The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Ecuador Tours

NORTHERN ECUADOR – The Ultimate specialities tour of the eastern and western Andes and the Chocó

Sunday 1st August – Tuesday 17th August 2021

Leader: Dani López-Velasco and local bird guides

17 Days Group Size Limit 7
Thursday 1st September – Saturday 17th September 2022

Leader: Julien Mazenauer and local bird guides

17 Days Group Size Limit 7

NORTHERN ECUADOR: OVERVIEW

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

Ecuador, bisected from north to south by the mighty Andes mountains and from east to west by the equator (after which the country is named), offers wonderful birding amidst magnificent scenery in one of the smallest countries in South America.

Once part of the Inca empire that stretched from Chile to Colombia and later a Spanish colony before it gained its independence during the 19th century, this small country possesses an extraordinary range of environments. Here, in a comparatively limited area, one can travel from towering snow-capped volcanoes to oxbow lakes deep in the Amazonian rainforests and from windswept grasslands to temperate cloud forests. It is thus not surprising that Ecuador has the highest bird species diversity for an area its size in South America. Over 1600 bird species have already been recorded from this beautiful country, twice as many as from the whole of Europe, and yet many areas still remain ornithologically unexplored! In addition to having many species that are widely distributed in South America, Ecuador has a fine selection of endemics and other species only shared with neighbouring areas in Colombia or northern Peru.

This wonderful country offers not only the ultimate in Neotropical birding but also one of the richest birding experiences on earth! Ours is the most comprehensive tour to the northern regions of Ecuador available, regularly recording a huge number of very special birds! This tour is also specially designed to see as many as 70 or more hummingbirds, something which is not possible anywhere else in the world within such a short time frame!

During our Northern Ecuador birding tour, we shall visit almost all of the main habitats found in the northern half of the country, apart from the Amazonian lowlands. We will look for seedsnipe high on the Andean slopes, gorgeously-plumaged quetzals and gaudy tanagers amongst the moss and bromeliad-encrusted trees of the cloud forests, toucans and manakins in the Amazonian foothills, skulking antbirds deep in the rainforest, scintillating hummingbirds breaking all the laws of aerodynamics as they search out blossoms, raucous chachalacas at dawn, confusing woodcreepers and ovenbirds, retiring doves and exotic trogons. Ecuador’s astonishing diversity of birdlife, welcoming people, short travel distances and good accommodations make birding here a real delight.

Our Northern Ecuador birding tour starts in Quito, a pleasant colonial city nestled in the central valley of the Andes below the Pichincha volcano, we will investigate some splendid patches of temperate cloudforest at Yanacocha, high on the slopes of this still active volcano, where hummingbird feeders attract such iridescent jewels as Sword-billed Hummingbird, Golden-breasted Puffleg and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill.

Subsequently we shall explore verdant cloud forests and paramo grasslands in the surrounding highlands and on the western slope of the Andes around Mindo. This is one of the most exciting areas for birds in Ecuador and amongst a plethora of new birds we will be wanting to see Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Empress and Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Buff-tailed and Velvet-purple Coronets, the gorgeous Golden-headed Quetzal, the splendid Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, the impressive Toucan Barbet, Streak-capped and Uniform Treehunters, Nariño and Spillmann’s Tapaculos, Club-winged Manakin, Orange-breasted and Scaled Fruiteaters, Olivaceous Piha, Beautiful Jay and the rare Tanager Finch. A star attraction in the Mindo region are the Giant, Yellow-breasted, Moustached and Ochre-breasted Antpittas that have been habituated to eat provided earthworms by the extraordinary Angel Paz!

Farther west, we will explore some remnant lowland forest for such Chocó specialities as Green Thorntail, the handsome Purple-chested Hummingbird, Chocó Trogon, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Lanceolated Monklet, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Stripe-throated Wren, Chocó Warbler, and the near-endemic Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, and Rufous-winged, Blue-whiskered, Grey-and-gold and Scarlet-browed Tanagers.

Afterwards we will venture further to the northwest and take a boat journey to Playa de Oro in the drainage of the Cayapas River in the Chocó lowlands. Based at a community-owned lodge, we will explore the vast forests of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve, where such dream birds as Baudo Guan and Broad-billed Sapayoa are possible. Here we have our best chance for the elusive Rufous-crowned Antpitta, nowadays thought to be a giant gnateater rather than a true antpitta, which sometimes joins raiding army ant swarms attended by Bicoloured, Spotted and Ocellated Antbirds. Other sought-after birds that inhabit the forests in this area include Semiplumbeous Hawk, Chocó Screech Owl, Five-coloured Barbet, Rose-faced Parrot, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Stub-tailed Antbird, and Scarlet-and-white and Lemon-spectacled Tanagers.

After the western lowlands, we will continue towards the Colombian border. On the way to the foothills, we will visit the swamp forest of Humedal de Yalaré where we will seek out such goodies as Black-breasted Puffbird and Brown Wood-Rail. Afterwards, we will head into the foothills again to visit the Awa reserve near Lita in the Mira river valley where our main targets will be the stunning Black-tipped Cotinga, Golden-collared Chlorophonia and the superb Golden-chested Tanager.

After spending some time on the western slope of the Andes and in the western lowlands, our spectacular descent into the upper tropical zone at the base of the eastern slope of the Andes will come as a total ornithological contrast. Here we will visit the superb Wild Sumaco Lodge in the Amazonian foothills. Birdlife is extraordinarily rich here at the edge of Amazonia, and amongst many special birds are Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black-mandibled Toucan, the wonderful Pavonine Quetzal, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Hairy-crested Antbird, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Grey-tailed Piha, Foothill Elaenia, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Buff-throated and Black-and-white Tody-Tyrants, the pretty White-crowned and Blue-rumped Manakins, Olivaceous and Rufous-naped Greenlets, Blue-browed Tanager, Golden-collared Honeycreeper and Olivaceous Siskin.

As we make our way back to Quito we will explore progressively higher areas as we ascend the verdant eastern slope of the Andes all the way to the Guacamayos Ridge. There are so many specialities in this fantastic area that it is hard to know which to pick out, but amongst the many good birds here are Rufous-banded Owl, Swallow-tailed Nightjar, Crested Quetzal, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, White-bellied and Slate-crowned Antpittas, Ocellated Tapaculo, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Black-billed Peppershrike, Dusky Piha, Yellow-whiskered Bush Tanager and White-capped Tanager.

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

Birdquest has operated Ecuador birding tours since 1989.

In years both are offered, this tour can be taken together with: AMAZONIAN ECUADOR

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

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

Climate: Rather variable. At low and middle altitudes many days are warm or hot, dry and sunny, but it is sometimes cool and overcast. At high altitudes conditions range from cool to decidedly cold. It often rains (and it may even snow at high altitudes) and it can be rather humid in the lowlands.

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

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • An extraordinary tour with a huge number of species recorded, even while focused on the many specialities!
  • Too many highligts to list them all! Definitely a must-do tour in one of the richest countries for birding in the world
  • An endless variety of habitats visited, ranging from the Pacific shore to the lowland forest of the Choco, the high Andes and the Amazonian foothills
  • More than 70 species of hummingbirds usually seen, including the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird
  • Very good photographic opportunities. Many tanagers, toucans and hummingbirds coming to feeders
  • A visit to the world-famous Angel Paz reserve, home of tame antpittas and lekking Andean Cocks-of-the-rock
  • The incredible Plate-billed Mountain Toucan and tame Toucan Barbets of the Mindo area
  • Rarely-seen birds at Playa de Oro, deep in the Choco, such as Broad-billed Sapayoa and Five-coloured Barbet
  • Searching for Choco Woodpecker and Golden-chested Tanager in the northwest
  • A visit to the extremely birdy Wild Sumaco Lodge, where more than 500 species have been recorded!
  • Chances of seeing the impressive Spectacled Bear in the Andes
  • Birding along the Guacamayos Ridge, searching for Peruvian Antpitta, while based at the famous San Isidro lodge
  • Enjoying Ecuadorian Hillstars and Andean Condors in the high andean paramo, where the scenery is breathtaking!

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Evening tour start in Quito area.
  • Day 2: Drive via Yanacocha to Mindo on west slope of Andes.
  • Days 3-5: Mindo area, including Angel Paz antpittas.
  • Day 6: Rio Mashpi area, then drive to Selva Alegre. By boat to Playa de Oro Lodge.
  • Days 7-8: Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve in the Chocó. Overnights at Playa de Oro Lodge.
  • Day 9: Playa de Oro area, then by boat and road to San Lorenzo. Visit Alta Tambo and Lita area.
  • Day 10: Alta Tambo and Lita area, then drive to Quito area.
  • Day 11: Drive via Papallacta pass to Wild Sumaco lodge on east slope of Andes.
  • Days 12-13: Wild Sumaco.
  • Day 14: Wild Sumaco, then return up east slope to San Isidro Lodge near Cosanga
  • Day 15: San Isidro and Cordillera de Guacamayos.
  • Day 16: San Isidro, then drive to Quito area.
  • Day 17: Antisana National Park, then to Quito airport for late afternoon tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

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)



2021: £4470, $6090, €4930, AUD8090. Quito/Quito.
2022: provisional £4620, $6290, €5090, AUD8360. Quito/Quito.

Single Supplement: 2021: £410, $570, €460, AUD750.
Single Supplement: 2022: £420, $580, €460, AUD770.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

NORTHERN ECUADOR BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Northern Ecuador: Day 1  Our Northern Ecuador birding tour begins this evening in the Quito area, where we will stay overnight at a pleasant rural guesthouse. (An airport transfer will be provided.)

In the garden, we might see Eared Dove, Blue-and-white Swallow, Cinereous Conebill, Golden-rumped Euphonia, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Southern Yellow Grosbeak and Hooded Siskin, while flowering bushes act like magnets for Sparkling Violetears and Black-tailed Trainbearers.

Northern Ecuador: Day 2  Quito, a charming colonial capital, sits at the foot of Pichincha (15,424ft or 4701m), one of four huge volcanoes that dominate the surrounding area. On clear days the towering snow-capped peaks of Cayambe (19,017ft or 5796m), Cotopaxi (19,345ft or 5896m) and Antisana (18,715ft or 5704m) can be seen in the distance. While the city-facing slopes of Pichincha have long since been brought under cultivation, the western side of the mountain is clothed in uninterrupted and magnificent cloudforest from the treeline down to upper tropical elevations.

Travelling via a maze of little country roads, we shall drive 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.

Northern Ecuador: Days 3-5  There are many excellent birding places around Mindo and certainly one of the highlights is a visit to Angel Paz’s property. In recent years, Giant, Yellow-breasted, Moustached, Chestnut-crowned and Ochre-breasted Antpittas have been habituated to eat provided earthworms by the deservedly famous local farmer and his brother. As long as these individuals survive (or are replaced), we will have a good chance of seeing up to all five of these normally very elusive birds! Recently, even Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Dark-backed Wood-Quail and Ocellated Tapaculo have been tamed by the ‘antpitta team’. We will also visit a lek of the superb Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks, where the smart males perform their courtship rituals whilst emitting their most unusual calls.

On the western slope of the Andes, we will visit the Milpe Bird Sanctuary (which protects some remnant upper foothill forest) and the Mashpi Road. A wide range of exciting birds possible at these locations such as Pallid Dove, 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, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Brown-capped Vireo, Spectacled and Slate-throated Whitestarts, Black-crested and Three-striped Warblers, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Dusky Bush Tanager, Western Hemispingus, Dusky, White-winged and Chestnut-capped Brushfinches, and Masked and White-sided Flowerpiercers. If we are fortunate we will even see the retiring Rufescent Screech Owl, the elusive Beautiful Jay or the striking Tanager-Finch.

Northern 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.

Northern Ecuador: Days 7-8  Our main purpose in visiting the tall Chocó forests of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve is to see some scarce and hard-to-come-by Chocó lowland birds such as Plumbeous Hawk, the rarely seen and highly threatened Baudo Guan, the superb Rose-faced Parrot, the localized Five-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, the restricted-range Dagua Thrush, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Buff-rumped Warbler, Bananaquit, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Guira, Grey-and-gold, Blue-necked, Golden-hooded, Bay-headed, Blue-grey, Palm, Lemon-rumped, White-shouldered, Dusky-faced and Tawny-crested Tanagers, the noisy Lemon-spectacled Tanager, Slate-coloured Grosbeak, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Scrub Blackbird, Yellow-tailed Oriole and Yellow-bellied Siskin.

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

Along the way, we will visit the rapidly shrinking swamp forest of Humedal de Yalaré. Although it will not be the most productive time of the day, we will spend some time in this area to look for Five-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.

Northern 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.

Northern 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 truly wonderful 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.

Northern 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. A fine selection of restricted-range species such as Napo Sabrewing, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked Becard, Blue-rumped Manakin and Olivaceous Greenlet only occur at these elevations and we 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 additional 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, Grey-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, Greyish 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 a few of these.

Northern Ecuador: Day 14  After some final birding 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.

Northern 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.

Northern 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.

Northern 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 ourNorthern Ecuador tour ends in the late afternoon.

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

ULTIMATE ECUADOR TOUR REPORT 2019

by Dani López-Velasco

 

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ULTIMATE ECUADOR TOUR REPORT 2017

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ULTIMATE ECUADOR TOUR REPORT 2016

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ULTIMATE ECUADOR TOUR REPORT 2015

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