This classic tour covers all the important birding sites found northwest of the capital city of Quito. This area is part of the Chocó bioregion which hosts a great number of endemics and specialties that we will target. 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.
Dark-backed Wood Quail, Dusky Pigeon, Pallid Dove, Indigo-crowned Quail-Dove, Pacific Parrotlet, Rose-faced Parrot, Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Empress Brilliant, Brown Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet, White-booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Golden-headed Quetzal, Chocó Trogon, Broad-billed Motmot, Rufous Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Barred Puffbird, White-whiskered Puffbird, White-faced Nunbird, Orange-fronted Barbet, Toucan Barbet, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Chocó Toucan, Olivaceous Piculet, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Pacific Tuftedcheek, Uniform Treehunter, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Black-crowned Antshrike, Uniform Antshrike, Checker-throated Antwren, Pacific Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-headed Antthrush, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Giant Antpitta, Moustached Antpitta, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Nariño Tapaculo, Ocellated Tapaculo, Chocó Tyrannulet, Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant, Tawny-breasted Myiobius, Masked Water Tyrant, One-colored Becard, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Scaled Fruiteater, Golden-winged Manakin, Club-winged Manakin, White-bearded Manakin, Beautiful Jay, Black Solitaire, Ecuadorian Thrush, White-capped Dipper, Chocó Warbler, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Glistening-green Tanager, Moss-backed Tanager, Grey-and-gold Tanager, Rufous-throated Tanager, Blue-whiskered Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain Tanager, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Ochre-breasted Tanager
Olingito, Tyra, White-fronted Capuchin, Spectacled Bear (rare)
temperate tree line forest, subtropical cloud-forest, tropical foothill forest and tropical lowland forest all in the Chocó bioregion
chilly to hot and humid (very pleasant temperatures on most days)
Day 1: Arrival in Quito
Guests arriving from their various points of origin will be greeted at the airport, and transported to our hotel accommodations in Quito. A fine dinner overlooking historic downtown Quito will be our kick-off to our Ecuador bird holiday!
Day 2: Yanacocha to Bellavista
Today we travel to the north-western flanks of the Pichincha Volcano, climbing to an altitude of approximately 3 500m (11000ft). We wind our way up a gravel road where we will have a full morning’s birding in the temperate zone of the western Andes. This spectacular area is especially productive for hummingbirds, and on our Ecuador bird holiday, we can expect to find numerous representatives, including the incredible Sword-billed Hummingbird, Rainbow-bearded and the scarce Purple-Mantled Thornbills, Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted Puffleg and, if we are extremely lucky, the endemic, inexplicably rare and critically endangered Black-breasted Puffleg. Other possible species we may find as we sift through the twisted vegetation and open shrubby habitat include Andean Pygmy Owl (often located by its diurnal call), stunning Hooded and Black-chested Mountain Tanagers, and the equally striking Golden-crowned Tanager. Andean Guan, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Blue-backed Conebill, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, and the beautiful, but shy Barred Fruiteater are also very likely.
After lunch, we will bird along the winding roadway into the Cloud forests of the old Nono-Mindo road. This road connects with the Tandayapa valley, and if time permits we will look for mixed-species flocks at these middle elevations. We aim to arrive in Bellavista before dark so that we can experience another large set of hummingbird species as they buzz around the lodge’s feeders.
Day 3: Bellavista to Mindo
Deep in the heart of the cloud forest, Bellavista is a protected reserve surrounded by outstanding habitat that provides access to the mature forest canopy. An early morning start will take us to the top of the Tandayapa valley for the dawn chorus at. Mixed-species flocks often hold the conspicuous Cinnamon Flycatcher, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Montane Woodcreeper, gaudy Flame-faced and Beryl-spangled Tanagers, Capped Conebill, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Plushcap, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Spectacled Whitestart and the beautiful Masked Trogon. Spillmann’s Tapaculo is easy to hear, but harder to see in the dense undergrowth, as is the sought-after Ocellated Tapaculo. Other delightful specialities that we’ll be looking for here on our Ecuador bird holiday include the amazing Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, the stunning Grass-green Tanager, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Powerful Woodpecker, Turquoise Jay, Plain-tailed Wren and Streak-headed Antbird. Rare species that we may come across include White-faced Nunbird, Slaty Finch, Black-and-chestnut Eagle and the retiring Tanager Finch. We will also spend a little more time at the lodge feeders, taking in such gems as Violet-tailed Sylph, Gorgeted Sunangel, the tiny Purple-throated Woodstar and the exquisite Booted Racket-tail. In the afternoon, we will bird our way down to our luxurious accommodations in the Mindo valley, which is no less a hummingbird paradise than the Tandayapa Valley!
Day 4: Refugio Paz de las Aves & Chontal
This morning on our Ecuador bird holiday, we will visit the famous Refugio Paz de Las Aves, a private cloud forest reserve and perhaps the most amazing bird show on earth. Walking along the forest trails, we will be searching for some of the more difficult forest undergrowth skulkers on Earth. A number of years ago, the entrepreneurial Ecuadorians brothers, Angel & Rodrigo Paz managed to coerce a number of mega species into view through the use of daily feeding rituals! One of the stars of the show is undoubtedly the goliath Giant Antpitta, which often approaches to within only a few feet! Other specialities include Dark-backed Wood Quail, Ochre-breasted and Yellow-breasted Antpittas, Rufous-breasted Antthrush and Nariño Tapaculo as well as the more widespread species such as Sickle-winged Guan and Golden-winged Manakin. We will also visit a lek with a regularly attending population of Andean Cock-of-the-rock, one of the gaudiest of all South American birds! Along the way, we may find a fruiting tree attended by Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Scaled Fruiteater, the elusive Olivaceous Piha and the stunning Toucan Barbet. Lyre-tailed Nightjars are regularly found on their day roost here and rarities have included White-faced Nunbird, Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl, Ecuadorian Seedeater and Black-and-chestnut Eagle.
In the afternoon, we will travel to lower elevations of the Guayllabamba drainage to look for Oilbirds, another iconic monotypic family species from South America. We will visit a day roost of these bizarre looking creatures that are in fact nocturnal and strictly frugivorous. Like bats, they are known to use echolocation for navigating in the dark, something unique among birds. Other species of interest that we may encounter nearby include Striped Cuckoo, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Band-backed and Whiskered Wrens, Pacific Antwren and White-backed Fire-eye.
Day 5: Reserva Amagusa and Mashpi Road
This newly discovered area holds some of the finest Chocó endemic cloud forest species. At the Amagusa Reserve, we will visit the fruit feeders where we have excellent chances of seeing the increasingly-rare Moss-backed Tanager, as well as a host of other, no less attractive, Tanager species, including Glistening-green, Black-chinned Mountain, Rufous-throated, Lemon-rumped, Flame-faced, Golden-naped and Golden. Crimson-rumped Toucanet and White-throated Quail-Dove also frequently squeeze into the tanager cast. The hummingbird feeders attract spectacular species such as Velvet-purple Coronet, Violet-tailed Sylph, Brown Inca, Purple-bibbed Whitetip and Empress Brilliant, all stunning Chocó endemics. If it is not too foggy (which is often the case at this cloud forest site) photographic opportunities will be outstanding.
We move on to the more famous Mashpi Road, which provides easy birding and access to elevations ranging from 1 600m down to 900m (5 000 – 3 000ft). We will be targeting endemics at several sites along the road on our Ecuador bird holiday, primarily looking for mixed-species flocks which often hold rare species such as Indigo Flowerpiercer, Chocó Vireo, Pacific Tuftedcheek, Uniform Treehunter and Orange-breasted Fruiteater. Stunners like Toucan Barbet and Glistening-green Tanager can be common in these flocks. If we get really lucky we might run into Black or Rufous-brown Solitaires which are present but rather secretive. In the understory, we will look for Zeledon’s and Esmeraldas Antbirds amongst others. Rose-faced Parrot and Blue-fronted Parrotlet frequently fly by, but we’ll need a bit of luck to see them perched. We start to reach lowland forest as we descend the lowest parts of the road with goodies such as Grey-and-gold Tanager, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Orange-fronted Barbet and Barred Puffbird. Very rare birds that have been seen here in the past include Banded Ground Cuckoo, Rufous-crowned Antpitta and Baudo Guan!
Day 6: Rio Silanche
Today on our Ecuador bird holiday, we will be exploring the lower areas of the Chocó region (500m / 1600ft) searching for specials that are only shared with adjacent Colombia. These forests are sadly disappearing at an alarming rate due to a combination of logging, mining and expansion of oil palm plantations. The canopy tower in the Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary (Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation) provides good views of the forest canopy and we will spend some time here sifting carefully through the canopy for mixed-species flocks (with patience, they usually move by every hour). Targets in these flocks include Scarlet-breasted and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Blue-whiskered, Grey-and-gold, Golden-hooded, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged and Scarlet-browed Tanagers, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Brown-capped Tyrannulet and Yellow-margined Flatbill. Larger birds in the forest are represented by Chocó, White-tailed, Black-throated and Collared Trogons, Cinnamon, Black-cheeked, Guayaquil and Crimson-bellied (rare) Woodpeckers, Dusky Pigeon, Chocó Toucan, Pale-mandibled Aracari, White-whiskered Puffbird, Orange-fronted Barbet, Black-striped and Northern Barred Woodcreepers, to name but a few. Hummingbirds that are commonly observed at this reserve include Purple-chested and Blue-chested Hummingbirds, White-whiskered Hermit and Band-tailed Barbthroat. The understory flocks often hold goodies like Checker-throated, Dot-winged and White-flanked Antwren, Tawny-faced Gnatwren and Black-crowned Antshrike while the understory skulkers here include Chestnut-backed and Bicolored Antbirds, Black-headed Antthrush and Southern Nightingale-Wren. Rare birds that we have seen in the area (sometimes frequently) include Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Black-tipped Cotinga, Brown Wood Rail, Plumbeous Hawk and Berlepsch’s Tinamou!
Day 7: Milpe area to Quito
Milpe is another key reserve of the Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation and is one of the best sites in the world to see the Chocó endemic Club-winged Manakin. This bird is famous for producing a funny, computer-like buzzing sound with its wings! Fortunately, the species is often easy to locate – though there are some seasonal movements.
Along the trails, we have good chances of running into large mixed-species flocks that contain Chocó Warbler, Tropical Parula, Slate-throated Whitestart, Chocó Tyrannulet, Tawny-rumped Myiobius, Slaty Antwren, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Spotted and Wedge-billed Woodcreepers, Brown-billed Scythebill, Buff-fronted, Ruddy and Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaners, Western Woodhaunter, Cinnamon and One-colored Becards, Silver-throated, Bay-headed, Rufous-throated, White-winged, White-shouldered and Ochre-breasted Tanagers, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia and many more! The banana feeders can be a true spectacle (although activity is seasonal), with stunners like Red-headed Barbet, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Chocó Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Rufous Motmot, Orange-billed Sparrow, Orange-bellied and Thick-billed Euphonias, Silver-throated, Rufous-throated, Blue-grey, White-lined and Blue-necked Tanagers all feeding at close range! The hummingbird feeders attract gems like White-necked Jacobin, Crowned Woodnymph, Green-crowned Brilliant, Andean Emerald and the tiny Green Thorntail. The adjacent Milpe Gardens has a great trail through mature foothill forest where we will continue to look for specialities. Rare birds that we have encountered here include Indigo-crowned Quail-Dove, Lanceolated Monklet, Orange-crested Flycatcher, Chocó Trogon, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker and Spotted Nightingale-Thrush.
In the afternoon we will travel back to Quito, where those continuing onwards to our Eastern Andes: Paramo and Cloud Forest Tour will meet for dinner, while others will be transferred to Quito Airport for your international departures.