My partner, Sean, and I have just returned from a suberb trip to Northern Ecuador, which was expertly arranged and guided for us by Tropical Birding www.tropicalbirding.com
. This is one of the best birding trips I've ever done (and I've been on trips with several of the major bird tour companies in addition to various independent trips), and I highly recommend Tropical Birding. In fact we've already booked to go on their Madagascar trip later in the year and we will certainly arrange a Southern Ecuador trip with them at some point in the next few years.
We saw 659 species in Ecuador, of which 404 were lifers for me. The trip total was 736 including heard only species and species not seen well enough for me to count them. Highlights are too numerous to list (but many of them are mentioned in the main section below). However, we knew the trip was going to be good when we got incredibly close views of my most wanted species, Ocellated Tapaculo
, in our first half hour of birding! Some of the other really special birds included Barred Antthrush, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Striped Manakin, Scaled Fruiteater, Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater, Giant Conebill, San Isidro Mystery Owl, Beautiful Jay, Club-winged Manakin, Chestnut-belted Gnateater, Tanager Finch
and a whole load of gorgeous and mostly very cooperative antbirds
The main resources we used were as follows:
· Various trip reports posted on www.birdtours.co.uk
. There are many Ecuador trip reports available.
· Various Ecuador links on www.fatbirder.com
· The Birds of Ecuador, Ridgely and Greenfield. Both volumes were invaluable. Having recently been to Brazil, it was a wonderful contrast to be visiting a country with such a high quality field guide.
· Neotropical Rainforest Mammals, A Field Guide, Louise H Emmons.
· Voices of Amazonian Birds, volumes 1 to 3 on CD.
· Birds of the Ecuadorian Highlands CDs.
· The Birds of Northwest Ecuador CDs, Volume I, The Upper Foothills and Subtropics.
· The Birds of Northwest Ecuador CDs, Volume II, The Lowlands and Lower Foothills.
· Songs of the Antbirds CDs.
All of the CDs listed above are available from www.wildsounds.co.uk
. I spent a lot of time learning the songs and calls before the trip. This wasn't strictly necessary for a fully guided trip, but it was great to recognise a lot of what I was hearing.
· Checklists - I prepared checklists for each of the sites visited, including estimated probabilities of seeing each species at each site based on trip reports. Please email me if you would like me to send you these (they are on Excel). We exceeded the estimated probabilities at every site, but overall the checklists proved pretty accurate!
Costs and logistics
As noted above, we booked our trip through Tropical Birding. The total cost of the trip for two people was around GBP 7,300, of which about GBP 2,000 was for flights (from Vienna to London and from London to Quito and back). We booked our flights in February 2003, at which time many of the flights over Christmas were already booked up, so we weren't able to shop around for low fares. I'm not sure how to get around this problem, as it doesn't seem to be possible to book flights more than about eleven months in advance.
Tropical Birding provided guides for us for the entire trip except whilst we are at Sacha Lodge, where we were guided by the resident bird guide, Oscar. Tropical Birding also arranged all of our transport (in comfortable four wheel drive vehicles), food and accommodation.
Whilst this wasn't the cheapest way to visit Ecuador, it still cost considerably less to do this private trip for just two of us than if we'd both gone on a similar length group trip to Ecuador with one of the major bird tour companies. In fact ignoring flight costs, our trip cost about 60% of the cost of a three-week group birding trip. As an alternative, Tropical Birding also run small group trips to various parts of Ecuador, and joining one of these would be a less costly option than doing a custom trip.
All of the accommodation we stayed at was of a very high quality, and the food was varied and very good.
Our itinerary was as follows:
20 December 2003 - Arrive in Quito late evening. Night at La Rabida, Quito.
21 December 2003 - Most of the day birding at Yanacocha, arriving at Tandayapa Bird Lodge (TBL) late afternoon. Night TBL.
22 December 2003 - Upper Tandayapa Valley. Night TBL.
23 December 2003 - Morning at Milpe Road, Los Bancos. Lunch at Mindo. Afternoon birding Mindo entrance road. Night TBL.
24 December 2003 - Most of the day at Quatros Rios (Four Rivers). Late afternoon birding in Tandayapa Valley. Night TBL.
25 December 2003 - Morning on the trails at TBL. Afternoon birding from the roads near the lodge. Night TBL.
26 December 2003 - Day at Pedro Vicente Maldono (PVM). Night TBL.
27 December 2003 - Early departure from TBL. Birding at Calacali, then Papallacta and then at Guango Lodge. Night Guango.
28 December 2003 - Early morning birding at Guango. Then lower Papallacta, arriving at San Isidro late afternoon. Night San Isidro.
29 December 2003 - Birding along the road and on the trails at San Isidro. Night San Isidro.
30 December 2003 - Morning birding the lower east slope (Kilometre 13 and the Vine Tree). Afternoon Guacamayos Ridge. Night San Isidro.
31 December 2003 - All day on the lower east slope (Kilometre 13 and the Vine Tree). Night Orchid's Paradise.
1 January 2004 - Day at El Para Reserve (eastern foothills). Night Orchid's Paradise.
2 January 2004 - Travel from Orchid's Paradise to Quito, via birding at Guacamayos Ridge and Papallacta. Night La Rabida.
3 January 2004 - Travel to Sacha Lodge. Late afternoon birding at Sacha. Night Sacha.
4 January 2004 - Birding the Providencia Trail (south side of the Rio Napo). Night Sacha.
5 January 2004 - Morning on the trails and second metal canopy tower at Sacha. Afternoon canoe trail and walk back along the trails. Night Sacha.
6 January 2004 - Parrot licks, river islands and long trail on the south side of the river (which includes the second parrot lick). Night Sacha.
7 January 2004 - Morning on the wooden canopy tower and the trails, returning along the canoe trail. Afternoon walking the trails from the lodge, with late afternoon on the second metal canopy tower. Night Sacha.
8 January 2004 - Early morning birding at the Finca due to heavy rain. Then river islands. Afternoon on the Providencia trail. Night Sacha.
9 January 2004 - Hour and a half's birding on the walk from the lodge to the river. Rest of day travelling to Quito. Night La Rabida.
10 January 2004 - Day at Antisana. Night La Rabida.
11 January 2004 - Early morning departure for the airport.
The amount of time we spent at most places was about right. However, with hindsight we would have benefited from an extra two days at Tandayapa, as we would have liked another go at PVM (since we missed a few species there due to bad weather) and another day birding the Upper Tandayapa Valley. Some more time on the east slope would also have been good, so that we could have birded Sumaco. The length of time we spent at the other sites was about right, and we certainly wouldn't have wanted less time anywhere.
We got wet a few times, although we didn't lose a lot of time to rain, as mostly it was only light. However, the fact that the steady rain at Los Bancos finally gave way to a torrential downpour just as we were watching one of the biggest and best bird flocks I've ever experienced was frustrating (putting it mildly!). We also had a few hours more birding at the Finca at Sacha than we really needed whilst we sheltered from very heavy rain, a few hours in the car at Loreto Road, and some difficulties at PVM, since trying to watch canopy flocks of tanagers and other small birds in the rain isn't easy. The rain at PVM certainly cost us a few species, but otherwise it wasn't too much of a problem.
On a more positive note, we were very lucky with the weather at both Papallacta and Antisana, where it was dry and bright, and not even all that cold, making for very pleasant and easy birding conditions.
In the lowlands it was mostly warm to very warm, but certainly not uncomfortably hot, and at higher elevations it was generally cool, but not uncomfortably cold.
Problems and annoyances
This trip was perfect from start to finish, with no real problems. However, flying via the US is worse than ever, with the new security measures meaning a long time spent queuing. We flew via Miami and would not have made our connections if we'd had less than three hours between flights.
Mosquitoes, chiggers, etc weren't a big problem and were kept off by insect repellant. We didn't see any poisonous snakes and we didn't get stung by anything.
The trails at Sacha were pretty muddy, and as a result guests are asked to wear rubber boots on the trails. These can be borrowed at Sacha, but we took our own as they were also very useful at the El Para Reserve. Walking around in wellies all day isn't nearly as uncomfortable as we expected it to be.
20 December 2003
We arrived in Quito late in the evening and were met at the airport by a driver from Tropical Birding, who took us straight to La Rabida hotel in Quito, about half an hour's drive from the airport. It was nearly midnight by the time we got there so we went straight to bed.
La Rabida is a very friendly and comfortable hotel with good food and a nice atmosphere.
21 December 2003
We had breakfast at 5am and Iain Campbell, who was to be our guide for the first two weeks of the trip, came to collect us at 5.30am. We then spent most of the day birding at Yanacocha, which is at an altitude of around 3,500 metres
Yanacocha was a great place to start the trip, as it has some superb birds, some of which we could not expect elsewhere on the trip, but it also doesn't have the overwhelming number of species found at some of the lower elevation sites. On the drive up we got our first antpitta
of the trip as a Tawny
flew across the road, shortly followed by a Short-eared Owl
A little further up Iain parked the vehicle and we set off walking and birding up a wide track. It wasn't long before we heard an Ocellated Tapaculo
calling close to the track, so we found a place to climb down into the undergrowth and sit quietly while Iain played the tape. After a short time I could see it's tail moving, but we had to get further in before it came closer and perched a few metres away from us, when we were able to get largely unobscured views of it facing us and calling. Once we'd had a good look at the front of the bird, it obligingly turned round to fan its tail and give us a perfect back view! Half an hour into the first day's birding and it was already too good to be true.
We then went to a spot where a mixed flock regularly passes through, which it did very soon after we got there, allowing us great views of Scarlet-bellied, Hooded
and Black-chested Mountain Tanagers,
as well as some conebills, flowerpiercers
and a few other species.
Continuing along the track we heard several Undulated Antpittas
and Unicolored Tapaculos
, but they were all calling from thick cover on the very steep slope above us, so we had no chance of climbing into the undergrowth to try to see them. However, we had more luck with an Ash-colored Tapaculo
, which we saw well for a short time, and a pair of extremely cute fluffy Rufous Wrens
We heard Barred Fruiteater
several times but we weren't able to locate one and unfortunately we didn't see or hear that species again on the trip.
There were hummingbird feeders placed at intervals along the main track and along a more narrow trail at the end, and we got very good views of Sapphire-vented
and Golden-breasted Pufflegs
, both species that we didn't see again on the trip, as well as a number of more widespread hummingbirds
. The very rare Black-breasted Puffleg is sometimes seen at Yanacocha, but mainly between March and June.
It was starting to get very foggy as we walked back along the track, and there was very little bird activity. After a very good box lunch, we set off on the drive to Tandayapa Bird Lodge (TBL) for a six-night stay. We arrived late afternoon with enough time for a short walk on the trails before dark.
Before hitting the trails though we got around nineteen species of hummingbirds on the feeders in about half an hour of watching! The Booted Racket-tails
and Violet-tailed Sylphs
were particularly gorgeous, as were the stunning Empress Brilliants
We only had a short time on the trails, but it was long enough to get us three more species - firstly a Rufous-breasted Antthrush
, which obligingly hopped just ahead of us on the trail, then our third tapaculo
of the day, this time Narino
, and finally the amazing Toucan Barbet
, two of which came in and perched in a tree right by the trail, just as the rain started to get heavy (and just before it got too dark).
We stayed out on the verandah for a while when we got back, and saw the Rufous-bellied Nighthawk
that regularly flies over the lodge at dusk.
Tandayapa Bird Lodge is a superb lodge catering almost exclusively for birders. It has a great atmosphere and fantastic food, as well as superb hummingbird feeders and great birding on the trails.
22 December 2003
We spent the day birding the Upper Tandayapa Valley, which involved driving along the road and getting out to bird at intervals.
One of the first species of the day was Tanager Finch
. We heard them calling for a while, and just as I thought we weren't going to see them, one came in very close. A second one then came right out into the open on the other side of the road. Really gorgeous birds! We also got quite a few other species at that spot.
After that the birding was quiet for a while until we came upon a really big flock, including lots of tanagers and a couple of gorgeous Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers.
Further up the road we got a couple of stunning Plate-billed Mountain Toucans
and an impressive Powerful Woodpecker
. Heading back for lunch we had another slightly smaller flock, which got us a few new species, and we also stopped at some bamboo where Iain taped in a couple of lovely Plain-tailed Wrens
After a great lunch at the lodge we headed out again, this time with Mark, one of the other Tropical Birding guides, as Iain had flu and needed to take some time off. This time we went a bit further up the valley. The birding was quiet initially but again we got onto a few big flocks. Some of the best birds of the afternoon were a Flammulated Treehunter, Streaked Tuftedcheek
, some very cute Sepia-brown Wrens
and several Pearled Treerunners.
23 December 2003
Iain was still ill today so we set out early this morning for the Milpe Road / Los Bancos area (about 1,000 metres elevation) with Mark and another Tropical Birding guide, Nick Athanas.
The Milpe Road is an area with a mixture of forest and overgrown pastures, and a lot of interesting birds. The Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation has just bought a large area of land adjacent to the place where we were birding, which should further enhance the birding opportunities in this area once trails have been constructed there.
Two of my main target species for this area were Ochre-breasted
and Moss-backed Tanagers
. As soon as we arrived we got both of these. The Ochre-breasted tends to perch in the open and call very loudly, and the Moss-backeds were also conspicous.
We birded along the track getting some more very good birds, including the wonderful Club-winged Manakin, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Rufous-throated Tanagers
and several flycatchers
In the more open areas we got our only Guayaquil Woodpecker
of the trip, and two gorgeous Gray-and-gold Tanagers
. In another area of forest we got great views of Pacific Tuftedcheek
, which was part of a very large mixed flock.
It rained all morning, although fortunately it was only drizzle for most of the time. However, at one point the rain got torrential just as we were watching a really big flock. In the end we had to dash back to the vehicle as it was just too wet to see anything through our binoculars.
We had lunch at Las Colibris restaurant in Mindo, which had a few hummingbird feeders and a Dagua Thrush
in the garden. We then walked a small trail from there down to the river, where we got superb views of two pairs of White-capped Dippers
, as well as Golden-headed Quetzal
and a few woodcreepers.
We spent the rest of the afternoon birding our way back to Tandayapa, getting some more tanagers
including Glistening Green
, and several seedeaters and other more open habitat species.
24 December 2003
I spent the day birding at Quatros Rios (Four Rivers) with Nick. Sean opted to stay at Tandayapa as he didn't want a repeat of the soaking he'd got the previous day! He probably made the right decision as it rained the whole time we were at Quatros Rios. However, getting wet again was worth it to me as we saw some really great birds. Quatros Rios is a beautiful area of rainforest at about 600 metres elevation, and we were trying for a small number of quite difficult birds, most of which we got.
One of the first birds we saw was a foraging Scaly-throated Leaftosser
on the path ahead of us. Esmereldas Antbird
then took a lot of effort, as it stayed calling in deep cover for a long time. Eventually we saw it by crossing a shallow part of the river, getting our feet as wet as the rest of us! We also saw a lovely Black-headed Antthrush
and a female Spot-crowned Antvireo
, as well as a close White-whiskered Puffbird
, an even closer Southern Nightingale Wren
, a very fast and hard to see Ruddy Foliage-gleaner
, and a Tawny-faced Gnatwren
. The highlight of the day though was a gorgeous Spotted Nightingale Thrush.
On the way back we had a stop just before we got back to the Lodge, where we got Slaty Spinetail
, a species I've heard a number of times but never seen, as well as Pale-eyed Thrush
and Whiskered Wren
Tonight we had a superb Christmas dinner and a few drinks at Tandayapa.
25 December 2003
We spent this morning on the trails at Tandayapa Bird Lodge with Nick, which meant we didn't need to get up quite so early. Before we'd gone very far we heard Dark-backed Wood-Quails
calling close to the trail. Nick played the tape and we managed to see a couple of them flying across the path, although they were pretty fast so we didn't get great views.
A little further on we got White-throated Quail-Dove
, which flew off from a branch above the trail. We also saw another one further up the trail, which again didn't hang around.
We spent a little while trying to locate a calling Wedge-billed Hummingbird, a species that doesn't visit the feeders, but we didn't manage to see it.
At an overlook higher up the trail we got very good looks at Flavescent Flycatcher
, and further down we had both Crested
and Golden-headed Quetzals
, and a gorgeous male Golden-winged Manakin.
The best birds of the morning were on the way back. First we got very good views of an Olivaceous Piha,
followed almost immediately by my most wanted Cotinga, Scaled Fruiteater
. We heard one calling some way off (or so I thought), so Nick played the tape for it. It didn't sound to me like it was getting very close at all, but after a while the female came in and perched about eye-level only a few metres away from us. We got really superb views and I was delighted, but the best was to come as whilst we were still admiring the female, the male came in just as close - an absolutely stunning bird and another close contender for bird of the trip.
For once we got lucky with the rain - the downpour started about thirty seconds after we got back to the lodge for lunch!
Mark had taken some other birders out on the trails in the morning, and they'd seen an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock very close to the trail. We must have missed it by only a few minutes, but finding another one was one of our main aims for the afternoon, which we spent birding from some of the roads downhill from the lodge.
Our first stop was at a spot for Uniform Antshrike
, and we saw a male very well. Continuing on, Nick suddenly stopped the car when he heard Beautiful Jays
calling near to the road. We jumped out and had incredible views of two of them - they were really gorgeous and to see them so well was suberb. After that we went to a spot where we could look across the valley to an area where Cock-of-the-rocks
often gather to lek. By this time it was raining quite hard again so we sat in the vehicle waiting for some activity. It was some time before we saw a flash of brilliant red flying across. We then got good views of that first bird, followed by two more.
On arriving back at the lodge I realised that I probably wouldn't get another chance to bird the trails, so I decided to head out for an hour on my own before it got dark. I didn't see anything new, but I did get more superb views of Rufous-breasted Antthrush
hopping along the path, and an incredibly close Tyrannine Woodcreeper
. I also spent some time watching a pair of Immaculate Antbirds
- I heard them calling before I saw them, but it was a very loud short call that I didn't recognise from any of the recordings I'd studied before the trip. Then the male came into view, followed by the female, and they seemed completely unconcerned by me as they hopped about on, and close to, the path. At one point the male was on the path ahead of me, and he was moving forward with massive high leaps - very interesting to watch although I really don't know what he was doing!
On the way back to the lodge I heard Dark-backed Wood-Quails
again, but it was already getting dark and they were some distance away.
26 December 2003
We had an early breakfast and got to Pedro Vicente Maldono (PVM) just after it got light. This is a lowland area with some really excellent birds, although sadly much of the original habitat has been lost. Unfortunately it rained for most of the morning, so whilst we got some big mixed flocks, it was hard to see small canopy birds well with rain falling on our binoculars. The weather improved in the afternoon, when we got another large flock.
We got some very good birds, but missed others. In particular I was hoping for Scarlet-and-white Tanager and Scarlet-breasted Dacnis. We didn't see the Tanager at all, and Iain saw a female Dacnis but I didn't manage to get onto it. We did however get a female Tiny Hawk, Violet-bellied
and Purple-chested Hummingbirds, Olivaceous Piculet, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Yellow-tufted Dacnis
and Scarlet-browed Tanager.
We also saw a parasitic wasp attack and paralyse a very large spider, which it then dragged under a stone.
27 December 2003
We had an early breakfast and then went down below the verandah at Tandayapa to see Streak-capped Treehunters
coming in just before dawn to pick moths off the lights. We got superb and very close views of two Treehunters.
We then left Tandayapa and headed first to Calacali, a high elevation site with low shrubs, where we spent just over an hour. The main target species here was White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant,
but there were also other good birds including our first gorgeous Golden-rumped Euphonias
of the trip, a cute Tufted Tit-Tyrant
, and an impressive male Black-tailed Trainbearer
. We got the Shrike-Tyrant
, but it was a rather distant back-lit view.
Next we headed up to Papallacta, where the weather was unusually good and we got most of the specialties very quickly. The only species we really had a problem finding was the normally very common Plumbeous Sierra-Finch
! We started off at the highest point first to look for Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes.
Iain had just told us to scan the further slopes for them when he looked down and saw three young ones looking right at us from about ten metres away!
Birding our way back down we got superb views of Tawny Antpitta, White-chinned Thistletail, Andean Tit-Spinetail
and Many-striped Canastero
. Further on we had another stop and got amazing views of a gorgeous Red-crested Cotinga
(much more impressive than it looks in the field guide), and a wonderful Giant Conebill
, which behaved like a big nuthatch. We also got great looks at gorgeous Black-backed Bush-Tanagers.
Unfortunately there were no birds on the lake at Papallacta, owing to an oil spill there about fifteen months ago.
After a box lunch at a nice spot where Shining Sunbeam can sometimes be found (but not by us), we headed further down to Guango, which is a newish lodge, for one night. Guango is really beautiful, with a trail running through very birdy gardens down to the river. It also has hummingbird feeders, where we got a few new species including the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird
, the beautiful Tourmaline Sunangel,
and the impressive Long-tailed Sylph.
We spent a few hours birding in the gardens, where we saw Pale-naped
and Slaty Brush-Finches. Turquoise Jays
were easy to see here, and Sean even saw one on our window ledge!
28 December 2003
We spent most of the morning birding at Guango. The highlight of the morning was seeing a pair of Torrent Ducks
on the river - really beautiful birds. We also got our only White-rumped Hawk
of the trip, a Mountain Avocetbill
, a Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager
and Oleaginous Hemispinguses
We then spent some time in the lower Papallacta area, mainly looking for Shining Sunbeam, again without success. We returned to Guango for lunch before heading to San Isidro Lodge, where we arrived late afternoon.
We spent a bit of time watching the hummingbird feeders, where Chestnut-breasted Coronets
and Speckled Hummingbirds
were common but there were no Bronzy Incas
. We then walked the Antvireo trail, where we got a nice flock right at the start, including Black-eared Hemispinguses
. The rest of the trail was through beautiful forest, but we didn't see or even hear any birds at all.
After another good dinner Carmen came in to tell us that she could hear one of the San Isidro Mystery-Owls
calling. We went out with the spotlights and walked a short distance along the track, to where Iain quickly located the Owl. We got excellent views of it before it moved to the top of a palm tree and was joined by a second one.
The San Isidro Mystery Owl is a new (as yet not formally described) species, which looks a bit similar to Black-and-White and Black-banded Owl, but sounds completely different to either of those species.
29 December 2003
After breakfast we spent some time birding along the track at San Isidro, where we got Unicolored Tapaculo, Long-tailed Antbird
and Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher
We also tried to see White-bellied Antpitta
- two were calling on opposite sides of the road, and both were quite close, but other than a very brief glimpse of movement as one of them moved rapidly from one bit of very dense cover to another, we didn't see them. We also heard Slate-crowned
and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas
We then did the Antvireo Trail again before lunch, which still didn't have any birds.
After lunch we sat and watched the feeders for a while until we got Bronzy Inca
, and we then headed up to the Guacamayos Ridge, where we got a few new tanagers, although the birding was pretty quiet. On the way back Sean spotted a Southern Lapwing
, which isn't generally seen so high up.
30 December 2003
We had a very early start this morning to get to the lower east slope, where we started off birding at Kilometre 13 whilst eating our boxed breakfast. We watched Cliff Flycatchers
sallying out for insects from the edge of a rocky cliff, and we also got a couple of flocks coming through, which we were able to see very well from our overlook. The highlight there was a gorgeous Yellow-throated Tanager
, and Golden-collared Honeyeaters
were also another great addition to our long tanager list.
We had lunch at a spot where Orange-breasted Falcon is often seen. Iain saw one briefly and we all heard it, but Sean and I didn't manage to see it.
Continuing on, a Fasciated Tiger-Heron
was a nice surprise as we crossed a bridge on our way to an area known as the Vine Tree or Llanos. We birded mainly from the road, which runs through a nice patch of forest, and we also spent a bit of time on one of the trails there, where we got a White-backed Fire-eye
. We also saw a gorgeous Coppery-chested Jacamar
and a very smart Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher
from the road, as well as brief looks at an Amazonian Umbrellabird
We birded along the Guacamayos Ridge again on the way back to San Isidro, seeing some more tanagers. This is where we got my worst dip of the trip - Iain saw some White-capped Tanagers fly across the road in front of the car, but I must have been looking the wrong way. We jumped out and ran up the road to try to see them, but they disappeared into the thick fog and didn't return.
31 December 2003
We set off from San Isidro at 3.30am to try to get to Sumaco, an area we'd not originally planned to visit, but that would potentially get us quite a few additional species. However, the drive was slow going due to very thick fog, and by the time we got to the Vine Tree area it was raining really hard, so rather than continuing on, we stopped, slept in the car for a few hours and then did some more birding in the Vine Tree area (when the rain eventually eased off enough for us to have a chance of seeing anything at all).
The birding was very quiet for most of the morning. We birded along the road for a while but there was very little around, so we then went a short distance on one of the trails where we got brief views of a Gray-chinned Hermit.
Later we got Ecuadorian Tyrannulet
from the road. We also saw an otter from a nearby bridge.
After lunch at the Vine Tree we spent some more time at Kilometre 13, where, after a while we got one big flock coming through.
We then headed to Archidona and the Orchid's Paradise Lodge, which is the only lodge we stayed at that isn't aimed mainly at birders. The lodge could have been very nice, but it's aimed primarily at wealthy Ecuadorian tourists and has some pretty tacky features. The worst thing about it was that they had four toucans (White-throated and Channel-billed) in a small cage there. Apparently they used to have a lot more birds and mammals in cages so at least it's better than it was (although we couldn't help wondering what they'd done with the rest of the animals). They've also chopped down a lot of the trees and put in a huge swimming pool. It's an odd place because it seems like a lovely rainforest lodge at first glance, but it's completely spoilt by the bits I've just mentioned.
1 January 2004
We spent the whole day at El Para Reserve, an area of rainforest on the lower east slope at around 500 metres elevation.
As soon as we got into the forest at El Para we had a small understory flock, which included Black-faced Antbirds
and a White-shouldered Antshrike.
Further on we got great views of two Slate-colored Hawks
, a Rufous-tailed Foliage-gleaner
, our second very fast and very elusive Ruddy Foliage-gleaner
of the trip, Striated Antbird
and great views of a Large-headed Flatbill.
We also saw some entirely green parrots with thick silver bills. They were almost certainly Short-tailed Parrots, but that species hasn't been recorded from that area before, so I'm not ticking it for now until I hear that someone else has also seen them there.
We returned to the vehicle for lunch, after which we sat in the car in the midday heat and watched the bird activity in the nearby trees, getting Ecuadorian Cacique
and our first Orange-fronted Plushcrowns.
We also walked up a short trail to another meadow where we got a male Lined Antshrike
On the way back to Orchid's Paradise we had to keep stopping to look at the many birds we were seeing from the car, including Yellow-bellied Dacnis, Paradise, Turquoise
and Swallow Tanagers, Little Woodpecker
and Caqueta Seedeater.
2 January 2004
We left Orchid's Paradise early this morning and headed back to Quito, birding along the way, mostly at Guacamayos Ridge, which is where we still needed a few more species.
At our first stop we heard Rufous-vented Tapaculo
calling close to the road, and we managed to get good views. There was also a female Black-chested Fruiteater
in the same area. Iain saw it first whilst I only glimpsed it. However, after a while I saw another female Fruiteater that didn't look like a Black-chested. Returning to the car I had a look in the field guide and realised it must have been a Scarlet-breasted
. We returned to that spot and this time saw a female and two juveniles, which were then joined by a gorgeous male, and we got amazing views of all four of them together.
We then drove a bit further before making another stop. We heard a Barred Antthrush
calling while we were birding along the road, and Iain thought we had a chance of seeing it if we climbed up towards it. I was initially skeptical about our chances of getting up there, but once Iain had broken through the first bit it wasn't too bad. We got in position and sat down, and Iain then played the tape. The bird responded and came a bit closer, but it was still some way off. We persevered but it seemed to have stopped moving. However, one of us must have moved slightly because we heard something fly very close behind us. We looked around and there was a second Antthrush perched about a metre away. It stayed there for ages so we could see every detail perfectly - a really superb bird and one of the highlights of the trip.
At our next stop we got our only Citrine Warbler
of the trip, and also our only Grass-green Tanagers,
which were big, bright, and a very unusual shade of green.
We had lunch at Guacamayos before heading for Papallacta, where we had another try at Shining Sunbeam
and saw one briefly. Iain and I also did our second climb of the day, this time for Paramo Tapaculo
, which kept moving from place to place before finally showing itself a bit higher up the gully and much further over to the right than it had started out.
We had dinner at La Rabida in Quito before going to a nearby pub for a few drinks with Iain and Nick.
3 January 2004
We were collected from La Rabida in the morning and taken to the airport for our flight to Coca. We got a little concerned when a group of forty or fifty people arrived at the airport, all headed to Sacha Lodge. We were all given questionnaires to complete about any preferred activities, dietary requirements, etc, and Sean and I started to worry that we might be birding crowded trails with a huge group.
Our 35-minute flight departed on time, but after about half an hour in the air they announced that it was too cloudy to land in Coca and we would have to turn back and try again later. Luckily however we were only on the ground in Quito for about another half hour before taking off again, and this time landing without incident at the tiny airport at Coca. We were then taken by bus to a nearby building where we were given sandwiches and bananas for lunch, and where we met Oscar, who was going to be our guide for the next six days. Oscar's the main birding guide at Sacha and when we realised we wouldn't be in a group with anyone else we started to feel a lot happier!
After lunch we all got onto the boat that would take us along the Rio Napo to Sacha. The Rio Napo is a very large wide river and there wasn't a lot to see on the journey. We got a few common species shortly after leaving Coca, but the boat was too fast and too far from the banks to see anything else.
We got off the boat at the Finca, an area that used to be farmed and that has some overgrown meadow habitat. There's an open-sided two storey building there and Oscar, Sean and I went upstairs to do some birding before we started walking to the lodge. We got a lot of common species there as well as one lifer, Mottle-backed Elaenia
, which seemed to be regular there although we didn't see it anywhere else.
I started to get a bit concerned again when Oscar kept calling us over for very common species like Blue-gray Tanager
and Great Kiskadee
, and pointing out birds that I'd already called several minutes earlier. At dinner I mentioned a few species I particularly wanted to see, and when all he said was "those are very hard birds", I really started to worry. However, first impressions can be misleading and Oscar turned out to be a superb guide who worked really hard to get us my most-wanted species, which in the case of Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Collared Puffbird
and Brown Nunlet
, took a lot of perseverance.
On leaving the Finca we started on the forty-minute walk to the lake, where we would board dug-out canoes to take us across to the lodge. Oscar pointed out two roosting Great Potoos
(an adult and a juvenile) and he also looked for a Mottled Owl that roosts a little way off the main boardwalk, although it wasn't there. We did however get great views of two White-eared Jacamars
and some Red Howler Monkeys. A little further on we caught up with the big group, who were looking at two gorgeous Night Monkeys in a roosting hole.
When we arrived at Sacha we went upstairs in the main building and were given fruit punch and nibbles whilst we were told a bit about the lodge and the routine. We were then taken to our rooms where we had time to unpack and get changed before dinner.
4 January 2004
We had an early breakfast before heading to the south side of the Rio Napo to spend most of day on the Providencia Trail. Oscar pointed out a roosting Agami Heron
just before we got out of the canoe after crossing the lake. We then saw four or five Undulated Tinamous
walking across the path and down a side track as we were walking to the Finca to get on the boat.
Shortly after setting out on the boat across the Rio Napo it started to rain quite heavily so we turned round and returned to the Finca. At first I wasn't too happy about that as I didn't want to lose any birding time. However, the rain got really torrential for an hour or so and we probably wouldn't have seen anything in that time anyway. When the rain had eased off we headed back out again.
We got some really superb birds on the Providencia trail, including great views of Banded Antbird
(really gorgeous), two Antthrushes
(a skulky Rufous-capped
and a very obliging Black-faced
), a male Lunulated Antbird
and a Spot-backed Antbird
, both of which showed incredibly well. We also got excellent views of Thrush-like Antpitta
(although it took a very long time to show itself), superb close looks at Red-necked Woodpecker
, and a lovely Yellow-billed Jacamar
Oscar tried a number of times for Collared Puffbird, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Brown Nunlet and Ash-throated Gnateater, but with no response.
On the way back to the lodge, Oscar had another look for the roosting Mottled Owl
, and this time we were in luck. I'm not sure how he managed to see it as it was a little way back off the boardwalk and well hidden - you had to be stood in exactly the right place to see it at all. However, we got very good views in the scope.
Just after we got into the canoe to cross the lake back to the lodge it started to rain really hard and we were absolutely drenched by the time we got back to our room.
5 January 2004
We walked through the forest for about forty minutes this morning to reach the second metal canopy tower just as it was starting to get light. There are two metal towers and one wooden one, although the first metal one seemed to be closed. Sacha are building a big high canopy walkway, but it seems to have run into some technical difficulties. It should be good if / when it gets completed.
The metal tower was high and very stable, although the platform was quite small. We spent a few hours up there and got excellent views of some canopy species, including Opal-rumped
and Opal-crowned Tanagers, Black-headed Parrot, Plum-throated
and Spangled Cotingas
and Golden-collared Toucanet
, as well as Chestnut-winged Hookbill
. We also saw a few raptors from the tower including Slender-billed, Gray-headed
and Double-toothed Kites, King Vulture
and Laughing Falcon.
After leaving the tower, we had a couple more hours on the trails, where we got great looks at a stunning Striated Antthrush
, a very bright Wire-tailed Manakin
, a Black-tailed Leaftosser
and a Lined Forest-Falcon.
We had lunch at the lodge and some rest time (during which I saw a Chestnut Woodpecker
from our balcony) before heading out again at 3.30 on the canoe trail, which starts across the lake from the lodge. I'd expected there to be a lot of different canoe trails at Sacha, but as far as I could tell this was the only one. It was very beautiful but quiet, although we did see a Purplish Jacamar
and a roosting Boat-billed Heron.
Once we'd got out of the canoe, Oscar played the tape for Silvered Antbird
, which responded back where we'd just been. We jumped back in the canoe and managed to get excellent close views of both male and female.
We then spent some time on the trails. Soon after getting out of the canoe we had a small flock, which included several White-flanked Antwrens
, a male Fasciated Antshrike,
a pair of Wire-tailed Manakins
, a Black-faced Antbird
and, best of all, a very close male Scale-backed Antbird
We then spent some time birding from a raised boardwalk through a swampy area where we got some superb birds including a gorgeous and very close Chestnut-capped Puffbird, White-chinned Jacamar
and Rufous-tailed Flatbill.
Leaving the boardwalk we then took a long trail through the forest back to the lodge. As it started to get dark we saw a Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl
in a roosting hole and a roosting Striated Antthrush
. As we got closer to the lodge Oscar started playing the tape for Crested Owl
. After a while we got a response and then the bird came in and perched quite low down not too far from us.
6 January 2004
It was just starting to get light this morning as we got across the lake in the canoe, and I managed to spot a Paraque
at the top of a palm stump, and then the Agami Heron
, which was roosting on a different tree.
We walked quickly down to the river and headed out on the boat some distance along the Rio Napo, first visiting a Parrot lick on the bank, where there were hundreds of Mealy
and Yellow-crowned Parrots
and smaller numbers of Blue-headed Parrots
and Dusky-headed Parakeets
. We then stopped briefly to look at a roosting Ladder-tailed Nightjar.
Continuing on we made a few stops at different places on a large river island, getting off the boat to walk on short trails. The first bird we tried for, and saw pretty well, was a Gray-breasted Crake
. We also heard a number of others calling in the low vegetation. There were a lot of beautiful Oriole Blackbirds
flying back and forth and we got very good views of Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant
. Further on we walked through an area of saplings, and Oscar played the call of Rufous-headed Woodpecker
. The response was almost immediate and we got fantastic views of a gorgeous male.
Before getting back on the boat we got good looks at Black-and-white Antbird
, and several White-bellied Spinetails
We then went a bit further along the river and spent some time on a long and very muddy trail on the south side of the river. There is a second parrot lick there, which attracts a different mix of species. Initially we only stopped there briefly, but later we had lunch in the large wooden shelter there and watched the parrots. The vast majority were Cobalt-winged Parakeets
, which were there in incredible numbers, but we also got superb close views of a much smaller number of stunning Orange-cheeked Parrots
and Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets
, as well as two Scarlet Macaws
that Oscar managed to locate in the tops of the trees.
The birding on the trail was very good. There were long quiet periods (as usual when birding in the forest) but we got some really great birds. The highlight was undoubtedly Striped Manakin
. Oscar played the tape and one responded, but it took a lot of searching before Sean saw it briefly. Oscar also saw it but I didn't get onto it before it moved again. It took a long time to relocate it, but fortunately Oscar found it again - it was a lot closer to us than it sounded and we got wonderful scope-filling views as it obligingly sat there calling.
On the way back for lunch we got excellent views of a beautiful and incredibly bright Yellow-browed Antbird
We took the canoe through the swamp again in the afternoon. It was still quiet but this time we got superb close views of a pair of Dot-backed Antbirds
, plus a Rufous-breasted Hermit
On the way back to the lodge we looked for Hoatzins
around the lake. I'd expected them to be very conspicuous there but it took a while for us to see one, and even then it was pretty obscured.
7 January 2004
We spent the first part of the morning on the excellent wooden canopy tower. On the way there Oscar kept trying for Collared Puffbird
, and eventually just as it was getting light one came in, and we got very good views of this superb bird.
The wooden tower is built around a huge Kapok tree, and the platform at the top is just below the crown, but with a great view looking down on most of the other trees. The birding here was very different to that from the metal tower, and we saw a lot more species here. Hummingbirds
kept coming in to the canopy of the kapok, and we got great views of a Gould's Jewelfront
that perched briefly at eye-level only a few metres away from us.
We also got great looks at a pair of wonderful Cream-coloured Woodpeckers
and Cinnamon-throated Woodcreepers, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Pygmy Antbird
(far brighter and more attractive than it looks in the field guide), some very close Gilded Barbets, Hauxwell's Thrush
, Olive Oropendola, Cinnamon Attila
and Pink-throated Becard.
After a few hours on the canopy tower we spent some time on the trails before returning along the canoe trail for lunch.
We didn't see a lot of birds from the trails, but we did get brief views of Undulated Antshrike
. It called close to us for ages but managed to stay very well hidden. We also got one of my best birds of the trip - a gorgeous Rusty-belted Tapaculo
that we saw very well walking across the forest floor.
After lunch we rested a bit before heading out again at 3.30. We started off by looking for Rufous-sided Crake in the vegetation below the deck. Unfortunately we didn't see or hear one.
We then walked through the forest towards the second metal tower. On the way we got incredible views of a Chestnut-belted Gnateater
. It perched about two metres in front of us right in the open, calling and flaring the white tufts on its cheeks. We didn't see any other birds on the way to the tower, although we did hear a Brown Nunlet
We spent the last couple of hours of daylight on the tower. Birding from there in the late afternoon was quite different to early morning. There were a lot of raucous Violaceous Jays
flying back and forth, quite a few raptors and very few tanagers. The highlight was a juvenile Crested Eagle
. It wasn't very close but we got good enough scope views to appreciate its huge size. We also got our second Tiny Hawk
of the trip, this time a good front view in the scope to complement the back view we'd had at PVM.
On the way back to the lodge we saw a Brownish Twistwing
, and as it got dark we tried for Long-tailed Potoo
, which called in response to the tape but didn't come in. Oscar also looked in a place where Marbled Wood-Quails sometimes roost, but they weren't there. He did however find us a roosting Short-billed Leaftosser
. It was clinging upright to the trunk of a large tree, about a metre of the ground.
8 January 2004
Today was only the second day of the trip when Sean opted out of the birding, as it was raining very hard when we got up and he didn't want to get soaked. However, he regretted his decision later as we sheltered at the Finca for a couple of hours until the rain eased off a bit, then went out on a boat with a canvas top, and only hit the trails when it dried out later.
The birding at the Finca was mostly quiet, probably due to the heavy rain, but just before we left there I got two lifers - a White-vented Euphonia
and a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
. I also got very good views of a Magpie Tanager
, and a Glittering-throated Emerald
was new for the trip list.
We then birded the nearby river islands from the covered boat, getting Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Fuscous Flycatcher
and Lesson's Seedeater
, and repeatedly hearing Castlenau's Antshrikes
that just wouldn't show themselves. We also saw a Peregrine
perched in a tree by the river, and another roosting Ladder-tailed Nightjar.
It was still raining so we returned to the Finca for a slightly early boxed lunch. By the time we'd finished lunch the rain had and we set out in one of the open motorised canoes. After a brief stop at a river island where we finally managed to see a Castlenau's Antshrike
, if rather fleetingly, and get brief views of a Lesser Hornero
and a couple of Plain-crowned Spinetails
, we went to the Providencia trail.
The original plan had been to spend the whole day on that trail, but with such heavy rain it wouldn't have been productive. Shortly after starting on the trail we flushed a roosting Ocellated Poorwill
Continuing on, Oscar played the tape for Ash-throated Gnateater at a few places where he's seen them before. At one point Carlos (who was assisting Oscar during our stay) was a bit ahead of us and he saw one very briefly as it flew off, but unfortunately it didn't return.
I got a few more lifers from the trail, including Masked Crimson Tanager
and a lovely Coraya Wren
. Whilst I was watching the Coraya Wren, the Brown Nunlet
that Oscar had been trying to call in every day since we arrived finally put in an appearance. It didn't hang around but I did see it well for a couple of seconds.
We also saw a family of Monk Saki Monkeys - a huge male and a female with a baby on her back - moving quite slowly across the trees on the edge of the clearing.
By the time we left the trail it was very hot and sunny. From the boat we spent some time trying to get decent views of a pair of very skulky Blackish Antbirds
in the riverside vegetation - we did see them eventually, but not for long. I also got my only Lemon-throated Barbets
of the trip. We heard White-lored Antpitta
calling but it would have been impossible to see it in the dense vegetation.
On the way across the lake back to the lodge we saw a Snail Kite
flying over. It wasn't a species I'd expected at Sacha but Oscar said he does see them there occasionally. Sean was waiting for me on the dock - he'd been watching Hoatzins
near to the lake and a Long-billed Woodcreeper
by the lodge.
9 January 2004
Today was almost entirely a travel day. However, we had time to walk slowly from the lake to the river and get in some last minute birding. As a result we got one more lifer at Sacha, in the form of a pair of White-shouldered Antbirds
. They weren't easy to see but they eventually came close enough for us to get excellent views of the male and brief views of the female.
We also heard a Tawny-throated Leaftosser,
but it didn't come any closer in response to the tape - a shame as if we'd seen it we'd have had all the possible Leaftossers on the trip.
The boat trip back to Coca was long and boring, the flight was uneventful, and we got back to La Rabida in Quito at around 1.30pm. We spent the afternoon writing up some notes, having a rest and enjoying a wonderful hot shower before dinner.
10 January 2004
We had an early breakfast this morning and José Illánes, another Tropical Birding guide, collected us for a day at Antisana, an area of paramo with stunning views of Antisana and Cotopaxi volcanoes. On the way there I ran through the species I thought we had a chance of seeing at Antisana that we hadn't seen so far - José managed to get us almost all of them.
One bird we still hadn't seen was Southern Yellow Grosbeak,
so we stopped in Antisana village on the way up and saw several very well.
Our first stop at Antisana was at an overlook where there was a board saying something about Andean Condors.
Looking onto the cliff opposite we saw two perched there.
We walked along the road for a while, getting good views of a female Ecuadorian Hillstar
(we never did see the male), a Streaked-backed Canastero
and many Plumbeous Sierra-Finches.
Returning to the car, we drove higher up, where Carunculated Caracaras
and Black-winged Ground-Doves
were abundant. We scanned for Black-faced Ibis
and found just one, which we saw very well.
Further on we walked along one edge of a large lake, seeing lots of Andean Coots, Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail
and a small number of waders including Andean Lapwing
. We also saw a Paramo Pipit
in that area. Silvery Grebe
took a bit more effort and a walk around the other end of the lake, where we saw about ten of them very well.
Having got almost all of our target species before lunch, we enjoyed our boxed lunch by the lake before starting to head back down. We stopped a couple of times on the way to look for Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant,
eventually getting excellent views of two perched on fence posts close to the road. That completed our birding in Ecuador, and I slept most of the way back to Quito!
Back at La Rabida we sat in the small hotel garden, where we saw a female Black-tailed Trainbearer
and a few Eared Doves.
11 January 2004
We had an early morning departure for the airport and an uneventful return journey, despite long queues at Miami due to the ever increasing security, and a two hour delay to our flight to London due to problems with the plane.
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