Guided by Jose Illanes.This was a set departure tour.
This was always going to be a special for me to lead, as we visited the area where I was born and raised, the Amazon, and even visited the lodge there that is run by the community I am still part of today. However, this trip is far from only an Amazonian tour, as it started high in Andes (before making its way down there some days later), above the treeline at Antisana National Park, where we saw Ecuador’s national bird, the Andean Condor, in addition to Ecuadorian Hillstar, Carunculated Caracara, Black-faced Ibis, Silvery Grebe, and Giant Hummingbird. Staying high up in the paramo grasslands that dominate above the treeline, we visited the Papallacta area, which led us to different high elevation species, like Giant Conebill, Tawny Antpitta, Many-striped Canastero, Blue-mantled Thornbill, Viridian Metaltail, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, and Andean Tit-Spinetail. Our lodging area, Guango, was also productive, with White-capped Dipper, Torrent Duck, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Slaty Brushfinch, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, as well as hummingbirds like, Long-tailed Sylph, Tourmaline Sunangel, Glowing Puffleg, and the odd-looking Sword-billed Hummingbird. Having covered these high elevation, temperate sites, we then drove to another lodge (San Isidro) downslope in subtropical forest lower down. This opened up a more diverse, and different suite of bird species to us, and among them we found, Crested Quetzal, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Powerful Woodpecker, Streaked-headed Antbird, and White-bellied Antpitta. No visit to San Isidro would be complete without their “Mystery Owl”, a bird which has long been coming to the lodge, but that has as yet not been determined to species. Birding the nearby Guacamayos Ridge also brought us Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Emerald-bellied Puffleg, and Greater and Brown-billed Scythebills. Our next stop, lower down again in the Andes, was at WildSumaco Lodge, in the foothills at around 4900ft (1480m). The diversity here is amazing, and the list of specialties considerable. Highlights of our time there included Coppery-chested Jacamar, Golden-collared Toucanet, Short-tailed Anthrush, Plain-backed and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, Gray-tailed Piha, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, White-crowned Manakin, and Paradise Tanager. The hummingbird feeders on this tour are excellent, and we had already observed several before this at Guango and then San Isidro, although arguably WildSumaco has some of the best ones on the eastern slope, which yielded scarce species like Ecuadorian Piedtail, Gould’s Jewelfront, Wire-crested Thorntail, and Napo Sabrewing.
Having spent the first week of the tour in the Andes, the last half of the tour was spent at two different lodges in the extraordinarily diverse Amazon. The birding on this section of the tour was very different than before, involving a mix of trail walking, visits to canopy observation platforms, and by local canoes. We visited first Napo Wildlife Center, a high-end lodge that is part of the Quichua Community. The Amazon always brings too many highlights to mention in a short list, but some of the more popular birds at Napo included Sungrebe, Salvin’s Curassow, Hoatzin, Cream-colored Woodpecker, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, Dot-backed, Yellow-browed and Banded Antbirds, Black-necked Red-Cotinga, Zigzag Heron, Masked-crimson Tanager, Spangled and Plum-throated Cotingas, Spectacled Owl, Yellow-billed Jacamar, and a selection of parrots at the famous local clay lick. Our final lodge of the tour was Sani, another Amazon lodge owned by a different Quichua community to Napo. The birding there was also outstanding, and we added birds like Cocha Antshrike, Crested and Harpy Eagles, White-eared Jacamar, White-browed Purpletuft, and Amazonian Umbrellabird to the list while at Sani, to finish off a great tour that covered areas from above the treeline all the way down into the Amazon Basin. We finished up with 596 species, of which 546 were seen.