NEW! Mainland Ecuador
NEW! Mainland Ecuador
Birds of the Choco Andes bioregion
About 1,600 birds have been recorded on mainland Ecuador, an amazing 15% of the world’s species in less than 0.2% of the planet’s surface. This holiday focuses on this stunning avian diversity as we explore the major habitats of the Choco Andes bioregion: from the birdlife of lofty snow-covered mountain peaks, high páramos (unique mountain moorlands) and the valleys of the Andes, down through many gradations of temperate and subtropical forests to the Amazon basin. We particularly concentrate on the low elevation cloudforests and the other wet forest habitats. Important locations including Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Maquipucuna Reserve, Silanche Reserve, Antisana Ecological Reserve, San Isidro and Wildsumaco are all included. We stay in six different locations including Quito itself, and whilst this holiday is certainly aimed at the serious birder, we intend to be relaxed, birding at a gentle pace on a non-intensive itinerary. Transfers by comfortable coach will take two hours or less between most lodges, with two drives of around four hours each being the longest. These journeys can of course be delayed by birding considerations! Our target is a list of around 475 species, including many hummingbirds (well over 40 species), the unforgettable Andean Condor, and the spectacular and colourful Cock-of-the-Rock. We may even be lucky to see an owl which many local ornithologists consider to be new to science - see Day 8! The holiday ends with an optional extension to the Amazonian rainforest. You will be led by Heatherlea Guide Dave Pullan, veteran of many trips to Ecuador, together with experienced local guides.
Walking will be generally easy, with many birds just feet away. All walking is on marked paths and trails, and clients should expect around a couple of miles each day. The 'Cock-of-the-Rock' lek involves walking downhill then uphill on marked trails, though we will take rests and use the hide built to see the displaying birds. We may have to walk slightly further to see antpittas, though this is optional. It is possible we may have to take a walk of around three miles on Day 4 to see Long-wattled Umbrellabird, though we have more than one chance to see this extraordinary bird.
DAY 1 Saturday 21 September: UK-ECUADOR
Meet Dave Pullan and fly from London to Quito where we will be met by our local guide, and transfer to our comfortable hotel.
DAY 2 Sunday 22 September: FROM THE ANDES TO THE CLOUD FOREST
Amongst the most biodiverse environments on Earth, we begin at the Yanacocha Reserve, in the high cloud forest on volcanic slopes where we will see birds unique to this habitat. Yanacocha is situated on the north-eastern slope of Pichincha Volcano, a high-altitude cloud forest situated at 10,500 ft elevation. The reserve protects 964 hectares of elfin Polylephis Forest, which is home to many hundreds of bird, butterfly and orchid species. This is a high temperate zone habitat where the variety of hummingbirds is a major highlight - Shining Sunbeam, Mountain Velvet-breast, Great Sapphirewing, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, three species of puffleg including the highly endangered and endemic Black-breasted Puffleg, gradually recovering from near extinction, and Purple-backed Thornbill amongst colourful flocks of tanagers, flowerpiercers, and furnariids. Antpittas and tapaculos call from the dense forest. In late afternoon we depart to Maquipucuna reserve for dinner and overnight at Umachaca Lodge, Maquipucuna.
DAY 3 Monday 23 September: MAQUIPUCUNA RESERVE
Located in the heart of Ecuador's cloudforest, Maquipucuna Reserve holds exceptional diversity of birdlife, and we hike through trails to observe some amazing species perhaps including Golden-headed Quetzal, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Violet-tailed Sylph and Broad-billed Motmot. After lunch we will witness some of the projects conducted by the Foundation which protects this forest, helping local people to improve their way of life and avoid the destruction of the cloudforest. We continue birding, and again overnight at the Maquipucuna Reserve.
DAY 4 Tuesday 24 September: THE CLOUDFOREST, MAQUIPUCUNA - MINDO
Today we visit the Milpe Bird Sanctuary, a 155-acre reserve considered by many local birders to be amongst the finest sites in Ecuador, and defined by BirdLife International as ‘An Important Bird Area’. The reserve is a mixture of primary forest, secondary forest, woodland and pasture, and a recent census recorded 247 bird species. Amongst these are many of the most spectacular Chocó endemics, such as Plumbeous Forest-Falcon, Moss-backed Tanager, Glistening-green Tanager, Chocó Trogon, Club-winged Manakin, Indigo-crowned Quail-Dove, Double-banded Greytail, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Emerald and Scarlet-and-white Tanagers, the near-threatened Blue-whiskered Tanager and Long-wattled Umbrellabird. This last species might be seen quite readily, if not we will offer a walk to a second place. We overnight at the delightful Sachatamia Lodge, where hummingbirds are an absorbing spectacle on the feeders.
DAY 5 Wednesday 25 September: SILANCHE RESERVE
At Rio Silanche, a new Bird Sanctuary covering 70 hectares (175 acres) of tropical lowland reserve, it is possible to see an incredible diversity, especially from a 15-metre high observation tower that puts you eye-to-eye with awesome mixed foraging flocks. This important site, situated in low foothills between 300-350m, is one of the last remaining accessible forest remnants found in this key area, and home to many important Chocó and Tumbesian endemic bird species, including Dusky Pigeon, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Little Woodstar, Stub-tailed Antbird, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher and Scarlet-breasted Dacnis. A less taxing (up a bit later!) though memorable early morning birding experience may be available close to the lodge, where many large moths and hence birds are attacted to a metal sign close to a convenient streetlight! In the afternoon we will continue birding close to Sachatamia, where some of the species on view might include Giant and Scaled Antpitta, Choco Trogon, Scaled Fruiteater, Tanager-Finch and Club-winged Manakin. Target birds here include Wattled and Sickle-winged Guan, Bronze-winged Parrot, Sparkling Violet-ear, Andean Emerald, Booted Racket-tail and Long-tailed Sylph.
DAY 6 Thursday 26 September: THE AMAZING COCK-OF-THE-ROCK
We set off early to witness one of the most amazing birding experiences - the Cock-of-the-Rock lek. The males make bizarre sounds, flip about acrobatically, and display to the watching females. Here at the famous Paz de las Aves Reserve, we may also be treated to exceptional views of Giant, Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpittas. This is a memorable experience, not least because of the 'special relationship' between our host, Angel, and the antpittas, but we can't really describe this - you will have to come here to see for yourself ! A typical and generous breakfast is enjoyed alfresco before we return to Sachetamia Lodge and lunch, followed by a final look at the birds of the forest before afternoon transfer returning to Quito for dinner and overnight.
DAY 7 Friday 27 September: ANTISANA ECOLOGICAL RESERVE
We travel through a stunning landscape of open páramo, forested ravines, rocky outcrops and glaciated lakes, created by a colossal volcano 400 years ago. Antisana Reserve is one of the best places to see 'páramo' birds, amongst which the most impressive is the largest raptor in the world - Andean Condor. This huge vulture has the largest wingspan - about 10.5 feet - of any bird in the world. Although there are of course no guarantees, you have every chance of seeing this magnificent bird. Here we visit Lake Mica (Laguna Micacocha) in order to see waterbirds including Silvery Grebe, Andean Teal, Andean Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Coot, plus many land birds such as Aplomado Falcon, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing and Carunculated Caracara. Other species seen include Andean Snipe, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Tawny Antpitta, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, and Black-backed Bush-Tanager. We enjoy dinner and overnight at Guango Lodge, on Ecuador's eastern slope.
DAY 8 Saturday 28 September: PAPALLACTA - SAN ISIDRO LODGE
In the morning and afternoon we walk through the trails of this lodge adding to our list, before continuing to San Isidro to seek specialities including Black-chested Fruiteater, Long-tailed Antbird, Barred Antthrush and the little-known Peruvian Antpitta. Here we will be around 6,800 ft. above sea level in a zone still mostly blanketed by extensive humid forest. This combination of factors means agreeable temperatures and exciting birds. In this area night birds include Andean Potoo (rare, but sometimes staked-out), Rufous-bellied Nighthawk (regular around the cottages) and Rufous-banded and Mottled Owls (both of which inhabit the immediate surrounding forests). The most exciting night attraction in recent years has been a large and beautiful owl that is only currently known from the forests next to the lodge. Studies are underway to determine its identity, to date it is considered to be a species of the genus Ciccaba, often included in the larger Strix genus. Exciting stuff! In the evening we have a nocturnal walk with these owls and nightjars in mind. Overnight at San Isidro Lodge.
DAY 9 Sunday 29 September: SAN ISIDRO: HUACAMAYOS
After breakfast we travel to the Cordillera de Los Huacamayos to walk through one of the trails specialized for birdwatching. Here it is possible to see many different species and we will look for Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, White-bellied Antpitta, Bicolored Antvireo and the very local White-rimmed Brush-Finch among others. Box lunch on route and return to San Isidro for overnight.
DAY 10 Monday 30 September: SAN ISIDRO - WILDSUMACO LODGE
Today we drive to Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary, located on a ridge in the Andes' Eastern Foothills close to Sumaco National Park and Napo Galeras National Park. The lodge is located at about 4600 feet, and the reserve ranges from 3900 to 4900 feet with an incredible panoramic view of the Rio Pucuno Valley and the Andes beyond. Considering the strategic location of this place between the Andean Foothills and the Amazon, the Sumaco area holds one of the richest avifauna in the world. A wonderful mix of cloud forest species, foothill specialties, and typically Amazonian birds share Wildsumaco's lush subtropical rainforest with a myriad of other animals. Many of the birds here are rare, endangered, or very difficult to see elsewhere. In the afternoon you will have time for a birding walk through the trails of this comfortable lodge, before dinner and overnight.
DAY 11 Tuesday 1 October: WILDSUMACO WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
During this day we will walk through the trails of this Sanctuary where it is possible to see Gray-tailed Piha, Blue-rumped Manakin, and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater. Short-tailed Antthrush and Wing-banded Wren often sing, while more uncommon species like Gray-throated Leaftosser and Plain-backed Antpitta are seen occasionally. The very rare Yellow-throated Spadebill has a territory along the Piha Trail and at any time the endangered Military Macaw or rare Spot-winged Parrotlet might fly by, or Black Hawk-Eagle soar overhead. We may also see Wire-crested Thorntail, Yellow-breasted Antwren, and Coppery-chested Jacamar. Several colorful species of tanager may be accompanied by Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, the recently described Foothill Elaenia, and sometimes Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater. Return to Wildsumaco Lodge for dinner and overnight.
DAY 12 Wednesday 2 October: WILDSUMACO LODGE - GUANGO LODGE
More birding at Wildsumaco followed by birding en-route as we return to Guango Lodge with time to settle before dinner and overnight.
DAY 13 Thursday 3 October: GUANGO LODGE - QUITO
After breakfast we again walk through the trails of Guango Lodge, where specialties include Andean Guan, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Turquoise Jay, Scarlet-bellied, Lacrimose, Buff-breasted and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Black-headed, Black-capped and Black-eared Hemispingus and Slaty Bursh-Finch. Also at Guango Lodge's feeders we can see beautiful hummingbird species including Mountain Velvetbreast, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, Golden-breasted and Glowing Pufflegs, Mountain Avocetbill, and White-bellied and Gorgeted Woodstars.
Return to the lodge for lunch, then return to Quito with time to rest and overnight.
DAY 14 Friday 4 October: FLIGHT HOME or EXTENSION to the AMAZON
After collating a huge birdlist, we transfer to the airport to return home, OR join the optional Amazon extension. After an early breakfast our guide will pick you up for transfer to the airport to catch our international flight back to London.
OPTIONAL EXTENSION to the AMAZON RAINFOREST
Day 14 Friday 4 October: THE FABULOUS AMAZON
This optional adventure takes us to the fabulous Amazonian rainforest, as we fly to Coca (35 mins) over the Eastern Andes Mountain Range, crossing the equator and looking into snow capped volcanoes at 19,000 ft to reach the headwaters of the Amazon Basin near the Napo River at only 820 ft. A motorized canoe will be waiting take you downstream on the rushing Napa River. This huge river hurtles towards the Amazon through rainforest filled with wildlife. Transfer to the MANATEE AMAZON EXPLORER takes around 1 1/2 hours. Once aboard, we navigate further down the Napo River while looking for Cocoi and Striated Herons, Snowy Egret, Plumbeous Kite, Roadside Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, different species of parrot and Oriole Blackbird. After lunch we stop at the Life Under Water Museum and return on board for dinner after a night walk. Everything will depend on the river water level, weather conditions, wildlife behaviour, and accessibility by river.
DAY 15 Saturday 5 October: THE PARROT CLAY LICK AND THE OBSERVATION TOWER
Breakfast will be served on board after which we leave for the Parrot Clay lick, a great experience where we should see Mealy Amazon Parrot, Yellow Crowned Parrot, Blue Headed Parrot and dusky headed Parakeet, plus perhaps White eyed Parakeet. A second hide may produce Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Orange-winged Parrot and maybe Scarlet Macaw. There will be many other birds this morning, such as Black Faced Hawk, White Hawk, Tiny Hawk, Thrush-like Antpitta, Ornate Hawk Eagle, Southern Nightingale Wren, Blue Backed Grosbeak, and White tailed Trogon.
Back on board lunch will be ready, and in the afternoon we explore the Chaullacocha black water system. Depending on the river´s water level we access this wonderful system either by walking or by canoe. Then an exploration of the lake shores looking for wildlife, such as turtles, herons, and caimans, and later in the day, a visit to the 30-metre high canopy tower, offering the most amazing view of the forest. From this perspective, we can appreciate the secrets of this vast ecosystem that cannot be seen from below. Return to the MANATEE at night, after searching for caimans and Boat-billed Heron, Common and Great Potoos, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, and Pauraque on Chaullacocha Lake .
DAY 16 Sunday 6 October: VISITING THE PAÑACOCHA BIOLOGICAL CORRIDOR
We continue downstream to the mouth of the Pañayacu (Piranha River). Here we take a canoe trip to see this fascinating protected forest, home to Pink River Dolphin, Common Squirrel Monkey and much more. This area is an ecosystem flooded by white waters, and the rivers and lakes are the perfect habitat for the infamous Piranha, the Water Monkey Fish (Arawana) and White Caymans. Lunch is a delicious Amazon-style BBQ. In the afternoon, we walk to see owls, including Tropical Screech, Tawny-bellied and Ferruginous Pygmy, the impressive Spectacled or even elusive Horned Owl, plus Common and Great Potoo, nighthawks and nightjars including Pauraque, Lyre-tailed and Ladder Tailed Nightjar.
DAY 17 Monday 7 October: NATIVE DWELLING - COCA - QUITO
Early this morning we will visit a native dwelling and then return to the boat and head back to the city of Coca to take the afternoon flight back to Quito. The boat ride upstream will take around two hours; a lunch box will be served on route. At the airport in Quito your guide will be waiting for you to transfer you to your hotel, with time to rest and overnight.
DAY 18 Tuesday 8 October: QUITO – INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT
After an early breakfast our guide will pick you up to transfer you to the airport to catch your international flight and return home full of incredible memories.
Accommodation: On nights 1, 6 and 13, we stay at the Anahi Boutique Hotel in Quito, a charming and stylish modern hotel in central Quito. Nights 2 and 3 are spent at Umachaca Lodge, Maquipucuna. Nights 4 and 5 are spent at Sachatamia Lodge, set in a private, ecological cloudforest reserve. Nights 7 and 12 are at Guango Lodge, Papallacta. Nights 8 and 9 are spent at the San Isidro Lodge, and nights 10 and 11 are at the Wildsumaco Lodge.
Those taking the Amazon extension will spend nights 14, 15, and 16 aboard the AMAZON EXPLORER. Night 17 will again be at the Anahi Boutique Hotel in Quito.
Price includes: Return scheduled flight from London Heathrow – Quito, internal flights (Amazon extension only), airport taxes, transfers from and to airports, full-board accommodation at the above hotels and lodges including picnic lunches, ground transportation on days away from our accommodation, all boat and canoe trips (Amazon extension only), departure tax from Ecuador, incidental tips, and the services of local guides.
Price excludes: Holiday insurance, optional tip to local guides/other staff/boat crew, drinks, and other personal expenses.
Please note: All itineraries in this brochure are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guides, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).