Southern Ecuador: Birding with a Camera (BwC)

This is a Birding with a Camera (BwC) tour, and therefore is a birding tour open to those who wish to take photos too. Tours branded like this are birding tours, which also offer good photo opportunities too. We offer two different tours to Southern Ecuador, this shorter one, with a birding and photography focus, and another birding tour that is longer and covers more sites. If you wish for a comprehensive birding tour of the region then please check out that birding tour (where cameras are also permitted), Southern Ecuador: Highland Rarities and Tumbesian Endemics and . If you are looking for a productive birding tour of shorter length, and which includes the best bird photography sites of the longer trip, then this is for you. This tour will try and get as many species as possible, but also offers good photo opps at places like Buenaventura (for hummingbirds in particular), at Jorupe (for a variety of feeder species, like White-tailed Jay and Whooping Motmot), Utuana (for Rainbow Starfrontlet), Tapichalaca (for Jocotoco Antpitta, and different hummingbirds), Copalinga (for hummingbirds and tanagers of the foothills), and also in the high Andes of El Cajas, where Tit-like Dacnis can not only be found but often photographed too. See the photography section near the bottom of the page for more detail on what bird species may be photographed on this tour.


Southern Ecuador arguably offers some of the most exciting birding in all of Ecuador, one of the World’s Megadiverse countries, with a country, list of more than 1600 species! The argument for this is that the south offers the highest diversity of habitats compared with other parts of Ecuador. This tour will cover the semi-arid, endemic- rich Tumbesian region, where more than 60 birds are only shared with parts of northern Peru, and includes incredibly attractive species like White-tailed Jay and Ecuadorian Trogon; as well as the wetter forested foothills of the Andes on the western side of the Andes, where specialties like the spectacular Long-wattled Umbrellabird and extremely localized El Oro Parakeet occur, in addition to both high altitude forests and foothill forests on the eastern side of the mountains too, which will offer up yet more regional endemics like Jocotoco Antpitta, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, and Gray Tinamou respectively, among many others. This tour has been designed to go after some of Ecuador’s most wanted birds, but also specifically cover the sites in the region like, Jorupe, Copalinga and El Cajas, which often offer up something for your camera lenses as well as your lifelists. While people often think of northern Ecuador as a first in country destination, perhaps as it this is where the capital Quito is located, it should be mentioned that Guayaquil (where this tour starts and ends), is also connected with regular direct flights in and out of the United States, as this is Ecuador’s business capital.

Day 1: Arrival in Guayaquil. After arrival at Ecuador’s largest city, we will transfer you to a business hotel for the night. If you arrive in time, there will be a welcome dinner in the evening. Night in Guayaquil.

Umbrellabird Lodge is named after this species
Umbrellabird Lodge is named after this species (Jose Illanes)

Day 2: Guayaquil to Umbrellabird Lodge. We will leave Guayaquil before first light, stopping at a large area of wetlands, woodlands, and mangroves site much of the morning, before heading south to Buenaventura Reserve in the province of El Oro. Birding the coastal area near Guayaquil first, we will be principally looking for key species like the endangered Horned Screamer, Jet Antbird, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, and Royal Flycatcher. However, the combination of habitats in this area are likely to provide us with a very healthy morning birdlist, with other species like Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Comb Duck, White-cheeked Pintail, Cocoi Heron, Limpkin, Snail Kite, Wattled Jacana, Amazilia Hummingbird, Ecuadorian Ground-Dove, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, Gray-cheeked Parakeet, Pacific Parrotlet, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Red-billed Scythebill, Black-crowned Antshrike, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, Sooty-crowned Flycatcher, Greenish and Pacific Elaenias, Vermilion Flycatcher, Fasciated and Superciliated Wrens, Scrub Blackbird, and Saffron Finch all possible, among others. After much of the morning there, we continue on our southward journey, taking lunch at a restaurant en-route. In the late afternoon, we arrive at Umbrellabird Lodge, within Buenaventura Reserve, and will likely have done some birding along the entrance road on the way before our arrival in this Jocotoco Foundation Reserve (an Ecuadorian NGO).

Green Honeycreepers are regular at the Umbrellabird Lodge feeders
Green Honeycreepers are regular at the Umbrellabird Lodge feeders (Sam Woods)

Day 3: Buenaventura Reserve. This reserve is situated in the foothills on the western slope of the Andes. The reserve is especially rich as it covers elevations ranging from lowland forest at around 500m/1640ft around the lodge, up to foothill forest around 1000m/3280ft. Thus, the birdlife around the lodge differs significantly from that found higher in the reserve. Forests near the lodge are home to the incredible Long-wattled Umbrellabird, one of the premier site targets, as well as Choco Toucan, Club-winged Manakin, and Song Wren. Higher in the reserve the other flagship species for the reserve, the endemic El Oro Parakeet; almost the entire world population occurs inside the reserve, where it is usually readily viewable. Other target species in the reserve include Rufous-throated Tanager, Ochraceous Attila, and The lodge also comes with hummingbird and fruit feeders that attract Green Thorntails, White-necked Jacobins, Violet-bellied Hummingbirds and Bananaquits and Green Honeycreepers. Hummingbird feeders higher in the reserve offer up a totally different set of species that includes Violet-tailed Sylph, Velvet-purple Coronet and ‘Ecuadorian’ White-vented Plumeteleer, a possible split in waiting. This reserve is especially noted for its large concentrations of hummingbirds at the feeders and time will be made to spend some time with our cameras and them, at both of their feeder stations.

Others among the long list of species on the reserve that we might see include Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Gray-backed and Barred Hawks, Plumbeous and Swallow-tailed Kites, Red-masked Parakeet, Bronze-winged Parrot, Esmeraldas Antbird, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Ornate Flycatcher, and Whiskered Wren. At night we can also search for nightbirds, weather permitting, like Common Pauraque and Black-and-white Owl, which both occur near the lodge.

The feeders at Jorupe often host Pale-browed Tinamou
The feeders at Jorupe often host Pale-browed Tinamou (Sam Woods)

Day 4: Buenaventura to Urraca Lodge. After a final morning in Buenaventura Reserve, we will head south to near the border with Peru and the reserve of Jorupe, another Jocotoco Foundation property. However, we will save our birding in that reserve for the following day. Our afternoon birding will center at a site about one hour before there called El Empalme, where species like Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Collared Antshrike, Long-tailed Mockingbird, White-headed Brushfinch, Yellow-tailed and White-edged Orioles, Tumbes Sparrow, Baird’s Flycatcher and Golden Grosbeak can be all found. In the evening, we will roll into our comfortable lodging for the next three nights, Urraca Lodge situated within the Jorupe reserve. At night, we can go out in search of the Peruvian Screech-Owl or Spectacled Owl close to the lodge.

Day 5: Urraca Lodge. This wonderful reserve close to Peru will be very different from what we have been in before at Buenaventura, being lower, in a drier climate, and where large deciduous trees grow, not tropical Andean forests. It is home to a stream of Tumbesian endemic bird species, and so we will have plenty to fill our time. The reserve is known for Ecuadorian Trogon, Watkins’s Antpitta, Blackish-headed Spinetail, Henna-hooded and Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaners, Ecuadorian Piculet, Slaty Becard, Pacific Elaenia, Gray-breasted Flycatcher, Speckle-breasted Wren, and Plumbeous-backed Thrush. Other more widespread species found there include Long-billed Starthroat, Streaked Saltator, and Thick-billed Euphonia. The lodge also has an amazing set of feeders for our cameras to feast on, and where species like Pale-browed Tinamou, White-tailed Jay, Whooping Motmot, and Black-capped Sparrow regularly come in. The lodge is named after the spectacular aforementioned blue-and-white jay.

Piura Hemispingus is a specialty at Utana
Piura Hemispingus is a specialty at Utana (Sam Woods)

Day 6: Utuana. On this day we will explore the forests higher in the mountains, upslope from Urraca Lodge, with a completely different birdlife in these southwester highlands, and where some further specialties can be found, like Rainbow Starfrontlet, Purple-throated Sunangel (both at feeders), Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, Chapman’s Antshrike, Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant, ‘Piura’ Black-eared Hemispingus, and Black-cowled Saltator all occur. At the end of the day after birding both within the reserve of Utuana and sites in between there and Macara, we will return to Urraca Lodge for a final night.

Day 7: Urraca Lodge to Casa Simpson. Once again, we will move from one Jocotoco Foundation reserve to another, and another of a very different nature to any that have gone before on this tour. We will drive across the Sabanilla Pass (c.3000m/9850ft), which will mark our arrival on to the eastern slope of the Andes for the first time on the tour. This will be the highest point of the tour thus far, where the lodge of Casa Simpson is located at 2500m/8200ft elevation within the reserve of Tapichalaca, surrounded by wet temperate forest covered hills. There are sure to be some stops on the journey, and we may find species in mixed flocks once we reach the temperate zone like Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, White-banded Tyrannulet, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Barred Becard, Turquoise Jay, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Grass-green and Golden-crowned Tanagers. We should arrive with enough time to examine the hummingbird feeders at Casa Simpson, where we are likely to find Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Little Sunangel, Long-tailed Sylph, Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, and White-bellied Woodstar. Two nights will be spent in the Casa Simpson, within Tapichalaca Reserve, the home of the fabled Jocotoco Antpitta, our main focus for the following morning…

Jocotoco Antpitta was discovered in 1997 at Tapichalaca
Jocotoco Antpitta was discovered in 1997 at Tapichalaca (Sam Woods)

Day 8: Tapichalaca and Valladolid. Today will be a day of two very different halves and the full diversity of the Andes will be in full display. The morning will be spent chasing Antpittas and other interior forest birds on the Tapichalaca trails, which cut through chilly, bamboo-dominated temperate forest (around 2300-2500m/7545-8200ft; while the afternoon will comprise road birding below the lodge, at humid elevations (c.1100m/3610ft) within the foothills. The morning will be about one bird to start with, the Jocotoco Antpitta, which was discovered to science as recently as 1997, after its first sighing within what is now the reserve, land which was purchased with saving this species in mind. In spite of multiple surveys since, and seemingly vast habitat remaining for the antpitta, it has only been found at a few localities ever, and is listed as endangered. In spite of this clear rarity, we have both a good chance to see it, and photograph it too, due to a reliable feeding station within Tapichalaca. While we walk the trail to and from the antpitta feeding area we shall be in the lookout for other species, like Bearded Guan, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Golden-plumed Parakeet, Slate-crowned Antpitta, Chusquea Tapaculo, Rufous Spinetail, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Orange-banded Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied and Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrants, Barred Fruiteater, Plain-tailed Wren, Russet-crowned Warbler, Spectacled Redstart, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, and Blue-backed Conebill.

In the afternoon, we will drive a short way down the road a d bird within the foothills of the Andes, particularly trying to find the local Maranon Thrush, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Mottle-backed Elaenia, and Green-backed (Yellow-cheeked) Becard, amongst a swathe of other new birds. At night, weather permitting, we can go out looking for White-throated Screech-Owl, which occasionally turns up near the lodge. A final night will be spent at Casa Simpson.

The eastern foothills are a hotspot for tanagers
The eastern foothills are a hotspot for tanagers (Jose Illanes)

Day 9: Tapichalaca to Copalinga. Even though we will have dabbled in the eastern foothills the afternoon before, that forest would have been quite patchy compared with what we will be in and around in the coming days. Copalinga Lodge will be our destination for this afternoon (after some final birding in Tapichalaca), often earmarked as the best lodge of the tour, with its wonderful food, decent feeders, and wonderful grounds. It is also within easy access of Podocarpus National Park (10 minutes-drive), where the following day will focus. The afternoon activity will focus immediately in and around the lodge; sometimes there is an active feeding station for Gray Tinamou, and this will be our priority if it is active during the time of our visit. The feeders can host Green Hermit, Glittering-throated Emerald, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, and Violet-fronted Brilliant, while the blooms in the garden can be good for Violet-headed Hummingbird and Golden-tailed Sapphire; occasionally a Spangled Coquette comes in too. Other species we may see during our first exploration of the lodge area include Magpie, Blue-necked, Golden, White-lined and Paradise Tanagers. At dusk we will check for the local Blackish Nightjar not far from the lodge. Two nights will be spent within the comfortable forest-side cabins at Copalinga Lodge.

Day 10: Podocarpus National Park. While the grounds of Copalinga Lodge itself are worth exploring, (as we will have done the afternoon before), the real joy of staying there is its close proximity to one of Ecuador’s largest protected areas, Podocarpus National Park, which covers 1462 square kilometers, and stretches into two Ecuadorian provinces (Loja and Zamora-Chinchipe, the latter where Copalinga is located). There are two major gateways into the park, and the Rio Bombuscaro one is situated just a short drive from Copalinga. This part of the park consists of verdant tropical rainforest in the foothills of the eastern slope of the Andes. The bird list for this area is simply massive (in the region of 500 species) and so it is hard to predict what we will see, but here are some of the more exciting possibilities: Ash-browed Spinetail, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Black-streaked Puffbird, Lanceolated Monklet, Andean Motmot, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, and Inca (Green) Jay. This part of the Andes is famed for its richness in tanagers in particular, and all of the following could feature on this day: Green-and-gold, Blue-necked, Golden, Paradise, Orange-eared, Golden-eared, Yellow-bellied, Spotted and Bay-headed Tanagers! Another night will be spent at Copalinga, before out departure out of the foothills the next day.

Golden-eared Tanager comes in mixed flocks with other colorful tanagers
Golden-eared Tanager comes in mixed flocks with other colorful tanagers (Jose Illanes)

Day 11: Copalinga to Saraguro. After some final birding in the eastern foothills, we shall drive north towards Cuenca, stopping just south of there in the distinctive town of Saraguro. The peoples of Saraguro are some of the most easily recognizable in Ecuador, as they have retained their traditional black-themed dress, unlike all of the cities and towns around. Our arrival in Saraguro will mark a return to the temperate forests of the east again, but this time even higher than we will have been before, as this time we will be reaching the treeline (on the following day). This day will involve some final birding in the foothills before we depart on the lengthy drive to Saraguro, searching for birds en route like White-tailed shrike-Tyrant and the rare Red-faced Parrot. A single night will be spent in the historical town of Saraguro.

Day 12: Cerro Acanama to Cuenca. Today we will be birding a very special area near to Saraguro. We will be birding mainly along a dirt road and some short steep trails in search of birds near the treeline, I this bamboo dominated stunted elfin forest. Our main target will be the amazing Crescent-faced Antpitta, but the area also holds Mountain Caracara, Glowing Puffleg, Agile Tit-Tyrant, the rare Chestnut-bellied Cotinga, Masked Mountain-Tanager, and Black-headed Hemispingus. After much of the day there and lunch taken in the field, we will drive north to the colonial city of Cuenca for a single night in a hotel with hot baths on site.

Violet-throated Metaltail, a high Andean specialty
Violet-throated Metaltail, a high Andean specialty (Sam Woods)

Day 13: El Cajas to Guayaquil. An action packed morning will be spent in El Cajas National Park, which comprises largely of paramo grasslands above the treeline, interspersed with highlands lakes and ponds. However, there is also some temperate forest in the lower parts, replaced by scrub, grassland and a natural monoculture of polylepis woodland higher up; both parts will offer us plentiful new birds. The lakes and ponds are home to Andean Gulls, Andean Teal, “Ecuadorian” Virginia Rail, Sedge Wren; the polylepis woodland holds some specialties like Tit-like Dacnis, Mouse-colored Thistletail, the rare Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, and Giant Conebill ; while the grasslands and scrubby areas within them host the endemic Violet-throated Metaltail, Andean Lapwing, Carunculated Caracara, Variable Hawk, Many-striped Canastero, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Tawny Antpitta, Stout-billed and Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Plain-capped (Paramo) Ground-Tyrant, and Paramo Pipit. After a morning at the highest altitudes of the tour (between 3170m-4350m/10,400-14,270ft), we will drive sharply downhill and back into the steamy lowlands of Guayaquil in the afternoon, where we will spend a final night. That night, we can run through the best birds of the tour in a region that is simply bursting at the seams with specialty birds and look back at a nice set of photos too, I am sure.

Day 14: Departure from Guayaquil. A hotel transfer will be provided to connect with international flights out of Guayaquil. This Ecuadorian city is connected directly with several major hub cities in the US.

Amazilia Hummingbird is common in the western lowlands
Amazilia Hummingbird is common in the western lowlands (Sam Woods)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate to intense. This tour attempts to see 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, with one extra early breakfast at 4:00am (or a packed breakfast). On several days there will be some downtime after lunch to relax. At least ten lunches will be packed lunches. Drives of four hours or more are required on five days of the tour.

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 four 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. Part of day 13 will be spent at high elevations ranging between 3170m-4350m/10,400-14,270ft, but the walking is fairly easy here, and the highest elevation we spend the night is 2600m/8,500ft at Tapichalaca for two nights.

CLIMATE: Highly variable. In the lower parts of the West and Southwest (Guayaquil, Urraca Lodge – 3 days) it can be rather hot (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). In the higher elevations on day 13 (El Cajas NP), it can be near freezing and windy. Some rain can be expected, especially in the afternoons and evenings, but it usually doesn’t interfere too much with the birding. Rain gear, and both warm and cold weather clothing are required on this tour, which covers such a range of habitats, elevations, and micro climates.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent lodges and hotels throughout, except for the single night in Saraguro where a simple local hotel will be used. In fact, the set of unique and memorable lodges we visit is one of the tour highlights for this region. All have private, en-suite bathrooms, and all full-time hot water. Electricity is available everywhere 24 hours a day. 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.

PHOTOGRAPHY: As a Birding with a Camera tour, these sites have been selected not only for the excellent birding and range of regional specialties on offer, but also as they often offer up good photo opportunities too. For example, the hummingbird feeders at Umbrellabird Lodge are jam-packed with Green Thorntails, White-necked Jacobins, Violet-bellied Hummingbirds, Bananaquits, and Green Honeycreepers, which are usually readily photographed. Similarly, the very different reserve of Jorupe (Urraca Lodge) has a set of feeders, where species like White-tailed Jay, Pale-browed Tinamou, Black-capped Sparrow, Whooping Motmot, and Guayaquil Squirrel can often be seen up close at these. At Tapichalaca, the feeding station in the forest for the Jocotoco Antpitta often allows photos of that rare species, while the hummingbird feeders host species like Amethyst-throated and Little Sunangels, and Chestnut-breasted Coronet. At Copalinga, the feeders are less predictable, but at various times they have a Gray Tinamou coming to a forest feeding station, while the hummingbird feeders beside the lodge can attract Violet-fronted Brilliant, Fork-tailed Woodnymph and Glittering-throated Emerald. Saraguro is likely to provide the toughest photography of the tour. At El Cajas there are no feeders, but the open country nature of the birding can allow photos of species like Stout-billed Cinclodes and Tit-like Dacnis. Although there are clearly some feeders for photography on this tour, and some other good photos opps, this is still a birding tour, and so the plan is not to spend hours of days at the feeders, although time will be given there. At some of the lodges, if participants wish to spend extra time at the feeders (e.g. Umbrellabird Lodge, Urraca Lodge, Casa Simpson, Copalinga Lodge), they can do so, while the group goes out seeking other species.

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, 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?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 13; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 14; safe drinking water and/or juice, and tea or coffee during meals; safe drinking water between meals either from a designated spot at the lodge or provided by the tour leader; tea and coffee are available at Buenaventura, Jorupe, Tapichalaca, and Copalinga any time; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 13; one arrival and 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 2 to day 13 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 to the TROPICAL BIRDING tour leader; tips for luggage porters in city hotels (if you require their services); 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.