Ecuador is a great country to visit if you like birds or wildlife because it is arguably the most bio-diverse place on earth - even though the country is relatively small (it's only about 1/4 the size of Ontario) it has one of the biggest bird lists, at over 1600, of any country only behind a few countries with much bigger areas. We took a relatively laid back pace, only getting about 200 km by road away from the airport outside of Quito. Ecuador has a very developed ecotourism (especially for birds) industry and there are lots of lodges to choose from. The most popular areas for birding seems to be in the NW part of the country (near Mindo) where there are dozens of lodges, but we decided to save that area for another trip. Instead, we traveled east over Papallacta Pass, spent 3 nights at Cabanas San Isidro, then 2 nights at Itamandi Lodge, 3 nights at Wildsumaco Lodge, and a final night at Termas Papallacta Hot Springs.
Because we were only travelling every few days it was actually easier and cheaper to arrange a private driver with the lodges we stayed at rather than renting a car and driving on our own. That probably took away from a few places we might have stopped but it was quite relaxing to get to stare out the window each time we were driving through the mountains from one place to the next and not have to worry about getting lost or any other road issues.
A major reason why the bird species richness is so high in Ecuador is the Andes - a small change in elevation results in almost a complete turnover in birds and many species are only found on one side of the Andes. The Andes also result in a huge variation in climate from place to place. We packed everything from shorts and sandals to winter hats and fleeces, but all of the places we stayed were quite comfortable. The one constant with the weather was the humidity and rain - it rained every day except for our last day and drying clothes is almost impossible. If you're going to go birding in Ecuador you will definitely come to appreciate birding with an umbrella!
Anyways, on to the details of the trip. Species list is at the bottom if that's what you're here for.
Day 1 - Toronto to Quito - February 7
Our flight was a bit late leaving Toronto because of some snow and the resulting de-icing process, but it wasn't long before we were in the air aboard a Copa Airlines 737. I was a bit disappointed to not see any Snowy Owls at Pearson this year, but I got over it. We made up the time in the air and landed at Panama's Tocumen International Airport right on time. On our way down we had a 7 hour layover and by the time we were out of the plane we thought about leaving the airport for a few hours but decided we didn't want the stress of going through customs twice and potentially missing our connection to Quito, so we spent the afternoon racking up a whopping 13 species from within the airport - 9 of which we wouldn't see in Ecuador. The most exciting bird was probably the Bat Falcon hunting the exact same place (behind a United gate) as we saw one a year ago.
Without any problems we were on our way to Quito and touched down right on schedule just after 11pm. We had booked a room for that night at Quito Airport Suites and they arranged a driver to pick us up and take us the 10 minutes once we cleared customs. The international airport is relatively new in Quito (actually outside of the city proper now) and there still aren't many options for hotels close by - I'd highly recommend the airport suites, it was exactly what we needed.
Day 2 - Quito to Cabanas San Isidro - February 8
I was up and outside by 6 but it was still too dark to see any birds. I could hear my first Great Thrushes and Rufous-collared Sparrows and got nice looks at both species and lots of Eared Doves as it got light.
|Great Thrush was common in the central valley|
It wasn't long before we left the city behind and bits of remnant natural forest began appearing that we made our first stop - an old road running through some of this natural shrubby forest. The elevation was already affecting our breathing (we were at 3225 m) and even walking a short distance up a small incline was resulting in a bit of shortness of breath. That was OK because we only walked a couple of hundred metres but enjoyed some nice birds including our only Mountain Velvetbreast, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Blue-and-yellow Tanagers, Band-tailed Seedeater, Gray-browed Brush-finch, and Yellow-breasted Brush-finches of the trip. Because we were still on the inside of the central valley we'd lose many of those species as we climbed over the pass.
|Norby and I on high alert|
|The only shot I got at the beautiful Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager|
|A Polylepis tree|
After registering at a guard house to continue further up into the reserve, we made a quick roadside stop to eat lunch and then continued up to the top of the road that services an array of antennas. We spotted a couple of Stout-billed Cinclodes along the road and our only Blue-mantled Thornbill of the trip (a tiny, specialized hummingbird of high elevation). A little further on we had brief looks at a female Ecuadorian Hillstar - another prize of the high elevation. We kept ascending (now over 4000 m) and had our first Ecuadorian mammals....White-tailed Deer!
|White-tailed Deer (yes the same species!)|
|The view from the top|
|Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe habitat|
|Close-up of the amazing vegetation|
|seedsnipe number two|
|Getting a close-up look at Puma scat|
|The "white-winged" Black Phoebe of South America|
|Our vertical trip profile from day 1|
We settled in the previous night to a delicious dinner and met the other guests staying at the lodge. Turned out we already knew two of them - Jock and Sam McKay, who I grew up with as members of the KWFN!
I was very excited and so didn't sleep very deeply and was rewarded with a Rufous-banded Owl calling outside my room just after 3 am. I fell back to sleep and was up and ready to go at first light where I knew a special treat was awaiting me. The short access road to the lodge has about 5 street lights that are left on all night - these attract all sorts of insects which in turn attract lots of birds to come dine on the breakfast buffet each morning. The first birds to arrive were Russet-backed Oropendolas, Scarlet-rumped Caciques, and Green (Inca) Jays, but these were quickly replaced by a whole host of flycatchers, tanagers, and lots of Blackburnian and Canada Warblers and a few Swainson's Thrushes (always nice to see some familiar faces!).
Finally, it was our turn so Erica and I enjoyed our breakfast while keeping an eye on the hummingbird feeders. We spent the day just exploring around the lodge, enjoying nice looks at a couple of Black Agoutis and several Red-tailed Squirrels before walking along the main road in each direction.
|Erica on the road|
|View from our cabin's deck|
|Heading in to the dining area|
|One of many excellent meals at Cabanas San Isidro|
|Chocolate birthday cake in Ecuador...sweet!|
|"San Isidro" Owl|
Day 4 - Cabanas San Isidro - February 10
Our second full day at San Isidro had us checking the lights for birds first thing again. This turned up a few new species, including the rare for the area Tennessee Warbler that had been found a month or two earlier. One of my favourite birds during our stay here were the incredibly tiny Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatchers:
|The amazingly small Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher|
|Canada Warblers were also enjoying their southern vacation|
|Great use of old tires!|
|What's better than trail cake!!?|
|a Rove beetle?|
Day 5 - Cabanas San Isidro to Itamandi Lodge - February 11
Our last morning at San Isidro, so after the morning bird buffet at the lights we walked the Waterfall and Quetzal trails. We picked up a few new species (a pair of Masked Trogons and a few singing Streak-headed Antbirds) and then packed up and waited for our 11 am pick-up by our driver from Itamandi Lodge.
|The Waterfall Trail's namesake|
|Itamandi Lodge from the boat|
|The pool at Itamandi|
Day 6 - Itamandi Lodge - February 12
We were up a little after 5 am to get ready for the next outing of our stay - a morning boat trip to a parrot clay lick. As we got ready, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl started calling close by but stopped by about 6 am as we headed for the dock to catch the boat. It was the same big group as the night before and some people weren't ready on time so we didn't depart until almost 6:40. The boat trip was fun as we flushed Spotted Sandpipers and Amazon, Green, and Ringed Kingfishers from the banks. We arrived at the clay lick at about 7 and hiked the short trail up to a set of small blinds. Unfortunately, the birds never got closer than a hundred metres or so, so we settled for distant looks at Blue-headed Parrot, White-eyed Parakeet, and Dusky-headed Parakeets. While waiting we also heard our first Thrush-like Antpitta calling. On the way back, we had a quick look at a Speckled Chachalacha from the boat and a pair of Black Caracaras on a small island:
|Brocket deer tracks|
|That's Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve behind us|
After lunch it was time for another outing - this time to Santa Barbara, the local community up the river. We hopped back in the boat (picking up Greater Ani and Magpie Tanagers) for another private tour where the local kids practiced their dance routine and we tried a few local foods, including some fresh Cocoa beans, tea, boiled peanuts and more.
|Fresh cocoa beans|
|Smoked cocoa beans|
|Catch of the day|
Day 7 - Itamandi to Wildsumaco - February 13
We decided to get up early again to give the clay lick another try, so we were up just after five again. Once again, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl was calling away but this time something else was also calling. Erica asked what it was and I soon realized it was a Great Potoo! I got up and from our balcony was able to get it in my spotlight (across the river) just before it flew off! To top it off, a Tropical Screech-Owl started calling shortly after...three night birds from the room wasn't too bad!
Our trip to the clay lick left on schedule this morning and it was just us, two other birders (who we had met at San Isidro already!) and the guides so things were looking good. We got in place at the blinds and just as the sound of chainsaw announced the start of the work day the birds started to descend
It was pretty much all Dusky-headed Parakeets that came in, but a few Blue-headed Parrots also partook of the sweet, sweet clay. As has been explained to me, the parrots gain some essential nutrition from the clay but the clay also works as an anti-toxin to counter the effects of all of the toxins that the fruits and nuts which the birds eat contain.
After a successful clay lick trip and the sun coming out, we spent the rest of the morning around the pool (plus I did a small hike on the trail). We added a few more species including a small flock of brilliantly-coloured Turquoise Tanagers that were pretty sweet and I managed to get a sun burn in the short period of sun we had. After lunch we headed back down the river and met Carlos, our driver from Wildsumaco Lodge.
From the Arujuno bridge we retraced our route back up out of the Amazon lowlands and into the foothills above Tena, before turning onto the Loreto Road and heading east. We were winding our way through the mountain when Carlos pulled over and said something in Spanish that I didn't understand. I did understand "Blackish Nightjar" though so got out and sure enough there was a roosting Blackish Nightjar sitting on a small rock in a clearing! Unfortunately, my camera still wasn't working so I didn't get a photo. We arrived at Wildsumaco Lodge (elevation 1400 m) just after 4:30 pm and were greeted by Christina, our host, and very active hummingbird feeders. Within a couple of minutes I was happy to have seen Booted Racket-tail, Wire-crested Thorntail, and Gould's Jewelfront, three species of hummingbirds I was hoping to see here! We got settled in our room, enjoyed the awesome deck for a bit, then walked out to to main road.
|The glorious deck at Wildsumaco|
|Sumaco Volcano from the deck|
Day 8 - Wildsumaco Lodge - February 14
We were up for first light and walked some of the road before having breakfast. It was exciting sorting through a whole new set of birds including four species of toucans, and our only Crimson-crested Woodpecker and Masked Tityras of the trip and my first good look at Scaled Pigeon. We also found a freshly road-killed Giant Earthworm (although this individual was far from maximum size).
|a small Giant Earthworm|
|Entrance to the FACE trail|
|The trails at Wildsumaco were excellent|
|Clear-winged butterfly sp.|
|Black-mantled (Napo) Tamarin|
|Band-bellied Owl at day roost|
|Magpie Tanager carrying nesting material|
|Pair of Ornate Flycatchers|
|Wire-crested Thorntail, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Sparkling Violetear|
Day 9 - Wildsumaco Lodge - February 15
For our last full day we arranged through the lodge to visit an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek. This meant we had to get up early again so we could be in place at dawn. We were joined by three American Expats. The drive to the nearby Pacto Sumaco was only a few minutes where we met our local guide whose property we were visiting. We were dropped off and fumbling our way along the wooden path in the dark short after 5:15. In the dark we heard a pygmy-owl, which I assume was Ferruginous based on our location, and I had a brief look at a Common Pauraque. It was soon light enough to walk without a headlamp lighting the way and we made our way off the main trail onto a smaller path. Soon enough, we could hear the noisy calls of the lek up ahead!
|The main trail into the lek|
|A male cock-of-the-rock|
|Amazingly bizarre-looking birds!|
As you can see, we weren't disappointed! The walk in was pretty tough (even the drive was as Christina got the van stuck twice!), but definitely worth the prize. On top of the Cock-of-the-Rocks, we had a few other birds in the area including a couple of calling White-throated Quail-Doves.
After the walk back to the lodge, we had a late breakfast so decided to lounge on the deck. This was a good move as not long after a Swallow-tailed Kite came right in and grabbed something (a lizard?) out of the top of a tree not 50 feet in front of us! The action continued as a small canopy flock moved through at eye level that included great looks at a Black-faced Dacnis and a few Paradise Tanagers, one of my most wanted species of the trip! After the birds cleared we were delighted to see a Dwarf Squirrel up in the trees.
|Birding the main road|
|Erica catching her breath on the (long) way up the Waterfall Trail|
|This Swainson's Thrush was a surprise night-time find!|
Our last morning at Wildsumaco, so I got up early to catch the antpitta feeding. Erica was feeling a little under the weather, so she slept in and missed out. Byron, the guide who did the antpitta feeding was an excellent birder and he pointed out a bunch of calls I had missed so I added a bunch of birds on the short walk down the Coopman's Trail including Common Scale-backed Antbird, White-necked Thrush, and Olivaceous Greenlet. The antpitta feeding was successful, with a White-crowned Tapaculo coming in almost instantly. We had to wait a bit longer for the Plain-backed Antpitta to come in, and it never fully emerged from the shadows, but an Ochre-breasted Antpitta was more cooperative:
And with that, we packed up, spent a few last minutes savoring the deck and headed out after lunch, but not before a few more hummingbird photos.
|Enjoying the hotspring with Antisana in the background|
|Antisana's snowy peak|
Our last day in Ecuador, I was up early and hiked up the valley for a couple of kilometres until it was light enough to bird my way down. It was cool but clear and there were lots of birds singing. I didn't come up with any mountain tanagers, as I had hoped, but I added three more hummingbirds (Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, and Viridian Metaltail) and a few more other species, including great looks at a White-browed Spinetail, before I met Erica back at the hotel for breakfast.
|Looking down the valley towards Antisana|
Bird species list
The following lists the bird species found on the trip, along with the frequency of checklists (from eBird) that we reported them:
Taxonomic order, species name, frequency
|10||Greater Yellow-headed Vulture||7.84%|
|39||San Isidro Owl||3.92%|
|133||Common Scale-backed Antbird||1.96%|
|222||Southern Rough-winged Swallow||3.92%|
|253||Masked Crimson Tanager||5.88%|
Plus our Panama trip additions:
|317||Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture|
1. Black Agouti
2. White-tailed Deer
3. Andean Fox
4. Red-tailed Squirrel
5. Gray-bellied Night-monkey (I think this is the species)
6. Black-mantled Tamarin (Napo Tamarin)
7. Dwarf Squirrel
8. Eastern Lowland Olingo
9. Forest Rabbit
10. Amazonian Brocket Deer (tracks only)
11. Puma (scat only)
12. Armadillo sp. (burrows)