Guided by Jose Illanes.This was a set departure tour.
After leaving Quito, the birding begun in earnest at the high point, visiting the high Andes on the east side of Ecuador, and from there worked its way eastwards, and downwards, covering a range of altitudes in doing so, and staying in good bird lodges the entire way, once outside of the capital. Our first port of call was the scenically spectacular Antisana, where Andean Condor, Giant Hummingbird and Black-faced Ibis all headlined for a great tour opening spell. After a morning amongst the high Andean grasslands of Antisana, we moved up to Papallacta Pass, the heady high point of the tour at some 13,800ft/4200m or so elevation. In reality we needed only a short time up at those extreme altitudes to pick up the exclusively high-living Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, and got the rarely seen Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant as an added bonus too. After those areas above the treeline we moved into various forest types lower down, from temperate, where the beautiful Golden-crowned Tanager was an avian highlight to subtropical forests around San Isidro, where White-bellied Antpitta, Ocellated Tapaculo, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, and the boisterous White-capped Tanager led a procession of cool Andean birds. Moving further downslope we then dipped into the fragments of rich foothill forest around the wonderful WildSumaco Lodge, where we witnessed Plain-backed and Ochre-breasted Antpittas visiting a worm feeder in the forest, enjoyed plentiful hummers at their hummingbird feeders, including Wire-crested Thorntail, and eyeballed Buckley’s Forest-Falcon, Blue-rumped Manakin, and Coppery-chested Jacamar in the surrounding forest, while also sampling arguably some of the best food of the tour.
After our time in the bird-rich eastern slopes of the Andes, we dropped into the mighty Amazon Basin, where we had an extended stay at two of the finest birding lodges in the Napo region. While finding birds in the Amazon may be challenging at first, many would agree some of the rewards are simply spectacular; we saw day roosting Crested Owl, the striking Wire-tailed Manakin, and Paradise Tanager, beautiful woodpeckers like Cream-colored and Rufous-headed among a horde of great birds and other animals too. While there we visited a couple of canopy towers, allowing us eye level views of the lush treetops, and some of the birds that dwell there like the towers toucans and gorgeous tanagers, which would have been hard to see, let alone see well, from the trails at ground level. No trip to the Amazon would be complete without a trip to the parrot clay licks at Yasuni National Park, where plentiful parrots and macaws entertained us at length. The Hoatzin, often a new bird family for many, was also popular, and otherworldly, taking people a long way from their usual city-bound lives! Besides the birds species the Amazon jungle revealed other animals too, from Red Howler monkeys to a giant Green Anaconda and even the rarely encountered Brazilian Tapir. By the end of it, it is clear that everyone was well aware that they had visited somewhere very special indeed.