Southern Ecuador: Highland Rarities and Tumbesian Endemics
Endemics and antpittas galore!
If you are looking for a tour with loads of variety in habitat, scenery, and birds, this one is for you! We cover everything from the coastal region, to swamps, deserts, arid scrub, deciduous forests, rainforests, montane cloudforests, high altitude elfin forests, and páramo. This trip will give you the chance to see almost all the birds endemic to the Tumbesian region of western Ecuador and northwestern Peru. If you are looking for a tour with loads of variety in habitat, scenery, and birds, this one is for you. We cover everything from the coastal region, to swamps, deserts, arid scrub, deciduous forests, rainforests, montane cloudforests, high altitude elfin forests, and páramo. This trip will give you the chance to see almost all the birds endemic to the Tumbesian region of western Ecuador and northwestern Peru. We have updated our itinerary to target the rare Orange-throated Tanager and Pale-headed Brush-Finch.
Don’t have that much time available? Click here for a shorter version of this tour.
Day 1: Guayaquil. Upon arrival in Guayaquil you will be met by a driver and transferred to the Hotel Continental for the night. Please note that if you are going to arrive to the hotel after 9:00pm, we normally don’t arrange a dinner.
Day 2: Cerro Blanco to Buenaventura. The forested hills of Cerro Blanco just outside Guayaquil (30 minutes drive from our hotel) make a great introduction to the Tumbesian region, and we may see White-tailed Jay, Black-capped Sparrow, Ecuadorian Trogon, Speckle-breasted Wren, Red-lored Parrot, Gray-cheeked Parakeet. After the morning heats up, we drive south through the coastal plain, stopping by the side of a busy highway to try and see Horned Screamer. (Note: We are considering changing the first day of this tour to visit the Manglares-Churute reserve instead of Cerro Blanco. This saves some driving and gives a better chance to see some species such as Jet Antbird, Pacific Royal Flycatcher, and Orange-crowned Euphonia). 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.
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.
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.
Day 6: Utuana and Sozoranga. Farther from Jorupe, the road takes us up into the mountains again, and the cooler weather will be welcome. Forest patches near Sozoranga 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: Utuana and Catamayo. 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, then we’ll head to Vilcabamba for the night, where we’ll also try a stakeout for Plumbeous Rail.
Day 8: Cerro Toledo and Tapichalaca. Over the next three days we will concentrate on the temperate forests of the east slope of the Andes, home to many spectacular birds. We’ll start by taking 4WD vehicles up a rough road to Cerro Toledo, draped by beautiful elfin forest right below treeline. This is the easiest spot to see the near-endemic Neblina Metaltail, and we have a great chance to see the rare Masked Mountain-Tanager as well. On rare occasions small flocks of the threatened Red-faced Parrot are encountered. Other birds me may see here include Red-hooded Tanager, Bearded Guan, and Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan. In the afternoon we drive over the remote Cordillera de Sabanilla to Tapichalaca reserve, home of the fabled Jocotoco Antpitta, which has become easy to see now that it comes in to a feeder every day to eat worms. We spend two nights in the cozy lodge in the reserve, which has some nice hummer feeders.
Day 9: 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, or else spend more time around the lodge.
Day 10: Tapichalaca to Yankuam Lodge. After another morning of birding in Tapichalaca or at Valladolid, we will have a rather long drive down the east slope of the Andes to Yankuam Lodge, where we spend two nights.
Day 11: Shaime. Shaime, in the lower foothills of the eastern Andes, has come to prominence as the place to see the rare and unique Orange-throated Tanager. There is no better place in the world to get this strikingly beautiful bird. Other possibilities at Shaime include Blackish Pewee, Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher, and even the scarce Zimmer’s Antbird, along with a plethora of foothill species and even a few birds more typical of the Amazonian lowlands. White-belied Pygmy-Tyrant was also recently discovered in Ecuador at one of the tanager stakeouts, and we’ll give it a shot. There are currently two sites to see the Orange-throated Tanager. One of them is along a newly built dirt road, and while the birds are easy to see along here, we worry that the forest will soon be cleared. The other “traditional” site involves walking about 2 miles along an insanely muddy trail (rubber boots are absolutely essential), though we will only look here if the tanager can’t be found at the easier site.
Day 12: Yankuam to Copalinga. AAfter some final birding around Shaime, we will depart for Copalinga Lodge (about a 3 hour drive), on the edge of Podocarpus National Park. The grounds of the lodge are great for hummingbirds like Wire-crested Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbird, and Spangled Coquette, and Blackish Nightjar can often be found close by. Tanager feeders here are sometimes very active, and other times strangely abandoned. Two nights will be spent at this idyllic lodge in the eastern foothills.
Day 13: Río Bombuscaro. We bird an excellent forest trail in the park that has many local species (only a 15 minute drive from Copalinga), including Coppery-chested Jacamar, Ecuadorian Piedtail, White-breasted Parakeet, Foothill Elaenia, Olive Finch, Black-billed Treehunter, Blue-rumped Manakin, and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater. Other more common birds we may see are Paradise and Green-and-gold Tanager, Andean Motmot, Green Hermit, Red-headed Barbet, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, and Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant. For most of the day we will be on a wide forest trail, though we’ll also do a shorter and steeper loop trail. In mid afternoon we will return to bird around the lodge grounds or along the road between the lodge and the park.
Day 14: Old Zamora road. We’ll start birding along an old dirt road about 25 minutes from Copalinga that passes through some amazingly productive forest patches. Some birds are easier to see here than at Rio Bombuscaro, such as Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Lined Antshrike, Olivaceous Greenlet, and Equatorial Graytail. Higher up this road, we’ll target some scarce species of higher elevations including Vermilion Tanager, Blue-browed Tanager, and Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, among others. We’ll spend the afternoon driving north to Cuenca, where we stay two nights in a lovely hot spring resort. Depending on the time, we may be able to bird some temperate forest near Saraguro along the way.
Day 15: Yunguilla reserve. We’ll need an early start since it is a two-hour drive to the reserve. The dry woodland and scrubby hillsides of Yunguilla are home to the critically endangered Pale-headed Brush-Finch, whose entire known population resides within this reserve. We’ll also have a chance to see some other scarce birds such as Little Woodstar and Blue Seedeater. We’ll likely arrive back to the resort in the early afternoon, giving you some well-earned downtime (soaking in the thermal baths is highly recommended!)
Day 16: El Cajas National Park. A short drive from Cuenca brings us to this beautiful park, which protects temperate forest and scrub, windswept páramo, 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 (if we missed it in Cerro Toledo) 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 a magnificent circuit of the southern part of Ecuador.
Day 17: Departure or begin extension. If you are not joining the Pacific coast extension you will be transferred to the airport to meet your departing flight.
Esmeraldas Woodstar Extension (4 days)
This short extension first visits the Pacific Coast, where Chilean Flamingos forage among a mass of shorebirds. The arid Santa Elena Peninsula holds endemics like Short-tailed Woodstar, Parrot-billed Seedeater, Necklaced Spinetail, and Gray-and white Tyrannulet, while more humid Tumbesian areas support populations of the endemic Esmeraldas Woodstar and the stunning Elegant Crescentchest.
Day 1: The Santa Elena peninsula. An early start is required in order to make our way to the coast, where we will search the coastal scrub on the Santa Elena Peninsula for Necklaced Spinetail, West Peruvian Dove, Short-tailed Woodstar, Parrot-billed Seedeater, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant, and Gray-and-white Tyrannulet among others. The coastal saltpans in this area are packed with hundreds of shorebirds, and sometimes also hold giant Peruvian Pelicans and graceful Chilean Flamingos. A walk out to the beach might get us somber-looking Gray Gulls or handsome Gray-headed Gulls loafing along the tideline. After lunch in a beach town, we head further north to the scenic Mantaraya Lodge, located on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Day 2: Ayampe and Machalilla. In the morning we will venture into the deciduous woodland alongside the Ayampe River, a stronghold for the critically endangered Esmeraldas Woodstar. The area also holds scarce Tumbesian species we could have missed on the main tour such as Slaty Becard, Ochre-bellied Dove, Pacific Royal Flycatcher, Gray-backed Hawk, and Saffron Siskin. There are also a number of humid forest birds in the wetter forest, where we could find Gartered Trogon, Lesser Greenlet, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, White-backed Fire-eye, and others. After lunch back at our chilled out resort, we could either return to Ayampe or bird dry forest farther north along the coast for skulkers like Pale-browed Tinamou and the exquisite Elegant Crescentchest. At dusk we will check the scrub near our resort for the aptly named Scrub Nightjar.
Day 3: Return to Guayaquil. The activities on this day will depend on what we are still looking for. We will begin either in Ayampe again or Machalilla NP, and then make our way south back towards the Santa Elena Peninsula and Guayaquil (around 5 hours away). If we did not visit it on the main tour, we will be sure to stop at the Cerro Blanco reserve to mop up any last targets, such as Red-lored Parrot or possibly Spectacled Owl, which sometimes can be found roosting along the trail. In the late afternoon we will return to Guayaquil for a final farewell dinner.
Day 4: Departure. The extension ends this morning with a transfer to the international airport.
CLIMATE: The coast is hot and dry, sometimes humid. Jorupe is warm and humid, with some mosquitoes this time of year. Tapichalaca is chilly and damp. El Cajas can be very cold and wet. Most other places have quite pleasant climates. Some rain is to be expected, but we believe this is the best month overall to run this tour. Rubber boots are a must.
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, the slippery walk to the Jocotoco Antpitta, and the rather long (but only occasionally steep) walk into the national park at Rio Bombuscaro.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent lodges and hotels throughout. Due to limited space in some of the lodges, single rooms are sometimes not available everywhere.