ULTIMATE ECUADOR BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Ultimate Ecuador: Day 1 The Northern Ecuador section of our Ultimate 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.
Ultimate 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 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 Brushfinches. 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.
Ultimate 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, 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, 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-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, Gray-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. If we are fortunate we will even see the retiring Rufescent Screech Owl, the elusive Beautiful Jay or the striking Tanager-Finch.
Ultimate Ecuador: Day 6 This morning we will leave the Mindo area, and will continue further west into the lower foothills and western lowlands. In the early hours of the day, we will visit the Rio Mashpi area. The big prize here is Rufous-crowned Antpitta and we will be hoping there is still a habituated individual in residence.
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.
Ultimate 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-coloured Barbet, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, the elusive 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.
If we are fortunate we will come across one or more of the most difficult special birds, which include the secretive Berlepsch’s Tinamou (which we may well hear), Tawny-faced Quail, Great Green Macaw, the rare Chocó Woodpecker and Olive-backed Quail-Dove. At night we shall listen for Chocó Poorwill and Chocó Screech Owl and then try to see them in the spotlight beam.
Many other lowland birds are possibilities 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, Chocó and Western White-tailed Trogons, Broad-billed Motmot, White-whiskered Puffbird, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Chocó 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, Yellow-bellied and Grey Elaenias, Black-capped and Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrants, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-margined Flatbill, Sulphur-rumped, Dusky-capped, Social and Rusty-margined Flycatchers, Tropical Kingbird, Cinnamon and One-coloured Becards, White-bearded Manakin, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Band-backed, Bay, Stripe-throated, House, Southern Nightingale and Song Wrens, 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-coloured Grosbeak, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Scrub Blackbird, Yellow-tailed Oriole and Yellow-bellied Siskin.
Ultimate 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-coloured 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 Litra area for the superb Golden-chested Tanager 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 Cinnamon Woodpecker, Green Thorntail, Russet Antshrike, Chocó Tapaculo, Chocó Warbler and Yellow-collared Chlorophonia. 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 very fortunate we will come across the rare Chocó Woodpecker or the very rare Yellow-green Bush Tanager.
Ultimate Ecuador: Day 10 Rising early, we will have more time around Alto Tambo and Lita to look for the special Chocó foothill birds.
During the afternoon we will drive back to Quito for an overnight stay, stopping to look for Ecuadorian Rail en route.
Ultimate Ecuador: Day 11 This morning 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, 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 Wren, Black Flowerpiercer, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Pale-naped Brushfinch, Plain-colored 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 the recently opened Wild Sumaco Lodge for a three 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.
Ultimate Ecuador: Days 12-13 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. Many trails provide access to excellent upper tropical foothill forest, a habitat which is fast disappearing throughout the length of the eastern slope of the Andes. Although more and more settlers are moving into the area, a mixture of primary forest and secondary growth hosts a wide assortment of interesting birds. Several 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 shall make a special effort to see them in this bird-rich area.
A 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 specialities as Black-throated Brilliant, Buff-throated and Black-and-white Tody-Tyrants, Golden-winged Manakin and Olive Finch. Other species we may find at these elevations include Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Gray-chinned Hermit, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Wire-crested Thorntail, Gould’s Jewelfront, White-tailed Hillstar, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire, 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, Black and Blackish Antbirds, Rufous-winged and Yellow-breasted Antwrens, White-backed Fire-eye, Golden-faced and Ecuadorian Tyrannulets, the recently-described Foothill Elaenia, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Slaty-capped, Cliff, Short-crested, Piratic and Lemon-browed Flycatchers, Red-billed Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Olive-faced Flatbill, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-winged Becard, Masked Tityra, Thrush-like, Coraya and Wing-banded Wrens, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Cerulean, Blackburnian and Canada Warblers, Silver-beaked, Magpie, Paradise, Orange-eared, Golden-eared, Spotted and Summer Tanagers, Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer, Grayish Saltator, Blue-black Grassquit, Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch, Chestnut-bellied and Black-and-white Seedeaters, Russet-backed Oropendola and Olivaceous Siskin.
Harder to come by species at Wild Sumaco include Sunbittern, White-streaked Antvireo, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, the recently-described Foothill Antwren, the elusive Northern White-crowned Tapaculo, the unobtrusive and rare Yellow-throated Spadebill, Scarlet-breasted and Fiery-throated Fruiteaters, Grey-tailed Piha and Blue-browed Tanager, but we should be able to find one or two of these.
Ultimate Ecuador: Day 14 After a final morning at Wild Sumaco we will leave this remarkable area and make our way back to across the Cordillera de Guacamayos to San Isidro Lodge near Cosanga for a two nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Ultimate Ecuador: Day 15 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, 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 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.
Ultimate Ecuador: Day 16 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.
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 we finally reach Quito.
Ultimate Ecuador: Day 17 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.
After our last high elevation birding, we will drive back to Quito, where the Northern Ecuador section of our Ultimate Ecuador birding tour ends in the late afternoon. (Those departing today will be dropped off at the airport.)
AMAZONIAN ECUADOR EXTENSION
Ultimate Ecuador (Amazonia): Day 1 The Amazonian Ecuador part of our Ultimate Ecuador birding tour begins with an overnight near Quito.
Ultimate Ecuador (Amazonia): Day 2 This morning a short flight will take us across the high eastern Andes and then down into the vast wilderness of Amazonia. If the weather is clear we will have spectacular views of Cayambe and then verdant lowland forests extending far into the distance. Upon landing at Coca airport, we will travel southwards by road until we reach the Shiripuno River and then travel along the river by large motorized canoe as far as the remote Shiripuno Lodge, where we will spend four nights.
Amazonian boat journeys are always interesting and species we are likely to encounter on the journey include Cocoi, Great, Snowy and Western Cattle Egrets, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Yellow-headed Caracara, Pied and Collared Plovers, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Sand-coloured Nighthawk, Amazon Kingfisher, Swallow-wing, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Drab Water Tyrant, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Grey-breasted Martin, White-banded Swallow, Violaceous Jay and Giant Cowbird.
When we finally reach Shiripuno we are going to be ‘completely away from it all’ in this remote lodge where no sounds of generators overwhelm the sounds of the forest and where there are no urban lights to taint the glory of the night sky. There will just be us and nature. Now, this is true wilderness!
Ultimate Ecuador (Amazonia): Days 3-5 One of the main attractions of Shiripuno Lodge is the superb trail system running through rolling terra firme forest. We will devote most of our time to this exciting, bird-rich Amazonian habitat, which dominates the landscape at Shiripuno.
We will look for fruiting trees which might attract Masked, Opal-rumped and Opal-crowned Tanagers, while canopy flocks may well feature such birds as Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner, Wedge-billed, Cinnamon-throated and Lineated Woodcreepers, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Dugand’s Antwren, Zimmer’s Flatbill, Pink-throated Becard, Wing-barred Piprites, and Dusky-capped and Lemon-chested Greenlets.
The understorey has a different assembly of birds that makes its rounds, and in roving parties led by the relentlessly-searching Cinereous Antshrike, we may well find Spix’s Woodcreeper, Olive-backed Foliage-gleaner, Fasciated, Plain-winged and Dusky-throated Antshrikes, and Plain-throated, Ornate, Rufous-tailed, White-flanked and Gray Antwrens. More unobtrusive forest dwellers include Brown Nunlet and Double-banded Pygmy Tyrant. The trails also give us a good chance to connect with army ants and their special followers, such as Sooty, White-plumed, White-cheeked and Bicoloured Antbirds, and Reddish-winged Bare-eye. Interesting species not usually found at the Napo include Ocellated Woodcreeper and Yellow-browed Antbird.
The dazzling Fiery Topaz is the most special ‘hummer’ here and we should be able to admire this spectacular creature at least once during our visit.
One of the major attractions of Shiripuno is a high chance of encountering Salvin’s Curassow, a species rarely seen in most areas. We will certainly be on the lookout for this special bird and along the banks of the Shiripuno River is probably the best area.
Another major speciality here is the superb Rufous Potoo. Our local guide may have one staked out at a daytime roost, but if not we will make a big effort to locate this enigmatic nightbird after dark.
We should also encounter some of the more uncommon denizens of the area, which include the lovely Dusky-billed Parrotlet, the uncommon Red-shouldered Parrotlet, the splendid Pavonine Quetzal, the striking Collared and Chestnut-capped Puffbirds, the stunning Rufous-headed Woodpecker, Speckled Spinetail, the huge Undulated Antshrike, Yasuni Antwren, the elusive Rio Suno Antwren and the magnificent but very localized Black-necked Red-Cotinga. There is even a chance of coming across a Crested Eagle or a Harpy Eagles,
Amongst the many other birds we may well see during our visit to Shiripuno Lodge, or later at Sani Lodge, are Striated Heron, Rufescent Tiger Heron, the extraordinary Boat-billed Heron, Osprey, Short-tailed and White Hawks, Black Caracara, the raucous Red-throated Caracara, Bat Falcon, Speckled Chachalaca, the extremely shy but vocal Chestnut-headed Crake, Greater Yellowlegs, Pale-vented Pigeon, Grey-fronted Dove, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Black-headed Parrot, Orange-winged Amazon, Greater Ani, Tropical and Tawny-bellied Screech Owls, the striking Crested, Spectacled and Black-banded Owls, Common, Long-tailed and Great Potoos, White-bearded and Great-billed Hermits, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Short-tailed Swift, Neotropical Palm Swift, Black-tailed, Amazonian (or Amazonian White-tailed), Collared, Black-throated and Amazonian Violaceous Trogons, White-eared, Yellow-billed and Brown Jacamars, Amazonian Motmot, Black-fronted, White-fronted and Yellow-billed Nunbirds, Gilded and Lemon-throated Barbets, Golden-collared Toucanet, Many-banded and Ivory-billed Aracaris, Channel-billed and White-throated Toucans, and Cream-coloured, Chestnut, Red-stained and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers.
Passerines include Long-billed, Amazonian Barred and Black-banded Woodcreepers, Ruddy Spinetail, Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Black-tailed Leaftosser, Pygmy and Moustached Antwrens, Grey, White-shouldered, Black-faced, Spot-winged, Scale-backed Antbirds, Black-faced and Rufous-capped Antthrushes, White-lored Tyrannulet, White-eyed Tody-Tyrant, Amazonian Scrub Flycatcher, Brownish Twistwing, Lesser Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Blue-crowned and Blue-backed Manakins, Spangled, Plum-throated and Purple-throated Cotingas, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, White-winged Swallow, Lawrence’s Thrush (probably the world’s best mimic), Purple and Green Honeycreepers, Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnises, Masked Crimson, Flame-crested and Fulvous-crested Tanagers, Rufous-bellied and White-lored Euphonias, Red-capped Cardinal, Oriole Blackbird, Casqued Oropendola and Solitary Cacique.
Nearctic migrants, seasonally present, include Eastern Wood Pewee and Blackpoll Warbler.
Whilst mammals are generally inconspicuous in Amazonia we have a good chance of seeing Red Howler, Dusky Titi, Common Squirrel Monkey and both Black-mantled and Golden-mantled Tamarins.
Ultimate Ecuador (Amazonia): Day 6 After some early morning birding at Shiripuno we will return to Coca. Our vehicles will bring us to the banks of the Rio Napo, where a motorized canoe will be waiting to take us downstream to the superb Sani Lodge for four nights stay.
The Napo river is already over 330ft (100m) wide in this area and has many islands dominated by Cecropia trees. These are the home of the spectacular Amazonian Umbrellabird, although we shall be fortunate if we come across this retiring bird.
Upon arrival at Sani, which is situated on the shores of an oxbow lake, we shall have our first taste of the area in the clearing around the lodge. Noisy Yellow-rumped Caciques engage in endless displays at their nesting colony, whilst quarrelsome Black-billed Thrushes draw attention to themselves from the bushes and flocks of Chestnut-fronted and Red-bellied Macaws drift overhead. As dusk approaches Pauraques and Ferruginous Pygmy Owls start calling. We will find it hard to go to sleep this evening, excited as we will be by the prospect of dawn and a real chance to explore this wonderful place.
Ultimate Ecuador (Amazonia): Days 7-9 Sani is one of the best Amazonian lodges for birding in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon, with many special birds.
As dawn breaks, the clearing around the lodge echoes to a strange but delightful chorus as Straight-billed Woodcreepers deliver their rising rattles and tremulous whistles emanating from the forest interior reveal the presence of Great and Cinereous Tinamous.
A canoe trip on the oxbow lake will allow us to get close to strange-looking Hoatzins which clamber away in ungainly fashion through the lakeside vegetation to escape the attention of the photographers. Rufous-breasted Hermits often zip between the Heliconia flowers whilst Silvered Antbirds teeter along the water’s edge. All South America’s kingfishers occur at this one lake or on the nearby Napo River: Ringed, Amazon and Green are not difficult to find, but it usually takes low water levels if we are to encounter the secretive Green-and-rufous and especially the diminutive American Pygmy. Lakeside vine tangles provide shelter for the resplendent White-chinned Jacamar, handsome Dot-backed and Plumbeous Antbirds, and the plaintive Cinnamon Attila, whilst high in a clump of Mauritia palms we may see the noisy Sulphury Flycatcher. At dusk or in the pre-dawn we shall also search for the near-mythical Zigzag Heron, and here we have a very good chance of coming across this secretive swamp-dweller.
We will make a special effort to locate the enigmatic and restricted-range Cocha Antshrike, until about a decade ago known from only a single female specimen. We will also be on the lookout for Azure Gallinule, Striped Woodcreeper and Yellow-crowned Elaenia. Another localized bird is the Orange-crested Manakin and we should see this rather large species in the varzea forest.
Whilst birding is easier in the clearings, around the oxbow lake or along the river, we shall have to devote much of our time to the excellent network of trails which penetrates deep into the forest. Here quietness and patience will reward us with an array of birds found only in the forest interior such as the sluggish Purplish Jacamar, the unobtrusive Short-billed Leaftosser, the gaudy Wire-tailed Manakin, the retiring Chestnut-belted Gnateater and the secretive Rusty-belted Tapaculo. We will surely enjoy a lek of the deafening Screaming Piha, the bird with the most evocative call in Amazonia.
Noisy flocks make their rounds through the canopy and fortunately here at Sani there is a superb canopy tower, providing unequalled opportunities for viewing the birdlife of the treetops at eye-level. As the birds one sees from such towers differ from day to day, it will surely offer us some superb treats during the course of our visit. In addition to enabling us to marvel at the sheer size of the forest giants, a few hours in the ‘roof of the forest’ may well reward us with quite a few species that are otherwise much harder to see well from thirty or forty metres lower down, such as Double-toothed Kite, Slate-coloured Hawk, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, White-necked Puffbird, Lemon-throated Barbet, Lettered Aracari, Slender-footed Tyrannulet, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Eastern Sirystes, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Black-capped Becard, Black-tailed Tityra, Thick-billed and Orange-bellied Euphonias, Yellow-bellied and Green-and-gold Tanagers, Fulvous Shrike-Tanager, Blue Dacnis and Crested Oropendola. If we are lucky we will also see one of the less frequently encountered canopy species such as White-browed Purpletuft or Masked Tanager.
A visit to Sani provides superb opportunities to watch a colourful array of psittacids that come down to eat the salt-rich clay on sunny days. The cacophonous congregations of Mealy and Yellow-crowned Amazons, and Orange-cheeked and Blue-headed Parrots, as well as Dusky-headed Parakeets, provides a spectacle that has to be seen to be believed.
We shall also explore one or more of the ever-shifting river islands that are strewn throughout the Napo River. For many years Amazonian river islands were seldom visited by naturalists and thus ornithologically overlooked. Only in the last decade or so have their highly distinctive bird communities been given greater attention. We will focus our efforts on obligate island species, which include Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Lesser Hornero, White-bellied Spinetail, Parker’s Spinetail, Castelnau’s Antshrike, Black-and-white Antbird, Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant, River Tyrannulet and Fuscous Flycatcher.
In addition, we may well encounter Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Mottle-backed Elaenia, Orange-headed Tanager and if we very lucky Grey-breasted Crake. Amongst the many washed-up logs, we will hope to find the cryptic Ladder-tailed Nightjar.
Ultimate Ecuador (Amazonia): Day 10 We shall reluctantly leave this marvellous part of the world behind and return by boat to Coca, from where we will take a flight back to Quito. The Amazonian Ecuador part of our Ultimate Ecuador birding tour ends this afternoon at Quito airport.