Ecuador: Memorial Day Special

May is the low season in Ecuador, partly because it is Spring in the northern hemisphere and so many people  are out enjoying birds in their local patch, but also because there is a perception that it’s “the wrong time to visit”. That’s simply not true, and we’re offering this special tour to try and convince you otherwise! There is some rain, but in reality, late May gets less rainfall on average than the November-February high season, and the birding can be just as good. The cloudforest is packed with swarms of spectacular hummers and tanagers with colors you never dreamed existed, and many of them now come to feeders allowing great views and even better photos. That’s just the tip of the iceberg; you’ll see scores of great birds including the likes of toucans, cocks-of-the-rock, quetzals, and antpittas, and your guide will also target rarities like Tanager Finch and Scarlet-breasted Dacnis. In a single week (including travel time) we cover elevations from the lower foothills all the way up to the slopes of a dramatic volcano at 11,500 feet, and we stand a decent chance of cracking 300 birds seen. This tour is similar to our very popular Andes Introtour, but designed to link up with optional trips to the Galapagos or the Amazon.

This tour can be combined with an extension to the Galapagos or to an Amazon. Click the EXTENSIONS  box to the left for more 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: 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 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.

The loud Bay Wren is heard much more often than seen! We often get it at Milpe
The loud Bay Wren is heard much more often than seen! We often get it at Milpe (Nick Athanas)

Day 5: 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.

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Day 6: 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 7: Departure. Unless you are continuing on to the extension or another Ecuador tour, the tour ends this morning at the Quito airport.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

CLIMATE: Usually pleasant, but cold at Yanacocha and hot at Silanche.

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.). Access to Tandayapa Bird Lodge is along a moderately included concrete walkway with stairs, and may not be appropriate for people with limited mobility.

ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent.