Ecuador is an amazing birding destination with a checklist of more than 1800 species and a variety of habitats. For this trip we would focus on the western and eastern slopes of the Andes, as we only had 12 days, so the Amazonian specials will have to wait for the next trip. Some of the highlights were Channel-billed and Choco Toucans, 5 species of Mountain-toucan and Toucanet’s, 7 species of Antpitta, various Antbird’s, Antwren, Antvireo, Antshrike and Antthrush. The Andean Condor is just such an iconic species and the main mammal highlight was a great Spectacled Bear sighting. We had 60 species of Hummingbird including highlights like Sword-billed and Giant Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel and Lazuline Sabrewing and 53 species of Tanager. Our lodges all had feeders which made seeing these two colourful families a lot easier and we ended up with more than 450 species which is remarkable as we spend all of our time in forest habitats. Below is a daily report with only some of the highlights mentioned.
Arrival Day: Jerusalem dry forest and garden birds
Since most of the group arrived a day early we decided to visit the nearby dry forest of the Jerusalem Reserve. This habitat does not hold the number of birds that we will be seeing the rest of the trip but it did give us a chance to see this unique habitat and to pick up a few birds that we will not see elsewhere. On the way we stopped at a pond for Andean Teal, Andean coot, Yellow-billed Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe and a Greater Yellowlegs. The dry forest did produce some birds like Purple-collared Woodstar, Harris Hawk, Variable Hawk, American Kestrel, Vermillion Flycatcher, Azara Spinetail, House Wren, Giant Hummingbird, Ash-breasted Sierra-finch, Pale-banded Seedeater and White-collared Swift. For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed the great garden birds at our Guesthouse and saw Sparkling Violetear, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Saffron Finch, Scrub, Blue-grey and Blue and Yellow Tanager, Great Thrush, American Kestrel, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Golden Grosbeak, Rusty Flowerpiercer and Western Emerald. It was a great introduction into the more common birds found around Quito and got everyone excited about what was about to come – and we were in for a real treat.
Day 1: Yanacocha and the Tandayapa Valley
After an early breakfast we were off to Yanacocha Reserve, managed by the Jocotoco Foundation, protecting an amazing patch of cloud forest. After a quick stop for Andean Lapwing and Paramo Ground-tyrant and a visit to the feeders where we saw Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Shining Sunbeam, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercer we were off on one of the various trails. The first 45 minutes didn’t produce many new birds except for Tyrian Metaltail and a great sighting of Tawny Antpitta so we decided to venture further down into the forest. This proved to be a great decision as we quickly walked into a few feeding flocks. Some of the highlights were a big group of Blue and Black Tanager, Barred Fruiteater, Yellow-breasted Brush-finch, Blackish Tapaculo, Andean Guan, Striped Tuftedcheek, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Great Sapphirewing, Hooded Mountain-tanager, White-banded Tyrannulet, Rufous Wren, Spectacled Whitestart, Superciliaried Hemispingus and Blue-backed Conebill.
After a very enjoyable lunch we started making our way down into the Tandayapa Valley on the famous Nono-Mindo road and although we did not have as much time to explore as we would have liked we still managed to see Golden-headed Quetzal, Beautiful Jay, Choco Brush-finch, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Blue-winged Mountain and Golden Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Lesser Violetear, Brown-capped Vireo and White-tailed Tyrannulet.
We had a fantastic view of a White-capped Dipper and we heard Andean Cock-of-a-rock and with the knowledge that we will be visiting a lek in a few days we somehow resisted the temptation to explore. Next would be Rio Silanche and Milpe Reserve for what would end up as one of the highlights of the trip.
Day 2: Rio Silanche and Milpe Reserves
After a quick coffee we were off to the Rio Silanche Reserve where we wanted to spend the first few hours of the day at the famous viewing tower. After a quick stop for Common Pauraque, which also produced Collared Aracari, Rufous Motmot, Laughing Falcon and Lemon-rumped Tanager, we hurried to get to the platform as soon as possible. And what a fantastic few hours followed. We were treated to great views of Choco Toucan (one of the main targets for this trip), Pale-mandibled Aracari, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Orange-fronted Barbet, Southern Mealy and Bronze-winged Parrots, Dot-winged Antwren, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and Striped Flycatcher. We had several mixed flocks moving through which included Palm, Golden-hooded, Dusky-faced, Guira, Grey and Gold and Blue-necked Tanagers, Choco Tyrannulet, Northern Barred and Spotted Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Olivaceous Piculet, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Buff-throated Saltator and White-whiskered Hermit.
After enjoying our packed breakfast we decided to take one of the trails through the forest and started off with a Chestnut-backed Antbird, Checker-throated and White-sided Antwren, White-tailed Trogon, White-bearded Manakin, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Black-streaked Woodcreeper and Red-faced Spinetail.
From here we spend a few hours at the Milpe Sanctuary and even with a few very light periods of rain we still managed to see both Choco and Yellow-throated Toucan, Red-headed Barbet, Silver-throated, Golden, Rufous-throated, Blue-grey Tanager, Green Flowerpiercer, Yellow-throated Bush-tanager, Ecuadorian Thrush, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Green Thorntail, White-necked Jacobin, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, Green-crowned Brilliant, Purple-crowned Fairy, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant and Ornate Flycatcher.
As we got back to our lodge we were treated to a great spectacle at the feeders with White-booted Rackettail, Purple-throated Whitetip, Brown Violetear, Brown Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Purple-throated Woodstar, Flame-faced Tanager, Black-winged Saltator and a Black Agouti to add another mammal to our count.
Overall it was a spectacular day – the western slope of the Andes is a truly spectacular birding destination.
Day 3: Refuge Paz de la Aves
Today was always going to be a highlight and wow it did not disappoint!! After our customary early morning coffee and a short drive we were at the Cock-of-a-Rock spot at first light. Even as we approached we could hear the males calling and soon had more than 8 males in the area. We were treated to a wonderful display including a few perching less than 10 meters from us. While watching them we were distracted by a Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk and Masked Trogon. As we made our way up the mountain our first stop produced Powerful Woodpecker, Common Potoo at a day roost, Sharpe’s Wren, Red-billed Parrot and then Angel managed to call out a Dark-backed Wood Quail. The way he had them habituated to his presence was impressive but what was about to follow was a truly unforgettable experience. First he called out a Moustached Antpitta and we just missed a Giant Antpitta. From here we moved a little higher where got excellent views of Rufous-crowned Antpitta and Yellow-breasted Antpitta. Toucan Barbet, Black-capped and Beryl-spangled Tanagers were a very welcome distraction.
And as we thought that was it we went for breakfast at Angel’s place (best breakfast of the trip) with Golden-naped, Black-capped, Flame-faced, Golden, Blue-grey, Black-chinned Mountain, Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers, Toucan and Red-headed Barbet, Andean Emerald, Sparkling and Brown Violetear, Brown Inca, Green-crowned Brilliant, Buff-tailed Coronet and a pair of Crimson-rumped Toucanets coming to the feeders. Not bad while enjoying a freshly brewed coffee.
We made a quick stop at Alami to witness an amazing display of Hummingbirds at the feeders. We had Booted Rackettail, Andean Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Brown Violetear, Purple-throated Woodstar, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, White-necked Jacobin, White-whiskered Hermit and Velvet-purple Coronet to mentioned a few. Ecuadorian Thrush, White-lined, Lemon-rumped, Brush Finch, Golden-bellied Euphonia, Ringed Kingfisher and Golden-olive Woodpecker were around as well.
We made our way back to our lodge and after a quick coffee we were in a new hide as we heard of recent sightings of Rufous-breasted Antthrush and were not disappointed. After 10 minutes we had wonderful views of a single bird coming to feed on the moths. From here we decided to try to find Lyre-tailed Nightjar. A quick stop en route produced Buff-fronted Warbler and Torrent Tyrannulet before we had incredible views, both perched close to us and displaying, of the nightjar. What an incredible bird and end to the day.
Day 4: Bellavista Reserve
With an early start we were off to the Bellavista Reserve protecting a beautiful stretch of Cloud Forest. Forest birding is always most productive during the first few hours of the day but we decided to try a new hide where we heard good reports of insectivorous birds. And we were not disappointed for one second. As we arrived with the lights still on and plenty of moths around we saw Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush – what a beautiful bird. The next couple of hours just kept on producing brilliant birds that included Uniform Antshrike, Spillman’s Tapaculo, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Dusky Bush Tanager, Grey-breasted Wood-wren, Strong-billed, Montane, Wedge-billed and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, Western Woodhunter, Pearled Treerunner, Golden-crowned Flycatcher and Lineated Foliage-gleaner. These birds normally require a lot of effort to get a glimpse off never mind see so well. A quick stop at the Hummingbird feeders produced Tawny-bellied Hermit, Velvet-purple and Buff-tailed Coronet, Collared Inca, Sparkling Violetear, Spotted Hummingbird, Gorgeted Sunangel and White-sided Flowerpiercer. What a fantastic couple of hours.
It would have been great to stay a little longer but it was time to head up the mountain to the reserve. Our main target here was Plate-billed Mountain-toucan and we ended up with 3 different sightings. This was one of the main targets of the trip and we had a very happy group. That said I have yet to meet a birder that does not get excited when seeing a Mountain-toucan. Other great birds that we saw was Grass-green, Blue-winged Mountain, Flame-faced, Blue and Black Tanagers, Long-tailed Antbird, Sickle-winged Guan, Red-billed and Bronze-winged Parrot,
It was time to head of to our next destination but a bit of roadside birding produced Social Flycatcher, Pacific Hornero, Red-faced Spinetail, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Roadside Hawk and Swallow Tanager.
Day 5: Mashpi Cloud Forest Area
Today was our last morning in the western slopes of the Andes and we were hoping to see a few more Choco endemics. It was extremely misty and although at some point we could not even make out birds a few meters from us, we still enjoyed these unusual conditions. Luckily this didn’t last long and we starting seeing some good birds. A roosting Lyre-tailed Nightjar was a good start to the day followed by a displaying Golden-winged Manakin. What an amazing sight to see this beautiful bird move up and down flicking its golden wings to attract the attention of a nearby female. There we several Becard’s around and we quickly saw Barred, Uniform, White-winged and Cinnamon. Tanagers were all over and we found Moss-backed, Golden, Flame-faced, Glistening Green (a truly amazing bird), Blue-grey, Rufous-throated and Blue-winged Mountain. Yellow-bellied Euphonia, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Bay Wren, Golden-headed Quetzal, Variable and Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Rosy-faced Parrot, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, White-tipped Sicklebill, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmot and Golden-collared Honeycreeper.
White-throated Quail-dove, Black Solitaire, Orange-breasted Fruiteater and Indigo Flowerpiercer were all big targets and were all seen this morning. From here it was time to head back to Quito but not without a quick stop for coffee and taking a group photo when crossing the equator. It was time to move to the Eastern slopes.
Day 6: Papallacta and Wild Sumaco
With a slightly later start than what we have accustomed to over the last few days we set off for the Eastern slopes of the Andes. Our first target for today was a mammal and not a bird. After scanning for a lengthy period we found a male Spectacles Bear feeding against one of the steep slopes. They are the only Bears found in South America and we really enjoyed this sighting. Unfortunately the weather set in and we confronted with heavy rain, strong winds and sub-zero temperatures as we reach the top of the pass. This did not stop us from trying to find our next target, the Rufous-bellied Seed-snipe. After a lot of searching we had to give up as the weather was just too bad as can happen at 4200m above sea level. We did however see Stout-billed and Rufous-winged Cinclodes, Caranculated Caracara, Plumbeous Sierra-finch and Andean Tit-spinetail. Luckily we did work in an extra day to visit this altitude again so we will have another chance for the missing targets. From here we made our way to Wild Sumaco Lodge which will be our base for the next two nights. With a mixed habitat of Eastern Andes Slope and Amazon species this is a one of the more diverse birding areas in Ecuador. On the way we did find Long-tailed Sylph, Torrent Duck, Channel-billed Toucan, Rufous-backed and Crested Oropendola, White-lored Euphonia, Lined Antshrike, Cliff Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Fawn-breasted and Magpie Tanager, Violaceous Jay, Thrush-like Wren, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Green and Gold Tanager and Violet-headed Hummingbird.
Day 7: Wild Sumaco
Today we had a full day to explore this wonderful area. Our first target was the Ochre-breasted Antpitta and as we made our way down to where we were hoping to see the bird we ran into a nice mixed feeding flock. Blue-naped Chlorophonia was the main start with plenty of Paradise, Blue-grey, Palm, Golden, Golden-eared, Blue-necked, Spotted, Flame-faced, Bay-headed, Blue-browed, Swallow, Green and Gold and Orange-eared Tanagers, Black-faced Dacnis, Olive-backed, Olivaceous and Montane Woodcreeper and Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer around. We didn’t have to wait long to see the Antpitta and had the added bonus of seeing a White-crowned Tapaculo and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater as well. The Hummingbird feeders was very productive and we quickly saw Gould’s Jewelfront, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Collared Inca, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Peruvian Racket-tail, Long-tailed Sylph, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Many-spotted Hummingbird and Brown Violetear to name a few and most of this while enjoying a great breakfast or lunch. One of the great things about birding in Ecuador is that while taking a short break from walking or driving you can just wait at the feeders and continue to see fantastic birds. Collared Trogon was also found in the garden. As we left for the afternoon we found a Black Hawk-eagle flying overhead and Maroon-tailed Parakeet in the lodge gardens.
The afternoon was spend exploring deep in the forest looking for a few of the more difficult species. We did see a Amazonian Trogon as we started and by the end of the walk we had White-crested Tapaculo, Blue-rumped, Golden-winged and White-crested Manakin, Blackish Antbird, Black-faced Antwren and Russet Antshrike to name a few. We enjoyed a great night’s sleep with the constant soft rain.
Day 8: Wild Sumaco and off to San Isidro:
This was our final morning at Wild Sumaco and we were up early to make the most of it. We had a great start with White-chested and Black-streaked Puffbird, Short-tailed Antthrush, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Lineated, Yellow-tufted and Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Plain-backed Antpitta, Gilded Barbet, Ornate, Yellow-breasted and Plain-winged Antwren. A beautiful male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock from the eastern race was a great sighting and we had Blackish Rail out in the open. We managed to find Red-crested Finch which according to distribution maps should not be in the area. We managed to see a few very special Hummingbirds like Black-eared Fairy, Lazuline and Napo Sabrewing, Black-throated Brilliant, Green Hermit and Green-fronted Lancebill.
A few other nice birds on the way out was Black-billed Treehunter, Streaked Xenops, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Cliff Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Large-headed Flatbill, Short-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked and White-winged Becard and Slaty-capped Shrike-vireo. We arrived in San Isidro by late afternoon and enjoyed a wonderful dinner.
Day 9: San Isidro
We woke up with constant rain as we woke up that continued until about 11h00 which made birding difficult but the local Hummingbird feeders did produce Bronzy and Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Gorgeted Woodstar, Green-fronted Lancebill and Fawn-breasted Brilliant. Once the rain cleared we did manage to get a productive afternoon of birding in and did see Black-crested Warbler, Common and Yellow-throated Bush Tanager, Tropical and Solitary Cacique, Russet-baked Oropendola, Southern Lapwing, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Beryl-spangled, Blue-and-Black, Black-capped and Saffron-crowned Tanagers, Golden-eyed, Masked and Bluish Flowerpiercer, Olivaceous Siskin, Inca Jay, Mountain Wren, Rufous-crowned Tody-flycatcher and Handsome Flycatcher.
A late afternoon excursion did produce Sickle-winged and Andean Guan, White-chested and Chestnut-collared Swifts, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk and finally the famous San Isidro Owl. This mystery owl still remains unresolved with a subspecies of Black-banded Owl probably the closest known species. It sounds like if we will have an answer by the end of the year on whether this owl will be named as a full species or just a subspecies. Regardless we had fantastic views and a wonderful end to the day. We decided that for the following day we would try to catch up with a couple of missing species before heading further up the mountain for our final night on the slopes.
Day 10: San Isidro to Guango
We had a couple of hours to bird in the San Isidro area and although we were off to a fairly slow start we did mange to see Red-billed Parrot, Collared Forest-falcon, Montane and Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Lacrimose Mountain, Saffron-crowned, Blue and Black, Palm, Golden Blue-winged Mountain and Common Bush and Yellow-throated Bush Tanagers, Flavescent, Golden-crowned, Pale-edged, Streak-necked and Cinnamon Flycatcher, Mountain and Grey-breasted Mountain Wren, Collared and Bronzy Inca, Pale-eyed and Ecuadorian Thrush, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Inca Jay, Black and Chestnut Eagle, Smoke-collared Pewee, Subtropical and Northern Mountain Caciques, Oleaginous and Black-headed Hemispingus and Black-crested Warbler. Long-tailed Tapaculo kept us busy for a while and on the way to Guangu we did see Torrent Tyrannulet, Spectacled Whitestart, Red-breasted Blackbird, Russet-backed Oropendola, Ash-browed Spinetail and Band-tailed Pigeon.
After settling in and enjoying the fantastic hummingbird feeders at Guango where we quickly picked up White-bellied Woodstar, Sword-billed Hummingbird and Tourmaline Sunangel we decided to try the mountain trail with the Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan our main target. We had a great start to the walk with Rufous Antpitta, Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Grey-hooded Bush Tanager, Black-eared Hemispingus (good day for Hemispingus), Russet-crowned and Black-crested Warbler, Slaty, Chestnut-capped and Pale-naped Brushfinch, Cinnamon Flycatcher and Bar-bellied Woodcreeper. As we decided to head back to the lodge we did a final scan and we found the Mountain-toucan. What a fantastic end to the day.
Day 11: Guango to Quito
We decided to try and find some missing birds found higher up the mountain early this morning to hopefully use the better weather conditions in the morning. We had a very successful start when we stopped for a great Black-chested Buzzard-eagle sighting and ran into a nice mixed flock with Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Shining Sunbeam, Purple-backed Thornbill, Cinerous Conebill, Black and Masked Flowerpiercer, the absolutely stunning Golden-crowned Tanager, Brown-backed Chat-tyrant, Plain-backed Hawk, Pale-naped Brushfinch, Red-crested Cotinga and Plain-coloured Seedeater. We did manage to lure a Rufous Antpitta out of its hiding place as well. We did try to find the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes on top of the Papallacta Pass but again was faced with driving rain and strong winds so had to settle for a Tawny Antpitta, Plumbeous Sierra-finch, Rufous-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes and Many-striped Canastero.
Before lunch we did a quick walk around Guango Lodge and had great views of Mountain Caciques, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Capped Conebill, Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant, Smoky Bush Tyrant, Pearled Treerunner, Spectacled Whitestart, Turquoise Jay and Russet-crowned Warbler. After a much appreciated warm lunch (including a wonderful soup) we headed back up the mountain a final time a luckily quickly found out 3 targets: Black-backed Bush Tanager, White-throated Tyrannulet and the highlight a Masked Mountain Tanager. We arrived back in Quito by late afternoon with one more full day of birding left.
Day 12: Antisana
Most of the chat during breakfast was about seeing the Endean Condor as this was a big target for some in the group. After our drive up the Andes we had an excellent sighting of a Condor perching on a cliff (close to where it is nesting) and soon after moving on we encountered another two in flight. Caranculated Caracara’s were plentiful offering great close ups. An Aplomado Falcon was a nice surprise and soon after we had another of our targets – the Andean Hillstar. Regular stops produces Stout-billed and Rufous-winged Cinclodes, Black-winged Ground-dove, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Many-striped Canastero, Grass Wren and Brown Bellied Swallows. We saw our first White-tailed Deer and once we entered the open Paramo (offering great views of the Antisana Volcano) we saw more of our key targets in Andean Lapwing, Black-faced Ibis and Paramo Pipit. At Lake Mica we found Andean Duck, Andean Teal, Andean Gull and the main target the Silvery Grebe. We made our way back down to enjoy a wonderful lunch at Tambo Condor Restaurant overlooking the Condor cliff (at least one adult was present which was brilliant) with Giant Hummingbird around. We enjoyed a final dinner together in Quito before everyone left for the airport for the flights back home. It was a very successful and truly enjoyable trip.