Southern Ecuador: Endemics Special

For those looking for a shorter trip than our standard Southern Ecuador itinerary, we have just added this new tour that focuses on the regional endemics. Jocotoco Antpitta tops a list of targets that also includes Violet-throated Metaltail, Rainbow Starfrontlet, El Oro Parakeet, White-tailed Jay, Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Black-cowled Saltator, and loads more.

Day 1: Guayaquil. Most flight arrive in the evening. Upon arrival, you will be met by a driver and transferred to our hotel in the city center.

Day 2: Day 2: Manglares-Churute to Buenaventura. We’ll depart the city early to avoid traffic and head south along the coastal plain to the Manglares-Churute reserve, about 45 minutes away. This area sports an interesting mix of lagoons, mangroves, and semihumid forest, unlike anything else we see on the tour. 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. Later in the morning, we drive south for a few hours; 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, and begin our birding at the terrific hummingbird feeders, which attract literally swarms of these neat little birds. Emerald-bellied Woodnymph, Baron’s Hermit, 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 Pale-mandibled Aracari. Time permitting, we may also make a first attempt at seeing Long-wattled Umbrellabird.

Long-wattled Umbrellabird is arguably the most spectacular bird at Buenaventura
Long-wattled Umbrellabird is arguably the most spectacular bird at Buenaventura (Andrew Spencer)

Day 3: Buenaventura. We will search these beautiful fog-enshrouded forests for local species such as El Oro Parakeet, El Oro Tapaculo, Pacific Tuftedcheek, Esmeraldas Antbird, Club-winged Manakin, Rufous-throated Tanager, Gray-breasted Flycatcher, and Brown-billed Scythebill among hordes of more common species. We will also visit a lek of the spectacular Long-wattled Umbrellabird. Much of the birding will be on a moderately inclined dirt road through the forest, but we’ll have to take short walks on muddy and sometimes steep trails to get to the Umbrellabird lek and other stakeouts.

Day 4: Buenaventura and El Empalme. After another morning in Buenaventura checking for any birds we are missing we drive south to the reserve of Jorupe. This is a fairly long drive, but we’ll stop late in the afternoon at the amazing deciduous forest near El Empalme. Among the giant Ceiba trees we may see White-headed Brush-Finch, Tumbes Sparrow, Tumbes Hummingbird, Baird’s Flycatcher, Elegant Crescentchest, and others. We’ll arrive at Urraca Lodge around dusk, in the heart of the Jocotoco Foundation’s Jorupe Reserve, for a three night stay.

The gorgeous Elegant Crescenchest is one of the stars of the Tumbesian region
The gorgeous Elegant Crescenchest is one of the stars of the Tumbesian region (Nick Athanas)

Day 5: Jorupe. 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 and Ochre-bellied Dove, along with Whooping Motmot, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, White-tailed Jay, and Red-masked Parakeet. Later on, we’ll bird the dirt roads and well-build trails targeting shy Tumbesian endemics such as Blackish-headed Spinetail, Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Slaty Becard, and Watkins’s Antpitta. Owling can often be good, with West Peruvian Screech-Owl and Spectacled Owl often around the lodge at night.

Pale-browed Tinamou sometimes comes to the feeder at Urraca Lodge in Jorupe
Pale-browed Tinamou sometimes comes to the feeder at Urraca Lodge in Jorupe (Nick Athanas)

Day 6: Sozoranga and Utuana. Farther from Jorupe, the road takes us up into the mountains again, and the cooler weather will be welcome. Forest patches near Sozoranga (30 minutes drive) hold yet more Tumbesian endemics like Bay-crowned Brush-Finch, Chapman’s Antshrike, Tumbesian Tyrannulet, Loja Hummingbird, and Black-cowled Saltator. We continue on up the windy road to the Utuana reserve, where we look for rare species like Gray-headed Antbird, Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner, Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Piura 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.

Day 7: Jorupe to Tapichalaca. It’s a rather long drive today, but we’ll have time to target anything we still need at either Jorupe or Utuana before leaving the Tumbesian region behind. A short stop in the Catamayo Valley could get us finches such as Drab Seedeater, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, and Band-tailed Sierra-Finch before we climb up into the temperate forest of the high Andes, arriving at the Tapichalaca reserve in the evening for a two night stay in the lodge. Tapichalaca is the stronghold of the fabled Jocotoco Antpitta, which has become easy to see now that it comes in to a feeder every day to eat worms. Due to limited space, single rooms are not always available here.

Purple-throated Sunangels visit the feeders at Utuana
Purple-throated Sunangels visit the feeders at Utuana (Nick Athanas)

Day 8: Tapichalaca. While the Jocotoco Antpitta is our main target today, we should see plenty of other good birds along the trails, such as Chestnut-caped and Slate-crowned Antpittas, Chusquea and Ocellated Tapaculos, Golden-plumed Parakeet, Barred Fruiteater, Black-capped Hemispingus, Orange-banded Flycatcher, White-throated Quail-Dove, and various mountain-tanagers. Sometimes the reserve rangers know of a day roost for Long-tailed Potoo. 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 of 8:00am. We can also amuse ourselves with the varied hummingbirds visiting the feeders at the lodge itself around lunchtime, including Flame-throated Sunangel, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, and Long-tailed Sylph. In the afternoon, we may bird along the road below the lodge towards the town of Valladolid where occasionally Chestnut-crested Cotinga can be seen along, or else spend more time around the lodge.

The Jocotoco Antpitta alone makes a trip to Tapichalaca worthwhile
The Jocotoco Antpitta alone makes a trip to Tapichalaca worthwhile (Nick Athanas)

Day 9: Tapichalaca to Cuenca. After another morning of birding in Tapichalaca or at Valladolid, we will have another rather long drive north through the Andes to the city of Cuenca, where we stay one night in a lovely hot spring resort. We’ll be able to break up the trip with some birding stops along the way.

Day 10: El Cajas National Park. A short drive from Cuenca brings us to this beautiful park, which protects temperate forest and scrub, windswept páram, patches of Polylepis woodland, and pristine highland lakes. We’ll start our birding near one of these lakes where we could find Ecuadorian Rail, 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 should pick up Tawny Antpitta, Andean Tit-Spinetail, many-striped Canstero, Stout-billed Cinclodes, and others. The gnarly Polylepis is loaded with pretty Tit-like Dacnises, and there’s a good chance to find Giant Conebill. The highway through the park continues on to Guayaquil and we will complete an exciting and bird-filled circuit of the southern part of Ecuador.

Cajas National Park offers sweeping vistas of páramo, lakes, and mountain peaks
Cajas National Park offers sweeping vistas of páramo, lakes, and mountain peaks (Nick Athanas)

Day 11: Departure. The tour ends this morning with a transfer to Guayaquil’s international airport.



CLIMATE: Ranges from hot and dry at Jorupe to cold and damp in the highlands. Some rain can be expected, especially at Tapichalaca.

DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the walking is fairly easy, but there are three more difficult hikes: The short but steep walk to the Umbrellabird lek and the slippery walk to the Jocotoco Antpitta.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent throughout. Due to limited space in some of the lodges, single rooms are sometimes not available everywhere. Accommodations all have private bathrooms, hot water, and electricity.