The Ultimate In Birding Tours

South America (and its islands)

ECUADOR WITH A DIFFERENCE – Off-the-beaten-track in the Chocó, the northernmost Andes and Amazonia

Sunday 1st October – Sunday 15th October 2023

Leaders: Birdquest Leader to be announced and local bird guides

15 Days Group Size Limit 7
Shiripuno (Amazonia) Extension

Sunday 15th October – Friday 20th October 2023

6 Days Group Size Limit 7
Rio Bigal Extension

Friday 20th October – Monday 23rd October 2023

4 Days Group Size Limit 7

ECUADOR WITH A DIFFERENCE: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Ecuador with a Difference birding tours is a true ‘off-the-beaten-track’ journey to some little-visited and often remote parts of the country in search of a large number of avian specialities, many of which are either effectively impossible or else difficult to see in other South American countries. Of all the regions of Ecuador, it is the lowlands and foothills of the Pacific coast, an area known as the Chocó, that holds the greatest number of restricted-range or near-endemic specialities. These species also occur in western Colombia, but many are far more easily seen in Ecuador, including a good number that only occur in far southwest Colombia, off the route of Colombia bird tours.

During this special itinerary, we will explore a series of locations in the Ecuadorian Chocó and then some rarely-visited locations in the Andes of northernmost Ecuador. During the extension, we move on to the lowlands of Ecuadorian Amazonia, in total contrast to everything we have seen so far. Here we explore the remote Shiripuno area, deep in the vast Yasuni National Park. Shiripuno is home to some very special birds, some of which cannot be seen at the better-known wildlife lodges situated along the Napo River. During this unusual tour we will surely build up a large bird list, as with any tour that travels from the Pacific lowlands to the Andes and on to Amazonia, but the emphasis here is on quality, with a large number of species that participants are likely to have missed on a previous visit to Ecuador.

Our Ecuador with a Difference tour begins in Quito, the nation’s capital, but this is just a staging post. Soon we are heading off down the West Slope of the Andes and heading for the Chocó.

After a stop along the way to look for Brown Wood Rail, Pallid Dove, Purple-chested Sunbird and other specialities, we will arrive at the remote Canandé Reserve, owned by the well-known Jocotoco Foundation. The Canandé Reserve is set amidst a huge timber concession and holds numerous Chocó specialities.

Among the easier-to-find endemics are Dusky Pigeon, Purple Quail-Dove, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Choco Trogon, Orange-fronted Barbet, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Choco Toucan, Lita Woodpecker, Rose-faced Parrot, Esmeraldas Antbird, Choco Tapaculo, Pacific Flatbill, Black-tipped Cotinga, Dagua Thrush, Scarlet-thighed and Scarlet-breasted Dacnises and Ochre-breasted, Scarlet-and-white and Blue-whiskered Tanagers. Trickier to find, but all possible during our stay, are Berlepsch’s Tinamou (not difficult to hear), Plumbeous Forest Falcon, Baudo Guan and Rufous-crowned Antpitta (now known to be a giant gnateater). There is even a real but slim chance of an encounter with the fabled Banded Ground Cuckoo!

Some special birds of only somewhat wider distribution are Tawny-faced Quail, Rufous-fronted Wood Quail, Choco Screech Owl, Barred Puffbird, Stripe-throated Wren, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and the magnificent Great Green Macaw.

Moving on to the Pacific Coast, we will explore the coastal mangroves, woodlands and wetlands. Star attractions here include Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Black-breasted Puffbird and, if we are really in luck, the rare Humboldt’s Sapphire.

From the coast, we head up the Cayapas River by motorized canoe to the Tigrillo Reserve near Playa de Oro. Our purpose in visiting this remote area is to look for Chocó endemics not found at Canandé or rarer there. In particular, Plumbeous Hawk, Chocó Poorwill, Five-colored Barbet, Stripe-billed Aracari, Stub-tailed Antbird, the Chocó race of the Green Manakin, the enigmatic Broad-billed Sapayoa (now placed in its own monotypic bird family) and Lemon-spectacled Tanager. Playa de Oro is surely the best place to see the Broad-billed Sapayoa, nowadays considered a monotypic bird family.

From the Chocó lowlands, we head into the western Andes, home to yet more great Chocó specialities. At Alto Tambo, our main targets are two excellent Bangsia species only found in far northwest Ecuador and far southwest Colombia; Golden-chested and Yellow-green Tanagers. This is also the best place for the rare Choco Woodpecker.

At higher altitudes, we will explore the Chical road, where special birds include Hoary Puffleg, Star-chested Treerunner, Purplish-mantled Tanager and Indigo Flowerpiercer.

At an area of high-altitude paramo grasslands, the sought-after Andean (or Jameson’s) Snipe will be on the menu.

Cerro Mongus is a rarely visited mountain, but it is surely the best place to see the lovely but rare Chestnut-bellied Cotinga. Other great birds here include Black-thighed Puffleg, Crescent-faced Antpitta and Masked Mountain Tanager.

In the arid valley bottoms of this region, we will be searching for the restricted-range Blue-headed Sapphire and Scrub Tanager, while wetlands at higher altitudes hold Ecuadorian Rail and Subtropical Doradito.

Our last port of call during the main tour is the spectacular caldera of the Pululahua volcano. Here we will be hoping to track down the highly sought-after Buff-fronted Owl and also the attractive Rufous-breasted Antpitta.

During the optional extension, and in total contrast to everything that has gone before, we will fly to Coca in Ecuador’s eastern Amazonia and then travel by road and boat to the remote Shiripuno Lodge in the heart of the immense Yasuni National Park. A joint venture with the indigenous Huaorani people, Shiripuno is mainly visited by researchers and relatively few birders go there as it is far less well-known than the lodges on the Napo River.

Shiripuno has a series of very special birds that are difficult or impossible along the Napo, however. The star attractions here are the spectacular, near-endemic Salvin’s Curassow, Nocturnal Curassow, the gorgeous Fiery Topaz, the sought-after Rufous Potoo, the near-endemic Brown Nunlet, Fulvous Antshrike, Dugand’s Antwren, the near-endemic Rio Suno Antwren and the near-endemic White-lored Antpitta.

There are many other great birds at Shiripuno of course and there are chances for such spectacular creatures as Harpy Eagle, Long-tailed Potoo, Pavonine Quetzal, Black Bushbird and Black-necked Red Cotinga to mention just a few.

Our ‘off-the-beaten track’ theme in Ecuador continues with a chance to visit the rarely-birded Rio Bigal Biological Reserve, situated in the transition zone between Amazonia and the Andes. The major targets here are Pink-throated Briliant (not seen on any other bird tour!) and Blackish Pewee (hard to see elsewhere). Both are straightforward at Rio Bigal and the reserve also holds a host of other great Amazonian-edge and lower foothills species.

This is definitely a tour for those seeking something unusual and very special!

Birdquest has operated Ecuador birding tours since 1989.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of good or medium standard. At Playa de Oro the lodge is quite simple, with limited electricity and ‘tropical temperature’ (lukewarm) water. Some of the rooms have attached bathrooms, while others have shared bathrooms. Shiripuno Lodge and Rio Bigal Biological Station during the extensions are likewise fairly basic but wonderfully situated. There is limited electricity and bathrooms have ‘tropical temperature’ water. Road transport is mostly by small coach and roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Ecuador with a Difference birding tours is mostly easy to moderate, but the high trail at Canandé is a bit more demanding, with a steep ascent in places (other trails at Canandé are not demanding).

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 higher altitudes conditions range from cool to warm. It often rains and it can be rather humid in the lowlands.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Ecuador with a Difference birding tours are worthwhile.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Participating in an 'off-the-beaten-track' Ecuadorian adventure with a large number of species recorded, even while focused on the many specialities!
  • A wide variety of habitats visited, ranging from the Pacific shoreline and the lowland and foothill forests of the Chocó to the Andes and the remote Shiripuno Lodge in Amazonia.
  • A fantastic series of little-known Chocó specialities at the Jocotoco Foundation reserve at Canandé.
  • Even a real but slim chance for Banded Ground Cuckoo!
  • Sought-after birds at the remote Tigrillo Reserve at Playa de Oro such as the monotypic Broad-billed Sapayoa and Five-colored Barbet
  • Searching for Choco Woodpecker and the stunning Golden-chested Tanager in the northwestern foothills
  • Hoary Puffleg, Purplish-mantled Tanager and the beautiful Star-chested Treerunner along the Chical road.
  • Looking for the sought-after Andean Snipe in a spectacular paramo landscape.
  • Hiking up Cerro Mongus in search of Chestnut-bellied Cotinga, Black-thighed Puffleg, Crescent-faced Antpitta and Maskled Mountain Tanager.
  • Admiring the near-endemic Ecuadorian Rail and the localized Subtropical Doradito at a pleasant wetland.
  • Tracking down the sought-after Buff-fronted Owl and Rufous-breasted Antpitta in a spectacular volcanic crater
  • Visiting the remote lodge at Shiripuno in Yasuni National Park, far from the much-visited lodges along the Napo River.
  • Tracking down such marvellous specialities as Salvin's and Nocturnal Currasows, Rufous Potoo and the extraordinary Fiery Topaz.
  • Marvellous 'ant-things', hopefully including the near-endemic Rio Suno Antwren.
  • A chance of the likes of Harpy Eagle and Black-necked Red Cotinga.
  • Seeing the 'hardly-ever-seen' Pink-throated Brilliant and Blackish Pewee at Rio Bigal, and much else besides

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • MAIN TOUR
  • Day 1: Evening tour start in Quito airport area.
  • Day 2: Drive to the Canandé Reserve.
  • Days 3-5: Exploring the Canandé Reserve.
  • Day 6: Canandé, then drive to Rio Peñas.
  • Day 7: Rio Peñas area, then drive to Selva Alegre. By boat to Playa de Oro Lodge.
  • Days 8-9: Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve. Overnights at Playa de Oro Lodge.
  • Day 10: Playa de Oro area, then by boat and road to the Florida area.
  • Day 11: Exploring the Chical Road.
  • Day 12: Visit Alta Tambo area, then drive to Ambuqui via paramo.
  • Day 13: Cerro Mongus. Overnight at Ambuqui.
  • Day 14: Ambuqui, then drive to Pululahua crater inthe Quito region.
  • Day 15: Pululahua, then to Quito airport for afternoon tour end.
  • SHIRIPUNO (AMAZONIA) EXTENSION
  • Day 1: Overnight near Quito airport.
  • Day 2: Fly to Coca and travel by road and boat to Shiripuno Lodge.
  • Days 3-5: Shiripuno Lodge.
  • Day 6: Return to Coca and fly to Quito for midday tour end.
  • RIO BIGAL EXTENSION
  • Day 1: Continue to Rio Bigal Biological Station at the base of the Andes.
  • Days 2-3: Rio Bigal Biological Reserve.
  • Day 4: Return to Coca and fly to Quito for midday 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’.

PRICE INFORMATION

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)


2023: provisional £3890, $5490, €4610, AUD7520. Quito/Quito.
Shiripuno (Amazonia) Extension: £1830, $2590, €2170, AUD3540. Quito/Quito.
Rio Bigal Extension: £770, $1090, €910, AUD1490. Coca/Quito

Single Supplement: 2023: £290, $420, €350, AUD570.
Shiripuno (Amazonia) Extension: £150, $220, €180, AUD300.
Rio Bigal Extension: £60, $90, €70, AUD120.

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.

ECUADOR WITH A DIFFERENCE BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 1  Our tour begins this evening near Quito airport, where we will spend the night. (An airport transfer will be provided.)

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 2  We will head off early and descend the western slopes of the Andes until we reach the Chocó lowlands. Our ultimate destination is the Jocotoco Foundation’s reserve at Canandé, where we will stay for four nights.

We will break the journey at a small patch of forest where the uncommon and usually very secretive Brown Wood Rail, a Chocó endemic, has taken to being much more ‘seeable’ than usual. With a bit of luck, one can even take good photographs!

Other good birds we may well see in this area include four more Chocó endemics; White-whiskered Hermit, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Pallid Dove and Orange-crowned Euphonia.

Restricted-range specialities on our journey today include Pacific Parrotlet, Pacific Hornero and Pacific Antwren. We also have a slim chance of finding the scarce and localized Slate-colored Seedeater.

More widespread species are likely to include White-necked Jacobin, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Smooth-billed Ani, Turkey and Black Vultures, Bronze-winged Parrot, Bran-colored, Rusty-margined and Social Flycatchers, Tropical Kingbird, Blue-and-white, White-thighed and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, House Wren, Thick-billed Euphonia, Buff-rumped Warbler,  Tawny-crested, Lemon-rumped, Blue-grey, Palm and Silver-throated Tanagers, Buff-throated Saltator, Yellow-bellied Seedeater.

We will arrive at Canandé in the afternoon, in time for some initial exploration.

Ecuador with a Difference: Days 3-5  The Canandé Reserve comprises a large area of protected forest in the heart of a vast timber concession, although the latter is being selectively logged rather than clear-felled. The Jocotoco Foundation are trying to expand the reserve, which will ensure that a great tract of this vitally important area is protected forever. The Canandé reserve currently includes about 2200 acres (900 hectares) of secondary and beautiful primary foothill forest, but plans exist to extend the size to 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares)! While the surrounding forests have been opened for selective logging, they can still be amazingly birdy.

Numerous Chocó specialities occur at Canandé. Indeed the list is definitely mouth-watering, but some of the specialities are shy, some rare and some both. Even with four days here we are not going to see them all.

Everyone who goes to the Ecuadorian Chocó dreams of seeing the elusive Banded Ground Cuckoo, definitely one of South America’s ‘grailbirds’ and a species restricted to northwest Ecuador and southwest Colombia. We have to be realistic though, and while there is a real chance of seeing one here (it is probably the best place to look, apart from those rare occasions when a tame youngster turns up elsewhere) the chance is definitely slim. We are surely going to be regaled by the reserve rangers with tales of how they saw one two days ago, or last week, and it sat there and watched them for 15 minutes! These encounters are routine for them, for they are on patrol a lot of the time, but normal visitors have to rely much more on luck. The birds call mainly in the depths of the rainy season, but they do turn up along the trails and sometimes at army ant swarms. We can only hope for a chance encounter with this enigmatic symbol of the Chocó!

Much more findable Chocó endemics include Dusky Pigeon, Purple (or Indigo-crowned) Quail-Dove (shy but regularly seen), the odd-looking Tooth-billed Hummingbird, the lovely Choco Trogon, Orange-fronted Barbet (an Ecuadorian near-endemic), Pale-mandibled Aracari (another Ecuadorian near-endemic), Choco Toucan, Lita Woodpecker, the beautiful Rose-faced Parrot, Blue-fronted Parrotlet (most likely in flight), Esmeraldas Antbird, Choco Tapaculo, Pacific Flatbill, the stunning Black-tipped Cotinga, Dagua Thrush, the wonderful Scarlet-thighed Dacnis (which often feeds on small canopy berries), the pretty Scarlet-breasted Dacnis (an Ecuadorian near-endemic) and Ochre-breasted, Scarlet-and-white and Blue-whiskered Tanagers. With just a modicum of good fortune, we will see all of these at Canandé or at Playa de Oro.

More difficult endemics include Berlepsch’s Tinamou (not difficult to hear), Plumbeous Forest Falcon, the rare Baudo Guan and Rufous-crowned Antpitta (now known to be a giant gnateater rather than a true antpitta, this is another one easier to hear than see).

Another Chocó endemic occurs here, the unusual Broad-billed Sapayoa, the sole member of its family. It is, however, much easier to find at Playa de Oro so we will not be devoting effort to tracking it down at Canandé. There are other key birds to concentrate on here!

Some special birds of only somewhat wider distribution are the shy little Tawny-faced Quail, the pretty Rufous-fronted Wood Quail, Barred Puffbird, Stripe-throated Wren, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and the magnificent Great Green Macaw, all of which are quite regularly recorded at Canandé.

Many other species can be found at Canandé. The hummingbird feeders at the lodge attract Stripe-throated Hermit and Band-tailed Barbthroat, as well as White-whiskered Hermit, Green Thorntail and Purple-chested and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. The surrounding trees often attract Sooty-headed and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets, Cinnamon Becard and Yellow-tailed Oriole, and we shall keep an eye on the crowns of more distant forest giants for the large Chestnut-mandibled Toucan.

Various trails lead from the lodge into the forest interior, where mixed understorey flocks hold the restricted-range Spot-crowned Antvireo, Checker-throated Stipplethroat and Tawny-faced Gnatwren. Fruiting trees attract White-tailed, Gartered and Black-throated Trogons, as well as Choco Trogon. We will also try to find the noisy Rufous Piha on its lek, and we will also look for playful Red-capped Manakins on their display grounds

We have a good chance of coming across a roving army ant swarm attended by the amazing Bicoloured, Ocellated and Zeledon’s Antbirds, often in the company of Plain-brown and Northern Barred Woodcreepers.

The road that leads through the selectively-logged forest offers excellent opportunities for watching canopy flocks, and perched parrots, raptors and flycatchers. The remarkable Long-wattled Umbrellabird occurs in the reserve but is rarely observed.

Mixed flocks regularly make their rounds through the crowns of the tallest, epiphyte-laden trees, and these canopy flocks often contain such colourful gems as Grey-and-gold, Emerald (uncommon), Blue-necked, Golden-hooded, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged and Scarlet-browed Tanagers.

At night we will go out to look for the restricted-range Chocó Screech Owl (which is not quite a Chocó endemic in spite of the name), while the more widespread Spectacled Owl delivers its reverberating hoots around the lodge on some nights.

Other birds we may find in the course of our stay include Great and Little Tinamous (the latter as always much easier to hear), Crested Guan, Hook-billed, Swallow-tailed and Double-toothed Kites, Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles, White-tipped Dove, Blue Ground Dove, Little and Striped Cuckoos, Short-tailed Nighthawk, White-collared, Chestnut-collared and Grey-rumped Swifts, White-tipped Sicklebill, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-whiskered Puffbird and Red-rumped and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers.

Passerines include Western Woodhaunter, Plain Xenops, Wedge-billed and Black-striped Woodcreepers, Great and Black-crowned Antshrikes, the different-looking western race of the Dot-winged Antwren, Pacific and Slaty Antwrens, Plain Antvireo, Dusky and Chestnut-backed Antbirds, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Grey Elaenia, Olive-striped, Ochre-bellied and Slaty-capped Flycatchers, Black-capped and Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrants, Black-headed and Common Tody-Flycatchers, Long-tailed Tyrant, Choco Sirystes (uncommon, and not restricted to the Chocó), Blue-crowned and White-bearded Manakins, Black-tailed Myiobius, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Bay Wren, the distinctive inornata race of the White-breasted Wood-Wren (which may represent a distinct species), Southern Nightingale-Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Rufous-winged and Dusky-faced Tanagers, Swallow Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Blue-black Grosbeak, Variable Seedeater, Bananaquit, Scarlet-rumped Cacique and Giant Cowbird.

Mammals are not conspicuous at Canandé, but we do have a good chance of encountering the critically endangered Black-headed Spider Monkey.

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 6  After some final birding at Canandé, we shall take the ferry back across the Río Canandé and head for Las Peñas, situated on the Pacific coast to the northeast of the city of Esmeraldas, for an overnight stay.

We should arrive by late afternoon so, as there will not be time to start looking for the more important birds today, we will have time to admire some waterbirds. There is a rich selection in the area and these may include Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Muscovy Duck, Blue-winged Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe, Wood Stork, American White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Pinnated Bittern, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Striated, Tricolored, Little Blue and Cocoi Herons, Western Cattle, Great and Snowy Egrets, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Neotropic Cormorant, White-throated Crake, Common Gallinule, Grey and Semipalmated Plovers, Wattled Jacana, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Stilt, Pectoral, Least, Semipalmated, Western and Spotted Sandpipers, Sanderling, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Phalarope, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Kelp Gull, Royal Tern and Green and Ringed Kingfishers.

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 7  This morning we will explore a mangrove forest area where our prime target is the restricted-range and raucous Rufous-headed Chachalaca. If we are really in luck we will come across the very uncommon Humboldt’s Sapphire, a Chocó endemic.

Other birds of the area include Pearl Kite, Pale-vented Pigeon, the restricted-range Ecuadorian Ground Dove, Croaking Ground Dove, Green-breasted Mango, Lineated Woodpecker, Red-lored Amazon, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Tawny-crowned Pygmy Tyrant, Barn Swallow, Red-breasted Blackbird, Peruvian Meadowlark, Shiny Cowbird, Scrub Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Mangrove Warbler, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue-black Grassquit and Chestnut-throated Seedeater. 

Afterwards, we will visit the rapidly shrinking swamp forest of Humedal de Yalaré. We will spend some time in this area to look for the restricted-range and loud-mouthed Black-breasted Puffbird and Slaty-tailed Trogon. Pied Puffbird and Greenish Elaenia are also likely in this habitat.

After this exciting morning, we will continue to the town of Selva Alegre where we shall board the motorized canoes that will take us up the Rio Cayapas to Playa de Oro Lodge for a three nights stay.

This simple lodge will be our base for visiting the Tigrillo Reserve, an area put aside for preservation by the far-sighted inhabitants of Playa de Oro village. The Tigrillo Reserve adjoins the much larger, state-owned Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve.

We shall arrive in time to start our exploration of this remarkable area. The Playa de Oro area has an amazing list of very special birds, some of which are difficult to see, and a visit here is generally considered a unique experience. Indeed the journey to the lodge has an ‘other worldly’ feel to it as we leave the small villages and the last roads behind and enter pristine forest, sometimes wreathed in mist. Often the banks of the river are steep and beautiful waterfalls cascade down to the river itself from the surrounding ridges. After passing the remote, roadless village of Playa de Oro, founded by former black slaves who wanted to escape from brutality, we enter a true wilderness. The river gets harder to navigate and we will surely admire our boatmens’ skills as they cut the outboard, haul it up and pole through the shallows against the fast-flowing current. By the time we reach the lodge we really will be ‘in the back of beyond’!

Ecuador with a Difference: Days 8-9  Our main purpose in visiting the tall Chocó forests of the Tigrillo Reserve is to see some additional and sometimes ‘hard-to-come-by’ Chocó lowland endemic birds such as Plumbeous Hawk, the handsome Five-colored Barbet, Stripe-billed Aracari, the Chocó race of the Green Manakin (possibly a distinct species), the enigmatic Broad-billed Sapayoa (now placed in its own monotypic bird family) and the noisy Lemon-spectacled Tanager. Playa de Oro is surely the best place in the species’ range to see the Broad-billed Sapayoa. Of the five, the only really tricky one is the hawk, but we do have a fair chance of coming across one or two.

Around the lodge itself, the Chocó-endemic Stub-tailed Antbird is not uncommon and both the terrestrial Black-headed Antthrush and Streak-chested Antpitta regularly announce their presence with their echoing songs. We will make serious efforts to get good views of all three of these forest floor skulkers.

We shall also have more chances for many of the Chocó endemics and other restricted-range species found at Canandé. In particular, Playa de Oro tends to be better for Great Green Macaw and Blue-whiskered Tanager. Additional good birds here include Olive-backed Quail-Dove, the beautiful Blue Cotinga, Dusky and Scaly-throated Leaftossers, and Blue-browed Tanager.

At night we shall listen for Choco Poorwill (endemic to the Chocó) and Choco Screech Owl and then try to see them in the spotlight beam.

Many other lowland birds may well be seen at Playa de Oro, including Fasciated Tiger Heron, Plumbeous Kite, Laughing Falcon, Barred Forest Falcon, Purple-crowned Fairy, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Black-mandibled Toucan, Olivaceous Piculet, Cinnamon and Guayaquil Woodpeckers, Streaked Xenops, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Black-striped, Spotted and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Moustached Antwren, Spotted Antbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, the restricted-range Choco Tyrannulet, Yellow-margined Flatbill, White-ringed and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Sulphur-rumped Myiobius, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, One-colored Becard, Grey-breasted Martin, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Band-backed and Song Wrens, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Guira Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper and Slate-colored Grosbeak. Speckled Mourner also occurs here but is very uncommon.

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 10  After some early morning birding at Playa de Oro we will travel to the Florida area for a two nights stay. After the rustic simplicity of Playa de Oro Lodge, our luxurious accommodations and great food here are going to be a real treat!

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 11  We will spend the entire day exploring the road to Chical. The road ascends to a high pass at over 2350m and is still extensively forested, especially at higher altitudes. Attempts are being made to purchase more and more of the land along the highway, both to preserve rare orchids and birds, so the future of this fine area is starting to look more secure.

The most important Chocó specialities of the Chical road are the near-endemic Hoary Puffleg, the lovely Star-chested (or Fulvous-dotted) Treerunner, Purplish-mantled Tanager and Indigo Flowerpiercer, all of which we have a good chance of finding.

Other birds we are likely to encounter today include a large number of Chocó foothill endemics including Empress Brilliant, Rufous-gaped Hillstar, Velvet-purple Coronet, Brown Inca, the spectacular Violet-tailed Sylph, Cloudforest Pygmy Owl, Yellow-breasted Antpitta (easier to hear than see), Narino Tapaculo, Choco Tyrannulet, the aptly-named Beautiful Jay, Choco Brushfinch, Dusky Bush Tanager, the superb Moss-backed Tanager and Glistening-green Tanager.

More widespread species include Green-fronted Lancebill, Rufous-vented Whitetip, the remarkable White-booted Racketail, White-throated Quail-Dove (not easy to see as opposed to hear), the stunning Golden-headed Quetzal, Masked Trogon, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Dusky Leaftosser, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Red-faced Spinetail, Streak-necked, Flavescent, Handsome, Ornate, Cinnamon and Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Black Phoebe, Smoke-colored Pewee, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Barred Becard, Brown-capped Vireo, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Andean Solitaire, White-capped Dipper, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia (nomadic and unpredictable), Tropical Parula, Slate-throated Whitestart, Grass-green, Flame-faced, Golden-naped and Beryl-spangled Tanagers, Capped Conebill and White-sided Flowerpiercer.

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 12  This morning we shall drive into the lower Andean foothills of northwestern Ecuador and explore the excellent Alta Tambo area for the superb, near-endemic Golden-chested and Yellow-green Tanagers (both of these Bangsia tanagers only occur in the Chocó foothills of northwest Ecuador and extreme southwest Colombia) and we will have another chance to see Blue-whiskered Tanager should we have missed it earlier. Another Chocó endemic found here is the rare Choco Woodpecker, which we have a fair chance of encountering. There is also a good viewpoint to search for the snow-white Black-tipped Cotinga, should we still need to, and we have another opportunity to lure a Choco Tapaculo into view.

Other birds we may find in the wet forests here include Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Russet Antshrike, Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant, Northern Tufted Flycatcher, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia and Rufous-throated Tanager. More open areas hold White-lined Tanager and Thick-billed Seed Finch, in addition to the distinctive brachyptera race of the Lesser Elaenia.

Afterwards, we will head further east and drive up into an area of high paramo grassland. Our primary purpose in coming here is to look for the sought-after Andean (or Jameson’s) Snipe, which is not uncommon in this area.

Other species we are likely to come across in this scenically magnificent area include Shining Sunbeam, Great Sapphirewing, Chestnut-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, White-throated Tyrannulet, Paramo Ground Tyrant, Paramo Tapaculo and Giant Conebill (the latter in the stands of Polylepis). Large numbers of huge puyas punctuate the paramo landscape, adding to the scenic majesty.

We will spend the next two nights in the Ambuqui area.

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 13  The gnarled elfin forests and paramos of Cerro Mongus are one of only a handful of remote localities where the rare Chestnut-bellied Cotinga is known to occur.

We shall leave very early to drive up the mountain and intend to get into the elfin forest quite early in the day. We shall concentrate our efforts on several viewpoints from where we will diligently scan the treetops and scrub for one of South America’s most elusive cotingas. We have a good chance of seeing one or two, but we could be unlucky. This is not a straightforward bird to find.

On a clear day the scenery here can be truly stunning, with the snow-capped Cayambe towering over the verdant landscape towards the south, the distant contours of Colombia’s Chiles and Cumbal volcanoes looming above the northern horizon and the deeply eroded Chota Valley dominating the landscape towards the west.

We have a good chance of encountering other elfin forest specialities including the gorgeous Masked Mountain Tanager and the exquisite Crescent-faced Antpitta. We may also find the restricted-range Black-thighed Puffleg, which reaches the southern limits of its range in this area. The near-endemic Golden-breasted Puffleg and Turquoise Jay are also regular.

More widespread birds may well include Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Variable Hawk, Andean Guan, Band-tailed Pigeon, Buff-tailed Coronet, Purple-backed Thorntail, the pretty Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Tyrian and Viridian Metaltails, White-chinned Thistletail, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Azara’s Spinetail, Paramo Tapaculo, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Grass and Mountain Wrens, Great Thrush, Hooded Siskin, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Lacrimose and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers, Golden-crowned and Blue-and-black Tanagers, Black-backed Bush Tanager, Masked Flowerpiercer and Pale-naped and Slaty Brushfinches. Plain-breasted Hawk, Andean Pygmy Owl, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan and Northern Mountain Cacique are also possible. As always in this habitat, the amount of bird activity is largely dependant on weather conditions.

If the road conditions allow us to arrive early enough, we will try for White-throated Screech Owl before dawn.

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 14  This morning we will check the flowering hibiscus in the gardens and hedgerows of the arid Chota Valley for the handsome and restricted-range Blue-headed Sapphire. We will also look for the rather dull Scrub Tanager, widespread in Colombia but in Ecuador only found in the northern valleys.

Other birds found in this area include Pearl Kite, American Kestrel, Eared Dove, Common Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Western Emerald, White-tipped Swift, Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, Streaked Saltator, Band-tailed Seedeater and Ash-breasted Sierra Finch.

En route to the Quito area, where we will stay overnight at the Pululahua volcano, we shall stop at a wetland to look for the near-endemic Ecuadorian Rail, which is usually straightforward to see, and also the localized Subtropical Doradito. More widespread birds found here include Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Teal, Andean Duck, Andean Coot, Andean Gull and – a species fast expanding its range in Ecuador – Southern Lapwing.

The long-extinct Pululahua volcano comprises a truly spectacular caldera, where we will be staying overnight. This evening we will go out in search of the rare but wonderful little Buff-fronted Owl, one of the most sought-after owls of the Neotropics and a tricky bird to get views of as opposed to hear. We also have chances for Stygian Owl, Burrowing Owl and Band-winged Nightjar.

Ecuador with a Difference: Day 15  Early this morning we will search again for Buff-fronted Owl if need be and then look around the partly-forested caldera for the attractive Rufous-breasted Antpitta and Rufous-chested Tanager. We may also encounter Black-tailed Trainbearer, Blackish Tapaculo, Plain-tailed Wren, Grey-browed Brushfinch and Black-crested and Russet-crowned Warblers.

Afterwards, we will head for Quito airport where our tour ends this afternoon.

(Many international flights depart from Quito in the evening, but we can arrange hotel accommodation on request should you need to leave Quito the next day.)

 

SHIRIPUNO (AMAZONIA) EXTENSION

Shiripuno: Day 1  We will overnight near Quito airport.

Shiripuno: Day 2  This morning a short flight will take us across the high eastern Andes and then down into the vast wilderness of Amazonia. If the weather is clear we will have spectacular views of Cayambe and then verdant lowland forests extending far into the distance.

Upon landing at Coca airport, we will travel southwards by road until we reach the Shiripuno River and then travel for about four hours along the river by large motorized canoe as far as the remote Shiripuno Lodge, where we will spend four nights. After leaving the forest and ranchland mosaic behind we travel through the vast, pristine Yasuni National Park, home to the Huaorani indigenous people who inhabit the area at a very low density. Shiripuno Lodge is a joint venture with the Huaorani people and the majority of visitors are researchers rather than birding folk such as ourselves.

Amazonian boat journeys are always interesting and species we are likely to encounter between Coca and Shiripuno today include Short-tailed and Neotropical Palm Swifts, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Yellow-headed Caracara, Amazon Kingfisher, Red-bellied and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, the magnificent Blue-and-yellow and Scarlet Macaws, Swallow-winged Puffbird, Drab Water Tyrant, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, White-winged and White-banded Swallows, Russet-backed and Crested Oropendolas, and Yellow-rumped Cacique.

There is also a fair chance of seeing South American (or Brazilian) Tapir and various monkeys.

When we finally reach Shiripuno we are going to be ‘completely away from it all’ in this remote lodge where no sounds of generators overwhelm the sounds of the forest and where there are no urban lights to taint the glory of the night sky. There will just be us and nature. Now, this is true wilderness!

Shiripuno: Days 3-5  One of the main attractions of Shiripuno Lodge is the superb trail system running through rolling terra firme forest. We will devote most of our time to this exciting, bird-rich Amazonian habitat, which dominates the landscape at Shiripuno.

Shiripuno holds some very special birds, some of which are hard or nearly impossible to see outside Ecuador.

One of the major attractions of Shiripuno is the very high chance of encountering the spectacular, near-endemic Salvin’s Curassow, a species rarely seen in most areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon. We will certainly be on the lookout for this special bird and along the banks of the Shiripuno River is probably the best area.

The elusive Nocturnal Curassow is also regularly seen at Shiripuno. Hearing one is straightforward enough, but tracking down a roosting individual or a pair in the night-time forest is more difficult. Even so, we have a fair chance of success.

Other restricted-range specialities include Brown Nunlet, Fulvous Antshrike, Dugand’s Antwren and Rio Suno Antwren. The fjeldsaai form of the Rufous-backed Stipplethroat is an Ecuadorian near-endemic and used to be treated as a full species under the name Yasuni Antwren. More tricky to see is the skulking, near-endemic White-lored Antpitta.

Another major speciality here is the superb Rufous Potoo. Our local guide may have one staked out at a daytime roost, but if not we will make a big effort to locate this enigmatic nightbird after dark.

The dazzling Fiery Topaz is the most special ‘hummer’ here and we should be able to admire this spectacular creature at least once during our visit. Although it has a fairly large range, few birders have seen this remarkable species.

Additional interesting species with fairly restricted ranges include Tschudi’s Woodcreeper and Yellow-browed Antbird.

We should also encounter a few of the more uncommon or harder-to-find denizens of the area, many of which count as speciality birds. These include the mighty Harpy and Crested Eagles, Black-faced Hawk, Sapphire Quail-Dove, the lovely Dusky-billed Parrotlet, Red-shouldered Parrotlet, Long-tailed Potoo, Ocellated Poorwill, the splendid Pavonine Quetzal, Purplish Jacamar, the striking Collared and Chestnut-capped Puffbirds, the stunning Rufous-headed Woodpecker, Duida Woodcreeper, Speckled Spinetail, the strange Black Bushbird, Chestnut-shouldered Antwren, Wing-banded, Riparian and Hairy-crested Antbirds, Reddish-winged Bare-eye, Ash-throated Gnateater and the magnificent but very localized Black-necked Red Cotinga.

There are, of course, a huge number of birds at Shiripuno that have a wider distribution in Amazonia. We will look for fruiting trees which might attract Masked, Opal-rumped and Opal-crowned Tanagers, while mid-level to canopy feeding flocks may well feature such birds as Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner, Cinnamon-throated and Buff-throated Woodcreepers, Wing-barred Piprites and Dusky-capped Greenlet.

The understorey has a different assembly of birds that makes its rounds, and in roving parties led by the relentlessly-searching Cinereous Antshrike, we may well find Elegant Woodcreeper, Olive-backed Foliage-gleaner, Fasciated, Plain-winged and Dusky-throated Antshrikes, Rufous-tailed Stipplethroat and Plain-throated, White-flanked and Grey Antwrens. More unobtrusive forest dwellers include Double-banded Pygmy Tyrant. The trails also give us a good chance to connect with army ants and their special followers, such as Sooty, White-plumed and White-cheeked Antbirds.

Amongst the many other birds we may well encounter during our visit to Shiripuno Lodge are White-throated, Cinereous, Undulated and Variegated Tinamous, Rufescent Tiger Heron, King Vulture, Crane and White Hawks, Black Caracara, the raucous Red-throated Caracara, Bat Falcon, Spix’s and Blue-throated Piping Guans, Speckled Chachalaca, Sungrebe, Plumbeous Pigeon, Grey-fronted Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Orange-cheeked and Black-headed Parrots, Southern Mealy and Orange-winged Amazons, Black-bellied Cuckoo, Greater Ani, Tawny-bellied Screech Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, the striking Crested, Spectacled and Black-banded Owls, Common and Great Potoos, Pauraque, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Great-billed and Straight-billed Hermits, Black-tailed and Green-backed Trogons, Spotted Puffbird, White-eared, Yellow-billed and Great Jacamars, Amazonian Motmot, Black-fronted, White-fronted and Yellow-billed Nunbirds, Gilded and Lemon-throated Barbets, Golden-collared Toucanet, Lettered, Chestnut-eared, Many-banded and Ivory-billed Aracaris, Channel-billed and White-throated Toucans, and Yellow-tufted, Cream-colored, Ringed, Chestnut, Red-necked and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers.

Passerines include Amazonian Barred and Black-banded Woodcreepers, Short-billed Leaftosser, Plain Xenops, Rufous-tailed Foliage-gleaner, Orange-fronted Plushcrown (uncommon), Amazonian Streaked Antwren, Pearly and Mouse-colored Antshrikes, Banded, Peruvian Warbling, Black, Grey, Dot-backed, Silvered, White-shouldered, Black-faced, Spot-winged, Lunulated and Common Scale-backed Antbirds, Black-faced and Rufous-capped Antthrushes, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, White-lored and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets, White-eyed Tody-Tyrant, Brownish Twistwing, Olive-faced Flatbill, Lesser Kiskadee, Streaked and Boat-billed Flycatchers, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher (present in the Austral winter only), Greyish Mourner, Citron-bellied and Bright-rumped Attilas, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, Blue-backed, Striolated, White-crowned and Golden-headed Manakins, Plum-throated and Purple-throated Cotingas, Screaming Piha, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Black-tailed Tityra, White-browed Purpletuft, Violaceous Jay, Thrush-like and Coraya Wrens, Lawrence’s Thrush (probably the world’s best mimic), Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnises, Masked Crimson, Silver-beaked, Flame-crested, Fulvous-crested, Paradise, Green-and-gold and Turquoise Tanagers, Rufous-bellied and White-lored Euphonias, and Green and Casqued Oropendolas.

Nearctic migrants, seasonally present, include Olive-sided Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Eastern Kingbird and Blackpoll Warbler.

Whilst mammals are generally inconspicuous in Amazonia, here at Shiripuno we have a good chance of seeing White-fronted Capuchin, Colombian Red Howler Monkey, Common Woolly Monkey, Common Squirrel Monkey and Black-mantled Tamarin. Red Tit Monkey and Equatorial Saki Monkey are also possible.

Shiripuno: Day 6  This morning we will head back early to the roadhead by boat and then return to Coca airport in time for a midday flight to Quito, where our tour ends.

(Many international flights depart from Quito in the evening, but we can arrange hotel accommodation on request should you need to leave Quito the next day.)

 

RIO BIGAL EXTENSION

Rio Bigal: Day 1  From Coca we will continue to the town of Loreto and then head for the remote research station at Rio Bigal Biological Reserve for a three nights stay. The journey from Loreto is by 4×4 vehicles and after that, there is an easy hike of one hour to the biological station, with our luggage carried by mules.

Rio Bigal: Days 2-3  The extensive Rio Bigal Biological Reserve protects an extensive area of lowland rainforest and foothill forest at the base of the Andean foothills of Ecuador. This little-visited place has a superb avifauna and we are going to enjoy seeking out some of its major specialities during our stay.

Major restricted-range targets here are the lovely Pink-throated Brilliant (a bird seen on no other tour!) and Blackish Pewee (hardly ever seen on other tours). Fortunately, both are straightforward to find at Rio Bigal!

There are also chances for such specialities as Marbled Wood Quail, Military Macaw and the restricted-range Ecuadorian Piedtail. We will also have a second chance for some of the restricted-range specialities found at Shiripuno, including Salvin’s Curassow, Brown Nunlet and Fulvous Antshrike, although the currassow is more easily seen at Shiripuno.

The rare and restricted-range Red-winged Wood Rail, a bird almost never seen on bird tours, occurs here, but we would have to be exceedingly lucky to set eyes on one. Even a month here would probably not be long enough!

Amongst the many other species we may well encounter at Rio Bigal are Scaled Pigeon, Sapphire Quail-Dove, Blackish Nightjar, the rare White-chested Swift (infrequently seen), Buff-tailed Sicklebill, Pale-tailed Barbthroat, Tawny-bellied and Grey-chinned Hermits, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Lesser Violetear, Black-eared Fairy, Black-throated Brilliant, Amethyst Woodstar, Glittering-throated Emerald, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Great Black and Broad-winged Hawks, Foothill Screech Owl, Blue-crowned Trogon, Red-headed Barbet, Yellow-throated Toucan, Rufous-breasted Piculet, White-throated and Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, Lined Forest Falcon, White-eyed Parakeet and Red-billed Parrot.

Amongst a superb range of passerine birds are Fulvous, White-shouldered and Russet Antshrikes, Foothill Stipplethroat, Plain-winged Antwren, Blackish and Hairy-crested Antbirds, Scaled and Thrush-like Antpittas, Striated Antthrush, Olivaceous, Long-tailed, Olive-backed and Montane Woodcreepers, Red-billed and Brown-billed Scythebills, Rufous-rumped, Cinnamon-rumped, Montane and Ruddy Foliage-gleaners, Striped Woodhaunter, Green Manakin, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Grey-tailed and Screaming Pihas, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant, Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher, Olivaceous and Large-headed Flatbills, Mottle-backed Elaenia, Tawny-breasted, Olive-chested, Short-crested and Lemon-browed Flycatchers, Olivaceous and Rufous-naped Greenlets, Wing-banded, White-breasted Wood, Chestnut-breasted and Musician Wrens, White-necked and Black-billed Thrushes, Bronze-green Euphonia, Yellow-throated Bush Tanager, Orange-billed Sparrow, Olive Oropendola, Yellow-billed Cacique, Carmiol’s, Magpie, Rufous-crested, White-lined, Orange-eared, Yellow-bellied, Spotted, Blue-necked, Golden and Yellow-backed Tanagers, Fulvous Shrike-Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch and Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak.

Nearctic migrants, seasonally present, include Western Wood Pewee, Swainson’s Thrush, Canada Warbler, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, and occasionally Cerulean Warbler.

Rio Bigal: Day 4  Today we return to Coca and catch a midday flight to Quito, where our tour ends.

(Many international flights depart from Quito in the evening, but we can arrange hotel accommodation on request should you need to leave Quito the next day.)

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