Ecuador: Relaxed Tandayapa - Birding Tour
Ecuador is one of the most diverse countries on Earth for birds. The easily accessible northwest of the country (just 90 minutes from the capital, Quito), is long established as one of the best places in Ecuador to go birding, with more local birding sites concentrated there than anywhere else. Therefore, this tour is almost entirely based out of one famous birding lodge, Tandayapa Bird Lodge, from where many easily sites can be reached. The lodge, situated in the rich Choco bioregion with its many specialty birds, has been serving birders, bird photographers and other tourists for nearly twenty years, and is set within one of the most important birding areas in the region, the Tandayapa Valley, with its cloudforests and endemic birds. It is also within easy reach of other famous birding locales, like Mashpi, Milpe, Mindo, and Rio Silanche. All these, and more, will be covered on this tour.
Tropical Birding already offers shorter tours of this nature at Tandayapa, but many wish they could have stayed longer at Tandayapa (even after 5 nights there), so this is where this tour fits in. This tour allows a more relaxed approach, with “buffer days” around Tandayapa Bird Lodge to break up the longer day trips from the lodge, and many days when afternoons can be taken off if desired. The longer stay will also allow us to cover some other sites not possible on the shorter tours. While this is not a Birding with a Camera® Tour, the slower pace will allow more time for photography than most of our other Birding Tours.
14 - 26 September ($5050; single supplement $500)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 13 Days
Starting City: Quito
Ending City: Quito
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Group size: 9 + 1 leader
NOTE: The exact order in which the sites will be visited may be changed based on local weather conditions at the time.
Day 1: Arrival in Quito
After you arrival in Ecuador’s capital, Quito you will be met at the airport and taken to a hotel near downtown Quito. There is no birding on this day, so please take time to relax, and the group will meet for dinner at 6:30pm, for the first meal of the tour. This will be a dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Day 2: Zuro Loma and Yanacocha to Tandayapa
We’ll start this tour at one of the most exciting reserves close to Quito, Zuro Loma. The feeders at this site are just fantastic, regularly attracting Sword-billed Hummingbird, Mountain Velvetbreast, Collared Inca, and Sapphire-vented Puffleg on the hummingbird front, but also Andean Guan, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercers, Yellow-breasted Brushfinch, and Blue-capped Tanager too at the other feeders on site. The reserve landowners are also famous for their successful efforts to tame several shy antpitta species, and we will be hoping to connect with an Equatorial or Chestnut-naped Antpitta during our visit too. Away from the feeders, we may see Red-crested Cotinga, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, or Black-crested Warbler. By late morning, we will switch over to nearby Yanacocha reserve, where will take lunch after checking out Shining Sunbeams and Great Sapphirewings at their own feeders.
After lunch in Yanacocha, we will continue our journey towards Tandayapa, driving down the Old Nono-Mindo Road in the afternoon. This road is an established birding “ecoroute”, and we will make selected stops to look for a few other birds such as Andean Lapwing, Chestnut-bellied Chat-Tyrant, and White-capped Dipper. There is always the chance too of bumping into another mixed flock, which as we are driving down in altitude, into the subtropical zone, could comprise many new species like Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Capped Conebill, and Beryl-spangled Tanager. Later in the afternoon, we’ll arrive at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, where we will be based for the next five nights. We’ll try to arrive before dark to get our first views and photos of the incredible hummingbird feeders, which typically attract anywhere a dozen species in an hour, including White-booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed White-tip, and Purple-throated Woodstar.
Day 3: Tandayapa Bird Lodge and the Tandayapa Valley
The lodge is set within rich subtropical forest in the Andes of western Ecuador. The trees, and birds, come right up to the lodge. The climate at the lodge is very pleasant, lacking the humidity of lower altitudes in the tropics, and lacking the chill of the highlands.
Today will involve a mix of birding right around the lodge and doing some roadside birding in other parts of the valley. Early in the morning around the building, birds like Slate-throated Redstart, Toucan Barbet, and Golden-bellied Flycatcher can be found. Alongside them, the hummingbird feeders will be being worked overtime by the hundreds of hummingbirds present. Regular species include Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-throated Woodstar, Buff-tailed Coronet, Brown Inca, and the cartoon-like Booted Racket-tail, while fruit feeders may bring in toucanets and tanagers. Lunch will be taken at the lodge, and the afternoon plan will involve birding some other parts of the Tandayapa Valley.
Day 4: Milpe half day
The joy of being based at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, is that as well as great birding on the doorstep, short trips can be made to other sites, which differ greatly in the lists of birds found there. Milpe is only 45 minutes’ drive from the lodge, but is over 2000ft (650m) lower, in the foothills of the Andes, therefore offering very different species to those found in Tandayapa. The reserve comes with hummingbird feeders, where the dominant species will be new to us, like Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant, White-whiskered Hermit, and Crowned Woodymph. In the open skies above, Swallow-tailed Kites often pass overhead. Optional trail walks may reveal Rufous or Broad-billed Motmot, Collared Aracari, Yellow-throated Toucan, Bronze-winged Parrot, Spotted Woodcreeper, Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner, Red-faced Spinetail, Cinnamon Becard, Ornate Flycatcher, or even Club-winged Manakin. After a morning walking trails, watching feeders, and being entertained by hummingbirds while we take lunch at a local restaurant by a spectacular river valley, then we shall return to Tandayapa Bird Lodge by midafternoon. The rest of the afternoon will be for relaxing around the lodge, with a longer day trip planned for the following day.
Day 5: Rio Silanche day trip
This will be the longest trip taken from the lodge, which is still only 90 minutes away. With the long distance, we will take breakfast early at the lodge, and bring a boxed lunch with us to be taken in the field. This site is much lower than the lodge, further downslope than Milpe, and so offers yet more birds for us. The entrance road to the reserve can often be distracting with species like Hook-billed Kite, Pacific Parrotlet, Blue-headed Parrot, Pacific Antwren, Choco Toucan, and Blue-necked Tanagers turning up along there. While, I the reserve, we will be on the lookout for Guira, Gray-and-gold and Scarlet-browed Tanagers, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Guayaquil Woopdecker, White-tailed Trogon, Orange-fronted Barbet, and Black-faced Dacnis. This day often yields 100 species in a day, and at the end of that we will arrive back at the lodge by early evening.
Day 6: Tandayapa Valley
After a longer day yesterday, we will stay local, concentrating in the Tandayapa Valley, and particularly checking the upper reaches of this, a 20-minute drive from the property. At the top of the valley, cloudforest becomes dominant with trees heavily laden with bromeliads and other epiphytes, and where the cloud rolls in regularly encompassing all around. The birds are subtly different in the short distance from the lodge, and we will be searching for some real lookers, like Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Grass-green Tanager, and Green-and-black Fruiteater. Other regulars include Collared Inca, Gorgeted Sunangel, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Turquoise Jay, and a giddy selection of tanagers, like Golden, Flame-faced, Golden-naped and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers. After a morning at the top end of the valley, we shall return to the lodge for lunch, and make plans for another local outing in the afternoon, for those who wish not to stay at the lodge. This day has been planned as a relaxed one to break up the longer day trips either side of this.
Day 7: Mashpi
Having had a local day before this one, we will head out further afield to bird Mashpi. This site, 90minutes or so from the lodge, is at an elevation only slightly lower than Tandayapa (900ft/320m), though the character of the forest is quite different, being a wetter, more mossy forest, with an exciting list of birds hard to find elsewhere, like Glistening-green, Rufous-throated and Moss-backed Tanagers, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, and Orange-breasted Fruiteater, among many others. Some of these come to some superb feeders, and we will switch our time from watching fruit feeders on site for some of these, checking the hummingbird feeders alongside for Velvet-purple Coronet and Empress Brilliant, and birding the forest patches along the quiet road for mixed feeding flocks, with birds like Toucan Barbets and tanagers often in attendance. We will take a lunch on site, beside the feeders, and then head back towards the lodge. On the way back, we will stop off at a very special new site, where Andean Cock-of-the-rock can be seen displaying, at close quarters, in the afternoon. We will head back to the lodge after that, usually arriving around 6pm.
Day 8: Tandayapa Valley and San Tadeo
Another day will be spent in the Tandayapa Valley. In the afternoon, after lunch at a restaurant near Tandayapa, we will visit San Tadeo, a small reserve with excellent feeders.
Day 9: Paz de Aves (Mindo) half day trip
This small, private reserve on the edge of Mindo will be our destination for the morning. This wonderful cloud forest reserve, with a super set of local guides, involves visiting feeding stations in the forest for a chance at seeing several species of antpittas at close range, as well as occasionally a wood-quail too, and also have some active feeders. often packed with hummingbirds and tanagers. However, the early start will be for one of the most striking birds in the Andes, the scarlet and black Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Early in the morning, a handful of males awake early, to display together to attract females. A specially built blind will help us see this extraordinary bird up close, just after daybreak. After this headline performance, we will be led by the local guide to various forest feeding stations, looking for Yellow-breasted and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, Dark-backed Wood-Quail, and sometimes there is a roosting Lyre-tailed Nightjar to admire too. This will all end with us taking a brunch of tasty local foods at their on site café, overlooking their feeders, where we will be surrounded by hummingbirds and tanagers, begging to be photographed. After that, we will head back to Tandayapa Bird Lodge for a late lunch, and a relaxing afternoon.
Day 10: Flexi-day
On this day we are flexible, and will visit whichever area we feel deserves more time following our excursions in previous days. This is likely to include more time in either the Tandayapa Valley, Milpe or a combination of both.
PLEASE NOTE: This a change to the earlier itinerary, which included a site called Rancho Suamox, which is now closed to visitors.
Day 11: Oilbird trip
On this day we have a very special trip out to see the odd Oilbird, a nocturnal bird that rests in dark caverns by day. As they are nocturnal, there is no rush to leave, and we will take a later breakfast at the lodge and leave after then with a boxed lunch. After watching these strange birds huddled against the damp walls of the gully, we will take our boxed lunch in the field, and return to the lodge after that, making stops for anything we might find along the road back.
Day 12: Tandayapa to Quito
A final morning will be spent in the Tandayapa Valley, either at the lodge itself or combining this with a short trip into the upper Tandayapa Valley. After lunch at the lodge, we will pack up and leave for Quito, a 90-minute drive away, arriving no later than 5pm. The night will be spent in Quito, near the airport, although if you wish to leave on a late night flight (9pm or later), then that is possible too.
Day 13: Departure from Quito
There is no birding on this day, so flight departures at any time are possible (or even late in the night before if preferable). Breakfast is the last meal of the tour on this day, if you do not leave before the hotel serves that.
PACE: Relaxed. While there are multiple early starts, the trip has been designed with plentiful room for time off, particularly in the three full days around Tandayapa itself, where middle of the day breaks are possible. Early finishes have been planned for many days too. Even on many of the days away from the lodge (where lunch is taken in the field), such as the day at Yanacocha, Milpe, and Paz de Aves, the days are planned so that time of arrival back at the lodge will likely be around midafternoon (3-4pm). Boxed lunches will be taken on several days in the field (likely to be 3 days only). However, all of the sites in which these will be taken are birding areas with birds right there. Breakfasts will typically be around 5:30am, although on the day we visit Rio Silanche it will be taken at 5am, and on the half day trip to Paz de Aves, we will leave at 5am (with a snack breakfast for the bus) in order to arrive on time for the displays of the Andean Cock-of-the-rock. On this day, like many others, we will return to the lodge by midafternoon for recovery time!
The drives on this trip range from shorter drives, and longer ones up to only 2 hours in length. The long drives (i.e. up to 2 hours direct) include from Yanacocha to Tandayapa, Tandayapa to Mashpi, to Rio Silanche and perhaps on one other day (i.e. just 4 days of the tour). These longer days have been planned with “buffer” days in between, where shorter days break these up and allow plenty of downtime in between the longer days. There are some unpaved roads for short periods on this tour, although these are usually good dirt roads, generally in good condition, with only short difficult parts usually.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the birding will be on flat or slightly inclined roads or wide tracks. Paz de las Aves, which is visited on one day, has some fairly steep and muddy trails (a walking stick helps a lot), but they are relatively short.
There are a range of elevations visited on this tour: Yanacocha is at 11,485ft (3500m); Quito at 9190ft (2800m); the Upper Tandayapa Valley at 7545ft (2300m); Tandayapa Bird Lodge at 5740ft (1750m); Mashpi at 4595ft (1400m); Milpe at 3610ft (1100m); Rio Silanche at 1640ft (500m). We often suggest people come into Quito a day early (we can book you into the same hotel to do so if needed), in order to have some acclimatization time in Quito. We very rarely have people encounter altitude sickness at any of the sites covered on this itinerary.
CLIMATE: Usually very pleasant (mostly 55°-75°F, 13°-24°C), but cold on one morning at Yanacocha (near freezing) and hot on at least one day at Silanche (up to c. 90°F/32°C). August is in the dry season, so it is one of the drier times of year. However, some rain may occur, usually comprising short bursts in the afternoons and evenings.
ACCOMMODATION and FOOD: We will be using just three locations for the entire trip, a single hotel in downtown Quito on the first night (perfect for people wishing to see the city of they wish for extra time at the same hotel), ten nights at Tandayapa Bird Lodge just 90 minutes from the city, and an airport hotel on the last night to facilitate flights out. The food at Tandayapa is often considered one of its greatest assets, and this should be a big feature to accompany a great, relaxed birding trip.
All places are of a good to excellent standard, have full time electricity, full time hot water, wifi Internet, en-suite bathrooms and an on-site restaurant from where all the meals will be taken. The accommodation in downtown Quito is a 45-minute drive from the airport, Tandayapa Bird Lodge lies 90 minutes northwest of Quito, and the last hotel is only 5-10 minutes from the airport for departures.
PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour and trying to ensure as many people see each bird as possible will be the primary objective. However, cameras are very welcome and worthwhile on this tour, and there are many good feeders on this tour; at Tandayapa, Zuro Loma, Yanacocha, Milpe, Mashpi and Paz de Aves where photos are often productive, particularly of hummingbirds and tanagers. The relaxed pace of the tour, and the number of feeders on site, means that it is a good tour for casual photographers, even while being a bird tour.
WHEN TO GO: Ecuador, and Tandayapa, offers good year-round birding, and therefore birders frequently visit in all months of the year. The wettest months are from November to May, with mid-March to May being the very wettest of these. Temperatures and day length remain almost constant through the year, as Ecuador is on the equator.
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?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 12; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 13 (if you do not leave earlier than it is ready); bottled drinking water (do not drink the tap water anywhere in Ecuador); Tandayapa Bird Lodge has a large tank of safe drinking water to refill from, ad so bringing your own refillable bottle is the best advice; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 12; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a bus from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 7; 1 airport transfer on day 1 for each person and on day 13 (these transfers will not be by shuttle, but will be private, and only shared with limited others in this group, if needed); tips to driver (1), and lodge/restaurant staff; 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 any porters used (we advise against this if you want to limit contact with others); international flights; 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 and any Covid test fees required; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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