Ecuador: The Andes Introtour
Make your first trip to the birdiest place on earth.
The Neotropics are widely regarded as being packed with thousands of confusing birds in difficult birding conditions. This can be true, but the rewards of birding here are unsurpassed. After just a week of seeing numerous new families and having the intricacies of Neotropical birding explained, you will find it is highly addictive. It just does not get better than this. For those of you who would feel empty if you left Ecuador without a condor, we have added a short High Andes extension.
Note: Many participants combine this tour with other Ecuador tours (e.g. the High Andes Extension), a Galapagos cruise, or Amazon lodge package. Please ask for details.
Day 1: Arrival in Quito. You will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel.
Day 2: Yanacocha. Yanacocha is just great. The reserve is located on the high slopes of Pichincha Volcano where we are surrounded by pristine temperate forest and unforgettable scenery. Although it is at 11,100 ft. (3400 m.), the trail is almost completely flat and very wide, allowing excellent visibility and easy birding. For your first day this is a superb location because although overall species numbers are not large, many of the families are well represented. After lunch we’ll slowly drive down the old Nono-Mindo road. The lower sections run alongside a rushing mountain stream where we can look for White-capped Dipper, and Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant. The climax of the day will be our search for one of the most glorious of all South American birds, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. With at least one lek currently active in the pristine forest of the lower valley we stand a very good chance of witnessing the spectacular males in full display. In the evening we arrive at the superb Tandayapa Bird Lodge, which will be our base for the rest of the trip, so you will only need to unpack once.
Day 3: Lower Tandayapa Valley. Although we will have seen quite a few in Yanacocha, this is THE place for hummers. The lodge feeders are the best in the world, with up to 20 species in an hour, and often 10 species at the feeders at once. The great thing about the hummers is the action is non-stop all day long. This means we can spend the early morning hours birding the forest trails and platforms and save the hummers for the afternoon, comforted by the knowledge that all the species will still be present.
Day 4: Milpe. We’ll spend a whole day in the field concentrating on the lower elevation foothill forest at around 3600 ft. (1100 m.). This area has become the focus for Tropical Birding conservation; we raised a substantial portion of the funds needed to purchase the Milpe Bird Sanctuary. After a morning here you will see why we are so excited about this area! We could see Rufous-throated and Ochre-breasted Tanagers, and Choco Trogon. This is our first chance to encounter several of the larger and more spectacular lowland toucans, and we have a good chance to find mixed flocks of tanagers, foliage-gleaners, flycatchers, barbets, woodcreepers, and more. The attractive Club-winged Manakin has a lek in the sanctuary, and we should be able to witness its bizarre display. We’ll have lunch in a local restaurant in Los Bancos surrounded by fruit laden bird tables and hummingbird feeders. During the afternoon we will scan the tops of the trees along the Milpe Road for flashy toucans and parrots, as Choco Toucan, Collared Aracari, and Bronze-winged Parrot are all regular in the area.
Day 5: Upper Tandayapa Valley. The mixed flocks of the upper Tandayapa Valley hold a real feast of avian delights. Up to 12 species of tanager can be present, moving with tyrannulets, fruiteaters, wood-warblers, and some of the prettiest furnariids in the world. We shall be sifting through these flocks for not only the large and spectacular species such as Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and Turquoise Jay, but also for the smaller yet delightful Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, and Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant.
Day 6: Río Silanche. This is the day we spend in lowland tropical rainforest, and we can expect to see loads of birds. You could be inundated with so many new species that your head might start spinning! Luckily, after the previous four days, you will be ready for this onslaught. A whole host of new and spectacular tanagers are possible, and up to four species of dacnis can be seen here in a day. Understory flocks have a bewildering array of antwrens, while larger birds can include several species of trogons, toucans, and maybe even some interesting raptors. No two visits here are the same, and you should expect the unexpected, with rarities a distinct possibility.
Day 7: Paz de Aves. This reserve, located between Tandayapa and Mindo, is now a well established must see site in Northwest Ecuador. A local farmer has learned how to tempt some normally shy species out into the open by offering them juicy worms. Now it is possible to get great views of rarities like Giant and Yellow-breasted Antpittas, and sometimes even a glowing male Orange-breasted Fruiteater. After lunch, we’ll head back to Quito, birding some dry montane scrub along the way, where we might see the rare White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant.
Day 8: Departure. Unless you are continuing on to the extension or another Ecuador tour, the tour ends this morning at the Quito airport.
High Andes Extension (3 days)
Day 1: Antisana reserve. This is one of the best high altitude sites in Ecuador, and it is only a little more than an hour from Ecuador’s capital. On clear days, you can enjoy some of the most dramatic scenery in Ecuador. Birding in the shadow of the huge snow cone of Volcan Antisana we will seek out Ecuador’s national bird, the Andean Condor, as well as Black-faced Ibis, the exquisite Ecuadorian Hillstar, and numerous páramo species such as Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Streak-backed and Many-striped Canastero, Andean Tit-Spinetail, and Black-winged Ground-Dove. A large lake nearby usually has Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Duck, and Silvery Grebe. After lunch, we’ll drive over the Andes and stay at Guango Lodge for the night, with great hummer feeders and a rushing river than often has Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper. (Note: on some tours we may stay at a hot spring resort and visit Guango as a day trip).
Day 2: Guango and Papallacta. We’ll bird around Guango for a few hours, looking for mixed flocks with colorful birds like Lacrimose and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Blue-and-black Tanager, and Black-capped Hemispingus, before driving back up into the high elevation paramo at Papallacta. We’ll check stands of Polylepis woodland for Giant Conebill and Black-backed Bush Tanager, and seek out the beautiful Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, cute White-chinned Thistletail, and scarce Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant at the highest elevations. A few hummers even eke out a living up here, like Viridian Metaltail and Blue-mantled Thornbill. Late in the afternoon, we’ll return to Quito for a final night.
Day 3: Departure. The extension ends this morning with a transfer to the airport.
CLIMATE: Usually pleasant, but cold at Yanacocha and hot at Silanche. On the extension very cold in Papallacta and Antisana, with a good chance of rain.
DIFFICULTY: Generally easy, with a couple of longer walks and one steep, often muddy trail. Some of the extension will be spent at high elevations above 11,500 ft. (3500 m.)
ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent, all have private bathroom, hot water, and 24h electricity.