ABA Ecuador 2021 – Southern Ecuador Photo Tour Extension

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

This extension focuses on getting photos of some of the birds that make the southern part of the country special. We’ll photograph the amazing Jocotoco Antpitta in the Tapichalaca Reserve, which also offers chances at other antpittas like Chestnut-naped and Undulated. Hummingbirds like Amethyst and Flame-throated Sunangels will be targets for multiflash photography. The dry forest of Jorupe offers up photo subjects like White-edged Oriole, Whooping Motmot, White-tailed Jay, Black-capped Sparrow, and even Guayaquil Squirrel, a surprisingly good-looking animal. Not far from Jorupe are higher mountains with some very localized hummingbirds like Rainbow Starfrontlet and Purple-throated Sunangel, which we’ll try to shoot in flight with our setups. Buenaventura is loaded with hundreds hummingbirds at its two sets of feeders, including Violet-bellied Hummingbird, White-necked Jacobin, Crowned Woodnymph (the unique emerald-bellied form), Green Thorntail, Andean Emerald, as well as Bananaquit and Green and Purple Honeycreepers.

This is a Photo Tour. The goal of the tour is to get great photos of certain species, and the size of the trip list is not a priority. If you are a birder more than you are a photographer, then you may prefer a Birding Tour or Birding with a Camera® Tour.


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: Quito to Copalinga Lodge. The morning after the farewell dinner for the ABA Ecuador Birding Bash, we shall take a morning flight to the southern city of Loja, before driving on to Copalinga Lodge, where we spend two nights. Copalinga is now run by Jocotoco Foundation, a very successful conservation NGO in the region. In the afternoon, we shall start shooting around the lodge grounds, where hummingbirds and tanagers come to the feeders, and where a forest feeding station has been set up for the rare chance to not only see, but photograph the usually very rarely seen Gray Tinamou. This is the only place in the world where there is a feeding station for this species.

Copalinga Lodge offers the only good chance to photograph the rare Gray Tinamou, at a forest feeding station
Copalinga Lodge offers the only good chance to photograph the rare Gray Tinamou, at a forest feeding station (Jose Illanes)

Day 2: Copalinga area. We will have an entire day to photograph birds around this wonderful lodge in the foothills of the Andes, and the many surrounding excellent birding areas. The lodge is close to Podocarpus National Park, and is also close to the Old Loja Zamora Road, all of which have superb birds. The exact plan for this day will be based on the latest news at the time on where best to spend our energies photographing, as there are a number of options here. Some of the fascinating birds that regularly come to the feeders on the lodge property include Green Hermit, Sparkling Violetear, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Glittering-throated Emerald, and Fork-tailed Woodnymph. A short distance away from the feeders, there are blooms of verbena flowers that also can attract hummingbirds, like Wire-crested Thorntail and Violet-headed Hummingbird.

The lodge at Jorupe is named after the striking White-tailed Jay
The lodge at Jorupe is named after the striking White-tailed Jay (Iain Campbell)

Day 3: Copalinga to Tapichalaca. After a final session of photography around Copalinga, we shall pack up and head higher up. Tapichalaca Reserve is also run by the Jocotoco Foundation, but it is world away from Copalinga, located in the much cooler temperate forest of the Andes at 8500 ft. 2600 m. The reserve was set up to protect the rare Jocotoco Antpitta, which was discovered in the late 20th Century. We’ll spend two nights in the lodge in the reserve. After arrival, we shall focus on their hummingbird feeders, where species like Flame-throated and Amethyst-throated Sunangels come in regularly with others like Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, White-bellied Woodstar, and Long-tailed Sylph.

Tapichalaca is the only place in the world where you can photograph Jocotoco Antpitta, at a purpose-built forest feeding station
Tapichalaca is the only place in the world where you can photograph Jocotoco Antpitta, at a purpose-built forest feeding station (Nick Athanas)

Day 4: Tapichalaca area. Tapichalaca is the only place in the world where you have a realistic, and even good, chance to see the rare and striking Jocotoco Antpitta. Thanks to a now well-established feeding station, chances are high of seeing this species and getting great photos. Reaching the site for this antpitta requires walking along a well-made mountain trail for about 45 minutes but the birds are confiding and come in super-close, meaning that you will probably not want to lug your 500-600mm lenses up the mountain for it. Not far away there is also a feeder for White-throated Quail-Dove. Before we start this walk, we will stop in behind the lodge at a different feeding site, where Chestnut-naped Antpittas regularly attend and pose for photos too. In the afternoon, we may spend more time with the hummingbirds, or else try our hand at shooting tanagers, warblers, fruiteaters, and the like from the lodge clearing or along the road.

The gorgeous Purple-throated Sunangel occurs at the same feeders as the Rainbow Starfrontlet
The gorgeous Purple-throated Sunangel occurs at the same feeders as the Rainbow Starfrontlet (Jose Illanes)

Day 5: Tapichalaca to Jorupe via Utuana. We will depart Tapichalaca on the high eastern slopes of the Andes and move over to the western side of the mountains, to the much lower altitude site of Jorupe, close to the border with Peru. On the journey there, we will make a prolonged stop at Utuana, another Jocotoco reserve, which has hummingbird feeders that attract two particularly spectacular and localized species, Purple-throated Sunangel and Rainbow Starfrontlet. We’ll try to get some multiflash shots of them, along with Collared Inca and Speckled Hummingbird. Other birds in the forest here that we might manage to get some shots of include Silvery Tanager, Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, and Chapman’s Antshrike. In the afternoon, we’ll continue our journey down and west to Urraca Lodge in the wonderful Jorupe Reserve, yet another Jocotoco property, where we spend two nights.

Day 6: Jorupe. Jorupe reserve protects a swathe of beautiful dry deciduous forest pocked with impressive, giant Ceiba trees. We’ll start the morning at the lodge feeders, where Whooping Motmot, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, Yellow-tailed and White-edged Orioles, White-tailed Jay, Red-masked Parakeet, and White-tipped Dove are all usually regulars. Pale-browed Tinamou is also an occasional visitor. Once we finish with the feeders, we’ll head out into the forest looking for more difficult targets like Watkins’s Antpitta, Black-capped Sparrow, and Ecuadorian Piculet.

The lodge at Jorupe is named after the striking White-tailed Jay
The lodge at Jorupe is named after the striking White-tailed Jay (Iain Campbell)

Day 7: Jorupe to Buenaventura via El Empalme. After some final shooting at Jorupe’s addictive feeders, we’ll depart for Buenaventura to the north. We’ll leave the dry forest behind and enter humid evergreen forest within the western foothills of the Andes. Two nights will be spent at Umbrellabird Lodge within the Buenaventura reserve, where Swarms of hummers buzz around these feeders. We’ll get set up for some multiflash photography, and Crowned (Emerald-bellied) Woodnymph, Violet-belled Hummingbird, and Green Thorntail are just a few of the hummingbird species that we’ll try to shoot. Green Honeycreeper and Bananaquit can also count themselves as lodge regulars.

Red-masked Parakeet is one of may restricted range species we will try and photograph on this extension that cannot be  done on the main tour
Red-masked Parakeet is one of may restricted range species we will try and photograph on this extension that cannot be done on the main tour (Jose Illanes)

Day 8: Buenaventura. The reserve was created specially to protect the largest known population of the endemic El Oro Parakeet. If the birds are nesting, we may be able to get some shots of them in and around their next boxes. Not far from their nesting area, there is a set of hummer feeders that attract Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Velvet-purple Coronet. We’ll spend more time with the hummingbirds around the lodge around the lodge as well, where birds like Rufous-headed Chachalaca and Collared (Pale-mandibled) Aracari sometimes come in along with mammals like South American Coati. Late in the afternoon, we’ll take a short but steep trail down into a ravine where the spectacular Long-wattled Umbrellabird can often be seen displaying.

Buenaventura offers the best chance in the World to photograph the rare Long-wattled Umbrellabird
Buenaventura offers the best chance in the World to photograph the rare Long-wattled Umbrellabird (Jose Illanes)

Day 9: Buenaventura to Quito. On this day we will pack up and leave the Buenaventura reserve behind, driving north to the business capital of Ecuador, Guayaquil, where we will take a short flight back to the Quito for a final night.

Day 10: Departure. The tour ends this morning with transfers to the international airport.

Two species of colorful oriole  occur around Urraca Lodge in Jorupe
Two species of colorful oriole occur around Urraca Lodge in Jorupe (Sam Woods)

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

____________________

TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: This tour focuses on photography, and will be run at a moderate pace. Breakfast times are typically around 5:30-6:00am, with an earlier breakfast required on at least one of the days. Some days will have several hours of downtime to relax or download photos – this is usually around lunchtime, when the light may be harsh, or in the afternoon if rain comes. On the tour, much of the time will be spent on birds coming to feeders (with the option for some multi-flash hummingbird photography; limited multiflash gear will be provided for shared use among the group on a rotation system). The rest of the time will be spent targeting things along roads or trails. There are several long drives on this tour, of five-six hours in length (i.e. Tapichalaca-Jorupe, Jorupe-Buenaventura, and Buenaventura-Guayaquil).

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Much of the tour will be spent near feeders, which are accessed by only a short walk. Some of the feeding areas are along trails that can be a bit wet and slippery. Most of these trails are fairly short, but there are some longer ones. Reaching the Jocotoco Antpitta site involves walking about 2 miles roundtrip on a moderately inclined trail, and reaching the sites for Gray Tinamou and Long-wattled Umbrellabird are about 1 mile roundtrip on moderately inclined trails.

The highest altitude location of the trip is in the capital, Quito, which is located at 9190ft. (2800m), where two nights are spent. The rest of the trip covers altitudes from sea level to 8500 ft. (2600 m) at Casa Simpson in Tapichalaca, where a further two nights are spent.

CLIMATE: Highly variable. It can be rather hot at Jorupe (usually 68°-90°F/20°-32°C) 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). Some rain can be expected, particularly at Tapichacala, which is the highest elevation site away from Quito. Therefore, clothing for hot and humid weather, and cool weather is required, including rain gear and hat and gloves (the latter will be needed for the high elevation sites on the Birding Bash main section anyway).

ACCOMMODATION: Good, all have private bathrooms, hot water showers, full-time electricity, and wi-fi. The wi-fi varies between sites, with the best being in Quito, Jorupe, and Copalinga. At Tapichalaca in particular, it can be unreliable for days on end!

PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: All of the places stayed outside of Quito come with feeders, so plenty of time will be spent on birds coming to feeders (with the option for some multi-flash hummingbird photography at some sites). The rest of the time will be spent targeting things along roads or short tracks/trails.

GEAR: A good 300mm lens (or high end zoom that covers 300mm) and a full-frame camera are ideal for hummingbirds and for the Jocotoco Antpitta. For most other birds, a longer lens such as a 500mm with a 1.4x or 600mm is the best option, though a 300mm with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters also usually does a great job. A small lens can be nice for scenery shots. A flash (where permitted) is also useful since light can be quite low early in the morning and inside forest. If you are into macro photography, bring a macro lens with flash, especially for the extension. A tripod and a shutter release are highly recommended for multiflash hummingbird photography. Flash is not permitted at feeding sites inside the forest for antpittas (i.e. Tapichalaca) and tinamous (i.e. Copalinga). One set of multiflash gear will be provided for the group, to use on rotation.

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 for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, EU, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and many others. 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 day 9; meals from breakfast on day 1 to breakfast on day 10 (if you have a very early departing flight, you may miss the included breakfast on the last day); safe drinking water and/or juice during meals; safe drinking water as well as tea and coffee are available in Copalinga Lodge at any time, at Casa Simpson in Tapichalaca, at Urraca Lodge in Jorupe, and Umbrellabird Lodge in Buenaventura; a professional photo guide with camera and audio playback gear from the morning of day 1 to the afternoon of 9; one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 9 in a suitable vehicle with a local driver; domestic flights between Quito and Loja at the start and Guayaquil and Quito at the end; entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to help keep track of what you have photographed (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: ALL tips are not included (optional tips may be given to the Tropical Birding tour leader, the one local driver used throughout, lodge/hotel staff, and porters used in Quito); 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; excess luggage charges on either of the domestic flights (luggage allowances are the usual standard, worldwide limits of one carry-on bag of up to 44lbs (20kg) per person); other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.