The Ultimate In Birding Tours

South America (and its islands)

NORTHERN ECUADOR – The Ultimate specialities tour of both slopes of the Andes and the Chocó

Tuesday 5th November – Sunday 24th November 2024

Leaders: Juan Carlos Calvachi and local bird guides

20 Days Group Size Limit 7
Tuesday 5th August – Sunday 24th August 2025

Leaders: Juan Carlos Calvachi and local bird guides

20 Days Group Size Limit 7


Birdquest’s Northern Ecuador birding tours are surely some of the ultimate South American birding tours. Our Northern Ecuador birding tour is the ultimate tour itinerary in the region and regularly records a huge number of species as well as more specialities than any other tour! Mostly very pleasant accommodations, short travel distances, great scenery and an extraordinarily rich avifauna make this tour one of the best and most enjoyable birding journeys in the world.

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, this small country possesses an extraordinary range of environments. Here, in a comparatively limited area, one can travel from towering snow-capped volcanoes to oxbow lakes deep in the 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 one of the richest birding experiences on earth! Ours is the most comprehensive tour to the northern regions of Ecuador available, regularly recording a huge number of very special birds! This tour is also specially designed to see as many as 70 or more hummingbirds, something which is not possible anywhere else in the world within such a short time frame!

During our Northern Ecuador birding tour, we shall visit almost all of the main habitats found in the northern half of the country, apart from the Amazonian lowlands. We will look for seedsnipe high on the Andean slopes, gorgeously-plumaged quetzals and gaudy tanagers amongst the moss and bromeliad-encrusted trees of the cloud forests, toucans and manakins in the Amazonian foothills, skulking antbirds deep in the rainforest, scintillating hummingbirds breaking all the laws of aerodynamics as they search out blossoms, raucous chachalacas at dawn, 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 real delight.

Our Northern Ecuador birding tour starts in Quito, a pleasant colonial city nestled in the central valley of the Andes below the active Pichincha volcano, we will investigate some splendid patches of temperate cloudforest in the Yanacocha area in search of such iridescent jewels as Sword-billed Hummingbird, Black-breasted and Golden-breasted Pufflegs and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, as well as Chestnut-naped Antpitta.

Subsequently, 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, the gorgeous Golden-headed Quetzal, the splendid Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, the impressive Toucan Barbet, Streak-capped and Uniform Treehunters, Nariño and Spillmann’s Tapaculos, Club-winged Manakin, Orange-breasted and Scaled Fruiteaters, Olivaceous Piha, Beautiful Jay and the rare Tanager Finch.

Star attractions in the Mindo region are the Giant, Yellow-breasted, Moustached, Chestnut-crowned and Ochre-breasted Antpittas that have been habituated to eat provided earthworms by the extraordinary Angel Paz!

Providing we have the time, we will also visit a wonderful gulley in order to watch strange Oilbirds at their ledges in a dark ravine.

Farther west, we will explore some remnant lowland forest for such Chocó specialities as Brown Wood Rail, Green Thorntail, the handsome Purple-chested Hummingbird, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Stripe-throated Wren, Choco Warbler, and Moss-backed, Rufous-winged and Grey-and-gold Tanagers.

Afterwards we will venture further to the northwest and take a boat journey to Playa de Oro in the drainage of the Cayapas River in the Chocó lowlands. Based at a community-owned lodge, we will explore the vast forests bordering the Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve, where the much sought-after Sapayoa, the sole member of its family is fairly easy to find! Here we have our best chance for the elusive Rufous-crowned Antpitta, nowadays thought to be a giant gnateater rather than a true antpitta, which sometimes joins raiding army ant swarms attended by Bicolored, Spotted and Ocellated Antbirds. Other sought-after birds that inhabit the forests in this fantastic area include Semiplumbeous Hawk, Choco Screech Owl, Choco Poorwill, Choco Trogon, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Five-colored Barbet, Rose-faced Parrot, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Stub-tailed Antbird, the stunning Black-tipped Cotinga, the near-endemic Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, and Scarlet-browed, Blue-whiskered, Scarlet-and-white and Lemon-spectacled Tanagers. There are even chances for seeing Berlepsh’s Tinamou and with a lot of luck the very rare Baudo Gauan.

After the western lowlands, we will continue towards the Colombian border. On the way to the foothills, we will visit the swamp forest of Humedal de Yalaré where we will seek out such goodies as Black-breasted Puffbird. Afterwards, we will head into the foothills again to visit an area where our main targets will be Lita and Choco Woodpeckers, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, and the near-endemic Yellow-green and superb Golden-chested Tanagers.

Moving on, we explore the cloudforests of the Chical and the dry valleys around Ambuqui, looking for a number of localized birds including Blue-headed Sapphire, Hoary Puffleg, Star-chested Treerunner, Purplish-mantled Tanager and the localized Scrub Tanager.

Our final ‘west slope’ experience will be looking for the delightful little Buff-fronted Owl (one of the most sought-after owls in the Americas), Stygian Owl, Rusty-breasted Antpitta and Rufous-chested Tanager in the Quito region.

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 the superb Wild Sumaco Lodge in the Amazonian foothills. Birdlife is extraordinarily rich here at the edge of Amazonia, and amongst many special birds are Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black-mandibled Toucan, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Grey-tailed Piha, Foothill Elaenia, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Buff-throated and Black-and-white Tody-Tyrants, the pretty White-crowned and Blue-rumped Manakins, Olivaceous and Rufous-naped Greenlets, Blue-browed Tanager, Golden-collared Honeycreeper 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 all the way to the Guacamayos Ridge. 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, Crested Quetzal, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, White-bellied and Slate-crowned Antpittas, Ocellated Tapaculo, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Black-billed Peppershrike, Dusky Piha, Yellow-whiskered Bush Tanager and White-capped Tanager.

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

Birdquest has operated Ecuador birding tours since 1989.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are almost all of good or medium standard. At Playa de Oro the lodge is quite basic, with no electricity, though it has cold running water. Some of the rooms have attached bathrooms, while others have shared bathrooms. Road transport is by small coach and roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Northern Ecuador birding tours is mostly easy, but sometimes moderate, and there are a few optional, more strenuous, muddy trails at Playa de Oro.

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 high altitudes conditions range from cool to decidedly cold. It often rains (and it may even snow at high altitudes) and it can be rather humid in the lowlands.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Northern Ecuador birding tours are good in places, worthwhile elsewhere.


  • An extraordinary tour with a huge number of species recorded, even while focused on the many specialities!
  • Too many highligts to list them all! Definitely a must-do tour 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 the Amazonian foothills
  • More than 70 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
  • Rarely-seen birds at Playa de Oro, deep in the Chocó, such as Broad-billed Sapayoa and Five-colored Barbet
  • Searching for Choco Woodpecker and the stunning Golden-chested Tanager in the northwest
  • Tracking down the sought-after Buff-fronted Owl and Rusty-breasted Antpitta near Quito
  • A visit to the extremely birdy Wild Sumaco Lodge, where more than 500 species have been recorded!
  • 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 via Yanacocha to Mindo on west slope of Andes.
  • Days 3-5: Mindo area, including Angel Paz antpittas.
  • Day 6: Drive to Selva Alegre. By boat to Playa de Oro Lodge.
  • Days 7-8: Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve in the Chocó. Overnights at Playa de Oro Lodge.
  • Day 9: Playa de Oro area, then by boat and road to San Lorenzo. Visit Alta Tambo and Lita area.
  • Day 10: Chical Road, then drive to Ambuqui.
  • Day 11: Drive to Quito area.
  • Day 12: Drive via Papallacta pass to Wild Sumaco lodge on east slope of Andes.
  • Days 13-15: Wild Sumaco.
  • Day 16: Wild Sumaco, then return up east slope to San Isidro Lodge near Cosanga.
  • Days 17-18: San Isidro and Cordillera de Guacamayos.
  • Day 19: San Isidro, then drive to Quito area.
  • Day 20: Antisana National Park, 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)

2024: confirmed £5530, $7090, €6450, AUD10700. Quito/Quito.
2025: provisional £5530, $7090, €6450, AUD10700. Quito/Quito.

Single Supplement: 2024: £510, $660, €600, AUD990.
Single Supplement: 2025: £510, $660, €600, AUD990.

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.


Northern Ecuador: Day 1  Our Northern Ecuador birding 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.

Northern Ecuador: Day 2  Quito, a charming colonial capital, 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 to the Yanacocha area, an area of extraordinarily beautiful upper temperate forest that seems light years away from the bustling city. Here the various feeders attract a bewildering variety of hummingbirds, and we are likely to see Shining Sunbeam, Mountain Velvetbreast, Great Sapphirewing, the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird, Golden-breasted, Black-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.

Another important target today is Chestnut-naped Antpitta. If we are fortunate we will even come across the delightful Rufous Antpitta or the much larger Undulated Antpitta.

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, Slaty-backed and Crowned Chat-Tyrants, 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 Brushfinches.

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

Northern 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, Choco 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 also 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, Choco Vireo, Choco Warbler, 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, Violet-bellied and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, 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 Swallow-tailed Kite, Black and Turkey Vultures, Ruddy and Dusky Pigeons, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Bronze-winged Parrot, Squirrel and Striped Cuckoos, Smooth-billed Ani, Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl, Choco Toucan, Barred Puffbird, 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, White-booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph and Purple-throated Woodstar indulge themselves on the artificial nectar.

As long as we have time, we will make a detour to an area that holds a fine Oilbird cave, or rather deep, dark gulley. The strange, very prehistoric-looking, fruit-eating Oilbird is the sole member of its family and visiting a nesting and roosting cave is an unforgettable experience. We will have great views of Oilbirds perched on rocky ledges not far from us and a few may decide to fly around, looking like strange nightjars. The strange hissing, clicking and growling sounds they make are quite eerie and add to the weird and wonderful atmosphere.

Other species we may well see in the Mindo area include Barred and Roadside Hawks, Band-tailed and Plumbeous Pigeons, Red-billed Parrot, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, Geoffroy’s Daggerbill (or 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-colored 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, White-winged and Chestnut-capped Brushfinches, and Masked and White-sided Flowerpiercers.

We should also see a few of the more uncommon species, which include the retiring Rufescent Screech Owl, White-faced Nunbird, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Coopman’s Elaenia, Fulvous-breasted Flatbill, the elusive Beautiful Jay, Pale-eyed Thrush, Ecuadorian Seedeater and the striking Tanager-Finch.

[Note: There is a site for Long-wattled Umbrellabird that can be reached from Mindo, although with a long drive each way. However, views are generally distant and nothing like the amazing views we typically have on our Southern Ecuador tour. Why do we miss this site out? The answer is simple: there are so many Choco specialities to find in NW Ecuador, many of which are seen on no other tour, that we simply do not have the time to include it. We do very occasionally see this bird in the Mashpi Road area.]

Northern Ecuador: Day 6  This morning we will leave the Mindo area, and will continue further west into the lower foothills and western lowlands.

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.

(If by any chance Rufous-crowned Antpitta becomes accessible in the area again, we will make a short detour to take a look for this uncommon and shy bird.)

After this exciting morning, we will continue to the town of Selva Alegre where we shall board the motorized dugouts 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 Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve and we shall arrive in time to start the exploration of this remarkable area. This 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.

Northern Ecuador: Days 7-8  Our main purpose in visiting the tall Chocó forests of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve is to see some scarce and hard-to-come-by Chocó lowland birds such as Plumbeous Hawk, the rarely seen and highly threatened Baudo Guan, the superb Rose-faced Parrot, the localized Five-colored Barbet, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, the skulking Rufous-crowned Antpitta (now thought to be a huge gnateater rather than a true antpitta), the Chocó race of the Green Manakin (possibly a distinct species) and the enigmatic Broad-billed Sapayoa (now placed in its own family).

Around the lodge itself, 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 these forest floor skulkers.

We shall also want to find several other 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 striking Spot-crowned Antvireo, Blue Cotinga or the near-endemic Scarlet-breasted Dacnis.

We should also come across a few of the more difficult special birds, which include the secretive Berlepsch’s Tinamou (which we may well hear), Tawny-faced Quail, Great Green Macaw, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Dusky and Scaly-throated Leaftossers, Choco Sirystes and Speckled Mourner.

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

Many other lowland birds may well be seen in the area below Mindo or at Playa de Oro, including Plumbeous Kite, Laughing Falcon, Crested Guan, Dusky Pigeon, Pacific Parrotlet, Blue-headed Parrot, Grey-rumped Swift, Stripe-throated Hermit, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Green Thorntail, Purple-crowned Fairy, Choco and Western White-tailed Trogons, Broad-billed Motmot, White-whiskered Puffbird, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Choco and Black-mandibled Toucans, Olivaceous Piculet and Lineated, Black-cheeked and Guayaquil Woodpeckers.

Passerines include Pacific Hornero, Western Woodhaunter, Streaked and Plain Xenopses, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Northern Barred, Black-striped, Plain-brown, Black-striped, Spotted and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Spotted and Ocellated Antbirds, Dot-winged, Pacific and Dot-backed Antwrens, Sooty-headed, Brown-capped and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets, the restricted-range Choco Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied and Grey Elaenias, Black-capped and Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrants, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, the restricted-range Pacific Flatbill, Yellow-margined Flatbill, Sulphur-rumped, Dusky-capped, Social and Rusty-margined Flycatchers, Tropical Kingbird, Cinnamon and One-colored Becards, White-bearded Manakin, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Band-backed, Bay, Stripe-throated, House, Nightingale and Song Wrens, the restricted-range Dagua Thrush, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Buff-rumped Warbler, Bananaquit, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Guira, Grey-and-gold, Blue-necked, Golden-hooded, Bay-headed, Blue-grey, Palm, Lemon-rumped, White-shouldered, Dusky-faced and Tawny-crested Tanagers, the noisy Lemon-spectacled Tanager, Slate-colored Grosbeak, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Scrub Blackbird, Yellow-tailed Oriole and Yellow-bellied Siskin.

Northern Ecuador: Day 9  After some early morning birding at Playa de Oro we will travel to San Lorenzo for an overnight stay.

Along the way, we will visit the rapidly shrinking swamp forest of Humedal de Yalaré. Although it will not be the most productive time of the day, we will spend some time in this area to look for Five-colored Barbet, the loud-mouthed Black-breasted Puffbird and Slaty-tailed Trogon. Other specialities in the area could include the raucous Rufous-headed Chachalaca, and the gaudy Stripe-billed Aracari, Pied Puffbird and Greenish Elaenia. With a modicum of luck, we will even find the secretive Brown Wood Rail.

In the afternoon we shall drive into the lower Andean foothills of western Ecuador and explore the excellent Alta Tambo and Lita area for the superb, near-endemic Golden-chested and Yellow-green Tanagers (both of these Bangsia tanagers only occur in northern Ecuador and extreme southwest Colombia) and we will have another chance to see the Blue-whiskered Tanager should we have missed it earlier. There is also a good viewpoint to search for the snow-white Black-tipped Cotinga.

Other birds we may find in the wet forests here include Lita and Cinnamon Woodpeckers, Green Thorntail, Russet Antshrike, Choco Tapaculo, 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. If we are fortunate we will come across the rare Choco Woodpecker.

Northern Ecuador: Day 10  We will spend much of the 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.

Afterwards, we head for Ambuqui where we will overnight.

Northern Ecuador: Day 11  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 Scrub Tanager, a rather widespread species 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.

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. We also have a good chance for Stygian Owl.

Northern Ecuador: Day 12  Early this morning we will look for the attractive Rusty-breasted Antpitta and Rufous-chested Tanager before setting out for the east slope of the Andes.

En route, we will explore 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.

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, we will look for Noble Snipe amidst the boggy ground and, if we are fortunate, a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle will be sailing by the jagged rock-faces. In the shrubbery, we can look for Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail, Many-striped Canastero, Tawny Antpitta, Paramo Tapaculo, Vermilion Flycatcher, Red-crested Cotinga, Grass Wren, Black Flowerpiercer, Plain-colored Seedeater and Plumbeous Sierra Finch. The uncommon Blue-backed Thornbill may also be encountered. By scanning the wires and bush tops there is a fair chance of finding the handsome Red-rumped Bush Tyrant in this inhospitable place.

Nearby are a few patches of stunted Polylepis woodland where we may well find the nuthatch-like Giant Conebill. 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. If we are really lucky we will also find Jameson’s (or Andean) Snipe. If the weather is clear we will be able to see the huge, ice-clad peak of Antisana and its associated glacier.

Lower down, the scrub and elfin forest hold Shining Sunbeam, Viridian Metaltail, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet (uncommon), White-throated Tyrannulet, Agile Tit-Tyrant, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Pale-naped Brushfinch and Black-backed Bush Tanager. With luck, we will encounter the superb Masked Mountain Tanager.

From the pass, we will descend the eastern slope of the Andes to the truly wonderful Wild Sumaco Lodge for a four 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.

Northern Ecuador: Days 13-15  Wild Sumaco Lodge is a comfortable, spacious lodge designed for nature enthusiasts and is perched on a high ridge with a fine view across almost unbroken forest to the Andes beyond.

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. On clear days the conical peak of Volcan Sumaco (roughly 2800m or 9100ft) dominates the area.

Many trails provide access to excellent upper tropical foothill forest, a habitat that is fast disappearing throughout the length of the eastern slope of the Andes. Although more and more settlers are moving into the area, there are still huge swathes of forest remaining and a mixture of primary forest and secondary growth hosts a wide assortment of interesting birds.

A fine selection of 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 should manage to see them all during our visit to this bird-rich area.

Wild Sumaco’s 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 additional special birds as Black-throated Brilliant, the relatively recently-described Foothill Antwren and Foothill Elaenia, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant, Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher, Golden-winged and Green Manakins, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Grey-tailed Piha, Bronze-green Euphonia, Orange-eared, Golden-eared and Spotted Tanagers, Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer and Olive Finch.

At a feeding station, we have a good chance to get superb views of Plain-backed and Ochre-breasted Antpittas as well as Northern White-crowned Tapaculo.
Harder to come by specialities at Wild Sumaco, some of which we will see, include the superb Military Macaw, White-chested Puffbird, Dusky Leaftosser, White-streaked Antvireo, Plain-winged Antwren, White-fronted Tyrannulet, the unobtrusive Yellow-throated Spadebill, Orange-crested Flycatcher, Striolated and Green Manakins, Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater and Blue-browed Tanager.

The rare Black Tinamou, another foothill speciality, occurs here and we should hear its haunting whistles while we are out nearly or late on the trails. The chances of seeing this shy bird are slim, although we have seen this rarity at Wild Sumaco.

The hummingbird feeders at Wild Sumaco are often very lively and as well as Napo Sabrewing and Rufous-vented Whitetip, commonly occurring visitors include Grey-chinned Hermit, Wire-crested Thorntail, Gould’s Jewelfront, Peruvian Racket-tail, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire and Many-spotted Hummingbird. Violet-headed Hummingbirds and Blue-fronted Lancebills visit adjacent flowers and occasionally the feeders.

Other species we may well find at these elevations include Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Black-streaked Puffbird, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, 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, Stripe-chested, Rufous-winged and Yellow-breasted Antwrens, Black-faced, Black and Blackish Antbirds, White-backed Fire-eye, the pretty little Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Plumbeous-crowned, Golden-faced and Red-billed Tyrannulets, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Slaty-capped, Cliff, Short-crested, Piratic and Lemon-browed Flycatchers, Common and Golden-winged Tody-Flycatchers, Olive-faced Flatbill, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-winged Becard, Masked Tityra, Thrush-like, Coraya and Wing-banded Wrens, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Silver-beaked, Magpie and Paradise Tanagers, Greyish Saltator, Blue-black Grassquit, Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch, Chestnut-bellied and Black-and-white Seedeaters, Russet-backed and Crested Oropendolas and Olivaceous Siskin. During the boreal autumn and winter, Cerulean, Blackburnian and Canada Warblers and Summer Tanager are also to be found. Sunbittern can sometimes be located along nearby rivers.

Mammals are mostly inconspicuous but we should see the tiny and rather demonic-looking Black Mantle Tamarin as well as Red-tailed Squirrel and perhaps Amazon Dwarf Squirrel.

Northern Ecuador: Day 16  After some final birding at Wild Sumaco we will leave this remarkable area and make our way back across the Cordillera de Guacamayos to the well-known San Isidro Lodge near Cosanga for a three nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Northern Ecuador: Days 17-18  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 retiring Ash-colored Tapaculo, the endearing Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher and the vociferous Plain-tailed Wren.

At night a pair of ‘San Isidro Owls’ can often be found in the vicinity of the lodge. 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 is currently thought to be an undescribed form of Black-banded Owl.

The steep slopes of the Cordillera de Guacamayos nearby are clothed in some of the country’s finest cloud 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 special birds as the superb Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Black-chested Fruiteater, the splendid Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, the delightful Handsome Flycatcher, Dusky and Olivaceous Pihas and Yellow-whiskered Bush Tanager.

Other mid-elevation birds inhabiting this misty environment include Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Blackish Antbird, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Inca Jay, Sepia-brown Wren, Pale-eyed Thrush, Black-billed Peppershrike, Golden-collared Honeycreeper and Saffron-crowned Tanager.

After dusk, we will look for the attractive White-throated Screech Owl, the splendid Rufous-banded Owl, the uncommon Andean Potoo and the awesome Swallow-tailed Nightjar.

Feeders elsewhere in the area attract Green-backed Hillstar, Greenish Puffleg and the tiny Gorgeted Woodstar.

We will also find some of the less frequently observed special birds of the area, which include the shy Wattled Guan, White-chested Swift, Bicolored Antvireo, the skulking Slate-crowned Antpitta, the shy Barred Antthrush, the noisy Ocellated Tapaculo, Flammulated Treehunter, Greater Scythebill, Variegated Bristle Tyrant and the gregarious, noisy and rather jay-like White-capped 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, White-throated Toucanet, Rufous Spinetail, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Long-tailed Tapaculo, 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 Cacique.

Northern Ecuador: Day 19  After some final birding in the San Isidro area we shall return to Quito for an overnight stay, sampling the birdlife at progressively higher elevations en route.

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 pick out Mountain Velvetbreast, the incredible Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, Tyrian Metaltail and the diminutive White-bellied Woodstar. If we are seriously in luck we will come across the rare Mountain Avocetbill, most likely at some flowering shrubs or trees rather than at the feeders.

In addition, we should encounter White-banded Tyrannulet, Northern Mountain Cacique, Glossy Flowerpiercer and the gorgeous Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain Tanagers. Another good bird at Guango is Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, although it is not easy to find.

Our route takes us back over the Papallacta Pass before we finally reach Quito.

Northern Ecuador: Day 20  This morning we will visit the magnificent 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, Blue-winged Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, 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 will drive back to Quito, where our Northern Ecuador tour ends in the late afternoon.

(Those departing today will be dropped off at the airport. If you need to stay overnight we will be pleased to arrange a hotel and airport transfer for you, at extra charge, on request.)


by Leonardo Garrigues

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