Photographer: Tony Allingham
Two week birding tour designed to visit several Jocotoco Foundation reserves in Southern Ecuador, including Buenaventura, Tapichalaca (home of the Jocotoco Antpitta), Utuana, and Jorupe. Most lodging is right within the reserves. We’ll also visit Copalinga Lodge on the Rio Bombuscaro, as well as Podacarpus National Park near Loja, and the Santa Elaena Peninsula. Wonderful Andean birding. Large variety of Tumbesian endemics. Fancy species such as Jocotoco Antpitta and Long-wattled Umbrellabird. Fabulous hummingbird watching and photography with more than 40 species. Lots of fancy tanagers - including a two night visit to Yankuam to try for the rare Orange-throated Tanager! The trip will finish with a new visit to Yungilla for the rare Pale-headed Brush-Finch, and El Cajas National Park near Cuenca.
TEcuador is a very diverse region within this small country, especially in terms of habitats. The variety of incredible habitats, from Amazonian lowland rainforest, to lush cloudforest on both the eastern and western slopes of the Andes, to high Andean Paramo to the dryTumbesian desert in the Southwest, all translates to an unbelievable richness of bird species for such a small country. A birding tour through Southern Ecuador allows the birdwatcher to sample most of these habitats, the result of which is the possibility for a huge bird list. The Jocotoco Foundation (an Ecuadorian based conservation organization originally started to protect the habitat of the Jocotoco Antpitta) has bought several parcels of land throughout southern Ecuador and created reserves to protect both endangered habitats, and threatened bird species. What’s even better is that they developed the reserves with birdwatchers in mind, by building comfortable accommodations, maintaining trails, and putting up hummingbird feeders everywhere! It is wonderful to wake up right within the reserves, which makes the birding not only fantastic, but very convenient. Our tour of the Jocotoco reserves begins in Guayaquil, with a day trip out to the Santa Elaena Peninsula. We then make a large circuit up the west slope to Buenaventura (home of the Long-wattled Umbrellabird), to Jorupe on the Peruvian border (for Tumbesian endemics, to Loja at the foot of Podacarpus National Park, to Tapichalaca (home of the Jocotoco Antpitta), to lovely Copalinga Lodge on the Rio Bombuscaro in the eastern foothills, to Yankuam for Orange-throated Tanager, to Saraguro for Crescent-faced Antpitta, to Yungilla for Pale-headed Brush-Finch, to El Cajas National Park for Tit-like Dacnis and Violet-throated Metaltail, and finally back to Guayaquil.
Each location has its incredible attributes. Buenaventura not only has a Long-wattled Umbrellabird lek within the reserve, Umbrellabird Lodge has the most amazing hummingbird feeders we have seen anywhere! You simply won’t believe the number of hummingbirds coming in! The forest there is lovely, and a number of other specialties are possible, including the rare endemic El Oro Parakeet. Podacarpus National Park has stunning vistas of high-elevation cloud-forest, and amazing birds such as Bearded Guan, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, and a variety of fancy tanagers including Hooded Mountain-Tanager and Red-hooded Tanager. Copalinga Lodge was built by a lovely Belgian couple (birders) right at the entrance to the Rio Bombuscaro sector of Podacarpus National Park. The trails in the park allow us access to a stunningly beautiful forest, with incredible birds such as Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Coppery-chested Jacamar, and Ecuadorian Piedtail – just to mention a few. From Copalinga we will visit the newly opened Yankuam for two nights, an exciting area in the Cordillera del Condor, and we'll look for the rare Orange-throated Tanager.
Tapichalaca is the reserve that started it all and is where we have an excellent chance of seeing Jocotoco Antpitta, not to mention a wide variety of high Andean hummingbirds and tanagers. Jorupe is one of their newest reserves, located right on the Peruvian border, and home to a rich assortment of Tumbesian endemics, such as stunning birds like White-tailed Jay and White-edged Oriole. We’ll finish by visiting a new reserve near Cuenca called Yungilla, where the Pale-headed Brush-Finch occurs, as well as El Cajas National Park near Cuenca for a number of high-elevation species, including Tit-like Dacnis and Violet-throated Metaltail. From Cuenca we drive back to Guayaquil where the tour will conclude.
The trip list should be more than 500 species, but perhaps more importantly, will see an amazing number of scarce species and regional endemics.
It should be noted that in order to stay at the Jocotoco reserves, this tour is limited to nine participants, and at a couple of the lodges (Buenaventura and Tapichalaca), singles may not be accommodated. Waking up right at the reserves makes the shared accommodations well worth it!
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS TOUR BEGINS AND ENDS IN GUAYAQUIL. ROUND TRIP AIR TICKETS SHOULD BE MADE TO GUAYAQUIL – NOT QUITO.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Guayaquil. There will be a get together meeting at 7:00 pm, followed by dinner. Night in Guayaquil. Hotel: Grand Hotel Guayaquil in Guayaquil
Day 2 We begin the tour this morning with a day trip out of Guayaquil to the Santa Elaena Peninsula. We’ll begin the day at Cerro Blanco Reserve on the outskirts of Guayaquil. This wonderful reserve protects some lovely tropical dry forest, and we’ll have a good chance of seeing a wide variety of species such as our first Ecuadorian Trogon, Ecuadorian Piculet, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, White-tailed Jay, Golden Grosbeak, and Yellow-tailed Oriole, just to name a few. As we continue west toward the coast, the environment gets drier and drier. En route we’ll stop at a bridge that has a Chestnut-collared Swallow colony, and we’ll watch the wires for Pearl Kite, Snowy-throated Kingbirds and Baird’s Flycatchers. In the desert scrub that covers the peninsula, we’ll have an excellent opportunity to see several Tumbesian specialties, including Necklaced Spinetail, Gray-and-white Tyrannulet, Superciliated Wren, and Collared Warbling-Finch. We’ll also have the chance to bird the Ecuasal Ponds, as well as the beach itself. The peninsula is famous for its wide variety of waterbirds, which might include Chilean Flamingo, Gray, Gray-headed, and Kelp Gulls, and often a very nice assortment of shorebirds, gulls, and terns. In the afternoon we’ll work our way back to Guayaquil. Night in Guayaquil. Hotel: Grand Hotel Guayaquil in Guayaquil
Day 3 This morning, we’ll depart Guayaquil after breakfast for our journey to Buenaventura. Guayaquil is situated in the wet lowlands, and our drive out of the city will take us by lots of ponds and wet pastureland, where the birding can be very interesting. Snail Kites will be common, and we’ll look for other open-country species such as Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Least Grebe, Limpkin, Savannah Hawk, Wattled Jacana, Black-necked Stilts, Croaking Ground-Dove, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, and Peruvian Meadowlarks. Our first destination is the Manglares de Churute area where we will hopefully see Horned Screamer, which as a small remnant population there. Some roadside birding in the second growth thickets should produce a few specialties including Black-tailed Trogon, Jet Antbird, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Maksed Water-Tyrant, Black-faced (Yellow-tufted) Dacnis, and Orange-crowned Euphonia. We’ll make a brief stop at some shrimp ponds to look for Cocoi Heron, waders including Collared and Wilson’s Plovers, “Mangrove” Yellow Warbler, and Parrot-billed Seedeater. After lunch we’ll continue up into the foothills to Buenaventura, one of the Jocotoco Foundation’s reserves established to protect the endangered El Oro Parakeet, and Umbrellabird Lodge. Arriving in the afternoon, we’ll have ample time to watch the amazing hummingbird feeders and bird along the entrance road to the lodge. The hummingbird feeders will be “buzzing” with activity, and it is truly amazing to see so many individuals feeing at once, including mind-boggling numbers of Green Thorntails and violet-bellied Hummingbirds. Along the road we’ll search for specialties such as Gray-backed Hawk, Barred Puffbird, Choco Toucan, Speckle-breasted Wren, and the Black-lored form of Masked Yellowthroat. In the very late afternoon, we’ll make our first attempt for the real specialty of the reserve, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, hopefully finding one as they come in and roost in their lekking area. Night at Umbrellabird Lodge. Hotel: Umbrellabird Lodge
Day 4 Waking up at Buenaventura will be fantastic. We’ll have an early breakfast and start the day at the Umbrellabird lek if we have not seen this incredible species the previous evening. The birding at Buenaventura is really good. Apart from some of the best hummingbird watching anywhere, we’ll also bird along wide road-cuts that pass through excellent patches of wet foothill forest. One of our main target birds will be El Oro Parakeet, a member of the genus Pyrrhura that was described to science in the 1980s, and has a limited range in sw. Ecuador. The overall bird list at Buenaventura is impressive, and some of the many birds we’ll look for include Swallow-tailed Kite, Gray- backed Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Bronze-winged Parrot, Violet-tailed Sylph, White-vented Plumeleteer, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Choco Toucan, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Buffy (Pacific) Tuftedcheek, El Oro Tapaculo, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Esmeraldas and Chestnut-backed Antbirds, Ochraceous Attila, Ornate Flycatcher, Club-winged and White-bearded Manakins, Scaled Fruiteater, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Speckle-breasted, Whiskered, and Bay Wrens, Song Wren, Rufous-throated, Silver-throated, and Bay-headed Tanagers, Orange-crowned Euphonia, and Yellow-bellied Siskin. Add to this a plethora of common species and Buenaventura is one special place to bird. Night at Umbrellabird Lodge. Hotel: Umbrellabird Lodge
Day 5 We’ll have one final morning birding at Buenaventura, most likely departing early for the “upper” area, which is better for El Oro Parakeet. This area is also good for tanager flocks, raptors, parrots, and we have seen fun birds such as Golden-headed Quetzal in the forest patches. In the mid to late morning, we’ll depart for Macara on the Peruvian border. En route we make stops in the dry desert areas in the inner montane valleys along the way in search for dry desert birds such as Baird’s Flycatcher and Elegant Crescentchest, as well as both White-winged and White-headed Brush-Finches. We’ll arrive at our destination, Jorupe Reserve, in time to do late afternoon birding along the entrance road. Jorupe is our best area for all the Tumbesian endemics. Hotel: Jorupe Reserve
Day 6 We’ll wake up at Jorupe, which we consider one of the finest birding locations we have visited! The birding here is incredible, not only for the diversity and numbers of individuals, but virtually everything we see is a regional endemic! Some of our target species that we’ll look for here include Red-masked Parakeet, Gray-capped Cuckoo, Amazilia Hummingbird, Ecuadorian Trogon, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Ecuadorian Piculet, Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner, Blackish-headed Spinetail, Collared Antshrike, Watkin’s Antpitta, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, One-colored and Slaty Becards, Sooty-crowned Flycatcher, White-tailed Jay, Speckle-breasted Wren, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, Black-and-white Tanager (rare), Black-capped Sparrow, Streaked Saltator, Gray-and-gold Warbler, and both Yellow-tailed and White-edged Orioles. The birding here is excellent. In the afternoon we’ll venture along the highway toward Zapotillo, where we have seen amazing birds such as Comb Duck, Tumbes Hummingbird, and Tumbes Tyrant. In the evening we’ll have an excellent chance for West Peruvian Screech-Owl, as well as Spectacled Owl. Hotel: Jorupe Lodge.
Day 7 This morning we will leave early for Utuana Reserve, which is at higher elevation than Jorupe, and the habitat there is an interesting, lush cloud forest. There are a number of specialties we will be looking for, most importantly the rare Gray-headed Antbird. Other nice birds we have seen at Utuana include Rainbow Starfrontlet and Purple-throated Sunangel (coming to feeders there), Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant, Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant, and there is the possibility for Piura Hemispingus. From Utuana we’ll work our way to the Andean city of Loja. Along the way we’ll make a few birding stops in search of more local specialties including Chapman’s Antshrike, Three-banded Warbler, Bay-crowned Brush-Finch, and Black-cowled Saltator. In the drier country near Catamayo, we’ll look for a number of specialties such as Pacific Parrotlet, Elegant Crescentchest, Tumbes Sparrow, and Drab Seedeater. We’ll arrive in Loja before dark and stay in a “real” hotel in the center of town. Hotel: Hotel Libertador in Loja
Day 8 We’ll spend the early morning birding high-elevation forest above the town of Yangana. If the road is passable, well climb up to the tree line forest and search for the rare Neblina Metaltail. Other great birds include both black-chested and Masked Mountain-Tanagers, two tanagers only found at tree line. If we find that the road is not passable, we’ll visit Podacarpus National Park (Cajanuma Sector), which has excellent montane birding. Mid-day, we’ll continue on to Tapichalaca, one of the Jocotoco Foundations reserves, and in fact the location of the discovery of the Jocotoco Antpitta! We’ll bird our way there, stopping along the route to look for Three-banded Warbler, and tanager flocks at the high-elevation pass above the reserve. These flocks can have a number of interesting species, including Golden-crowned, Tanager, Black-headed Hemispingus, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Glossy Flower-piercer, and Pale-naped Brush-Finch. We’ll arrive at Casa Simpson at Tapichalaca in the late afternoon, our base for the next two nights. We will certainly have time to check out the hummingbird feeders at the lodge, which will be alive with incredible species such as Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, both Little and Amethyst-throated Sunagels, and Whitebellied Woodstar. Night at Tapichalaca. Hotel: Casa Simpson
Day 9 Today is Jocotoco Antpitta Day! Although it is always dangerous to promise a species such as this, and I do not guarantee seeing one, I will say that the staff (as of January 2015) has “trained” anywhere from 2-4 Jocotoco Antpittas to come out on the trail and feed on worms – a truly amazing thing to witness. This morning we will bird our way to the “feeding” area and hopefully see this for ourselves! The birding along the way is excellent as well, and some of the high temperate forest species we are likely to see include, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Chestnut-naped and Rufous Antpittas, Chusquea Tapaculo, Orange-banded Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Rufous and Plain-tailed Wrens, Spectacled Redstart, Citrine Warbler, Hooded, Scarlet-bellied, and Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, Black-capped and Superciliaried Hemispingi, and Pale-naped Brush-Finch. This is an excellent area for Golden-plumed Parakeet, and we can see more scarce species such as Barred Fruiteater, Dusky Piha, Grass Green and Red-hooded Tanagers, or Plushcap. In the afternoon we’ll bird down slope below the lodge to the town of Valladolid. Along the road we’ll search for several target species, including Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Green-backed (Yellow-cheeked) Becard, Marañon Thrush, Black-lored (Masked) Yellowthroat, Silver-backed Tanager, and others. The birding here is quite good! Night at Tapichalaca. Hotel: Casa Simpson
Day 10 We’ll begin this morning birding along the road in the forest patches below the lodge, but above Valladolid. The birding in these remnant patches of subtropical forest can be excellent, and well look for flocks that may contain birds such as White-breasted Parakeet, Golden-headed Quetzal, Long-tailed Antbird, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Barred Becard, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Mountain Wren, and a number of incredible tanagers, including Flame-faced, Saffron-crowned, Blue-necked, Silver-backed, Golden, Blue-winged Mountain- and Rufous-crested Tanagers, just to name a few! We have seen some very rare birds along this stretch, including Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, and White-capped Tanager, just to give an idea of the potential! We’ll pass through Loja in the afternoon, and we’ll bird our way down the eastern slope to Lovely Copalinga Lodge. From Loja the highway rises up and crosses a relatively high-elevation pass (about 3200 m), where we’ll stop and look for Mouse-colored Thistletail, and another chance for Golden-crowned Tanager. Dropping down lower we go along a rushing river where we’ll search diligently for Torrent Duck, Torrent Tyrannulet, and White-capped Dipper.
Our destination for afternoon birding is the old Loja-Zamora Highway that parallels the newer highway and allows us access to a number of fine patches of subtropical forest at mid-elevation. The birding in these patches can be great, and we’ll be looking for huge mixed-species flocks that are chock full of tanagers. There are a number of specialties that are found in these flocks, and we’ll search for great birds such as Lined Antshrike, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Equatorial Graytail, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Olivaceous Greenlet, Gray-mantled Wren, and amazing tanagers including Blue-browed, Golden-eared, Spotted, and Orange-eared, just to name a few. We’ll work this road until late afternoon before heading the short distance to Copalinga Lodge. The lodge is situated at the entrance to the Rio Bombuscaro section of Podacarpus National Park. We’ll have a two-night stay at this wonderful location. Hotel: Copalinga Lodge
Day 11 This morning we’ll visit the trail at Podacarpus National Park. Podacarpus National Park is lovely, particularly this section that surrounds the Rio Bombuscaro. The trail is wide, a little hilly, but relatively easy to walk. The birding along the trail can be fantastic, with huge mixed-species flocks of tanagers and flycatchers. There are many specialty birds to look for here. One of the more interesting is a small flycatcher recently described to science within the past ten years called Foothill Elaenia, and this location is the best place to see this rare bird. The trail is also a great place to bump into both Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Amazonian Umbrellabird. Other non-flock species possible include fancy birds such as White-breasted Parakeet, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black-streaked Puffbird, Lanceolated Monklet, Black-billed Treehunter, Foothills Antwren, Ornate and Orange-crowned Flycatchers, Blue-rumped and Striped Manakins, and Olive Finch. The mixed-species flocks can be very exciting, mainly composed of tanagers including Spotted, Paradise, Green-and-gold, Golden-eared, Bay-headed, Orange-eared, and lots of Yellow-throated Bush-Tanagers. Cool birds such as Red-headed Barbet and Green Jays are also present in the flocks. Birds we have seen in the garden include Band-bellied Owl, Sickle-winged Guan, Violet-fronted and Black-throated Brilliants, Wirecrested Thorntail, Spangled Coquette, Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Green-backed Becard, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, and lots of tanagers and flycatchers. Night at Copalinga Lodge. Hotel: Copalinga Lodge
Day 12-13 We’ll depart very early this morning for Yankuam in the Cordillera del Condor. From Zamora, We’ll make a few stops along the way in forest patches and open country, where we can see a number of open-country species, including White-eyed Parakeet, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Thrush-like Wren, Black-capped Donacobious, Yellow-bellied and Black-faced Dacnis and Crested Oropendola. There is a location for Bluish-fronted Jacamar, which we will look for en route. Our destination is a small “rustic” lodge on the Rio Nangaritza River in the Cordillera del Condor near the Peru border. Birding right around the lodge itself will be very productive. We’ll have parts of three different days at Yankuam. This is a relatively new area just recently opened up to birders – by a new bridge across the Rio Nangaritza – and our birding will be in forest patches along the road.
Our main purpose for coming to this rather remote area is to look for the Orange-throated Tanager – a very fancy monotypic species of tanager that was described to science in the early 1970’s, and until recently was only accessible from Northern Peru (and difficult to get there)! We hope to see small groups along the road! The other birding here is also very exciting and productive. We are at a lower elevation here, and the avifauna here has a distinct “Amazonia” feel to it. Some of the other “specialties” we’ll search for here include Blackish Pewee and White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant – two very rare and seldom seen flycatchers. Along the road we have seen other fun species such as Speckled Chachalaca, Gray-headed Kite, White Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Little Cuckoo, Black-throated Brilliant, White-eyed and Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Dusky-billed Parrotlet, Purplish Jacamar, White-necked Puffbird, Channel-billed Toucan, Lemon-throated and Gilded Barbets, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Crested Foliage-gleaner, Lined Antshrike, Black Antbird, White-browed Antbird, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Syristes, Gray-tailed Piha, Striped and White-bearded Manakins, Spangled Cotinga, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Violaceous Jay, White-thighed Swallow, Black-capped Donacobious, Masked Crimson Tanager, lots of Tangara tanagers, especially Paradise, Green-and-gold, Bay-headed, and Turquoise, Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnis, and Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak. One of the exciting aspects of Yankuam is the unexpected – relatively few birders have visited this area, and it seems every time a group goes there, they find something new and exciting! Hotel: Cabanas Yankuam
Day 14 We’ll have one final morning to bird the Yankuam area. Depending on what we may be missing, we’ll have a somewhat flexible schedule to check one of several locations. We’ll depart after lunch, and make several stops as we head back to Loja for the night. Hotel: Hotel Libertador
Day 15 We’ll depart Loja early this morning for the Saraguro area, a forest reserve about half way between Loja and Cuenca. This is an exciting birding area, and especially good for rare species such as Red-faced Parrot and Crescent-faced Antpitta. We may also see high-elevation tanagers such as both Scarlet-bellied and Black-chested Mountain Tanagers, and a number of other high-elevation species, similar to Tapichalaca – so we have multiple chances for a number of these species. After lunch we’ll continue toward Cuenca, and then drop down into the Yunguilla Valley. Our destination is the town of Yunguilla, and a small reserve of remnant brushy forest. This location is the “only” location for the rare Pale-headed Brush-Finch – a species thought to be possibly extinct before being “rediscovered” in the 1990’s. We’ll have the late afternoon and early morning to search for this endemic species. Night in Yunguilla.
Day 16 We’ll spend the morning at the Yunguilla Reserve and look for Pale-headed Brush-Finch. The birding at the reserve is fun, and there are a number of other birds found there that might be interesting to us, including Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Line-cheeked Spinetail, White-throated Tyrannulet, and Gray-browed Brush-Finch. In the late morning we’ll drive to Cuenca for lunch and checking in to our hotel there. In the late afternoon we’ll go up the road above Cuenca to El Cajas National Park and bird along the road. El Cajas is at very high elevation, and very different from other habitats we have visited so far on the trip. We’ll look in brushy vegetation for the endemic Violet-throated Metaltail, and then check patches of “Polylepis” trees for both Tit-like Dacnis and Giant Conebill. We’ll return to Cuenca to our comfortable hotel. Night in Cuenca
Day 17 We’ll have the full morning to bird El Cajas National Park again. We’ll look for the birds mentioned for yesterday, as well as others including Blue-mantled Thornbill, Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Ruddy Duck, Brown-back Chat-Tyrant, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Many-striped Canastero, Paramo Wren, and others. The scenery here is also breathtaking! We’ll have a box lunch with us this day, and we’ll work our way back down out of the Andes to Guayaquil, making a few stops along the way in the foothills, and perhaps again near Manglares de Churute. We’ll arrive at our hotel in Guayaquil in the late afternoon and have a farewell dinner at the hotel. Hotel: Grand Hotel Guayaquil
Day 18 The trip ends this morning with flights home.
NOTE: Single Supplement: It should be noted that Single Accommodations might not be available at one place we stay on this tour, Umbrellabird Lodge. This facility has at total of five rooms, and doubling up may be essential to stay at this lodge. The big advantage is saving our-selves as much as an hour and a half driving time (each way) to arrive at our morning birding. Plus, staying at the reserves supports the ecotourism efforts of the Jocotoco Foundation, and provides much needed revenue to continue their excellent efforts! Singles will be available at all other hotels and lodges.