Guided by Jose Illanes. This was a set departure tour.
This is often ranked among the Ecuador-based guides as their favorite trip in the country, and it is easy to see why when you view the highlights from this trip, which again produced some of South America’s most wanted birds…
Our tour started in the Pacific lowlands among the mangroves and wetlands of Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve. That got our tour off to a good start with Horned Screamer nearby, Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, and Jet Antbird. From there we traveled south to Buenaventura, one of a number of Jocotoco Conservation Foundation reserves visited on the trip. Arguably, the Long-wattled Umbrellabird was the key bird seen there (as usual), but this was complimented by plenty of other top-notch birds too, like Club-winged Manakin, Gray-backed Hawk, Ochraceous Attila, and El Oro Parakeet (Buenaventura represents the only reliable place to see this very rare and extremely local parakeet). Between Buenaventura and our next Jocotoco Foundation reserve, Jorupe, we added yet more quality to the bird list with specialties like White-headed Brushfinch. Jorupe is a hotspot for endemics of the Tumbesian region, one of the richest mainland areas for endemics in the world, and this tour proved no different; the excellent feeders produced White-tailed Jay and Pale-browed Tinamou, and the reserve and day trips from there produced Watkins’s Antpitta, Ecuadorian Piculet, West Peruvian Screech-Owl, Henna-headed Foliage-Gleaner, and Elegant Crescentchest. A little higher in the mountains from Jorupe, we birded Sozoranga and Utuana, with their very different suite of birds; Rainbow Starfrontlet, Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, and Black-cowled Saltator were just some of the standouts from these areas.
The endangered Jocotoco Antpitta was seen typically well at a feeding station at Tapichalaca
Our trajectory higher into the Andes continued with a visit to the temperate cloudforest of Cerro Toledo, where the local Neblina Metaltail, and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill featured, before we moved on to another location with similar habitat, Tapichalaca. At this next stop, the Jocotoco Antpitta of course took pride of place on the bird list, but was supported by many other quality birds during our two-night stay; Rufous and Slate-crowned Antpittas were also seen, along with Barred Fruiteater, while Maranon Thrush was seen downslope from there. Our next stop was markedly different, as we descended into the humid foothills of the eastern slope of the Andes, at the simple Yankuam Lodge that sits in close proximity to a number of species hard to find elsewhere in the region White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant, Blackish Pewee, Zimmer’s Antbird, Purplish Jacamar, and the handsome Black-and-white Tody-tyrant were all seen there, along with the bird that put this place on the map, the stunning Orange-throated Tanager. We remained in the foothills for our next stay, this time at the more upmarket Copalinga Lodge, near the Rio Bombuscaro section of Podocarpus National Park. This area produced some goodies too, such as the local White-breasted Parakeet, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Black-streaked Puffbird, Foothill Elaenia, and a bunch of beautiful Tanagers. The grounds of the lodge itself produced some of the highlights of the entire tour, with the scarce Little Woodstar, and Spangled Coquette at the verbena flowers in the garden, and the regular Gray Tinamou coming into a forest feeding station. Just before departing for Cuenca some road birding added Torrent Duck, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, and Lanceolated Monklet to the list too. A side trip from Cuenca to the remote Yungilla reserve (another Jocotoco Foundation property) yielded one of the rarest birds in South America, the endemic Pale-headed Brushfinch, along with another antpitta, this time Chestnut-crowned. The last birding spot on the main trip was at the high elevation El Cajas National Park where we found Tit-like Dacnis, Violet-throated Metaltail, Ecuadorian Hillstar, and the often hard-to-find Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant.
On the Esmeraldas Woodstar Extension that extremely rare and local hummingbird was found, along with some final specialties Chilean Flamingo, Pacific Royal Flycatcher, Saffron Siskin, and Sulphur-throated Finch, to finish off what had been a really successful trip in one of the great birding regions of South America.
We finished up with a total of 650 bird species, of which 603 were seen. The most popular birds of the trip were Jocotoco Antpitta, Orange-throated Tanager, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Esmeraldas Woodstar, Giant Conebill, and Lanceolated Monklet, while these other species also got worthy mentions amongst the group: Pale-headed Brushfinch, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Gray Tinamou, Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Rainbow Starfrontlet, Plushcap, Turquoise Jay, Piura Hemispingus, and Paradise Tanager.