Day 1: Arrival in Quito
The tour begins with an evening orientation at our hotel. Night in Quito.
Day 2: Transfer to Mindo
We aim to depart mid-morning from the hotel so folks are well rested. We meet in the hotel lobby to discuss the trip and the day’s activities and then set out westward. Our first birding stop will be along the highway to the famous Mindo area. Driving this route we traverse over two iconic geographical features: the Andes and the equator. The birding here is internationally renowned: the northwestern section of Ecuador is known as one of the world’s top three biodiversity hotspots. Some of the special birds that we hope to see include Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Gorgeted Sunangel, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Golden-headed and Crested Quetzals, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan and Grass-green Tanager. If we are lucky, we could encounter the rare Beautiful Jay and Tanager-Finch. The area is one of great conservation value and at times it feels like we’re driving through a completely undeveloped mountain range. We arrive in Mindo at our hotel early enough to have time for birding in the evening.
Day 3: Paz de las Aves
We start our Mindo adventure with a visit to the always exciting Paz de las Aves reserve, where farmer-turned-ecoguide Angel Paz has pioneered a technique to lure normally elusive antpittas into the visitor’s view. Giant, Moustached, Yellow-breasted and Ochre-breasted Antpittas are possible here. Here also we will catch a close-up glimpse of lekking Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Señor Paz also hosts an array of fruit feeders that attracts gawdy birds such as Sickle-winged Guan, Toucan Barbet, Black-chinned Mountain Tanager, and others less showy such as Dark-backed Wood Quail and Olivaceous Piha. After a lunch in Mindo we explore a trail in the vicinity of Mindo. Night at San Jorge de Milpe.
Day 4: Milpe Reserve
Today we may start with an early visit to a private reserve that has been reliable for one of the most elusive birds in all of South America, the Banded Ground-Cuckoo. If this rare Chocó endemic has been sighted recently we will take our chances and visit the site. Afterwards we divert to more local birding in the Milpe area, including the nearby Milpe reserve run by the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation (MCF).
The Milpe area covers elevations hovering around 1000m above sea level and thus offers a slightly different array of birds than the higher Mindo area. Some of the specialties include: Chocó Trogon, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Indigo-crowned Quail-Dove, Moss-backed Tanager, and both Golden-winged and Club-winged Manakins. Night at San Jorge de Milpe.
Day 5: Rio Silanche
We venture out early to another MCF reserve: Rio Silanche with its canopy tower. Many a birder has had a lifetime best birding experience atop this structure, and we hope for the same! We focus on canopy flocks that pass by the tower. Patience may be needed but it is possible to come across a “mega flock” here—one that passes by in a seemingly endless stream. Specialties of the tower include Purple-chested Hummingbird, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Blue-whiskered and Scarlet-browed Tanagers, Double-banded Greytail, Tiny Hawk and Orange-fronted Barbet.
With packed lunch in hand we explore this reserve during the early afternoon looking for exciting birds, and on our return to the lodge we’ll check out another roadside birding spot. Night at San Jorge de Milpe.
Day 6: Around our lodge and transfer to Chocó Lodge
Before breakfast we’ll explore the trails in the vicinity of the lodge in the search for roosting owls or antbird flocks that have been staked out by the staff. The lodge grounds offer excellent birding and also the opportunity for a coffee on the veranda if needed. A local tayra (mustelid) usually makes the rounds after breakfast and toucans and a myriad of hummingbirds visit the feeders. Later, we make our way toward the Pacific, stopping for lunch at a lowland town where fresh passion fruit will be on the menu. Soon we’ll continue to the remote Rio Canandé Reserve, stopping to look for Slate-colored Seedeater en route. We plan to arrive in time for some afternoon birding in this wonderful reserve run by the Jocotoco Foundation. Night at Chocó Lodge.
Days 7 and 8: Chocó Lodge and vicinity
We’ll have two full mornings exploring the trails and comfortable facilities at Rio Canandé. Birding will be exceptional! During our two days at this magnificent tract of Chocó rainforest we look for specialties such as Baudó Guan, Berlepch’s Tinamou, Chocó Tapaculo, Great Green Macaw, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Golden-chested and Scarlet-and-white Tanager, not to mention the interesting Broad-billed Sapayoa and stunning Black-tipped Cotinga. Another elusive skulker, the Rufous-crowned Antpitta is also possible here and we’ll keep our eyes peeled. Nights at Chocó Lodge.
Day 9. Return to Mindo
After early morning birding, we leave this amazing place and return to Mindo. Night near Mindo.
Day 10. Mashpi Road and return to Quito
Today we visit the Mashpi area, a site for specialties that are otherwise difficult to find in northwestern Ecuador. We’ll look for Indigo Flowerpiercer, Glistening-green and Rufous-throated Tanagers, Pacific Tuftedcheek, Beautiful Jay, Black Solitaire, and with luck might encounter the rare Chocó Vireo among other surprises. We’ll enjoy a drive along a rolling expanse of Ecuadorian countryside and along the way stop at several patches of intact forest. Depending on our progress one of our stops may include a hike to an Oilbird cave. We arrive in Quito in plenty of time for our evening flights back home.