Ecuador - Tours based in Tandayapa Lodge - November 2014

Published by Michael Hurben (hurbenm AT

Participants: Michael Hurben, Claire Strohmeyer


My wife and I recently completed a week-long birding trip to north-central Ecuador over the Thanksgiving holiday. We recorded a total of 219 species, visiting a number of hotspots including the Yanacocha Preserve, Tandayapa Valley, the Mindo/Milpe areas, Rio Silanche, and Refugio Paz. In this report I will focus on what I consider the highlights of the birding and some general observations. The species list is at the end. If I were to include the additional species that our guide picked out but which we did not get good enough looks at for identification, the total count would probably be closer to 240. There were many times when waves of mixed flocks would come through and it was simply impossible to keep up with the sightings being called out. This is, of course, a good problem to have!

The proximity of Ecuador to the United States affords an incredible opportunity for ‘exotic’ birding that seems to be a world away, but is practically next door. We flew from Minneapolis to Miami, and from there, the capital Quito is a quick four hour trip due south. And with no significant time zone change, there is no jet lag. Our trip was based around a five day, four night package offered by Tandayapa Lodge. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The lodge and the daily trips which they coordinated were all first rate.

We arrrived in Quito the evening of November 22, and did some leisurely birding during the day of November 23, visiting two parks in Quito while trying to see some of the city as well. Specificlly, we went to El Parque Carolina, which is home to a nice little Botanic Garden (fee of a few dollars – US dollars are the official currrency in Ecuador, a nice bonus!), as well as El Parque Metropolitano, which sits on the slopes just to the east of the city. We found our time at Carolina to be more productive- perhaps because we were there in the morning.

Before the botanic gardens opened at 9AM, we birded the more pedestrian parts of Parque Carolina and got a dozen lifers or so. We had no problems birding there, however, we were approached by a police officer who warned us about being careful in the park. I was making a point of keeping my SLR camera in my bag and not flashing it about, but the fact that I was carrying a (hefty) field guide and binoculars was, in his estimation, enough of a signal to potential miscreants that we would have objects of value. We kept our eyes open and had no issues. And of course once inside the botanic garden, all was fine. The point of all this was, consistent with what I had read in the guide books, one should be careful in this large city; once we left Quito and moved on to remote areas, there was no need to have any such concern, of course. Some highlights from the gardens included Black-tailed Trainbearer, Black Flowerpiercer, Red-crested Cardinal (from a feral population), Hooded Siskin, and many Sparkling Violetears.
On the 24th we were picked up at 5:30 AM in Quito by our driver Galo and our guide Jorge, and we made our way along the ‘eco-route’ which heads north and west of Quito, up into mountains before dropping back down. Most of the birding that day was done at the Yanacocha Preserve, which was the highest altitude portion of the trip. This area features hummingbird feeders that were active; walking the road also produced a number of mountain-tanager and flowerpiercer species. Highlights included Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Sword-Billed Hummingbird, Barred Fruiteater, and Great Sapphirewing. There is a very small “visitor center” there where one can purchase a copy a more manageable field guide which is merely the plates from the (did I mention very hefty?) Ridgely and Greenfield guide book. It is in Spanish but contains English names as well. (This is not available online as far as I can tell.)

We arrived late afternoon at Tandayapa Lodge, birding along the way and picking up birds like Speckled Hummingbird and Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. Tandayapa Lodge has a single building, a nice variety of trails and a very good blind; hummingbird and tanager feeders abound, and a large hanging sheet with a blacklight attracts many insects during the night. In the early morning, this sheet brought in a variety of birds, helping themselves to a selection of breakfast items; Slate-throated Redstarts would take moths, while four Brush-Finch species were nearby. The hummingbird feeders at the lodge were always very busy, with Booted Raquettails, Western Emeralds, Violet-tailed Sylphs, and Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Buff-tailed Coronets, among many others.

On the 25th we spent the day in the Mindo and Milpe regions; these were lower in elevation than Tandayapa, with a variety of habitats to explore, including forests and gardens. Our hosts did a great job of feeding us breakfast very early at the lodge (5AM), keeping us fed during the trip with snacks and box lunches, and being sure to have enough bathroom breaks. Highlights were Crowned Woodnymph, Bronze-winged Parrot, and Club-winged Manakins (on their lek making the strangest displays).

On the 26th the focus began with the area around Tandayapa, around the lodge and then the upper parts of the valley. On the lodge ground we found birds duch as Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Three-striped Warbler, and Zeledon’s Antbird. This was the only day that we had any appreciable rain, and it came in the mid-afternoon and lasted a good hour. Fortunately we were near a home in the upper valley that has an agreement with Tandayapa Lodge – for a few dollars we were able to sit in a dry spot under the eaves and watch their hummingbird feeders. Despite the rain, we saw Empress Brilliant, Flame-faced Tanager, and Golden-Headed Quetzal without leaving our chairs.

On the 27th we made the longest day trek, out further west to the Rio Silanche area, an area of significantly lower elevation where rain forests replace the cloud forests. For the first time on the trip, we experienced heat and insects, although neither were problematic. (The mosquitos in this area, at least in November, were pussycats compared to what we endure in Minnesota.) Highlights included Orange-fronted Barbet, Hook-billed Kite, Red-billed Scythebill, and Guira Tanager.

On the 28th we spent the morning at Refugio Paz, which was quite an experience. Arriving very early with only a little light, we made our way first to an observation area overlooking a lek for the racous Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Later in the morning, we were treated to visits to what are called the ‘antpitta feeding stations’ in this refuge. I was very interested to see what this was all about, as I had never seen an antpitta (our guide Jorge had spent some time during previous days trying to call some in, with no luck. We heard many of them during our first four days, but never saw any of these incredibly shy little fellows.) What we witnessed was simply astounding: In a nutshell, the owner of Refugio Paz has managed to ‘train’ a number of different individual antpittas to recognize his voice and come out to hidden clearings where he feeds them worms. He would begin by having all of us in the group take positions where we could see the clearing, and then after instructing us not to move, he would call a bird in, by name: “Shakira! Venga, venga, venga!” Usually it took no more than five minutes before the bird arrived to get its worms and pose for pictures. In this way we saw Giant, Yellow-breasted, Ochre-breasted, and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas. He also used bananas to call in a couple of Dark-backed Wood-Quail, which are also notoriously shy. There was another antpitta and anthrush that dd not wish to show themselves that day, but we considered ourselves quite lucky to have seen the birds that we did. After all of this, we were taken to a lovely open-air restaurant on the premises for a brunch of insanely good coffee and delicious authentic Ecuadoran food.

We worked our way back towards Quito and birding along the way, picking up White-capped Dippers and a Metallic-green Tanager. Our final night was at a hotel in Puembo, a small town near the Quito airport; it affforded very litttle in the way of birding, except for seeing some Saffron Finches.

On our return trip, we extended our layover in Miami and stayed there for a night so that we could look for some of the oddities that can be found about the city, including a number of parrot and parakeet species. As with so many flights from MSP to points south, several flights are needed; so any opportunity to leverage the layovers into birds is worth doing. In this sense, Miami is a great place to stop for a day.

We will be going back to Ecuador as soon as possible, as the eastern and southern portions offer very different ecosystems and species. The ratio of high species count to relatively small land area makes this country the best in the world for ‘density’. Considering the relative proximity and low-to-moderate costs within the country, it certainly presents a great ‘cost-per-bird’ trade-off.

Species Lists

Little Tinamou - Crypturellus soui
Andean Guan - Penelope montagnii
Sickle-winged Guan - Chamaepetes goudotii
Dark-backed Wood-Quail - Odontophorus melanonotus
Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
Black Vulture - Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura
Hook-billed Kite - Chondrohierax uncinatus
Swallow-tailed Kite - Elanoides forficatus
Roadside Hawk - Rupornis magnirostris
Purple Gallinule - Porphyrio martinicus
Andean Lapwing - Vanellus resplendens
Rock Pigeon - Columba livia
Band-tailed Pigeon - Patagioenas fasciata
Ruddy Pigeon - Patagioenas subvinacea
Dusky Pigeon - Patagioenas goodsoni
Pallid Dove - Leptotila pallida
Eared Dove - Zenaida auriculata
Squirrel Cuckoo - Piaya cayana
Rufous-bellied Nighthawk - Lurocalis rufiventris
Lyre-tailed Nightjar - Uropsalis lyra
Common Potoo - Nyctibius griseus
White-collared Swift - Streptoprocne zonaris
Band-rumped Swift - Chaetura spinicaudus
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift - Panyptila cayennensis
White-necked Jacobin - Florisuga mellivora
White-whiskered Hermit - Phaethornis yaruqui
Tawny-bellied Hermit - Phaethornis syrmatophorus
Stripe-throated Hermit - Phaethornis striigularis
Wedge-billed Hummingbird - Schistes geoffroyi
Brown Violetear - Colibri delphinae
Green Violetear - Colibri thalassinus
Sparkling Violetear - Colibri coruscans
Purple-crowned Fairy - Heliothryx barroti
Gorgeted Sunangel - Heliangelus strophianus
Green Thorntail - Discosura conversii
Speckled Hummingbird - Adelomyia melanogenys
Violet-tailed Sylph - Aglaiocercus coelestis
Black-tailed Trainbearer - Lesbia victoriae
Tyrian Metaltail - Metallura tyrianthina
Sapphire-vented Puffleg - Eriocnemis luciani
Golden-breasted Puffleg - Eriocnemis mosquera
Shining Sunbeam - Aglaeactis cupripennis
Brown Inca - Coeligena wilsoni
Collared Inca - Coeligena torquata
Buff-winged Starfrontlet - Coeligena lutetiae
Sword-billed Hummingbird - Ensifera ensifera
Great Sapphirewing - Pterophanes cyanopterus
Buff-tailed Coronet - Boissonneaua flavescens
Booted Racket-tail - Ocreatus underwoodii
Purple-bibbed Whitetip - Urosticte benjamini
Fawn-breasted Brilliant - Heliodoxa rubinoides
Green-crowned Brilliant - Heliodoxa jacula
Empress Brilliant - Heliodoxa imperatrix
Purple-throated Woodstar - Calliphlox mitchellii
Western Emerald - Chlorostilbon melanorhynchus
Crowned Woodnymph - Thalurania colombica
Andean Emerald - Amazilia franciae
Blue-chested Hummingbird - Amazilia amabilis
Purple-chested Hummingbird - Amazilia rosenbergi
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird - Amazilia tzacatl
Golden-headed Quetzal - Pharomachrus auriceps
Blue-tailed Trogon - Trogon comptus
White-tailed Trogon - Trogon chionurus
Masked Trogon - Trogon personatus
Rufous Motmot - Baryphthengus martii
Orange-fronted Barbet - Capito squamatus
Red-headed Barbet - Eubucco bourcierii
Toucan Barbet - Semnornis ramphastinus
Crimson-rumped Toucanet - Aulacorhynchus haematopygus
Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan - Andigena laminirostris
Collared Aracari - Pteroglossus torquatus
Choco Toucan - Ramphastos brevis
Black-cheeked Woodpecker - Melanerpes pucherani
Red-rumped Woodpecker - Veniliornis kirkii
Bar-bellied Woodpecker - Veniliornis nigriceps
Golden-olive Woodpecker - Colaptes rubiginosus
Lineated Woodpecker - Dryocopus lineatus
Guayaquil Woodpecker - Campephilus gayaquilensis
American Kestrel - Falco sparverius
Red-billed Parrot - Pionus sordidus
Blue-headed Parrot - Pionus menstruus
Bronze-winged Parrot - Pionus chalcopterus
Maroon-tailed Parakeet - Pyrrhura melanura
Uniform Antshrike - Thamnophilus unicolor
Checker-throated Antwren - Epinecrophylla fulviventris
White-flanked Antwren - Myrmotherula axillaris
Slaty Antwren - Myrmotherula schisticolor
Zeledon's Antbird - Myrmeciza zeledoni
Giant Antpitta - Grallaria gigantea
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta - Grallaria ruficapilla
Yellow-breasted Antpitta - Grallaria flavotincta
Ochre-breasted Antpitta - Grallaricula flavirostris
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper - Glyphorynchus spirurus
Strong-billed Woodcreeper - Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus
Spotted Woodcreeper - Xiphorhynchus erythropygius
Red-billed Scythebill - Campylorhamphus trochilirostris
Streak-headed Woodcreeper - Lepidocolaptes souleyetii
Montane Woodcreeper - Lepidocolaptes lacrymiger
Streaked Tuftedcheek - Pseudocolaptes boissonneautii
Pale-legged Hornero - Furnarius leucopus
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner - Philydor rufum
Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner - Anabacerthia variegaticeps
Streak-capped Treehunter - Thripadectes virgaticeps
Striped Woodhaunter - Automolus subulatus
Spotted Barbtail - Premnoplex brunnescens
Pearled Treerunner - Margarornis squamiger
Red-faced Spinetail - Cranioleuca erythrops
Azara's Spinetail - Synallaxis azarae
Rufous Spinetail - Synallaxis unirufa
White-tailed Tyrannulet - Mecocerculus poecilocercus
White-banded Tyrannulet - Mecocerculus stictopterus
Yellow-bellied Elaenia - Elaenia flavogaster
Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant - Phylloscartes ophthalmicus
Choco Tyrannulet - Zimmerius albigularis
Ornate Flycatcher - Myiotriccus ornatus
Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant - Lophotriccus pileatus
Common Tody-Flycatcher - Todirostrum cinereum
Cinnamon Flycatcher - Pyrrhomyias cinnamomeus
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher - Myiobius sulphureipygius
Flavescent Flycatcher - Myiophobus flavicans
Smoke-colored Pewee - Contopus fumigatus
Black Phoebe - Sayornis nigricans
Vermilion Flycatcher - Pyrocephalus rubinus
Masked Water-Tyrant - Fluvicola nengeta
Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant - Ochthoeca cinnamomeiventris
Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant - Ochthoeca fumicolor
Dusky-capped Flycatcher - Myiarchus tuberculifer
Rusty-margined Flycatcher - Myiozetetes cayanensis
Golden-crowned Flycatcher - Myiodynastes chrysocephalus
Snowy-throated Kingbird - Tyrannus niveigularis
Tropical Kingbird - Tyrannus melancholicus
Green-and-black Fruiteater - Pipreola riefferii
Barred Fruiteater - Pipreola arcuata
Andean Cock-of-the-rock - Rupicola peruvianus
Club-winged Manakin - Machaeropterus deliciosus
Masked Tityra - Tityra semifasciata
Cinnamon Becard - Pachyramphus cinnamomeus
Black-and-white Becard - Pachyramphus albogriseus
One-colored Becard - Pachyramphus homochrous
Brown-capped Vireo - Vireo leucophrys
Turquoise Jay - Cyanolyca turcosa
Blue-and-white Swallow - Pygochelidon cyanoleuca
Brown-bellied Swallow - Orochelidon murina
House Wren - Troglodytes aedon
Bay Wren - Cantorchilus nigricapillus
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren - Henicorhina leucophrys
Tawny-faced Gnatwren - Microbates cinereiventris
White-capped Dipper - Cinclus leucocephalus
Swainson's Thrush - Catharus ustulatus
Ecuadorian Thrush - Turdus maculirostris
Great Thrush - Turdus fuscater
Tropical Mockingbird - Mimus gilvus
Tropical Parula - Setophaga pitiayumi
Blackburnian Warbler - Setophaga fusca
Three-striped Warbler - Basileuterus tristriatus
Black-crested Warbler - Myiothlypis nigrocristata
Golden-bellied Warbler - Myiothlypis chrysogaster
Russet-crowned Warbler - Myiothlypis coronata
Slate-throated Redstart - Myioborus miniatus
Spectacled Redstart - Myioborus melanocephalus
Red-crested Cardinal - Paroaria coronata
Superciliaried Hemispingus - Hemispingus superciliaris
Rufous-chested Tanager - Thlypopsis ornata
White-lined Tanager - Tachyphonus rufus
Flame-rumped Tanager - Ramphocelus flammigerus
Hooded Mountain-Tanager - Buthraupis montana
Black-chested Mountain-Tanager - Cnemathraupis eximia
Grass-green Tanager - Chlorornis riefferii
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager - Anisognathus igniventris
Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager - Anisognathus somptuosus
Fawn-breasted Tanager - Pipraeidea melanonota
Blue-gray Tanager - Thraupis episcopus
Palm Tanager - Thraupis palmarum
Blue-capped Tanager - Thraupis cyanocephala
Golden-naped Tanager - Tangara ruficervix
Black-capped Tanager - Tangara heinei
Golden-hooded Tanager - Tangara larvata
Blue-necked Tanager - Tangara cyanicollis
Blue-and-black Tanager - Tangara vassorii
Beryl-spangled Tanager - Tangara nigroviridis
Metallic-green Tanager - Tangara labradorides
Flame-faced Tanager - Tangara parzudakii
Golden Tanager - Tangara arthus
Silver-throated Tanager - Tangara icterocephala
Swallow Tanager - Tersina viridis
Black-faced Dacnis - Dacnis lineata
Green Honeycreeper - Chlorophanes spiza
Guira Tanager - Hemithraupis guira
Cinereous Conebill - Conirostrum cinereum
Blue-backed Conebill - Conirostrum sitticolor
Capped Conebill - Conirostrum albifrons
Glossy Flowerpiercer - Diglossa lafresnayii
Black Flowerpiercer - Diglossa humeralis
White-sided Flowerpiercer - Diglossa albilatera
Masked Flowerpiercer - Diglossa cyanea
Saffron Finch - Sicalis flaveola
Blue-black Grassquit - Volatinia jacarina
Thick-billed Seed-Finch - Sporophila funerea
Variable Seedeater - Sporophila corvina
Yellow-bellied Seedeater - Sporophila nigricollis
Bananaquit - Coereba flaveola
Dusky-faced Tanager - Mitrospingus cassinii
Buff-throated Saltator - Saltator maximus
Black-winged Saltator - Saltator atripennis
Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch - Arremon brunneinucha
Tricolored Brush-Finch - Atlapetes tricolor
Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch - Atlapetes latinuchus
White-winged Brush-Finch - Atlapetes leucopterus
Rufous-collared Sparrow - Zonotrichia capensis
Yellow-throated Chlorospingus - Chlorospingus flavigularis
Golden Grosbeak - Pheucticus chrysogaster
Scrub Blackbird - Dives warszewiczi
Scarlet-rumped Cacique - Cacicus uropygialis
Orange-crowned Euphonia - Euphonia saturata
Thick-billed Euphonia - Euphonia laniirostris
Orange-bellied Euphonia - Euphonia xanthogaster
Yellow-bellied Siskin - Spinus xanthogastrus
Hooded Siskin - Spinus magellanicus