain and near the upper limit of vegetation we will search for the large but cryptic Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. By scanning the wires and bush tops there is even a chance of finding the handsome Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant in this inhospitable place. If the weather is clear we will be able to see the huge, ice-clad peak of Antisana and its associated glacier.

From the pass we will descend the eastern slope of the Andes to the recently opened Wild Sumaco Lodge for a two nights stay.

The journey is a fascinating experience as we gradually wind our way down the eastern slope, enjoying breathtaking views of forest-clad hillsides and plume-like waterfalls plunging up to 330ft (100m) or more, and passing through some small Andean villages. Dense thickets of bamboo fill the gaps created by those trees that have succumbed to time and perhaps the sheer weight of their epiphytic guests. En route we shall check rushing mountain streams for the amazing Torrent Duck, marvelling at its ability to swim against the strongest of currents. Here we may also find the delightful Torrent Tyrannulet hawking for aquatic insects and watch a White-capped Dipper bobbing on top of a boulder.

Best of Ecuador: Day 8  At Wild Sumaco we shall have a superb opportunity to sample the rich bird communities inhabiting the lush forests of the upper tropical zone. Here sparkling streams tumble through verdant forests, and flowering trees and bushes festooned with orchids line the road where it crosses the lower slopes of Volcan Sumaco. Many trails provide access to excellent upper tropical foothill forest, a habitat which is fast disappearing throughout the length of the eastern slope of the Andes. Although more and more settlers are moving into the area, a mixture of primary forest and secondary growth hosts a wide assortment of interesting birds. Several restricted-range species such as Napo Sabrewing, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked Becard, Blue-rumped Manakin and Olivaceous Greenlet only occur at these elevations and we shall make a special effort to see them in this bird-rich area.

A superb trail system provides access to the interior of magnificent upper tropical forest, and along these trails or at the forest edge we will hope to find such specialities as Black-throated Brilliant, Buff-throated and Black-and-white Tody-Tyrants, Golden-winged Manakin and Olive Finch. Other species we may find at these elevations include Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Grey-chinned Hermit, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Wire-crested Thorntail, Gould’s Jewelfront, White-tailed Hillstar, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Rufous-breasted and Lafresnaye’s Piculets, Little, Golden-olive, Smoky-brown and Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers, Ash-browed and Dusky Spinetails, Black-billed Treehunter, Olivaceous and Olive-backed Woodcreepers, Lined Antshrike, Black and Blackish Antbirds, Rufous-winged and Yellow-breasted Antwrens, White-backed Fire-eye, Golden-faced and Ecuadorian Tyrannulets, the recently-described Foothill Elaenia, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Slaty-capped, Cliff, Short-crested, Piratic and Lemon-browed Flycatchers, Red-billed Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Olive-faced Flatbill, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-winged Becard, Masked Tityra, Thrush-like, Coraya and Wing-banded Wrens, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Cerulean, Blackburnian and Canada Warblers, Silver-beaked, Magpie, Paradise, Orange-eared, Golden-eared, Spotted and Summer Tanagers, Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer, Greyish Saltator, Blue-black Grassquit, Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch, Chestnut-bellied and Black-and-white Seedeaters, Russet-backed Oropendola and Olivaceous Siskin.

Harder to come by species at Wild Sumaco include Sunbittern, White-streaked Antvireo, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, the recently-described Foothill Antwren, the elusive Northern White-crowned Tapaculo, the unobtrusive and rare Yellow-throated Spadebill, Scarlet-breasted and Fiery-throated Fruiteaters, Grey-tailed Piha and Blue-browed Tanager, but, with a bit of luck, we will find one or two of these.

Best of Ecuador: Day 9  After a final morning at Wild Sumaco we will cross a bridge over the upper Napo and head out into the Amazonian lowlands of Ecuador for a two nights stay at Gareno Lodge. As we proceed eastward along the Napo the river will grow in width, and we shall stop at a viewpoint where we can scan the river and its edges for Pale-vented Pigeon, Amazon Kingfisher, Great Kiskadee, White-winged and White-banded Swallows, Grey-capped Flycatcher and Oriole Blackbird.

Best of Ecuador: Day 10  Gareno Lodge is situated in the lands of the Huaorani Indians, a once fierce tribe which only recently gave up its nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Oil companies have built penetration roads here, but these are closed off to non-Huaorani settlers, resulting in great access to magnificent, primary, Amazonian terra firme forest. We will spend our time sampling the rich avifauna inhabiting these lowland habitats, and both roadside birding and the forest trails should enable us to build up an impressive list.

Our lodge is just a short walk from a little-used road, overlooking a very scenic meandering forest creek which is sometimes visited by the dazzling Fiery Topaz. Not far away is a ‘mirador’ or viewpoint over the forest canopy, offering an excellent opportunity to observe life in the treetops over a distance of more than a mile. We shall keep a regular eye on several prominent perches which are favoured by such avian gems as Many-banded and Ivory-billed Aracaris, Channel-billed and White-throated Toucans, Spangled, Plum-throated and Purple-throated Cotingas, Purple and Green Honeycreepers, Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnises, and Rufous-bellied and White-lored Euphonias. From our vantage point, we should also see several colourful psittacids, including Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Black-headed Parrot and Mealy Amazon.

From the forest floor, we may well hear the whistles of the distinctive local form of the Brown Tinamou (likely to be split as Chestnut Tinamou), though seeing this furtive ground dweller is next to impossible. Along the road transecting the forest we will look for fruiting trees which might attract Yellow-backed, Masked, Opal-rumped and Opal-crowned Tanagers, and we may stumble across a large canopy flock featuring such interesting birds as Speckled Spinetail, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner, Wedge-billed, Cinnamon-throated and Lineated Woodcreepers, Lafresnaye’s Woodcreeper (split from Buff-throated), Spot-winged Antshrike, Dugand’s Antwren, Zimmer’s Flatbill (split from Yellow-margined), Pink-throated Becard, Wing-barred Piprites, and Dusky-capped and Lemon-chested Greenlets.

The understorey has a different assembly of birds that makes its rounds, and in a roving party led by the relentlessly-searching Cinereous Antshrike, we may find Plain-winged and Dusky-throated Antshrikes, and Rufous-tailed, White-flanked and Gray Antwrens. More unobtrusive forest dwellers include Brown Nunlet and Double-banded Pygmy Tyrant, and if we are fortunate we will stumble across an army ant swarm attended by such elusive stunners as Sooty, White-plumed, Bicolored and Hairy-crested Antbirds, as well as Reddish-winged Bare-eye. A nocturnal target at Gareno Lodge will be the highly localized Rufous Potoo, which has been regularly found at this locality. Our local guide may well have one staked out on a daytime roost, but if not we will make an effort to find this enigmatic nightbird after dark. Occasionally, the magnificent Harpy Eagle nests in the vicinity, so we will be hoping a pair are in residence during our stay.

Other species we may well encounter in this wonderful area include White Hawk, Black Caracara, the raucous Red-throated Caracara, the extremely shy but vocal Chestnut-headed Crake, Short-tailed Swift, White-bearded and Great-billed Hermits, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Black-tailed and Amazonian White-tailed Trogons, White-eared and Brown Jacamars, White-fronted and Yellow-billed Nunbirds, Gilded (split from Black-spotted) and Lemon-throated Barbets, Chestnut and Red-stained Woodpeckers, Pygmy and Moustached Antwrens, Gray, Yellow-browed, Silvered and White-shouldered Antbirds, Black-faced and Striated Antthrushes, White-lored Tyrannulet, White-eyed Tody-Tyrant, Blue-crowned and Blue-backed Manakins, and Masked Crimson, Flame-crested and Fulvous-crested Tanagers.

Best of Ecuador: Day 11  Today we will recross the Cordillera de Huacamayos to San Isidro Lodge near Cosanga for a two nights stay. The steep slopes of the Cordillera de Huacamayos are clothed in some of Ecuador’s finest subtropical forests. Trees covered in aerial gardens of bromeliads, mosses and orchids form a green carpet on even the steepest slopes, and here we hope to find such gems as White-tailed Hillstar, the awkward-looking White-tipped Sicklebill, the near-endemic Coppery-chested Jacamar and the delightful Handsome Flycatcher. Other mid-elevation birds inhabiting this misty environment include Black-mandibled Toucan, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Blackish Antbird, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Inca Jay (split from Green), Sepia-brown Wren, Black-billed Peppershrike, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Bronze-green Euphonia, and Saffron-crowned Tanager. If we are very fortunate we will even find the stunning Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater or the gaudy Vermilion Tanager.

Best of Ecuador: Day 12  Set in a beautiful mountain valley with forested ridges stretching away in all directions, San Isidro is an excellent base from which to explore the upper subtropical forest of the eastern slope of the Andes. Here the morning air is filled with the three-note whistle of the secretive White-bellied Antpitta. Recently the local guides have habituated both this species and Chestnut-crowned Antpitta to come for earthworm ‘handouts’, so we have a good chance of seeing one or both species at close range! Hummingbird feeders attract Bronzy Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet and Long-tailed Sylph, while a quiet dirt road that heads up the valley above the lodge provides excellent roadside birding. Here we will check fruiting trees for the gaudy Black-billed Mountain-Toucan and dense stands of Chusquea bamboo for such characteristic birds as the secretive Striped Treehunter, the endearing Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher and the vociferous Plain-tailed Wren.

The steep slopes of the Cordillera de Guacamayos nearby are clothed in some of the country’s finest subtropical forests. Trees covered in aerial gardens of bromeliads, mosses and orchids form a green carpet on even the steepest slopes, and here we hope to find such gems as Black-chested Fruiteater, the splendid Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, the shy Dusky Piha and the delightful Handsome Flycatcher. Other mid-elevation birds inhabiting this misty environment include Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Blackish Antbird, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Inca Jay (split from Green), Sepia-brown Wren, Black-billed Peppershrike, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Bronze-green Euphonia, and Saffron-crowned Tanager.

Other typical birds of San Isidro and the nearby crest of the Cordillera de Guacamayos, where we will walk a trail that follows the ridge through moss-draped cloudforest, include White-capped Parrot, Scaly-naped Amazon, Rufous Spinetail, Flammulated Treehunter, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, the mouse-like Blackish Tapaculo, Ash-coloured and Equatorial Rufous-vented Tapaculos, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Rufous-breasted and Pale-edged Flycatchers, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Rufous Wren, Glossy-black and Chestnut-bellied Thrushes, Capped Conebill, Grass-green Tanager, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Common Bush-Tanager, Bluish Flowerpiercer and Subtropical and Northern Mountain Caciques, as well as many of the cloud forest birds we will already have encountered above Mindo. At night a pair of ‘San Isidro Owls’ sometimes hoots outside our cabins. Looking intermediate between Black-and-white and Black-banded Owls but living at higher elevations, this form was initially described as a new species but has since been downgraded to a new race of Black-and-white Owl. If we are fortunate we will also find one of the less frequently observed birds of the area such as the elusive Wattled Guan, the attractive White-throated Screech Owl, the splendid Rufous-banded Owl, the elusive Andean Potoo, the awesome Swallow-tailed Nightjar, the skulking Slate-crowned Antpitta, the very shy Barred Antthrush, the noisy Ocellated Tapaculo, the rare Greater Scythebill or the jay-like White-capped Tanager.

On our final evening we will mark the upcoming end of the tour with a celebratory dinner.

Best of Ecuador: Day 13  After some final birding in the San Isidro area we shall return to Quito, sampling the birdlife at progressively higher elevations en route.

In addition to many birds previously mentioned, today we may encounter White-banded Tyrannulet, Glossy Flowerpiercer and gorgeous Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain Tanagers.

A stop at the Guango Lodge hummingbird feeders will provide another ‘hummerfest’ and amongst the characteristic wing sounds and quarrels over the nutritious sugar-water we shall try to pick out Mountain Velvetbreast, the incredible Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, Tyrian Metaltail and the diminutive White-bellied and Gorgeted Woodstars.

Higher up flowering shrubs act as a magnet for Shining Sunbeam and Blue-mantled Thornbill. Our route takes us back over the Papallacta Pass before our tour ends at Quito airport in the late afternoon.


by Dani López-Velasco

View Report


by János Oláh

View Report


by János Oláh

View Report

Other shorter South America birding tours by Birdquest include: