Guided by Jose Illanes.This was a set departure tour, and it included the High Andes extension.
This tour is designed as an introduction to the avian marvels of the Andes of Ecuador, and therefore showcases the myriad of colorful birds found there, in addition to getting a healthy number of endemic birds, for which this part of northwest Ecuador is particularly rich in. The starting point of the tour was the nation’s capital, Quito, from where we drove up higher into the Andes, to first bird the temperate forest within Yanacocha Reserve. As this site, at an elevation of around 11,150ft/3400m, was to be the highest one on the main tour, it brought us many species we were not to see again, like Buff-breasted and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, Rufous Antpitta, and the strange Sword-billed Hummingbird. A real surprise there was to be able to see a daytime White-throated Screech-owl too. Our next stop was the Tandayapa Valley, at lower altitude in the subtropics, where we saw 14 species of hummingbirds in ten minutes at Tandayapa Bird Lodge feeders, including the ever-popular Booted Racket-tail, and local specialties like Violet-tailed Sylph, Western Emerald, and Purple-bibbed Whitetip. Also in the same valley, we found Grass-green Tanager, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Toucan Barbet, and the rare Tanager Finch. This tour dips into different altitudes each day, in order to gain different species of birds that are peculiar to the subtle changes in elevation. And so, after our day in the cloudforest, we dropped into the humid lowlands of Rio Silanche, where a different suite of birds awaited, and highlights included Hook-billed Kite, Laughing Falcon, White-tailed and Black-throated Trogons, Broad-billed Motmot, Gray-and-gold and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Guayaquil Woodpecker, and the rarely seen Black-tipped Cotinga. Our next site, Milpe, was in the foothills of the Andes, a little higher than we’d been at Silanche, but lower than the other sites visited before, and therefore, once again, offered plenty of new birds. Highlights there, were Collared (Pale-mandibled) Araçari, Choco Toucan, Rufous Motmot, Rufous-throated Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, White-whiskered Puffbird, Lanceolated Monklet, and Choco Trogon. The next day saw us a little higher up in much wetter forest at Mashpi, while this site offered us some species we’d previously seen, it also brought us some local species very hard to find elsewhere in the region, like Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Indigo Flowerpiercer, and Glistening-green Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain, and Moss-backed Tanagers. The hummingbird feeders at this site were also superb, as always, attracting Velvet-purple Coronet and Empress Brilliant, not only localized species, but incredibly beautiful too. For our last major stop on the main tour we returned to the cloudforest, and the very special private reserve Refugio Paz de Aves, where unique forest feeding stations allowed us to see Dark-backed Wood-Quail, and Yellow-breasted and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas. We also saw the dawn time displays of the Andean Cock-of-the-rock there too. On our return journey to Quito we made a short stop in some dry open country in Calacali, where we managed to add a handful of new birds to end the main tour, which included the stunning Black-tailed Trainbearer, colorful Golden-rumped Euphonia, and the scarce and very local White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant.