SWIFT ECUADOR TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Swift Ecuador: Day 1 Our tour begins this evening in the Quito area, where we will stay overnight at a pleasant rural guesthouse. 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.
Swift Ecuador: Day 2 Quito, the charming colonial capital of Ecuador, sits at the foot of Pichincha (15,424ft or 4701m), one of four huge volcanoes that dominate the surrounding area. On clear days the towering snow-capped peaks of Cayambe (19,017ft or 5796m), Cotopaxi (19,345ft or 5896m) and Antisana (18,715ft or 5704m) can be seen in the distance. While the city-facing slopes of Pichincha have long since been brought under cultivation, the western side of the mountain is clothed in uninterrupted and magnificent cloudforest from the treeline down to upper tropical elevations.
Travelling via a maze of little country roads, we shall drive up the volcano to Yanacocha, an area of extraordinarily beautiful upper temperate forest that seems light years away from the bustling city. Here an amazing set of feeders attracts a bewildering variety of hummingbirds, and we are likely to see Shining Sunbeam, Mountain Velvetbreast, Great Sapphirewing, the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird, Golden-breasted and Sapphire-vented Pufflegs, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Tyrian Metaltail and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, whilst sneaky Glossy and Masked Flowerpiercers, their sharp bills crossed at the tip like tiny secateurs, steal away the sweet liquid by nipping at the bases of some nearby flowers. This is also one of the best places in the country to see the exquisite Black-chested Mountain-Tanager.
Among the other birds we may find in this invigorating habitat are Andean Pygmy-Owl, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Azara’s and White-browed Spinetails, Pearled Treerunner, Blackish Tapaculo, White-throated Tyrannulet, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, Barred Fruiteater, Brown-belied Swallow, Great Thrush, Rufous Wren, Spectacled Whitestart, Blue-backed Conebill, Golden-crowned Tanager, Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Rufous-collared Sparrow, and Rufous-naped and Stripe-headed Brush-Finches. If we are very fortunate we will even come across the delightful Rufous Antpitta or the much larger Undulated Antpitta. Later we shall descend the western slope of the Andes to the Mindo area for a four nights stay.
Swift Ecuador: Days 3-5 There are many excellent birding places around Mindo and it is easy to keep finding plenty of new birds.
Certainly one of the highlights of a visit to the Mindo area is a visit to Angel Paz’s property. In recent years, Giant, Yellow-breasted, Moustached, Chestnut-crowned and Ochre-breasted Antpittas have been habituated to eat provided earthworms by the deservedly famous local farmer and his brother. As long as these individuals survive (or are replaced), we will have a good chance of seeing up to all five of these normally very elusive birds! Recently, even Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Dark-backed Wood-Quail and Ocellated Tapaculo have been tamed by the ‘antpitta team’. We will also visit a lek of the superb Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks, where the smart males perform their courtship rituals whilst emitting their most unusual calls.
On the western slope of the Andes we will visit the Milpe Bird Sanctuary (which protects some remnant upper foothill forest) and the Mashpi Road. A wide range of exciting birds possible at these locations such as Pallid Dove, Chocó Trogon, Uniform Antshrike, Esmeraldas Antbird, Uniform Treehunter, the localised Club-winged Manakin, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, the superb Glistening-green Tanager, the odd-shaped Moss-backed Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager and Indigo Flowerpiercer. We shall concentrate on the mixed flocks that make their round here, looking for such specialities as the gaudy Red-headed Barbet, Scaly-throated and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Chocó Warbler (split from Golden-bellied), Silver-throated, Rufous-throated and Ochre-breasted Tanagers, and Yellow-throated and Ashy-throated Bush-Tanagers. Hummingbird feeders attract White-whiskered Hermit, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Andean Emerald and Green-crowned Brilliant, and we will take our time studying these beautiful, sugar-driven little creatures.
Other birds we will look for in these interesting areas are American Swallow-tailed Kite, Black and Turkey Vultures, Ruddy and Dusky Pigeons, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Bronze-winged Parrot, Squirrel and Striped Cuckoos, Smooth-billed Ani, Chocó Toucan, Slaty and Red-faced Spinetails, Zeledon’s Antbird, Ashy-headed Tyrannulet, Western Wood-Pewee, White-thighed and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Tropical Parula, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Swallow-Tanager, Buff-throated and Black-winged Saltators, Variable and Yellow-bellied Seedeaters, and Shiny Cowbird.
In the lush subtropical forests near Mindo we shall enjoy a lovely dawn chorus amidst splendid mountain scenery. Here the beautiful antiphonal song of the shy Russet-crowned Warbler fills the crisp morning air, Turquoise Jays add a touch of blue to the green wilderness and gaudy Toucan Barbets utter their haunting duets. Pearled Treerunners, Streaked Tuftedcheeks and Montane Woodcreepers search the moss and bromeliad-encrusted branches whilst White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts fly at tremendous speeds overhead. As the sunlight penetrates the canopy it may illuminate the splendid plumage of a Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, whilst a Golden-headed Quetzal may dazzle us with its fantastic attire. As the mist rolls in, swirling flocks of dazzling Rufous-throated, Fawn-breasted, Golden, Flame-faced, Golden-naped, Metallic-green, Beryl-spangled, Black-capped, Blue-capped and White-winged Tanagers may be seen feeding on the fruits of the silvery-leaved Cecropia trees.
Several sets of hummingbird feeders in the area, including one on our lodge’s porch, provide an unrivalled spectacle as Tawny-bellied Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Green Violetear, Western Emerald, Speckled Hummingbirds, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Empress and Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Brown and Collared Incas, Buff-tailed and Velvet-purple Coronets, Gorgeted Sunangel, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph and Purple-throated Woodstar indulge themselves on the artificial nectar.
Other species we may well see in this area include Barred and Roadside Hawks, Band-tailed and Plumbeous Pigeons, Red-billed Parrot, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Masked Trogon, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Crimson-mantled and Powerful Woodpeckers, Azara’s Spinetail, Spotted and Rusty-winged Barbtails, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Streaked Treehunters, Slaty Antwren, Streak-headed Antbird, Nariño and Spillmann’s Tapaculos, Sierran Elaenia, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Black Phoebe, Streak-necked, Ornate, Flavescent, Cinnamon and Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Green-and-black and Scaled Fruiteaters, Olivaceous Piha, Swainson’s Thrush, Mountain Wren, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Brown-capped Vireo, Spectacled and Slate-throated Whitestarts, Black-crested and Three-striped Warblers, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Dusky Bush-Tanager, Western Hemispingus, Dusky (split from Tricoloured), White-winged and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finches, and Masked and White-sided Flowerpiercers. If we are fortunate we will even see the retiring Colombian Screech-Owl (often lumped in Rufescent), the elusive Beautiful Jay or the striking Tanager-Finch.
Swift Ecuador: Day 6 After spending much of the day i n the Mindo region we will return to the Quito area for an overnight stay.
Swift Ecuador: Day 7 Early this morning we will drive up to the high Papallacta pass at around 13,100ft (4000m), first used in the 16th century when Francisco de Orellana led his expedition from Quito down into Amazonia. Nowadays the pass provides the only direct road access from the country’s capital to the vast eastern lowlands of Ecuador.
At the top of the pass there is a small pond surrounded by damp paramo characterized by the huge flowering stalks of the Puya, a terrestrial bromeliad. Here, if we are fortunate, a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle will be sailing by the jagged rock-faces and the secretive Noble Snipe could be encountered amidst the boggy ground, whilst in the shrubbery we can look for Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail, Many-striped Canastero, Tawny Antpitta, Paramo Tapaculo, White-throated Tyrannulet, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Vermilion Flycatcher, Red-crested Cotinga, Grass (or Sedge) Wren, Black Flowerpiercer, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Pale-naped Brush-Finch, Plain-coloured Seedeater and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch.
Nearby are a few patches of stunted Polylepis woodland where we may see the nuthatch-like Giant Conebill and, with luck, we will encounter a family group of Black-backed Bush-Tanagers. Overhead we may see Variable Hawk, while Brown-bellied Swallows often hawk for insects over the area. Stout-billed and Chestnut-winged Cinclodes hop over the rocky terrain and near the upper limit of vegetation we will search for the large but cryptic Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. By scanning the wires and bush tops there is even a chance of finding the handsome Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant in this inhospitable place. If the weather is clear we will be able to see the huge, ice-clad peak of Antisana and its associated glacier.
From the pass we will descend the eastern slope of the Andes to to San Isidro Lodge near Cosanga for a two nights stay.
The journey is a fascinating experience as we gradually wind our way down the eastern slope, enjoying breathtaking views of forest-clad hillsides and plume-like waterfalls plunging up to 330ft (100m) or more, and passing through some small Andean villages. Dense thickets of bamboo fill the gaps created by those trees that have succumbed to time and perhaps the sheer weight of their epiphytic guests. En route we shall check rushing mountain streams for the amazing Torrent Duck, marvelling at its ability to swim against the strongest of currents. Here we may also find the delightful Torrent Tyrannulet hawking for aquatic insects and watch a White-capped Dipper bobbing on top of a boulder.
We should arrive at San Isidro in time for some intial exploration.
Swift Ecuador: Day 8 Set in a beautiful mountain valley with forested ridges stretching away in all directions, San Isidro is an excellent base from which to explore the upper subtropical forest of the eastern slope of the Andes. Here the morning air is filled with the three-note whistle of the secretive White-bellied Antpitta. Recently the local guides have habituated both this species and Chestnut-crowned Antpitta to come for earthworm ‘handouts’, so we have a good chance of seeing one or both species at close range!
Hummingbird feeders attract Bronzy Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet and Long-tailed Sylph, while a quiet dirt road that heads up the valley above the lodge provides excellent roadside birding. Here we will check fruiting trees for the gaudy Black-billed Mountain-Toucan and dense stands of Chusquea bamboo for such characteristic birds as the secretive Striped Treehunter, the endearing Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher and the vociferous Plain-tailed Wren.
The steep slopes of the Cordillera de Guacamayos nearby are clothed in some of the country’s finest subtropical forests. Trees covered in aerial gardens of bromeliads, mosses and orchids form a green carpet on even the steepest slopes, and here we hope to find such gems as Black-chested Fruiteater, the splendid Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, the shy Dusky Piha and the delightful Handsome Flycatcher. Other mid-elevation birds inhabiting this misty environment include Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Blackish Antbird, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Inca Jay (split from Green), Sepia-brown Wren, Black-billed Peppershrike, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Bronze-green Euphonia, and Saffron-crowned Tanager.
Other typical birds of San Isidro and the nearby crest of the Cordillera de Guacamayos, where we will walk a trail that follows the ridge through moss-draped cloudforest, include White-capped Parrot, Scaly-naped Amazon, Rufous Spinetail, Flammulated Treehunter, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, the mouse-like Blackish Tapaculo, Ash-coloured and Equatorial Rufous-vented Tapaculos, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Rufous-breasted and Pale-edged Flycatchers, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Rufous Wren, Glossy-black and Chestnut-bellied Thrushes, Capped Conebill, Grass-green Tanager, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Common Bush-Tanager, Bluish Flowerpiercer and Subtropical and Northern Mountain Caciques, as well as many of the cloud forest birds we will already have encountered above Mindo.
At night a pair of ‘San Isidro Owls’ sometimes hoots outside our cabins. Looking intermediate between Black-and-white and Black-banded Owls but living at higher elevations, this form was initially described as a new species but has since been downgraded to a new race of Black-and-white Owl.
If we are fortunate we will also find one or two of the less frequently observed birds of the area, such as the elusive Wattled Guan, the attractive White-throated Screech-Owl, the splendid Rufous-banded Owl, the elusive Andean Potoo, the awesome Swallow-tailed Nightjar, the skulking Slate-crowned Antpitta, the very shy Barred Antthrush, the noisy Ocellated Tapaculo, the rare Greater Scythebill or the jay-like White-capped Tanager.
Swift Ecuador: Day 9 After some final birding in the San Isidro area we shall return to Quito, sampling the birdlife at progressively higher elevations en route.
In addition to many birds previously mentioned, today we may encounter White-banded Tyrannulet, Glossy Flowerpiercer and gorgeous Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers. A stop at the Guango Lodge hummingbird feeders will provide another ‘hummerfest’ and amongst the characteristic wing sounds and quarrels over the nutritious sugar-water we shall try to pick out Mountain Velvetbreast, the incredible Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, Tyrian Metaltail and the diminutive White-bellied and Gorgeted Woodstars. Higher up flowering shrubs act as a magnet for Shining Sunbeam and Blue-mantled Thornbill.
Our route takes us back over the Papallacta Pass before our tour ends at Quito airport in the late afternoon.