DAY 1: Monday 14 September - Travel UK to ECUADOR
Relax in our complimentary VIP airport lounge, then fly from London Heathrow to Quito where we will be met by our local guide and transferred to our comfortable modern hotel.
DAY 2: Tuesday 15 September - Land of the Hummingbirds, Quito - Tandayapa - Mindo
Our birding begins at the Yanacocha Reserve, in the high cloud forest at 10,500ft, among one of the most biodiverse environments on Earth. The reserve protects an area of elfin Polylephis Forest, home to many hundreds of bird, butterfly and orchid species. In this habitat the variety of hummingbirds is a major highlight; Shining Sunbeam, Mountain Velvet-breast, Great Sapphirewing, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, and three species of puffleg including endemic and highly endangered Black-breasted Puffleg, gradually recovering from near extinction, and Purple-backed Thornbill can be found, amongst colourful flocks of tanagers, flowerpiercers, and furnariids. Antpittas and tapaculos call from the dense forest.
After lunch we visit Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve, where 250 species of birds have been recorded, one of the highest totals for a single private reserve in this region. We walk the trails, looking White-faced Nunbird, Crested Guan, Long-billed Starthroat, Maroon-chested Ground-Dove, Undulated, Yellow-breasted and Giant Antpitta, Uniform Treehunter, Lyre-tailed Nightjar and the spectacular Long-wattled Umbrellabird. Tamandúa Anteater may be found in the trees, and with 32 hummingbird species seen at Alambi, this is a wonderful beginning to our holiday.
Late afternoon we depart for Sachatamia Reserve, a marvellous private ecological reserve close to the protected forest area of Mindo-Nambillo. This region is one of the most bird-rich areas in the world, and from the feeders at the Lodge, to the birds deep in the forest and along the roadside, you will marvel at the range and diversity of species on offer here. Overnight for four nights at Sachatamia Lodge, a favourite place of Heatherlea holidays!
DAY 3: Wednesday 16 September - Mindo:Mashpi area - the Oilbird Reserve
Before breakfast we enjoy local birding at the Lodge feeders and within the adjacent forest. After breakfast we head for Mashpi Reserve, in a part of the cloudforest where around 500 birds have been recorded. This is another superb birding location, famous for its impressive list of ‘Choco’ endemics (36 species). This cloud forest is also extremely rich in plants, from ferns and bromeliads to many orchids. Later we visit El Chontal, where as many as 100 Oilbirds make their homes in the Los Tayos Cave, which is actually a deep, dark ravine.
Day 4: Thursday 17 September - Mindo: Rio Silanche Reserve -Milpe Reserve
After an early breakfast we drive to Rio Silanche, a tropical lowland reserve which holds an incredible diversity. This important site is home to many endemic birds, including Dusky Pigeon, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Little Woodstar, Choco Trogon, Double-banded Graytail, Stub-tailed Antbird, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Scarlet-and-white Tanager, Blue-whiskered Tanager, Gray and Gold Tanager, Blue-headed Parrot, Marron-tailed Parakeet, White-bearded Manakin, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-headed Tody Flycatcher, Slaty-capped Shriketyrant, and many others.
In the afternoon we visit Milpe Bird Sanctuary, a 155-acre reserve considered to be among the finest sites in Ecuador, and defined as an ‘Important Bird Area’ by BirdLife International. The reserve is a mixture of primary forest, secondary forest, woodland and pasture, and a recent census recorded 247 birds. Amongst these are many of the most spectacular local 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, near-threatened Blue-whiskered Tanager and Long-wattled Umbrellabird.
Day 5: Friday 18 September - Mindo: The incredible umberella bird - Rio Blanco
Early in the morning we head to Los Bancos to see Long-wattled Umbrellabird, still found in reasonable numbers here at the Luis Agila property. These fabulous birds fly from tree to tree searching for insects or fruit and if lucky, we might see the males inflating their long wattle.
We also visit Mirador del Río Blanco, with incredible valley views, where we may find many different tanagers, and hummingbirds such as tiny Green Thorntail and beautiful Green-Crowned Brilliant. Back at Sachatamia Lodge we may have time to look for special birds including Giant and Scaled Antpitta, Choco Toucan, Scaled Fruiteater, Tanager-Finch and Club-winged Manakin. Other possibilities include Golden-headed Quetzal, Toucan Barbet, Masked Trogon, Golden-naped Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Black and white Owl, Wattled and Sickle-winged Guan, Bronze-winged Parrot, Sparkling Violet-ear, Andean Emerald, Booted Racket-tail and Long-tailed Sylph.
Day 6: Saturday 19 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 Refuge, we may also be treated to exceptional views of Giant, Ochre-bellied, Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpittas. We also visit the feeding station with chances to see Black-chinned and Blue-winged Mountain-tanager, Toucan Barbet, Dusky Piha, Sickle-winged Guan, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and more. 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 it - you will have 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: Sunday 20 September - Antisana Ecological Reserve
A complete change today, as we travel through a stunning landscape of open páramo, forested ravines, rocky outcrops and glaciated lakes. Antisana Ecological Reserve is one of the best places to see 'páramo' birds, amongst which the most impressive is Andean Condor. This huge vulture has the largest wingspan (about 10.5 feet) of any raptor in the world. Although there are of course no guarantees, you have every chance of seeing this magnificent bird. Other species of this elevated landscape include Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Variable Hawk, Black-faced Ibis, Paramo Ground Tyrant, Paramo Pipit, Sedge Wren, Baird’s Sandpiper, Cinereous Harrier, Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Black-faced Ibis, Shining Sunbeam, Red- rumped Bush-Tyrant, Paramo Pipit, Giant Conebill, and Spectacled Whitestart.
We visit Lake Mica (Laguna Micacocha) to see waterbirds including Silvery Grebe, Andean Teal, Andean Ruddy Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Coot, plus many land birds such as Aplomado Falcon, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing and Carunculated Caracara. Other species 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.
Later in the day we drive through the Papallacta region. This area is classified as ‘humid temperate forest’, characterized by more stunted trees and thicker canopy, cooler climate, and a different avian composition. There are well conserved patches of Polylepis forest here, and it is an excellent place to observe high-altitude species including Variable Hawk, Many-striped Canastero, Tawny Antpitta, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphire-wing, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Torrent Duck, Torrent Tyrannulet and beautiful White-capped Dipper. We enjoy dinner and overnight at Guango Lodge, on Ecuador's eastern Andean slope.
Day 8: Monday 21 September - Papallacta - San Isidro Lodge
In the morning and afternoon we walk through the trails of Guango Lodge adding to our list; possibilities include Andean Guan, Plushcap, Slaty Finch, Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan, Pale-naped Brush-finch, Gray-hooded Bush-tanager, Hooded Mountain-tanager, Pearl Treerunner, Mountain Avocetbill, Tourmaline Sunangel, and another chance for Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper.
Next we continue to San Isidro, at c. 6,800 ft. in a zone mostly blanketed by extensive humid forest. This combination of factors means agreeable temperatures and great birding! Specialities include Black-chested Fruiteater, Long-tailed Antbird, Barred Antthrush, and little-known Peruvian Antpitta. Night birds include Andean Potoo (rare), Rufous-bellied Nighthawk (regular) and both Rufous-banded and Mottled Owls. The most absorbing night attraction in recent years has been a large and beautiful owl, 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 for two nights at San Isidro Lodge.
Day 9: Tuesday 22 September - San Isidro Lodge Trails
After breakfast we have a full day birding right around the lodge, so we can take our time in this special place. Some of the regular birds include Montane and Olive-backed Woodcreepers, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Black-billed Peppershrike, Inca Jay, Bluish Flowerpiercer and Subtropical Cacique. We also visit Antpitta feeders, where you may see White-bellied Antpitta only feet away, and maybe even very rare Peruvian Antpitta. We return to the lodge for dinner and overnight, with another chance for nightjars and owls.
Day 10: Wednesday 23 September - San Isidro – Wildsumaco Lodge
After breakfast we depart to Wildsumaco Lodge, and en-route visit The Loreto Road, officially known as the Jondachi-Hollín-Loreto-Coca Road, famous for its birding opportunities. Some notable target birds here include Dark - breasted Spinetail, Ash-browed Spinetail, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Lined Antshrike, Foothill Antwren, Olivaceous Greenlet, Yellow-whiskered Chlorospingus, and Bronze-green Euphonia.
Next we visit Narupa reserve, which protects a large block of eastern Andean foothill forest. Narupa has a growing list of birds that currently includes over 300 species. Five globally threatened species have been recorded, including the flagship species Cerulean Warbler, a long-distance migrant that breeds in eastern North America and winters in northwestern South America.
In the afternoon we visit the Cordillera de Los Huacamayos to walk through one of the specialised birdwatching trails. Among the many different species possible here are Black-billed Mountain-toucan, White-bellied Antpitta, Spillman’s Tapaculo, Bicolored Antvireo, Greater Scythebill and very local White-rimmed Brush-finch among others. Late afternoon we arrive at Wildsumaco Lodge, where we have dinner and stay for two nights.
Wildsumaco is a very comfortable lodge with pleasant social areas, a restaurant, bar and a cozy porch from where we can admire magnificent views and birds flying around the lodge.
Days 11 and 12: Thursday 24 and Friday 25 September -
Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary
During these two days we explore the trails of Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary, located on a ridge in the Andes' Eastern Foothills close to Sumaco National Park and Napo Galeras National Park. Given the strategic location of this place between the Andean foothills and the River Amazon, it is little surprise the Sumaco area holds some of the richest avifauna in the world. A wonderful mix of cloud forest species, foothill specialities, 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.
Just a few of the birds; Gray-tailed Piha, Blue-rumped Manakin, Military Macaw, Buff-breasted Tody, Blackish Rail, Tropical Screech-owl, Black-banded Crake, and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater. Short-tailed Antthrush and Wing-banded Wren often sing, while more uncommon species including Gray-throated Leaftosser and Plain-backed Antpitta are seen occasionally. Very rare Yellow-throated Spadebill has a territory along the Piha Trail, and at any time 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 colourful species of tanager may be accompanied by Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, recently-described Foothill Elaenia, and sometimes Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater.
The lodge is located at about 4600ft, and the reserve ranges from 3900ft to 4900 feet, with incredible panoramic views of the Rio Pucuno Valley and the Andes beyond. A very special place!
Day 13: Saturday 26 September - Wildsumaco – Quito
After breakfast you have one last opportunity to enjoy this amazing place, then we return to Quito, perhaps stopping on the way to search for Orange-breasted Falcon and Cliff Flycatcher. We take a box lunch en-route, arriving late afternoon to our hotel in Quito for a final overnight stay. Tonight we celebrate at a local restaurant with a farewell dinner party. Please note, in 2019 those joining the Amazonian extension will depart directly to the city of Coca today.
Day 14: Sunday 27 September - Departure
After collating a huge birdlist, our guide will collect you after breakfast for transfer to the airport to catch the international flight back to London Heathrow