Trip Report – December 2011
DAY 1: We had arrived in Guayaquil from the Galapagos and our guide picked us up from the hotel. Our first stop was Cerro Blanco which is a wonderful spot about 14 km to the west of Guayaquil. Some great birds including Pacific Hornero, White-tailed Jay, Black-capped Sparrow, Saffron Siskin, Crimson Breasted Finch, Baron’s Hermit and Ecuadorian Piculet. We then headed west stopping for Savannah Hawk, Short-tailed Field-tyrant, Variable Hawk and Necklaced Spinetail en route to Salinas where we had a great lunch on the malecon.
Next was the Escousal Ponds for a huge number of shore birds and waders – the highlight for us being Chilean Flamingo. After that stop we went to a strange location near the ponds for amazing views of Peruvian Meadowlark and Burrowing Owl. We then drove for about 2 hours to Puerto Lopez where we stayed at Hosteria Mandala.
DAY 2: Early start heading up to Agua Blanca – Blue crowned Motmot, Slaty & One-colored Becards, Striped Cuckoo, Yellow-tailed and White-edged Orioles, Red-billed Scythebill, Baird’s, Streaked & Sooty-headed Flycatchers. There is also a little village up there which is worth a visit. The area was extremely dry with no leaves on the trees – which meant the birds were easy to see.
After lunch back at the hotel we went to an area of humid forest at Bala de Oro with totally different species. Tumbes Swift and Tumbes Pewee, Ecuadorian Trogon, Highland Hepatic Tanager, White-backed Fire-eye, Grey-gold Warbler and more. Great place in the afternoon because it is quite shady.
DAY 3: Off to Rio Ayampe to see Esmeralda’s Woodstar – or so we hoped. A short way up the trail we stopped by the river for Masked Water Tyrant and really lucked out with Superciliated Wren, Black-lored Yellowthroat and Blackish-headed Spinetail all in one spot.
Then continued further up for Black-tailed Flycatcher, Lemon-rumped Tanager, Black & White Becard, N. Violaceaous Trogon and more – good birding up here but unfortunately for us no Woodstar!
We had to start making our way back to Guayaquil and stopped for a great lunch in Mananila – which is a great little surfer village on the right as we headed towards Salinas. Decided to try for Collared Warbler Finch and Parrot-billed Seedeater at Chocalateria in Salinas – but it was the end of the dry season and there was nothing there. (Apparently it is normally easy to see both of these here!).
DAY 4: Stayed back in Guayaquil so left early for the 1 hour drive to Mangalares-Churute for Horned Screamer. It was easy to see them from the road and we had great views of several of them. At the park entrance, where we paid our entrance fee, we had a surprise flock which included Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Guira Tanager, Collared Antshrike and Slaty-capped Flycatcher.
Then it was off to the forest – which turned out to be disappointingly quiet but the road on the way in was great – Pearl Kite, Blue Ground Dove, Orange-crowned Euphonia, Coca Heron and Laughing Falcon were all new for the trip.
On our way back into Guayaquil to catch our flight to Quito we stopped beside the road as we crossed a bridge and got Wattled Jacana and Snail Kite. Then the short flight to Quito where we were picked up by our next guide.
DAY 5: We stayed at the San Jorge lodge just north of Quito and after watching hummingbirds at the feeders (Shining Sunbeam and Sparkling Violet Ears mainly) we hiked up the hill behind the lodge for some fantastic birds including Azara’s Spinetail, Blue & Yellow Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain tanager, Giant Hummingbird, Andean Siskin,Sapphire-vented Puffleg, Red Crested Cotinga and many more. Absolutely fantastic – and the highlight when we got to the top were 2 adult Andean Condors flying low over the rise.
After a great lunch at the lodge our afternoon was to be spent at Yanacocha but due to poor weather (and a really bad attack of altitude sickness that put me in the hospital) we had to abandon that part of our itinerary.
DAY 6: With the comforting knowledge that every minute was taking us to a lower elevation we headed out on the Nono-Mindo Road to our next lodge at Tandayapa. The 35 kms took us all day and we were rewarded with some truly wonderful birds. At a small village right on the road we stopped and saw Sword-billed Hummingbird, Rufus-breasted Chat Tyrant, Black-crested Warbler and White-sided Flowerpiercer
As we drove further the birds kept coming – Plain-tailed Wren, Streak-throated Bush-tyrant, Collared Inca, Andean Guan, White-capped Dipper and Torrent Duck were just a few of them. And as we went lower the species changed giving us a total of over 34 new species for our trip – and while its hard to pick one highlight the Andean Cock-of the Rock probably has to be the one.
The road to our lodge was washed out when we arrived so our bags went by donkey and we walked. Enjoyed some great hummingbirds at the feeders right by the restaurant (which is completely open). They have a total of 17 species – of which we saw 12 pretty much straight away.
DAY 7: The day was spent around the grounds of the lodge. It started well with 14 new species from the restaurant before breakfast – Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Blue- winged Mountain-Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, Golden-naped, Black-capped, Summer and Metallic-green Tanagers all showed up. Then it was a walk below the lodge – which was disappointingly ( and apparently unusually) quiet – but eventually we got a mixed flock and added 10 new species to our list. Red-faced Spinetail, Sierran Elainia, Barred Becard, Ornate Flycatcher and Marble-faced Bristle-tyrant among them.
After lunch we went up behind the lodge – it was even quieter and we only added one species but it was Scaled Fruiteater so we were satisfied.
DAY 8: An extremely early start as we were picked up by a local taxi at 5am in order to get to Angel Paz -which is an amazing reserve- this is a ‘must see’ and I highly recommend it. Visit the website linked above and read the full story but you will see some amazing species ( Great, Ochre-breasted, Yellow-breasted and Moustached Antpitta, Dark-backed Woodquail) that are being fed at various spots around the reserve. Try to go on a day that isn’t too busy (it can seem a little tacky if there are too many people) it is a treat – there are also some fabulous hummingbirds at the feeders – including Emerald Brilliant .
Angel Paz himself is extremely gracious – they serve breakfast after the first bird walk and then he took us on a another walk away from his property where he located Toucan Barbet and Powerful Woodpecker among others.
DAY 9: Left Tandayapa Lodge after breakfast with a new guide, who was the owner of the Magic Birding Circuit, and headed to their next lodge in Milpe. Stopped at the top of the ridge in Tandayapa near the famous Bella Vista Lodge and saw Plate-billed Mountain toucan. Then drove onto the lodge birding the Milpe Road – where we picked up another 23 new species before lunch. Many of the Choco endemics including Choco Warbler, Choco Toucan and Choco Trogon plus Bay-headed, Gray & Gold and Silver throated Tanagers.
A walk in the grounds of the lodge in the afternoon was quite something -with some wonderful forest birds including Glistening Green tanager, Immaculate Antbird, Spotted Nightingale Thrush, Tawny-fronted Leaftosser, Bicoloured Antbird and Crimson-bellied Woodpecker.
After a dinner on the deck, where we were serenaded by Louis who manages the trails and also sings, we headed back out for night birds. We heard Crested Owl but couldn’t find it so had to settle for wonderful views of Common Potoo and Paraque.
DAY 10: Bit of a dull birding day because the weather was not co-operating. We started at some feeders in the grounds of the lodge that gave us some good views of yesterday’s birds and added Bay Wren, Stripe-throated Hermit and Ochre-breasted Tanager but we abandoned our forest walk after only adding Broad-billed Motmot because of the weather. Decided to take a break from birding and headed into town to a great cafe Mirador de los Blancos – great feeder, internet access and very gracious hosts gave us a lazy morning to catch up on emails while still getting to watch the birds in comfort.
Decided to give birding another try late in the afternoon and walked down the Waterfall Trail on the grounds – it was still quiet but we did add Esmeralda’s Antbird and Black-cheeked Woodpecker.
DAY 11: Off to Rio Silanche today – this tour operator refuses to go to any established reserves (other than his own) so we birded the road area which delivered a great number of species ( 25 new for the trip) and I don’t think we missed anything. Our new birds included Black Hawk Eagle, Checker-throated Antwren, Blue-headed Parrot, Dotwinged Antwren, Gold-winged Manakin, Pacific Antwren, Long-tailed Tyrant and more.
Then we had to head back to Quito – as we entered the north of the city we stopped at an abandoned race track which allowed us to see Ashy-breasted Sierra Finch and Band-tailed Seedeater. Arrived late in the day at the hotel.
DAY 12: We were picked up from the hotel by our next guide, Roger, and drove straight out of town to bird the Papallacta Pass. The weather was challenging and had caused some road slides so we couldn’t use the side road through the pass which meant we couldn’t start birding until we pulled off the main road and drove up to the radio tower – but then we managed to find the Rufus-bellied Seedsnipe (wow!) and great views of Grass Wren, Stout-billed & Bar-winged Cinclodes, White-chinned Thistletail and Ecuadorian Hillstar.
Onto to a nearby lake for Andean Coot and Yellow-billed Pintail and then down the eastern slope to another side road where we found two mixed flocks which was fantastic – and added 15 new species for our trip – Red-rumped Bush Tyrant, Blue-backed Conebill, Black-backed Chat-tyrant, Masked, Buff-breasted & Black-chested Mountain Tanagers, Paramo Seedeater and Paramo Tapaculo. There were also Tawny Antpittas all over the place – sitting out on top of shrubs, singing away, not the kind of view you normally get of antpittas!
Down to our next lodge at Guango which has feeders all through the grounds in front of the lodge – we had several new hummingbirds including Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Long-tailed Sylph, Chestnut-breasted Coronet and Tourmaline Sunangel plus great views of Sword-Billed Hummingbird.
DAY 13: Some good birding around the lodge, although it was cold and rainy – still a morning walk added plenty of new birds including Blue & Black Tanager, Mountain Wren, Black-eared and Black-capped Hemispingus, Grey-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Torrent Tyranulet and Glowing Puffleg. 15 new species in all.
Decided to head towards our next lodge, San Isidro, after lunch. Did a detour up a side road on the right (10 mins before the Isidro turn off) which turned out to be very rewarding – Fasciated Tiger Heron, Solitary Eagle and Torrent Duck were all there – as well as the usual caciques, oropendolas and jays plus Saffron-capped Tanager and Rufus-capped Tody-Flycatcher.
DAY 14 -16: We spent 4 nights at San Isidro (could probably have just done 3) and birded the grounds, the road passed the lodge, the grounds of a lodge (Sierra Azul) at the end of the road, an area around Baeza and the ridge at Guacomayos. We added 60 species to our trip list – which was fabulous.
They are feeding White- bellied and Peruvian Antpittas at the lodge and more recently there has been a Long-tailed Antbird coming in – plus there are Black-Barred Owls in the grounds every evening. Other species worth mentioning at the lodge and on the road (and there are many) were Highland Motmot, Black-billed Peppershrike, Crested & Golden-headed Quetzal, Grass-green Tanager, Southern Lapwing, Noble Snipe, Sickle-winged Guan, Plushcap, Andean Toucan, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Glossy Blackbird and Rufus-bellied Nightjar.
Our trip to areas around Baeza gave us great views of Red-breasted Blackbird, Andean Solitaire, Ash-browed Spinetail, Black & White and Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Olivaceaous Siskin and more.
The Guacomayos Ridge was quite quiet the day we went there – not a ton of new birds but some great ones – Green & Black Fruiteater, Rufus-crested Tanager, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Dusky Piha, Rufus Spinetail, Barred Antthrush, Blackish Tapaculo & Handsome Flycatcher. All in all we added about 60 species to our trip list here.
DAY 17-19: Left San Isidro and drove to a lower elevation on the eastern slope – new species started showing up at our first stop beside the road to Coca – Magpie Tanager, Channel-billed Toucan, Striolated Puffbird, Orange Breasted Falcon, Cliff Flycatcher, Green-fronted Lancebill and Spot-breasted Woodpecker were the first to be seen.
Then when we got near to our next lodge at Summaco we had lunch by their first set of hummingbird feeders – and we had 11 new species of hummer while eating our sandwiches – including Gould’s Jewelfront, Wire-crested Thorntail, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Black-throated Mango and Black-fronted Brilliant.
Over the next several days we birded the forested areas around the lodge getting another 49 new species – but the weather was really challenging and we weren’t able to maximize the time – still after 17 days of birding our socks off a couple of lazier days didn’t hurt (and anyway it was Christmas Day so you are supposed to be lazy!) – no internet and very limited cell-phone at this lodge so it seemed very unchristmassy but we got to enjoy birds off the deck and over the time we were there we saw some great stuff including Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Paradise tanager, Lasfresney’s Piculet, Military Macaw, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Plain-backed Antpitta (which they had started feeding) Rufus-crowned Gnateater, Short-tailed Antthrush, White-tipped Sicklebill, Gorgeted Woodstar, Golden-collared Toucanet and more.
DAY 20: It was time to move on so we headed back down from the lodge to the main road en route to Coca There were a couple of good birding spots on the way down -including a great bamboo area – Large-headed & Olive-faced Flatbill, Blue Trogon, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Grey-breasted Crake, Olive-chested and Gray capped Flycatcher were added.
Then it was on into Coca (Short-tailed Swift en route) to catch our canoe that was to take us down the Napo river to Sacha Lodge. Interesting trip – first you take a fairly larger motorized canoe for 4 hours, then hike for about a kilometer and then a short paddle in a small canoe across an idyllic lake to the lodge. It was a great trip, the lodge was great – I highly recommend it.
DAY 21 – 26: These final days were fantastic – Sacha Lodge is extremely good and if you inform them that you are there for the birds they will ensure you get a great bird guide. We were lucky that we had the guide to ourselves for the whole time. Five days spent wandering through the Amazonian jungle, canoeing on small streams and boating down the Napo River were spectacular. Not to mention the canopy walk, tree house and parrot licks – you don’t have to do any planning because it is all done for you, and it is extremely well done as well.
112 NEW species – making a grand total of 723 for the trip. Too many to even begin to mention (see Bird List) and a fabulous way to end our vacation. You are in the rain forest though so be ready for rain!!!
General Notes: This is a great country with some of the friendliest people we have ever met. At no point did we feel that we were just a ‘walking wallet’ which is true in many countries.
Also, it is worth noting that the medical care I received in the hospital was excellent – and very inexpensive.
We had a driver the whole time but the roads were very good and we could have got around on our own.
The weather varied from extremely humid and hot in the Amazon to almost freezing in the Papallacta pass and then very hot and dry on the coast so be prepared for everything – most importantly the rain – of which we had a great deal.
If you are susceptible to altitude sickness you may want to be prepared – I don’t normally have a problem but I ended up in hospital in Quito so it might be a good idea to chat to your doctor before you go and see if there is something you can take with you. The hospital was great, by the way, and very inexpensive!
Hotel Quito – Quito
Colon Hilton – Guayaquil
Hosteria Mandala – Puerto Lopez
San Jorge, Quito– North of Quito
San Jorge – Tandayapa
San Jorge – Milpe
Guango Lodge – Guango
San Isidro Lodge – San Isidro
Wild Summaco Lodge – Summaco
Sacha Lodge – Napo River
Guides & Resources
Guides – Guayaquil and the coastal area – Carlos Vincenza of Tumbesian Birding.
San Jorge Quito, Tandayapa and Milpe – Magic Circle Tours – this is quite a good idea because it covers all the main areas while moving to different locations which avoids long drives – many of the other tour groups stay in one lodge and that means lengthy drives.
At Sacha Lodge ask for Oscar – he is ‘the’ bird guide at the lodge.
Field Guides – The Birds of Ecuador – Vol 2 – Ridgley & Greenfield.
Lonely Planet Guide for places of interest.