This 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.
Andean Condor, Carunculated Caracara, Torrent Duck, Andean Teal, Andean Duck, Andean Coot, Silvery Grebe, Black-faced Ibis, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, Black-winged Ground Dove, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Giant Hummingbird, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Viridian Metaltail, Collared Inca, Long-tailed Sylph, Tourmaline Sunangel, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, White-bellied Woodstar, Glowing Puffleg, Shining Sunbeam, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Blue-mantled Thornbill, San Isidro “mystery” Owl, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, Andean Potoo, White-capped Parrot, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Masked Trogon, Golden-headed and Crested Quetzal, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Andean Motmot, Long-tailed Tapaculo, Paramo Tapaculo, Bicolored Antvireo, Tawny Antpitta, White-bellied Antpitta, Peruvian Antpitta, Slate-crowned Antpitta, Crescent-faced Antpitta, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Stout-billed and Bar-winged Cinclodes, Many-striped Canastero, Flammulated Treehunter, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Greater Scythebill, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Paramo Ground Tyrant, Red-rumped Bush Tyrant, Agile Tit-Tyrant, Marbled-faced and Variegated Bristle Tyrants, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Handsome Flycatcher, Inca Jay, Paramo Pipit, Black-billed Peppershrike, Russet-crowned Warbler, Black-eared Hemispingus, Black-backed Bush Tanager, Buff-breasted, Masked, Blue-winged and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers, Saffron-crowned, Beryl-spangled, Flame-faced, Black-capped, Grass-green, Golden-crowned and White-capped Tanagers, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Bluish Flowerpiercer, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Pale-naped Brushfinch, Subtropical Cacique
White-tailed Deer, Andean Fox, Mountain Tapir (rare), Spectacled Bear (rare)
paramo grasslands and highland lakes, temperate tree line forest & polylepis, temperate cloud-forest, upper and lower subtropical cloud-forest
chilly at high elevations but pleasant in the subtropics
easy to moderate pace
Day 1: Arrival in Quito
Guests will be greeted at the airport and transported to our hotel accommodations in Quito, while others will be arriving at our hotel from our connecting Choco Cloud Forest Tour. A fine dinner overlooking the historic downtown of Quito will be our start to this great Ecuador bird safari!
Day 2: Day trip to Antisana
We leave downtown Quito this morning and ascend the Andes, arriving at the Antisana Reserve situated high in the Andes at an elevation of approximately 4 000m (13 000ft). Visiting the tundra-like Paramo habitat surrounding the astonishing snow-capped Antisana Volcano will no doubt be an unforgettable experience, not only because of the breathtaking scenery but also because it offers us a great opportunity for finding the majestic Andean Condor. A truly iconic species of the South American Andes, it is also Ecuador’s national bird! During our Ecuador bird safari, we will also be seeking out the near-endemic Carunculated Caracara, endemic Ecuadorian Hillstar, both Stout-billed and Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Many-striped Canastero, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Black-winged Ground Dove, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Paramo Ground Tyrant, Paramo Pipit and the rare Black-faced Ibis.
At La Mica, a beautiful lake at the base of the Antisana Volcano, we will scan for Andean Teal, Andean Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Coot, Silvery Grebe and perhaps a few migrant shorebirds. We will also be on the lookout for rare raptors that occur here such as Aplomado Falcon and Cinereous Harrier. Scrubby habitat at lower elevations may turn up a number of gems such as Shining Sunbeam and Black-tailed Trainbearer, and the unrivalled Giant Hummingbird – the largest hummer on the planet! The reserve also gives us good chances for Andean Fox and White-tailed Deer. Today will be full of photographic opportunities, and the relaxed birding will make for a glorious kick-off in the high Andes.
Day 3: Papallacta to Guango Lodge
Today on our Ecuador bird safari, we start birding the treeline scrub and paramo on the western slope of the eastern Andes. The habitat is fairly similar to Antisana, although some different species can be found here. Our priorities include Paramo Tapaculo, the rare Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Blue-mantled Thornbill, Andean Tit-Spinetail, and Tawny Antpitta. Weather permitting, we will drive up to the antennas to look for the highly sought-after Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, a unique and well-camouflaged shorebird that is only found in Ecuador at this particular site. If we get lucky, we also may also find the equally desirable Giant Conebill in Polylepis forest at a slightly lower elevation. The rare Red-rumped Bush Tyrant is known to show up at the pass on occasion.
At Papallacta Lake, we will swiftly scan for ducks and waterbirds, which might yield a few new species. The habitat surrounding the lake is good for mixed-species flocks which often include White-throated Tyrannulet, Spectacled Whitestart, Cinereous and Blue-backed Conebills, the localised Black-backed Bush Tanager, Buff-breasted and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers, Golden-crowned Tanager, Pale-naped Brush-finch and the rare Agile Tit-Tyrant. Similar mixed-species flocks will be looked for along the road to the Cayambe-Coca reserve, where we also have a good chance of finding such rarities as Masked and Black-chested Mountain Tanagers. Viridian Metaltail and Great Sapphirewing are regular at the treeline, and if we get lucky we may convince a Rufous Antpitta, or the even rarer Crescent-faced Antpitta into view. The enigmatic Spectacled Bear has been seen in the area multiple times, so fingers crossed! In the afternoon we will descend to our comfortable lodge and enjoy a number of new species of hummingbirds that visit the feeders.
Day 4: Guango Lodge to Cabañas San Isidro
This morning on our Ecuador bird safari, we will bird the grounds of Guango Lodge, which covers excellent temperate forest habitat at roughly 2 800m (9 200ft). Key targets that we will be looking for include Grey-hooded Bush Tanager, Hooded Mountain Tanager, Blue-and-black Tanager, White-banded Tyrannulet, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Slaty Brush Finch, Turquoise Jay and Northern Mountain Cacique. At the fast flowing river, we will try for specialities such as Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper and Torrent Tyrannulet. Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan and Andean Guan are frequently seen here, and much rarer species such as Mountain Avocetbill, Dusky Piha and Red-hooded Tanager are also possible.
Guango is well-known for hummingbirds, with the spectacular Sword-billed Hummingbird, Collared Inca, Long-tailed Sylph, Tourmaline Sunangel, Chestnut-breasted and Buff-tailed Coronets, Speckled Hummingbird, Tyrian Metaltail, White-bellied Woodstar and the scarce Glowing Puffleg all visiting the copious feeders. In the afternoon we will descend the valley to lower elevation, sub-tropical cloud forests and our very comfortable lodge of Cabañas San Isidro.
Day 5: Cabañas San Isidro
Cabañas San Isidro is a privately owned reserve that protects large tracts of pristine subtropical cloud forest at an elevation of 2 100m (6 800ft). The superb birding, great lodging and exquisite cuisine make it a true birder’s paradise. In the morning, we will first target the garden birds that can be easily observed foraging at the garden lights. At night the lights attract insects, and during the morning we have a good chance to observe a feeding frenzy of insectivorous species! Inca Jay, Masked Trogon, Subtropical Cacique, Russet-backed Oropendola, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Black-billed Peppershrike, Slate-throated and Spectacled Whitestart, Brown-capped Vireo, Russet-crowned Warbler, Black-eared Hemispingus, Mountain Wren, Common Bush Tanager, Pale-edged and Cinnamon Flycatchers, Smoke-colored Pewee, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Montane and Olive-backed Woodcreeper frequently converge on the lights to hoover up the insect smorgasbord.
The extensive trail system gives us access to primary forest where we will search for understory skulkers such as White-bellied Antpitta and Long-tailed Tapaculo. Large canopy flocks might yield Marbled-faced and Variegated Bristle Tyrants, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Blue-winged Mountain, Saffron-crowned, Beryl-spangled, Flame-faced and Black-capped Tanagers, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Bluish Flowerpiercer, Golden-collared Honeycreeper and Green-and-black Fruiteater. We also have a good chance of coming across some of the rare species found here such as Bicolored Antvireo and Peruvian Antpitta. Birding the nearby Las Caucheras road is often very productive with great canopy flocks that include the likes of White-capped Parrot, Crested Quetzal and Andean Motmot.
The feeders at the lodge attract a good number and diversity of hummingbirds, including the spectacular Long-tailed Sylph, Collared and Bronzy Inca, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Green and Sparkling Violetear (seasonal) and sometimes the rather cute Gorgeted Woodstar. After dusk, we will search for nocturnal species, with our main target being the San Isidro “mystery” Owl, a possible split from Black-banded Owl. Other species we hope to find on our Ecuador bird safari include Andean Potoo and Rufous-bellied Nighthawk.
Day 6: Day Trip to Guacamayos Ridge
The Guacamayos Ridge provides some of the best cloud forest birding in the country. The ridge drops all the way to the Amazonian basin, boasting an extraordinary level of biodiversity. However, it is also one of the rainiest and consequently cloudiest places on the east slope, as it is the first ridge where the warm Amazonian clouds strike the Andes. In the morning, we will bird the upper stretch of the trail which is slightly higher in elevation than Cabañas San Isidro (2 200m / 7 200ft). Target species that we will be looking for include Slate-crowned Antpitta, Flammulated Treehunter, Handsome Flycatcher, Grass-green Tanager, Sepia-brown Wren and Black-capped Hemispingus. If we are very lucky, we might get the spectacular White-capped Tanager or Black-billed Mountain Toucan which are both frequently seen here. We will also be on the lookout for one of the ‘mega’ mixed-species flocks that often pass by. While carefully sifting through the flock, we may find the ultra-rare Greater Scythebill. Guacamayos is perhaps the best place in the world to see it! We leave the afternoon program open for several options depending on the weather and possible target species that we may still require.
Day 7: Cabañas San Isidro to Quito
We have a few more hours this morning to bird around the lodge grounds before the tour concludes. For some, it will be the end of their Ecuador experience, and you will be transferred to Quito International Airport for your international departures. For those continuing onwards with our Ultimate Amazon: Sumaco Foothills & Rio Napo Tour, we shall have a few hours to rest today before meeting up with any new birders joining the tour this afternoon from Quito.