Trip report: Ecuador, The Andes Introtour (June 2016)

Guided by Jose Illanes.This was a set departure tour, and it included the High Andes extension.

MAIN TOUR

This tour has been designed as an introduction to the wonders of birding the tropics, which it does very well, but also allows us to see some regional specialties confined to this Choco bioregion, (shared with western Colombia). The tour starts at Yanacocha, a high elevation, temperate reserve, where we kicked off with Barred Fruiteater, Andean Pygmy-Owl, Hooded, Black-chested and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, as well as Andean Guan, Rufous Antpitta and the incredible Sword-billed Hummingbird. Later the same day, our journey to Tandayapa was interrupted by White-capped Dipper. The next day we explored the surrounds of the marvelous Tandayapa Bird Lodge. This cloudforest location is famed for hummingbirds, and after seeing 14 species in less than 10 minutes it was easy to appreciate why! Among the species preset were: Booted-Racket-tail, Western Emerald, Purple-bibbed White-tip, Violet-tailed Sylph and Purple-throated Woodstar. Other stellar birds on the lodge property included a Scaled Antpitta coming in to a worm feeder, and a nesting Beautiful Jay. Further up the Tandayapa Valley, the wet cloudforests produced stunners like Grass-green Tanager, Gorgeted Sunangel, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and the striking Ocellated Tapaculo.

Moving location entirely, we visited the lower foothills around Rio Silanche, where an entirely new suite of birds awaited our arrival. Highlights there included Scarlet-browed, Tawny-crested, Rufous-winged and Gray-and-gold Tanagers, as well as the local Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Choco Trogon, and Guayaquil Woodpecker. Staying lower than our lodge, another day trip took us to Milpe, still in the Andean foothills, but higher up than Silanche. Like Silanche, Milpe offers birds at pace, and new birds came in thick and fast. Some of the many avian treats we experienced there included Choco Toucan, Rufous Motmot, Flame-faced, Blue-necked, Silver-throated, Golden and Rufous-throated Tanagers, Collared Trogon, and Spotted Nightingale-Thrush. We also managed to visit the relatively new Mashpi area, which comes with its own discreet selection of birds, which are difficult/impossible elsewhere…we recorded Black-chinned Mountain-tanager, Glistening-green and Moss-backed Tanagers there.

Our final stop in the northwest was the extraordinary Refugio Paz de Aves, where we spent a morning seeing some incredible, and usually shy rainforest birds up close. We started out, as usual, at the Andean Cock-of-the-rock display site, getting close ups of a handful of striking scarlet males. 4 species of antpittas followed (Giant, Yellow-breasted, Ochre-breasted, and Moustached Antpittas), as did an extremely tame group of Dark-backed Wood-Quail. Bonus birds at this site also included Golden-headed Quetzal and Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl. On returning to Quito, we stopped in at a site for the rare and local White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, which gave some good looks.

HIGH ANDES EXTENSION

Antisana National Park was the first stop on the extension, where we Carunculated Caracaras, Black-faced Ibises, Andean Gulls, Andean Lapwings, Tawny Antpitta, and Silvery Grebe. Scanning brought us views of 3 Andean Condors, and a lunch stop in the way out of the park got us the largest hummingbird on Earth, the well-named Giant Hummingbird. Our next stop was Guango, where the lodge itself produced not only a long list of hummingbirds (including, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Long-tailed Sylph, White-bellied Woodstar, and Tourmaline Sunangel; but also Lacrimose and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanagers, Plushcap, and the rare Red-hooded Tanager. Our final stop was around Papallacta Pass and town, in Cayambe-Coca National Park, which led us to find the gorgeous Golden-crowned Tanager, scarce Black-backed Bush-Tanager, and Red-crested Cotinga, among many other high Andean additions.

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