Southern Ecuador - January 2006

Published by Forrest Rowland (rowbird2005 AT

Participants: Forrest Rowland, Timothy Mitzen



I have been living in Ecuador for three years now, give or take. I originally came here to study/research with one of the local private Universities. After my year there was up, I decided to stay in the country to live. Ecuador, for me, has been great. I got a job guiding groups for various national and international tour agencies in the Andes and the Amazon. I spend most of my time in the Amazon, and this trip was a great opportunity for me to see some places that I knew little of and had little or no experience with.

The habitats overlapped a lot with places I had been, but the higher altitude Tumbesian sites, and some other very endemic species were on the target list. There were about 100 target birds, en route, that I had not seen in Ecuador, or ever before. We ended up seeing 58 of those, all told. I was ecstatic! My Ecuador total is hovering somewhere around 1300, my life list bumped up to around 3800 with this trip.

In all honesty, I spend about 8 months of the year in Ecuador, doing stints in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, during the other four. I’m having to work pretty hard now to get new birds here, but more than half the fun was just seeing new areas. We had good luck with Mammals on the trip, too, including seeing White-bellied Spider Monkeys and Olingo at Copalinga.

Tim and I met each other a few years back, on a trip to Mexico, where I was living/working, at the time. We’ve done a trip about every year since. He has been coming to Ecuador at least once a year since he first came, with our other best friend Jamie Arnold, to bird. He has plenty of experience in the Northern part of the country, but this was his first trip to the far South of the country. I think he got a grand total of more than 150 new birds.

Introduction and Format:

The setup of this report is pretty straight forward. Following this will be the report itself, which is a narrative of the places we visited, how we got there, and costs. Well, rough estimates of costs, of course, as we don’t include things like coffee and fritada stops along the way and all. We just include things we imagine can be useful to birders that are heading this way in the future.

The Compiled List section of this report is as accurate as we could hope for. We tried to count numbers of seen and heard birds, but heard birds, save for a few, and seen birds…well we’d be talking about recording the sites and times of seeing more than 5,000 individuals, at least. We ended up recording about half this, but were careful to include all of the species we visually recorded, of course, and some of the birds that are interesting to know are present, through vocalizations. We definitely had our aims, and there were plenty of species we could have recorded, should we have been looking for them. This was a clean up trip, for us, for those birds we still lack for the country, so we searched them out. It was hugely successful, with our only real misses being White-headed Brush-Finch and Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant. We weren’t too concerned about either, given that a Northern Peru trip is in the making.

If the reader has any questions at any time or wants any more information about the sites, etc. please feel free to contact the authors for help. Now, for the good stuff:


Day 1: Las Cajas Recreation Area / “Rental Car Runaround”

On our first full day of birding, we got up at what we thought was bright and early, but what would turn out to be our one and only lie in. We slept until 5:30am. Both Tim and I figured that we could catch a bus easy enough to Las Cajas without any trouble, and that this would be sufficient time to get us there before the sun was very high. As soon as we stepped out the door at 5:45, we knew we were wrong. The sun was already coming up and would be hot on the paramo very early. So, when our cabbie hit us up to take us straight there, rather than just to the bus station, we were all smiles. He charged us $15 to take both of us as far as Illincocha, the first small lagoon just 1 km past Toreadora. We stocked up at the bus station before we left town though, because NOTHING is open in Cuenca before 6:30am, as our driver informed us. We began birding at 6:40am.

We got our first target species as soon as we stepped out of the car: Tit-like Dacnis! Good start. Tim picked up another lifer about 2 minutes later, Blue-mantled Thornbill, both right at the pond. Paramo Seedeater was a nice surprise here, as well.

We walked down from Illincocha to Toreadora about 30 minutes later, given that it was pretty quiet and knowing we were going to have to work for our birds. The paramo and temperate forest birds actually seem to prefer decidedly bad weather. It was a beautiful day, so the birds were few and far between, but Tim rattled off some awesome photos. Two of which were of Giant Conebill and a very friendly Paramo Ground-Tyrant. We saw numerous other species along the way, all typical of paramo zones. What surprised me the most, was that there were representatives of both humid and arid paramo zones here, which do not normally occur together in the North of Ecuador.

It took us about an hour and change to make our way back to the highway, from Toreadora, walking slowly, chasing Canasteros, and scanning for Grebes. No Violet-throated Metaltail so far. We reckoned that we might as well walk down, having read on two trip reports that the bird tends to be outside the park, around Dos Chorreras. Well, this is exactly where we finally found them, without knowing it at the moment.

A small dirt road heads downhill, from just opposite the entrance to La Virgen de Cajas. It was on this short road that we had quick views of a female shooting by us. Luckily, the male giving chase stopped long enough, and perched, to check us out for a good 10 seconds or so, before following on after her. Satisfactory looks for both Tim and I (though I couldn’t really make out the gorget as well as I would have liked), and our only two for the trip.

By now we were ready to get back to Cuenca, and get things in order with our rental car. Once we realized we could follow the same dirt road back down to the highway, right at the Dos Chorreras sign advertising good food and a nice place to stay, it was easy. Plus, I can vouch for the food!

Here comes the advice for birders coming to Cuenca in the future: book your rental cars in advance. I would now suggest doing it through Bombuscaro rentals, which has offices in Quito, Cuenca, Loja, and now Guayaquil. We managed to find THE last rental in the entire town, through Bombuscaro, which, as it was, wouldn’t be ready until the following day. We were pretty gutted by this, because we thought we absolutely needed the ride to get us up to Yunguilla and the Pale-headed Brush-Finch. The old cliché held true, however. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Overnight: $15/room at El Cafecito in Cuenca. Quick note…we both really liked the place! Hopping bar, good food, clean rooms, and in a nice part of town. Most important, the staff were very helpful in arranging cabs, etc., and phone calls, for us. Good folks all around.

Day 2: Yunguillas Reserve / Rental pickup / Cuenca to Saraguro

So, to expand on the cliché from earlier..we woke up at 3:45am this morning. Yeah, you read correctly. We called Enrique Calle, Jocotoco’ man-in-charge at Yunguilla Reserve, to meet us in the morning. This required two calls, though, so try to organize accordingly. We called early the previous afternoon to allow for time for Enrique’s wife to tell him he needed to be by the phone at 7pm to receive our call. Then, we called at 7pm, the night before we were to meet, to set a time and place to meet, that was easy and convenient for all of us. Sounds complicated, but it wasn’t at all. Enrique was on time, waiting for us at 6 am, at the designated spot in La Union (in front of the horses statue beneath the thatch roof) with his machete and a smile. What a character. Mr. Calle is a extremely nice person and was more helpful than we could have ever hoped. I’m very glad we got in touch with him.

To our surprise, and relief, there was transport up to the reserve from the bus stop (bus ride from Cuenca to La Union is 1.5 hours and 1.50USD). There is a maze of roads to be navigated properly to allow arriving to the trailhead, and, once there, the trail is inconspicuous. Do arrange through Enrique your entrance there. He’s more than happy not only to take you to the reserve, but to share some of his knowledge about the Pale-headed Brush-Finch.

Getting to the birds of the preserve, Enrique showed us the territories of the Brush-Finches, and we ended up seeing a grand total of FIVE, all right in the open, two of which sat obligingly, no more than 5 meters away! Great looks at one of the rarest birds in the world, and in good company to boot. Other interesting birds included Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant and Pacific Elaenia, amongst the 40 or so species we noted.

We arrived back to Cuenca around 2pm and went to pick up our rental car, which was promised to be ready no earlier than 4 o’clock. Naturally, they weren’t thrilled that we came early, but I was impressed how fast they prepped our Jeep and got us all squared away with paperwork.

We reached an agreement that $50/Day with 150km included was a fine deal and that we’d keep the car for 4 days, though we ended up keeping it more in the end. The return was left flexible to change, should we want to stay with the ride longer, and we could even drop the Jeep off in Loja, for a $50 fee, rather than drive it all the way back to Cuenca. Given that rentals in Quito, like this one, run $65/Day with 100kms included, we were very, very happy with the turnout. The car was nice and in good condition, and the 4WD high-clearance definitely, and almost immediately, proved very useful.

Tim and I made it into Loja by about 3:30pm, give or take. The road was in decent, but patchy condition, but this didn’t slow as down…as much as it should have maybe. What DID was the scenery. This drive is undoubtedly one of the three most beautiful I’ve ever made. Very impressive and through some good habitat. Our only real birding along the way to stop and check out a Sparrow I had seen roadside. After having seen loads of Sierra-Finches and Sparrows in our day, this little bird merited a “Hold it. Back up!” at 70kms/hr on the main highway.

We were heading uphill from a small canyon and bridge just before Ona (~ 140kms from Cuenca), when I noticed a small bird on the edge of the road with a couple Rufous-collared Sparrows. At the time I’m writing this, we still don’t know exactly what it as, but our inclinations were to Grasshopper Sparrow, a bird thought to have been extirpated from Ecuador decades ago. Both Tim and I have birded extensively, being from the United States, and have had a great deal of experience with this species, and we are both positive that, at least, this was an Ammodramus sp. Sparrow. Grasshopper is the only one known to have ever occurred here.

After being completely excited by this bird, which we ended up getting great looks at, we headed on to Saraguro, arriving at nightfall. A 4-hour trip, total, that could easily have been made in around 3, that put us in one of the most quaint Andean villages we had seen. All the locals wear their native garb and were all very friendly. We even found a warm meal for dinner, and we were both able to get in touch via internet and phone with our girlfriends, who, by now, were definitely wondering what the hold up was.

Overnight: Samana Wasi Hostal on 10 de Marzo y Panamericana. Another nice place, though a little pricey for what we got. It cost us $7/person. Of course I was just kidding about it costing to much! Worth every penny. Clean, nice beds, plenty of hot water (that I ended wishing I’d USED about two days later), and they even had a parqueadero for the Jeep.

Day 3: Ancanama to Tapichalaca / Valladolid

Our day started at 4:30am, and we were out the door by 5:00am. The turnoff for Ancanama lies a short 4 kms from Saraguro, heading South towards Loja, on the left. This road requires, at least, a high-clearance vehicle, preferably a 4WD. Our little Jeep had no trouble, but was clearing a few potholes by mere centimeters.

The first 5.5kms of the drive is marked only by pastures, and a quarry, before reaching the “Y” in the road at this point. From here, the habitat gets better, but is still not “good”. We were rewarded the early start by three Band-winged Nightjars and one Scissor-tailed Nightjar sitting right on the track, during our ascent.

The main attraction here is the Crescent-faced Antpitta. And, if you bother to come out here, that’s what you come to see. At the fork, you bear left, onto the less traveled track that heads uphill, towards the now visible radio masts. 2.1 kms from turning left at the fork, park (you should notice a pullout on the right just past some bamboo) before reaching the radio masts, and begin the search.

We were ecstatic with the results, finding TWO responsive individuals, seeing one particularly cooperative bird at no more than 3m. It sat there, looked at us, and kept calling! We were incredibly lucky, for sure, but knowing that there is more than one bird present on territory, is reassuring for future visits.

After finding the Antpitta, we headed down the main track (rather than returning to the highway), heading left at the fork on our way down. We got great looks at an Aplamado Falcon, below eye-level, hunting back and forth across the valley just below us.

We picked up some species on the way to Valladolid, stopping in good habitat, of which there was unfortunately little. Best bird on the way was near the pass, in an open area, where we first encountered many of the special hummingbirds in the area, but would soon see at the Tapichalaca feeder. This bird was a Mountain Avocetbill, that was foraging on the hillside next to the road. It gave few good looks, but was sufficiently active to see well enough.

We arrived in Valladolid, after birding briefly at Tapichalaca, just before sunset, secured our accommodations (if we can really call it that), and headed directly downhill to pick up a few birds for the trip list that come up from the Maranon drainage. We ran in to Maranon Thrush, Black-faced Tanager, and got a nice little tanager flock coming through at dusk.

Overnight: We spent tonight at the Residencial Valladolid, near the town square. What I can say is, there is a roof overhead. It is extremely basic, but was sufficient..barely. As for the smells, well, you can put up with it for a night or two for $3/pp, or you can go stay at the reserve for $100/pp. Let’s just say, at this point, we were hoping to get our target birds the next morning, and move on. Unfortunately….

Day 4 -5: Tapichalaca

We awoke, again, at 4:30am. It’s about a 20-30 minute drive to arrive at the preserve, from Valladolid, and we wanted to try for night birds. There were no Nightjars present along the road, though, due to traffic, and I think that this will remain the case, on most nights, for the same reason as we encountered.

Starting at the Quebrada Honda trailhead (not at the lodge) we headed down what we assumed was the trail towards the Jocotoco Antpitta territories. It was not. We had this problem all morning, afternoon, and the following morning: we were always confused with the trail system and the directions given to us were completely dumbfounding.

To get the bad news out of the way first, we didn’t even find the preferred sites (they had just cut two new trails and were still giving old directions) until noon, of Day 5. So, we dipped on the Antpitta. We spent all day, both days, only eating dinner and granola bars, drinking water, on the trails, until late as possible. We can definitely say we tried our best for what proved to be a difficult bird (much more so than we had foolishly IS an Antpitta), but were happy for having put in so many hours. We had some amazing and unforgettable experiences there!

For example, the feeders, to start off, are fantastic. We got the requisite Rufous-capped and Rainbow-bearded Thornbills, and both Flame-throated and Amethyst-throated Sunangels. The trails above the lodge are fantastic, and the Mule Trail Abajo was stunning, having three mixed flocks on the trail, all of which eventually JOINED to form this massive, ridiculous, super-flock (for lack of a better word) that parked overhead for more than 45 minutes solid. We were treated to some goodies like Green-and-Black and Black-chested Fruiteaters, loads of Furnariid activity, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Rufous-chested and Slaty-backed (happened near a creek) Chat-Tyrant, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, many, many Tanagers,
Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Plushcap, Strong-billed and Montane Woodcreepers, Greater Scythebill, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, and many other great birds.

Some other goodies away from the flock included Orange-banded Flycatcher, Unicolored and Chusqea Tapaculos (heard Ash-colored and Ocellated but did not try audio), and the Antpittas. Oh…the Antpittas are great! We had great looks at Rufous and Chestnut-naped, and had a brief look at Slate-crowned. What a variety and NUMBER of Antpittas here. I don’t think I have ever (or maybe will ever) hear so many calling in one place at one time. I can’t wait to come back and look for the Jocotoco Antpitta again. I might actually be glad that we missed it! Well..

Overnight: After Day 5 being spent at entirely at Tapichalaca, we booked it to Vilcabamba for a much needed HUGE meal, which turned out to be very good, authentic, Mexican food at El Jardin Escondido. Highly recommend the place. Really good food, and I lived in Mexico for a year. Chipotles and jalapenos were practically on tap! Anyways, we wanted a nice place to stay, and found it too, at the Rumi-Wilco Ecolodge and Reserve. Great place. Nice rooms, warm water (which we needed after not bathing or shaving for our two days in Valladolid), good beds, and the owners seemed like very nature-oriented and conscientious people who had set up a great spot for people to simply relax and enjoy. Perfect atmosphere for us, and at only $5/pp it was most definitely a steal. We left Vilcabamba the next morning feeling totally refreshed and glad we decided not to venture another night in Valladolid.

Day 6: Cerro Toledo to Sozorango

Today’s description gets a little long as far as directions AFTER Cerro Toledo go, so I’ll label that separately and you can skip it, if need be. That sections describes a short way to cut across to Sozoranga, from Vilcabamba, and saves the traveler some 70kms on the rental car mileage meter.

We got a late start today. We slept seven and a half hours, rather than 7, getting ourselves out of bed, ready to hit the trail, at 5:00am. The access to Cerro Toledo is straight forward. We returned to Yangana (on the road between Vilcabamba and Valladolid), about 45 minutes from Vilcabamba, and started up the old Valladolid road, which takes a left off the main highway, just .8kms (less than 1km) past the checkpoint South of the main town square.

The first 9kms of the road are not very good habitat-wise, but quickly gives way to outstanding temperate forest, then on uphill into treeline forest. You first hit good forest at around 11kms up the track. The treeline forest starts around 15kms. This is where we began birding, getting our first lifer as soon as we stepped out of our vehicle, at 6:30am. It was one of our two main targets: Neblina Metaltail.

Cerro Toledo is not a well-known nor well-birded place, so I implore visitors to give it a go. They will be rewarded. We managed to find 4 Neblina Metaltails, and 2 Masked Mountain-Tanagers, in with a flock of Black-chested Mountain-Tanagers and Golden-crowned Tanagers, before I could even soak up the view, which was almost as incredible as the birding turned out to be. We found Mouse-colored Thistletail for Tim (who didn’t manage a good look at El Cajas), White-browed Spinetails, loads of hummingbirds, and the two other major highlights for us: and flock of nearly 20 Golden-plumed Parakeets, and one somewhat vocal Highland Elaenia.

The rest of the day was spent making a couple stops for pizza, internet, and phone calls in Vilcabamba, and the long trek to Sozoranga. Here’s the shortcut:

Directions section -

From Vilcabamba, head North to Malacatos and take the road straight West to Purunuma and Gonzanama, out of the far side of the town square. This road is NOT paved, but in decent condition if one does not hit a torrential rain (which we did). 4WD is recommended.

The road to Gonzanama is not obvious, so do not hesitate to stop and ask directions. Once in Gonzanama, take the pavement (obvious) South to Cariamanga, some 26.5 kms South/Southwest from Gonzanama. In Cariamanga, take the road that heads out the far side of the main square (ask directions if necessary…we did) and follow the pavement out of town. It is the only paved road leaving Cariamanga, but can be confusing in the town itself.

The drive from Cariamanga to Utuana is 36kms long, then another 21 kms to Sozoranga. The entire trip is about 140kms, give or take, rather than 220kms, going through Loja and down to Macas, and is paved 70% of the way. Recommended. Total travel is about 2 - 2.5 hours, either way, but if you’re paying for kms on the rental car, this is a good way to save about $20.

Overnight: The famously basic hotel on the town square, our accommodations were noted by a painted Hotel sign, black, on gray paint. This establishment is definitely minimalist, and somewhat…ummm…undesirable. But, again, Ecuadorian basic accommodation is better than in some countries, and good enough for us, at $2.50/pp. This ties with Valladolid for “dodginess” but wins for most “economic”! Good luck.

Day 7: El Tundo / Utuana / Jorupe

Today had been built up so much in our minds, that we were very worried that weather, the car, or anything, might go wrong. We had one shot only to get the endemics we were looking for here, and we had bad news come to us. Four Dutch birders, whom we ran in to on the way down to Sozorango, had recalled to us their day veiled completely in fog, with only one Rufous-necked Foliage-Gleaner seen, during a day spent trolling for all the specialties that these gentlemen came all the way across the world to see. We knew the birding may be difficult. I believe, during our conversations, we all decided subconsciously to join forces.

Given the bad weather on the higher elevations of the day before experienced by Peter and his group, we all decided to try the risky option of hitting up the road to El Tundo Reserve, and the reserve itself, if there was time. There wasn’t, but nor was it necessary. We saw our target species on the road, just as we had hoped.

To reach the road to El Tundo, head towards Loja (not Utuana) and look for the very first dirt track heading uphill (right). The track has many signs posted in front of it, all for the sanitary waste dump, none for El Tundo. Regardless, take this track up and follow the forks in this order: left fork (the wider of the two), right (the one that does NOT lead to the dump), left fork, then follow this one out for about 1 kilometer or two, to hit the first good patches of forest.

The forest at El Tundo was extremely productive, with many active flocks and the following special species: Three-banded Warbler, Loja Tyrannulet, Chapman’s Antshrike, Rufous-necked Foliage-Gleaner, and everyone’s prize for the morning, a foraging family of three Gray-headed Antbirds. Other goodies were Red-masked Parakeet, Ecuadorian Trogon and Plumbeous-backed Thrush.

We drove back to Sozoranga for some much needed caffeine, in the form of strong coffee. We drive up the hill to Utuana immediately after, to attempt a sweep of the higher altitude birds. We found all but Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant, which was an unfortunate miss. We did manage to see huge flocks of many interesting species. The best birds were found away from flocks, however, and included Line-cheeked Spinetail, Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, Andean Slaty-Thrush, Piura Hemispingus (the most difficult of the bunch), Bay-crowned Brush-Finch, and two beautiful Black-cowled Saltators.

Given that we only had the following morning and the current afternoon (now 2:30pm), we decided to go ahead and call the Chat-Tyrant a miss, head down to Jorupe, and see if we could hit up some good birds before calling it a day. It turned out to be a good decision.

Again, Peter and the other Dutch birders had described having some severe difficulties with some species, and missed a thing or two. We were extremely lucky, I think. We found the birds to be very cooperative. We saw the following Tumbesian endemics: Rufous-necked Foliage-Gleaner (we picked this up higher, so I was surprised to see it in this habitat), Collared Antshrike, Pale-browed Tinamou, Blackish-headed Spinetail, Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner, Tumbesian Tyrannulet, Tumbes Pewee, Tumbes Swift, Ecuadorian Piculet, and Black-capped Sparrow. A few other good birds that we enjoyed seeing were Fasciated and Speckle-breasted Wrens, Gray-and-Gold Warbler, Gray-cheeked Parakeet, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, and a bonus Peregrine Falcon, among others.

Overnight: We spent the night in one of the two nicest places we were to stay at, the Hotel Conquistador. They had garage service, great, clean rooms, even cable. All of this cost us exactly $6/pp!!!! I couldn’t believe how cheap it was. It was a welcome commodity to have a hot shower, firm bed, and not get bitten at night.

Day 8: Jorupe / Macara to Loja

We got back to our pre-5am wake up routine today, to pick up some night birds. We headed back up to Jorupe, from our overnight in Macara, and made it to the park gate at 5:30am. It was locked, much to our dismay. Being persistent (stubborn in other words), I went ahead and hit the audio for West Peruvian Screech-Owl. It flew right in!! Great looks, sat calling, and we both got turns soaking in the good views and holding the spotlight. We had hoped we started a “roll” and wanted to keep with it, so we hit the audio for Anthony’s Nightjar. Guess what…one was on the ground not 8m from the car, flushed up, flew in front of us, perched briefly, then flew off to find the 2 other Anthony’s that we woke up. Getting the two local species there left us wanting more because, well, I guess we’re greedy. So, after calling up a Striped Owl, we finally reckoned we had gotten lucky with pretty much every night bird that occurred in this habitat. We were stoked, happy to have been so fortunate, and wanted to keep up the momentum.

This is when we hit a wall. Actually, it was a gate. One that was not opened or attended until 8am, later, that morning. We waited until about 6:45, angry, then hopped the fence. We later found out what happened. You have to inform the office, in Quito, in advance, of your visit to this and the Utuana reserves. We were winging it, pretty much, assuming things would just be open. Not the case. So, a note for visiting birders - call in advance! Luckily enough, we had a good afternoon the day before, because we didn’t get much activity this morning. We did manage to pull out a few key species, though, such as Watkin’s Antpitta, Grey-backed Hawk, and Pacific Pygmy-Owl. Other nice birds included Baron’s Hermit, White-edged Oriole, Tawny-faced Pygmy-Tyrant, Plain Antvireo, Sooty-crowned Flycatcher, Great Black Hawk, and a few others.

The park guard (Leo..nice guy) found us at about 9am, birding the road, to let us know the gate was open and to charge us the entry fee. He let us know about getting in touch in advance, and did a great job calming me down a bit, because I was a little worked up about nobody appearing until 9 in the morning. I was hasty, because he was great, as had been every staffer employed by Jocotoco that I have met to date. He took us down to the park headquarters where we picked up Saffron Siskin, better looks at Pacific Parrotlets, and Short-tailed Woodstar. At this point we headed down to Macara to try for some of the arid scrub birds there, most of which we didn’t see, given the heat. We did pick up a few god trip birds there, though, and a possible Tumbes Swallow that was just a little too distant to do any more than mention here.

We drove from here, making only two stops, to Loja. The most eventful part of the journey was losing an hour or so due to keys being locked in the car. Thankfully we were near Catacocha and some nice folks offered to help us out, were from the area, and new a locksmith who ended up jimmying the lock open for us. It only cost us $10 (rather than an unexplainable broken window at the rental agency costing MUCH more) and we enjoyed the people and the town of Catacocha. We had to get the car back by early afternoon which only left us a little time to bird. The best thing about the keys getting locked in? We had incredible looks at Elegant Crescentchest up in a bush, responding to audio, for more than 5 minutes straight. What a bird! We checked it at the turnoff to San Antonio, about 5 kms before the turnoff to Catacocha. 2 other individuals began calling nearby, so it’s fair to say that the density of these birds is fairly high here. We were happily surprised.

Overnight: We decided to treat ourselves to the Hotel Bombuscaro, in Loja, tonight, for various reasons. First, and foremost, we got a 40% discount at the hotel because it’s part of the Bombuscaro business we rented our car from. Nice, eh? Secondly, I had to book my flight back to Quito, from Loja, today, to make sure there was space on TAME. I normally fly Icaro, but I needed to fly back the afternoon of the 16th. Icaro only flies first thing in the morning, and I was not about to miss a morning at Podacarpus National Park, just to fly back to Quito early, so we booked this one. It cost $35 for our Hotel room, with the discount, and my flight to Quito cost $69.87, or some silly number that’s supposed to seem less than $70. Tim had to book to fly direct to Guayaquil, but there wasn’t one. It only cost him $6 more to fly Loja-Quito-Guayaquil, than me, because he was doing these two flights in the same day. A steal, to be sure. The Hotel Bombuscaro is nice, and I think they were very fair with the rental car.

Day 9 -11: Bombuscaro / Copalinga Ecolodge

This morning we woke up, tired from the previous night’s outing to local bars, at a modest 10am. We immediately went and bought the airline tickets to Quito, from Loja, that we had reserved the day before. From there we went for breakfast/lunch, took showers, and headed to the bus station. There are a few Cooperatives that drive to Zamora from Loja, but the consensus is that Yanzatza is the best. It leaves every 30 minutes for Zamora, arriving 1 and a half hours later, costing less than $3 a person.

We arrived at Zamora by 3:30pm, and took a cab up to Copalinga, saving our most anticipated and most productive spot, for last. In the end, we could barely will ourselves to leave.

The owners of Copalinga (named after two trees in the area: Copal and Inga) are a Belgian couple, Baldwin and Katerina, who came down about 3 years ago. They took their time, and did a wonderful job setting up this birding/ecotourism lodge, which is little more than very tastefully done cabins (7 all told I think) with capacity for around 14. People wishing to visit should definitely call in advance. I can easily see this placing being full from time to time, in the very near future.

Dinner was waiting for us, when we arrived, and it was awesome. We were invited to eat with the hosts, who are fabulous cooks and all-around great people. We hit it off immediately with them and ended up enjoying our time together immensely. Not only were the birds great here, but the hospitality and good company was unrivalled on our trip.

A bonus for us was running in to Peter & Co. (Dutch birders) whom we met in Sozoranga, and we very much enjoyed birding with them again. Friendly guys and good birders.

It is difficult to separate the good birds and the great birds, as there aren‘t any ‘trash birds‘ (save Anis), in this area. The grounds of the Hotel are great. We birded the very steep and quite strenuous trail (Green Trail) up to where it meets the Mule Trail, on our second full day here. We went up the Mule trail for about 1km, then walked it all the way back to the town of Zamora. It was a grand total of at least 12kms, likely more. We couldn’t keep track, because the birding was quite good, once we got high up, near the Mule Trail.

We spent some time around the comedor, and the Big House, the afternoon we arrived, and the afternoon of our second day there. Let me start by mentioning some of the great things we saw along the trails on the property itself: Collared Forest-Falcon, Grey-chinned Hermit, Green Hermit, Spangled Coquette, Wire-crested Thorntail, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Napo Sabrewing, Violet-fronted and Black-throated Brilliants, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black-streaked Puffbird, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Dusky, Dark-breasted, and Ash-browed Spinetails, Spectacled Prickletail, Equatorial Graytail, Streaked Xenops, Spotted Barbtail, Montane, Buff-fronted, and Ruddy Foliage-Gleaners, Lined, Russet, and Uniform Antshrikes, Foothill and Yellow-breasted Antwren, Blackish Antbird, White-backed Fire-eye, Short-tailed Antthrush, Northern White-crowned Tapaculo, Red-billed Tyrannulet, Orange-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked Becard, Golden-headed, White-crowned, Blue-rumped, and Striped Manakins, Olivaceous Greenlet, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, numerous Tanagers, Blue-black Grosbeak, and Olivaceous Siskin, to name some of the 140 or so species we found along their tracks.

Our first day was spent in the park itself, which is 3kms up the road from
Copalinga. Our day was comprised of birding the entrance to the park and the area near the park headquarters, itself. It is amazing birding here. We also walked a little, just doing part of the mirador trail, up to the first left-hand fork, which doubled back to the main trail, dropping down to the river. Along the river trail and just at the headquarters we had huge flocks, the best and most interesting included Fulvous Shrike-Tanager. This is the flock that Katarina mentioned always being the largest and most interesting.

Our observations in the park overlapped quite a bit with Copalinga birds. Here are some species of interest that we managed to pick up at the park, but did not see at Copalinga: Sapphire Quail-Dove, Blackish Nightjar, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Highland Motmot, Lanceolated Monklet, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Buff-throated and Rufous-rumped Foliage-Gleaners, Plain-winged Antwren, Black Antbird, Plain-backed Antpitta, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Spectacled Bristle-Tyrant, possible Foothill Elaenia (but non-vocal, so I didn’t count it, nor will I include it in the Compiled List section), White-throated Spadebill, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, and Olive Finch.

Day 12: Copalinga to Quito

I woke up the last day a little bummed that it was over, and that I had to get back to Quito. Tim needed to catch his flight early, the following day, back to Minnesota, and I needed to get back to Quito, to get things in order before my next stint in the jungle. So, we checked out of Copalinga, after a quick lunch with Katarina, and got the bus back to Loja. Our flight left about 15 minutes late, but made up the time in the sky. The flight left at 6pm, and we were landing by 6:50. Tim’s flight to Guayaquil left at 7:45pm and, as far as I know, at the time of this writing, he got back safe and sound.

We were definitely reluctant to finish the trip, but both, I think, ready to see a few days break at our homes, before starting work again. It was an awesome trip. The total number of species recorded is, I believe, a massive 480 even. Given that we only truly birded around 10 days, mostly in arid and paramo habitats, I reckon we’re both excited with the results. We saw great birds, in some amazingly scenic and distant places. That’s what it’s all about. I’d like to thank Tim here, for coming own and making time for this, and for helping me break my routine of guiding, then lazing around Quito, then guiding, then….well…you get the idea. It was rejuvenating to see a new part of this great country for me and, most importantly, it was fun.

For any questions you may have, feel free to e-mail either one of us. We love people’s gaining interest in Ecuador, and birding, in general. Great thing here is, you don’t have to be a hardcore birder to appreciate it’s birds and wildlife, but if you are, you should love it all the more. Hope the trip report helps. Here’s the list of species recorded:

Species Lists

Highland Tinamou 1
Little Tinamou 1
Pale-browed Tinamou 2
Silvery Grebe 1
Andean Teal 14
Yellow-billed Pintail 2
Andean Ruddy-Duck 4
Great Egret 4
Snowy Egret 6
Cattle Egret 19
Black Vulture 16
Turkey Vulture 12
Hook-billed Kite 1
Swallow-tailed Kite 5
Plain-breasted Hawk 3
Grey-backed Hawk 2
Barred Hawk 1
Savannah Hawk 3
Great Black-Hawk 1
Harris’ Hawk 2
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle 2
Zone-tailed Hawk 1
Variable Hawk 3
Northern Crested-Caracara 2
Collared Forest-Falcon 1
American Kestrel 4
Aplamado Falcon 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Speckled Chachalaca 7
Bearded Guan 7
Andean Coot 3
Sunbittern 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Andean Gull 5
Rock Pigeon ~30
Band-tailed Pigeon 11
Ruddy Pigeon 4
Plumbeous Pigeon 1
Eared Dove 39
Common Ground-Dove 5
Croaking Ground-Dove ~40
White-tipped Dove 4
Gray-fronted Dove 1
Sapphire Quail-Dove 1
White-throated Quail-Dove 1
Red-masked Parakeet 24
White-eyed Parakeet 6
Golden-plumed Parakeet 19
White-breasted Parakeet 17
Pacific Parrotlet 14
Gray-cheeked Parakeet 14
Red-billed Parrot 2
White-capped Parrot 1
Scaly-naped Amazon 9
Squirrel Cuckoo 4
Smooth-billed Ani 13
Groove-billed Ani 26
Striped Cuckoo 4
White-throated Screech-Owl 1
West Peruvian Screech-Owl 1
Andean Pygmy-Owl 1
Pacific Pygmy-Owl 3
Striped Owl 1
Common Potoo 1
Pauraque 1
Band-winged Nightjar 3
Anthony’s Nightjar 1
Blackish Nightjar 1
Swallow-tailed Nightjar 1
White-collared Swift 42
Chestnut-collared Swift ~40
Tumbes Swift 6
Green Hermit 3
Baron’s Hermit 1
Grey-chinned Hermit 4
Blue-fronted Lancebill 2
Napo Sabrewing 1
Brown Violetear 2
Green Violetear 5
Sparkling Violetear 12
Spangled Coquette 3
Wire-crested Thorntail 9
Blue-tailed Emerald 1
Fork-tailed Woodnymph 9
Golden-tailed Sapphire 1
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird 1
Amazilia Hummingbird 1
Loja Hummingbird 1
Glittering-throated emerald 5
Andean Emerald 1
Speckled Hummingbird 6
Rufous-vented Whitetip 4
Ecuadorian Piedtail 5
Violet-fronted Brilliant 9
Black-throated Brilliant 5
Fawn-breasted Brilliant 4
Ecuador Hillstar 3
Shining Sunbeam 1
Mountain Velvetbreast 3
Great Sapphirewing 1
Bronzy Inca 1
Collared Inca 2
Buff-winged Starfrontlet 4
Rainbow Starfrontlet 3
Chestnut-breasted Coronet 10
Amethyst-throated Sunangel 7
Flame-throated Sunangel 6
Purple-throated Sunangel 6
Glowing Puffleg 8
Sapphire-vented Puffleg 1
Booted Racket-tail 1
Black-tailed Trainbearer 2
Green-tailed Trainbearer 1?
Viridian Metaltail 5
Violet-throated Metaltail 2
Neblina Metaltail 4
Tyrian Metaltail 2
Rufous-capped Thornbill 2
Rainbow-bearded Thornbill 2
Blue-mantled Thornbill 3
Mountain Avocetbill 1
Long-tailed Sylph 3
Black-eared Fairy 1
Long-billed Starthroat 4
Purple-collared Woodstar 3
Short-tailed Woodstar 3
White-bellied Woodstar 10
Crested Quetzal 1
Ecuadorian Trogon 4
Collared Trogon 2
Ringed Kingfisher 1
Blue-crowned Motmot 5
Highland Motmot 1
Coppery-chested Jacamar 5
Black-streaked Puffbird 5
Lanceolated Monklet 1
Red-headed Barbet 5
Chestnut-tipped Toucanet 1
Lefresnaye’s Piculet 5
Ecuadorian Piculet 4
Crimson-mantled Woodpecker 2
Golden-olive Woodpecker 5
Lineated Woodpecker 1
Yellow-tufted Woodpecker 6
Smoky-brown Woodpecker 2
Bar-bellied Woodpecker 5
Yellow-vented Woodpecker 1
Scarlet-backed Woodpecker 3
Powerful Woopecker 1
Bar-winged Cinclodes 26
Stout-billed Cinclodes 6
Pacific Hornero 21
Andean Tit-Spinetail 7
Azara’s Spinetail 6
Dusky Spinetail 1
Dark-breasted Spinetail 1
Blackish-headed Spinetail 2
Rufous Spinetail 8
White-browed Spinetail 3
Ash-browed Spinetail 4
Line-cheeked Spinetail 1
Mouse-colored Thistletail 2
Streak-backed Canastero 2
Many-striped Canastero 5
Spectacled Prickletail 2
Equatorial Graytail 3
Streaked Tuftedcheek 11
Pearled Treerunner 11
Spotted Barbtail 2
Rusty-winged Barbtail 1
Lineated Foliage-Gleaner 1
Rufous-necked Foliage-Gleaner 4
Montane Foliage-Gleaner 3
Rufous-rumped Foliage-Gleaner 1
Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner 2
Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner 2
Ruddy Foliage-Gleaner 2
Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner 2
Flammulated Treehunter 1
Streaked Xenops 4
Tyrannine Woodcreeper 2
Plain-brown Woodcreeper 2
Long-tailed Woodcreeper 2
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper 2
Olivaceous Woodcreeper 3
Strong-billed Woodcreeper 1
Olive-backed Woodcreeper 2
Streak-headed Woodcreeper 1
Montane Woodcreeper 2
Greater Scythebill 1
Great Antshrike 1
Collared Antshrike 5
Lined Antshrike 2
Chapman’s Antshrike 3
Uniform Antshrike 2
Russet Antshrike 2
Plain Antvireo 8
Foothill Antwren 3
Plain-winged Antwren 2
Yellow-breasted Antwren 7
Long-tailed Antbird 5
Blackish Antbird 4
Black Antbird 1
Sooty Antbird 1
White-backed Fire-eye 2
Grey-headed Antbird 3
Short-tailed Antthrush 3
Scaled Antpitta 1
Plain-backed Antpitta 1
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta 6
Watkin’s Antpitta 3
Jocotoco Antpitta H
Chestnut-naped Antpitta 4
Rufous Antpitta 1
Tawny Antpitta 10
Slate-crowned Antpitta 1
Crescent-faced Antpitta 2
Elegant Crescentchest 1
Ash-colored Tapaculo 2
Unicolored Tapaculo 2
Northern White-crowned Tapaculo 1
Chusquea Tapaculo 5
Paramo Tapaculo 2
Ocellated Tapaculo 2
Black-capped Tyrannulet 3
Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet 3
Golden-faced Tyrannulet 2
Loja Tyrannulet 5
Red-billed Tyrannulet 1
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet 14
Tumbesian Tyrannulet 3
Sooty-headed Tyrannulet 2
Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet 2
Pacific Elaenia 1
Yellow-bellied Elaenia 1
Mottle-backed Elaenia 2
Highland Elaenia 1
White-crested Elaenia 14
Sierran Elaenia 2
White-throated Tyrannulet 6
White-banded Tyrannulet 11
White-tailed Tyrannulet 4
Torrent Tyrannulet 2
Tufted Tit-Tyrant 2
Black-crested Tit-Tyrant 1
Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant 4
Streak-necked Flycatcher 2
Olive-striped Flycatcher 5
Slaty-capped Flycatcher 3
Ecuadorian Tyrannulet 2
Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant 1
Variegated Bristle-Tyrant 2
Spectacled Bristle-Tyrant 2
Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant 1
Scale-rested Pygmy-Tyrant 3
Black-throated Tody-Tyrant 5
Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher 4
Common Tody-Flycatcher 6
Yellow-olive Flatbill 3
Olive-faced Flatbill 1
White-throated Spadebill 2
Ornate Flycatcher 6
Flavescent Flycatcher 1
Orange-crested Flycatcher 1
Bran-colored Flycatcher 3
Olive-chested Flycatcher 3
Orange-banded Flycatcher 8
Cinnamon Flycatcher 6
Eastern Wood-Pewee 4
Tumbes Pewee 1
Smoke-colored Pewee 1
Acadian Flycatcher 1
Willow Flycatcher 3
Alder Flycatcher 1
Gray-breasted Flycatcher 2
Black Phoebe 3
Vermilion Flycatcher 7
Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant 8
Rufous-chested Chat-Tyrant 4
Slaty-backed chat-Tyrant 1
Crowned Chat-Tyrant 1
Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant 1
Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant 1
Smoky Bush-Tyrant 1
Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant 2
Paramo Ground-Tyrant 1
Long-tailed Tyrant 3
Dusky-capped Flycatcher 7
Short-crested Flycatcher 1
Sooty-crowned Flycatcher 3
Boat-billed Flycatcher 1
Social Flycatcher 9
Rusty-margined Flycatcher 1
Piratic Flycatcher 2
Tropical Kingbird 14
Yellow-cheeked Becard 1
Barred Becard 2
One-colored Becard 1
Masked Tityra 3
Red-crested Cotinga 2
Barred Fruiteater 3
Green-and-Black Fruiteater 2
Black-chested Fruiteater 1
Dusky Piha 2
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock 1
Golden-headed Manakin 3
White-crowned Manakin 2
Blue-rumped Manakin 2
Striped Manakin 5
Green Manakin 1
Turquoise Jay 8
White-tailed Jay 2
Inca Jay 18
Rufous-browed Peppershrike 4
Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Brown-capped Vireo 4
Olivaceous Greenlet 3
Spotted Nightingale-Thrush 1
Gray-cheeked Thrush 2
Swainson’s Thrush 9
Chiguanco Thrush 4
Great Thrush 20
Plumbeous-backed Thrush 7
Black-billed Thrush 5
Ecuadorian Thrush 2
White-necked Thrush 5
Andean Slaty-Thrush 2
Maranon Thrush 2
Long-tailed Mockingbird 14
Gray-breasted Martin 6
Brown-bellied Swallow 18
Blue-and-White Swallow 61
Pale-footed Swallow 7
White-banded Swallow 31
Southern Rough-winged Swallow 2
Chestnut-collared Swallow ~50
Fasciated Wren 15
Rufous Wren 19
Sepia-brown Wren 4
Plain-tailed Wren 6
Coraya Wren 2
Superciliated Wren 2
Speckle-breasted Wren 6
House Wren 5
Mountain Wren 5
Grass Wren 1
White-breasted Wood-Wren 2
Grey-breasted Wood-Wren 4
Long-billed Gnatwren 1
Tropical Gnatcatcher 6
Tropical Parula 11
Cerulean Warbler 1
Blackburnian Warbler 3
Canada Warbler 10
Slate-throated Whitestart 24
Spectacled Whitestart 13
Black-crested Warbler 19
Citrine Warbler 18
Three-striped Warbler 3
Three-banded Warbler 5
Russet-crowned Warbler 6
Gray-and-Gold Warbler 4
Buff-rumped Warbler 2
Bananauit 17
Purple Honeycreeper 2
Green Honeycreeper 2
Golden-collared Honeycreeper 4
Blue Dacnis 8
Black-faced Dacnis 4
Cinereous Conebill 1
Blue-backed Conebill 4
Giant Conebill 2
Tit-like Dacnis 7
Bluish Flowerpiercer 5
Masked Flowerpiercer 14
Glossy Flowerpiercer 8
Black Flowerpiercer 6
White-sided Flowerpiercer 4
Guira Tanager 3
Rufous-chested Tanager 7
Fawn-breasted Tanager 2
Thick-billed Euphonia 12
Orange-bellied Euphonia 10
Bronze-green Euphonia 4
Orange-eared Tanager 5
Golden Tanager 9
Golden-eared Tanager 4
Flame-faced Tanager 3
Metallic-green Tanager 2
Beryl-spangled Tanager 1
Silver-backed Tanager 7
Blue-necked Tanager 21
Turquoise Tanager 2
Paradise Tanager 8
Green-and-Gold Tanager 5
Spotted Tanager 8
Yellow-bellied Tanager 4
Bay-headed Tanager 8
Golden-crowned Tanager 6
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager 5
Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager 7
Hooded Mountain-Tanager 12
Masked Mountain-Tanager 2
Black-chested Mountain-Tanager 2
Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager 6
Grass-green Tanager 8
Swallow Tanager 3
Blue-gray Tanager 38
Palm Tanager 13
Blue-capped Tanager 3
Silver-beaked Tanager 38
Highland Hepatic-Tanager 2
Summer Tanager 4
White-lined Tanager 4
Flame-crested Tanager 2
White-shouldered Tanager 2
Fulvous Shrike-Tanager 4
Common Bush-Tanager 10
Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager 4
Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager 17
Yellow-whiskered Bush-Tanager 2
Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager 2
Black-capped Hemispingus 12
Superciliaried Hemispingus 2
Piura Hemispingus 1
Black-headed Hemispingus 2
Magpie Tanager 6
Black-faced Tanager 1
White-capped Tanager H
Plushcap 2
Buff-throated Saltator 9
Grayish Saltator 4
Black-cowled Saltator 2
Streaked Saltator 14
Southern Yellow-Grosbeak 17
Blue-black Grosbeak 2
Blue-black Grassquit 19
Lesser Seed-Finch 2
Variable Seedeater 8
Yellow-bellied Seedeater 4
Chestnut-bellied Seedeater 8
Plain-colored Seedeater 16
Paramo Seedeater 3
Band-tailed Seedeater 4
Plumbeous Sierra-Finch 15
Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch 9
Saffron Finch 15
Pale-naped Brush-Finch 6
Rufous-naped Brush-Finch 16
Bay-crowned Brush-Finch 2
Pale-headed Brush-Finch 5
Stripe-headed Brush-Finch 2
Olive Finch 1
Orange-billed Sparrow 4
Black-capped Sparrow 6
Yellow-browed Sparrow 4
Rufous-collared Sparrow 21
Yellow-rumped Cacique 4
Northern Mountain-Cacique 2
Subtropical Cacique 1
Crested Oropendola 5
Russet-backed Oropendola 4
Shiny Cowbird 8
Giant Cowbird 5
Scrub Blackbird 5
White-edged Oriole 4
Peruvian Meadowlark 2
Hooded Siskin 33
Saffron Siskin 9
Olivaceous Siskin 18
House Sparrow 3

Species Total: 480

Number of Individuals counted: 2528