Trip report: Ecuador The Andes Introtour (Aug 2012) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods.

Although we had some challenges on this popular tour of the endemic-rich Chocó bioregion of the west Andes, and a short side trip into the high Andes of the east slope-notably an unfortunate broken ankle on one day for one very unlucky participant, and generally windy and dry conditions which can lead to lower activity than expected, 370 birds were recorded, including 35 of the endemics which the bioregion is justly famous for. This included a heady 50 hummingbird species, and 50 “tanagers” – two colorful and exciting groups that ALWAYS feature heavily on this short tour. Some of the standouts included a female Black-breasted Puffleg that shockingly showed up at Yanacocha’s feeders on day one (a rarely seen, critically-endangered Ecuadorian endemic); a showy Tanager Finch in the Upper Tandayapa Valley; clearly the best site in the world to find this species; Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans close by there too; a phenomenal display performance of several Andean Cock-of-the-rock at the tiny Paz de Aves reserve, some of which displayed fully in the open, and a trio of antpittas at the same site: one Moustached, one Ochre-breasted, and THREE Giant Antpittas; a stunning pair of Orange-breasted Fruiteaters and a bold pair of Toucan Barbets at Angel Paz’s reserve too; a batch of four dizzyingly colorful dacnis in the lowlands at Rio Silanche: Scarlet-breasted, Scarlet-thighed, Yellow-tufted, and Blue Dacnis; the foothills and lowlands also led us to great looks at three MANAKIN species in the throes of full display: Golden-winged and Club-winged Manakins displayed confidently before us at the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation’s Milpe Bird Sanctuary, and a White-bearded Manakin in their lowland reserve, Rio Silanche; last but not least, a huge array of colorful, and oddly-shaped, hummingbirds, such as the frankly bizarre Sword-billed Hummingbird in Yanacocha, and equally odd Booted Racket-tail at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, gorgeous Velvet-purple Coronets, photo left, Empress Brilliants, and Violet-tailed Sylphs in Mindo, and the outlandish Long-tailed Sylph on the high Andes extension.

The extension was notable not just for standout birds such as the Ptarmigan-like Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, and nuthatch-like Giant Conebill at Papallacta, and Black-faced Ibis in Antisana, but also for the remarkable scenery that looms overhead in this scenically spectacular corner of Ecuador; dozens of photos were taken of the 5,000m/16,400ft plus, snow-topped volcanoes of Antisana looming above us there, and the distinctive triangular cone of Cotopaxi was not ignored either, on a day where not a single cloud blemished these marvelous and magnificent Andean mountains. For good reason, Sam often notes this as his favorite tour, and he was absolutely thrilled to be back leading this tour again in his adopted homeland!

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