ABA Ecuador 2021 – Choco “Clean Up” Extension (Birding)

This tour is designed to be taken together with the ABA Ecuador Birding Bash.

This extension will take you back into the endemic-rich Choco bioregion of Northwest Ecuador. While some of this area will have been covered during the Birding Bash, it certainly merits some more time for those who want to see more of the regions fabulous birds. This includes some of South America’s most impressive species, like Glistening-green Tanager, Rufous-crowned Antpitta, and Rose-faced Parrot. As well as revisiting sites covered for a short time on the main tour, like the Tandayapa Valley (which certainly merits more time), several totally new sites will be visited like Mashpi, the best site in for Moss-backed Tanager and Orange-breasted Fruiteater, and Rio Silanche, which offers birds like Scarlet-browed Tanager and Orange-fronted Barbet. The tour also takes in one of the most reliable sites in the country for Oilbird, where these enigmatic nightbirds can be seen resting by day in dark canyons.


Note: If there is enough demand, we may offer additional departures of this trip that visit the same sites in a different order. As the tour is based in just one lodge, the tour leader may adjust the itinerary based on recent sightings, new birding sites, weather, and other factors to improve the tour experience.

Day 1: Calacali and the Upper Tandayapa Valley. After an early breakfast in Quito, we shall drive an hour to Calacali, an area of dry scrubby hillsides within the Interandean Valley. The threatened White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant (a large Andean flycatcher) will be one of our prime targets along with Band-tailed Seedeater, Golden-rumped Euphonia, and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch. Later in the morning, we shall head on up into the cloudforests of the Tandayapa Valley, looking especially for species that may have been missed during the Birding Bash, which may include the rare Tanager Finch. We’ll be based for five nights in Tandayapa Bird Lodge, meaning little unpacking is required for this extension.

The odd Tanager Finch is a key target species in the Upper Tandayapa Valley
The odd Tanager Finch is a key target species in the Upper Tandayapa Valley (Sam Woods)

Day 2: Mashpi and Oilbirds.Today we will drive a long way north of Tandayapa to the Mashpi area. The lush cloudforest is slightly lower and Tandayapa and hosts superb species like Black Solitaire, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Pacific (Buffy) Tuftedcheek, and Uniform Treehunter, all Choco endemics. Feeders here often attract stellar species like Glistening-green Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, Moss-backed Tanager, and Golden-collared Honeycreeper. Toucan Barbet is also regular in this area, as is Scaled Fruiteater and Esmeraldas Antbird. In the afternoon, we shall make a special trip to an area where nocturnal Oilbirds rest during the day from their nighttime excursions for fruit, and we should be able to get cracking views of this odd, monotypic family, at one of the most reliable sites for the species in the country.

Orange-breasted Fruiteater is likely to be seen at Mashpi
Orange-breasted Fruiteater is likely to be seen at Mashpi (Sam Woods)

We'll visit a spot where Oilbirds roost in crevasses
We'll visit a spot where Oilbirds roost in crevasses (Nick Athanas)

Day 3: Rio Silanche. This bird sanctuary in the lower foothills is owned by the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation. We’ll spend much of the day here, searching for Choco endemics like Orange-fronted Barbet, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Gray-and-gold Tanager, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Purple-chested Hummingbird, and others. Other possibilities in the area include Hook-billed Kite, Blue-tailed and White-tailed Trogons, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, Choco Toucan, Guayaquil and Cinnamon Woodpeckers, Barred Puffbird, Dusky Pigeon, Pallid Dove, Choco Tyrannulet, and Tawny-crested Tanager. Depending on the birding at this site, we may also squeeze in a visit to another site such as Milpe on the return journey.

We have a shot at the handsome Gray-and-gold Tanager in Silanche
We have a shot at the handsome Gray-and-gold Tanager in Silanche (Andres Vasquez)

Day 4: Tandayapa Valley. A full day will be spent in and around the Tandayapa Valley, which varies in elevation from around 3610ft. (1100m) at its base to around 7545ft. (2300m) at its peak. The varied altitudes of the valley gives rise to a massive bird list in a small area. There, birds like Grass-green, Golden, Flame-faced, Blue-and-black, Beryl-spangled, Metallic-green, and Blue-winged Mountain- Tanagers all occur, and feeding flocks with some of these in can also contain Streaked Tuftedcheek, Pearled Treerunner, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Capped Conebill, Western (Black-eared) Hemispingus, Dusky Chlorospingus, and Plushcap. Another night will be spent in Tandayapa Bird Lodge, where the feeders will always be available for us to spend more time there on one or more of these days, with species like Violet-tailed Sylph, Brown Inca, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Booted Racket-tail, and Purple-throated Woodstars, which are all usually regulars there.

Beautiful Jay is one of the scarcer endemics in the area
Beautiful Jay is one of the scarcer endemics in the area (Andrew Spencer)

With more time in the Tandayapa area, we have better chances to find birds like Streak-headed Antbird
With more time in the Tandayapa area, we have better chances to find birds like Streak-headed Antbird (Nick Athanas)

Day 5: 23 de Julio. We will leave early to reach the small private reserve of 23 de Julio by dawn. In recent years a small population of the rare Long-wattled Umbrellabird has been found here. While not guaranteed, it is seen here fairly regularly, and unless you also take the Southern Ecuador pre-Bash extension, this will likely be your only chance to see it. The remainder of the day is flexible and may involve another visit to either Milpe or Silanche depending on what everyone still needs.

A visit to 23 de Julio may get us the fabulous Long-wattled Umbrellabird
A visit to 23 de Julio may get us the fabulous Long-wattled Umbrellabird (Nick Athanas)

Day 6: Mashpi Shungo and return to Quito. Today we’ll return to the endemic rich Mashpi region, though this time focusing on the lower elevations at on a small private reserve, Mashpi Shungo. The reserve is more widely known for producing good quality chocolate from the locally grown cacao, but we will be there to attempt to see traditionally one of the toughest Choco endemics of all, the stunning Rufous-crowned Antpitta. A feeding station on site has made this bird more “gettable” than ever in recent years, and we hope this continues to be the case (if we receive news that the bird is not coming, we will make different plans for this day). We’ll then return to Tandayapa to pack up and then head to Quito in the late afternoon, where we spend the final night.

In recent years, this Rufous-crowned Antpitta has been coming to a feeding station in Mashpi
In recent years, this Rufous-crowned Antpitta has been coming to a feeding station in Mashpi (Andres Vasquez)

Day 7: Departure from Quito. The tour ends this morning with transfers to the airport.

Choco (Blue-tailed) Trogon is found at several sites on the extension
Choco (Blue-tailed) Trogon is found at several sites on the extension (Scott Olmstead)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate to intense. This extension attempts to see as many birds as possible, concentrating especially on the Chocó endemics of this region. Breakfasts will typically be between 4:30 and 5:30 am. Most days will be full days in the field. Several lunches will be packed lunches in the field. Drive times to the various sites range from about 20 minutes to 2 hours each way.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. There will be a mix of road and trail birding. Most of the trails are fairly easy, but some have some steep and sometimes slippery sections (a walking stick is recommended). A lot of walking is required. You can expect to walk at least 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) per day. Quito is the highest elevation visited on the tour.

CLIMATE: Variable. In the middle elevations at Tandayapa, Mashpi, and Milpe, the climate is very pleasant (around 55°-78°F, 14°-26°C). At Rio Silanche and Mashpi Shungo, it is warm to hot (around 75°-86°F, 24°-30°C) and quite humid. This is the dry season for this western side of the Andes, but some rain should always be expected in this generally wet region. If rain is encountered, it usually falls in short, heavy bursts in the afternoons or evening.

ACCOMMODATION: Accommodation is very good throughout. The rooms in Quito and Tandayapa have private, en-suite bathrooms, full time hot water, and 24-hour electricity. Wi-fi is available in both Quito (free) and Tandayapa (for a small fee).

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but casual photographers will have great opportunities to photograph birds at the feeders at both Tandayapa Bird Lodge and the Mashpi reserve, and a few other places; elsewhere the bird photography is usually difficult.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required in Ecuador for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and all European countries. Visas are currently only required of a few nationalities, mostly in Asia, Africa, and the middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; if you are unsure, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 6; meals from breakfast on day 1 to breakfast on day 7 (if you have a very early departing flight, you may miss the included breakfast on the last day); safe drinking water and/or juice, and tea or coffee during meals; safe drinking water between meals is available at a designated spot at Tandayapa Bird Lodge or will be provided by the tour leader for any day trips from there; tea and coffee are available at Tandayapa Bird Lodge at any time; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 1 to the afternoon of day 6; one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they are on the same flight); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 1 to day 6 with a local driver; entrance fees to birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips (it is customary to tip guides, drivers, lodge staff (tip box), and luggage carriers in the Quito hotel); flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, internet (fee applies in Tandayapa), and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.