Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
North-west Ecuador sites
Between December 2003 and January 2006 I lived in Ecuador and worked as a bird guide for Tropical Birding, leading tours throughout the country, but mostly in the north-west. This report covers the sites I used to visit in the north-west of the country, ranging from the lowlands to the temperate forest. There is an accompanying species list, which includes all the birds I saw or heard at each site. For sites I have visited on more than ten occasions, each species is scored according to the frequency I recorded it: 1= <21% of visits, 2 = 21%–40%, 3 = 41%–60%, 4 = 61%–80%, 5 = >80%. If you would like a copy of this list, please e-mail me. I have not given frequencies for sites in the Lower Tandayapa Valley and at Tandayapa Bird Lodge. I lived at the Lodge for a year and recorded birds every day. Each day would count as a visit, even if all I did was sit on the balcony for half an hour watching hummingbirds, and this leads to large underestimates of the frequency of the birds. The Tandayapa Bird Lodge website has a checklist that indicates the likelihood of seeing each species.
Things move quickly in Ecuador: new birding sites are discovered and others are destroyed. Trip reports from before 2000 do not even mention most of the sites that are now considered the best places to visit in the north-west. There are a number of very useful more recent reports on surfbirds, especially that by Frank Rheindt ( www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=433). These provide more general background information about visiting the country.
I had intended to include all the sites I visited in the country, but I it has taken me long enough just to write the north-west section. I have already posted brief reports on a few of the southern sites ( www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=760) and Sani Lodge ( www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=771), and maybe one day I will get round to doing the rest before the information becomes out of date. I have not included any photos with this report, but you can see my entire Ecuador album at www.surfbirds.com/albums/showgallery.php?ppuser=211&cat=500.
Birds in normal type have been recorded by others at the sites mentioned, but I have not seen them there myself.
Milpe Bird Sanctuary
The road at Milpe has long been known as one of the best places to see Moss-backed Tanager, but there are many other species here too, and it is a superb area to look for foothill birds. The forest at the end of the road is still being cut, but Mindo Cloudforest Foundation ( www.mindocloudforest.org) has a reserve that protects a patch near the start of the road. The reserve entrance is at about 1150 m altitude, but the end of the road descends to 900 m, and lowland species begin to appear here. A day along the road should produce well over a hundred species.
The entrance to the road is at the end of the village of San José de Milpe. The village is at km 91 on the main Quito – La Independencia highway. Coming from Quito, look for a hexagonal church and a bus shelter on the right of the road opposite the school at the far end of the village. The unpaved Milpe road leaves the highway next to the bus shelter. The entrance to the reserve is on the right hand side of the unpaved road, less than a kilometre from the junction with the highway, and it is marked by a large sign, an entrance gate, and a visitor building. You should buy your entrance tickets here, which cost $5 for non-residents. A network of trails begins from the car park, and a path leads to a sheltered viewpoint where there are hummingbird feeders. Trails from the viewpoint lead down into the forest and several head steeply to the river at the bottom of the valley. Others wind through the top section of the reserve and forest edge and are more level. There are a few other properties along the road that offer access to the forest, but I have not explored these.
A large lek of Club-winged Manakins can be found in the forest just below the viewpoint. They are there for most of the year and most of the morning, but they usually disappear between mid May and early July. Mixed flocks here are dominated by Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, with up to 35 other species present in the really big ones. These can include Pacific Tuftedcheek, Uniform Treehunter, Brown-billed Scythebill, and Pacific Flatbill (all rare); Glistening-green Tanager, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Russet Antshrike, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant, and Greenish Elaenia (all uncommon); and Orange-crested Flycatcher, Chocó Warbler, Ochre-breasted Tanager, and Rufous-throated Tanager (all common). The lovely Ornate Flycatcher is conspicuous and common. Pale-vented Thrush is regularly seen between October and May, but is less easy at other times.
Southern Nightinglae-Wren, and Esmeraldas, Chestnut-backed, and Immaculate Antbirds are frequently heard in the ground vegetation, and Esmeraldas Antbird can usually be seen if you have enough patience. Antpittas are not well-represented, but Ochre-breasted is here. Orange-billed Sparrow is probably the easiest of the forest-floor dwellers to see, but look out for Olive Finch too, especially by the streams (which are home to Buff-rumped Warblers). Black-headed and Rufous-breasted Antthrushes walk among the dead leaves, occasionally coming out along the trails, but the Rufous-fronted Wood-Quails are more likely to stay hidden.
Chocó Trogon is a scarce inhabitant of the forest, and the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation's poster boy, Long-wattled Umbrellabird is very rarely seen.
The Moss-backed Tanager is most easily seen early in the morning along the road itself, especially in the area about a kilometre beyond the reserve entrance where a local man is building some cabins and has made some trails for tourists. At the moment he is happy to let people on his trails if they have already paid at the Bird Sanctuary, but I do not know how long this arrangement will last. Even if he does charge an entrance fee, it is worth paying because the main mule track down to the river is a an excellent place to find mixed flocks and is very good for Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, as well as Moss-backed Tanager. Orange-crested Flycatchers are often along here, and White-bearded Manikins lek in the undergrowth. Barred Puffbirds can be seen around the forest edge here and elsewhere along the road.
The forest patch continues along the road for about 200 m beyond this spot, but then the woodland becomes a lot more patchy. The road itself is 10km long and it is worth continuing to the end, stopping at patches of forest along the way. This is the best way to find Chocó and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans (the former being the commoner here), Pale-mandibled Araçari, Bronze-winged Parrot, and, if you are lucky, Rose-faced Parrot. The open areas are home to Snowy-throated Kingbirds, White-throated Crake, Black-striped Sparrow, White-thighed Swallow, and Masked Water-Tyrant. Listen out for Band-backed Wrens squawking in the trees. Along the road there are several haciendas boasting tourist trails, but I have never tried these. As long as they have forest they should be worth exploring.
Near the end of the road there is a fork. The right turn takes you to viewpoint overlooking the river, and an extremely steep trail, which I have never been down. The forest around the viewpoint is good, especially for lowland species like Emerald and Dusky-faced Tanagers. The left turn continues through pasture and depressingly recently-felled naranjilla plantations. Where it bends sharply down towards the river a track leads off along a wide grassy ride through about another kilometre of forest. This can be good for lowland species, and I have seen Little Woodstar here. However, it becomes rather open once you reach the end of this block. The road itself carries on a little further through some forest to the river. Access to the forest is not easy here, but birds can be seen from the road. I once saw Black-tipped Cotinga in this area, and the area by the fork has been favoured by Rose-faced Parrots on a few occasions. If you come here at night you may find Chocó Poor-will, and a lot of Pauraques.
Access and accommodation. The road is usually accessible in a normal car as far as the fork. It is only a kilometre or so from here to the end. Buses to and from Quito pass by the entrance frequently from about 0600. Accommodation should be available in the new cabins, but the best place to stay till then is in Los Bancos. The bus will take you to the start of the road, or you could hire a taxi if you wanted to go further by vehicle. The Restaurante Mirador Río Blanco is about three kilometres along the main highway from the where the Milpe road begins (see the entry for that site).
Restaurante Mirador Río Blanco, San Miguel de los Bancos
This restaurant serves very good food and is an excellent lunch venue if you are visiting Milpe. It is also a good place to wait out thick fog or midday sun if these make birding at Milpe unproductive. Besides the cuisine, the main attraction here is being able to see birds just outside the window as they feed on fruit put out for them. Birds whose undersides you may have seen as silhouettes up in the canopy are here in full colour at eye level. I have seen sixteen species of tanager here over lunch, but activity does seem to vary through the day and is much higher on some days than others. The feeders also attract Orange-billed and Black-striped Sparrows, Ecuadorian Thrush, Scrub Blackbird, Pale-mandibled Araçari, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, and Black-cheeked Woodpecker. The usually shy Pallid Dove sometimes walks outside the windows if there are no people around to disturb it.
Mixed flocks passing through the garden can bring even more tanagers, bringing the total list for this family to 26 species. Rufous-throated and Emerald are probably the highlights at the feeders, but in the garden I have seen Glistening-green, Grey-and-gold, and Fawn-breasted Tanagers, and Yellow-collared Chlorophonia.
The hummingbird feeders do not attract a large number of species, but the adorable Green Thorntail is a regular visitor, and Green-crowned Brilliants, Green-crowned Woodnymphs, and White-whiskered Hermits are common.
Access and accommodation. San Miguel de Los Bancos (known simply as 'Los Bancos')is on the main highway between Quito and La Independencia. The restaurant is on the left side of the road by the first speed bump as you enter the town coming from Quito. It has orange walls and a large gateway. There are seven cabins here, which are very clean and have private bathrooms with hot water. At $15 for a double they represent the best value accommodation I found in Ecuador. The restaurant serves great food, but if you want an early start you may have to negotiate for a packed breakfast or buy it town and take it with you (and make sure that the staff know you will be leaving early or else you may find the gates are locked when you try to leave). The owners speak English, and they do not charge an entrance fee, but if you do visit and do not eat in the restaurant, at least buy a cup of coffee or a delicious pitcher of fresh juice to help pay for the bananas that are being eaten by the birds in front of you.
Río Silanche Reserve
This is the most easily accessible lowland Chocó forest in Ecuador, and home to the largest mixed flock I have seen anywhere in the world. It is less than an hour's drive from Los Bancos, and a visit here is highly recommended if you do not plan a venture to the more remote surviving forests in the far northwest or at Río Canandé.
The forest patches here are disappearing fast, but the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation ( www.mindocloudforest.org) protects one block of about 70 ha. There are still other patches in the area and we hope that more will be added to the reserve as funds and land become available, with trees planted to join the fragments together again before their birds disappear.
The unpaved road leading to the reserve leaves the main Quito – La Independencia highway at km 126. It passes through several patches of forest before reaching the Río Silanche bridge after several kilometres. I used to spend a bit of time birding these patches on the way, but since the reserve was created I have tended to go straight there because it is easy to spend a whole day on the new trails.
The entrance to the reserve is about a kilometre beyond the bridge. There is a car park on the left, from where a track leads to the canopy tower and guard house. Here you can buy your entrance tickets. The canopy tower was completed in October 2005, so it is still rather recent and I did not have many opportunities to go up it. On the few mornings when I did spend time there, I saw a few species, including Blue-whiskered and Rufous-winged Tanagers, but on my last visit we went up at about 4 pm just as the big mixed flock was coming through. This was one of my most memorable birding experiences, as Orange-fronted Barbet, four species of Dacnis (including a male Scarlet-breasted), Cinnamon Woodpecker, Grey-mantled Wren, Slate-throated Gnatchatcher, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Black-striped Woodcreeper, and a host of other birds that we had been straining our necks to see from below came past at our level. At one point I was almost within touching distance of Double-banded Greytail, a bird that was discovered new to Ecuador here in 1995.
The wide trails provide more chances to catch up with the flock, and to find birds of the forest floor and understorey. When these coincide, the number of birds around you is phenomenal, and I once counted 47 species that appeared to be part of the same big flock reaching from the canopy down to the low vines and shrubs. The species list is large (I have recorded 251 species here, including 16 restricted-range species) and has so many good birds that it is almost impossible to pick a list of a few specialties. However, in addition to those already mentioned, the rarities, or birds that I see here more often than elsewhere, include Black-tipped Cotinga (rare), Purple-chested Hummingbird, Scarlet-and-white Tanager (rare), Rufous-fronted Wood-Quail, Dusky Pigeon, Pacific Parrotlet, Rose-faced Parrot (rare, but seen more often recently), White-tipped Sicklebill, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Purple-crowned Fairy, Striped Cuckoo, Chocó Trogon (uncommon), Western White-tailed Trogon, Lanceolated Monklet, Olivaceous Piculet, Chocó Woodpecker (rare), Guayaquil Woodpecker, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Western Woodhaunter (infrequent), Western Slaty-Antshrike, Griscom's Antwren (infrequent), Pacific Antwren, Stub-tailed Antbird (rare), Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Pacific Flatbill (rare), White-throated Spadebill (uncommon), White-bearded Manakin, Stripe-throated Wren (heard frequently on the new trails), Scarlet-thighed Dacnis (uncommon), Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Grey-and-gold Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager, and Yellow-bellied Siskin. As the new trails are explored, birds that were very rarely seen here are being found more frequently. For example, White-tipped Sicklebill is now often seen when the heliconias are in flower along the trail below the canopy tower. No doubt more species will be added to the list.
This site will repay several visits, as there is now a good trail network and on a single visit you are likely to record only a third or so of the total list. There is always the potential to find something new, even after several days: despite having been here 34 times before, on my last visit I still saw four species that I had not previously recorded at the site.
Access and accommodation. The unpaved road to the reserve is on the right side of the main highway near km 126 as you are coming from Quito. It is at the end of a small village next to a shop called Viveres La Sandrita. There is some good forest not long after the entrance. Follow the unpaved road down and on the far side of the quarry take the left fork. At the next fork, through a palmito plantation, go left again and carry on up past some houses. A small track leads off soon after these, but follow the main road down through another small forest patch. There is something of a t-junction a little way after this, and here you should go right. The road then continues to the bridge over the Río Silanche. The reserve entrance is uphill from here, on the left. Trucks pass along the road frequently, so if you are coming by bus, get off at the main highway and you should be able to get a lift up to the reserve and back out again (you may need to negotiate a price). I have always visited this site from Los Bancos or Tandayapa, so I have not stayed nearby. There are basic hostels in Pedro Vicente Maldonado, and the very expensive Arashá resort is close by.
Tandayapa Bird Lodge
There are several other lodges that provide access to cloudforest at this elevation, but this is the one I know best. I was based here for over a year and enjoyed some great birds. It is true to say that the hummingbird feeders at Tandayapa are better than any I have seen elsewhere, and this is a very comfortable place to base yourself whilst visiting the west slope of the Andes.
The hummingbird feeders are incredible in the right season, with over twenty species visiting on busy days, and over a hundred individuals present at peak times. This is a good place to boost your list of Chocó endemics, with Western Emerald, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Empress Brilliant, Brown Inca, and Violet-tailed Sylph present most days. Velvet-purple Coronet is more erratic in its appearances. Other regular visitors include Tawny-bellied Hermit, Green-fronted Lancebill, and Booted Racket-tail. Further details and a guide to identification can be found at www.tandayapa.com.
Fruit feeders on the balcony attract a few tanagers, notably the very striking Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, and are the best place to see White-winged Brush-Finch. Bushes outside the lodge also attract a lot of tanagers when they are in fruit (usually from December to March). Birds are attracted to the moths on the walls in the morning and superb views of Streak-capped Treehunter, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, and Masked Trogon are likely.
The lower deck is a good place to get eye-level views of tanager flocks when the melastomes are fruiting, and Andean Cock-of-the-rock is sometimes seen flying by. Immaculate Antbirds and Rufous-breasted Antthrush often feed just in front of the forest hide early in the morning.
The trails provide access to some good forest with Toucan Barbet, Olivaceous Piha, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant, Rusty-winged Barbtail, Scaled Fruiteater, Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Long-tailed Antbird, Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, and Moustached, Ochre-breasted, and Scaled Antpittas amongst many others. The total of 242 species recorded at the lodge includes 18 restricted-range species. There is a detailed checklist and much more information on the website.
Access and accommodation. Comfortable accommodation is available at the lodge. See the website ( www.tandayapa.com) for further details.
Thanks to the large area of forest in private reserves, and ease of access from the old road, this is one of the best places to see the specialties of the west-slope cloudforest (the subtropical Chocó). Tandayapa Village is at 1700 m and the road reaches 2300 m at the top of the valley near Bellavista lodge. There is a substantial change in the birdlife between these elevations, and walking or driving the road from the village to the pass should reward you with some spectacular birds.
The village itself is home to species of forest edge and more open habitats. Black-capped Tanager is most easily found here, and Whiskered Wren should be listened for in tangles of vegetation where there is bamboo or cane grass. White-capped Dipper can sometimes be found near the bridge. The equator passes across the road through the clump of trees just beyond telegraph post 53, and about a kilometre into the Southern Hemisphere is a small quarry where Lyre-tailed Nightjar can sometimes be found. The forest around and beyond the quarry is good for Beautiful Jay and Andean Cock-of-the-rock. After another two or three kilometres the lower elevation birds start to give way to those of the upper elevations: Toucan Barbet, Turquoise Jay, Western Hemispingus, and Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan become more common, and Grass-green Tanagers appear. This change, between the Upper and Lower Valley, occurs at about 2100 m. You will hear Chestnut-crowned Antpittas, but the best way to see them is by driving very slowly between here and the junction with the Research Station road just before it gets light in the morning or just as it is getting too dark to see in the evening; one can often be found at the side of the road in the headlights.
Near the top of the hill is Bellavista Lodge. This has hummingbird feeders and an extensive trail network. The feeders do not attract as many species or individuals as those at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, but Speckled Hummingbird, Gorgeted Sunangel, and Collared Inca are easy to see here. The trails are extensive and if you walk them early or late in the day you have a good chance of seeing Spillmann's and Ocellated Tapaculos, and the compost heap behind the accommodation buildings is sometimes visited by antpittas. If you are not staying at Bellavista, entry to the trails is $5 — please pay at the lodge before using them.
A Swallow-tailed Nightjar sometimes roosts in the bamboo on the corner of the bend below Bellavista, and a few bends below this, where the power lines cross the road, is another good spot for Beautiful Jay, especially at dawn or dusk. The nightjars can also be found at dusk around the sharp bend below the junction with the research station road.
The stretch above Bellavsita, between the lodge and the junction with the research station road, is very good and worth walking or driving very slowly whilst listening and looking for mixed flocks, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Green-and-black Fruiteater, and Sickle-winged Guan. The stands of bamboo here have Plain-tailed Wren. If you find a mixed flock, try to stay with it and you should be treated to some stunning birds. Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager and Dusky-bush Tanager are the flock leaders, and there will usually be Spectacled Whitestarts, Pearled Treerunners, White-tailed Tyrannulets, Beryl-spangled Tanagers, Montane Woodcreepers, Masked Flowerpiercers, Streak-necked Flycatchers, Brown-capped Vireos, and Blackburnian Warblers (during the Northern winter) with them. Amongst these you should look out for Grass-green Tanager, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Capped Conebill, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Western Hemispingus, Striped and Flammulated Treehunters, Blue-and-black Tanager, Rusty-winged Barbtail, Sepia-brown Wren, Rufous Spinetail, and the gorgeous Plushcap.
Parking at the junction and walking down towards the research station will give you another opportunity to find mixed flocks. This is also one of the best places for Tanager Finch. Look for any movement in the low vegetation on the sides of the road along the first few hundred metres. The best way to see them is when a mixed flock passes by, as they sometimes seem to get caught up in them when they pass through their territories. This road is also good for Turquoise Jay, Ocellated Tapaculo, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Gorgeted Sunangel, and Collared Inca. Chestnut-crowned Antpittas sometimes appear just before dawn or at dusk, and Giant Antpitta has been seen here a few times. White-faced Nunbird occurs in this area, but is typically elusive.
The pass is another couple of hundred metres beyond the junction, and from here it is downhill to Mindo. The road passes more good forest between the pass and the oil pipeline, between the pipeline and an old quarry, and between the quarry and a small farmstead. Hook-billed Kite can often be seen near the quarry on clear mornings. Mixed flocks in these areas can have the same species as those near Bellavista.
Beyond the farmstead the forest becomes patchy and gives way to pasture as you pass a school and the settlements of Santa Rosa. After these there is some forest again, and this is covered in the San Tadeo section below.
Access and accommodation. Tandayapa Bird Lodge and Bellavista provide access to the valley. These two lodges are 6 km apart and walking the road between them will provide some good birding, but your calves will ache the next day if you take it too quickly. The road can be driven in a normal car, and drivers in Nanegalito or from the lodges can be hired for a day or a one-way trip up or down the hill. No buses pass along this route, but you may be able to hitch a lift with the infrequent local traffic. Most of the birding is from the road.
The village of San Tadeo is at 1760 m and marks the end of the old road between Nono and Mindo. It has many of the species of the Tandayapa Valley, but with the addition of a few that are not found on that side of the pass, most notably Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager.
The best way to see the Mountain-Tanager is to be at the junction with the main road between 0630 and 0730. I have done this five times and seen them on every occasion. They favour the first hundred metres of the old road in the area of the alder plantation on the left and the cecropia trees on the right. This is also a good area for Mountain Wren and Golden-headed Quetzal. Scrub Blackbird, Pacific Hornero, and Masked Water-Tyrant are usually around the farm buildings.
Continuing up the old road, there are a few more bends with forest and pasture and then you enter a different valley, with a steep drop and a lot of forest on your left. Glistening-green Tanager is occasionally seen here, and it is a good spot for mixed flocks. These contain some of the species of the Tandayapa Valley, with Black-capped Tanager being a frequent component. Long-tailed Antbird and Rufous-headed Tody-Flycatcher inhabit the roadside bamboo, and Violet-tailed Sylph and Brown Inca are often seen at flowers. Nariño Tapaculo should be heard calling form the undergrowth, and Yellow-breasted Antpitta is likely to taunt you from inside the forest. On sunny mornings look and listen for Barred Hawks overhead, and if you come a cross an agitated hummingbird look for a Cloudforest Pygmy-Owl nearby.
The forest becomes more patchy as you ascend the road, passing the oil pipeline and an abandoned crooked house. Above the roadside obelisk, at 2000 m, there is more continuous woodland cover and the birds become more typical of the upper subtropics. Mixed flocks here will be similar to those of the Bellavista area (see Tandayapa Valley above), and this is another place to look for Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan.
Access and accommodation. This area is easily reached by car from Tandayapa Bird Lodge or Bellavista. There is plenty of accommodation available in Mindo, and buses from Quito pass frequently along the main highway. Sachatamia lodge is a couple of kilometres along the main road.
The hummingbird feeders here are magical. They do not attract a huge number of birds or species, but the birds are so confiding and the commonest visitors are four of the most spectacular Chocó endemics: Empress Brilliant, Brown Inca, Violet-tailed Sylph, and the breathtaking Velvet-purple Coronet. In season, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers visit bananas put out for them. The forest trails are quite steep, but there are many birds to be seen along them.
The main trail, up to the waterfall, is an uphill climb through good forest. Mixed flocks here tend to form around Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers and Dusky Bush-Tanagers, with Golden, Beryl-spangled, Golden-naped, and Flame-faced Tanagers, Capped Conebill, Slate-throated Whitestarts, White-tailed Ttyrannulet, and Three-striped Warbler. Larger birds include Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Scaled Fruiteater, Powerful Woodpecker, and Beautiful Jay. You are likely to hear Nariño Tapaculo, Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, and Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpittas, and if you are up early enough you should be able to see at least one of them. Giant Antpitta is also known here, and I have seen Pacific Tuftedcheek and Glistening-green tanager on one occasion.
The large amphitheatre of the waterfall is home to Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant and the best place to look for White-tailed Hillstar of the western subspecies bougueri, known by the awful name of Rufous-gaped Hillstar. Because it is an extremely rare visitor to feeders, Hoary Puffleg is the hardest of the cloudforest hummingbirds to see, but you have a reasonable chance of finding it if you wait by its favourite streams.
After a morning on the trails you can enjoy lunch in the restaurant watching the hummingbird feeders where you can get so close to some of the most beautiful birds. The Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers usually appear at the bananas several times a day at the right season, but they may not come if there is plenty of fruit available on the forest trees. When they do arrive, the commoner and smaller Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers will give way to them. Other regular visitors to the bananas include Golden-naped, Palm, and Blue-grey Tanagers, and Orange-bellied Euphonias. Barred Becard and Toucan Barbet sometimes pass by, and Masked Flowerpiercers try to take sugar water from the hummingbird feeders.
There is an orchid garden opposite the restaurant, where you can see a variety of exotic blooms.
Access and accommodation. Mindo Loma is at km 74 along the main Quito – La Independencia highway and is marked by a prominent sign. The entrance track is on the left coming from Quito, and the restaurant is about a hundred metres up the track. Accommodation is available at Mindo Loma, but I have never stayed there so I do not know how much it costs or what it is like. The site can be reached from Tandayapa Bird Lodge or Bellavista by car, and buses pass frequently by the entrance. Boris and Patricio Herrera live here and they are both keen birders. They are available as guides and can take you to the best parts of the property, but remember that nothing is guaranteed even if they tell you that a certain species is 'always' there. (For example, Hoary Puffleg was 'always' at a certain spot, but I had to visit it four times with them before I saw one.) Entry to the restaurant is $5 if you do not buy food. Entry to the trails may be extra. I do not know how much Boris and Patricio charge as guides, but they can be contacted on +593 2 2340410. This is a popular stop for people going to or coming back from the beach, so it is best visited during the week, and it can be noisy during the day on public holidays (if you are on the trails early you should not be disturbed).
The Nono – Mindo Road and the Alambi Valley
The old road from Nono to Mindo is a well known birding destination, being one of the first areas explored by birders visiting Ecuador. The birds are very similar to those found in the Tandyapa Valley, where there is better access to the forest. However, it does offer a chance to see a range of species from the temperate zone down to the lower subtropics. Mixed tanager flocks are a feature, and some of the large and spectacular birds seem to be easier to find here.
Descending from around 3000 m near the entrance to Yanacocha, the road passes through mainly open pasture and scrub with only a few temperate forest patches. Most of the birds of this zone are more easily found at Yanacocha, so I have not spent much time in this area. Southern Yellow-Grosbeak is sometimes to be seen in cleared areas.
Below Nono there is more forest, and from the Río Alambi onwards there is almost continuous woodland cover all the way to Tandayapa. Torrent Duck is present on the river, but is very elusive. White-capped Dipper is easier to find, and should be looked for in the upper stretches of the river where it runs next to the road.
The upper subtropical forest is similar to the upper Tandayapa Valley, but birds are generally harder to find here. It is an excellent place for Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, with several territories along the river — listen for the long, wheezing call, which can be heard from a moving vehicle. Turquoise Jay is frequent enough, and Russet-crowned Warblers sing from within cover. Smoky Bush-Tyrant has been recorded a few times.
I have spent most of my time here along the lower stretch of the road, below the house with the pine trees. It is here that the lower subtropical species seem to appear, along with the beautiful silver-leaved cecropia trees. The roadside concrete power line posts are numbered, and at the double 18A and 18B post there is an Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek. It is on the opposite side of the steep valley, and a telescope is needed to get good views, but if the birds are present you will hear them calling. Scan the trees almost at eye level on the far slope, looking for flashes of red. This species displays in the subcanopy, but several birds have their favoured display perches in gaps that allow you to get good views. In the afternoon they are usually most active from 1630 to 1730, and they seem to display most of the year (they sometimes fail to appear in the driest months from May to September). I have never been here in the morning, but other people have seen them displaying early in the day. Because of the distance, this is not the best site to view this species, but it is the most easily accessible as you do not need to leave the road. Another lek is close to Tandyapa village opposite posts 42 and 43, but the birds are much harder to find here and they usually stay hidden below the canopy.
Several of the larger birds seem to be easier to find here than in the Tandayapa Valley. The Andean Cocks-of-the-rock can sometimes be seen feeding in fruiting trees or flying along the road anywhere from post 18 onwards. Fruiting trees along this stretch may also attract Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Toucan Barbet, and Sickle-winged Guan. Beautiful Jay is often heard and sometimes seen, especially in the first few kilometres before Tandayapa village. Flocks of Red-billed Parrots and Plumbeous and Band-tailed Pigeons often fly overhead.
Mixed flocks often have Metallic-green and Beryl-spangled Tanagers. Stands of bamboo often have Long-tailed Antbird, and those near Tandayapa village may harbour Whiskered Wrens. At dusk, Lyre-tailed Nightjars sometimes fly around the bare rock faces, especially near the village, with Rufous-bellied Nighthawks appearing slightly earlier when there may be enough light left to discern their rich orange-brown underparts.
In the upper reaches of the road Spillmann's Tapaculos call loudly from the undergrowth, but they are replaced by Nariño Tapaculos lower down. Chestnut-crowned and Yellow-bellied Antpittas are vocal around dawn and dusk, but as there is almost no access to the forest they are even harder to see than usual.
Access and accommodation. I have usually visited the road on the way to Tandayapa from Quito, and this is the way most people chose to come to Tandayapa. Buses run from Quito to Nono, but they do not carry on down the old road, so you will have to hire a driver or have your own car to follow the road any further. The route is part of the Ministry of Tourism's Ecoruta and is signposted. See the Yanacocha account for directions to the start of the Ecoruta. The road is signed from the Tandayapa end. The Ecoruta starts in Quito where there is obviously plenty of accommodation to chose from.
Along the main highway between Quito and La Independencia there is a trail that gives easy access to some of the dry alpine vegetation of the Interandean Valley. The star attraction is the very local White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, and there are other common birds of the arid zone here.
This can be a birdless place at times. The habitat is monotonous and it supports few species, but unless you plan to visit other areas in the central valley, there will be some birds that you will not see elsewhere. Walk along the trail and scan the tops of bushes and the puya spikes looking for the Shrike-Tyrant. Whilst are doing so you are likely to come across Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Common Ground-Dove, and Golden-rumped Euphonia. Band-tailed Seedeaters are sometimes here too. Spot-billed Ground-Tyrants cower among the wizened and black stems, but they are hard to spot. Black-tailed Trainbearers and Sparkling Violet-ears are common.
During the short flowering period there are usually more birds as Purple-collared Woodstars, Giant Hummingbirds, and Rusty Flowerpiercers take advantage of the nectar. This is usually during the wet season from November to January, but there seems to be a slight flourish in May and June as well.
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles and Variable Hawks often soar overhead, and Burrowing Owls inhabit the valley below.
Access and accommodation. The trail begins at the shrine to the Virgin. This is on the main highway between Quito and La Independencia on a sharp bend as the road finishes climbing above San Antonio de Pichincha (Mitad del Mundo) and begins its descent to Calacalí (it is then downhill all the way to the Pacific). Coming from Calacalí it is perhaps a kilometre beyond the service station. The shrine is a small building and is painted pink at the moment, although its previous coat was blue. The view from the shrine is impressive, with the snow-capped Volcán Cayambe visible on a clear day behind the wide arid valley laid out before you. The trail leads off along the hillside behind the shrine. This site is easily reached from Quito along the main highway, and buses pass frequently.
Reserva Geobotánica Pululahua shares many birds with Yanacocha and the Upper Tandayapa Valley, but there is much more bamboo and the forest is drier and less dense. I have visited the site only to see Rusty-breasted Antpitta, and I have not spent time looking for other birds here. Skulking with the Rusty-breasteds there are Undulated and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas, and Unicoloured, Ash-coloured, and Ocellated Tapaculos. The bamboo is appreciated by Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatchers and Plain-tailed Wrens, and the long winding road down to the crater often has Band-winged Nightjars resting on it at dusk.
Access and accommodation. Pululahua is easily visited from Quito. The track to the reserve is on the right after a service station as you come over the pass on the main highway from Quito to La Independencia, a kilometre or so beyond the shrine to the Virgin (see the account for Calacalí above). The drive to the entrance is along a dusty track through agricultural fields. After the entrance there are about six kilometres of hairpin bends down to the bottom of the crater, and then a several roads lead through the reserve. The Rusty-breasted Antpitta favours areas of bamboo. Buses pass along the highway frequently, but it is a long and tiring walk down to the crater, and even more tiring coming back up.
Paz de las Aves
Ángel Paz's forest reserve offers a unique antpitta experience. Gaint, Yellow-breasted, and Moustached Antpittas will take worms put out for them on the trail, and you are very likely to get amazing views of all three. There is an Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek here too.
To see the Cocks-of-the-rock it is best to be in place in the hide before dawn. This is about a fifteen minute walk down a trail that is steep in parts. The birds begin calling just before it gets light and usually continue displaying for an hour or so.
Ángel will call in the Giant Antpittas later in the morning, and some of them will take worms from his hands if they are feeling confident. Otherwise he will throw them some on the trail a few metres in front of you. The Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpittas are not quite so bold, but they will both come in to gaps in the vegetation to take their food. When I first visited in October 2005 only one pair of Giant Antpittas was coming to be fed, but by the end of the year he had the other two species and up to eight individuals in a morning. Now Dark-backed Wood-Quail sometimes appears, and other species could be added to the list soon.
The forest trails here are extensive, but they are quite slippery and steep, and wellingtons are useful (Ángel has some you can borrow if your feet are the right size). The birds are similar to those at Mindo Loma, with Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager quite likely. Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Sickle-winged Guan, Scaled Fruiteater, Toucan Barbet, Nariño Tapaculo, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, and Olivaceous Piha are amongst the other species recorded, and a Common Potoo has been found roosting near the stream where Ángel washes the worms.
The hummingbird feeders are new, so they have not yet fulfilled their potential, but they have already been discovered by Empress Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Velvet-purple Coronet. The grenadilla, blackberry, and tomate de árbol plantations near the house harbour Yellow-faced and Dull-coloured Grassquits, and Black-and-white Seedeaters at times.
Access and accommodation. Paz de las Aves is a few kilometres along a dirt track that leaves the main Quito – La Independencia highway about 100 m before km 66 on the left side as you are coming from Quito. Ángel was making a sign for it when I was last there. To arrange a visit you must call Ángel on +593 2 2116243 (make sure you can speak some Spanish). He can meet you in Nanegalito if you are unsure of how to get to the farm, and he may be able to give you a lift. If not, the local drivers in Nanegalito know where he is and they will take you there if you can negotiate a price. Ángel charges $10 for visitors. Flash photography is not allowed, but you can get very good photos using the natural light if you have a tripod to allow for the longer exposure time. Tandayapa Bird Lodge can arrange visits for its guests, as might the other lodges and hostels in the Mindo area, and there is basic hostel accommodation in Nanegalito. Buses pass by the entrance track frequently.
This 50 ha forest reserve is the pride of Felipe Quiroz, who is deeply passionate about conservation. Although not far from Milpe, this site is more humid and has more of a lowland character to it. Some understorey species are easier to see than elsewhere, and this is one of the best places to look for two ovenbirds: Western Woodhaunter and Ruddy Foliage-gleaner.
It is hard to see into the canopy here, and most of the interesting species are to be found on the ground, in the understorey, or in subcanopy vines and tangles. Orange-billed Sparrow seems particularly easy to see here, and Tawny-faced Gnatwrens will scold you from the low vegetation. Southern Nightingale-Wren is common and can be seen with patience, as can Chestnut-backed Antbird. Esmeraldas Antbird and Black-headed Antthrush are not so numerous. The last three attend antswarms, along with Bicoloured Antbird and Plain-brown Woodcreeper. White-whiskered Puffbirds like antswarms too, but they can be found anywhere. Rufous-crowned Antpitta has been recorded, but I have neither seen nor heard it.
Keep a look out on the trunks for Northern Barred-Woodcreeper and Brown-billed Scythebill amongst the many Spotted Woodcreepers, and for the large Guayaquil Woodpecker. Understorey flocks often carry Chocó Warbler, Ochre-breasted Tanager, Western Woodhaunter, Russet Antshrike, and Slaty and Checker-throated Antwrens. Spot-crowned Antvireo is likely to be found slightly higher up, in the subcanopy.
Chestnut-mandibled and Chocó Toucans and Purple-throated Fruitcrow are often heard, and can sometimes be seen. White-whiskered Hermit is the most obvious hummer, but Purple-chested Hummingbird and Stripe-throated Hermit are present, and White-tipped Sicklebill is possible but needs quite a bit of luck.
How far you get will depend on the water level in the four rivers. At the end of the dry season, in September, the first two can sometimes be crossed on stepping stones, but most of the year you will need wellingtons or to remove your shoes and socks. When they are full they may be too deep even for wellingtons. You could find Buff-rumped Warblers whilst you are looking for a suitable crossing point.
The area around the house before you enter the forest is a very good place to see Bay Wren, a common bird that can be tricky to actually get a view of.
Access and accommodation. Felipe's farm is signposted at km106.5 along the Quito – La Independencia highway. There is a gated entrance to the house and about twenty metres beyond this is a small pull-in where you can park. Make your way up the house and ask if you can visit the forest. He charges $10 for visitors. He and his mother are very hospitable and you are unlikely to leave without being offered food and drink, so give him a good tip. There is good accommodation in Los Bancos at Restaurante Mirador Río Blanco, about twelve kilometres away. The site is within reach of the Mindo hostels and Tandayapa Bird Lodge if you have transport. Buses pass by the farm frequently.
One of the first destinations explored by birders visiting Ecuador, and now a centre for ecotourism for Ecuadorians and foreign visitors alike
Mindo offers access to some superb cloudforest, but as it is overlapped in elevation and species by the Tandayapa Valley and Milpe I have not spent much time there because I have gone elsewhere to see its special birds. The forest sites around the town are well covered by other trip reports. The only places in town I went to regularly were Restaurante Los Colibríes and the track on the right of the road just before you are enter the town. The restaurant is a good place to eat and it has hummingbird feeders that attract White-necked Jacobin, Green-crowned Woodnymph, White-whiskered Hermit, and Green-crowned Brilliant. The garden is good for tanager flocks, and when the mistletoe has fruit four species of Euphonia can be sometimes seen at once: Golden-rumped, Orange-crowned, Orange-bellied, and Thick-billed. Dagua Thrush can be heard singing around the bamboo plantation across the road during the wet season, usually from October to January, but it is not easy to see.
The track near the edge of town is another good Orange-crowned Euphonia spot, and Pacific Antwren is often here too. A few hundred metres up the track, in the large field behind the big house I have seen a flock of over a hundred Black-and-white Seedeaters on several occasions.
The road to Mindo leaves the Quito – La Independencia highway at km78, and this itself is a good birding destination, again well covered in other reports. A great place to start the day is by the police hut at this junction. If the light has been left on overnight the advertising boards and the hut will be covered in moths. These are spectacular in their own right (see the Tandayapa Bird Lodge moth guide for an idea of some of the amazing species that occur here), but they are good bird food too. Toucan Barbets usually appear for a feast, but often not until relatively late in the proceedings. Those present for breakfast at dawn often include Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Streak-capped Tree-hunter, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Masked Trogon, Three-striped Warbler, and Brown-capped Vireo. They could be joined by Squirrel and Little Cuckoos, Sepia-brown Wren, Tricoloured Brush-Finch, Streaked Flycatcher, Tropical Parula, and Lineated Foliage-gleaner. All of them will happily feed only a few metres away, but do not get too close or you will scare off potential diners. The light is not always on, but if you are passing the night before you can check to see if it is worth a visit the next morning. It can be off (or perhaps broken) for weeks at a time.
Near the junction is Sachatamia lodge, a relatively new establishment offering food and comfortable accommodation. Even if you do not stay here you can visit the hummingbird feeders for a $3 fee. These attract a large number of birds and species, including many Velvet-purple Coronets. The trails are good, with similar birds to Tandayapa Bird Lodge. There is said to be a Long-wattled Umbrellabird lek here, but it is a long walk and I have never visited it myself. I have heard Mantled Howler Monkeys here.
Mindo Lindo is a private reserve situated on the main highway about a kilometre after the Mindo turn (coming from Quito). It has a Club-winged Manakin lek and hummingbird feeders with Velvet-purple Coronet, but I have only been here a couple of times and I do not know it well.
Access and accommodation. There are many hostels in Mindo itself, and the nearby Septimo Paraíso and Sachatamia lodges provide more expensive accommodation. Buses pass by the entrance road frequently and local drivers are usually waiting to provide a taxi service down to the town. Buses run down to the town itself, to and from Quito, a few times a day.
A visit here will demonstrate what Río Silanche must have been like before it was fragmented. This Jocotoco Foundation reserve protects a large area of lowland Chocó forest: hot, humid, and home to many wonderful and rare birds. The reserve itself is only a small part of a huge surviving tract of forest owned by a logging company. The Foundation is working with the company to ensure that the timber is harvested sustainably and that operations are sympathetic to wildlife.
Barred Puffbird can be seen on wires or roadside trees along the road leading from Pedro Vicente Maldonado to Las Golondrinas, and in the more open areas Ecuadorian Ground-Dove and Pacific Parrotlet are common. The forest proper starts almost as soon as you have crossed the Río Canandé, but the reserve buildings and accommodation are several kilometres further along the track.
A network of trails leads off from behind the cabins. I have only been along a few of these, and there are many other, longer, routes to explore. The best birding for me was along the trail leading up to the ridge, where a bench provides a lookout over the treetops and across the forested valley below. We found a superb mixed flock here of about 30 species, including Scarlet-and-white Tanager, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Golden-chested Tanager, Rufous Piha, Emerald Tanager, Grey-mantled Wren, Grey-and-gold Tanager, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, and Ochre-breasted Tanager. On the way up, two smaller flocks contained Griscom's Antwren, Pacific Flatbill, Scarlet-browed Tanager, and Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, and a Tooth-billed Hummingbird was seen buzzing past a couple of times. A small gathering of Bicoloured Antbirds was host to a fabulous Ocellated Antbird, and we found two drumming Crimson-bellied Woodpeckers. Blue-crowned, White-bearded and Red-capped Manakins display in the forest below the lodge, but the western race (litae) Green Manakins are unobtrusive and harder to find. Birds that others have seen along the trails include Tawny-faced Quail, Rufous-crowned Antpitta, Chocó Tapaculo, Berlepsch's Tinamou, Chocó Woodpecker, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, and Chocó Poorwill.
The logging roads give easy access to more forest, with chances of further mixed flocks, soaring raptors on clear days, and large fruit-eating birds. Black-tipped Cotinga is one of the most sought-after, and it is not uncommon. Rose-faced Parrot is frequently encountered, and Chestnut-mandibled and Chocó Toucans are numerous. Pale-mandibled Araçari is also common, and Stripe-billed Araçari is to be found too — hybrids between them have been reported. Mixed flocks could contain any of the species already mentioned, plus Orange-fronted Barbet, Double-banded Greytail, Blue, Yellow-tufted, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnises, and Rufous-winged Tanager. Lita Woodpecker is possible, as are Cinnamon and Guayaquil Woodpeckers.
King Vultures and Grey-backed Hawks often soar on sunny days, but Plumbeous Forest-Falcon and Semi-plumbeous Hawk usually remain within the forest.
The area is still being explored and there are no doubt other ornithological surprises waiting to be found. Other birds known from this forest include Lemon-spectacled Tanager, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, and Bronzy Hermit, and there are reports of Harpy Eagle and Banded Ground-Cuckoo. The only Great Green Macaw we saw was sitting on a perch at the logging company headquarters, but there are still wild birds are in the area and Swarovski Optik have provided nest-boxes for them. If you have the time (and money) to spend a few days here, you should be rewarded with a very impressive list of Chocó endemics.
Access and accommodation. You need to arrange your visit beforehand. The Jocotoco Foundation website ( www.fjocotoco.org) gives the names of local companies who can do this (as I worked for them, I would obviously recommend Tropical Birding ( www.tropicalbirding.com)). The only access across the Río Canandé is via the ferry, and if you have not made a reservation you may not be given permission to cross. The site is about three hours from Pedro Vicente Maldonado heading up the road to Las Golondrinas, across the Río Guayllabamba, and through the village of La Y towards Zapallo. The ferry is a few kilometres north of Zapallo, and the on the other side of the river you should head for Hoja Blanca. This is the last settlement on the road, and the lodge is a few kilometres before it. The roads are muddy, and if you are coming in your own vehicle you will need 4WD and high clearance. Having said that, I have made it here in a minibus in the dry season, and a daily bus from Quinindé to Hoja Blanca passes by the lodge, so it is possible to arrive by public transport.
An area of temperate forest on the slopes of Pichincha volcano just above Quito, many visitors have their first experience of Ecuadorian birding here. It is a great place to start because there are not so many species at this altitude so you will not be overwhelmed by numbers, but the birds are nevertheless spectacular. Beautiful tanagers lead the mixed flocks, and the hummingbird feeders play host to some magnificent hummingbirds, including the outrageous Sword-billed. This is the last refuge of the Black-breasted Puffleg, one of the rarest birds in the world.
The track to the reserve winds through pasture with some scattered scrub, especially in the gullies. A lot of the species here are more easily seen in the forest, and this particularly true of the hummingbirds: the only one you need to look at here is Black-tailed Trainbearer. However, this habitat does have its specialties, and Grass Wren, Plain-coloured Seedeater, Black Flowerpiercer, Páramo Pipit, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, and White-crested Elaenia are not likely to be found once you have entered the forest. Tawny Antpittas call loudly from the roadsides and this is another species that should be looked for here. Variable Hawks, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles, and Short-eared Owls hunt in the grassland. Blue-and-yellow Tanagers and White-browed Ground-Tyrants are possible in the dry season, between June and September. Whether you chose to spend time here on the way in will depend on which species you are most eager to see. By spending time here you may be missing the best time of day for the skulking forest antpittas and tapaculos. But be warned that if you wait until you are on your way back out, the grassland is likely to be shrouded in fog.
Once you reach the car park, the main trail is more or less flat as it winds its way along the side of the mountain past several sets of hummingbird feeders. The first section is rather open, but once you enter the forest mixed flocks are possible. These should contain Scarlet-bellied, Hooded, and Black-chested Mountain-Tanagers, White-banded and White-throated Tyrannulet, Rufous-naped Brush-Finch, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercers, Spectacled Whitestart, Blue-backed Conebill, Superciliaried Hemispingus, and Rufous Wren. If you are lucky they will be joined by Golden-crowned Tanager, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Grass-green Tanager, and Streaked Tuftedcheek. Away from the flocks, listen for the high-pitched call of Barred Fruiteater, and the trills of White-browed Spinetail and Crowned Chat-Tyrant.
From November to March, the valleys echo to the calls of Rufous and Undulated Antpittas. Seeing them is never easy, but you have a reasonable chance of views if you follow one of the side trails. The Spectacled Bear Trail leaves the main trail after 1.4km, descending in a series of zigzags then continuing along a level before rising up again to appear near the end hummingbird feeders. Several new trails have recently been made, and these start earlier along the main trail, joining the Spectacled Bear Trail where it starts to level out. I have had some wonderful views of Undulated and Rufous Antpittas along these trails, usually early in the morning, but my most memorable sighting, of two Undulated Antpittas that stayed ahead of us for several minutes, was at 0930, so you can get lucky at any time. These trails also offer the best chance to see Stripe-headed Brush-Finch and the ubiquitous Unicoloured Tapaculo. Ash-coloured and Ocellated Tapaculos are also here, but they are less common than Unicoloured, and the Ocellated prefers stands of bamboo.
Once you reach the end of the main trail there is a rather unexpected toilet block with some more hummingbird feeders. The best feeders are usually those about thirty metres along the trail that starts behind the toilet (take the one that starts to go up gently, not the downhill one). Here there is a viewpoint where you can sit while wings whir so close to your face that you may feel the need to duck to avoid being hit.
Access and accommodation. The old road to Nono begins on the main highway along the west side of Quito, the Avenida Occidental (also known as Avenida Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre). Wherever you are staying in Quito, if you keep heading west you will end up on this road. Follow it north until you start a steady descent and cross under a metal green footbridge. Just after this there is a gap in the central reservation and you need to make a u-turn here. Head back up and take the right turn just before the footbridge. The road is signposted 'Ingreso Ecoruta', as this is the start of the Ministry of Tourism's Paseo del Quinde ecotourism route. The road heads uphill and soon becomes rough. There are several side streets leading off it, but if you follow what appears to be the main route you should be able to find your way. If you get lost ask for directions to Nono. Once you have left the city you will pass through eucalyptus plantations and a settlement called Balcón Suizo. Keep going till you pass a chapel on your right and some traffic lights that are usually not working. The entrance gates to Yanacocha are just beyond this on the left, and they are marked by a signpost on the pillars. The reserve is another 10km along the track through the gates. There are signposts at most of the junctions, but if in doubt stay on the most level option and avoid taking any tracks that lead off up or down. You will have to pass through a water works compound — if the gates are shut, just open them as you go through, and close them behind you. There is a small hut at the entrance to the reserve. One of the reserve guards may be here and he will take your entrance fee and let you pass. If it is unmanned, the guard is probably working on the reserve, so open the gates yourself, but make sure you close them behind you and pay for your visit on the way out. There is another set of gates by the guards' house, and make sure you close these behind you to stop cattle from entering the forest. The car park is a few hundred metres beyond this.
If you are on a trip to northwest Ecuador, this small reserve gives you the opportunity to add some Tumbesian species — more typical of the dry southwest — to your list. It is an isolated block of forest, and a comparison of past and present species lists reveals that it has been slowly losing its birds over the past few decades as species have declined to extinction: there are no nearby sites from which they can re-colonise. However, there are still a number of interesting species here, and a visit is well worthwhile.
The trails starting from the visitor centre and hostel give good access to the forest. The trees are large and the mixed flocks in the canopy can be hard to see, so although there are a good number of tanagers here, the understorey and ground birds are often the most intersting. Grey-and-gold Warblers are vocal and they can be attracted by pishing. Buff-throated Foliage-gleaners can be located by their calls, but they can be hard to see. Red-billed Scythebills are usually more obliging, as are the small flocks of Dusky-faced Tanagers, which seem to be particularly easy to see at this site. Three unobtrusive little flycatchers are worth looking-out for: Sulphur-rumped, Grey-breasted, and Ochre-bellied. Western Slaty-Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, Great Antshrike, and Plain Antvireo should at least be heard, and are not too difficult to see. There are several leks of White-bearded Manakin.
White-whiskered Puffbirds are particularly frequent, and they can sometimes be found at antswarms, along with Chestnut-backed Antbird, and Black-headed Antthrush. Whiskered Wrens inhabit low Chusquea bamboo stands and other dense vegetation. Higher in the trees, there may be Ecuadorian Trogon, Ochraceous Attila, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and Orange-fronted Barbet. The small population of Rufous-headed Chachalacas is very elusive.
Along the streams are a few places where Band-tailed Barbthroats lek, and Stripe-throated and Baron's Hermits could be seen zipping past almost anywhere.
The plantations and forest edges are the best places to seek out Snowy-throated Kingbird, Pacific Antwren, and Ecuadorian Ground-Dove. One of the rubber plantations was home to a pair of Ochraceous Attilas, but this has been felled.
From the visitor centre and the old house there are good views over the river, and there is a track leading down to the bank opposite an area of shingle and mud, which is exposed when the water levels are low. A pair of Pied Plovers has been seen here, and this is a good place for migrant waders such as Least Sandpiper.
Access and accommodation. The reserve is reached along the road from Santo Domingo de los Colorados to Quevedo. It is under an hour's drive from Santo Domingo, and the entrance is signposted on the left at km 56. The Wong Foundation, which owns the site, now insists that visitors book in advance, and you may not be allowed past the guard post if they do not know you are coming. They used to have contact details on the website at www.favoritafruitcompany.com/fundacionwong/in/default.htm, but this link and that to the Wong Foundation no longer work. The hostel at the visitor centre is pleasant and costs $35 per person per night. Food is extra and costs about $3–4 for a typical three course meal of soup, meat and rice, and fruit. Buses pass frequently along the road. There are hotels in Santo Domingo, and I stayed at Hotel Zaracay when visiting this site.
One of the earliest lodges established in Ecuador, Tinalandia offers access to lower foothill forest. Its birds are similar to those of Four Rivers, and I have stayed here only three times, so I do not know it very well. It is well covered by earlier reports.
The fruit feeders outside the restaurant can be very good, but they seem to attract birds seasonally, and can be very quiet. In peak times Orange-fronted and Red-headed Barbets come down to feed, as do some gorgeous tanagers such as Green Honeycreeper and Bay-headed Tanager. Orange-billed Sparrow is another visitor.
The old golf course and the pond are good areas to see open country and forest edge birds like Pacific Hornero, Pacific Antwren, Pale-vented Pigeon, and Masked Water-Tyrant.
Along the forest trails look out for Chocó Warbler, Southern Nightingale-Wren, Black-headed Antthrush, Northern Violaceous Trogon, and Lanceolated Monklet.
The end of the Chiriboga Road is nearby, and the bridge here is a regular site for Torrent Duck and Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Following the road up from the bridge you come to an area where the flocks usually contain Russet Antshrike and Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager at one of its few west-slope locations.
Access and accommodation. Tinalandia is on the main road from Santo Domingo to Quito, a few kilometres after the toll booth on the way out of Santo Domingo. See www.tinalandia.com for details.