An Introduction to Ecuador: a Birding Paradise!


Saturday 16th - Monday 25th February 2019



Western Emerald 1

Hummingbirds will be a major feature of this mind-blowing tour! Western Emerald



Ecuador is widely regarded as one of the best birding destinations in the world and the rewards of birding here are unsurpassed. After just ten days of seeing numerous new families and having the intricacies of Neotropical birding explained, you will find it is highly addictive. It just does not get better than this and for those of you who would feel empty if you left Ecuador without a condor, we have included a short High Andes excursion in our tour. During our 2018 tour we saw and enjoyed 352 species of bird! A mind-blowing experience!

Buff tailed Coronet 1

We will have pretty close views too! Buff-tailed Coronet.



Itinerary


Day 1: Arrival in Quito.


Most flights arrive in the evening. You will be met at the airport and transferred to a comfortable hotel in Quito, the capital city.

Day 2: Yanacocha to Tandayapa.


We’ll start our birding in Yanacocha, a beautiful reserve in the elfin forest cloaking the scenic slopes of Pichincha Volcano, about an hour and a half from our hotel in Quito. Although the surrounding terrain is steep, walking here is easy and the birds are amazing. It’s a great place to start since most of the birds are easy to see and the diversity is lower than at the sites visited on the remainder of the tour, so it is the perfect introduction. There are mixed species feeding flocks with gorgeous mountain-tanagers like Scarlet-bellied, Hooded, and Black-chested, which mix with other species like Spectacled Redstart and Superciliaried Hemispingus. However, arguably it is the hummingbirds that will be the highlights of the first morning. Some of the hummingbirds at Yanacocha rank as some of the most spectacular in the world, and are easy to see by virtue of a marvellous set of well-placed feeders, which regularly attract Great Sapphirewing, Tyrian Metaltail, Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted Pufflegs, and Sword-billed Hummingbird. The reserve is run by an Ecuadorian NGO, the Jocotoco Foundation, and was bought in order to preserve vital habitat for another hummingbird, the critically endangered Black-breasted Puffleg. Although it occurs in the reserve, it remains rare and poorly known, and we would need a lot of luck to see it! After a full morning in the reserve, and taking lunch in the field on site, we will continue our journey towards Tandayapa, driving down the Old Nono-Mindo Road in the afternoon. This road is an established birding “ecoroute”, and we will make selected stops to look for a few other birds such as Andean Lapwing, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, White-capped Dipper, and with luck, maybe even Torrent Duck. There is always the chance too of bumping into another mixed flock, which as we are driving down in altitude into the subtropical zone, could comprise many new species like Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Capped Conebill, and Beryl-spangled Tanager. Later in the afternoon, we’ll arrive at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, where we will be based for the next five nights. We’ll try to arrive before dark to get our first view of the incredible hummingbird feeders, which can attract anywhere from 12 to 20 species in an hour, including Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Brown Inca, Purple-bibbed White-tip, Western Emerald, and Purple-throated Woodstar.

Day 3: Lower Tandayapa Valley.


A forest hide ten minutes’ walk from the lodge allows for great opportunities to see some very shy cloudforest species up close, such as White-throated Quail-Dove, Russet-crowned Warbler, Zeledon’s Antbird, Streak-capped Treehunter, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, and sometimes even Scaled Antpitta. The birds are drawn there by a large light which attracts a variety of moths during the night, and which are then preyed upon by the attendant birds early in the morning. We’ll return to the lodge for breakfast, which can also coincide with a peak of bird activity around the building itself; there are often several brush-finches (White-winged and Tricolored), Masked Trogon, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Slate-throated Whitestart, Toucan Barbets, and others, close-by and easy-to-see. Activity at the fruit feeders varies seasonally, but when they are busy they can be superb, with the likes of Golden and Golden-naped Tanagers, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, and several others coming in very close.

After breakfast, we’ll bird nearby trails and the entrance road of the lodge, looking for mixed feeding flocks that are formed by a variety of colourful tanagers including Metallic-green, Flame-faced, Golden, Silver-throated, White-winged, and Beryl-spangled together with other attractive passerines like Black-winged Saltator and Ornate Flycatcher. This walk can also produce some less common birds like Beautiful Jay, Golden-headed Quetzal, Streak-headed Antbird, and possibly even soaring raptors including the rare Black-and-chestnut Eagle.

The afternoon plan will depend on how we did during the morning; we might bird again the lower portions of the valley, or move up in elevation depending on which birds we decide to target. Weather permitting, we may stay until dusk to try to find some night birds, such as Lyre-tailed Nightjar.

Day 4: Mashpi area.


An easy dirt road passes through verdant cloudforest loaded with some absolutely superb Chocó endemics not easily see elsewhere, including Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Moss-backed Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, Glistening-green Tanager, and Buffy (Pacific) Tuftedcheek. With luck, this area could also produce Uniform Treehunter, Black Solitaire, or Esmeraldas Antbird. Other targets in the Mashpi area include Blue-tailed (Chocó) Trogon, Ochre-breasted Tanager, and Rufous-throated Tanager. There are dizzying flocks that roam the humid forests in this area, which hold birds like Red-faced Spinetail, Scaly-throated, Buff-fronted and Lineated Foliage-gleaners, Golden-crowned (Choco) Warbler, Slaty Antwren, Tawny-breasted Flycatcher, and Cinnamon Becard.

We’ll visit a small, local reserve where the owners have set up a system of feeders that attract some of these desired birds for us to get splendid views, and with some luck, some great photos. The hummer feeders attract some of the more localized species, and this is our best chance to see the astonishing Velvet-purple Coronet and the elegant Empress Brilliant. The plan for the afternoon is somewhat flexible depending on the weather, and we might bird some lower elevations where sometimes we can find rarities like Black-tipped Cotinga and White-ringed Flycatcher, or we may return to Tandayapa early and have more time around the lodge.

Day 5: Upper Tandayapa Valley


After breakfast, we head up the road to higher elevations of the valley (about a 20-minute drive), looking for the very rare Tanager Finch, the beautiful Toucan Barbet, and the spectacular Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. A host of other subtropical species also occur such as Gorgeted Sunangel, Collared Inca, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Grass-green Tanager, Dusky Chlorospingus (Bush-Tanager), and Pearled Treerunner. After returning to the lodge for lunch, we might spend some extra time at the hummer feeders before we head out again. Later that afternoon, depending on rain and bird activity around the lodge, there may be another, optional, excursion a short distance upslope from the lodge. Those who wish to soak up more hummingbirds or simply spend some further time relaxing around the lodge, are welcome to do to. We typically return to the upper valley to try for more difficult skulkers like Plain-tailed Wren, Striped Treehunter, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Ocellated Tapaculo, or Chestnut-crowned Antpitta. Day 6: Rio Silanche. We’ll spend the day in lowland tropical rainforest at the Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary, and we can expect to see loads of new birds. It’s a 1½ hour drive, but well worth it when the birds start coming in thick and fast. Luckily, after the previous five days, you will be ready for this onslaught. A whole host of new and spectacular tanagers is possible, such as Scarlet-browed, Rufous-winged, Grey-and-gold, Guira, Blue-necked, Bay-headed, and Golden-hooded, and up to four species of dacnis can be seen here on a good day. Understory flocks can hold a bewildering array of skulkers like antwrens, foliage-gleaners, and flycatchers, while larger birds can include several species of trogon, toucans, and maybe even some interesting raptors. The area is also rich in woodpeckers, with Guayaquil, Lineated, Cinnamon, Golden-olive, Black-cheeked, and Red-rumped all possible, along with Olivaceous Piculet too. There are also puffbirds in the area with both White-whiskered and Barred Puffbirds regularly seen. While the habitat is very fragmented, the combination of forest edge, cleared areas, pastures, plantations, and remaining forest patches lead to big day lists; it is not uncommon to pick up well over a hundred species in a day here, and therefore it is easy to see why it is often a favourite. The area is also good for toucans and parrots, with afternoon drives along the road near the reserve regularly finding Choco and Black-mandibled (Chestnut-mandibled) Toucans, Collared (Pale-mandibled) Aracari, and Bronze-winged Parrot. The birding is along roads and easy trails, with the toughest aspect of the day being the high humidity of the lowlands.

Day 7: Paz de Aves and Calacali to Quito.


Paz de Aves is a small, private, reserve near the town of Mindo, and is sure to be a highlight of the tour. Here, a local farmer became an instant birding sensation when he started feeding worms to Giant, Moustached, Yellow-breasted, Ochre-breasted, and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas with amazing success. Every visit is different, but we typically see at least two antpittas, and sometimes more. The appeal of this site is that these normally shy birds of the dark forest floor often come into view and can be seen very well by everyone present. We will need to leave very early in order to get there at dawn, as the antpittas are not the only attraction on site. At dawn (around 06:00am), it is possible to watch the amazing displays of a handful of male Andean Cock-of-the-rock, which gather each day at “leks” in order to compete for the attraction of any passing females. The trail down into the forest is quite steep and sometimes muddy though not very long, and a walking stick is recommended. The reserve also has a small set of hummingbird feeders which regularly bring in the spectacular Velvet-purple Coronet and Empress Brilliant, if we did not see them at Tandayapa or Mashpi. Other possibilities here include Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, Toucan Barbet, Olivaceous Piha, and Sickle-winged Guan. We’ll return to Tandayapa for lunch, and, after some final time with the hummingbirds of Tandayapa, we’ll pack up and head back to Quito. We’ll make a short stop along the way at some dry montane scrub, which holds species like the rare White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, Golden-rumped Euphonia, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Black-tailed Trainbearer, and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch. Overnight in a comfortable Quito hotel.

Day 8: Antisana Reserve.


This reserve just east of the city is one of the best high-altitude sites in Ecuador. On clear days, you can enjoy some of the most dramatic views in Ecuador, and the combination of great scenery and easy birding often mark this as people’s favourite site of the tour. Birding in the shadow of the huge snow cone of Volcan Antisana we will seek out Ecuador’s national bird, the Andean Condor, as well as Black-faced (Andean) Ibis, the exquisite Ecuadorian Hillstar, and numerous páramo species such as Chestnut-winged Cinclodes (Bar-winged) and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Streak-backed Canastero, Plain-capped (Paramo) Ground-Tyrant, Paramo Pipit, and Black-winged Ground-Dove. A large lake nearby usually has Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Ruddy (Andean Duck), and, sometimes, Silvery Grebe.

After lunch, we’ll drive over the Andes and stay at Guango Lodge for the night, which is beside a rushing river than often has Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper, and boasts great hummingbird feeders. There will be time in the afternoon to take in the sight of the many hummingbirds buzzing around their feeders which attract species that we may have encountered before like Collared Inca, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, and Sword-billed Hummingbird, alongside others which are sure to be new, like Tourmaline Sunangel, White-bellied Woodstar, Long-tailed Sylph and Chestnut-breasted Coronet.

Day 9: Papallacta and Guango.


The exact plan for the day often is weather-dependent, but typically we start the day in some otherworldly treeline forest looking for Masked Mountain-Tanager, Black-backed Bush-Tanager, Agile Tit-Tyrant, Paramo Seedeater, Shining Sunbeam, Viridian Metaltail, and White-chinned Thistletail, and other targets before driving back up into the paramo grasslands higher up. We’ll check stands of Polylepis woodland for Giant Conebill and seek out the beautiful Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe in the paramo itself. A few hummers even eke out a living up here, like Viridian Metaltail, Ecuadorian Hillstar, and Blue-mantled Thornbill. We’ll return to Guango for lunch, and bird there for a few hours, looking for mixed flocks with colourful birds like Lacrimose and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Blue-and-black Tanager, and Black-capped Hemispingus. We can also search again for Torrent Duck if needed. Late in the afternoon, we’ll return to Quito for our farewell dinner together.

Day 10: Departure.


Our tour ends today with a transfer to the airport.

As always with Birdwatching Trips, our tours include a maximum of six guests plus at least two professional guides to ensure the highest levels of individual attention and to make sure that everyone has the best possible views of all the birds we encounter. This exceptionally high guest:guide ratio, together with the emphasis on comfortable ensuite accommodation, makes our Birdwatching Trips a unique and unforgettable birdwatching experience. We want you to have the best possible Birdwatching Trip with us!

Our tour includes:
All accommodation in shared ensuite twin/double rooms in comfortable hotels and lodges as indicated above (single rooms are available, sorry but we do have to pass on the single room supplement); all meals (breakfast, lunch and evening meal) from evening meal on Day 1 though to breakfast on Day 10; soft drinks/drinking water with meals; drinking water throughout the trip; ground transportation with a local driver; group airport transfer at the start/end of the trip; guiding throughout by at least two professional English-speaking guides; entrance fees to all parks, reserves and other sites mentioned in the itinerary; use of our field guides and top-of-the-range Leica telescopes; individual checklists of the birds we will be looking for.

Not included are:
International flights to/from Ecuador; visa and passport fees; departure tax, currently $25 per person; excess baggage charges; alcoholic drinks; additional drinks or snacks; extra excursions or activities not mentioned in the itinerary above; medical insurance and travel insurance; hotel extras such as laundry, bar bills and telephone calls; tips for guides and drivers; any other items of a personal nature.

The price per person sharing a twin/double ensuite room is £3,330. Sorry but we do have to pass on a single room supplement of £300. A deposit of £665 per person will be due at the time of booking with the balance being due by 70 days before departure.

For more information or to book your place on this exciting birdwatching trip, please email us on info@birdwatchingtrips.co.uk. We look forward to sharing lots of exciting birds with you!



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