Trip report: Southern Ecuador Custom Target Tour (Dec. 2017) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods. This was a custom tour.

Southern Ecuador may arguably be one of the most underrated of all South American tours. In spite of the region holding not only plentiful birds, with high diversity, and a long, long list of regional specialties (some of which are easiest in this area), it remains less popular than say northern Ecuador. Yet it boasts a similarly lengthy list of specialties, and also offers excellent lodging and food throughout. This is in no small part due to a network of reserves and lodges set up by the Ecuadorian NGO, the Jocotoco Foundation, which have made finding some of the star species both easier, and provided very comfortable places in which to find them. We visited no fewer than 5 of their reserves (Yungilla, Buenaventura, Jorupe, Utuana, and Tapichalaca), and stayed in 3 lodges that they have built to do so. These sites were combined with Manglares Churute Ecological Reserve, El Cajas National Park, and Acanama near Saraguro.

The tour was designed for a well-traveled birder, who’d previously covered some of northern Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. And yet, even on a relatively short tour of Southern Ecuador like this, well over 100 lifebirds were possible (he finished with around 120 new species). The focus was therefore, (being a custom-built tour to specific needs), was to target the birds he’d missed on previous trips, or had never been in range for, or are largely only possible in this region, and not a big bird list (thus there are some strange birds not recorded, which we would normally get on our longer, set departure tour, as they were simply not looked for). To that end, we were highly successful; we worked hard for the birds, and ended up with a large list of some of South America’s most prized or rare birds, including Crescent-faced, Watkins’s, and Jocotoco Antpittas (left), Long-wattled Umbrellabird, the incredible Rainbow Starfrontlet, Violet-throated Metaltail (an Ecuadorian endemic confined to the south), the local form of White-vented (Ecuadorian) Plumeleteer (that likely will be split and then become another Ecuadorian endemic), the critically endangered Pale-headed Brushfinch (another country endemic), the secretive Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, the handsome Ecuadorian Trogon, El Oro Parakeet (an endangered Ecuador endemic virtually confined to one reserve), the rare and local Red-faced Parrot (that gave exceptional views), Ochraceous Attila (a near endemic to Ecuador), the very local Ecuadorian (El Oro) Tapaculo that gave rare, excellent looks, Elegant Crescentchest, from an endemic South American family, “Pacific” Royal Flycatcher in mangroves on the first day, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant at arguably the most reliable site for this rare species on Earth, El Cajas National Park, the very rare Chestnut-bellied Cotinga, a species first described in 1994, Club-winged Manakin, a species endemic to the Choco region to the north, but just reaching into range on this tour, the often difficult Masked Mountain-Tanager in the elfin forests overlooking Cerro Acanama, a fine Giant Conebill, and the very local Tumbes Tyrant, only discovered in Ecuador as recently as 2008, where a very small population exists. 90 specialties of the region were recorded on this tour!

With such a stellar cast of birds, the choices for birds of the tour were many, but were decided as follows:

TOP FIVE BIRDS OF THE TOUR

1 CRESCENT-FACED ANTPITTA – Acanama
2 JOCOTOCO ANTPITTA – Tapichalaca
3 ECUADORIAN HILLSTAR – El Cajas National Park
4 WHITE-TIPPED SICKLEBILL – Buenaventura
5 TUMBES TYRANT – Zapotillo

Full 2017 Southern Ecuador Custom tour report in PDF format (file size 8.4MB)