Trip report: Eastern Ecuador (Nov-Dec2014) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Jose Illanes.This was a set departure tour.

The wonder of this tour is the extreme variety offered. The tour began in the high Andes, where snow-capped cones feature and condors roam, but made its way all the way down to the steamy jungles of the Amazon, seemingly covering everything in between too. This tour started up at 2800m/9185ft. in Ecuador’s lofty capital, Quito, before creeping higher still into the high Andes and the paramo grasslands of Antisana. After scooping up Andean Condor, Black-faced Ibis, and a gorgeous male Ecuadorian Hillstar; the tour set off for the highest elevation of the tour, above Papallacta Pass, at a breathless 4200m/13,800ft. With the unpredictable weather there on our side for once we set about finding not only the area’s star bird, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, but were also gifted extraordinary views of Andean Snipe there too, an amazing, and popular, bonus bird. The next stop, a quaint Andean lodge, Guango, perched beside a rushing mountain river, was every bit as good as billed with Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, along with the usual haul of stunning hummingbirds including the comical Sword-billed Hummingbird among them. From there, we continued to move our way down the eastern side of the Andes, next checking in to Cabanas San Isidro, where we saw their famous “San Isidro Mystery Owl”, a bird that has not yet definitively been tied to any existing species, and also enjoyed their regular White-bellied Antpitta visiting a worm feeder. Birding in the subtropical forests in and around San Isidro brought some stellar birds into view: male Andean Cock-of-the-rock, a sensational polka-dotted Ocellated Tapaculo, two species of quetzals, and the scarce Black-billed Mountain-Toucan among many others. We then dropped into the humid foothills of the Andes and the wonderfully well thought out WildSumaco lodge, with its dizzy hummingbird feeders (that attracted 18 species in our time there), and beautiful veranda looking out over the forest. Aside from the lodge itself, the birds were fantastic with rarities including Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Gray-tailed Piha, Plain-backed Antpitta, and Yellow-throated Spadebill among the crop. The trips final stage entered one of the greatest regions on Earth, the Amazon. Knowing well that a short time to sample the megadiversity of the Amazon is never enough; we visited two of the premier Napo lodges, Sacha and Napo Widlife Center. Those looking for something colorful were well catered for there, with visits to canopy towers and walkways producing multiple treetop toucans, bright blue male cotingas, and Technicolor tanagers. The rarity hunters within the group were also well looked after with birds like Black-necked Red Cotinga, both Ringed and Rufous-headed Woodpeckers, and White-plumed, Banded, and Lunulated Antbirds, and Orange-crested Manakin. Although the male Wire-tailed Manakin, while not rare, is so striking daubed in red and yellow, that it is likely to stay longer in the memory of most of the group. The Amazon produced the main other wildlife attractions of the trip too, with Red Howlers, Golden-mantled Tamarins, and Giant Otters providing a substantial supporting cast all of their own. Finally, it was time to bid the Amazon farewell, and return, by air, to Quito, passing over some of the most dramatic volcanos of Ecuador in doing so. The trip came to close in Quito, where it had all began, some 629 birds or so later!

It had been a great tour of the best birding sites in eastern Ecuador; among the 629 species recorded were some stellar groups of birds seen: 63 Tanagers, 49 Hummingbirds, 21 Raptors, 19 Woodpeckers, 18 Parrots, 14 Cotingas, 12 Manakins, 10 Toucans, 7 Owls, 7 Trogons, 6 Puffbirds, 5 Antpittas, and 5 Kingfishers! To say that the participants enjoyed only a sample of what the east has to offer is an understatement!!!

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