SOUTHERN ECUADOR BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Note: In 2020 the last two nights of the itinerary are an optional extension.
Southern Ecuador: Day 1 Our Southern Ecuador birding tour begins in the evening at Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second city situated close to the Pacific coast, where we will stay overnight.
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 two 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: Day 3 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 Pacific Tuftedcheek (split from Buffy), the shy Esmeraldas Antbird and the lovely Ochre-breasted Antpitta, reach their southernmost limit here and amongst the additional species we may well see are Swallow-tailed Kite, Great Black-Hawk, Grey, Roadside, Grey-backed and Barred Hawks, Plumbeous Pigeon, Bronze-winged Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Pauraque, White-collared and Grey-rumped Swifts, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Collared Trogon, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, the near-endemic Pale-billed Aracari, Choco Toucan, Golden-olive, Smoky-brown and Guayaquil Woodpeckers, 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-coloured 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, Blackburnian, Three-banded 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 Brush-Finch (split from Tricoloured), 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 (split from Long-tailed), White-whiskered Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Brown Violetear, Green Thorntail, Violet-bellied and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Emerald-bellied Woodnymph (split from Green-crowned), Andean Emerald, White-vented Plumeleteer (the isolated race intermedia possibly representing a distinct species, Ecuadorean Plumeleteer), Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph, 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.
Southern Ecuador: Day 4 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 Brush-Finch. We shall also examine old churches for nesting Chestnut-collared Swallows.
Southern Ecuador: Day 5 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 Blue-crowned Motmot bellows out its single whooping call. By listening for their distinctive songs we hope to track down the secretive Watkins’s Antpitta (split from Chestnut-crowned) 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 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 (split from Ferruginous), Tumbes Swift, Long-billed Starthroat, Ecuadorian Trogon (split from Black-tailed), Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Ecuadorian Piculet, the secretive Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Bran-coloured, Sooty-crowned and Vermillion Flycatchers, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Black-and-white and One-coloured 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 Brush-Finches. Other birds we can expect to find in these woods are Line-cheeked Spinetail and Loja and Tumbesian Tyrannulets (split from Golden-faced and Mouse-coloured respectively).
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 (split from Unicoloured), 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 Brush-Finch. 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 and split from Rusty-breasted) or the Piura Hemispingus (split from Black-eared).
Southern Ecuador: Day 6 After an additional morning in the Jorupe area we shall drive to Vilcabamba for an overnight stay.
Southern Ecuador: Day 7 This morning we will drive up the unpaved road that leads to the upper slopes of nearby Cerro Toledo. Here in the fog-enshrouded elfin forest we will concentrate on the local hummingbird spectacle: our primary targets 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 (split from Andean), the near-endemic Mouse-coloured 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, also known only from this and a handful of other localities.
Afterwards we will drive to Tapichalaca for a two nights stay in yet another superb Jocotoco Foundation Reserve. We shall arrive in time to look for White-throated Screech-Owl at dusk and, with luck, we may even encounter the bug-eyed Andean Potoo.
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 is 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 tree tops 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-coloured Tapaculo and the recently described Chusquea Tapaculo, and if we persevere we may well see these mouse-like birds lurking in the undergrowth. Rufous 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 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) Brush-Finch.
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 this jay-like bird. 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 Equatorial Rufous-vented (or Long-tailed) 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.
Southern Ecuador: Day 9 After spending the early morning at Tapichalaca we will drive to the Río Nangaritza valley for a two night 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 10 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 and newly-opened 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 specialties inhabit this area, such as 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 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, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Lineated Woodcreeper, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, White-thighed Swallow, White-shouldered and Mouse-coloured 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 11 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 newly set up 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 our lodge are visited by Glittering-throated Emerald and Violet-fronted Brilliant, and at times by the localized Black-throated Brilliant. In this season nearby Inga trees are regularly visited by the pretty Wire-crested Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbird and Little Woodstars, 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 12 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 migrant Canada Warbler, the colourful Red-headed Barbet, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Ash-browed Spinetail, Montane and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, and Black-faced Dacnis.
Heading further up the trail, we will look for such shy understorey denizens as Black-streaked Puffbird and the diminutive Lanceolated Monklet, and while examining more canopy flocks we shall diligently search for the newly-described Foothill Elaenia which 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 (split from Green), Three-striped Warbler, Swallow-Tanager, Summer Tanager, 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 13 After some final birding in the Zamora area we will drivevia Loja to Saraguro for an overnight stay. We will travel along 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.
We will also visit the Cajanuma sector of the Podocarpus National Park where we will look for Purple-collared Woodstar, Barred Fruiteater, Pale-footed Swallow and Red-hooded Tanager.
Southern Ecuador: Day 14 Today we will be looking in particular for two rare and difficult-to-see species; Crescent-faced Antpitta and Red-faced Parrot. We will need a modicum of luck to locate either of these emblematic species. This superb mountain forest holds many 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. 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 Brush-Finch 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 15 In the last decades of the 20th century, the endemic Pale-headed Brush-Finch 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 (split from Amazilia) and Black-lored Yellowthroat (split from Masked).
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-coloured Grassquit and Grey-browed Brush-Finch.
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 16 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-coloured Coot float quietly on the shimmering waters. Skulking Ecuadorian Rails inhabit the reed beds, and we may also find Streaked Tuftedcheek, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet and Superciliaried Hemispingus.
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 endemic Ecuadorian Hillstar (split from Andean). Low shrubbery provides a 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 (split from Plain-capped), Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, Brown-bellied Swallow, Plain-coloured 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 17 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 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 Flycatcher 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, Pacific Fire-eye, Elegant Crescentchest, Baird’s Flycatcher and Snowy-throated Kingbird here. At dusk, we will look for the localised Anthony’s Nightjar.
Southern Ecuador: Day 18 After spending the morning at Río Ayampé, we will return to Guayaquil, where our Southern Ecuador birding tour ends in the early evening.