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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Extraordinary Ecuador, (950 Species in 45 Memorable Days), 18th January-05th March 2007,
Graemes photos from Ecuador (and other places) can be found on www.worldbirder.com
Background and Summary of the Trip.
By virtue of its unique geographical location and topographical features Ecuador is one of the world’s great birding destinations. Covering an area only twice the size of England, it straddles the Equator and contains many different vegetation zones from Amazonian rainforest in the lowlands of the east to cloud forest and páramo in the highlands of the Andes. The country has good infrastructure and a network of excellent lodges and offers unrivalled access to around 1700 mainland species which include some of the classiest and rarest birds in South America.
In general birders tend to divide the country in to two areas, North and South Ecuador and make two trips. We were lucky enough to have the time to make one mega-trip but, to do it independently, as weusually prefer to do, would have meant trying to get to grips with hundreds of calls and familiarise ourselves with locations, behaviours and plumages of a bewildering array of antbirds, antwrens and many others. We would also run the risk of missing a lot of species. Therefore, because this was such a special trip we decided to use professional guides and that the trip demanded using the services of the best in the business.
We had known the inestimable Paul Coopmans for many years and, the previous year, while Graeme had been working as a volunteer at Cristalino he had met and been very impressed by Lelis Naverette, a native Ecuadorean and co-dicoverer of the Jocotoco Antpitta. Due to the potential length of the trip we decided to split it into the usual two segments and agreed that Paul Coopmans would lead us in the south and Lelis would handle the north. In this way neither we nor the guides would have to put up with each other in close proximity for a protracted period !
Very sadly the untimely death of Paul Coopmans rendered this impossible but Lelis kindly agreed to shuffle some commitments and take on the whole trip. In the event Lelis, who worked tirelessly on our behalf, proved to be not only an excellent guide but also great company and we all came through pretty much unscathed after 45 days together!!
The trip itself worked out very well, Neblina Forest doing a good job on logistics and bookings, Lelis supreme in the field and quickly resolving the mechanical problems we suffered with 3 different cars. Lodges and hotels ranged from good to excellent, with Cabanas Copalinga and San Isidro a delight and the Jocotoco Foundation lodges also excellent. The Roland Hotel in Zaruma ( the Umbrella Lodge at Buenaventura was booked) was not bad for a small provincial town but the hotel in the unavoidable stopover in Cariamanga is best forgotten.
Much of the birding in Ecuador is done in high elevation temperate, cloud and elfin forest where swirling misty, cloudy and damp conditions are to be expected. What we did not expect however was the rain that we experienced in the south on the Gualaceo-Limon Road but particularly the atrocious conditions at Tapichalaca where the El Nino effect was apparent in the more or less continuous torrential rain that plagued our 3 days there. Guacamayos Ridge was also pretty wet and misty but as Lelis always cheerfully pointed out “you have to deal with it” and “its good for the birds”. Deal with it we did, seeing almost 900 species in the 45 days including some of the most fabulous, most colourful, skulking, spectacular and rare species that South America has to offer.
We recorded 19 antpittas (16 seen which must be something of a record), 7 antthrushes, 90 hummingbirds, 10 manakins and around 100 tanager types. Among the most memorable highlights were Giant, Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpitta at Angel Paz’s Refuge, Scaled Antpitta at Buenaventura, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan and the fabulous Ocellated Tapaculo in the Tandayapa Valley, Rufous Potoo, Crested Owl and White-plumed Antbirds at Gareno, Bicolored and Ocellated Antbird at Canande and Sword-billed Hummingbird at Yanacocha. We also missed some, most painfully Crescent-chested Antpitta, Jocotoco Antpitta and Barred Antthrush, all rare and difficult birds which we heard, located and in each case came almost within touching distance but yet we never saw them. Always something to go back for and we are sure we will return because it’s a great destination.
Finally our thanks to Lelis Navarette for his hard work during 45 twelve hour plus days, his extraordinary field craft and his companionship throughout. It was a hell of trip.
The report is set out under the following headings
There are many good ecotourism companies in Ecuador and many who specialise in birding. For reasons explained above we made use of the services of Lelis Navarette who works with Neblina Forest and for that reason we used Neblina to handle all the logistics which they did perfectly well and we would certainly recommend them on this basis alone. However there is another reason to use Neblina which is their close connection with and support of the Jocotoco Foundation; a major conservation force in Ecuador .There conservation work is certainly worthy of all our support. Visit their website at http://www.fjocotoco.org
There are literally hundreds of Ecuador birding trip reports on the web and therefore no lack of information. The reports at Surfbirds http://surfbirds.com and the search portal Travelling Birder http://www.travellingbirder.com/tripreports are very useful as are the reports with maps of John van der Woude at http://home-1.worldonline.nl/~jvanderw . In addition look out for a forthcoming book by Lelis Navarette which we understand will be a “Where to Find Birds in Ecuador” type and if the detailed measurements and notes made by Lelis during our trip are anything to go by it should prove very useful.
As regards field guides, The Birds of Ecuador by Ridgely and Greenfield is excellent for the field and Ridgely and Tudors The Birds of South America VolsI & II are invaluable in pre trip planning and post trip enjoyment.
Site information and accommodation
Cajas National Park
At an elevation of 4000masl the lake dotted terrain of Cajas NP is primarily páramo where the trees and ground are covered with mosses, lichens, and other fungi. In more sheltered areas stands of polyepis woodland can be found; home to the Giant Conebill. The main route to Cajas NP from Cuenca starts as Avenida Gran Colombia before turning into Avenida Lasso as it nears the Hotel Oro Verde. After eight kilometres, the road passes the village of Sayausi before reaching the Laguna Toreadora Visitor Centre (6 a.m.–5 p.m) after 34 kilometres. There is an entrance fee of $10 payable at a toll hut located on the road to the Visitor Centre at Lake Toreadora. Important birds here include Giant Conebill, Tit-like Dacnis, Violet-throated Metaltail, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Plushcap, Black-Backed Bush-Tanager, Plain-Coloured Seedeater, Paramo Seedeater (erratic), and Slaty Finch (erratic).
Accommodation - there are many options in the town of Cuenca.
This reserve was established in 1999 to protect a small population of the then recently re-discovered Pale-headed Brush-Finch which had not been seen for 30 years. The habitat of the Pale-headed Brush-Finch is deciduous/semi-evergreen scrub found in arid intermontane valleys restricted to the Rio Jubones drainage in south-west Ecuador The reserve is located in the Yunguilla Valley in Azuay province. Other species include Purple-throated Sunangel, Tawny-Crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, Dull-Colored Grassquit, Pale-Headed & Stripe-Headed Brush-Finch, and the rare Buff-fronted Owl.
Accommodation - Hosteria Sol y Agua,Parroquia Santa Isabel , Km. 72 / Cuenca, Ecuador
(593 7) 284 7277
From Gualceo head out of town passing by the small town of Chordeleg where this badly maintained road starts at around 2300 masl and rises steadily through upper temperate/ upper subtropical forest , wet paramao, shrub paramo and elfin forest to a shrine at the head of the pass at around 3370masl before descending on the other side. It is cloud forest birding , often wet , windy and misty but offering access to a fantastic range of east Andean slope species. There are apparently regular buses which you can hop on and off to bird the road but, given how wet and windy it can be, its probably better with your own vehicle. Good species found here include Crescent-faced & Rufous Antpitta, Paramo Tapaculo, Chestnut-bellied Cotinga (very rare), Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, Black-chested, Hooded & Lachrymose Mountain-Tanager, Golden-crowned Tanager and Black-backed Bush-Tanager.
Accommodation; Uzhupud Hotel. Km 32 Via Paute Valley Cuenca, Ecuador
(593 7) 225 0339 / (593 7) 225 0329 or (593 7) 225 0374
: uzhupud1(at)remove-this.cue.satnet.net Website www.uzhupud.com
Podacarpus National ParkPodocarpus NP lies in the south of Ecuador between Loja and Zamora and comprises a large region of mountainous and lowland vegetation The park ranges from 1,000 meters in the river valleys to 3,600 meters in the higher reaches of the Nudo de Sabanilla mountain range, part of the larger Cordillera Real. Stretching unbroken from the high Andes to low-altitude rainforest, Podocarpus' 360,000 dripping hectares consist mainly of hillsides covered with moist cloud forest with paramo at the higher levels. The park has 2 main entrances. The Cajanuma or Upper entrance gives access to the upper temperate forest and is located 10 km south of Loja on the road to Vilcabamba. From here it's 8 km uphill to the Cajanuma refuge, the first 5 kms through rather degraded habitat but the last 3kms through fine forest. From the car park at the refuge there are a number of long and short trails available of which the Sendero Bosque Nublado looked good. Good birds here include; Bearded Guan, White-Throated Quail-Dove, Golden-Plumed Parakeet, White-Throated Screech-Owl, Rufous-Banded Owl, Glowing & Sapphire-Vented Puffleg, Flame Throated Sunangel , White-Bellied Woodstar, Rufous & White-Browed Spinetail, Mouse-Colored Thistletail, Rusty-Winged Barbtail, Streak-Capped Treehunter, Undulated, Chestnut-Crowned , Chestnut-Naped and Rufous Antpitta, Ash-Colored Tapaculo, Orange-Banded Flycatcher , Chusquea Tapaculo, Rufous-Crowned & Black-Throated Tody-Tyrant, Crowned & Slaty-Backed Chat-Tyrant, Streak-Throated & Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Rufous & Plain-tailed Wren, Citrine & Black-Crested Warbler, Blue-Backed Conebill, Gray-Hooded Bush-Tanager, Rufous-Chested ,Red-Hooded, Golden-Crowned & Flame-Faced Tanager, Masked & Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia and Masked Saltator.
Accommodation – many options in Loja, we stayed in the Hotel Bombuscaro.
The Bombuscaro or Lower entrance is accessed from the town of Zamora which is a 3 hour drive around the Nudo de Sabanilla mountain range from Loja. The road passes the EERSA Centro Hydro-station where the river is good for White-capped Dipper and Torrent Duck. Once in Zamora there is a road/good track following the Rio Bombuscaro which will bring you to the forest edge where you park and follow the main trail to the poorly maintained interpretive centre. Among the many excellent species found here are ; Sickle-winged Guan, White-necked Parakeet, Gray-chinned Hermit, Green Violet-ear, Spangled Coquette, Andean Emerald, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Black-throated Brilliant, Gorgeted Sunangel, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black-streaked Puffbird, Lanceolated Monklet, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Equatorial Graytail, Spotted Barbtail, Black-billed Treehunter, Foothill Antwren, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Blue-rumped & Western striped Manakin, Foothill Elaenia , Golden-faced Tyrannulet,Orange-crested &Olive-chested flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked Becard,, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, Bronze-green Euphonia, Orange-eared, Golden-eared & Yellow-bellied Tanager, Olive Finch.
Accommodation – The Cabanas Copalinga on the track leading to the forest is undoubtedly one of the best birding lodges we have stayed in anywhere in the world.
Old Loja–Zamora Road
Heading out of Zamora on the main road to Loja there is a small village called La Fragrancia, and the old road starts here by a shrine on the right. The road descends into the valley and across a bridge before climbing up on the other side. There is forest all along the road which can be birded by going up by car ( or taxi) from Zamora and returning or, if by car, continuing on until the road re-crosses the river further up the valley to rejoin the main road to Loja. There are good mixed and tanager flocks. Birds include; White-breasted Parakeet, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Emerald & Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Buff-winged &Rainbow Starfrontlets, Bronzy Inca, Glowing Puffleg, Booted Racket-tail, Golden-headed Quetzal, Turquoise & Inca Jay, Golden, Orange-eared, Golden-eared, Spotted, White-winged, Blue-browed, Saffron-crowned, White-capped, Red-hooded and Purplish- mantled Tanager.
The road to Cerro Toledo provides access to another sector of Podocarpus National Park. The birds are similar to Cajanuma and Tapichalaca, but there are no easy trails into the forest, so birding is from the roadside. The road starts just beyond the checkpoint at the edge of the town of Yangana, on the left if you are coming from the town, about 30 minutes drive from Vilcabamba. Neblina Metaltail and Masked Mountain-Tanager can be found about 3000masl just above the treeline where there is a covering of low bushes and bamboo but before the start of the paramo. The road beyond forks; the right fork leading up higher to radio masts, but we turned back because the weather closed in making visibility impossible, A high-clearance vehicle is needed to drive this road, and after heavy rain, or to continue beyond the fork, 4WD is needed.
Accommodation - the somewhat mystical and new age Hostal Jardin Escondido in Vilcabamaba
This reserve was established to protect the type locality and only known range of the recently discovered Jocotoco Antpitta. The reserve, which protects an unusually wet area of temperate-zone forest on the east slope of the Andes, is located along the trail to Quebrada Honda below Cerro Tapichalaca. In addition to the Jocotoco Antpitta, the reserve is also home to other vulnerable restricted range birds such as the Bearded Guan, Golden-plumed Parakeet, Rufous-capped Thornbill , and Masked Saltator. In common with many before us we failed to see the antpitta, although we heard it a couple of times.In general it is just very difficult, partly because it’s a particularly shy bird but also because the birds have been subjected to constant playback and are no longer responsive. Not good for them or for visting birders. However following the antpitta success at Angel Paz one of the Jocotoco staff went there, was trained and now there is a Jocotoco Antpita attenuated to voice and the promise of worms. The chances of seeing one now are therefore much greater – the quid pro quo being that playback is now forbidden.
Accommodation - available on site with comfortable rooms in a recently built house. There is a kitchen where you can make own food but staff will provide and cook food by prior arrangement.
The reserve at Utuana, close to the Peruvian border in Loja province, protects a small remnant of hilltop evergreen forest at 2500masl in the transitional zone between humid montane forest and the dry forest of the Tumbesian endemic region. It is accessed by driving through the checkpoint in the town of Utuana and continuing straight on where the road becomes a dirt track on a ridge.( i.e. do not follow the main road to the right and downhill which goes to Sozorango) A short way along this trail there is a track to the right which leads to the forest and the Hanne Blocker Trail. Good species present in this location, include Piura Hemispingus, Black-crested Tit-Tyrant ,Watkins's Antpitta, Rainbow Starfrontlet and Bay-crowned Brushfinch.
This reserve, run by the Fundación Jocotoco, is at Jorupe, near the town of Macara close to the Ecuador/Peru border. From Macara the reserve is located about 3km to the north-east on the left side of the main road to Sozorango. At an elevation of around 600-800masl it comprises a two square mile area of high quality deciduous forest in the Tumbesian region of south west Ecuador. Good birds here include, Grey-backed Hawk, Grey-cheeked Parakeet , Ochre-bellied Dove, Henna-hooded & Rufous-necked Foliage-Gleaner , Blackish-headed Spinetail, Grey-headed Antbird, Slaty Becard, Grey-breasted Flycatcher, Guayaquil Woodpecker, White-tailed Jay , Red-masked Parakeet, Pacific Parrotlet, Ecuadorian Piculet, Line-cheeked Spinetail, Chapman’s’ Antshrike, Watkins’ Antpitta, Loja Tyrannulet, Fasciated &Speckle-breasted Wren, Grey & Gold Warbler, White-winged Brush-Finch and White-edged Oriole.
Accommodation; Hotel Conquistador in Macara
Close to Macara but on the other side of town from Jorupe the road heads towards the bridge over the river that marks the Peruvian border. Follow the road out of town but take the right fork for Zapotillo. Continue to drive for c15-20 minutes initially through rice paddies until you find good forest along the road. Bird along the road for Rufous-headed Chachalaca White-bellied Jay, Ecuadorian Trogon, Red-masked Parakeet, Pacific Parrotlet,Tumbes Swift, Pacific Pygmy Owl, Grey &Gold Warbler. Collared Antshrike, White-tailed Oriole & Superciliated Wren..
Accommodation; Hotel Conquistador in Macara
At an altitude of 800 -1500masl this reserve is located near Piñas and Zaruma in El Oro province. It protects a narrow zone of cloud forest habitat on the otherwise seasonally dry west slope of the Andes in Southern Ecuador. The reserve is the type locality of the El Oro Parakeet and the El Oro Tapaculo and lies about 4 hours south of Guyaquil and 2.5 hours north of Macara. From Macara take the road to Guayaquil eventually reaching the town of Balsas. About 15 minutes drive beyond Balsas is the small town of Saracay; from there take the road to Pinas. Shortly thereafter (5 minutes drive) on the left there is a green Foundacion Jocotoco sign to “Reserva Buenaventura” with a picture of the Jocotoco Antpitta and Umbrellabird. This is the lower entrance to Buenaventura; go left and follow the track which meanders through patchy forest scrub to the Umbrellabird Lodge, the main administration and accommodation block for the reserve. Continuing along this track leads you to good forest and access to the Umbrellabird Trail named after the lek at the lower part of the trail. The main track continues on to join the access road from the upper entrance, the merged roads continuing on further still to the higher part of the reserve giving access to the Perio de Orces Trail. This is part of the old road to Zambotambo.
To reach the upper entrance by the main road drive past the lower entrance heading to Pinas and Zaruma. The road winds uphill past a Hummingbird Garden ( Jardin de Colibris ) on the left after 6kms and then on to a shrine and parking area on the left after a further 4kms. This is the entrance to the upper part. Drive in and after a short distance the fork to the left leads downhill to some good forest and on the right to the indistinct and badly maintained Perio de Orces Trail. Back at the shrine if you ignore the left fork and drive uphill taking the right fork the track meanders uphill through grassland and pasture with some forest patches until it enters some more continuous forest. Directly opposite the shrine on the other side of the road is the indistinct Tapaculo Trail.
In summary therefore the trail that starts at the lower end just
beyond Sarcay, that passes the lodge, continues uphill until it joins up
with the track from the main road at the entrance by the shrine and eventually
on up to the upper forest. The track in the lower part from the Saracay
entrance to the shrine is part of the now abandoned Machala – Zambotambo-
Pinas road. All this presumes 4 WD .
Accommodation - available on site in the aptly named “Umbrellabird Lodge”, Its popular with the tour groups so book ahead. If its not available drive on through Pinas ( no accommodation) and try the Roland Hotel in Zaruma.
The Yanacocha reserve on the slopes of Volcan Pichincha, just an hour outside of Quito, protects elfin polylepis forest which is home to the critically endangered Black-breasted Puffleg .
Access to Yanacocha is by the old Nono Road. From Quito drive past the airport on the right heading towards the Equator Line Valley and the the new highway to Mindo. Look for signs for Nono which, as you will be on the wrong side of the dual carriageway,will mean that you will need to drive past and use one of those curious U turn junctions to join the other carriageways heading back towards the city. Now on the road back to Quito the volcano and the access road to Nono are on the right. Verdacocha lies at alower altitude than Yanacocha and has similar birds. You will need more detailed information as the road to both locations has many forks whih are not well signposted. Birds here include Curve-billed Tinamou, Plain-breasted Hawk, Imperial Snipe, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, Black-breasted, Sapphire-vented & Golden-breasted Puffleg, Uundulated, Chestnut-naped, Rufous & Tawny Antpitta, Ocellated Tapaculo, Giant Conebill, Black-chested & Bbuff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Masked Glossy & Black Flowerpiercer.
Accomodation – Neblina use the Hotel Sebastian but many options in Quito.
Papallacta Pass is about 2 hours east of Quito high in the Andes Mountains. At an elevation of around 3900masl it is the main route across the Andes Mountains from Quito to the eastern slope on the road leading toward Baeza and Tena. In the higher elevations the habitat is high elevation scrub, grassland, polylepis forest, and paramo above the timberline. Near the head of the pass a dirt road on the left leads to some high radio masts. ( may not be visible if misty) It may also be signposted Cayambe Coca Reserve. Drive up here and park by the radio masts and walk the trail that starts behind the masts. Key birds include Andean Condor, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe and Paramo Ground Tyrant. Beyond the summit, the road descends to the village of Papallacta where there are a number of spa hotels. At the upper end of the village there is a valley which contains extensive waterworks and piping for the water supply of Quito. There is a controlled gate beyond which the road continues up to a ranger station where you must stop. Birds in the valley include Imperial Snipe, White-chinned Thistle tail, Blue-mantled Thornbill and Agile Tit Tyrant.
Accommodation; Termas de Papallacta
Guango Lodge is located11 kms down the main Interoceanica Highway from the town of Papallacta at about 2,700 masl in a zone of humid temperate forest on Ecuador's eastern slope. A newish sister lodge to the well known San Isidro Lodge, Guango was pleasant enough but we found the birding here a bit disappointing. A persistent high wind did not help but if you look at the bird list for Guango on the San Isidro website it’s not really very compelling and we would probably give this a miss. Birds include Black-capped, Black-eared & Black-headed Hemispingus Mountain Velvetbreast, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, Golden-breasted & Glowing Puffleg, Mountain Avocetbill, White-bellied & Gorgeted Woodstars.
Accommodation - Guango Lodge http://www.sanisidrolodge.com/pages/guango_lodge.htm
Located in the Quijos Valley about 3 hours from Quito, San Isidro lies at an elevation of about 2,000m above sea level in a zone of extensive humid forest. On the road to Tena about 20 minutes beyond the town of Baeza, there us a large signpost on the right. for the lodge . Turn right and drive for another 10 minutes or so and the lodge entrance is on the left. The lodge has great accommodation, an extensive trail system and the roads around the lodge are also good for birds. There is a great bird list including Sickle-winged Guan, Crested & Golden-headed Quetzals, Highland Motmot, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Rufous-banded and the “San Isidro Owl”, Andean Potoo, Chestnut-crowned, White-bellied and Peruvian & Slate-crowned Antpittas, Barred Antthrush, Marble-faced & Variegated Bristle-Tyrants Black-chested Fruiteater, Pale-footed Swallow, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Golden-collared Honeycreeper.
Accommodation San Isidro Lodge (593) - 2 - 2547-403 firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the great birding destinations, the Guacamayos Ridge is about 1.5 hours drive from San Isidro through the village of Cosango on the road to Tena. The road climbs steeply to the top of the ridge marked clearly by radio masts at the summit. There is a parking area beneath the radio masts and the trail begins directly behind the parking area. Its cold, wet and windy and the trail is very steep but it has some fantastic birds. I f coming from San Isidro it could be a very long day if you start at 4.30 am to be on the ridge by 6.00am but, in our experience, afternoons tend to be foreshortend by heavy rain. There may be accommodation in Cosango but using San Isidro makes sense. Among the fantastic array of birds are Andean Potoo, White-faced Nunbird, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Rusty-winged & Spotted Barbtail, Flammulated Treehunter, Greater Scythebill (very rare), Barred Antthrush, Moustached, Chestnut-crowned, Chestnut-naped, Rufous & Slate-crowned Antpitta, Ocellated Tapaculo, Green-and-black & Black-chested Fruiteater, Handsome Flycatcher, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Turquoise Jay, White-capped Tanager, Oleaginous Hemispingus,& Black-eared Hemispingus, Lacrimose & Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Vermilion, Orange-eared and Flame-faced Tanager.
Loreto Road at 950m
From the the Guacamayos Ridge the road to Archidona and Tena initially descends steeply through good forest. It is mainly good road but has some terrible patches. About 45minutes to one hour from the summit the road to Archidona beyond the village of Sarayucu passes through another village with a majorT junction intersection on the left surrounded by shops at the crossroads. This is the turning for the Loreto Road. Follow the road for about 20 minutes passing through a stone quarry right on the road itself and continue on until the road summits with a tall mast in front. The area is covered by spoil from mining and road operations but there is a parking area on the right among the waste rock and sand. The trail through the forest begins with a scramble up a slope to the radio mast and then descends into forest. The whole are looks pretty degraded and indeed good forest at the end of the trail had been recently been completely cut down so its not the place it presumably once was but still holds good birds including; Ecuadorian Piedtail, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Napo Sabrewing, Booted Racket-tail, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Golden-collared Toucanet, Lafresnaye's Piculet , Black-billed Treehunter, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Plain-backed Antpitta, Fiery-throated Fruiteater & Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater ( both rare), Blue-rumped Manakin, Golden-winged Manakin, Foothill Elaenia, Wing-banded Wren, Yellow-bellied, Yellow-throated, Orange-eared & Golden-eared Tanager.
The lodge is situated in the lands of the Huaorani Indians, a once fierce tribe which only recently gave up its nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle but who, we discovered, are now quite prepared to turn their hand to a bit of “Stand and Deliver” highway robbery. The roads that provide access to the forest are oil company penetration roads, which are strictly controlled and are closed off to non-Huaorani settlers, resulting in great access to magnificent, primary, Amazonian terra firme forest. Gareno Lodge lies 77kms east of Tena and access is through an oil company controlled gated entrance. Once through the gate the road is a well maintained dirt road but you will need precise directions because, although you essentially follow the main road ,there are a couple of forks and when you reach the location of the lodge there is no sign nor is it at all visible from the road and it would be easy to drive past. At the lodge there is a very small “lay-by” on the right sufficient for three or four vehicles only where you park and then descend a set of steep steps to the basic but comfortable accommodation. The local guides are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and we loved it here. Gareno boasts some exceptional birds including Chestnut-headed Crake, Harpy Eagle, Rufous Potoo, Crested & Spectacled Owl, Speckled Spinetail, Lineated Woodcreeper, Pink-throated Becard, Yellow-browed, White-plumed &Hairy-crested Antbird, Reddish-winged Bare-eye, Double-banded Pygmy-Tyrant, Golden-headed &Blue-backed Manakins, Yellow-backed, Masked & Opal-crowned &Fulvous-crested Tanager.
Tandayapa Valley, about an hour and half from Quito, offers some of the finest cloud forest birding in South America. Its easy to access either by driving the old Nono-Mindo road from Quito which runs through the valley or taking the newer highway to Mindo, turning left at Km 52. There is loads of information on the web about this site which I will not repeat here except to note some of the more spectacular species that can be found. Sickle-winged Guan , White-rumped Hawk, White-throated Quail-Dove, Red-billed & Scaly-naped Parrot, Colombian Screech-Owl, Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Green Violet-ear, Andean Emerald, Fawn-breasted, Empress & Green-crowned Brilliant, Buff- tailed & Velvet-purple Coronet, Brown & Collared Inca, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-throated & White-bellied Woodstar, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Red-faced spinetail, Rusty-winged & Spotted Barbtail, Flammulated & Streak-capped Treehunter, Chestnut-crowned & Oochre-breasted Antpitta, Ocellated Tapaculo, Rufous-headed Pygmy-tyrant, Tawny-rumped, Golden-faced, White-tailed & Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied &Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Black Solitaire, Turquoise & Beautiful Jay, Flame-faced, Metallic-green & Black-capped Tanager, Plush-cap and Tanager Finch.
Accommodation - There are a variety of places to stay in the valley and some new ones due to open but the principal lodges are, at higher elevation the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge and at lower elevation the Tandayapa Bird Lodge. The latter lodge advertises itself as “a lodge built by birders for birders” but for us it was undoubtedly the least welcoming place on the whole trip with the most unhelpful and arrogant manageress. In addition the food was poor and on the second night it was served stone cold, probably as a punishment for the blazing argument that had ensued when we dared to complain there was no hot water. Steer well clear of this place and instead drive 6 kms further up the valley to enjoy the comfort and warm welcome of Bellavista where both the accommodation and food were excellent.
Accomodation – Bellavista Cloudforest Lodge www.bellavistacloudforest.com/index.html
Angel Paz Refugio dos Aves Nanegalito
Near the village of Nanegalito, on the left of the road as you drive towards Mindo is the entrance to Angel Paz’s Refugio dos Aves where it is possible to see Giant, Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpitta in the space of one hour thanks to Angel’s extraordinary efforts in attenuating these birds to his voice and the prospect of washed worms. Access is by a rough track which crosses a stream and high clearance vehicle is needed. Angel does not live on site so arrangements have to be made in advance and this can most easily be done through a number of the Ecuadorian ecotourism companies and lodges (e.g. Neblina Forest/Tandayapa Bird Lodge),. Alternatively you can try calling him on 2116243 but you will need to speak Spanish. The cost is $10 including breakfast.There is also an Andean Cock of the Rock lek on his property and many other fine birds including, Dark-backed Wood Quail, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Toucan Barbet, Scaled and Orange-breasted Fruiteater.
Mindo - Septimo Paraiso Cloudforest Reserve
This reserve can be reached by taking the left fork of the road that continues on to Los Bancos. The road descends steeply and the entrance to Septimo Paraiso is a short way down on the right. Once there, an excellent trail system provides access to good cloud forest on the right. There is good accommodation on site but it is possible to go as a day visitor for a small fee. More details on the website http://www.septimoparaiso.com/main.htm Good birds includeToucan Barbet, Scaled Antpitta, Spillman`s Tapaculo, Little Woodstar, Long-Wattled Umbrellabird, Tanager-finch, Black-crowned Tityra, Golden-Bellied Warbler, Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper.
Mindo - Milpe Bird Sanctuary
Milpe Bird Sanctuary operated by the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation is located just off Km 91 shortly before the town of Los Bancos. Opened in March 2004,this 62 hectare (155 acre) sanctuary covers an altitudinal range from 1020-1150m (3350-3770 ft) and includes two small rivers that converge in a steep, forested valley. It is located 700m off the main highway on an all-weather road. Check the website at http://www.mindocloudforest.org Many of the most spectacular Chocó Endemics occur here: Plumbeous Forest-Falcon, Moss-backed Tanager, Glistening-green Tanager, Chocó Trogon, Club-winged Manakin, and Long-wattled Umbrellabird.
Accommodation; Sachatamia Lodge info@ sachatamia.com
The boundaries of this reserve were never clear to us but, from the clearing and cutting that was going on as we birded, the reserve is a paper reserve with little or no active protection. The birding was largely roadside birding on the busy highway that cuts through the reserve on the San Lorenzo-Esmereldas road. Driving from Ibarra as we did the hotel below is located 17kms south of San Lorenzo shortly before a large metal bridge which we believe is the Puente del Rio Tululvi. Shortly before the bridge the road forks, straight on over the bridge to San Lorenzo and left fork the road to Esmereldas. Drive along this road for 10-15 minutes and you will enter remnant good forest. Park carefully and bird along the road watching out for very fast traffic. On the left of the road there is a ragged development of shacks and shops from which a dirt road ( the road to Cocepcion?) leads to good forest.
Accommodation Hosteria Tundaloma located 17kms south of San Lorenzo
The Canandé Reserve protects an area of exceptional bio geographic importance-the Choco region of western Colombia and north-west Ecuador. The reserve is situated along the Río Canandé is characterized by wet forest, where, with up to 16,000 mm of rain per year in some areas, it is probably the wettest place on earth. Many Choco endemic bird species live in the reserve. Much of the land around Canade is owned or leased by the Botrosa logging company – indeed they run the ferry and build and maintain all the roads. The activities of such logging companies are often regarded as suspect and in this case it seems no different with smallholders and peasant farmers accusing the company of illegally acquiring their land with threats of intimidation and physical assault.
On the other hand Botrosa apparently practise selective logging which has significantly less impact on birdlife than the clear felling of the colonisers for pasture and oil-palm. Certainly the ugly scars of logging were very evident particularly in the upper parts.
Access to Canande is difficult, if not impossible, without someone who knows the way. We arrived following a long drive from San Lorenzo by way of Esmereladas and returned to Quito via Puerto Vicente Monaldo but either way the entire area surrounding the reserve is a complex matrix of unsigned and unmarked plantation roads. In addition you will require a ferry permit from the logging company who operate the ferry for the short crossing over the Rio Canande. The permit must be applied for in advance and you must arrive and depart on the days scheduled in the permit - you can’ t just turn up. Once over the ferry the terrible road continues for a couple of hours at 20km/hr until you reach the fine new lodge on the right.
Several trails, some steep,such as the Mirador trail, give access to the lower areas of the forest but it is a further 2.5 hour drive on the terrible deteriorating logging track to access the upper parts where the logging road ends. If going – do it with Neblina Forest , Tropical Birding or one of the other reputable operators and you will save yourself a lot of trouble. The evaluation of the avifauna at Canande is by no means complete but it already boasts an impressive list including important species such as Baudo & Crested Guan, Rufous-fronted Wood Quail, Great Green Macaw, Rose-faced Parrot, Chocó Screech, Central American Pygmy, Crested, Spectacled &Black-and-white Owl, Chocó Poorwill, White-tipped Sicklebill, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Chocó, Collared, Western White-tailed & Black-throated Trogon, Chocó Toucan, Chocó, Guyaquil and Lita Woodpecker, Bicoloured & Ocellated Antbird, Rufous-crowned Antpitta, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Blue-whiskered, Golden-chested & Scarlet and White Tanager.
Accommodation. There is newly constructed and very comfortable lodge with excellent food.
16January ( Day -1)
Following our overnight stopover in Madrid we arrived in Quito late afternoon and went straight to the Hotel Sebastian for dinner and an early night. Had a dreadful nights sleep ( the first of many in this hotel) due to the racket from the Romanian wrestlers in the room next door. It’s a noisy hotel!
17January ( Day 0)
Spent the morning trying unsuccessfully to get the mobile phone to work ( don’t use 02!), but in the afternoon took the Teleferico cable car up to about 4300 metres on Pinchincha volcano seeing Many-striped Canastero, Stout-billed Cinclodes and Shining Sunbeam among others. Passed a much quieter night in the overpriced Marriott.
18 January (Day 1)
Met up with Lelis and flew to Cuenca on the 08.50am flight. Arrived at 11.00am picked up the hire car and drove on to Cajas NP seeing Bar-winged Cinclodes, Hooded Siskin and Paramo Pipit around the toll station and the uncommon Violet-throated Metaltail at 3635masl. We birded along the road edge first to Lake Toreadora seeing Tawny Antpitta by the Visitor Centre and then drove higher to a small turn-off on the left by a small boggy wetland where we had lunch seeing Tit-like Dacnis and Ecuadorian Hillstar as we ate. Later we drove on further and as the road descended into the valley on the far side we passed through a large stand of polyepis woodland where we had great views of a pair of Giant Conebill. It was a great start. We left the park around 3.00pm for the drive to Yunguilla west of Cuenca, where we arrived at the hotel, in rain, around 5.30pm. Evening spent looking for the rare Bay Owl but heard only Mottled Owl .
Overnight at Hosteria Agua y Sol.
19January (Day 2)
Up at 5.00am but unfortunately, the hotel staff were not . After a late breakfast we arrived at Yunguilla around 7.00am briefly seeing the key bird Pale-headed Brush Finch which then promptly disappeared. We continued birding along the narrow track around the edge of the scrub covered hillside where we saw a good range of species including Pacific Pygmy Owl, Black-lored Yellowthroat, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Southern Grosbeak & Stripe-headed Brush-Finch before we found another pair of Pale-headed Brush Finch which showed well. Tried again for the Buff-fronted Owl but with no luck. Just after mid-day we returned to the hotel and during a quick look around the grounds we saw Croaking Ground Dove &Pacific Parrotlet. before beginning the 3 hour drive to Gualaceo where we arrived and checked in to the hotel at 4.00pm. We went straight back out, initially birding around the hotel seeing Giant Hummingbird Sparkling Violetear and Green-tailed Trainbearer and then drove to the lower part of Gulaceo-Limon Rd seeing Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager before the onset of dusk ended the day.
Overnight Uzhupud Hotel.
20 January (Day 3)
We were up at 04.30am, unfortunately the staff were not, so start once again delayed by late breakfast. On a bright clear morning drove up the road seeing Mouse-coloured Thistletail close to the summit marked by a shrine at 3370masl. Stopped again not far beyond the summit obtaining great views of the difficult Masked Mountain Tanager as well as Golden-crowned Tanager & Rainbow-bearded Thornbill. Continued on the east side of the summit on towards Limon stopping regularly because there were many of birds in the mossy, elfin forest that lines the road.
Weather turned damp and misty, which the birds seemed to like and among others we saw, Paramo, Chusqea & Ash-coloured Tapaculo, Barred Fruiteater and Rufous Antpitta.Drove on to about 4.5km on the east side where we tried various locations unsuccessfully for Crescent-faced Antpitta. However at last one called back and came slowly, slowly up the slope until it was only a couple of metres away behind a tree but then it just disappeared. Very frustrating! Still there were tons of birds including Blue-backed Conebill, Pearled Treerunner, Black-capped & Black-headed Hemispingus, Glowing Puffleg &Russet-crowned Warbler and we continued on the road to about 9km beyond the summit at 2700 metres where we heard Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan before turning back around 5.00pm seeing Paraque and Band-tailed Nightjar on the drive back after dark. A super days birding.
Overnight Uzhupud Hotel.
21 January (Day 4)
Up at 4.30am, and back up to the Gulaceo-Limon Rd. to the site for the Crescent-faced Antpitta at the site from yesterday but after an hour with no response we gave it up. Saw some of the same birds as yesterday plus Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Rufous-breasted Chat Tyrant and on the way back to Gualaceo around 9.00am, after extensive scanning of the vegetation in boggy streamside area on the left of the road we had good scope views of Rufous-naped Bush Tanager. Checked out at 11.50am and drove to Saraguro stopping briefly at Huashapamba for the nomadic Red-faced Parrot which was not at home. Arrived in Loja around 6.00pm, checked in to the hotel and had dinner in glorious isolation in a banqueting room that could have seated 150 people.
Overnight Bombuscaro Hotel.
22 January ( Day 5)
Departed Loja at 6.30am for the short drive to the Cajanuma entrance of Podacarpus NP. Weather misty and damp. At the start of the good forest Bearded Guan were heard but not seen. We then drove straight up to the car park and spent the morning walking up and down the entrance track seeing among others; Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Grey-breasted Toucan, Blue-backed Conebill, Bearded Guan, Mountain Velvetbreast, Citrine Warbler and Lacrimose Mountain Tanager. Back to the car park for lunch where we tried the Water Tank Trail for Undulated Antpitta without success. We left the park around 1.00pm , drove back to Loja, checked out and began the drive to Zamora stopping briefly in the by now pouring rain at the EERSA Hydro Plant for Torrent Duck & White-capped Dipper. Arrived in Zamora at 5.00pm according to the monster town clock. Final short drive along the Rio Bombuscaro to our excellent accommodation, where, after checking in, we saw about 40 species while having coffee and cake on the balcony with Katherine the owner of Copalinga and a keen birder.Birds seen included; Wire-crested Thorntail, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Sparkling Violetear, Black-throated Brilliant, Lined Antshrike & Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher.
Accommodation Cabanas Copalinga
23 January ( Day 6)
Departed 6.00am for the short drive to the Bombuscaro entrance of Podacarpus NP. The erratic Slaty Finch feeding by the verge was a good start followed almost immediately by Highland Motmot & Coppery-fronted Jacamar. Walked the trail for a couple of hours seeing many birds including Sickle-winged Guan, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Yellow-breasted Antwren Yellow & Ashy-throated Bush Tanagers. Torrential rain brought us to a halt but we were able to shelter at the Park HQ for an hour until the rain cleared. If the birding had been good before it was now astonishing. Birds were everywhere particularly tanagers including Highland Hepatic, Green & Gold, Blue-necked, Spotted, Orange-eared & Summer Tanager and Golden–collared Honeycreeper. Nesting Ecuadorian Piedtail were a good find. Spent much of the rest of the day walking the trail adding Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Inca Jay, White-throated Spadebill and, most importantly, the endemic White-breasted Parakeet among others. Back to the cabanas for a short rest before heading out for open country birding at Zamora Airport where a probable Rufous-crested Coquette was a good record. We would have continued but Catherine called Lelis’s mobile to say she had Band-bellied Owl in the scope and so we raced back, climbed up the hill but unfortunately the bird had flown and we had to be satisfied with hearing it over dinner. Another very good day.
Overnight Cabanas Copalinga.
24 January ( Day 7)
Early morning birding around Cabanas Copalinga where unfortunately the Lanceolated Monklet failed to show up. Around 7.30am we drove to the lower end of the old Loja-Zamora Rd. stopping briefly for Chestnut-tipped Toucanet and White-browed Antbird before continuing to higher elevations where persistent heavy rain put a stop to things before we really got started. Dozed in the car from 08.50 -10.00 am by which time the rain had more or less stopped but it was very misty. However birds were active and we encountered mixed flocks at most stops seeing Orange-eared, Golden-eared, Blue-browed, Golden, white-winged & Spotted Tanagers, Inca Jay and White-breasted Parakeet. Around 2.30pm we returned to the main highway where the car suddenly slammed to a halt as Lelis heard White-crowned Tanager. We stopped, got out and on the scrubby hillside above the road a small party of 4 of these much wanted tanagers gave great views – may even have been nesting as they consistently returned to the same place during the half an hour that we watched them. Arriving back in Loja we stopped at the supermarket to buy supplies for the following day before driving back up to the Cajanuma entrance to PNP to try again for the Undulated Antpitta but saw only Rufous Antpitta . Departed around 06.15 for the longish drive to Vilcabamba where we arrived around 9.30pm. Burritos and beers in the odd New Age surroundings of the hotel tasted good but created lasting stomach problems for one of the party!!
Overnight Hostal Jardin Escondido.
25 January ( Day 8)
After a short night departed 5.00am for the drive to Cerro Toledo ( 3100masl) where we arrived at around 6.00am. Drove uphill for 45 minutes emerging into sunshine above the clouds for spectacular montane vistas and close views of the target species Neblina Metaltail. Drove further uphill to the paramo but saw little in the now swirling mist. Returned around 9.00am for the drive to Tapichalaca stopping en route in sunshine for great views of the stylish Golden-plumed Parakeet. Arrived at Tapichalaca (2500masl)around 11.00am and spent a while watching hummers swarming around the feeders. Quite a stunning performance with Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Flame-throated Sunangel, Collared Inca and Long-tailed Sylph putting on a dazzling display. Drove a short way uphill to the start of the rough and muddy Antpitta Trail to begin the search for Jocotoco Antpitta . Slate-crowned Antpitta was an early success but shortly after that it began to pour with rain and we took shelter for an hour. Thereafter spent a while trying to tape out the antpitta but with zero response. The rain then returned in torrents turning the trail into a river as it joined the “Mule Trail” which finally led us back to the road below the lodge where luckily a bus came by to take us back to the car. Arrived back at the lodge soaked to the skin where the mood was not helped by a pain-in-the neck, smart-arsed American volunteer who banged on endlessly about how the antpittas at Angel Paz’s Refugio were not now being seen and how no-one had heard theJocotoco Antpitta for ages. He did not react well to being told if he had nothing positive to say then better shut up!! ( Regrettably his prediction for Jocotoco would prove to be largely accurate) Hot shower and good dinner helped greatly!
26 January ( Day 9)
Poured with rain throughout the night ( looks like its an El Nino year) and awoke to a misty dawn. Birded around the lodge seeing Grass-green Tanager, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Rufous-naped Brush Finch. We then walked down the road to the start of the Mule Trail from which we had descended the previous day, set off up the steep hill past the junction with the Antpitta Trail and ever upward on the Sendero Arturo Leon. Long-tailed Antbird was seen well and after several attempts we finally heard Jocotoco Antpitta respond but it refused to come into view. In the late morning we headed back to the road and walked further downhill to try to find an abandoned trail where the antpitta used to be seen. The hillside seemed almost vertical and the trail had long since disappeared so the local guide hacked a new trail which we stumbled up, slipping and scrambling through the dense soaking undergrowth. Played the tape again and Lelis glimpsed the antpitta as it came in silently behind us but equally swiftly departed. By now torrential rain had returned so somewhat deflated we returned to the lodge soaked to the skin again. In the afternoon we drove downhill to get away from the persistent rain and this we succeeded in doing for a while seeing Flame-faced, Saffron-crowned Beryl-spangled & Blue-naped Tanager and Montane Woodcreeper among others. More rain forced us even lower down the valley to Valadolid and beyond where Black-billed & Maranon Thrush, Red-pileated Finch and Lefresnayes Piculet were added. Still pouring with rain as we arrived back at the lodge for dinner and an early night. Overnight Tapichalaca.
27 January ( Day 10)
Early morning walked the trail ( Jocotoco Trail) near the lodge seeing Rufous Antpitta. We then tried the hide near the house which was quiet and walked a short distance up the Tangaras Trail which was also quiet. Drove down the valley where the weather cleared a bit and saw many of the same flock species as the previous day. The rain began again and so we returned to the lodge, met up with the local guide and went back to the same spot on the trail hacked out the previous day . The antpitta, or rather the shape of the antpitta, was again glimpsed, this time by Lelis&Moira, but in the now pouring rain it was all rather disappointing. Time to move on. We departed at mid-day arriving in Vilcabamba around 2.15pm and Loja at 3.15pm for another supermarket shopping expedition. Pressed on stopping to bird the scrub near Catamayo Airport seeing Collared Antshrike, Tumbes Sparrow, and others . We drove on through Gonzanama finally arriving at 7.00pm in the run down provincial town of Cariamanga and to the hotel where we were to endure a dreadful nights sleep.
28 January ( Day 11)
Last night being a Saturday it was party night in Cariamanga and all the town drunks appeared to congregate in the street outside our hotel where they laughed, shouted, argued, mumbled and one by one fell silent until finally about 2.30am all was quiet. Not for long however, as we were awoken at 4.00am by horrendous screams and squeals as if someone were being murdered. Not in fact someone but something. Sunday is traditionally a roast pork lunch in much of Ecuador and we were thus awakened by the sounds of the last moments of some poor pig. being slaughtered by the butcher across the street. By now it was time to get up and around 5.30 we left Cariamanga for the drive to Utuana ( 2900masl) where we arrived around 7.00am. Arriving in Utuana we passed through the army checkpoint initially birding the road below Utuana seeing Chapman’ s Antbird, Black-crested Warbler, Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant and Line-cheeked Spinetail. Drove back up the hill to Utuana turning right to access the Hanne Blocker Trail in the Jocotoco protected forest. We only heard Undulated Antpitta but had great views of the stylish Black-crested Tit Tyrant which posed beautifully for the photographer who had left his camera in the car. The local and very sneaky Grey-headed Antbird proved to be extremely skulking but was eventually seen well. We drove and birded along the road seeing many species including, Ecuadorian & Andean Slaty Thrush, Loja Tyranulet, White-vented Plumleteer, Ecuadorian Piculet andTumbesian Tyrannulet, before arriving in Sozorango at 3.00pm for delightful nesting Chestnut-collared Swallow in the church tower. We continued on and the rain began again but we stopped for a nice flock of Grey-cheeked Parakeet at the same time hearing Watkin’s Antpitta close by, but as the rain was now lashing down we had to return to the car. Drove on to Macara stopping briefly at Jorupe to confirm that the gate for the vehicle would be open the next day, finally arriving in Macara at 4.15pm. In the late afternoon we drove out to the Zapatillo Rd near the border with Peru which produced many new birds including, White-bellied Jay, Ecuadorian Trogon, Red-masked Parakeet, Tumbes Swift, Pacific Pygmy Owl, and Grey and Gold Warbler. Excellent seafood dinner in Macara.
Overnight Hostal El Conquistador.
29 January ( Day 12)
On a damp but dry morning we arrived at Jorupe Reserve around 6.00am, drove in and some way up the entrance track. Birded the main track seeing Henna-hooded Foliage Gleaner, Blue-crowned Mot-Mot, Amazilia Hummingbird, Slaty Becard, Speckle-breasted and Fasciated Wren before turning on to Trail 4 where great views of Watkins Antpitta were an early success. Several Ochre-bellied Dove were calling but remained hidden as did a close Pale-browed Tinamou. Ecuadorian Piculet, Black-hooded Spinetail and Streak-headed Woodcreepe r on Trail 3 brought the morning to a close around mid-day. In the late afternoon drove back out to theZapatillo Rd where again there were many birds including Pacific Parrotlet, Collared Antshrike, White-tailed Oriole and Superciliated Wren..
Overnight Hostal El Conquistador.
30 January ( Day 13)
Departed Macara at 6.00am for the drive to Catacocha, where, at the checkpoint at Catacocha drove uphill a short way towards Celica seeing White-headed Brush Finch, Elegant Crescent-chest, and Tumbes Pewee. Returned to the main road to Loja reaching the turn-off to Guyaquil at 10.30. Arrived in Balsas at noon, passed through Helica, and finally passed the lower then upper gates of Buenaventura Reserve drove through the town of Pinas ( no accommodation there) and finally to Zaruma. Checked in to the hotel and the returned around 4.30 to bird the lower entrance to Buenaventura seeing many birds including; White-whiskered Puffbird, Pacific Royal Flycatcher, Barron’s Hermit, Western Slaty Antshrike, Choco Toucan. Drove back to the hotel returning, at night to the upper entrance by the roadside shrine for great views of Black & White Owl.
Overnight in the Roland Hotel in Zaruma
31 January ( Day 14)
Departed Zaruma at 5.30am ( returning at 5.45am to pick up the box lunch)and arrived at Buenaventura around 6.20 am. Birded the road in the lower part and then the Umbrellabird Trail seeing loads of great birds; Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Club-winged Manakin, Slaty Antwren, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Ochraceus Attila, Emerald-bellied Woodnymph and Rufous-throated Tanager and then drove to more open country of the upper part of the reserve birding along the road. Drove back down and had lunch before walking the overgrown Perico de Orces Trail seeing
Red-masked Parakeet, Immaculate Antbird, Uniform Treehunter, Pacific Tuftedcheek and Slaty Spinetail but of the El Oro Parakeet and Tapaculo there was no sign. Returned to the car and drove down to the lodge for coffee and easy birding at the hummingbird feeders. Returned tired to the hotel and went to bed at 9.00pm where the people in the next room were noisy but not half as loud as the water heater on the outside wall when it exploded. Changed room and finally to bed around11.00pm.
Overnight in the Roland Hotel in Zaruma.
01 February (Day 15 )
Another short night ; up at 4.30am and arrived in the upper part of Buenaventura ( the old road to Zambotambo) where we spent the early part of the morning seeing a mixture of the more common species. Mid- morning things began to hot up with good views of the endangered Grey-backed Hawk and distant views of the similarly endangered El Oro Parakeet followed late morning by a mosquito ridden hour in a forested gully where we finally had good views of Scaled Antpitta. After a box lunch Lelis took us back to the main road and the Hummingbird Garden while he went back to town to change the oil in the car. Upon his return we drove up to higher levels of the Zambotambo Road where Golden-headed Quetzal, a pair of Scaled Fruiteater and Flame-faced Tanager were a nice end to a very birdy day.
Overnight in the Roland Hotel.
02 February (Day 16 )
After the by now usual 4.30am start, we packed and drove to the upper entrance to Buenaventura and while parking by the shrine saw Rufous-headed Chachalaca which up to now we had managed to miss. Walked the Tapaculo Trail on the other side of the road seeing Andean Solitaire, Immaculate Antbird, Brown-billed Scythebill and hearing El Oro Tapaculo but too far away to do anything about it. Back to the car and drove some way down the main track towards the lower part again seeing Red-masked Parakeet but also White-tipped Sicklebill feeding in some heliconias. Around 09.15am began the drive to Guyaquil stopping at the Santa Rosa Marsh for some typical marsh birds, then at some shrimp ponds for Large-billed Seedfinch and approaching Guyaquil, saw Horned Screamer on the edge of Mangalere Churute. Somewhere near Manglares Churute we turned off the road and went to a mosquito ridden mangrove swamp for Jet Antbird which although responsive remained hidden in dense scrub. Drove on to Guyaquil where heavy traffic almost cost us the flight. No time to change so boarded the plane in fairly dirty, sweaty clothes but no-one seemed to notice on the short flight back to Quito.
Overnight Hotel Sebastian.
03 February (Day 17 )
After another poor nights sleep in the stuffy hotel Lelis picked us up at 6.00am for the drive up to Yanacocha ( 3320masl) where we arrived around 7.30am. Walked the Inca Trail seeing Superciliated Hemispingus, Andean Guan and Scarlet-bellied Tanager and hearing Ocellated Tapaculo in the distance. Reaching the end of the trail we sat for a while at the hummingbird feeders where Golden-breasted Puffleg, Great Sapphirewing and Sword-billed Hummingbird were the stars of the sparkling hummingbird show. Returning, we descended into the valley below the Inca Trail but the forest seemed very quiet as we returned to the entrance gate around mid-day having seen little more. Drove to a lower elevation to Verdacocha in search of the Black-breasted Puffleg but without success although the feeders at Verdacocha provided some new hummers including the delightful White-bellied Woodstar. Cloud and rain descended so we packed it in at 3.30pm and drove back to Quito where we changed rooms for a quiet location on the 7th floor and got a fan from reception. No sooner had we unpacked than a party and disco kicked off directly above us necessitating another change of room to the 6th floor!
Overnight Hotel Sebastian.
04 February (Day 18 )
Up at 4.45am and Lelis picked us up at 5.15am for the drive back to Yanacocha where we walked inside the forest on the Masked Trogon Trail in search of tapaculos and antpittas. The trail was very quiet and we returned to the car at 11.00 having seen only Powerful Woodpecker and Barred Fruiteater. By this time Graeme was completely washed out, still suffering from the effects of the burritos 10 days earlier but rather than go back to the hotel we agreed to head back downhill to the area around Verdecocha. Arriving there by some uncharted backroad which took forever Lelis then announced that by now it was far too hot to bird and in a foul mood ( low point of the trip) we headed back to Quito on what seemed like another endless drive through back roads until we reached the main highway. Spent the remainder of the day sleeping.
Overnight Hotel Sebastian.
05 February (Day 19 )
Much refreshed we set off at 6.00am for the drive to Papallacta stopping first at some dry valleys along the course of the Chiche River on the north-east side of Quito for Black-tailed Trainbearer, Scrub Tanager and Blue and Yellow Tanager. On a bright clear morning there were stunning views of Cotopaxi ( recalling childhood geography lessons). We reached the oxygen depleted summit of Papallacta (3900masl) in the Cayambe Coca Reserve seeing Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe at the radio masts almost as we got out the car. Taking a slow and breathless walk out onto the windswept paramo ridge at 4150masl Andean Condor hovered low overhead and we soon found the main target Paramo Ground Tyrant. Drove down the old road to Papallacta and checked in at the very comfortable hot springs resort of Termas de Papallacta. After enjoying the hot springs and having negotiated our way through the locked gate we head out mid afternoon on a track directly behind the resort . Activity was low but we did see some important species including White-chinned Thistletail, Blue-mantled Thornbill and Agile Tit Tyrant. Drove even higher at dusk to the ranger station but the Imperial Snipe was having a night off.
Overnight Hotel Thermas de Papallacta.
06 February (Day 20 )
Around 6.00 am on a cold and frosty morning drove back up the track to the upper part of the Thermas de Papallacta Forest which proved to be absolutely dead. Back to the lodge for breakfast, packed and departed around 9.00am for the short drive to the lodge at Guango. Had a look at the hummingbird feeders and then drove back up to the bridge over the Chilpe River which was also quiet. Back at the lodge watched the feeders seeing Mountain Velvetbreast, Tourmaline Sunangel, Sword-billed Hummingbird and Spotted Hummingbird among others. Around 3.30 pm walked the Red and Green Trails trail by the river which were disappointing. However at the edge of dusk Chestnut-crowned Antpitta at the end of the day was definitely a highlight.
Overnight Guango Lodge.
07 February (Day 21 )
Early on a bright and windy morning there were very few birds at Guango so around 8.00am we drove down the valley to a patch of remnant forest called Coyuja Forest. Again not many birds with Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia and Inca Jay the pick of them. Back to Guango which we departed at noon on the road to Tena for the drive to Baeza and on to San Isidro. Arriving around12.30pm watched the hummingbird feeders for a while and at 3.45pm walked the road outside the lodge. The early afternoon was dry and hot and thus not ideal for birds but we managed a few new species including Russet-backed Oropendola, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, before returning to the lodge for great views of White-bellied Antpitta lured out of cover by the diet of worms that it has been accustomed to receiving. One can argue forever about wild/tame birds the rights and wrongs of feeding but we just enjoyed the view. Walking back to our chalet we stumbled upon a pair of Chestnut-crowned Antpitta saw Masked Trogon and had poor views of a distant Wattled Guan at dusk. The day finished on a real high note with a close look at the ”San Isidro Owl” an as yet undescribed species that lies somewhere between Black-banded and Black and White Owl.
Overnight San Isidro Lodge.
08 February (Day 22 )
Following a 6.ooam breakfast we began birding the forest edge walking the tree and shrub lined road outside the lodge which, after a slow start proved very productive with the rare Spot-fronted Swift, Oleagineus Hemispingus, Rufous-crowned Tody Flycatcher, Red-billed Parrot, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Emerald Toucanet, Spotted Barbtail and Black-chested Fruiteater. At 9.30 returned for coffee and then walked inside the forest on the Macucoloma Trail where we picked up several new species ; Equatorial Rufous-vented Tapaculo, White-capped Parrot, Variegated and Marbled Bristle Tyrant and Streaked Tuftedcheek. Returned to the lodge around 12.45pm after a great morning. Back out at 03.45pm but we should have stayed in the cabin as the Antvireo Trail was absolutely flat. Returning to the lodge at 05.30pmdrove back towards Baeza to Km 87/88 to try for Lyre-tailed Nightjar, which we did see but unfortunately only the female. Overnight San Isidro Lodge.
09 February (Day 23 )
Up at 4.30am for an early breakfast prior to our assault on the famed Guacamayos Ridge, home to many wonderful and rare species. We arrived around 6.00am in low cloud, drizzle and swirling mist made more unpleasant by the wind which gusted around. However we set off down the trail and once inside the forest and in the lee of the hill the wind at least abated and we soon began seeing birds Grass-green Tanager, Hooded & Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Green & Black Fruiteater. Walked slowly down and around 7.40am heard Moustached Antpitta and by 08.55am we had seen nothing of this elusive species before we gave up.Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Spotted and Rusty-winged Barbtail were added before the antpitta began calling again very close to the trail but after another hour we had managed one glimpse as he crossed the trail. Further down we had prolonged views of the uncommon White-faced Nunbird and Andean Cock-of –the Rock showed well. Stopped for an early lunch at 11.30am and continued down seeing many tanagers and flowerpiercers plus Streak-capped Treehunter, Ashy-headed Tyrannulet, Montane Foliage Gleaner and Olivaceous Piha. Torrential rain at 13.00 brought proceedings to a halt and after much debate we began to ascend seeing White-throated Quail Dove on the way. Drove back to the lodge where further views of the San Isidro Owl completed a great day.
Overnight San Isidro Lodge.
10 February (Day 24 )
Similar start to yesterday on the Guacamayos Ridge hearing Ocellated and Spillman’s Tapaculo shortly after we entered the forest around 06.30am but both were too far down the valley for us to do anything. Good views were obtained of the important Black-billed Mountain-Toucan and we came so, so close to seeing Barred Antshrike. When we first heard the bird we went off the trail descending 30 metres into the steeply sided forest. Played the tape and slowly, slowly the bird responded gradually inching its way towards us. However after the better part of an hour when it we were sure it was going to appear in front of us the bird veered off and wandered away. A great pity but we could not have done anything more. We re-engaged with another Moustached Antpitta for another 45 minutes getting only a poor view as it skipped across the trail. – foiled again, Following another early lunch the heavens opened again on us and we had to make our way back and had the great good fortune to get stellar views of the rare Greater Scythebill in a mixed flock shortly before the summit. We went back to San Isidro, checked out and drove to Archidona – our base for the Loreto Road. Checked into the somewhat bizarre surroundings of the Orchid Paradise Lodge where a couple of large live boas in glass cases caused some initial surprise, surpassed only by the sight of half a dozen monkeys running through the dining room/verandah, one with a tablecloth elegantly wrapped around its waist. Concerns over hygiene began to mount………… Roosting bats in the bedroom and bat droppings in the shower didn’t help either.…..
11 February (Day 25 )
Up at 4.30am and on our way by 5.00am but were held up for an hour by mining trucks clearing fallen rocks where the mining operations had spilled onto the road. Arrived at the famous Loreto Road which at first sight didn’t look much, the entrance area being basically overspill and waste from the nearby mining operation. However a stunning Yellow-throated Tanager was a good start and once inside the forest there was a good mixture of birds; Blue-rumped & Golden-winged Manakin, White-tipped Hillstar Pale-tailed Barbthroat, Green & Gold, Spotted, Summer and Silver-beaked Tanagers. Lunch stop at 11.30am as the trail descended into a valley but the forest grew quiet and we walked back out meeting the Fieldguides group who were doing Loreto Road from a base at San Isidro. Back at the hotel in the late afternoon we birded the grounds seeing our only Orange-fronted Plushcrown of the trip
Overnight Orchid Paradise Lodge.
12 February (Day 26 )
Arrived at the Loreto Road at 06.30 am and walked the trail seeing many birds; much more active than yesterday. Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Black-billed Treehunter, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, the delightful Wing-banded Wren, Yellow-breasted Antwren, and Red-fronted Barbet. Reaching just beyond yesterday’s lunch stop we were very disappointed to discover that the forest beyond had been recently cut down and as a result was birdless, No option but to walk back. The incredibly elusive Plain-backed Antpitta ( aka Invisible Antpitta) was calling 50 metres off the trail and after some major bushwhacking and a lot of patience crouched down in the bushes we were rewarded with great views of this difficult bird. In the afternoon drove further down the valley, had a snooze but heavy rain delayed the restart and we saw little more but it had been a great morning.
Overnight Orchid Paradise Lodge.
13 February (Day 27 )
Usual early start and a rough drive to the forest at El Para. Not entirely sure of the location of El Para in relation to Archidona but it proved to be a very birdy spot. As always birded the open country and forest edge first seeing many species including Warbling, Black-faced &Striated Antbirds, Black& White Tody Tyrant, and after some crawling about on hands and knees reasonable views of White-lored Antpitta. Inside the forest Golden-collared Toucanet was a stunning species which unfortunately did not hang around to have his picture taken. Returning to Archidona around mid-day we departed around 1.30pm for the drive to Tena. The temperature gauge read 37degrees. Stopped briefly in Tena and then at a buriti palm grove that Lelis knew where Point-tailed Palmcreeper showed well, finally nailing that bird after endless misses at Cristalino. Drove through open country where Caqueta and Chestnut-bellied Seedeater were added before passing through the oil company checkpoint at the entrance to the forest within which Gareno Lodge is located. Arrived at Gareno at 5.50pm to be met by Sandro who casually enquired if we were interested in seeing Crested Owl before the steep walk down to the lodge. We said of course and 30 seconds later we were looking a stunning pair of roosting Crested Owl. More was to follow because as we returned to the car he enquired about our interest in Rufous Potoo. We thought he was joking but within 30 seconds, 50metrres away we were looking at roosting Rufous Potoo. What a start and what a day.
Overnight Gareno Lodge.
14 February (Day 28 )
Although we were tired the incredible frog chorus meant a mixed nights sleep and in the pre-dawn we also heard Great Potoo, Spectacled Owl and Feruginous Pygmy Owl calling around the accommodation clearing. After breakfast we birded the short trail to the main road which although initially quiet, picked up and so we passed a couple of hours watching birds coming to and from a nearby fruiting tree obtaining great looks at many Amazonian species. Highlights included Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Dugands Antwren, Black-headed Parrot, Gilded Barbet. Around 9.00am we walked part of the Minihava Trail for Cinereous , Fasciated and Dusky-throated Antshrike, Yellow-browed Antbird, Long-winged and White-flanked Ant.wren. Late morning the local guide Sandro caught up with us on the trail to say that he had found an antswarm so we raced back to another trail near the lodge where the swarm was attended by several of the extraordinary White-plumed Antbird as well as other obligate antbirds like Sooty and Scale-backed Antbird. In the early part of the afternoon we returned to the antswarm to see if we could find the missing obligate Reddish-winged Bare-eye but activity around the swarm was by now negligible. late afternoon we walked the trail to the road and drove to the bridge over the Rio Noschinipar where Rufous Motmot was the highlight of a quieter afternoon. Driving back in the dark we were stopped by a group of Huaorani Indians whose one-eyed, sliced eared leader and his threatening looking daughter held us up demanding cigarettes and other goods which we didn’t have. They only let us pass when we agreed to return the next day with the goods demanded.
Overnight Gareno Lodge.
15 February (Day 29 )
Tried first thing for Buff-tailed Sicklebill in the heliconias in the clearing but saw only Grey-breasted Sabrewing. Thereafter walked back out to the road which was pretty quiet so we moved on to the Harpy Eagle Trail which contained many good birds, Spot-winged, Grey and Black Antbird, lekking Great-billed Hermit, Lemon-throated Barbet, Fulvous- Shrike Tanager Tawny-faced Gnatwren, and fantastic views of perched Ornate Hawk Eagle . Packed lunch was brought out and we stopped to eat it in an area where Pavonine Quetzal was known to hold territory. We did hear one but a search after lunch failed to find the bird.( maybe tomorrow) Headed slowly back to the lodge for a break in the early afternoon and later headed out to the bridge over the Rio Noschinipar seeing Many-banded Aracari, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Masked Crimson Tanager. Held up once again on the return journey but this time the local guide had the necessary ransom to give to the Huaorani Highwaymen.
Overnight Gareno Lodge.
16 February (Day 30 )
Early start on the Harpy Eagle Trail where we spent a long time trying to get good views of the uncommon Rufous-tailed Antwren but succeeded only in getting a pain in the neck from staring up at the canopy. Gilded Barbet was added, from nowhere Lelis picked out a Brown Nunlet perched silently in some low branches and we were entertained for a while by dancing Blue-backed Manakin. Hearing Pavonine Quetzal calling from somewhere off trail on a forested slope we made our way back and forth through the undergrowth until we finally found the bird; a female calling high in the canopy. At the end of the trail had a quick look at the immature Harpy Eagle then marched back at some speed to the Lodge pausing only for Rufous-shouldered Antwren which another canopy species which proved tricky to see. Back at the lodge we packed, bade farewell to Nina the laser pointer following puppy, and left around 2.00pm for the long drive to Quito; the temperature
gauge recording 420 C. Four hours later in the mist, sleet and rain at the top of the Papallacta Pass the gauge registered -20 C . Finally arrived in Quito at 8.00pm Overnight Hotel Sebastian.
17 February (Day 31 )
Began the drive to Tandayapa Valley around 6.00am stopping for an hour to bird the Equator Line Valley for White-tailed Shrike Tyrant and Golden-naped Euphonia. Drove on for a short distance and turned off to the right on a track through fields leading to Pululahua a huge crater form a long inactive volcano. Drove down into the remnants of the crater and near a place called Nebli we quickly found the target species Rusty-breasted Antpitta. Turning into the Tandayapa Valley on the old Nono-Mindo road we stopped for a short while for coffee at a small new lodge seeing a dozen species of hummingbird at the feeders including Brown & Green Violetear, Purple-bibbed Whitetip and Booted Racket-tail. Arrived at Tandayapa Lodge around 3.30pm, checked in and stayed around for long enough to discover there was no hot water in our room. Manageress said she would fix it so we watched the hummers for a while and then headed up the valley seeing Spillman’s Tapaculo, Tyranine Woodcreeper, Black-capped, Golden and Golden-naped Tanager . Returned to the lodge for dinner around 7.30 to discover there was still no hot water in the room despite the fact that manageress by now arrogant and unhelpful told us that it was fixed. We had to march her along to the room before she would believe us!!! This was an issue that was to sour our stay at this lodge.
Overnight Tandayapa Bird Lodge.
18 February (Day 32 )
Immaculate Antbird and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch were seen from the hide before we headed out along the Potoo Trail where a pair of Ochre-breasted Antpitta showed very well. Returned at 09.30am to find the hot water still not fixed, whereupon the manageress refused to let us change rooms despite one being vacant because it was booked for a guest that night. After a blazing row we finally changed rooms but this woman was a real pain in the neck and extremely unhelpful. Leaving the lodge we drove uphill seeing a number of species of which the wonderful Toucan Barbet was a highlight. After lunch drove 7.5kms up the valley to beyond Bellavista Lodge birding the main road seeing great birds like Green& Black Fruiteater, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Striped Treehunter but so far only hearing Ocellated Tapaculo. Stayed out to search for nightjars without success and returned at 7.30 to find our dinner already served and by now cold.
Overnight Tandayapa Bird Lodge.
19 February (Day 33 )
Departed Tandayapa Lodge and spent the next hour or so unsuccessfully trying to find Beautiful Jay. Driving up towards Bellavista we stopped at a mirador for great views of Toucan Barbet, Choco Brush-Finch, Narino Tapaculo and others before dropping our bags at reception at Bellavista and walking the Heliconia Trail which unfortunately was pretty quiet. 10.00 coffee and then further uphill beyond Bellavista where Plate-billed Mountain Toucan was seen together with Grass-green Tanager, Montane Woodcreeper, Spectacled Whitestart and Sepia Brown Wren. Undoubted highlight was Ocellated Tapaculo, at last, seen with great difficult by getting down on one knee, leaning out over a gully to see through a hole in the vegetation to the gully floor where the tapaculo was walking up and down calling in response to the tape. Checked in to Bellavista and our comfortable room in the “gingerbread house” before going back out in the afternoon on the H trail for many of the same birds.
Overnight Bellavista Bird Lodge.
20 February (Day 34 )
It poured with rain all night and was still doing so when we got up at 05.30 . However the rain eased a bit and, back on the road, without knowing it Moira found one of the birds of the trip. Saying ”there are a couple of birds over there like sparrows with a big white stripe on their heads but I am not sure what they are” immediately grabbed our attention and sure enough they were indeed the uncommon Tanager Finch which we had been looking for over the last couple of days. Yet another lesson in not ignoring what Moira sees no matter what she says!! We walked along the Research Station Road seeing Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, the sameTanager Finches again, and Western Hemispingus (at last). Returned to the lodge and walked the dripping H Trail seeing Dusky Bush Tanager, Pearled Treerunner and Rusty-winged Barbtail. But overall things were a bit quiet and so we drove further down the valley for the rest of the morning where Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Beryl-spangled Tanager Golden-headed Quetzal and Masked Trogon were seen. Dropped in to the house of the US Bird Guide Tony Nunnery who kindly offered to let us walk on one of his streamside trails where Beautiful Jay and Hoary Puffleg might be possible. We tried the trail later in the day but unfortunately the water level was too high to let us cross to access the trail so we decided to go back up the valley to try and obtain better views of Ocellated Tapaculo. In the same place as yesterday Lelis played the tape and a bird responded instantly and in a short while we had spectacular views of this great species. Returned to the lodge for a quick shower and then out again at dusk for nightjars which failed to appear but enjoyed listening to the calls of Common Potoo. Back for dinner and then out again to try some owls but by this time the valley was swathed in thick mist so we abandoned the attempt. . Overnight Bellavista Bird Lodge.
21 February (Day 35)
Departed Bellavista at 04.30 for the drive over the mountains to the next valley and Angel Paz’s Refugio dos Aves near Nangelito. After a bumpy ride we arrived at 6.ooam seeing Scaled Fruiteater, Chestnut-naped Toucanet, Toucan Barbet and roosting Rufous-bellied Nighthawk before meeting up with Angel and his brother. We walked down the trail arriving at a small shelter beside the trail already occupied by 2 Americans, one with a camera and lens the size of a bazooka. Angel, throwing worms, walked up and down the trail the calling Willy, Willy, Willy, venga! venga! while his brother further down the trail did likewise calling Maria. Nothing happened for a while until Angel’s brother came up the trail into view followed by Maria the extraordinary Giant Antpitta so big and close it required the bazooka zoom lens to be hurriedly changed for a smaller one. Meanwhile the slightly shyer Willy, male Yellow-breasted Antpitta popped on to the trail from time to time. Extraordinary. Eventually Maria wandered off and we headed back uphill to try for the Moustached Antpitta which also came to the worms albeit only when they were thrown deep into the gully where he skulked. Back up to the ridge for breakfast, we then walked out to a field overlooking the forest edge to try for Orange-breasted Fruiteater but this time without success. Still we had seen 3 of the world’s shyest antpittas so in great humour we drove towards Mindo stopping off at a hotel in Mindo Loma where the local Black-chinned Mountain Tanager was on the banana feeder as we arrived. Walking the steep trail behind the hotel we had good success in finding 2 missing species the Hoary Puffleg and a pair of Orange-breasted Fruiteater. Finally drove the short distance to our comfortable hotel on the outskirts of Mindo where we passed the rest of the day relaxing and looking at the hummingbird feeders.
Overnight Sachatamia Lodge.
22 February (Day 36 )
Drove the short distance down the valley to Septimo Paraiso where we walked the Snake Valley Trail with good views of Cloud Forest Pygmy Owl the best sighting. on an otherwise quietish morning. Returning to the hotel, had a coffee, and walked the Snake Valley Trail again seeing Red-faced Spinetail and Metallic Green Tanager but little else new. Birded the roadside down to Mindo for Pacific Antwren and then through farmland on a road signed for Los Colibris seeing Yellow-faced Grasquit, Olivaceous Piculet and Wedge-billed Hummingbird before returning to the lodge. Late afternoon went back to Mindo and a different road to Mariposas de Mindo where Green-fronted Lancebill in streamside vegetation was a great find. Returning to the road we had been on that morning we found a pair of White-throated Crake but increasing heavy rain put an end to the afternoon. Owling plans too were abandoned as the rain continued into the night. Overnight Sachatamia Lodge.
23 February (Day 37 )
The day began early with a pre-dawn foray for owls which was unfortunately unsuccessful. After breakfast we drove down the valley to the Milpe CR which was very active early on although some of the birds proved easy to hear, more difficult to see. Choco Toucan, displaying Club-winged Manakin, Ochre-breasted Tanager, Esmerelda’s Antbird, Bronze-winged parrot, Western Woodhaunter and female Yellow-collared Chlorophonia were among the 30 or so species we saw before 9.30am. Returning to the car we drove a short way down the road where there were still plenty of birds but not the sought after Moss-backed Tanager. Had an early lunch and drove further down the road which was by now quiet so we drove to Los Bancos for a coffee in a hosteria and watched their tanager feeders for a while. Returning to the lodge we decided to return to Angel Paz’s place that afternoon to try to photograph Cock-of the-Rock at the lek. 4 displaying Cock-of the-Rock put on a great show in the late afternoon and we were further rewarded as we walked back when 2 or 3 Dark-backed Woodquail appeared on the track walking towards us. Unlike most Wood Quail these birds did not seem particularly wary and must have been part of the group being fed by Angel. Allowing close approach. After dinner tried again for owls but succeeded only in hearing Black and White Owl.
Overnight Sachatamia Lodge.
24 February (Day 38 )
This was the morning that we had planted to visit Manga Loma Reserve to try for the Ground Cuckoo that had been recently observed but when Lelis had phoned the landowner the previous night we had bee told that a large truck had become stuck on the entrance road and we would not be able to get near to the site. So we returned to the road beside Milpe Cloud Forest Reserve which again was full of birds including Choco Trogon, Choco Warbler Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Blue-fronted Parottlet and, at last, Moss-backed Tanager. We returned to the reserve itself seeing a nice mix of the by now familiar tanagers, flowerpiercers, foliage-gleaners. Drove back to the lodge while Lelis went to a garage to change the oil. This he did but the vehicle then refused to start and we lost the afternoon while he sorted out a new vehicle before we drove back Quito around 6.00pm.
Overnight Hotel Sebastian.
25 February (Day 39 )
Set of at 6.15am in our whizzy new vehicle for the drive from Quito to Ibarra and San Pablo Lake unfortunately witnessing the aftermath of an horrendous crash between a bus and minibus which certainly left us subdued. The target at San Pablo Lake was Subtropical Doradito but despite extensive searching we could not find it in the reed beds ( migratory?) and had to content ourselves with Andean Coot and Ruddy Duck, Ecuadorian Rail and some other waders. The area was however notable for the obvious presence of the Otovalo people, diminutive in stature, traditionally dressed, descended from the Incas and maintaining their own Quecha language. At 10.30 we took the road to San Lorenzo stopping along the way for White-tipped Swift, Blue-headed Sapphire and Tropical Mockingbird and later after lunch somewhere along the road for Black-winged Saltator, Grey and Gold, Golden-hooded, Emerald and Bay-headed Tanager, One –coloured Becard and Large-billed Seedfinch. Shortly before the provincial town of San Lorenzo we turned off to check in to our hilltop hotel Tundaloma Lodge where we birded from the patio until dusk seeing Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Pied Puffbird, Cinnamon Becard and Blue Cotinga.
Overnight Tundaloma Lodge.
26 February (Day 40 )
As the traffic zoomed by we birded alongthe edge of the road that cuts through Yalare Reserve. Despite the constant traffic it proved to be a very birdy place. White-necked and Black-breasted Puffbird within metres of each other were followed by Chestnut-backed Antbird, Stripe-billed Aracari, the important Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Red-legged & Purple Honeycreeper, Green-crowned Woodnymph and many others. Turning down a side road to Concepcion we passed through degraded forest before arriving at an a relatively untouched area where we saw Five-coloured Barbet and Black-striped Woodcreeper. Returning to the lodge around 1.00pm we discovered that our whizzy replacement vehicle was now overheating in precisely the same manner as the previous one so we waited around the lodge while Lelis went in to San Lorenzo to try to find a mechanic. He managed to get the vehicle fixed and we headed out around 4.00pm to the same area as the morning seeing Lita Woodpecker. Driving back to the lodge at dusk we turned off onto a side track marked for El Progresso where we tried for Choco Poorwill which were not around. Heard but did not pursue both Crested and Black and White Owl.
Overnight Tundaloma Lodge.
27February (Day 41)
Birded around the lodge for a while and the drove to the Conception road to resume the search for the rare Yellow-eared Toucan. Pulses were raised for a while as a bird responded to the tape of the Toucan but after 20 minutes hide and seek when we eventually saw the bird it turned out to be a barbet making a strange call.Western Sirystes, Rufous Mourner and Yellow-margined Flatbill were added before we started out on the long drive to Canande. Passing through the seaside town of Rio Verde we saw Magnificent Frigatebird and Franklins Gull and on reaching Esmereldas we drove around the fringes of the town stopping in the country for lunch where Crimson-breasted Finch showed well. Continuing on we passed Quininde at 2.15pm and after what seemed like ages driving through oil palm fields we arrived at the ferry across the Rio Canande. This is a site for the rare Slate-coloured Seedeater but many of the trees had been recently cut and there were few birds about but eventually we found one singing in the mid canopy. Crossed the ferry and drove slowly along the bad road to Canande Lodge where the first person we met was a fellow Scot, mega lister Hugh Buck, who Graeme had met on the Agulhas Antarctica trip some years earlier. After a good dinner we retired early and slept well in the comfortable new accommodation. Overnight Canande.
28 February (Day 42 )
Spent the first half-hour of the day birding around the lodge before heading of on the Mirador Trail seeing Southern Nightingale Wren and White-tipped Sicklebill in the first 100 metres. More was to follow; Western Slaty Antshrike, Dot-backed Antbird, Checker-throated Antwren were seen in the lower part of the trail but as we climbed the steep trail around 9.00 Lelis heard some antbirds down below us well off the trail. As we clambered down the awkward terrain and through the thick vegetation we soon encountered an antswarm, Lelis quickly confirming that he had heard Ocellated Antbird – one of the key species for the trip. It took a while because the birds were skulking even when dashing to grab a prey item but eventually we had great views of 2 or 3 Ocellated Antbird dominating the swarm with several Bicoloured Antbird and others including Immaculate Antbird, White-flanked Antwren and Spot-crowned Antvireo. Fantastic ! We took the opportunity to have lunch before resuming the climb towards the Mirador. At this point for Graeme at least the last 40 days of early starts and hard walking finally began to catch up and it was a real struggle to reach the Mirador where unfortunately there was no sign of the target Golden-chested Tanager. We would have returned satisfied with the antbirds but Lelis pushed us on and not long afterwards he found a spectacular Golden-chested Tanager perched flat on a low branch , exactly as he had predicted it would be at this time of day. Graeme’s knees began to rebel as we made our way down and for the first time since the vertical descents in Irian Jaya he consented to use a cut down sapling as a staff. Very useful it proved but the aching knees were to require medical treatment back in the UK! Just after dusk Graeme and Hugh ventured out to look for Choco Poorwill but only succeeded in getting soaked to the skin in a sudden squall! Overnight Canande.
01 March (Day 43)
Awoke to a thoroughly wet and misty morning but when at least the rain relented a bit we drove some way back towards the Rio Canande and began to bird the roadside forest. Plenty of birds although tricky to see in the mist but we recorded Barred Woodcreeper, Choco and Lita Woodpecker, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Barred Puffbird, Orange-fronted Barbet and Tawny-crested Tanager. Returned to the lodge for an early lunch and then back onto the Manakin Trail around mid-day seeing Great Jacamar, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, and White-whiskered Puffbird. Returning to the lodge around 2.30pm we rested for a while and drove back out on the road to Rio Canande where Black-tipped Cotinga was a good find. Torrential rain forced us back to the lodge where we found a somewhat rueful Hugh Buck whose vehicle had not managed to reach the upper part of the Botrosas Road thus denying him the chance of some key species. Hope we can make it tomorrow. After dinner went out with Hugh for owls. Although we heard Crested, Black & White, Central American Pygmy and Choco Screech Owl we unfortunately saw none of them. Overnight Canande.
02 March (Day 44)
The last full day and it was some weary travellers that dragged themselves out of bed at 03.45 am! After a quick breakfast we began the long drive up the logging road which was in awful condition through the small settlement of Ocha Blanca , the road becoming even worse the further we went. Arrived at the very end of the road at 6.40am and began birding where the road overlooked a forested valley below seeing Guyaquil Woodpecker, Choco Toucan and Fulvous-vented Euphonia. We then birded the forest edge walking along a deeply rutted muddy track with the consistncy of super glue that sucked your wellies off if you were not careful seeing Griscom’s Antwren, Dagua Thrush, Orange-fronted Barbet and inside the forest good views of Black-headed Antthrush but in general the forest seemed quiet and of the megabirds like Great Green Macaw, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Banded Ground Cuckoo, Rufous-crowned Antpitta there was no sign. Returning to the car around 10.00am, somewhat deflated, we began to drive back downhill stopping to bird the road from time to time seeing Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Bronze-tailed Plumleteer and many of the commoner species again. Stopping for lunch near the logging company compound we encountered a tanager flock that included one of the local specialties ,he uncommon Scarlet & White Tanager although sadly only one member of the party saw it. By now it was very hot so we dozed in the car before making our way back down to the lodge with feeding Rose-faced Parrot being the only noteworthy addition.
03 March (Day 45)
We birded the lower part of the Main Trail and back to the road 0on our final morning before the long drive through P Vicente Monaldo and finally to Quito where Lelis very kindly invited us to share a meal with his family in their Quito apartment This we did and had a very enjoyable evening in their company that brought to a conclusion a very long , tiring but truly memorable trip.
ANNOTATED BIRD LIST