In Association with:
SOUTHERN ECUADOR – Feb/March - 2006
Day 1 – 18th Feb
Everyone met on time at Heathrow Airport for our flight to Madrid, connecting to Quito, Ecuador where we eventually arrived in the early evening and met our local guide Juan. We were soon on our way to his private lodge where a lovely evening meal awaited us.
Day 2 – 19th Feb
This morning we had an early breakfast and then set off through Quito to the Papallacta pass. Our first stop was beside a small valley and it wasn’t long before we found our first birds such as Rufous-collared Sparrow, Great Thrush, Black-crested Warbler and Green-tailed Trainbearer. In the scrubbier areas we found two Rufous-naped Brush-Finches, while regular sighting were had of both White-crested Elaenia and Black Flowerpiercer. Sat on a distant tree was a Red-crested Cotinga and we soon found Cinereous Conebill. As we slowly walked on a Sparkling Violetear was seen, and we got superb views of a Blue-and-yellow Tanager. Around the corner were a group of Hooded Siskins, a Tufted Tit-Tyrant showed well, and then we got to see perched both Green and Black-tailed Trainbearer. On the path in front of us we watched Plain-coloured Seedeater, and following a track alongside a stream we soon got our scopes set up on a Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant and in the same tree our first Shining Sunbeam. Behind us a Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet was heard and eventually seen well, while some flowering bushes held a Tyrian Metaltail. Up on a hillside we spotted some distant Band-tailed Seedeaters and some very bright looking Blue-and-yellow Tanagers. As we made our way slowly back towards the coach we got superb views of a Stripe-headed Brush-Finch and an Azara’s Spinetail. Leaving this area we continued our drive higher through the Papallacta pass. It was a little misty but we decided to try the high point in the paramo and after winding our way to the top of a hill we spotted from the coach our target species, a pair of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. We got out and approached the birds quite close getting fabulous views. Making our way back down the hill we stopped and walked a few sections of road, seeing Stout-billed Cinclodes, White-chinned Thistletail, and a Plumbeous Sierra-Finch which flew across the track and was a bit too brief for most to see. We then got views of a Variable Hawk as it flew past. At the bottom of the hill where the mist had cleared we saw a briefly perched Blue-mantled Thornbill, followed by excellent views of Many-striped Canastero and a Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant. A Grass Wren was coaxed into showing itself close by and another Stout-billed Cinclodes and a Tawny Antpitta showed well. Moving on we stopped beside a lake and in the scrub we got to see Viridian Metaltail while the lake itself held Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Teal, Neotropic Cormorant and an Andean Gull. Next we located a couple of gorgeous Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers before driving on to Guango Lodge where the hummingbird feeders were simply alive with birds. There were Tyrian Metaltails, Tourmaline Sunangels, Collared Inca, White-bellied Woodstar, Long-tailed Sylph, Mountain Velvetbreast, Speckled Hummingbird and even Masked Flowerpiercer, but first prize had to go to a superb Glowing Puffleg.
We had our picnic lunch here and then added the king of the hummers to our list as a magnificent Sword-billed Hummingbird came and perched on a low bush. A small flock of birds was located in the small wood, and we soon got to grips with Black-eared and Black-capped Hemispingus, Cinnamon Flycatcher, some good views of Pale-naped Brush-Finches, Blue-backed Conebill, Slaty Brush-Finch, a Pearled Treerunner, and White-banded Tyrannulet. We all gathered together and took a short walk where we relocated the flock seeing much the same species as before but now including Blackburnian, Canada and Black-crested Warblers, Capped Conebill, Tyrannine Woodcreepers, lots of Spectacled Whitestarts, Mountain Wren and a Turquoise Jay sat on a dead tree top. A Yellow-billed Cacique was our last find before leaving and driving back down the pass with a stop in the paramo where we had Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Variable Hawk and Andean Tit-Spinetail. We continued back to Juan’s lodge where there was still an hour of daylight, and in his garden we found Rusty Flowerpiercer, Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Southern Yellow Grosbeak, Sparkling Violet-Ear, White-bellied Woodstar and an American Kestrel. We then enjoyed a very nice evening meal before retiring early ready for tomorrow.
Day 3 – 20th Feb
After breakfast we headed for Quito airport in time for our early flight to Cuenca, which got delayed due to bad weather. Eventually we were on our way and for those that remained awake there were fantastic views of several active Volcanos from the plane windows. In Cuenca, Wilson our driver was there to meet us, and once loaded up we headed for El Cajas National Park. Along the way an impromptu stop got us superb views of Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, plus Variable Hawk, a distant Paramo Ground-Tyrant and lots of Great Thrushes. We drove ever higher into the park and stopped beside a small lake where we took a short walk to an area of scrubby bushes. On the lake were a couple of Andean Teal, plus Andean Ruddy-Ducks, while in the bushes beside us we located one of our main target birds, and got to see at least four superb Tit-like Dacnis. Nearby and ultimately to my cost we searched a grassy hill in the hope that there might be some snipe hidden away. Both Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes showed well as did some very confiding Plumbeous Sierra-Finches and a nervous looking Llama. Driving to the highest point at about 14,500ft, for the first time in my life and probably due to climbing the hills earlier, I suffered from altitude sickness. Everyone else was fine and after they had eaten their picnic lunch, Juan took them on a short walk to an area of forest. I was still feeling ill so I sat on the roadside and waited. The group were soon watching Paramo Pipit and once into the wood they were treated to fabulous views of up to six Giant Conebills literally a few feet away. The endemic Violet-throated Metaltail was found and as luck would have it a male of this species came and fed on a flowering bush right in front of me. With everyone back on board we set off back down the mountain. A small secluded reserve was our next stop, with a couple of White-capped Dippers and a Chiguanco Thrush being seen along the approach road. In the reserve and while overlooking a lake and the surrounding forest we got to see an Andean Coot, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Brown-bellied Swallows, Cinereous Conebill and after much patience some distant Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucans. A Chestnut-crowned Antpitta was heard calling but despite extensive searching it could not be located. Other birds of note seen during our return journey included Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Black Phoebe, Pacific Hornero, Ecuadorian Hillstar and some Chestnut-collared Swallows. We continued on to our lodge in the Yunguilla valley
Day 4 – 21st Feb
We left the lodge well before dawn in time to get to the Yunguilla Reserve. Here we were met by the park ranger and while waiting for sunrise we had our breakfast on-board the coach. As we were about to board our 4x4 pick-up truck which was to take us further into the reserve we heard a Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, but the search was fruitless, so we boarded the truck and headed along the muddy road into the reserve. Once we had got to the top, we set off on a walk. A Summer Tanager was seen, and an Amazilia Hummingbird perched on a bush. Beside an overlook we saw a Rufous-chested Tanager and then our target species the critically endangered Pale-headed Brush Finch was spotted, showing on and off quite well although a little distant. Several Southern Yellow Grosbeaks and a Shiny Cowbird sat in the dead tree tops. We then got superb close views of a pair of Pale-headed Brush Finches and some of the group got to see a somewhat skulky Black-lored Yellowthroat. As we slowly made our way back we found a Line-cheeked Spinetail, and then a difficult to see Rufous-browed Peppershrike. A Crimson-mantled Woodpecker gave us the run around but was eventually seen very well. Further down we found another Black-lored Yellowthroat and a Dusky-capped Flycatcher. We tried to locate another calling Chestnut-crowned Antpitta but with no luck although a Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush showed well to everyone. We left the reserve very happy with our views of the Brush-Finch as this bird is only found in this valley and after 50 years of being thought extinct the rediscovery has still only found about 32 pairs. Driving through the paramo, we made a stop to photograph the spectacular scenery and while here a White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant was found and seen very well, while another brief stop later on found us a Peruvian Meadowlark. After a long drive we headed to another reserve where unbelievably another White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant flew across in front of the coach. We then parked and while Juan and Wilson started cooking the lunch we managed to find a group of Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, Rufous-naped Brush-Finch and then while scoping a perched Sparkling Violet-Ear we found our first Purple-throated Sunangel. With lunch over we set off on a walk towards more mature forest where more Purple-throated Sunangels were found along with good numbers of Glowing Pufflegs, and as we walked around a corner a distant Mountain Caracara was spotted. A couple of Northern Mountain Caciques showed well and an Agile Tit-Tyrant was found as was a Mountain Velvetbreast. We then played hide and seek with an Ash-coloured Tapaculo, and much further on we found two Bearded Guans. To finish the day we found that a landslide had prevented us driving through to the main road, but good fortune was that we got scope views of an Ocellated Tapaculo perched about 10ft off the ground. Good spotting Linda!
Day 5 – 22nd Feb
After an early breakfast we drove to the nearby Podocarpus National Park. It was a little misty on the way up but visibility was improving. On parking we got out and immediately found an Amethyst-throated Sunangel. We then set off walking the road. A pair of Masked Trogons were found, with the male showing particularly well. Moving on we found Rainbow Starfrontlet and a Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, while both Masked and White-sided Flowerpiercers were seen. Brief views were then had of Blue-and Black Tanagers and several gorgeous Hooded Mountain Tanager. As we went in search of a calling Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan some of the group got to see a White-throated Quail-Dove. A Bearded Guan was found and we got excellent views of a pair of Cinnamon Flycatchers, while several Mountain Velvetbreasts also showed. The Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan was found and we had stunning close views of this superb bird. A gaudy Grass-Green Tanager was spotted on top of a tree and while watching this we found two Hooded Mountain-Tanagers feeding in a cecropia tree. Gordon then found a Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant which was later joined by its mate and gave stunning views, while in the grass below we saw a Plain-tailed Wren. Still in the same area we found a Blue-capped Tanager, Rufous-naped Brush-Finch and back tracking slightly we got superb views of a Black-capped Tyrannulet. There was lots of Band-tailed Pigeons flying around and a Hook-billed Kite flew over. The first of several White-Collared Swifts appeared and then beside a bank full of flowering bushes we found a Brown Violet-Ear as well as Sparkling Violet-Ear. Kate then spotted an adult Black-and-Chestnut Eagle flying in the valley way below us. As we watched this spectacular bird it circled and amazingly came higher and closer, eventually so close as to allow the best views imaginable. Along the roadside we found a Citrine Warbler and Black-capped Hemispingus together, and then further up a White-banded Tyrannulet and a pair of beautiful Barred Fruiteaters. We eventually got to the top of the hill and beside the park headquarters where we were to have our lunch we saw a very nice male Flame-throated Sunangel. We then took a short walk along one of the trails before lunch and in a small stream alongside the track we saw a Black-headed Hemispingus, Blue-backed Conebill, two Pearled Treerunners, and a Golden-crowned Tanager. A little further along we found Superciliaried Hemispingus, Grey-headed Bush-Tanagers, and we heard Golden-plumed Parakeets. As we left the hill top and made our way down we saw a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, and just after joining the main road we took a short walk into the forest edge and here we found Fasciated Wrens, and our target bird a couple of Three-banded Warblers. As we made our way towards our next stop we turned into an urban area and found some Scrub Blackbirds, two Groove-billed Anis, Pacific Hornero, several Saffron Finches plus Croaking Ground-Dove and Blue-black Grassquit. A stop in town gave us time to buy an ice-cream or cold drink before we continued our journey up into the mountains. Following the muddy track towards our lodge we saw Golden-crowned Tanagers and White-crested Elaenia. Eventually at the top we entered the lodge gates and were soon watching hummingbirds on the feeders. Within a few minutes we had notched up Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Speckled Hummingbird, Collared Inca, Long-tailed Sylph, Amethyst-throated and Flame-throated Sunangels, White-bellied Woodstar and finally before retiring to our rooms we got very poor views of Scaly-naped Amazons in the mist.
Day 6 – 23rd Feb
We had an early breakfast as usual and in the mist we drove a short distance up the road to start our walk on a forest trail. Three Bearded Guans were spotted from the coach on the side of the road. It was just dawn when we set off and there was lots of mud on the trail. At the very start we got three very close White-capped Tanagers, even though it was misty the birds still looked stunning. Moving slowly and quietly along we found a Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, shortly followed by White-browed Spinetail, and we all got excellent views of a Chusquea Tapaculo. Nearby we located Citrine Warbler and Sepia-brown Wren, and then we arrived at an area that Juan has often had luck with finding the mythical Jocotoco Antpitta. We searched all the trails and after several hours we had heard and seen nothing. Returning via a longer trail back to the lodge for lunch we did console ourselves by finding two Bar-bellied Woodpeckers and a Smoky Bush-Tyrant. Almost back to the lodge and we came across a small group of Black-capped Hemispingus. At the lodge and just before lunch was ready we watched the usual array of dazzling hummingbirds but this time we got to see a Rufous-capped Thornbill, while David went to the hide and had luck with a Chestnut-naped Antpitta. As we had a delicious lunch several birds were spotted just outside, so a quick dash soon had us watching Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager and a superb Black-throated Tody-Tyrant. In the afternoon we returned to the same trails as the morning for our second attempt at our number one target bird. As we started off on the trail we saw a Powerful Woodpecker and a Red-billed Parrot flew over. We still hadn’t got going when we found another Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, some Hooded Mountain-Tanagers and then a group of Orange-banded Flycatchers which gave exceptionally close views. Back onto the muddy trail we saw Rufous Spinetail before returning to Juan’s hotspot, where after a long wait the group split up a little and searched different areas. Luck was in for one of our group when Gordon found himself in the right place at the right time and got brief views of a Jocotoco Antpitta running up a bank within the thick forest. Absolutely delighted with his brief views of this chicken sized Antpitta, with a white face, we all tried the same area in vain. We vowed to return and then set off back to the coach. Along the trail we saw several very obliging White-thoated Quail-Doves while some of the group got to see some perched Golden-plumed Parakeets. Back at our lodge we enjoyed yet another superb feast laid on by the chef and his team of helpers.
Day 7 – 24th Feb
This morning we set off after an early breakfast down hill from the lodge. It was misty again but roadside stops soon found us Broad-winged Hawk sat in a tree and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch. Down beside a group of tall trees with flowering cecropias we found Blue-capped, Saffron-crowned, and Flame-faced Tanagers, a Booted Racket-tail put in a brief appearance, and then a couple of Emerald Toucanets flew into the same tree. We walked further down the road and saw some Inca Jays plus a Spotted Barbtail and beside it a Grey-breasted Woodwren. In a small gully we got the run around from a Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, but eventually it showed very well, while nearby the first of many Yellow-bellied Seedeaters appeared. Driving into the small town where a parade was in progress we took the back roads and parked beside some scrubby gardens. Above us in a tree a Streaked Saltator showed well, as did an almost tame Slaty Finch which was feeding on the track. In the tree tops our first Silver-backed Tanagers posed nicely and both Piratic and Social Flycatcher were found. Another excellent bird was a Maranon Thrush which was found in a dead tree and showed particularly well. A pair of White-lined Tanagers were also easy, while a Brown-capped Vireo soon disappeared and then an Andean Emerald was spotted feeding on the flowers at the bottom of a wall. Moving on a few yards we found several Silver-beaked Tanagers, a Bananaquit and then a nice Lined Antshrike which was seen well by all. Blue-necked Tanagers showed very well and we located several Yellow-browed Sparrows, while in the distance a Roadside Hawk was seen to fly over the hillside. Leaving the town we continued our drive making several roadside stops and short walks. The first found us Palm Tanagers, Yellow-bellied Eleaneas and at least two American Kestrels, whilst several Maranon Thrushes were seen again and a stunning looking Golden-rumped Euphonia fed in a tree top. Lots of Black Vultures appeared from over the hillside and were obviously on course for a kill. Our next stop produced a group of gorgeous Paradise Tanagers and then a Long-billed Starthroat was seen on a bush. Diving out of the coach some of the group got onto a pair of Black-faced Tanagers and while we tried to locate these we found some Guira Tanagers, and a stunning Yellow-cheeked Becard. A Slaty-capped Flycatcher was also seen here as well as Bay-headed Tanager and a Dull-coloured Grassquit, quite a come down from the gaudy Paradise Tanager just seen. We relocated the Black-faced Tanagers and everyone got to see them, while nearby a Lesser Seedfinch and another Yellow-cheeked Becard were found plus Olivaceous Siskin and at least
seven Swallow-tailed Kites flew over. We had a lunch stop by an area of roadside forest where it didn’t take long to get distracted by a male Golden-winged Manakin. After lunch a short walk got us Olive-sided Flycatcher, Swallow-tailed Kites again and then a Canada Warbler, Streak- necked Flycatcher and a female Golden-collared Honeycreeper. As we returned a Russet-backed Oropendola was seen on a dead tree. Beside a fast flowing river we spotted White-capped Dipper, Spotted Sandpiper and a Black Pheobe as well as Black-and-white Seedeaters and the next river along held Torrent Tyrannulet. We returned to the lodge for lunch and afterwards returned to the Jocotoco trail that we had spent the day searching yesterday. Going straight to the spot that Gordon had seen the bird previously we positioned ourselves and stood quietly for an hour seeing only a Unicoloured Tapaculo which seemed very amused by us. We then searched the trails again and again with no luck. At around 6pm as we were about to make our way back, Juan, Adrian and Kate turned a corner and spotted a Jocotoco Antpitta on the side of the track. It jumped across and into thick cover. We all arrived and the bird had gone! It was then heard calling somewhere near our earlier stake out, so we all rushed down there and waited but the bird had already passed through and could be heard further away. Heading along a different trail we got as close to the calling bird as was possible from the track and waited. It seemed to come closer but then fell silent and our hearts sank. I turned around and set off to retrieve my scope which was somewhere behind us and meanwhile as the rest of the group were about to return they went around a corner and there in front of them was this huge and very sought after Antpitta. It hopped along the path and started digging in the side of the bank giving everyone superb views. Juan had ran back and found me by this time and I returned to find it had just gone around the next corner, we moved along but it had disappeared into the thick forest again. You can imagine everyone’s excitement at seeing it and mine at missing it. As we set off back to the main trail with myself in front I thought I glimpsed something go around the next corner. No messing around this time I ran to the top of the hill looked around the corner and there in the middle of the track stood this monster of a bird. It looked at me over its shoulder, showed me all its face markings and then dived into the forest. All eight of us` that had come out this afternoon were relieved and very happy as all of us had seen this superb bird. It was now 6.30 and the bird had covered a huge area of forest in a short time. I said to Mick its probable further along the track and as we returned Mick walked a couple of hundred metres to check. When he hadn’t caught us up Linda returned to find him, and unbelievably he had followed the Antpitta along the track down to 6ft away and managed to video it for over two minutes. Linda also saw it again and the bird hopped along a few feet away totally unconcerned by their presence.
What an ending to our day. We were all on a high and rightly so when you realise how few people who search for this mythical bird actually see it. Drinks all round that evening!
Day 8 – 25th Feb
After breakfast we visited the lodge hide, as Mick had just seen the Chestnut-naped Antpitta on the feeding area in front of the hide. Once everyone had seen this bird we set off in the coach down towards a small town. Stopping along the way beside some fruiting trees we saw Saffron-crowned and Flame-faced Tanagers, a Bronzy Inca and Blackburnian Warbler, plus a Golden-faced Tyrannulet. Further on we got fantastic views of three magnificent looking Crimson-bellied Woodpeckers, as they moved from tree to tree and even fed low down on some old stumps. Moving on a little we scoped some Red-billed Parrots, and then got good views off Lafresnaye’s Piculet shortly followed by two superb Rufous-tailed Tyrants showing their bright red eyes. Driving down to the town we checked out the gardens and soon found Blue-necked, and White-lined Tanagers, Streaked Saltator, Common Tody-Flycatcher, followed by Silver-backed and Silver-beaked Tanagers, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, and then Streaked Xenops, Maranon Thrush, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Andean Emerald and then three Red-eyed Vireos. A Russet-backed Oropendola flew over and we also found, Brown-capped Vireo and Slate-throated Whitestart. In a small allotment we got very good views of an Ash-browed Spinetail, before moving on to another roadside stop. Here we found Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Maranon Thrush, a Long-tailed Tyrant sat on top of a palm tree and a Summer Tanager. A Montane Woodcreeper was located in a small patch of wood and we got good views of Black-lored Yellowthroat and a Black-billed Thrush. Just as we were about to leave a Tawny-bellied Hermit was spotted feeding on a flowering bush, while nearby on a tree top sat a Smoke-coloured Pewee. We returned to the lodge for lunch and added a Violet-fronted Brilliant to our hummingbird list. As soon as we were packed we boarded the coach and set off towards the city of Loja. Stopping in a small town along the way we checked out the feeder of one of the park rangers. Not a single bird landed on it, but in the flowering trees nearby we did see Long-billed Starthroat and an Amazilia Hummingbird. As we drove out of town a very cute looking Pacific Pygmy-Owl was spotted by Wilson, so we all piled out and got wonderful views of this tiny owl right beside the road. We eventually arrived at our luxurious hotel just after dusk.
Day 9 – 26th Feb
We left our hotel early and set off towards our next destination of Umbrellabird Lodge. Along the way roadside birds included lots of Long-tailed Mockingbirds. At one of Juan’s secret sites we walked a section of road and soon found Tropical Gnatcatcher, Croaking Ground-Doves and a Andean Tinamou that walked across the path in front of us. Our next speciality was a confiding Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, followed by Tumbes Sparrow, some Pacific Parrotlets, and a female Collared Antshrike. Further along we got Saffron Finches, Pacific Hornero, plus Vermilion Flycatchers and a group of noisy Fasciated Wrens. A Band-tailed Sierra-Finch showed well on a fence post and we watched an Amazilia Hummingbird. A Scarlet-backed Woodpecker was seen well, while another or the same Andean Tinamou was watched running up a bank, and above us flew Chestnut-collared Swifts. We also found Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches and with a little perseverance we got to see a stunning Elegant Crescentchest. As we made our way back to the coach we got better views of Pacific Parrotlets and then a Burrowing Owl keeping his eye on us from tall bush. Moving on a little we stopped beside the road and walked to a gulley where several Grassland Yellow-Finches were seen, plus Superciliated Wren and in another similar spot we had excellent views thanks to Mick of a Collared Warbling-Finch. Continuing on we stopped and got some cold drinks, and then beside some maize fields we found Chestnut-throated and Drab Seedeaters. Along a mountainous roadside we stopped to have our lunch and whilst Wilson started the cooking we had short walk. A superb Black-cowled Saltator was spotted, and we were buzzed by some very close White-collared Swifts, the wind whistling through their wings. A Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant was found and after lunch on another short walk we got to see two Hook-billed Kites. Further down we got excellent views of a female Chapman’s Antshrike and then another speciality a Loja Tyrannulet. We drove onto another special spot and after climbing into an area of Bamboo forest we saw Loja Hummingbird, Blue-crowned Motmot and finally everyone got to see our target bird a Watkin’s Antpitta, which was scoped sat in a tree. On the road again and two Peruvian Meadowlarks were spotted from the coach. A Red Brocket Deer ran across in front of us and as the day cooled down we noted more activity with many other roadside birds including two Yellow-tailed Orioles, Lemon –rumped Tanager, Ringed Kingfisher, Grey-breasted Martins and Southern Rough-winged Swallows. A couple of Streaked Saltators of the un-streaked local race were watched and finally a pair of Scarlet-backed Woodpeckers put in an appearance. Our last few kilometres of the drive were along a very muddy track which was being made even muddier with the torrential rain. A fallen tree had to be cleared from the road and just after seeing two Pauraques on the road we arrived at the appropriately named Umbrellabird Lodge. With its new cabins, which we were the first visitors to stay in, this was an ideal place to be based.
Day 10 – 27th Feb
We had the usual obligatory early breakfast and as the day dawned we watched the hummingbirds coming to the lodge feeders. There were lots of Green Thorntails and Green-crowned Brilliants, a couple of White-necked Jacobins, good numbers of Violet-bellied Hummingbirds, some endemic Emerald-bellied Woodnymphs, Andean Emeralds, a single Blue-chested Hummingbird, two Long-billed Starthroats, Brown Violet-Ear, a Fawn-breasted Brilliant and finally a Baron’s Hermit which was seen by a few of the group. In the trees we saw two very wet looking Plumbeous Kites and with the rain still persisting we enjoyed prolonged views of the constant stream of hummingbirds. A group of four Rose-faced Parrots flew in and landed in a close tree giving us excellent views while another bigger group of Red-masked Parakeets also flew around eventually landing so we could get good scope views of these as well. The rain eventually eased so we set off on a walk we soon found a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan and then in the same tree were two Choco Toucans, the latter proving fairly easy to separate by its shorter blacker bill. Nearby were Thick-billed Euphonias and a Green Honeycreeper. Moving on a little a Swainson’s Thrush was seen, along with Black-striped Sparrow, a Golden-olive Woodpecker and some perched Bronze-winged Parrots. Some tricky Yellow-throated Bush-Tanagers kept themselves well concealed, we then walked down into an area of forest where our main target species had recently been seen. While we waited in one spot, Juan went off to check another area. We found a pair of nesting Ornate Flycatchers and then I spotted a bird fly into the trees just above us, and to our utter amazement we got stunning views of a male Long-wattled Umbrellabird, this bird supporting an extraordinary wattle that was about as big as they come. An Orange-billed Sparrow performed well, while brief views were had of a Buff-throated Saltator. A calling Club-winged Manakin caught our attention and was soon tracked down, where we enjoyed superb views of this little gem. We then tried a Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant and once again secured good `views for everyone. Moving on we stopped by a group of Heliconia plants and immediately spotted a White-tipped Sicklebill just six feet away feeding on the flowers, before perching so close we could hardly focus on it. An immature Long-wattled Umbrellabird was spotted and we got good looks at a Slaty Antwren. It started raining again and was nearing lunch time so we headed back towards the lodge seeing a close Pale-mandibled Aracari along the way. Just before we got back a very nice Grey-headed Kite was seen perched out in the open. Afterwards it was still raining hard so we just relaxed and watched the hummingbirds, adding White-whiskered Hermit, Violet-tailed Sylph, more views of the Baron’s Hermit and getting some good photo opportunities. The rain eventually eased so we went out for the last few hours. Thick-billed Euphonias were found alongside Orange-crowned and Orange-bellied Euphonias a pair of Yellow-tufted Dacnis and a Yellow Tyrannulet. Lots of Lemon-rumped Tanagers were seen and a Streak-headed Woodcreeper put in an appearance.
On the higher track we found a very confiding Green Honeycreeper which was watched coming and going from its nest, a couple of Rufous Motmots also showed well and carrying food must have had a nest and some young nearby, while White-bearded Manakins flitted around, Plumbeous Kites flew overhead and a Tropical Parula was seen. It was getting late so we returned to the lodge.
Day 11 – 28th Feb
This morning we set off in the dark downhill in the coach. A brief stop along the way had us listening to a Spectacled Owl but it would not be tempted to come close enough to see. We then had to get out as a land slide needed to be cleared so as we could get the coach past. Once we were onto the main road we drove to a higher altitude and took a track off to a forest site. American Kestrels and Plumbeous Kites were easily seen along the way. In the mist a Bronze-winged
Parrot was seen perched so we got out to scope it and while here an Olive-crowned Yellowthroat was seen by all. Continuing on a little way we saw several Smoke-coloured Pewees and then as we started a walk along the road we found Yellow-bellied Seedeaters, a Spotted Woodcreeper some Common Bush-Tanagers and more Bronze-winged Parrots. Continuing on we located an Ornate Flycatcher and got brief views of a Scaly-throated Foliage-Gleaner. A Pale-vented Thrush was only seen by a few of us and then while listening to an Andean Solitaire we found a Streaked Xenops. A Wedge-billed Woodcreeper was soon forgotten when we found a gorgeous pair of Scaled Fruiteaters and while watching these we noted both birds going down to a mossy nest in the fork of a tree. Two excellent species came next when firstly five El Oro Parakeets, an extremely rare endemic with less than 130 individuals left in the wild, flew in to a tree top and were duly scoped feeding away. As we watched these rare birds a Grey-backed Hawk another speciality of the area flew low across in front of us and perched on a tree stump. Another bird then appeared and sat in a tree top sunning itself, allowing excellent views. A group of tanagers were found and included Silver-throated, Bay-headed and Golden. A Red-tailed Squirrel was also seen and in the same area we had Brown-capped Vireo, Fawn-breasted Tanager and amazing views of up to four Grey-backed Hawks flying around. A Montane Woodcreeper was seen well as were Thick-billed Euphonias in several places. Leaving here we then drove to another spot beside the main road and here we took a muddy trail and eventually saw a Plain Antvireo and some people saw a Tawny-rumped Flycatcher while just three people glimpsed our target bird an El Oro Tapaculo. A Scaly-throated Foliage-Gleaner was spotted, a Grey-breasted Woodwren was seen, as well as Slaty Antwren and then in a gully we got brief looks at a Song Wren and a young Andean Solitaire, while a very close calling Scaled Antpitta could not be seen. As we returned to our lodge we made a stop at some hummingbird feeders and here we saw much the same species as Umbrellabird Lodge with a nice White-whiskered Hermit proving the best of the bunch. We had our lunch and then walked the track up hill from the lodge. A Great Antshrike was heard but failed to show, and there were lots of Lemon-rumped Tanagers around. A group of Pale-mandibled Aracaris showed exceptionally well and we got to hear a Pallid Dove calling. Further up a Slaty Spinetail eventually gave itself up and two Guayaquil Woodpeckers appeared with one particular bird giving superb views. A poison dart frog was also seen before we turned around and slowly headed back. Our return journey was somewhat quiet although a brief Rufous Motmot, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant and a Slaty-capped Flycatcher ended our day nicely.
Day 12 – 1st March
This morning we had breakfast, put our luggage on the coach and then set off to re-visit an area of forest in the hope of finding El Oro Tapaculo for those of the group who had missed it. As we left Umbrellabird Lodge a couple of Pauraques were seen on the track. Once we had negotiated a landslide and driven up the main road we reached our spot and most of the group set off into this small tract of forest. Others stayed behind and birded the roadside as they were put off by the muddy trail. It wasn’t long into the forest before we heard a Scaled Antpitta calling. We got closer and closer until we found that we were underneath a tree from which the Antpitta was calling, unbelievably in the canopy 80ft above us. Try as we may it was impossible to see the bird although a brief movement by the bird in highest part of the canopy was not a good enough sighting to warrant going onto our list. In the same area a Plain-backed Antpitta started calling and even though myself and David got half second views of it as it crossed a small gap in the undergrowth, this bird as with the Scaled did not make it onto our checklist as a sighting. The tapaculo failed to show or even be heard so we returned to the coach and set off towards Guayaquil. Our next stop was beside some shrimp ponds, where the weather was noticeably warmer than the high damp mountains we had got used to. A walk along the embankments soon produced a few White-cheeked Pintail, Wattled Jacanas and some Black-necked Stilts. Out in the middle of the first weedy lake we found a Greater Yellowlegs and several Peruvian Meadowlarks, while nearby a Pacific Hornero called loudly and a Ringed Kingfisher was seen sat on a telephone wire. Walking towards the next pool we got closer looks at the White-cheeked Pintail, and both Laughing and Franklin’s Gulls flew around. We soon added Great-tailed Grackle and Little Blue Heron to our list and then a gorgeous pair of Masked Water-Tyrants were found. On the bank opposite were three Whimbrel and a Spotted Sandpiper, while Neotropic Cormorant and two Gull-billed Terns flew over. We scoped a Chestnut-throated Seedeater and continuing on we walked past some wonderful butterflies until we reached a small area of mangrove. Here we saw Croaking Ground Doves, some Mangrove Warblers and then a pair of Collared Antshrikes. We then got superb views of Parrot-billed Seedeater and Short-tailed Field-Tyrant, followed by a close male Parrot-billed Seedeater. We slowly headed back towards the coach checking out a muddy pool at the end. Here we found quite a lot of wading birds including Least Sandpiper, Western and Semi-palmated Sandpiper, a Wilson’s Plover and several Semi-palmated Plovers. Back on the road we got ever closer to Guayaquil, passing a Harris Hawk along the way. An emergency roadside stop was made when a Pearl Kite was spotted on a wire. We reversed back and everyone got excellent views of this dainty little raptor. We eventually reached a park headquarters for our lunch. Afterwards we took the coach to a nearby flooded track where once across we set off on a walk towards a lake. Another Harris Hawk was seen along with several Chestnut-throated Seedeaters, and once we had got through the mud to the first area of forest we found some Ecuadorian Ground Doves. A Pacific Pygmy Owl was spotted and after negotiating more mud we came to the lake edge. A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks flew around before we spotted our main target bird, four Horned Screamers, which included three together on one of the banks. Further searching found Muscovy Duck and several Snail Kites while in the trees beside us were a couple of Yellow-rumped Caciques. In the woods we found a Golden-olive Woodpecker and a Streaked Flycatcher before we decided the bugs were too annoying and we had to return to the coach seeing a flock of Grey-cheeked Parakeets along the way. After changing our damp and muddy clothes we set off towards Guayaquil and our five star hotel. Along the way we passed at least five different Savannah Hawks perched along the roadside. Once we had got to our hotel the comfort and luxury was very welcome, as was the superb evening meal.
Day 13 – 2nd March
This morning we left early to visit the reserve of Cerro Blanco. On arrival we set out to walk a small section of road. A couple of Red-lored Amazons flew over as did some Grey-cheeked Parakeets. A Long-billed Starthroat was seen perched on a tree top, while Ecuadorian Thrush was on the track and both Yellow-rumped Caciques and Southern Yellow Grosbeaks were found. We got good views of a Yellow-olive Flatbill and a Golden-olive Woodpecker, soon followed by Sooty-crowned Flycatcher and a Scarlet-backed Woodpecker. A little further on we came across a Streak-headed Woodcreeper, White-tipped Dove, a Thick-billed Euphonia, Streaked Saltator and a Boat-billed Flycatcher. As we walked towards our picnic spot where Wilson was busy preparing breakfast we found Red-eyed Vireo and Tropical Gnatcatcher, while a Crane Hawk flew high overhead. After our breakfast we set off on a mornings walk through the normally dry forest. A close Pale-browed Tinamou was heard but always remained just out of sight. A lot of time was spent trying to see it but we admitted defeat with a Black-capped Sparrow as compensation. In an open area we got to see both Speckle-breasted and Superciliated Wren together. The next bird to give us a little run around was a Grey-and-gold Warbler, but eventually everyone saw it well. Nearby we had work hard to get views of a Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner, but once perched it was scoped for all to see. Continuing through the forest a Nightjar was flushed and seen to fly into a rocky gully. Some thorough scanning eventually found the Anthony’s Nightjar perched on the ground where we again got good scope views of it. At the end of our walk we managed to find an excited pair of Black-and-white Becards and White-shouldered Tanager. It was time to return and as we walked back we spotted a Bran-coloured Flycatcher. Once at the car park we found that Wilson had already prepared our lunch which was very welcome indeed. Once we had eaten it was time leave this reserve, passing a Pacific Pygmy Owl along the way. We drove back to our hotel and got cleaned up before being taken to Guayaquil Airport where we were soon on our flight to Quito. Back at Juan’s Lodge we enjoyed another superb evening meal and said our goodbyes to Adrian and Kate who were going to go to Antisana in the morning but this wouldn’t be until after we had set off on our pre dawn Antpitta quest.
Day 14 – 3rd March
We left early in the morning and set off towards Mindo where we arrived at breakfast time. There was no time to waste though, and breakfast was put on hold as the farmers took us into the forest where we were soon delighting in the unbelievable close views of a Giant Antpitta being fed worms by one of the farmers. The birds in this forest had got used to being thrown worms and this gave us all the rare opportunity to see some of the country’s hardest and most skulky species.
After the excitement of seeing a Giant Antpitta just six feet away we followed the farmers to another spot where “Willie” the Yellow-breasted Antpitta also delighted in being fed worms. He was a little shyer than the giant, and made forays out of the forest edge, grabbed a worm and ran back. Wow! another superb species seen well. We were then told that a Moustached Antpitta in the area hadn’t been seen for over five days and was indeed very wary anyway. As the farmers continued their search we returned to their house where a delicious breakfast awaited. With this over we returned to the forest and amazingly just as we started the walk down the first steps, a Moustached Antpitta was spotted just off the track. Again we got fantastic views and the worm man arrived and kept the bird on view with a few tasty morsels. Elated at our success Linda and Mick caught up with us and also saw this excellent bird, before we went off on a short forest walk. A few good species were added including Lineated Foliage-Gleaner, a pair of Black-chinned Mountain Tanagers, Red-faced Spinetails and a Green-and-black Fruiteater. An excellent last morning in Ecuador brought our total of Antpittas seen to 8, with several more heard. Adrian and Kate had also enjoyed a fabulous morning with one of the highlights being that they got a lie-in until 7.00am. Their trip to Antisana was on a glorious day with almost no clouds, allowing views of the huge peak of the snow covered volcano to dominate the landscape. Stops along way found them many species including Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Tawny Antpitta, Great Sapphirewing, Black-tailed Trainbearer, a nice male Ecuadorian Hillstar and the nest of Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle with one chick which was being constantly fed by the two parents. Plenty of other birds were seen including Plain-coloured and Band-tailed Seedeaters, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Black-winged Ground-Dove, Plumbeous and Band-tailed Sierra-Finches and Rufous-naped Brush-Finch. Up on the high paramo, fifteen Black-faced Ibis were found along with Paramo Ground-Tyrant, Carunculated Caracaras, two Andean Lapwings, and on the lake were Silvery Grebes, Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Ruddy Duck and Greater Yellowlegs. Quite possibly the highlight of the whole day was one of two Andean Condors, an adult, which circled no more than 50ft above their heads. Fantastic!
Everyone had ended this spectacular tour on a high, and the resulting list of sought after birds is proof of its success.
On behalf of Juan and myself I would like to thank you all for making this tour such a pleasure to lead. We know of a lot of other very good birders searched for the Jocotoco Antpitta before and after our tour. They all failed!