The Ultimate In Birding Tours

South America (and its islands)

SOUTHERN ECUADOR – The ultimate specialities tour to the region, with avian marvels galore

Sunday 12th January – Thursday 30th January 2025

Leaders: Juan Carlos Calvachi and local bird guides

19 Days Group Size Limit 7


Birdquest’s Southern Ecuador birding tours explore the extraordinarily rich southern region of South America’s most popular country for birdwatching tours. Our exciting Southern Ecuador birding tour, which surely deserves the epithet ‘ultimate’ as it is the most comprehensive tour of the region available, focuses on the many specialities of the region, including the Tumbesian endemics, Blue-throated Hillstar, Jocotoco Antpitta and Orange-throated Tanager.

When Atahualpa and his Inca warriors headed north on their way to Quito some five centuries ago, little did they know about the avian riches inhabiting the rugged mountain ridges and valleys they crossed in present-day southern Ecuador. Here two major life zones show a high degree of regional endemism in both fauna and flora and harbour a host of very local and little known birds. Fringed by the dry Atacama desert of coastal Peru to the south and by the earth’s wettest rainforests in northwestern Ecuador and western Colombia to the north, the deciduous and semi-humid lowlands and foothills of the country’s southwest are characterized by a highly distinct avifauna. Barely explored ornithologically until the expeditions of Cherrie and Chapman in the early days of the 20th century, this region was long neglected by birdwatchers, in spite of being home to over 40 endemic species, shared only with adjacent parts of northern Peru.

This enjoyable tour goes in search of numerous specialities that are restricted to southern Ecuador and northern Peru, as well as many more widespread South American birds, making for an enormous bird list. Ours is the ultimate itinerary in this bird-rich region, taking in more of the regional specialities than any other. Nowadays we spend an extra day in the Eastern Foothills of the Cordillera del Condor as more and more exciting birds have been found in the newly created Maycu Reserve.

From Guayaquil, our Southern Ecuador tour’s starting point, we head for Ecuador’s far south and the Buenaventura Reserve near Piñas and the Jorupe reserve further to the southwest. We have designed our visit to coincide with the annual rains when the otherwise dry and dusty hillsides turn to a verdant green. At this time of year resident birds such as Chapman’s Antshrike and Watkins’s Antpitta fill the air with their relentless songs, joined by breeding visitors such as Grey-capped Cuckoo and Black-and-white Tanager. In a variety of habitats ranging from scrubby desert through deciduous forests to evergreen woodland, we will seek out many of the area’s specialities, including such exciting birds as West Peruvian Screech Owl, Blackish-headed Spinetail and Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner. In addition, the complex topography of this region has resulted in a narrow tongue of humid cloud forest extending southwards along the lower, ocean-facing Andean slopes. This is home to the endemic El Oro Parakeet, the awesome Long-wattled Umbrellabird and many species of more northerly affinities.

After spending time in the far southwest we shall drive over the Andes to Tapichalaca, Loja, Nangaritza and Zamora, our bases for sampling the epiphyte-laden temperate, subtropical and foothill forests on the east slope of the Andes and home to a wide range of montane species. In particular, we will be targetting the recently-discovered, endemic Blue-throated Hillstar.

Amidst the majestic mountain scenery of Podocarpus National Park and the adjacent Tapichalaca reserve we can marvel at the sight of dazzling hummingbirds and gorgeous tanagers, and we also stand an excellent chance of encountering such specialities as the threatened Bearded Guan, the highly localized Neblina Metaltail and the resplendent Rainbow Starfrontlet. We shall also seek the recently discovered Jocotoco Antpitta, a species so distinct that ornithologists created a new genus in which to place it, and with habitat requirements so specific that it is still known only from a very narrow elevational zone.

Still further east, we will venture up the Río Nangaritza to seek the legendary Orange-throated Tanager at a newly discovered and easily accessible locality. Recently we added an extra day to our itinerary so we can explore more of this fantastic, species-rich region with its Amazonian affinities, something that has a major impact on our final bird list!

Our next port of call will be a patch of high elevation forest near Saraguro, to the north of Loja, where the enigmatic Crescent-faced Antpitta and the rare Red-faced Parrot occur in very low density.

Afterwards, we will descend into a dry inter-Andean valley where we will visit the recently established Yunguilla Reserve, the realm of the critically endangered Pale-headed Brushfinch, which was rediscovered here in 1998.

In the El Cajas area, we shall visit the cloudforests in search of the endemic Violet-throated Metaltail and numerous other denizens of this bird-rich environment, whilst at higher elevations, we shall find many typical paramo birds amidst the scenic grandeur of the mighty Andes.

Finally, we will explore some dry habitats in southwestern Ecuador as we look for some regional endemics and other specialities of the arid lowlands, including the endemic Esmeraldas Woodstar.

By the time we return to Guayaquil, we shall have experienced a remarkable range of habitats at first hand, been thrilled by the dramatic scenery of the Andes and watched a superb variety of birds including some of the least known in South America.

Birdquest has operated Ecuador birding tours since 1989.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of a good or medium standard. At Buenaventura, Jorupe (Urraca) and Tapichalaca we will stay at the lodges at the reserve headquarters, which are designed for visiting birdwatchers and each has seven rooms with bunk beds and private bathrooms. All are located inside the reserves, thereby eliminating long drives to reach the birding habitat. Road transport is by small coach and roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Southern Ecuador tour is easy for the most part, but there is some moderate grade walking and two optional walks on more strenuous trails.

Climate: Rather variable. At low and middle altitudes it is typically warm or hot, with a mixture of dry and sunny weather interspersed with overcast and rainy periods. At high elevations, it is generally cool (but it can be cold and damp in the early morning). It will often be rather humid, especially at lower elevations.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Southern Ecuador tour are worthwhile.


  • Enjoying one of the most enjoyable, endemic-filled birding tours in South America!
  • The newly-discovered Blue-throated Hillstar, a critically endangered hummingbird and endemic to a few remote mountains of southern Ecuador
  • Crossing the southwest coastal wetlands searching for the strange Horned Screamer
  • The rare Pacific Royal Flycatcher in the remaining forests of the southwestern lowlands
  • The spectacular Long-wattled Umbrellabird in the Choco forest at Buenaventura Reserve
  • El Oro Parakeet and El Oro Tapaculo, two highly localized endemics of the El Oro Province
  • Chasing Tumbes Sparrow and Tumbes Hummingbird among other specialities in the arid Tumbesian region
  • The glorious Jocotoco Antpitta at almost touching distance in the scenic cloud forests at Tapichalaca Reserve
  • Hummingbirds spectacle in the elfin forest at Cerro Toledo with the localized Neblina Metaltail and stunning Rainbow-bearded Thornbills
  • The highly-desired Orange-throated Tanager in the extremely bird-rich Maycu Reserve on the fringes of the Amazon
  • The rare White-breasted Parakeet in the Bombuscaro section of the Podocarpus National Park
  • The localized Red-faced Parrot and the strikingly-plumaged Crescent-faced Antpitta in the high elevation forests above Saraguro
  • The once enigmatic Pale-headed Brushfinch, another Ecuadorian endemic and critically endangered species at Yunguilla Reserve
  • Taking in the breathtaking scenery at El Cajas National Park as we track down the localized endemic Violet-throated Metaltail
  • Chasing the tiny and endemic Esmeraldas Woodstar in the arid coastal lowlands


  • Day 1: Evening tour start at Guayaquil.
  • Day 2: Drive to Buenaventura Reserve near Piñas.
  • Days 3-4: Buenaventura Reserve and Cerro de Arcos.
  • Day 5: Drive to Urraca Lodge at Jorupe reserve.
  • Day 6: Jorupe reserve.
  • Day 7: Jorupe reserve, then drive to Tapichalaca reserve.
  • Day 8: Tapichalaca reserve.
  • Day 9: Cerro Toledo, then drive to Loja.
  • Day 10: Loja region, then drive to Yankuam Lodge in Río Nangaritza valley.
  • Day 11: Maycu reserve and Río Nangaritza valley. Overnight at Yankuam Lodge.
  • Day 12: Maycu reserve and Río Nangaritza valley, then drive to Copalinga Lodge at Zamora.
  • Day 13: Podocarpus National Park and Zamora area.
  • Day 14: Zamora area, then drive to Loja.
  • Day 15: Saraguro area, then drive to La Union.
  • Day 16: La Union area, then drive via Cuenca to Las Cajas National Park.
  • Day 17: El Cajas National Park, then drive to Guayaquil.
  • Day 18: Guayaquil area, then drive to Rio Ayampé.
  • Day 19: Rio Ayampé, then return to Guayaquil airport for early evening 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)

2025: confirmed £5680, $7290, €6630, AUD11000. Guayaquil/Guayaquil.

Single Supplement: 2025: £380, $490, €440, AUD730.

There are only a limited number of rooms at the small reserve lodges of Buenaventura, Jorupe (Urraca) and Tapichalaca, where we spend a total of seven nights. There is no single supplement at these locations, but singles are provided free of additional charge if available at the time.

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.


Southern Ecuador: Day 1  Our Southern Ecuador tour begins in the evening at Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second city situated close to the Pacific coast, where we will spend the night. We will provide a transfer from the airport to our hotel for those participants arriving today.

Southern Ecuador: Day 2  Early this morning we will explore an area of deciduous forest and scrub, one of the few remaining tracts of this disappearing habitat in the southwestern lowlands. The major target here will be the threatened Pacific Royal Flycatcher, which we will hope to observe foraging in the understorey, while additional species include Pale-vented Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Ecuadorian Ground Dove, Grey-cheeked Parakeet, Pacific Hornero, Red-billed Scythebill, Great Antshrike, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Boat-billed and Streaked Flycatchers, Tropical Kingbird, House Wren, Ecuadorian Thrush, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Thick-billed Euphonia, Streaked Saltator, Scrub Blackbird and Yellow-tailed Oriole.

Afterwards, we will continue southwards to the Buenaventura Reserve near Piñas for a three nights stay.

We will make a few stops en route to examine flooded rice fields, wetlands, coastline, fields, scrub and patches of woodland. We will search roadside shrubbery and fields for the vociferous Crimson-breasted Finch, Variable and Chestnut-throated Seedeaters, and Thick-billed and Large-billed Seed Finches (the latter of the form occidentalis, sometimes regarded as a race of Great-billed Seed Finch, but possibly a species in its own right), Shiny Cowbird, Great-tailed Grackle and Peruvian Meadowlark. In the wet areas, Snail Kites cruise low in search of their mollusc prey, Masked Water Tyrants forage for aquatic insects and we will keep a lookout for the strange Horned Screamer.

Other birds we may well find in the open areas and wetlands include Neotropic Cormorant, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Great, Snowy and Western Cattle Egrets, Little Blue, Cocoi and Striated Herons, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, Black and Turkey Vultures, Savanna Hawk, Purple Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, Laughing and Grey-hooded (or Grey-headed) Gulls, Royal Tern, Smooth-billed Ani, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Grey-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow and Blue-black Grassquit.

Nearby woodland patches hold Laughing Falcon, Blue Ground Dove, Black-cheeked and Red-rumped Woodpeckers, Jet Antbird, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Black-tailed, Rusty-margined, Social and Piratic Flycatchers, Masked Tityra, Orange-crowned Euphonia, White-shouldered, Blue-grey, Palm and Lemon-rumped Tanagers, Buff-throated Saltator and Yellow-bellied Seedeater.

Southern Ecuador: Days 3-4  West of the attractive little town of Piñas lies a narrow belt of humid upper tropical forest. Though nowadays patchy, this area of foothill habitat, now protected by the Jocotoco Foundation as the Buenaventura Reserve, usually teems with birds and it was here that in 1980 the endemic El Oro Parakeet was discovered. With a range of only about 60 miles (100 kilometres) in length, and given the current pace of deforestation in the region, this spectacular psittacid may soon be threatened with extinction. At present small flocks still frequent the area and so we shall hope, at least, to get views of a party swiftly flying over the canopy. With a modicum of luck, we will get much better views of these colourful birds as they land in a bromeliad-laden tree crown.

Another emblematic bird of the reserve is the amazing Long-wattled Umbrellabird, and one afternoon we shall descend into the lekking grounds of this extraordinary cotinga and admire the awesome males with their ultra-long wattles dangling well below their bodies.

Many other humid forest birds, such as the shy Esmeraldas Antbird and the uncommon Pacific Tuftedcheek and Ochre-breasted Antpitta, reach their southernmost limit in this area.

Amongst the additional species that we may well see are Swallow-tailed Kite, the restricted-range Grey-backed Hawk, Great Black, Grey, Roadside and Barred Hawks, Plumbeous Pigeon, Bronze-winged Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Pauraque, White-collared and Grey-rumped Swifts, White-throated Daggerbill, Collared Trogon, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, the near-endemic Pale-mandibled Aracari, Choco Toucan, and Golden-olive, Smoky-brown and Guayaquil Woodpeckers.

Passerines include Azara’s and Slaty Spinetails, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Streaked and Plain Xenopses, Wedge-billed and Spotted Woodcreepers, the spectacular Brown-billed Scythebill, Uniform, Western Slaty and Russet Antshrikes, Plain Antvireo, Checker-throated and Slaty Antwrens, Zeledon’s Antbird, Golden-winged Manakin, Yellow Tyrannulet, Bronze-olive and Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrants, White-throated Spadebill, Greenish Elaenia, Smoke-colored Pewee, Olive-striped, Slaty-capped, Ornate, Dusky-capped and Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Brown-capped and Red-eyed Vireos, Lesser Greenlet, Andean Solitaire, Swainson’s and Pale-vented Thrushes, Whiskered, Bay and Song Wrens, Grey-breasted Wood Wren (of the distinctive race hilaris), Tropical Parula, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Slate-throated Whitestart, the restricted-range Three-banded Warbler, Blackburnian and Buff-rumped Warblers, Bananaquit, Green Honeycreeper, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Fawn-breasted, Rufous-throated, Golden, Silver-throated, Flame-faced, Bay-headed, Golden-naped and Ochre-breasted Tanagers, Common, Yellow-throated and Ash-throated Bush Tanagers, Black-winged Saltator, Black-and-white Seedeater, Dusky Brushfinch, Black-striped, Orange-billed and Rufous-collared Sparrows, and Yellow-bellied Siskin.

Hummingbird feeders in the area attract a wealth of these tiny jewels, including the near-endemic Baron’s Hermit, White-whiskered Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Brown Violetear, Green Thorntail, Violet-bellied and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Emerald-bellied Woodnymph, Andean Emerald, White-vented Plumeleteer (the isolated race intermedia possibly representing a distinct species; Ecuadorean Plumeleteer), Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph, White-booted Racket-tail, Long-billed Starthroat and Purple-crowned Fairy.

In addition, we should encounter one or two of the more elusive inhabitants of the area such as Pallid Dove, White-tipped Sicklebill, Brown Inca, Uniform Treehunter, the furtive El Oro Tapaculo, the vociferous Ochraceous Attila, Club-winged Manakin or the stolid Scaled Fruiteater.

On one of our full days at Buenaventura, we will set off early and head for the remote Cerro de Arcos. Here we will be in search of the highly localized, recently-described endemic Blue-throated Hillstar. This spectacular hummingbird is currently only known from a very limited area in southwestern Ecuador. Another bird of particular interest in this superb area is Viridian Metaltail.

Southern Ecuador: Day 5  After some final birding at Buenaventura we shall drive across barren mountain ridges to Jorupe, not far from the small city of Macará near the Peruvian border, where we will stay for two nights in the recently opened Urraca Lodge of the Jocotoco Foundation. Along the way, we will search patches of dry woodland for Tumbes Hummingbird, Tumbes Sparrow and the spritely White-headed Brushfinch. We shall also examine old churches for nesting Chestnut-collared Swallows.

Southern Ecuador: Day 6  The moss-festooned deciduous and evergreen forests of the Jorupe area are probably among the least disturbed of their kind still remaining in Ecuador. Only rarely visited by birders, they host a rich assortment of little known and endangered birds confined to southwestern Ecuador and northwestern Peru. The Jorupe Reserve of the Jocotoco Foundation allows good access to this special Tumbesian forest habitat.

At lower elevations, the deciduous forest is dominated by fat, green-trunked Ceiba trees. With as yet only minimal impact by goats on the forest understorey, the vanishing Blackish-headed Spinetail is still regularly encountered here in this threatened habitat, while flocks of the diminishing Red-masked Parakeet are still a common sight overhead.

An early start this morning will enable us to have a pre-dawn search for the elusive West Peruvian Screech Owl, only recently found for the first time in Ecuador. At this time of year, with the onset of the rains, most birds are in a reproductive mood, and as the day breaks the woods ring with an amazing variety of avian sounds. Pale-browed Tinamous sing persistently from dense thickets (but are almost impossible to see), attractive Collared Antshrikes hop deliberately through the vines, family parties of the stunning White-tailed Jay draw attention with their loud chattering, Speckle-breasted Wrens excitedly proclaim their territorial rights from the tangles, recently-arrived Plumbeous-backed Thrushes utter their piercing whistles and the attractive Whooping Motmot bellows out its single whooping call. By listening for their distinctive songs we hope to track down the secretive Watkins’s Antpitta and the multi-hued Elegant Crescentchest. With a modicum of luck, the nomadic Grey-capped Cuckoo and Black-and-white Tanager could also show up at this season.

Additional species we may well encounter in this habitat include Harris’s Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Eared Dove, Croaking Ground Dove, Pacific Parrotlet, Groove-billed Ani, Pacific Pygmy Owl, Tumbes Swift, Long-billed Starthroat, Ecuadorian Trogon, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Ecuadorian Piculet, the secretive Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Tawny-crowned Pygmy Tyrant, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Bran-colored, Sooty-crowned and Vermillion Flycatchers, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Black-and-white and One-colored Becards, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Fasciated and Superciliated Wrens, Grey-and-gold Warbler, Highland Hepatic Tanager, Saffron Finch, Ash-breasted Sierra Finch, Black-capped Sparrow and White-edged Oriole.

If we are really lucky we will come across one or two of the rare inhabitants of this area such as Ochre-bellied Dove or Grey-breasted Flycatcher.

At higher elevations, the Ceiba forest gives way to semi-humid shrubbery and stunted woodland dominated by a different set of birds. In this habitat, we shall seek such exciting premontane specialities as Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner, Chapman’s Antshrike, Silver-backed Tanager, and White-winged and Grey-browed Brushfinches. Other birds we can expect to find in these woods are Line-cheeked Spinetail and Loja and Tumbesian Tyrannulets.

At the top of the ridge, we shall encounter small pockets of cloud forest where we may find Plain-breasted Hawk, Band-tailed Pigeon, Sparkling Violetear, Speckled Hummingbird, the marvellous Rainbow Starfrontlet, the glittering Purple-throated Sunangel, Green-tailed Trainbearer, the bamboo-loving Grey-headed Antbird, Blackish Tapaculo, Red-crested Cotinga, Streak-necked Flycatcher, White-crested Elaenia, Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant, the shy Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Blue-and-white Swallow, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Rufous-chested and Blue-capped Tanagers, White-sided Flowerpiercer, the striking Black-cowled Saltator and Bay-crowned Brushfinch.

The most spectacular denizen of these refreshing heights is the dazzling Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, and with a modicum of luck, we could even find the ghostly Scaled Antpitta, the tiny Leymebamba Antpitta (only recently discovered in Ecuador) or the Piura Hemispingus.

Southern Ecuador: Day 7  After an additional morning in the Jorupe area we will drive to Tapichalaca for a two nights stay in yet another superb Jocotoco Foundation property.

Southern Ecuador: Day 8  At Tapichalaca the character of the rich cloudforests on the east slope of the Andes is dramatically different to anything we have seen so far. Trees are covered with aerial gardens of bromeliads, mosses and orchids, and splendidly colourful hummingbirds and tanagers gleam amidst the thick foliage.

Located just a few hours south of Loja, one of the most spectacular new bird species to science was discovered here in 1997, the Jocotoco Antpitta. Action was taken quickly and the newly created Jocotoco Foundation purchased large tracts of land to establish the 5000-acre (2000-hectare) Tapichalaca Reserve. Though the antpitta was formerly notoriously tricky to see, the recent creation of an ‘earthworm garden’ will greatly increase our chances of seeing this species and also the shy Chestnut-naped Antpitta.

Many other interesting cloudforest birds inhabit the very wet and epiphyte-laden forests that clad the steep slopes in this area. As the day breaks, we will find ourselves amidst breathtaking mountain scenery, and the dawn chorus here is filled with the delightful tunes of Russet-crowned Warblers and the loud duetting of Plain-tailed Wrens. Orange-banded Flycatchers deliver their monotonous songs from the treetops and the hard-to-see Barred Antthrush delivers its prolonged crescendos from the depths of the forest understorey. From the dense stands of Chusquea bamboo, we shall hear the characteristic songs of the Ash-colored Tapaculo and the recently-described Chusquea Tapaculo, and if we persevere we may well see these mouse-like birds lurking in the undergrowth. Equatorial Antpittas fill the air with their distinctive songs, and this cute species often shows itself quite easily.

Active mixed-species flocks frequenting the forest and its edge contain such gems as Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Pearled Treerunner, Black-capped and White-banded Tyrannulets, Barred Fruiteater, Masked and Bluish Flowerpiercers, Spectacled Whitestart, Blue-backed Conebill, Black-capped Hemispingus, Lacrimose and Hooded Mountain Tanagers, the acrobatic Plushcap, the nervous Grey-hooded Bush Tanager and with luck the scarce Masked Saltator or the bamboo-loving and nomadic Slaty Finch.

Exploring this magnificent area is an exciting adventure at every step, for other birds that we may well find at these elevations include White-capped Parrot, Chestnut-collared Swift, Powerful Woodpecker, White-browed Spinetail, Rufous-headed Pygmy Tyrant, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Smoky Bush Tyrant, Barred Becard, Turquoise Jay, Glossy-black Thrush, Rufous and Mountain Wrens, Citrine and Black-crested Warblers and Rufous-naped (or Yellow-breasted) Brushfinch.

We shall surely come across the superb Golden-plumed Parakeets flapping by, their screeching calls advertising their approach, and we may see an Andean Pygmy Owl delivering its monotonous hoots from a canopy perch. These forest-clad slopes are the haunt of the highly sought-after White-capped Tanager, though we shall be very fortunate if we come across a flock of these jay-like birds. We should also have a first chance of encountering the mind-boggling Ocellated Tapaculo.

Hummingbird feeders at the reserve headquarters attract Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Amethyst-throated and Flame-throated Sunangels, Long-tailed Sylph and White-bellied Woodstar.

We will also check roadside patches of subtropical forest lower down for mixed canopy flocks, which may contain such species as White-tailed Tyrannulet, Capped Conebill, and Beryl-spangled and Blue-browed Tanagers.

In wooded gullies in this area, we shall listen for the squeaky song of the Long-tailed (or Equatorial Rufous-vented) Tapaculo and the high-pitched whistles of the Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant and Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, while in patches of roadside shrubbery we will keep a lookout for Marañon Thrush, Lined Antshrike and Rufous-fronted Thornbird.

A nightbirding excursion should turn up White-throated Screech Ow and, with luck, we may even encounter the bug-eyed Andean Potoo.

Southern Ecuador: Day 9  This morning we will drive up the unpaved road that leads to the upper slopes of Cerro Toledo.

Here, in the fog-enshrouded elfin forest we will concentrate on the local hummingbird spectacle: our primary targets are the very localized Neblina Metaltail, a hummingbird known only from this and a handful of other localities, Great Sapphirewing and the dazzling Rainbow-bearded Thornbill.

Other typical avian inhabitants we will seek in this treeline country are Scaly-naped Amazon, the shy Paramo Tapaculo, the near-endemic Mouse-colored Thistletail, White-throated Tyrannulet, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, Glossy Flowerpiercer and Paramo Seedeater.

We will be very fortunate indeed if we find the enigmatic Masked Mountain Tanager, only known from this and a handful of other localities.

Next, we will visit the Cajanuma sector of the Podocarpus National Park where we will look for Purple-collared Woodstar, Barred Fruiteater, Pale-footed Swallow and the thinly-distributed Red-hooded Tanager.

Afterwards, we will drive to Loja for an overnight stay.

Southern Ecuador: Day 10  This morning we will visit the Old Loja-Zamora road, where we can see such Andean flagship birds as Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper and Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, and also a superb selection of colourful tanagers.

Afterwards, we will drive to the Río Nangaritza valley for a two nights stay at the comfortable Yankuam Lodge.

Along the way, we will visit some shrubby pastures where we hope to find the localized Black-billed Seed-Finch, in addition to more common fare such as Lined Antshrike, Mottle-backed Elaenia, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Black-billed Thrush, White-lined, Silver-beaked and Magpie Tanagers, Greyish Saltator, Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater and Yellow-browed Sparrow. The secretive Blackish Rail is also found here, but seeing this master of furtiveness would require a large dose of good fortune.

We will have time for some initial exploration during the afternoon and if the river conditions are adequate we will make a spectacular boat journey on the Nangaritza river through a narrow canyon spliced by enchanting waterfalls.

Southern Ecuador: Day 11  The Cordillera del Cóndor in remote southeast Ecuador is still relatively unexplored by birdwatchers.

The primary purpose of our visit to this fascinating area is to find the gorgeous Orange-throated Tanager, still known from only a handful of localities in northern Peru and southern Ecuador. Until now, this poorly-known species has been sought exclusively in Peru, but this area of southern Ecuador is now the most accessible location in the world to search for this blue, black and orange jewel.

This morning we will enter the nearby Maycu Reserve and most of our day will be spent along a comfortable track from which we should see this striking tanager, named ‘inchítuch’ by the locals for its distinctively repeated song.

A good variety of eastern foothill specialities inhabit this area, such as Peruvian Racket-tail, the diminutive Lanceolated Monklet, Bamboo Foliage-gleaner, Red-billed and Ecuadorian Tyrannulets, Golden-winged and Black-and-white Tody-Flycatchers, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Yellow-cheeked Becard, Olivaceous Siskin and Golden-collared Honeycreeper.

We may even come across one or more of the scarcer inhabitants of the area, which include White-throated Woodpecker, Speckled Spinetail, Rufous-tailed Foliage-gleaner, Cinnamon Neopipo, White-bellied Pygmy Tyrant, Musician and Wing-banded Wrens, and Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak.

In the evening we will make a special effort to locate the magnificent Band-bellied Owl.

While at this wonderful location, we will also encounter a wide range of Amazonian foothill birds, with likely species including White Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, White-eyed Parakeet, Black-eared Fairy, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Blue-tailed Emerald, Amazon Kingfisher, Green-backed Trogon, Lemon-throated and Gilded Barbets, Scale-breasted, Red-stained and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, and Lafresnaye’s Piculet.

Passerines include Dark-breasted Spinetail, Lineated Woodcreeper, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, White-thighed Swallow, White-shouldered and Mouse-colored Antshrikes, Black, White-browed and Peruvian Warbling Antbirds, Rufous-winged Antwren, Black-faced Antthrush, Torrent Tyrannulet, Olive-faced and Grey-capped Flycatchers, Western Wood Pewee, Long-tailed Tyrant, Chestnut-crowned Becard, Violaceous Jay, Southern Nightingale-Wren, Spangled Cotinga, Purple Honeycreeper, Yellow-bellied Dacnis and a wide range of tanagers such as Masked, Yellow-bellied, Opal-crowned, Opal-rumped and Turquoise Tanagers and Fulvous Shrike-Tanager.

Southern Ecuador: Day 12  After another full morning in this amazingly bird-rich area we will transfer to Zamora for a two nights stay at the lovely Copalinga Lodge.

We shall arrive at this superb location in time to be able to visit the corn feeders where Grey-fronted Doves and Orange-billed Sparrows are often joined at dusk by the scarce Grey Tinamou and also by Little Tinamou.

Hummingbird feeders at the lodge are visited by Glittering-throated Emerald and Violet-fronted Brilliant, and at times by the localized Black-throated Brilliant. At this season, nearby Inga trees are regularly visited by the pretty Wire-crested Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbird and Little Woodstar, while occasionally the rare Spangled Coquette also shows up. The banana feeders attract Speckled Chachalacas, Russet-backed Oropendolas and a variety of tanagers.

Southern Ecuador: Day 13  Today we will visit the northeastern (Bombuscaro) sector of the splendid Podocarpus National Park near Zamora. Here an excellent trail through tall upper tropical forest will enable us to look for a superb selection of foothill specialities, in addition to a number of Amazonian lowland birds that here reach the upper limit of their altitudinal distribution.

One of our prime targets is the endemic and very handsome White-breasted Parakeet, though we will need luck on our side to encounter this somewhat nomadic species.

The guard station offers an excellent vantage point from which to observe mixed flocks of gorgeous Orange-eared, Blue-necked, Paradise, Green-and-gold, Spotted and Golden-eared Tanagers, often joined by the colourful Red-headed Barbet, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Ash-browed Spinetail, Montane and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, the migrant Canada Warbler and Black-faced Dacnis.

Heading further up the trail, we will look for such shy understorey denizens as Black-streaked Puffbird and while examining more canopy flocks we shall diligently search for the relatively recently-described Foothill Elaenia (which our late and much-mourned leader Paul Coopmans discovered here), in addition to such other specialities as the agile Ecuadorian Tyrannulet and the tiny Grey-mantled Wren.

Other interesting forest birds we may well find here include Broad-winged Hawk, Grey-fronted Dove, Green Hermit, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, the large Andean Motmot, Lineated Woodpecker, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Fulvous-breasted Flatbill, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Western Wood Pewee, Black Phoebe, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Inca Jay, Three-striped Warbler, Swallow and Summer Tanagers, Subtropical Cacique and Russet-backed Oropendola.

Less frequently seen birds in the area include Ecuadorian Piedtail, Foothill Antwren, Equatorial Greytail, the retiring Black-billed Treehunter, the gorgeous Blue-rumped and Western Striped Manakins. If we are extremely fortunate we will even find the unobtrusive Orange-crested Flycatcher or Olive Finch.

Southern Ecuador: Day 14  After some final birding in the Zamora area we will drive back to Loja for an overnight stay. This evening we will look for the restricted-range Koepcke’s Screech Owl. This species used to be considered a Peruvian endemic, but a small population was later found in southern Ecuador.

Southern Ecuador: Day 15  Today we will be looking in the Saraguro area for two rare and difficult-to-see species; Crescent-faced Antpitta and Red-faced Parrot. We will need a modicum of luck to locate these emblematic but sometimes tricky species.

The superb mountain forest in this area holds many other exciting birds and we will hope to find the attractive Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Ocellated Tapaculo, Orange-banded Flycatcher and the exquisite Black-headed Hemispingus. The range-restricted Chestnut-bellied Cotinga is also possible.

Iridescent hummingbirds dash around a wide variety of red and orange flowers, and amongst the new ones we may encounter are Mountain Velvetbreast, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Glowing and Sapphire-vented Pufflegs, and Tyrian Metaltail.

Other birds we may see in this lovely area include Masked Trogon (of the high-elevation race temperatus, possibly representing a distinct species), Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Sierran Elaenia, Golden-crowned and Red-hooded Tanagers, Scarlet-bellied and Buff-breasted Mountain Tanagers, Pale-naped Brushfinch and Northern Mountain Cacique.

Later we will transfer to La Union for an overnight stay. Our journey will take us across a succession of arid inter-montane valleys and plateaus, skirting picturesque villages where Saraguro Amerindians still wear their traditional black shorts and dresses.

Among the birds we may find en route are Shining Sunbeam, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Black-billed and perhaps White-tailed Shrike-Tyrants, Chiguanco Thrush, Black Flowerpiercer and Hooded Siskin.

Southern Ecuador: Day 16  In the last decades of the 20th century, the endemic Pale-headed Brushfinch was thought to have slipped into extinction until, in 1998, a small remnant population was found on a bushy slope in the Valle de Yunguilla, the area subsequently having been preserved by the Jocotoco Foundation. Our main goal this morning will be to try and locate this endangered endemic. Although the birds are quite shy, we have a good chance of laying our eyes on this distinctive species.

Other interesting species found here include an undescribed form of the Loja Hummingbird and Black-lored Yellowthroat.

Among the entourage of more widespread birds in this interesting area, we may find Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Striped Cuckoo, Green Violetear, Purple-collared Woodstar, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Great Thrush, Black-crested Warbler, Southern Yellow Grosbeak, the aptly-named Dull-colored Grassquit and Grey-browed Brushfinch.

Later we will drive to El Cajas National Park for an overnight stay, passing through the historic and attractive city of Cuenca en route. In the late afternoon, we will have some time to explore the grounds of our excellent, high-elevation hotel.

Southern Ecuador: Day 17  Overlooking Cuenca, the El Cajas area provides an excellent array of high mountain habitats. Starting at lower elevations, we shall first examine a wonderful patch of humid temperate forest bordering a sparkling lake where Andean Teal and Slate-colored Coot float quietly on the shimmering waters. Skulking Ecuadorian Rails inhabit the reed beds, and we may also find Streaked Tuftedcheek, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, Superciliaried Hemispingus and Cinereous Conebill.

Working our way higher up, we will hope to find the endemic and very localized Violet-throated Metaltail, whilst near the pass, we shall keep an eye on flowering Chuquiragua shrubs for the near-endemic Ecuadorian Hillstar. Low shrubbery provides shelter for Blue-mantled Thornbill, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Many-striped Canastero, Tawny Antpitta and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, and on stony plains and rocky hillsides we shall look for Stout-billed and Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, the wheatear-like Paramo Ground Tyrant, Red-rumped Bush Tyrant, Brown-bellied Swallow, Plain-colored Seedeater and Plumbeous Sierra Finch.

Clinging to the highest slopes are relict patches of Polylepis-Gynoxis woods, home to the highly localized Tit-like Dacnis and the nuthatch-like Giant Conebill. Andean Duck and Andean Gull are sometimes to be found at another high-altitude lake, and at any time we may be rewarded with a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, a Variable Hawk or a Carunculated Caracara.

Later we will continue to Guayaquil for an overnight stay.

Southern Ecuador: Day 18  Early this morning we will look for Rufous-necked Wood-Rail in the mangroves near Guayaquil before continuing to Ayampé for an overnight stay.

This dry corner of Ecuador has a distinctly different set of birds and we will look during the journey for Necklaced Spinetail, Grey-and-white Tyrannulet, Short-tailed Field Tyrant, Collared Warbling Finch and Parrot-billed Seedeater. We also have a fair chance of coming across the tiny Short-tailed Woodstar today.

If there is time we will take a small detour to try and find Peruvian Thick-knee, the fine-looking Band-tailed Sierra Finch and possibly even the scarce and nomadic, restricted-range Sulphur-throated Finch.

This afternoon will visit the newly opened Ayampé Reserve of the Jocotoco Foundation on the edge of Machalilla National Park. This is the prime place to see the endemic Esmeraldas Woodstar, which is one of the rarest hummingbirds in the world. This tiny bird with its striking violet, green and white plumage is considered endangered, mainly because of its severely fragmented range and habitat loss. It is known to breed in the Río Ayampe area from December to March, but where this miniature creature disappears to after breeding remains a mystery! We shall have plenty of time here to locate this enigmatic bird.

Other new birds in this area may well include West Peruvian Dove, Gartered Trogon, Tumbes Pewee, Saffron Siskin and, with a bit of luck, the threatened Slaty Becard and Yellow-tufted Dacnis. We also have our best chances for Grey-backed Hawk, Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Western Fire-eye, Elegant Crescentchest, Baird’s Flycatcher and Snowy-throated Kingbird. At dusk, we will look for localized Anthony’s Nightjar.

Southern Ecuador: Day 19  After spending the morning at Río Ayampé, we will return to Guayaquil airport, where our Southern Ecuador tour ends in the early evening.


by John McLoughlin

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