Trip report: Northwest Ecuador, In Search of Chocó Endemics (Nov 2009) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods. This was a set departure tour.

This tour focuses on the endemic-rich Chocó region of northwest Ecuador, home of some of the most spectacular and highly desired birds in South America, the “bird continent”.  We came across many of these, from the well-named Beautiful Jay seen late in the afternoon on our very first day, to the shocking red Andean Cock-of-the-rocks displaying near Mindo on our second day, a number of multicolored Toucan Barbets on multiple occasions, to northwest Ecuador’s flagship “cover” bird: the stunning Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. In addition to these “marquee” birds we racked up over forty of the Chocó endemics that were our main focus, including a very dapper Black Solitaire, my personal pick for bird of the trip (even if ignored by everyone else in their choices!), a striking and rare thrush. Rarer still, though more regular on this tour, was a superb Tanager Finch that made us wait until the nail biting eleventh hour to show up in the Tandayapa Valley. Other highlights of the trip included a whopping list of fifty five species of tanager, including some of the most colorful of the Chocó species, including the exquisite Scarlet-and-white Tanager and the standout Scarlet-breasted Dacnis at Canande, the scarce Blue-whiskered Tanager at Silanche, the gem-like Glistening-green Tanager in the foothills, and multiple encounters with Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers. On top of all that we also saw over forty hummingbird species, including some of the most dazzling of the Chocó species, like the gorgeous Velvet-purple Coronet, glowing Western Emerald, striking Empress Brilliant, and impressive Violet-tailed Sylph. Proving once again that Ecuador is one of the very best places on Earth for both tanagers and hummingbirds.

We covered a range of elevations, visiting forests in each that hold markedly different avifaunas, that allowed us to amass a bird list of over 430 species, (over 400 of which were seen by at least one member of the group). We began in the temperate zone (3400m/11 155ft) near Quito, dropping down into the subtropics for the next few days (1750-2300m/5742-7546ft), spent a day and a half in the foothills  (1100m/3609ft), before then spending some time in the lowlands (200-400m/656-1312ft). Finally, on our very last day we drove along the scenic Chiriboga Road, an old trade route to Quito that allowed us to visit forest at various altitudes, beginning our morning in the patches of remaining foothill forest, before moving into the subtropics once more, and later rising into the temperate zone again, before we finally had to pack up our bins and drop into the dry inter-Andean valley that Ecuador’s long, thin capital Quito lies within, for the end of the tour.

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