Southern Ecuador Birding
July 15-31, 2017
Tropical Birding Guide: Andres Vasquez, Tropical Birding
TAS Leader: Brian Rapoza, TAS Field Trip Coordinator
Driver: Nestor Alban, Trogon Tours
Participants: John Boyd, Joe Bozzo, Barbara and Ted Center, Jacqui Sulek and Ann Wiley
Trip report by Brian RapozaJocotoco Antpitta Feeding Station, Tapichalaca Reserve, photo courtesy of Brian Rapoza
During this seventeen-day tour, we explored an astounding variety of ecosystems, from coastal lowlands and arid scrublands to Amazonian foothills, montane cloud forest and high altitude paramo, allowing us to comprehensively experience southern Ecuador's incredible avian biodiversity. Our itinerary also provided opportunities to see virtually every endemic bird of the Tumbesian bioregion, an area that includes southwestern Ecuador and northwestern Peru. We were led by Tropical Birding's Andres Vasquez, one of Ecuador's top bird guides and the author of several books, including the just published Wildlife of Ecuador. Andres has led two previous TAS tours, to northern Ecuador in 2011 and southeast Brazil in 2014. Our driver was Nestor Alban, owner of Trogon Tours and a veteran of many Ecuador bird tours. Nestor led us to many special birds during the tour, most memorably the flock of Hoatzins we saw in the Amazonian foothills.
We visited two national parks and numerous bird refuges during the tour, including several created by the Jocotoco Foundation, an Ecuadorian NGO dedicated to preserving land of critical importance to endangered birds like the El Oro Parakeet, Jocotoco Antpitta and Pale-headed Brush-Finch. We stayed at seven different bird lodges, including three operated by the Jocotoco Foundation. By tour's end, we saw or heard 564 species of birds (509 seen by at least one participant), including over twenty raptors, nine rails, fifteen pigeons and doves, almost sixty hummingbirds, thirteen woodpeckers, eleven parrots, almost thirty antbirds, ten antpittas (seven seen well), thirty-five ovenbirds and woodcreepers, seventy-five flycatchers, seventeen wrens and seventy tanagers!
Day 1: Saturday, July 15
Our tour began in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city. Most participants arrived in the evening, so we didn't meet as a group until the following morning.
Day 2: Sunday, July 16
After meeting Andres for breakfast, we loaded the van and drove south to Manglares-Churute reserve, about an hour from Guayaquil. The reserve is located in an agricultural area dominated by rice and sugarcane, similar to our own Everglades Agricultural Area. We stopped briefly at a bridge over the Bulu Bulu River to observe our first Chestnut-collared Swallows. Smooth-billed Ani, Ringed Kingfisher, Black-cheecked Woodpecker, Pacific Hornero, Masked Water Tyrant, Blue-gray Tanager, Saffron Finch, Blue-black-Grassquit, Chestnut-throated and Variable Seedeater, Scrub Blackbird and Shiny Cowbird were also seen as we neared the reserve. Snail Kite and a variety of water birds, includng Striated Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Purple Gallinule, Black-necked Stilt and Wattled Jacana, were common in flooded fields we passed. Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift and Gray-breasted Martin were seen overhead. In a section of the reserve east of the highway, we walked a short distance up a trail through a patch of remnant forest, where we found Green-breasted Mango, Ecuadorian Trogon, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Great and Black-crowned Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Jet Antbird, White-backed Fire-eye, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Red-billed Scythebill, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, White-bearded Manakin, Slaty Becard, Lesser Greenlet, Whiskered and Superiliated Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Blue-black Grosbeak and Thick-billed Euphonia. We also encountered a troop of Mantled Howler Monkeys, the only primate seen during the tour. Our first Savannah Hawk, Pacific Parrotlets and Peruvian Pygmy-Owl were spotted on our way back to the highway.Ecuadorian Trogon, photo courtesy of Brian Rapoza
We found Horned Screamers and a large assemblege of waterfowl in the La Gartera area on the east side of the highway. Along with Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and White-cheeked Pintail were three unexpected species: Comb Duck, Muscovy Duck and Yellow-billed Pintail. Pied Lapwing and Collared Plover were also somewhat surprising for this location. Other birds seen here included Magnificent Frigatebird, Neotropic Cormorant, Cocoi Heron, White-tailed Kite, Limpkin, Plain-breasted and Ecuadorian Ground-Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Rusty-margined Flycatcher and Peruvian Meadowlark. White-throated Crake was heard. After a lunch stop at a nearby restaurant, we continued south to Puerto Jeli, a coastal town near Machala, where Andres was able to lure a gorgeous Rufous-necked Wood-Rail from the mangroves. Other birds found during this stop included Wood Stork, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Whimbrel, Gray-hooded Gull, Gull-billed and Royal Tern, Yellow Warbler and Great-tailed Grackle. Leaving the coastal lowlands behind, we drove east through the western Andean foothills, arriving late in the afternoon at Jocotoco Foundation's Buenaventura Lodge, our base for the next two nights. Collared Aracari, Yellow-throated Toucan, Black Phoebe, Lemon-rumped and Blue-necked Tanager, Green Honeycreeper and Yellow-rumped Cacique were spotted on the drive up to the lodge. A few hummingbirds were visiting feeders at the lodge's dining area, including White-necked Jacobin, Green Thorntail and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Just before dark, two of us spotted a small flock of Rufous-headed Chachalaca in the parking area; the rest of the group would have to wait until tomorrow to catch up with this species. Several White-nosed Coati were also seen scurrying across the road. After dinner, some of us heard a Black-and-white Owl near the lodge.Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
Day 3: Monday, July 17
We began our first full day in Buenaventura Reserve with a visit to the Umbrellabird Trail, located just up the road from the lodge and named for the Long-wattled Umbrellabirds that often display there. Though the foghorn-like call of an umbrellabird could be heard on the mist-shrouded slope above us, we only managed to obtain fleeting glimpses of the bird. Other birds found along the trail included Esmeraldas Antbird, Brownish Twistwing, Song Wren, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush and Buff-rumped Warbler. Foggy conditions challenged us for much of the morning as we continued up the road. Birds we were able to see well enough to identify included Green-crowned Brilliant, Crowned Woodnymph, Andean Emerald, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Collared Trogon, Broad-billed Motmot, Russet Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Spotted Woodcreeper, Streaked Xenops, Striped Woodhaunter, Slaty-capped and Ornate Flycatcher, Bay Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Andean Solitaire, Gray-and-gold Warbler, Bay-headed, Golden and Silver-throated Tanager, Bananaquit, Slate-colored Grosbeak, Yellow-throated Chlorospingus and Ochre-breasted Tanager. Crested Guan and Choco Toucan were heard. Later in the morning, we drove up to a higher elevation area where Jocotoco Foundation has installed nest boxes for endangered El Oro Parakeets. The only parakeets we saw, though, were Red-masked. Other birds seen in this area included Hook-billed Kite, Gray-backed Hawk, Yellow-throated Toucan, Crested Caracara, Ecuadorian Thrush and Slate-throated Redstart. We also visited a hummingbird feeding station, where we added Violet-tailed Sylph, Brown Inca and Velvet-purple Coronet.Gray-backed Hawk, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
In the afternoon, we explored a section of the reserve down the road from the lodge, adding Gray-headed Kite, Purple-crowned Fairy, Bronze-winged Parakeet, Zeledon's Antbird, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Yellow and Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Ochraceous Attila, White-shouldered Tanager, Black-faced (Yellow-tufted) Dacnis, Orange-bellied Euphonia and Yellow-bellied Siskin. We then returned to the Umbrellabird Trail, where we immediately stumbled upon a pair of Long-wattled Umbrellabirds right at the trailhead! We thought we were getting excellent looks from the trail, but that was nothing compared with the spectacular out-in-the-open views we obtained once the male and eventually the female flew to open perches right along the road!Long-wattled Umbrellabird, photo courtesy of Brian Rapoza (digiscoped by Andres Vasquez)
Day 4: Tuesday, July 18
A Common Pauraque was flushed from the road early this morning as we headed to another area where El Oro Parakeet next boxes have been installed. We dipped once again on the El Oro, but Rose-faced Parrot, another hard-to find parrot, was seen overhead. We also had great looks at a dispaying Club-winged Manakin, as well as Tawny-bellied Hermit, Line-cheeked and Azara's Spinetail, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and Ashy-throated Chlorospinus. Ann, who had stayed behind this morning, spotted a Double-toothed Kite near the lodge, but it moved on just before our return. We loaded the van and said goodbye to the subtropical cloud forests of Buenaventura; a Gartered Trogon was spotted along the road as we headed back town to the highway.Gartered Trogon, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
By lunchtime, we were in a completely different ecosystem, dry deciduous forest. Croaking Ground-Dove, Pacific Hornero, Vermilion Flycatcher, Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch and Rufous-collared Sparrow were among the birds seen as we enjoyed a roadside picnic stop. In a patch of forest near the town of Catacocha, we found Common Tody-Flycatcher, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, Crimson-breasted Finch, Streaked Saltator, Golden (Southern Yellow) Grosbeak and Yellow-tailed Oriole. Elegant Crescentchest and Watkin's Antpitta were heard but couldn't be lured into the open. Later that afternoon, we birded along the road in an area of dry forest near El Empalme. Birds found there included Eared Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Peruvian (Pacific) Pygmy-Owl, Amazilia Hummingbird, Collared Antshrike, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, House and Fasciated Wren, Long-tailed Mockingbird and White-edged Oriole. Near sunset, we arrived at Urraca Lodge, in Jocotoco Foundation's Jorupe Reserve, located not far from the border with Peru and our home for the next three nights. Dueting Laughing Falcons were heard just as darkness fell. Later, we heard both Peruvian Screech-Owl and Spectacled Owl, but both remained hidden from view in spite of an intensive search of the trees surrounding the lodge. We heard these birds every day of our stay, but never found any of them.
Day 5: Wednesday, July 19
We began our exploration of Jorupe Reserve with an early morning walk down the lodge's access road. It wasn't long before we ran into our first noisy flock of White-tailed Jays, a sharply-dressed Tumbesian endemic that has become the poster bird for Jorupe. A little farther down the road, we were able to obtain multiple crowd-pleasing looks at two usually hard-to-see furnariids: Henna-hooded and Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner. Other birds seen during our walk included Harris's Hawk, Short-tailed (Tumbes) Swift, Ecuadorian Trogon, Whooping Motmot, Ecuadorian Piculet, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Gray-cheecked Parakeet, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Blackish-headed Spinetail, Pacific Elaenia, Ochre-bellied, Gray-breasted, Sooty-crowned and Boat-billed Flycatcher, Slaty, Black-and-white and One-colored Becard, Speckle-breasted Wren, Gray-and-gold Warbler, Black-capped Sparrow and White-edged Oriole. We heard several Watkin's Antpitta's along the road and finally had a split-second look at one before turning around mid-morning and heading back to the lodge. Our early return provided an opportunity to watch the lodge's feeder station, which during our stay attracted White-tipped Dove, Blue-Ground-Dove, White-tailed Jay, Plumbeous-backed and Ecuadorian Thrush, Tropical Parula and Thick-billed Euphonia, along with a few Guayaquil Squirrels, another Tumbesian endemic. Hummingbird feeders attacted an occasional Amazilia Hummingbird. Those who took advantage of the opportunity were rewarded when a pair of Pale-browed Tinamou visited the feeder! A short time later, an Ochre-bellied Dove made a brief appearance. This afternoon, we paid a return visit to the El Empalme area, hoping to pick up any of the specialties missed yesterday. We found several, including Tumbes Hummingbird and White-headed Brushfinch.White-tailed Jay, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
Day 6: Thursday, July 20
This morning, we drove up to higher elevation forest at El Tundo Reserve, near the town of Sozoranga. A stop in town provided an opportunity to obtain up-close looks at nesting Chestnut-collared Swallows. Many of the roads in this area were under constuction, so finding unimpacted patches of forest proved challenging. We still managed to find several new birds, including Variable and Short-tailed Hawk, Booted Racket-tail, White-vented Plumeleteer, Chapman's Antshrike, Blackish Tapaculo, White-tailed and Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Brown-capped Vireo, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Great Thrush, Three-banded Warbler and Silvery and Hepatic Tanager.
Chestnut-collared Swallow, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
For our afternoon excursion, Andres decided to take us across the border into Peru, hoping to find a couple of local specialties: West Peruvian Dove and Tumbes Sparrow. We were assured that crossing the border would not be a problem, but were asked to carry our passports just in case. As it turned out, passports were not required; all we needed was a little fast-talking by Nestor and Andres! The sparrow was found a kilometer or so past the border; we had to drive another kilometer or so before we spotted the dove. Other "bonus country" birds while south of the border included Croaking Ground-Dove, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, Pacific Hornero, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, Black Phoebe, Long-tailed Mockingbird and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch. As far as can be determined from available maps, this was probably the only time we crossed into Peru during this tour.
Day 7: Friday, July 21
Today was another long travel day, over the western crest of the Andes to Loja, then south to Vilcabamba, a quaint town located in a beautiful intermontane valley. Our route took us through Sozoranga up to Utuana Reserve, a Jocotoco reserve located at an elevation of about 7,500 feet. Stops on the way to Utuana added several new birds,including Sharp-shinned (Plain-breasted) Hawk, Band-tailed Pigeon, White-crested Elaenia, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Black-crested Warbler, Black-eared Hemisphingus, Rufous-chested and Blue-capped Tanager, Black-cowled Saltator and Bay-crowned Brushfinch. At Utuana, we first paid a visit to their hummingbird feeders, adding Lesser Violetear, Purple-throated Sunangel, Speckled Hummingbird and the spectacular Rainbow Starfrontlet to our ever-growing hummingbird list. Masked Flowerpiercer was also seen around the feeders. Utuana is the best location in Ecuador to find the adorable Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, and we heard one shortly after leaving the feeders. Seeing the bird was considerably more challenging; try as we might, we never obtained looks longer than a second or two.
As we continued towards Loja, we discovered new birds even during non-birding stops. An Amazilia Hummingbird of the Loja race was spotted on a hillside during a lunch stop in Cariamanga. A Parrot-billed Seedeater was found in an overgrown field near the airport in Catamayo; we thought we were only stopping at the airport for a much-needed restroom break. Outside Catamayo, we made several stops in good Elegant Crescentchest habitat. We heard one at the first stop, but once again, it refused to reveal its position. After trying a couple more spots, we finally found one that cooperated, and everyone was able to get satisfying views of this handsomely-patterned bird. We also added Golden-olive Woodpecker and Hooded Siskin while in this area. After skirting around Loja, we finally arrived in Vilcabamba late in the afternoon. Before checking into our hotel, our home for just one night, we made a final birding stop, at a marshy area where we easily located our target bird: a Plumbeous Rail.
Day 8: Saturday, July 22
Driving south from Vilcabamba, we turned onto an unpaved road that took us up the eastern slope of the valley to Cerro Toledo, an area of elfin forest near Podocarpus National Park and the continental divide. We drove to about 10,000 feet, then walked downhill along several sections of the road. Temperatures were still above freezing at this lofty altitude, but gusty winds and intermittant rain made it feel much colder. It didn't seem possible that this was the tropics, but the hummingbirds told us otherwise! At the highest elevations, we encountered Rainbow-bearded Thornbill and Neblina Metaltail. Somewhat lower down, we added Tyrian Metaltail and Glowing Puffleg. Other high-elevation birds found during our walk included Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Paramo Tapaculo, White-banded Tyrannulet, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Pale-footed Swallow, Plain-tailed Wren, Grass-green and Golden-crowned Tanager, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager and Glossy and White-sided Flowerpiercer.
After a roadside picnic lunch, we drove back down into the valley, then continued south, finally crossing the continental divide onto the east side of the Andes before arriving mid-afternoon at Jocotoco Foundation's Tapichalaca Reserve. Outside Casa Simpson, the reserve's lodge and our base for the next two nights, feeders attracted an almost completely new lineup of hummingbirds. In short order, we added Little and Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet and White-bellied Woodstar to our ever-growing list. Black-capped Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Mountain Wren, Spectacled Redstart, Blue-and-black Tanager, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager and Yellow-breasted Brushfinch were also seen around the lodge. Later that afternoon, we drove downslope to the town of Valladolid, where we searched for birds in town and at an archeological site south of town. A flock of elaenias found in town proved difficult for Andres to identify. He initially concluded they were Small-billed Elaenia, an austral migrant, but it now seams more likely they were Lesser Elaenia. Other birds seen in town included Ruddy Pigeon, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Ash-browed Spinetail, Rufous-tailed Tyrant, Marañon Thrush, White-lined and Silver-beaked Tanager and Yellow-browed Sparrow. New birds found at the archeological site included Little Woodpecker, Red-billed Parrot, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Social Flycatcher, Green-backed Becard and Olivaceous Greenlet.
After nightfall back at the lodge, a Rufous-banded Owl called, but as with all but the pygmy-owls, remained unseen.
Amethyst-throated Sunangel, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
Day 9: Sunday, July 23
Tapicahalaca Reserve was created in 1998 to preserve habitat for the highly endangered Jocotoco Antpitta, which had only been discovered a year earlier and wasn't formally described by science until 1999. Antpittas are typically secretive forest dwellers, but as was first demonstrated by Angel Paz at his farm in northwestern Ecuador, many species can learn to accept worms offered to them at feeding stations. This morning, we hiked up to Tapichalaca's feeding station, hoping to see what for many of us was the most highly anticipated bird of the tour. It was about a one hour walk to the feeding station, and several new birds were seen along the way, including White-throated Quail-Dove, Scaly-naped Parrot, Golden-plumed Parakeet, Chusquea Tapaculo, Rufous Spinetail, Rufous Wren and Citrine Warbler. As we approached the feeding station, we could hear an antpitta calling and saw our first even before entering the station! As we took our seats in the station, we could see that there were three Jocotoco Antpittas present, all eagerly accepting worms tossed to them. The birds didn't seem to be at all shy and even appeared to pose for photographs! Eventually, the antpittas had their fill and began to melt back into the forest. Soon after we moved on from the feeding station, we ran into mixed feeding flocks, with birds coming fast and furious! Species that stood still long enough to identify included Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Montane Woodcreeper, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Pearled Treerunner, Streak-necked, Cinnamon and Orange-banded Flycatcher, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied and Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, male and female Barred Fruiteater (Green-and-black Fruiteater were heard), Turquoise Jay, Black-crested and Russet-crowned Warbler, Black-capped Hemispingus, Grass-green and Golden-crowned Tanager and Hooded, Lacrimose, Scarlet-bellied and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager.
Jocotoco Antpitta, photo courtesy of Brian Rapoza
Back at the lodge by lunchtime, we spotted two new hummingbirds at the feeders: Long-tailed Sylph and Fawn-breasted Brilliant. Later that afternoon, we headed back down to Valladolid, adding White-throated Hawk, Smoky Bush-Tyrant and Inca Jay along the way. Andres heard a White-capped Tanager but we couldn't track it down. In town, we relocated the flock of mystery elaenias. Other birds seen in and around town included Roadside Hawk, Long-billed Starthroat, Lafresnaye's Piculet, American Kestrel, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Streaked Saltator and Golden-rumped Euphonia. After dinner at the lodge, Andres attempted to lure out a White-throated Screech-Owl; though the owl called, it never came close enough for us to locate it.
Day 10: Monday, July 24
Antpittas were our primary objective again this morning. Right after breakfast, an Undulated Antpitta was lured out of hiding right in front of the lodge. Next, we followed a trail in back of the lodge that took us to another feeding station. A hungry Chestnut-naped Antpitta was waiting for us when we arrived. We then returned to the road that provided access to the trail leading to the Jocotoco Antpitta feeding station, but only walked a short distance, as we needed to pack up and begin the long drive to our next lodge. A small flock of Golden-plumed Parakeets flew past as we started up the road. A Slate-crowned Antpitta was heard along the road, but wouldn't reveal itself. We were able to obtain brief glimpses of a vocalizing Blackish Tapaculo and also found Black-headed Hemisphingus and Chestnut-capped Brushfinch before turning back. Not long after leaving Tapichalaca, we stopped along the road to sort through birds that were working the hillside above us; our only Blue-backed Conebill of the tour was among them.
Our route took us back over the continental divide to Vilcabamba, where we met with an expatriate friend of Ann during an obligatory stop for ice cream (these were becoming more and more frequent). We then had to cross back over the continental divide via the Loja-Zamora Road. From Zamora, we drove another three hours on a mostly dirt road to Yankuam Lodge, in the lower foothills of the eastern Andes. In this last stretch, we stopped to bird in a marshy area that gave us our first opportunity to find birds more typical of Amazonian lowlands. Our most notable discovery was a pair of Bluish-fronted Jacamar, as this is the only known location in Ecuador for this species. Other birds tallied during this extremely productive stop were Speckled Chachalaca, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Rufous-sided Crake (heard), Short-tailed and Gray-rumped Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Glittering-throated Emerald, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Lineated and Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Blue-headed Parrot, White-eyed Parakeet, Lined Antshrike, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted and Bran-colored Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Violaceous Jay, White-banded and Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Black-capped Donacobius, Black-billed Thrush, Paradise and Green-and-gold Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Chestnut-bellied (Lesser) and Black-billed Seed-Finch and Crested Oropendola. After one last stop, to watch a ferry cross the Nagaritza River using only ropes, pulleys and the river's swift current, we finally arrived at rustic but charming Yankuam Lodge, our base for the next two nights.
Day 11: Tuesday, July 25
The road south of Yankuam is well known as the most reliable place in Ecuador to see Orange-throated Tanager, a stunning bird with a very limited range (it can also be found just over the border in Peru). We spent hours searching up and down the road, but this target proved elusive. Though intermittent rains slowed us down a bit, we still managed to find bucket-loads of amazing birds along the road or around the lodge, including Swallow-tailed and Plumbeous Kite, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-collared Swift, Green Hermit, Black-eared Fairy, Black-throated Brilliant, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Green-backed and Collared Trogon, Purplish Jacamar, Gilded and Lemon-throated Barbet, Yellow-tufted and Little Woodpecker, Plain-winged Antshrike, White-flanked and Rufous-winged Antwren, Peruvian Warbling-Antbird, White-browed and Hairy-crested Antbird, Duida Woodcreeper, Slender-billed Xenops, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Black-and-white, Rusty-fronted and Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher, Ornate, Ruddy-tailed, Sulphur-rumped, Olive-chested, Lemon-browed and Crowned Slaty Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, Fulvous Shrike-Tanager, Magpie, Flame-crested, Silver-beaked, Blue-gray, Palm, Golden-naped, Blue-necked, Spotted, Turquoise, Paradise, Bay-headed and Green-and-gold Tanager, Black-faced Dacnis, Purple and Green Honeycreeper, Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak, Yellow-throated Chlorospingus and Orange-bellied Euphonia. A number of birds were heard-only, including Great and Little Tinamou, White-shouldered Antshrike, Black and Zimmer's Antbird, Thrush-like Antpitta, White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant, White-eyed Tody-Tyrant, Slaty-capped Shrike Vireo, Coraya Wren and White-breasted Wood-Wren.
Purplish Jacamar, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
Day 12: Wednesday, July 26
This morning, we drove south again, this time all the way to the village of Nuevo Paraiso, near the Peru border. At some points, we were driving virtually on the border. Several Black Caracara were seen along the way. We also stopped to search for Blackish Pewee; this road is one of a handful of locations in Ecuador where they've been found in the past. We failed to find this rarity yesterday, but today we hit paydirt! We continued south to the bridge at Nuevo Paraiso, a spot where Nestor had seen Hoatzins on previous visits. Sure enough, eight Hoatzins were perched in trees overhanging the river. We also found Ferrugineos Pygmy-Owl, White-throated Toucan, Red-stained Woodpecker and Large-billed Seed-Finch at this spot. Heading back the way we came, we stopped again in Orange-throated Tanager habitat, but again came up empty. New birds seen during our final search for the tanager included Amazonian Trogon, Stripe-chested Antwren, Dusky-cheeked Foliage-gleaner and Rufous-naped Greenlet. We also had more heard-onlys, including Chestnut-capped Puffbird, Fasciated Antshrike, Black-faced and Spot-backed Antbird, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant and Chestnut-crowned Becard. Coraya Wren, a heard-only yesterday, gave us split-second looks today.Gray Tinamou, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
After a final lunch at Yankuam, we packed up for the drive back to Zamora and our base for the next two nights, Copalinga Lodge, located near the Rio Bombuscaro entrance to Podacarpus National Park. Along the way, a Laughing Falcon was spotted by eagle-eyed Joe, allowing us to move that bird from the heard-only column. Upon our arrival at Copalinga, we were met by Catherine Vits, the delightful Belgian expatriate who owns and operates the lodge, who immediately led us up a winding trail to a tinamou feeding station. Taking turns peeking through viewing windows in the feeding station's blind, we were able to get crippling views of up to three Gray Tinamou, casually pecking at the blanket of grain laid out for them. We could also see a Gray-fronted Dove nervously pacing up and down the trail, impatient for its opportunity to maneuver closer to the grain. Returning to the lodge, we spent the last hour or so of daylight at the hummingbird and tray feeders set up outside the dining area. Seven hummingbirds were present: Green and Gray-chinned Hermit, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Glittering-throated Emerald and Golden-tailed Sapphire. Regulars at the tray feeder included Golden, Golden-eared and Green-and-gold Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Buff-throated Saltator, Orange-billed Sparrow and Thick-billed Euphonia.Green-and Gold Tanager, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
Day 13: Thursday July 27
We spent the morning exploring trails in the Rio Bombuscaro section of Podocarpus National Park; the trailhead was just a few minute drive from the lodge. Due to a recent bridge washout at a stream crossing along the trail, we were required to cross the stream by tightrope-walking across narrow boards laid across the stream; everyone made it across without mishap. Not far from the trailhead, we spotted a Black-streaked Puffbird, our first (and as it turned out, only) puffbird seen on the tour. Andean Motmot, our third and final motmot and Coppery-chested Jacamar, our third and final Jacamar, were also found along the trail. Other birds seen during our visit included Ecuadorian Piedtail, White-necked Parakeet, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Foothill Elaenia, Fulvous-breasted Flatbill, Yellow-olive and Cliff Flycatcher, Orange-eared and Masked Tanager, Yellow-throated and Ashy-throated Chlorospingus and Olive Finch. Amazonian Umbrellabird was heard, but unlike its long-wattled cousin at Buenaventura, it was only briefly seen by some. Other heard-onlys included Plain-backed Antpitta, Blue-rumped Manakin and White-necked Thrush. When we returned to the van, Nestor reported seeing a Torrent Duck in the river below, but it had disappeared just before we arrived.
After lunch at the lodge, most of the group spent the early afternoon either feeder watching or hanging out in the lodge's parking area, where a Wire-crested Thorntail was periodically feeding. Eventually, most who put in the time were rewarded with satisfying views of this unique hummingbird; most also saw a male Red-crested Finch on territory in the front of the lodge. Palm Tanager, Bananaquit and Russet-backed and Crested Oropendola joined the regulars around the back tray feeder. Mid-afternoon, we piled into the van and headed into Zamora in search of new birds. Catherine told Andres about a spot near town where she had recently seen a female Spangled Coquette, so we made that our first stop. Male and female Chestnut-vented Conebills were found, as well as several Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers and an Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, but no coquette . . . that is, until we were about to leave, when Andres turned around and exclaimed "There it is, a Spangled Coquette!! A male!!!" The tiny hummer flew to a flowering bush across the street and fed leisurely while everyone either gushed, snapped photos, or gushed while simultaneously snapping photos.Spangled Coquette, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
Moving on to Zumbaratza airport, on the other side of town, we first checked a marshy area across the highway from the airport where Blackish Rail is regular. A Lesser Yellowlegs was spotted in a distant puddle as we stepped out of the van. Andres was able to not only lure a rail out of hiding, but he also performed his audio magic with a Rufous-sided Crake! The rail gave us only one quick look, but the crake provided multiple, fully exposed views as it scurried back and forth from one hiding place to another. Crossing to fields on the airport side, we added Lafresnaye's Piculet, Long-tailed Tyrant, Short-crested Flycatcher, Black-billed Thrush, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Yellow-browed Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Cacique and Olivaceous Siskin. We finished our day with a stop at dusk just down the road from the lodge, where Andres was able to coax a Blackish Nightjar from its hiding place.
Day 14: Friday, July 28
During an early breakfast in preparation for another long driving day, we heard a Band-bellied Owl calling from near one of the cabins upslope from the dining area. A few of us attempted to locate it, but as with most owls on this tour, luck was not on our side. Leaving Copalinga and the eastern side of the Andes behind, we made our final pass over the continental divide, again via the Loja-Zamora Road. We detoured onto the old Zamora road on our way up the east slope, stopping where we could to check patches of subtropical forest. As is so often the case at this elevation, we had to fight through intermittent fog and rain. Bird activity was high, but we had to constantly wait for the fog to lift to actually identify what was out there. In spite of these conditions, we still managed to see some great birds, including Red-headed Barbet, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Red-billed Parrot, White-necked Parakeet, Blackish Antbird, White-backed Fire-eye, Montane Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Buff-fronted and Montane Foliage-gleaner, Ash-browed Spinetail, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet, Smoke-colored Pewee, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Barred Becard, Olivaceous Greenlet, Inca Jay, Gray-mantled Wren, Fawn-breasted, Golden-naped, Beryl-spangled, Paradise, Golden-eared, Safron-crowned and Golden Tanager, Yellow-throated and Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, Hepatic Tanager, and Olivaceous Siskin. Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail, Barred Forest-Falcon, White-crowned Tapaculo and Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant remained hidden from view and were heard-only.
At a bridge just before the old road intersected with the new highway, we spotted a pair of Torrent Ducks as they furiously paddled across the rapids and hauled up on a rock, allowing us to move that marquee species from the Nestor-only column. Once in Loja, we turned north on the Pan-American Highway and began the long drive to Hosteria Duran in Cuenca, our base for the last two nights of the tour. Along the way, we stopped at a couple of spots to search for high elevation hummingbirds, in particular Black-tailed Trainbearer. Instead of a trainbearer, we found a Shining Sunbeam. White-crested Elaenia, Great Thrush, Cinereous Conebill and Black Flowerpiercer were also seen during these stops.
Day 15: Saturday, July 29
About an hour from Cuenca is Yunguilla Reserve, the last of five Jocotoco Foundation reserves on our itinerary. The reserve was created to protect habitat for one of the rarest and most range-restricted species in the world: the critically endangered Pale-headed Brushfinch. Yunguilla is now home to the entire world population of this decidedly nondiscript bird, an estimated 120 pairs. A few brushfinch regularly visit a feeding station that has been set up along one of the reserve's trails, so that's where we assembled in the hope that one would make an appearance. Plumbeous Pigeon, Sparkling Violetear and Purple-collared Woodstar were among species seen while hiking to the feeding station. We waited for almost 90 minutes, but the only brushfinch seen at the feeder was a Gray-browed. While we waited, a Chestnut-crowned Antpitta visited the feeder twice and a Crimson-mantled Woodpecker made a brief appearance. We also spotted a distant Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle from the station. Realizing that our target bird was probably elsewhere today, we continued down the trail beyond the feeding station, adding Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Masked Yellowthroat before turning around and heading back via a trail that bypassed the feeding station. Soon after reaching the bypass, we encountered a bird that remained mostly hidden from view. Eventually, we pieced together the field marks and realized we had just found a Pale-headed Brushfinch! The bird moved closer and eventually crossed the path ahead of us, but never gave us open views. With a bird this rare, though, we had to consider ourselves fortunate that we saw it at all. The 11th hour nature of the sighting made it even sweeter. We returned to the hotel for a victory lunch and to look for a Green-tailed Trainbearer that Andres had found yesterday in the hotel's gardens. Eventually, everyone was able to see it. Later, a few of us took a break from birding by joining Andres for a short tour of "downtown" Cuenca.
Day 16: Sunday, July 30
El Cajas National Park, home to the highest elevations we would experience on this tour, awaited us on our last day. We began at Llavinco Lake, a gorgeous highland lake at the eastern edge of the park. Scanning the entire surface of the lake, we found Andean Teal, Ruddy Duck, Slate-colored Coot, Andean Gull and Brown-bellied Swallow. A Sedge (Grass) Wren was calling in the reeds and eventually revealed itself; a Virginia (Ecuadorian) Rail was also vocalizing somewhere in the reeds but remained hidden. A Rufous Antpitta was hunkering down just off the lake's walking trail, but before long, came into view through a tiny window in the vegetation. Other birds seen along the trail included Blue-mantled Thornbill, Tyrian Metaltail, Rainbow Starfrontlet, White-throated Tyrannulet, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Spectacled Whitestart and Superciliared Hemispingus. Andean Pygmy-Owl and Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan were heard. Our return to the parking area provided a couple of surprises. First, we were startled by an Andean Guan that flew directly over us and crash-landed into a nearby bush. Moments later, jaws dropped in awe as a stunning Sword-billed Hummingbird appeared out of nowhere, darting first in one direction, then another. A Black Flowerpiercer was also seen there. While crossing a fast-moving mountain stream on drive way back to the highway, we finally crossed paths with a White-capped Dipper; a Mountain Velvetbreast was also spotted from the bridge at this stream crossing.
Andean Tit-Spinetail, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
We made several roadside stops as the highway through El Cajas took us higher and higher up the western slope of the valley, through frigid, windswept paramo and patches of Polylepis forest, eventually reaching over 13,500 feet at scenic La Toreadora, at the crest of the western Andes and not surprisingly, a popular tourist destination. At one stop, we found Violet-throated Metaltail, Mouse-colored Thistletail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager. At another, a lone Yellow-billed Pintail was spotted at the edge of a small lake. Adorable Tit-like Dacnis, both males and females, were seen at a couple of stops. At La Toreadora, we found one or two Tawny Antpittas scurrying about; a Many-striped Canastero was heard but we were unable to track it down. Other birds seen at one or more of these stops included Chestnut-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-throated Tyrannulet, Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant, Great Thrush and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch. A stop west of the crest was uneventful . . . that is, until a Giant Conebill suddenly appeared in a small shrub, then was joined by another. They were so close, we could almost touch them! We stopped for coffee and hot chocolate at a roadside cafe downslope from this last stop; the proprietors generously allowed us to eat our picnic lunch there as well.Giant Conebill, photo courtesy of Andres Vasquez
Once we completed the long drive down the Pacific slope and were back down in the lowlands, we made only a couple of stops before returning to Guayaquil. At our first stop, in a marshy area just off the highway, we saw our only Striped Cuckoo of the tour. We also heard a White-throated Crake. We also revisited the La Gartera area, reaquainting ourselves with first-day birds like Horned Screamer, Comb Duck, Savannah Hawk, Plain-breasted and Ecuadorian Ground-Dove and Ringed Kingfisher. After checking into our hotel (and saying goodbye to Nestor), we met for a final dinner, which provided all of us with an opportunity to share our favorite trip birds and memories and to bid farewell to Andres.
Day 17: Monday, July 31
All but two of us were scheduled to fly back home on the first flights of the morning. Ann and John had a much later flight, giving them a opportunity to do some sightseeing in Guayaquil. According to a reliable source, John found a Baird's Flycatcher while sightseeing. Interestingly, this is one of just ten species missed on the tour that are coded on our 970-species-long tour checklist as "highly likely - you can expect to see almost all of these." The key word here, of course, is "almost." It's always a good idea to save a few easy ones for the next visit.
Thanks to John, Joe, Barbara, Ted, Jacqui and Ann for joining me on this tour; we made a great team! Of course, thanks to Andres, our amazing guide and Nestor, our indefagitable driver, as well as local guides who joined us in the national parks. Special thanks to all the hard-working lodge employees who not only kept us comfortable and well fed throughout the tour, but also maintained the feeding stations that allowed us to see so many incredible birds up close. Finally, thanks to all the gas stations and little stores we visited along the way, for keeping your establishments well stocked with ice cream! We couldn't have done it without you.
Here's our bird and mammal lists (H = heard only; G = guide only):
Tinamidae - Tinamous
Great Tinamou (H)
Little Tinamou (H)
Anhimidae - Screamers
Anatidae - Ducks, Geese and Swans
Cracidae - Guan, Chachalacas and Curassows
Crested Guan (H)
Odontophoridae - New World Quail
Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail (H)
Podicipedidae - Grebes
Ciconiidae - Storks
Fregatidae - Frigatebirds
Phalacrocoracidae - Cormorants and Shags
Ardeidae - Herons, Egrets, Bitterns
Threskiornithidae - Ibis and Spoonbills
Cathartidae - New World Vultures
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Pandionidae - Osprey
Accipitridae - Hawks, Eagles, Kites
Sharp-shinned (Plain-breasted) Hawk
Rallidae - Rails, Gallinules, Coots
White-throated Crake (H)
Virginia (Ecuadorian) Rail (H)
Aramidae - Limpkin
Recurvirostridae - Stilts and Avocets
Charadriidae - Plovers and Lapwings
Jacanidae - Jacanas
Scolopacidae - Sandpipers
Laridae - Gulls, Terns and Skimmers
Columbidae - Pigeons and Doves
West Peruvian Dove
Opisthocomidae - Hoatzin
Cuculidae - Cuckoos
Strigidae - Owls
Peruvian Screech-Owl (H)
White-throated Screech-Owl (H)
Spectacled Owl (H)
Band-bellied Owl (H)
Andean Pygmy-Owl (H)
Black-and-white Owl (H)
Rufous-banded Owl (G)
Caprimulgidae - Nightjars
Apodidae - Swifts
Short-tailed (Tumbes) Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Trochilidae - Hummingbirds
White-whiskered Hermit (G)
Rufous-capped Thornbill (G)
Crowned (Emeral-bellied) Woodnymph
Amazilia (Loja) Hummingbird
Trogonidae - Trogons
Momotidae - Motmots
Alcedinidae - Kingfishers
Green Kingfisher (G)
Bucconidae - Puffbirds
Chestnut-capped Puffbird (G)
Galbulidae - Jacamars
Capitonidae - New World Barbets
Ramphastidae - Toucans
Collared (Pale-mandibled) Aracari
Choco Toucan (H)
Picidae - Woodpeckers
Falconidae - Falcons and Caracara
Barred Forest-Falcon (H)
Psittacidae - New World and African Parrots
Thamnophilidae - Typical Antbirds
Fasciated Antshrike (H)
Great Antshrike (H)
Uniform Antshrike (G)
White-shouldered Antshrike (H)
Black Antbird (H)
Black-faced Antbird (H)
Chestnut-backed Antbird (G)
Zimmer's Antbird (G)
Spot-backed Antbird (H)
Melanopareiidae - Crescentchests
Grallariidae - Antpittas
Plain-backed Antpitta (H)
Thrush-like Antpitta (G)
Slate-crowned Antpitta (H)
Rhinocryptidae - Tapaculos
Ocellated Tapaculo (G)
White-crowned Tapaculo (H)
Paramo Tapaculo (H)
Furnariidae - Ovenbirds and Woodcreepers
Olivaceous Woodcreeper (aequatorialis)
Olivaceous Woodcreeper (amazonas)
Buff-throated Woodcreeper (H)
Streaked Xenops (G)
Striped Woodhaunter (subulatus) (G)
Striped Woodhaunter (assimilis)
Many-striped Canastero (H)
Tyrannidae - Tyrant Flycatchers
Olive-striped Flycatcher (G)
Golden-faced (Loja) Tyrannulet
White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant (H)
White-eyed Tody-Tyrant (G)
Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher (G)
Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher (G)
Yellow-olive Flycatcher (peruvianus)
Yellow-olive Flycatcher (aequatorialis)
Black-billed Skrike-Tyrant (G)
Crowned Slaty Flycatcher
Cotingidae - Cotingas
Pipridae - Manakins
Blue-rumped Manakin (H)
Tityridae - Tityras and Allies
Northern Shiffornis (G)
Cinnamon Becard (G)
Chestnut-crowned Becard (G)
Vireonidae - Vireos, Shrike-Babblers and Erpornis
Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo (H)
Corvididae - Vireos, Crows, Jays and Magpies
Green (Inca) Jay
Hirundinidae - Swallows
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Troglodytidae - Wrens
Sedge (Grass) Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren (H)
Cinclidae - Dippers
Donacobiidae - Donacobius
Polioptilidae - Gnatcatchers
Turdidae - Thrushes and Allies
White-necked Thrush (H)
Mimidae - Mockingbirds and Thrashers
Parulidae - New World Warblers
Masked (Black-lored) Yellowthroat
Yellow (Mangrove) Warbler
Thraupidae - Tanagers and Allies
White-capped Tanager (H)
Black-eared (Piura) Hemispingus
Black-faced (Yellow-tufted) Dacnis
Emberizidae - Buntings and New World Sparrows
Cardinalidae - Cardinals and Allies
Icteridae - Troupials and Allies
Fringillidae - Siskins, Crossbills and Allies
Passeridae - Old World Sparrows
Mantled Howler Monkey
Amazonian Dwarf Squirrel