Ecuador (On a Budget) Trip Report: SE, NW, & E Foothills, September 15-30, 2012

Published by JP Wade (patwade_1810 AT

Participants: JP Wade, Katherine Wade


First of all, September is not a good month in Ecuador for birding if you want to add species to your list. The birds aren't very vocal (We observed a lot of nesting activity.), and the weather is probably too good. What we found out after visiting several reserves is that you want it to be somewhat rainy so the birds stay pretty busy feeding themselves during the day in order to survive at that altitude. More flocks can be seen throughout the day when the weather is wet at higher altitudes. October through February were said to be the best months at the reserves we visited.

So this trip report is more about logistics in the areas we visited and less about listing birds.

But alas, this was the month that we could make it to Ecuador and we had a great time, literally having many places to ourselves. We did it on a budget by not staying at the reserve lodges but in lodging close to the areas we wanted to visit. Hostals are typically $10-40 / day, meals are about $4-7, reserve day use fees $10-20, and transport to biridng areas is typically $10 / hour. You have to get up earlier in the AM but the savings are mas o menos half of what the lodge stay would cost. And being somewhat experienced tropical birders (We live in Panama.), we guided ourselves.

Arrived Quito on Continental from Panama and had to spend the night because of our connections to Southern Ecuador. Flew TAME from Quito to Cuenca (The Loja airport is closed for a year.), then a 3 hour TAME-provided direct bus to Loja, and then a taxi from Loja to Zamora for $15. We began our biridng at the Bombuscaro entrance of Podacarpus Park in the southeast while staying at Copalinga Hostal for 5 nights ( Catherine and Baldwin are great folks and their place is outstanding. We highly recommend Copalinga if you want to see this part of Ecuador. (NOTE: But book the flight to Cumbaratza from Quito, if available, so you can save some travel time. It is much closer to Zamora and Copalinga.) Great birding, feeders, and trails at Copalinga and the entrance to the park is about a 30 minute walk. And Catherine's meals are fantastic.

Copalinga Cabanas: The well-maintained trails can be very good early in the AM. Baldwin is feeding a Grey Tinamou and sees it regularly as he makes his daily rounds putting out feed. From the porch of our cabin we had regular visits of Striped Manakin and Wire-Crested Thorntail, plus many of the tanagers you can expect to see in the area. Great tanager looks were also at mealtimes because Catherine puts out bananas in addition to the hummingbird feeders close by. You can get some great pics from the open-air dining area.

It is an easy 5 minute walk on the road to see the Blackish Nightjar, a very cooperative bird. The Bombusacro entrance of the Podarcarpus Park is a 30 minute walk from Copalinga. You will want to plan your entire day for this, probably two. Catherine will pack you a lunch if needed.

Our next stop was the Cajanuma entrance to Podacarpus Park and Jocotoco's Tapichalca reserve. We accessed these areas with local taxis while staying 2 days in Vilcabamba at Hostel Le Rendezvous ( Nicolas the owner was very accommodating and had pre-arranged a local taxi-truck to transport us to our birding spots. A driver for a full day was $80.

After doing Podarcarpus, we stayed a couple of nights in Cuenca before continuing our birding. This city of 500K is amazing. I highly recommend it if you just want to be a tourist for a few days. After our 2 days in Cuenca, we then returned to Quito and hooked up with Ecuadorian Birding Pal Steve Hermann ( Steve transported and guided my wife and another UK client in NW Ecuador to Yanacocha, Mindo, and Paz de Aves over the next 3 days. We lodged at Yellow House (, one of Steve's favorite places in Ecuador. A 5 minute walk to Mindo's centro, we thoroughly enjoyed the lodging, birds and trails, and great breakfasts. If you aren't a big lister then Steve is a good choice. He's a laid-back birder but with lots of local knowledge.

Our next birding stop was NE Ecuador, San Isidro and Wild Sumaco reserves. We took buses from Mindo to Baeza through Quito. We lodged at Hostal Kopal / Pizzaeria in Baeza ( for 4 nights. Koos the owner makes a great pizza, has comfortable lodging at very reasonable rates, and very hot showers. He pre-arranged a taxi-truck to transport us to Cabanas San Isidro and Wild Sumaco. Also, there is a great nature trail that begins at the gate to Kopal in Old Baeza and drops off to the river, where a lek of Cock-of-the-Rock performs regularly.

NOTE: It was nearly a 2 hour drive from Baeza to Wild Sumaco...too far. If you don't want to pay the high price for luxury at wild Sumaco Lodge (It is very nice.), the best way to access Wild Sumaco would probably be to stay in Tena (1 hour drive), or the really rustic Pacto Sumaco coop (1 km from reserve), or consider booking in the Wild Sumaco Research Station accommodations (, which is a short walk to the main lodge and trails.

All that said, we saw just under 300 species in the foothills and highland areas we visited during the latter half of September: Southeast: Podacarpus & Tapichalaca; Northwest: Yanacocha, Mindo Yellow House, & Paz de Aves; East: Baeza, San Isidro, and Wild Sumaco.

And when you make your contacts to the various reserves to inform them of your visit, be sure to ask whether you can be included in the Antpitta feedings. Nealry all the reserves have followed Angel Paz's practice of feeding earthworms to these birds. Some folks may disagree with it, but I know from experience in the tropics that the only other way to see this family is to use an over-abundance of tape playback. This isn't good either. Anyway, make sure you get to the reserve early enough to be included. It will cost you another $10, but it is well worth the cost, and the pics you get......Wow!