Ecuador: Birding the Andes

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Thursday, November 17, 2016 - Friday, November 25, 2016

The best of the Andes including antpittas and a plethora of hummingbirds!

Come experience the diverse habitats and birds of the Andes. Our tour includes the lush subtropical forests of the western slope of the Andes in the Tandayapa Valley and the legendary Nono – Mindo area, the temperate forests at Yanacocha, the 4000 meter high paramo in the Papallacta Pass, in the shadow of the immense, snow-capped peak of the volcanic Antisana and its glacier, and the eastern slope of the Andes at Guango. We encounter a wealth of fascinating species – lots of hummingbirds with evocative names such as Gorgeted Sunangel and Sword-billed Hummingbird, trogons and quetzals, barbets and mountain-toucans, gaudily-plumaged tanagers, and maybe the superb Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Soaring over Papallacta Pass may be the very impressive Andean Condor. The unique “polylepis” forest groves at these high altitudes have their own special wildlife, and the clear mountain rivers support the “torrent trio” of Torrent Duck, Torrent Tyrannulet and the superb White-capped Dipper. We also have a chance of seeing three species of the notoriously secretive antpittas at a special feeding station! A sampling of the amazingly diverse South American birdlife amidst superb scenery!


• Marvelous birding in scenic and diverse habitats, from Pacific slope forests to Polylepis woodlands and paramo at Papallacta Pass.

• Hummingbird feeders with tremendous diversity and activity!

• Antpittas!

Day 1 - Arrival in Quito

The tour begins with an evening orientation at our hotel. Night in Quito.

Day 2 – Yanacocha, Tandayapa and Mindo

This morning we leave Quito after an early breakfast and head to the reserve at Yanacocha. This high altitude cloud forest site on Pichíncha volcano is a superb birding area that supports species such as Andean Guan and Imperial Snipe. Yanacocha is also a hummingbirder’s delight, with more than 10 species likely, including Tyrian Metaltail, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill and with luck Sword-billed Hummingbird. The Black-breasted Puffleg, a critically threatened endemic known only in this area, has been found here recently and we will keep our eyes open. We then visit Tandayapa for lunch, marveling at the amazing diversity of hummingbirds here, including Booted Racket-tail, Empress Brilliant and the wonderful Velvet-purple Coronet. We then drive on to the humid forests of the west slope of the Andes where we base ourselves for the next two days. After settling in to the lodge we bird the road to the town of Mindo or a local trail. Night near Mindo.

Days 3 and 4 – Nono-Mindo and Milpe

We depart before dawn on one day for a local farm that has become famous for the presence of three species of antpittas, Giant, Yellow-breasted and Mustached. We have an excellent chance of seeing these very elusive species as they come to eat earthworms provided by our host. We also have a very good chance of seeing the stunning Andean Cock-of-the-Rock as the bright orange males display on their lek. There are a number of special birds to be found in the forests around the Nono-Mindo area, and we devote much time to sampling the tremendous wealth and atmosphere of these forests. Some of the special birds that we hope to see include Gorgeted Sunangel, Golden-headed and Crested Quetzals, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan and Grass-green Tanager. If we are lucky, we could encounter the rare Beautiful Jay, Tanager-Finch or Orange-breasted Fruiteater. On another day, we continue along the road and visit a lower elevation area near Milpe searching for foothill species including specialties such as Club-winged Manakin and Moss-backed Tanager. Nights near Mindo.

Day 5 – Papallacta Pass to San Isidro

We take a pre-breakfast walk on the lodge’s trails to look for species such as Scaled Antpitta and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch. After breakfast, we leave the western slopes and drive through the central valley of the Andes, passing the Equatorial monument en route to dry paramo at a pass in the western Andes where we look for birds such as the threatened White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant and Purple-collared Woodstar. We then climb over Papallacta Pass of the eastern Andes and the continental watershed. The 4000 meter high páramo holds a fascinating group of high-altitude species. We hope to see Variable Hawk, Many-striped Canastero, Tawny Antpitta and, perhaps, an Andean Condor or two. We search nearby “polylepis” groves for specialties such as Giant Conebill and Black-backed Bush-Tanager. Lower down near the town of Papallacta, we watch for the spectacular Sword-billed Hummingbird as well as a host of other great birds like Shining Sunbeam, Great Sapphirewing and the colorful Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager. We also scan the Río Papallacta for the “torrent trio” of Torrent Duck, Torrent Tyrannulet and the superb White-capped Dipper. We then drop down to San Isidro Lodge for the night, looking for both Band-winged and Swallow-tailed Nightjars. Night at San Isidro.

Days 6 and 7 – San Isidro

We have two full days to explore this amazingly bird-rich elevational zone. Hummingbirds are well represented, including the staggering Chestnut-breasted Coronet and Long-tailed Sylph. Mixed-species flocks pass through the forest, quetzals call from the canopy, an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek is close by, army ants attract a host of followers, and oropendolas call noisily from their nesting colonies. The mystery owl is still present - looks like a Black-banded Owl, but not quite right! The list of goodies seems endless - Green-and-black Fruiteater, Striped Treehunter, Spillman’s Tapaculo and the superb Ocellated Tapaculo, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, White-capped Parrot, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Black-billed Peppershrike and Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer.

On one day, we start early, and head down the Loreto Road which has gained a reputation for its tremendous birding potential. Some of the great birds we look for include Amazonian Umbrellabird, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Cliff Flycatcher, Bronze-green Euphonia, Wire-crested Thorntail, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Orange-eared Tanager and much more. Nights at San Isidro.

Day 8 – Guango Lodge and back to Quito

We retrace our steps back up the eastern slopes, stopping to spend the morning birding the grounds of Guango Lodge. This is a particularly rich area, and we should encounter a wealth of exciting species – Andean Guan, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Turquoise and Inca Jays, Lacrimose and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanagers, several hemispinguses – Black-headed, Black-capped and Black-eared, Masked Trogon, Andean Guan, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Mountain Cacique, Dusky Piha and Slaty Brush-Finch. Hummingbirds include Mountain Velvetbreast, Tourmaline Sunangel, Golden-breasted and Glowing Pufflegs, Mountain Avocetbill, and White-bellied and Gorgeted Woodstars. Night in Quito.

Day 9 – Departure

Our tour ends after breakfast and with departure to the airport for flights home.

Dates: November 17-25, 2016

Duration: 8 days 

Price:  t.b.a. (2014 was $1,995 USD, $2,195 CAD, single supplement $185 USD, $205 CAD)

Tour Starts & Ends: Quito, Ecuador

You've come all the way to Ecuador - add on an expedition cruise to the incredible Galapagos Islands!

• Diverse birding habitats

• Some steep muddy trails

• Warm to fairly cool, especially at high elevations

• Good accommodation

• Bus or van with driver

• 4 to 8 participants with one leader, 9 to 12 with two leaders

• All meals included

On a typical day, we begin birding before breakfast, followed by a slow-paced walk in the forest. After lunch we have some time for a siesta or enjoy watching hummingbirds at feeders placed at the lodges. In the late afternoon we venture again to the forest. We may go spotlighting in the forest at night. Trails may be muddy, therefore good walking footwear is always recommended. Our tour also takes in the Pacific slope forests at mid-elevation, which are renowned for their diversity. At higher elevation, we will be birding the roadside a short distance from the vehicle.

Altitude sickness is not a trivial matter. Our trip is designed to allow considerable acclimatization time. Those with heart or respiratory conditions should consult their physician.

Weather varies greatly with elevation, and we should be prepared for a range of temperatures from chilliest forties to hottest eighties. Layers and a windbreaker would be the solution in the mountains. In all altitudes, we should remember to have adequate protection from the sun. We enjoy most of our excellent meals provided by the various lodges’ dining facility. Some lunches will be a lunch box in a nice setting or dine in local eateries. After dinner we will go over our lists and review the next day’s activities.