Ecuador & the Galapagos Birding Tours
Ecuador, boasting a bird list of over 1,700 species, has entrenched itself as a premier South American birding tours destination. Furthermore, its small size, great infrastructure, spectacular scenery and friendly people make Ecuador birding a highly productive and enjoyable experience.
Part of the classic Northern Ecuador route, our Choco Cloud Forest tour visits an area laden with a great number of regional endemics and specialties. We will be based in the Tandayapa and Mindo Valleys from where we will day trip to various renowned private reserves. A wide array of habitats will be birded starting with the mystical elfin forest of the temperate zone, soon followed by the bird-rich subtropical cloud-forests. We will also venture further down into the tropical foothill forests to reach the mega diverse lowlands. Iconic species that we will be searching for include Andean Cock-of-the-rock (red version), Giant Antpitta, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Chocó Toucan, Toucan Barbet, Club-winged Manakin, Glistening-green Tanager, Orange-breasted Fruiteater and Velvet-purple Coronet to mention but a few. In case rarities such as Banded Ground Cuckoo or Rufous-crowned Antpitta start showing in the area, we will do our very best to fit in a twitch. A great network of birding reserves together with good infrastructure, unsurpassable scenery and friendly people make Northwest Ecuador one of the planet’s most delightful birding destinations.
Our Eastern Andes: Paramo & Cloud Forest tour is a great introduction to birding the mighty Andes of South America. We will explore the vast east-slope for its local specialities and visit a wide array of different habitats and elevations. Travelling from snow-capped volcanoes down to pristine cloud forests will be an incredible experience with superb birding and scenery each day! Stunning species that we will be searching forinclude Andean Condor, Carunculated Caracara, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Giant Hummingbird, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Torrent Duck, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Inca Jay, White-bellied Antpitta, San Isidro “mystery” Owl, Masked Trogon, Golden-headed and Crested Quetzal just to mention a few! Rare species that we will target include Black-faced Ibis, Andean Potoo, Red-rumped Bush Tyrant, Greater Scythebill, Bicolored Antvireo, Peruvian Antpitta, Crescent-faced Antpitta, White-capped Tanager and Masked Mountain Tanager. A great network of birding reserves together with good infrastructure, unsurpassable scenery and friendly people make the eastern Andes of Ecuador one of the world’s key birding destinations.
The Ultimate Amazon: Sumaco Foothills & Rio Napo tour takes us to the tropical foothills of the eastern Andes, together with the lowlands of the Amazon basin boast some of the most impressive biodiversity worldwide. Bird wise, the area is arguably the most species-rich in the world. The Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary bird list alone surpasses 500 species while the number of bird species recorded at Sani Lodge is approaching 600! The tour will focus on finding as many species and local specialties as possible by visiting multiple habitats within the Amazonian basin. Although the list of possible targets is immense here, a couple iconic species that we will target include; Hoatzin, Zigzag, Capped and Agami Herons, Grey-winged Trumpeter, Sungrebe, Scarlet, Blue-and-yellow, Chestnut-fronted and Red-bellied Macaws, Gould’s Jewelfront, Wire-crested Thorntail, Great and Long-tailed Potoo, White-throated, Black-mandibled and Channel-billed Toucans, Many-banded and Ivory-billed Aracaris, American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous Kingfishers, Gilded and Scarlet-crowned Barbets, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Cinnamon Attila, Screaming Piha, Golden-headed and Orange-crowned Manakins, Bare-necked Fruitcrow and dozens of antbird species!
Straddling the equator, some 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador lies perhaps the planet’s most fabled archipelago. To many of us the Galapagos signify a paradise of sorts, but when Charles Darwin famously arrived there aboard the Beagle in 1835, he wrote: “Nothing could be less inviting – the country is comparable to what one might imagine … the infernal regions to be.” Among sailors the islands were known as “Las Encantadas”, or “the Enchanted Isles”, as they were believed bewitched, often with a mysterious mist (“garua”) hanging over them. Some even postulated that the land here was not anchored to the ground, but rather floated about at sea, confounding navigation. Indeed, everything present arrived via wind, water, or wings, and though the avenues are few, the proliferation of unique lifeforms is beyond remarkable.
Forever fascinating, this is one of Earth’s most active volcanic areas, and the beautiful volcanic formations, together with the matchless wildlife and natural history, make for an utterly unique destination. Perennially popular among birders for the island endemics and stunning seabirds, nearly all the birds are tame, allowing for outstanding photography. In places one must be careful to avoid stepping on a Galapagos Sea Lion, a Marine Iguana or a Blue-footed Booby. The latter is perhaps the islands most iconic bird, and seeing pairs of them, bow and sway, whistling and honking, as they wave around their cobalt blue feet is not something one forgets. The snorkelling is a wonder as well, with swimmers at times encircled by sea lions, sea turtles, and even Galápagos Penguins on occasion. The islands are named after their endemic Galápagos Giant Tortoises (‘galapagos’ means tortoise in Spanish) and seeing these magnificent beasts striding about, or sighing deeply as they wallow in the mud, one feels transported to another time, or even another world.
Anyone who has visited will tell you, the Galapagos are otherworldly. Our special island hopping tour differs from standard Galápagos cruises, as we aim to see nearly all the endemic birds possible, while reducing our time at sea, with accommodations on terra firma. Strategic water crossings provide us good chances for the seabird specialties, while allowing access to areas for endemic landbirds too. And despite Darwin’s initial misgivings, this remote archipelago more so than any other place, birthed his theory on the evolution of the species, so a visit here is also a homecoming for any nature enthusiast. From the ugly-cute Marine Iguanas, to the shrieking Red-billed Tropicbirds, to the curious and endearing sea lions, an experience here marks a personal evolution.
Our new Pacific Coast extension to Southern Ecuador takes us along Ecuador’s Pacific shores visiting Isla de la Plata for spectacular encounters with both Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies, possibly also Red-footed Booby, many Magnificent Frigatebirds, the odd Humpback Whale and Red-billed Tropicbird before completing our journey searching for the Endangered endemic Esmeralda’s Woodstar, Grey-and-white Tyrannulet, Necklaced Spinetail, Parrot-billed Seedeater, Collared Warbling Finch, Sulphur-throated Finch, Red-lored Amazon, Roseate Spoonbill, Chilean Flamingo and the smallest bird in South America, the Short-tailed Woodstar.
Our South Ecuador Endemics tour takes us to one of the most diverse habitat ranges in the world. Within 200 miles of the Pacific Coast, one can travel from the arid xerophytic habitat, through chocó and semi-deciduous tropical forest, over the continental divide’s treeless paramos and down to lush, wet, foothill forests of the eastern Andes. Within these varied, pristine habitats, the evolution of many fine endemic species has occurred; and on our comprehensive South Ecuador Endemics tour, we will sample seven distinct habitats in search of these endemics and other specialties. Targets include El Oro and White-breasted Parakeets, El Oro Tapaculo, Watkins’s and the fantastic Jocotoco Antpitta, White-headed Brushfinch, Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Elegant Crescentchest, White-tailed Jay, the fabulous Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Rainbow Starfrontlet, the vociferous, colourful and extremely localized Orange-throated Tanager – and much more besides!
The Shiripuno Amazon Adventure Extension takes us to another very remote Ecuadorian location – the little-visited Shiripuno Lodge situated in hilly, upper Amazonia. Boasting a bird list of over 450 species within walking distance of the lodge itself, it’s no wonder that this humble, research-orientated venture has caught our attention. This tour offers prime Amazon birding with targets including Nocturnal Curassow, Rufous and Long-tailed Potoo, Ringed Woodpecker, Black-necked Red Cotinga, Black Bushbird, Lunulated, Hairy-crested and Wing-banded Antbird, and Rio Suno and Yasuni Antwrens. To reach our destination, we will travel down the mild-flowing Shiripuno River, where Jaguar, Brazilian Tapir and anacondas are regularly encountered, along with Fiery Topaz, Brown Jacamar and other riverside specialists. By the end of our stay at Shiripuno, we will all know much more about the rainforest and the fabulous Huaorani people. The warm hospitality, good food and unique location supply an amazing experience to share with our loved ones upon our return.
Our new Western Ecuador birding tour completes our tour coverage of this incredibly diverse country. Long ignored and historically tricky to reach, the lowland Chocó forests of Northwest Ecuador and the coastal littoral now make for a very appealing tour. The Chocó is an eco-region and biodiversity hotspot that holds the largest number of restricted-range birds of any Endemic Bird Area in the Americas, with 62 species being endemic to the area. Habitats are typically characterised by tropical humid lowland forests and wet cloud-forests. Unfortunately, the Chocó region is also one of the most threatened areas in South America. Deforestation rates are accelerating and habitat destruction has been most severe in the lowlands, especially the coastal plains and foothills. Departing Quito we are introduced to the Andean region of the Chocó with a bevy of normally difficult species including Moss-backed Tanager, the Indigo Flowerpiercer, Beautiful Jay, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Chocó Vireo, Pacific Tuftedcheek, Black Solitaire, Star-chested Treerunner, and Purplish-mantled and Glistening-green Tanagers. We also make a chance to see a few enigmatic antpitta species like Giant Antpitta, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Antpitta and Moustached Antpitta. As we move into the Chocó lowlands, we target Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Brown Wood-Rail, Banded Ground Cuckoo (if it is showing), Ocellated and Stub-tailed Antbirds, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, and Scarlet-and-white, Blue-whiskered and Lemon-spectacled Tanagers. Five-colored Barbet, Black-tipped Cotinga, Lita and Chocó Woodpeckers, Yellow-green Bush and Golden-chested Tanagers provide the supporting cast to the drab but monotypic Sapayoa and the exceedingly tricky Rufous-crowned Antpitta.