ABA Ecuador 2021 – Southern Ecuador Extension (Birding and Birding with a Camera®)

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

This tour takes in the best of Southern Ecuador. We’ll fly down to the coastal plains where Horned Screamers and other waterbirds may be found in wetland areas. Moving up into the foothills of the Andes in Buenaventura, our quarries become even more enticing; Long-wattled Umbrellabird and the endemic El Oro Parakeet are both found here, along with a swathe of hummingbirds, including White-vented Plumeleteer and Violet-bellied Hummingird. We will then move close to the border with Peru, where completely different dry forest awaits, peppered with giant kapok trees. It is home to Ecuadorian Trogon, White-tailed Jay, White-edged Oriole, and many other regional endemics. Just up the road from there is damp cloudforest at Utuana, where spectacular species like Rainbow Starfontlet and Purple-throated Sunangel visit feeders. Continuing over to the east side of the Andes, the birds will change dramatically; at the Jocotoco Foundation’s famous Tapichalaca reserve we will go after one of the best antpittas in the world, the Jocotoco Antpitta, the namesake of the foundation. While there, we can also admire hummingbirds at their feeders like Flame-throated and Amethyst-throated Sunangel, and watch for mixed flocks with Golden-crowned Tanagers or Bearded Guans in attendance. Moving north, we will finish up within Cajas National Park, home to the electric blue Tit-like Dacnis, endemic Violet-throated Metaltail, as well as some of the most dramatic scenery on this varied extension. The pre-Bash itinerary includes a “rest day” in Quito in order to properly link up with the Birding Bash, which is why it is one day longer.

We are offering this itinerary as a Birding Tour and a Birding with a Camera® (BwC) tour. The itineraries visit all the same sites, but they will be guided differently, with the BwC tour spending more time on photography. Click here to see a comparison between our different types of tours.


Note: If there is enough demand, we may offer additional departures of this trip that visit the same sites in a different order.

*Day 1: Arrival in Quito. (*Pre-tour extension only – for the post-tour trip, you will already be in Quito and this day is not necessary). After your arrival in Ecuador’s capital, you’ll be transferred to a hotel for the night.

Day 2: Quito to Guayaquil; Manglares Churute to Buenaventura. We’ll depart Quito on an early 30 minute flight to the southern city of Guayaquil. On landing there, we shall immediatrly depart for Manglares Churute, just an hour southeast of the city. This area sports an interesting mix of lagoons, mangroves, and semihumid forest, unlike anything else we see on this tour or the main event. It’s arguably the best place in Ecuador to find the threatened “Pacific” Royal-Flycatcher along with a number of other scarce species including Jet Antbird, Orange-crowned Euphonia, and Common (Mangrove) Black-Hawk. We’ll also have our first chance at some of the more common Tumbesian endemics like Superciliated Wren and Ecuadorian Trogon, and with luck should find some Horned Screamers in nearby rice paddies.

Pacific Parrotlet is a cute and common species in the south
Pacific Parrotlet is a cute and common species in the south (Sam Woods)

Later in the morning, we drive south for much of the rest of the day (with a lunch stop and some other birding stops to break the journey. Depending on water levels, we may stop at some roadside pools for waterbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. In the afternoon we will arrive in Buenaventura reserve, where we spend two nights in Umbrellabird Lodge, inside the reserve. We begin our birding at the terrific hummingbird feeders at the lodge (there are others higher up in the reserve too), which attract literally swarms of these neat little birds. Emerald-bellied (Crowned) Woodnymph, Violet-belled Hummingbird, and Green Thorntail are just a few of the species that visit. Fruit feeders also attract a variety of interesting birds like Rufous-headed Chachalaca and Collared (Pale-mandibled) Aracari, and sometimes coatis too. At dinner time, we shall listen for the resident pair of Black-and-white Owls, which sometimes come in to feed on the insects around the lodge lights.

The Long-wattled Umbrellabird is one of the stars of the south
The Long-wattled Umbrellabird is one of the stars of the south (Jose Illanes)

Day 3: Buenaventura. One of the main avian drawcards of this reserve in the foothills of the Andes, is the amazing Long-wattled Umbrellabird. A small lek for the species exists within Buenaventura, and remains the most reliable place to see it in the World. However, the reserve was created by the Jocotoco Foundation (a very active Ecuadorian NGO currently with a network of 11 important reserves in Ecuador) especially to protect the largest known population of the endemic El Oro Parakeet occurs within the sanctuary. If the birds are nesting, reserve wardens may be able to take us to active nest sites. Even out of the nesting season, we stand a reasonable chance of finding a small flock during our time here, as they often frequent the areas around purpose-built nest boxes, which have been very successful. There are plenty of other birds as well, and activity along the main track through the reserve can often be superb. We will search the beautiful mist-enshrouded forests for local species such as Buffy (Pacific) Tuftedcheek, Ochraceous Attila, Song Wren, Esmeraldas Antbird, Club-winged Manakin, Rufous-throated Tanager, Gray-breasted Flycatcher, and Brown-billed Scythebill among hordes of more common birds like Bay-headed Tanager and Blue-necked Tanagers, Bay Wren, Choco Toucan, Spotted Woodcreeper, Ornate Flycatcher, Ecuadorian Thrush, and Scarlet-rumped Cacique.

Gray-backed Hawk rests up at Buenaventura
Gray-backed Hawk rests up at Buenaventura (Sam Woods)

Day 4: Buenaventura to Jorupe via El Empalme. After another morning in Buenaventura checking for any birds we are missing, we drive south to the reserve of Jorupe. This drive will take most of the rest of the day, but we’ll stop late in the afternoon at some impressive deciduous forest near El Empalme. Among the giant Ceiba trees, we may see White-headed Brush-Finch, Baird’s Flycatcher, or Tumbes Sparrow, among others. We’ll arrive at Urraca Lodge around dusk, in the heart of the dry forest of the Jocotoco Foundation’s Jorupe Reserve, for a two-night stay.

The Pale-mandibled Aracari is found within Buenaventura Reserve
The Pale-mandibled Aracari is found within Buenaventura Reserve (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

Day 5: Jorupe area. It will be nice to not have to drive anywhere this morning as the action starts right around the lodge. With luck, some of the tougher species could visit the feeders early in the morning, such as Pale-browed Tinamou, along with Whooping Motmot, White-tailed Jay, and Red-masked Parakeet. Later on, we’ll bird the dirt roads and well-built trails targeting shy Tumbesian endemics such as Blackish-headed Spinetail, Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Slaty Becard, and Watkins’s Antpitta. Other more common species we might encounter include White-edged and Yellow-tailed Orioles, Collared Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Ecuadorian Piculet, Speckle-breasted Wren, and Black-capped Sparrow. Owling can often be good, with West Peruvian Screech-Owl and Spectacled Owl often around the lodge at night, and the very rare Buff-fronted Owl has been seen here on a few occasions.

The lodge at Jorupe is named after this species, White-tailed Jay
The lodge at Jorupe is named after this species, White-tailed Jay (Sam Woods)

Day 6: Utuana to Tapichalaca. Farther from Jorupe, the road takes us up into the mountains again, and the cooler weather will be welcome. Forest patches hold yet more Tumbesian endemics like Bay-crowned Brush-Finch, Chapman’s Antshrike, Loja Hummingbird, and Black-cowled Saltator. We continue on up the windy road to the Utuana reserve, where we look for scarce species like Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner, Piura (Black-eared) Hemispingus, and Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant. The unbelievably cute Black-crested Tit-Tyrant is likely to be a highlight, and the hummer feeders here attract Purple-throated Sunangel and Rainbow Starfrontlet. In the afternoon, we will continue our journey east to Tapichalaca Reserve, home of the fabled Jocotoco Antpitta and the first of the Jocotoco Foundation’s reserves to be established after the landmark discovery of this rare species. We’ll break the trip up with various stops, where we may see montane species like Golden-crowned Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, among others. We’ll spend two nights at the lodge in Tapichalaca.

The gorgeous Purple-throated Sunangel is a regular feeder bird at Utuana
The gorgeous Purple-throated Sunangel is a regular feeder bird at Utuana (Jose Illanes)

Day 7: Tapichalaca area. While the Jocotoco Antpitta will be our main target today, we could see plenty of other good birds along the trails, such as Chestnut-naped and Slate-crowned Antpittas, Chusquea Tapaculo, Golden-plumed Parakeet, Barred Fruiteater, Black-capped Hemispingus, Orange-banded Flycatcher, White-throated Quail-Dove, and various mountain-tanagers. The walk up to the Jocotoco feeding area is a narrow forest trail that has some short steep sections, and is often slippery and muddy. Although the walk is not long we will take our time getting up there as there are many birding possibilities en-route. However, we will time our arrival at the antpitta feeding area so that we get there for their regular feeding time. We’ll return to the lodge for lunch, and there will be time to observe the varied hummingbirds visiting the feeders, including Amethyst-throated and Flame-throated (Little) Sunangels, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Collared Inca, and Long-tailed Sylph. In the afternoon, depending on the weather, we may bird along the road below the lodge towards the town of Valladolid where some lower elevation species can be found, or else spend more time around the lodge.

Tapichalaca is the only reliable place in the world to see the Jocotoco Antpitta, which was discovered in the late 20th Century
Tapichalaca is the only reliable place in the world to see the Jocotoco Antpitta, which was discovered in the late 20th Century (Jose Illanes)

Day 8: Tapichalaca to Saraguro. We’ll spend our last morning at Tapichalaca targeting anything we still need, such as Red-hooded Tanager, Lacrimose, Scarlet-bellied, and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Orange-banded Flycatcher, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Bearded Guan, and Golden-plumed Parakeet. We’ll then drive north several hours and spend one night in the town of Saraguro, where local people still wear traditional, all-black clothing, including a distinctive style hat and short pants that are both unique to this town.

Amethyst-throated Sunangel visits the feeders at Tapichalaca
Amethyst-throated Sunangel visits the feeders at Tapichalaca (Jose Illanes)

Day 9: Saraguro (Cerro Acanama) to Cuenca. We’ll spend the morning in treeline forest in the mountains above Saraguro, making a special effort to see the incredible Crescent-faced Antpitta. The antpitta lurks in dense patches of bamboo at the timberline, and with patience and luck we may be able to call one in. Other scarce species, like Black-headed Hemispingus, Flammulated Treehunter, Bearded Guan, Masked Mountain-Tanager, Glowing Puffleg, and Agile Tit-Tyrant also occur here. The very rare Chestnut-bellied Cotinga is also possible, though much luck is required. Later in the day, we will travel north to the colonial city of Cuenca, and stay for one night in a hotel with its own private hot baths, fed by natural, underground volcanic springs.

Masked Mountain-Tanager is a scarce bird found near Saraguro
Masked Mountain-Tanager is a scarce bird found near Saraguro (Andres Vasquez)

Day 10: Cajas National Park to Quito. A short drive from Cuenca brings us to this beautiful park, which protects temperate forest and scrub, windswept páramo, patches of Polylepis woodland, and pristine highland lakes. We’ll start our birding near one of these lakes where we could find Ecuadorian (Virginia) Rail, Andean Gull, Andean (Ruddy) Duck, Andean Teal, and Yellow-billed Pintail, while the surrounding forest has a variety of colorful tanagers and hummers. We’ll then stop to look for the endemic Violet-throated Metaltail and local Mouse-colored Thistletail in roadside scrub, eventually reaching the grassy paramo, where we may pick up Tawny Antpitta, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Many-striped Canastero, Stout-billed Cinclodes, and others. The gnarly Polylepis is loaded with pretty Tit-like Dacnises, and there’s a chance to find a Giant Conebill too. In the afternoon, we fly back to Quito from either Guayaquil or Cuenca depending on schedules, where we spend the night.

Ecuadorian Hillstar lives at scenically spectacular high elevations in the Andes
Ecuadorian Hillstar lives at scenically spectacular high elevations in the Andes (Sam Woods)

Day 11: Departure or begin Birding Bash. For the pre-tour extension, this is day 1 of the Bash, and you have the morning free to relax or go sightseeing before the 6:00pm welcome dinner. For the post-tour extension, this is the departure day, and you will be transferred to the airport (no birding is planned).

Chuquiragua flowers in El Caja NP, the food plant of the Ecuadorian Hillstar
Chuquiragua flowers in El Caja NP, the food plant of the Ecuadorian Hillstar (Sam Woods)

Click here to see a map of sites to be visited. This opens in Google Maps in separate browser tab.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate to intense. This tour attempts to see (and photograph for the Birding with a Camera® Tour) as many birds as possible, with special focus on the regional specialties, and it covers a lot of ground. As such, early starts are the norm and breakfast will typically start between 5:00 and 5:30am. On several days there will be some downtime after lunch to relax, but most days will be full days with little downtime. At least five lunches will be packed lunches. Drives of more than four hours are required on four days of the tour; these are broken up with rest stops and birding stops.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. There will be a mixture of trail birding and road birding. Most of the trails and roads are flat or only slightly inclined, but we will bird some steeper and moderately difficult trails on at least three days of the tour (a walking stick helps a lot). You can expect to walk around 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) per day on average. Parts of two days will be spent at high elevations ranging from about 10,000-13,000 ft (3000-4000 m), but the walking is usually fairly easy here, and the highest elevation we spend the night is about 9200 ft (2800 m), in Quito.

CLIMATE: Highly variable. In the lower parts of the West and Southwest (about 4 days of the tour) it can be rather hot (usually 68°-90°F, 20°-32°C), humid and very sunny. Most of the rest of the tour is at middle elevations of the Andes where it is quite pleasant (usually around 50°-75°F, 10°-24°C). In the higher elevations it can be near freezing and sometimes windy. Some rain can be expected, especially in the afternoons and evenings, but it often does not interfere too much with the birding.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent lodges and hotels, all of which have full time electricity, Wi-fi, hot showers, and private bathrooms). In fact, the set of unique and memorable lodges we visit is one of the tour highlights for this region. Due to limited space in some of the lodges, single rooms are occasionally unavailable, but this is unusual unless the tour group is comprised mainly of singles.

ADDITIONAL NOTES FOR THE BIRDING WITH A CAMERA® TOUR: Binoculars are still essential and leaders will still carry a scope and do a daily bird list. As for gear, we recommend a camera and lens that can be easily carried around without a tripod on the trails, such as a 300mm with teleconverter, or a telephoto zoom such as a 100-400. Even a good all-in-one super zoom can get decent shots in many places, but it will struggle in low light conditions.

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 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 10 (note that “day 1” of the post-tour extension is the last day of the to the night of the main Ecuador event); meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 11; safe drinking water and/or juice and tea or coffee during meals; safe drinking water only between meals either from a designated spot at the lodge or provided by the tour leader; tea and coffee are available at Buenaventura, Jorupe, and Tapichalaca any time; domestic flights mentioned in the itinerary; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 10; airport transfers (transfer on day 1 if needed may be via the hotel shuttle bus); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 10 in a suitable vehicle 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, and luggage carriers in the city hotels); international 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, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.