Introduction to the Birds of Northern Ecuador
FEB. 10-24, 2016
This tour will include visits to cloud forest, mid-elevation and lowland sites on both slopes of the Andes, plus high elevation (paramo) and Amazon basin locations as well. This itinerary is likely to produce 450-500 species. Although there has been extensive deforestation in Ecuador, we will tour preserves that remain largely undisturbed. Proficient local guides will be with us daily. Cost for the tour is $4,450 per person based on double occupancy. ($500 single supplement). Airfare is additional.
Day 1: Arrive via international flights to Quito and transfer to Hotel San Jose.
Day 2: Today we make our highest altitude foray of the trip, visiting Antisana National Park (this is what those warm clothes are for). As we approach treeline, we pass through the last hummingbird zone and our best opportunity to see Giant Hummingbird, Black-tailed Trainbearer, and Ecuadorian Hillstar, the highest ranging hummer in the Andes. Once out on the paramo (aka tundra), our focus shifts to larger birds such as Andean Gull, Variable Hawk, Carunculated Caracara, and Black-faced Ibis. Of course, the biggest prize is the biggest bird of all, Andean Condor. Although there are no guarantees (weather being the major limiting factor), Antisana is one of the more reliable places to view this ultimate icon of the Andes. Lunch will be in transit as we retrace our steps and then cross Papallacta Pass. Then we begin our descent down the eastside to our Guango Lodge destination. At the lodge hummingbird feeders we will get to see a throng of hardy, high altitude hummers including the preposterous Sword-billed Hummingbird with a bill way too long to allow it to perch while using the feeders. The balance of the afternoon will find us birding the grounds of Guango Lodge and the nearby river where we have a chance to see White-capped Dipper and Torrent Duck. Night at Guango Lodge.
Day 3: After breakfast we will be birding on the road above Papallacta Hot Springs for high altitude species such as Red-crested Cotinga, Rufous Antpitta, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, and Black-chested Buzzard Eagle. After lunch we will continue our descent down the east slope and arrive at Cabanas San Isidro in time to bird outside the lodge. Our welcoming committee may include Chestnut-breasted Coronet at the feeders, Russet-backed Oropendola, Inca Jay, and Crimson-mantled Woodpecker. On a trail close to the lodge we may luck onto a White-capped Tanager. Night Cabanas San Isidro.
Day 4: This morning we will bird outside the lodge with quite an array of species to enjoy. After viewing a planned worm feeding for White-bellied Antpitta, we will search for Highland Motmot, Black-billed Peppershrike, Rufous-crowned Tody Tyrant, and Barred Becard. We will continue to bird above the lodge with highlights possibly including Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Bluish Flowerpiercer, Southern Lapwing, and Black-billed Mountain Toucan. In the afternoon we will bird the back road to Baeza with a chance for tanager flocks that may have Saffron-crowned, Golden-eared, and Flame-faced. Wintering Cerulean Warbler is known to be here as well. From a bridge at a river crossing at the bottom of the valley we have a chance to see Fasciated Tiger Heron feeding in the rapids. We retrace our steps to the lodge, pausing at dusk at a known Lyre-tailed Nightjar spot. Night Cabanas San Isidro.
Day 5: Today we head into the lower foothills and the Loretto Road. First we will cross the Guacamayos Ridge with chances to see Green-and-black Fruiteater, Yellow-bellied Chat Tyrant, Yellow-throated Tanager, and Bronze-green Euphonia. Descending further to the Loretto Road, the roadside birding can be very productive with Lined Antshrike, Orange-eared Tanager, Paradise Tanager, and Purple Honeycreeper among the birds we will be watching for. Stake-outs along the road include Cliff Flycatcher and the increasingly rare Orange-breasted Falcon. Lunch will be at Wild Sumaco Lodge. Afternoon birding along the superb lodge trails may produce Golden-winged and White-crowned Manakin, Coppery-chested Jacamar, and Golden-collared Toucanet. At night we will have the chance to hear and, perhaps, see Band-bellied Owl. Night Wild Sumaco.
Day 6: Today we get to survey all that the Wild Sumaco Preserve has to offer. Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Long-tailed Tyrant, Gray-tailed Piha, Scaled Pigeon, White-eyed Parakeet, Gilded Barbet, Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater, and Black-mandibled Toucan are among many we will be on the lookout for. In the late afternoon we will relax in front of the lodge’s feeders. Hummers we will have a chance to see only here include Napo Sabrewing, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Green Hermit, and Black-throated Brilliant. Night Wild Sumaco.
Day 7: Today we are off to the Amazon. We will bird the east end of the Loretto Road as we journey to the oil town of Coca where we catch the boat heading east. We have a 2.5 hour high speed ride down the Rio Napo followed by our canoe ride into Sani Lodge-a lodge completely owned and operated by the Sani tribe. Our lakeside welcoming committee may include the prehistoric-looking Hoatzin, with its guttural voice, Greater Ani, with its preposterous bill, and the flamboyant Black-capped Donacobius. Late afternoon birding near the lodge. Night Sani Lodge.
Days 8-9: During our stay at Sani, we will explore several distinct habitats. Varzea, or flooded forest, which can only be accessed by canoe; terra firme which is basically unflooded forest, thus walkable; river islands accessed by motorized boat; canopy, which is accessed by climbing Sani’s observation tower; clay licks where parakeets and parrots partake of their mineral supplement. The timing of our visits to each of these locations will be set by our awesome local guides and by the weather. The bird list at Sani is nearly 600 species and we hope, in our relatively short stay, to see a cross section of birds representative of each major habitat. What follows are fairly likely encounters in each area. Varzea: Blue-throated (Common) Piping Guan, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Snail Kite, Sungrebe, Black-throated Hermit, Amazon and American Pygmy Kingfishers, Cocha Antshrike, Silvered Antbird, Cinnamon Attila, Orange-crowned (Orange-crested) Manakin. Terra firme: Rufous Potoo, Straight-billed and Great-billed Hermits, Amazonian Violaceous Trogon, White-chested Puffbird, Cream-colored Woodpecker, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Wire-tailed Mankin. River Islands: Capped Heron, Yellow-headed Caracara, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Pied Lapwing (Plover), Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Lesser Hornero, White-bellied and Parker’s Spinetails, Castelnau’s Antshrike, Oriole Blackbird. Canopy: Double-toothed Kite, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Lettered and Many-banded Aracari’s, White-throated and Channel-billed Toucans, Plum-throated and Spangled Cotingas, Flame-crested, Turquoise, and Opal-crowned Tanagers. Clay licks: Dusky-headed and Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Orange-winged, Yellow-crowned and Mealy Parrots
Day 10: Time to leave the Amazon and return to the highlands. Our riverboat return to Coca will give us an opportunity to view species such as Large-billed Tern and Swallow-winged Puffbird. Our flight from Coca brings us back to the high Andes and our night’s stay at Hotel Sebastian.
Day 11: We depart (early) for the west side of the Andes with morning birding at Fundacion Jocotoco’s Yanacocha Preserve. Located over 11,000’ on the northwest slope of Volcan Pichincha, this cloud forest remnant features various mountain tanagers, chat tyrants and hummingbirds-especially the hummers. Great Sapphirewing, Shining Sunbeam, and up to 3 species of pufflegs. Following lunch, we descend the old Nono-Mindo road to the Tandayapa area with productive roadside birding along the way. An afternoon stop at the Nunnery’s house will add to our hummingbird wonderment with Sparkling Violetear and Andean Emerald as well as cloud forest denizens such as White-winged Brushfinch. As we crest the Tandayapa ridge before our descent into the Mindo area, we will listen for the cover bird of the Ecuador bird guide, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan. Night will be at Sachatamia Lodge in Mindo, the base of operations for our west slope birding.
Day 12: This morning we are off early to nearby Paz de Aves, a working farm that has shifted it’s emphasis to ecotourism. First we will be entertained at a Cock-of-the-Rock lek where the males gather to entice females with their bizarre vocalizations and posturing. The adjacent fruit feeders then offer us a chance for close up looks at Toucan Barbet (one of the most memorable birds in Ecuador), Sickle-winged Guan, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and a possible glimpse of Dark-backed Wood-Quail. Next we watch as Angel Paz and his brother call in up to 4 species of antpittas at various spots on their preserve. Seeing a Giant Antpitta hop out of the dense understory is a sight not soon forgotten. Following lunch back at Sachatamia, we will head lower to the Mangaloma Preserve west of Los Bancos. This spot is a sanctuary for a number of west slope lowland species at the highest point of their range including Checker-throated Antwren and Dusky Antbird as well as our best chance for Long-wattled Umbrellabird. Night Sachatamia.
Day 13: We head for lower elevation today, beginning with the road to Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation’s Rio Silanche Preserve. West slope birds we may encounter include Purple-chested Hummingbird, Bronze-winged Parrot, Dot-winged and White-flanked Antwrens, and Black-headed Tody Flycatcher. Retracing our steps, we head for our lunch stop in San Miguel de los Bancos. This rather unattractive town harbors a jewel-right on main street-Mirador de Los Bancos. This restaurant with the unassuming front looks out on a majestic canyon in the back and maintains some of the most famous feeders in Ecuador. Food is great and, while having lunch, our sightings may include numerous tanagers such as Silver-throated, Golden, and Guira as well as ground dwellers such as Orange-billed Sparrow and Red-faced Spinetail. After lunch, we head a bit further back toward Mindo and visit the MCF Milpe Reserve. New hummers await such as western slope specialties like White-whiskered Hermit, Green Thorntail, and Green-crowned Woodnymph. Venturing into the forest area of the preserve we may find Choco Toucan and Club-winged Manakin, a bird that produces an odd, metallic sound with its wings. Night back at Sachatamia.
Day 14: Today we make the transition to the southeast outskirts of Quito. Our focus will be on the Mashpi Road, a cloud forest habitat northwest of Mindo that harbors a number of hard to find sw Colombian/nw Ecuador endemics such as Moss-backed Tanager, Choco Vireo, Indigo Flowerpiercer, and Black Solitaire. Following lunch in the field, we will drive back through Quito to the other side of the valley and our night accommodations at Hostal San Jose.
Day 15: Back to our lives in the states with, hopefully, a last look at the snow-capped volcanos of Ecuador as we leave.