DAY 1: Mon 9 September 2024 UK - 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. We stay overnight in the recently restored Cultura Manor Hotel, a delightful nastural heritage listed building now operating as a boutique hotel.
DAY 2: Tue 10 September THE LAND OF 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: Wed 11 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: Thurs 12 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: Fri 13 September MINDO: THE INCREDIBLE UMBRELLA BIRD – RÍO 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. The birds fly from tree to tree searching for insects or fruit, and we watch for males inflating their long wattle, another unique experience in this fabulous place.
We also visit Mirador del Río Blanco, with incredible valley views, where we can 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: Sat 14 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 at Cultura Manor Hotel.
DAY 7: Sun 15 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: Mon 16 September PAPALLACTA – WILDSUMACO LODGE
After breakfast we will hike through the trails of this lodge looking for more bird species like 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, Torrent Duck, White capped Dipper and more. After lunch we will depart to Wildsumaco Lodge, where we will have dinner and stay for three 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 9 & 10: Tue 17 & Wed 18 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 11: Thurs 19 September WILDSUMACO - SAN ISIDRO LODGE
After breakfast 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.
We will 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.
We continue on 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 12: Fri 20 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 13: Sat 21 September SAN ISIDRO – 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 the excellent Cultura Manor Hotel in Quito.
DAY 14: Sun 22 September QUITO – GALAPAGOS (SANTA CRUZ ISLAND)
Today we will travel to one of the most amazing places of the world, The Galapagos Islands. Early in the morning we transfer to the airport to catch our Galapagos flight. On arrival, we transfer to Puerto Ayora where a delicious lunch will be waiting in a local restaurant. In the afternoon we visit the Charles Darwin Research Station where we learn at first hand about the conservation and research efforts in the islands and see the Giant Tortoise hatchlings and breeding program, which is saving several races from extinction. During this visit we have the chance to look for birds around the Charles Darwin Station, including Small, Medium and Large Ground Finch. Galápagos Mockingbird can also be found here. Later we transfer to Hotel Fiesta on Santa Cruz for the first of two nights.
DAY 15: Mon 23 September SANTA CRUZ ISLAND: THE HIGHLANDS
After a delicious breakfast we depart to the highlands of Santa Cruz. This is an area that is continually changing and we ascend through all seven different vegetation zones. Here we visit a pair of large pit craters called “Los Gemelos", one of the best places for Woodpecker Finch, Large Tree Finch, Green Warbler Finch and others, and then continue to Media Luna where with luck we may see Galapagos Rail. We drive to El Chato, a private farm where we take lunch and see Giant Tortoises in the wild. This is a good place for Vegetarian Finch and with luck Paint-billed Crake. Late afternoon we will return to Puerto Ayora and Hotel Fiesta.
DAY 16: Tue 24 September SANTA CRUZ ISLAND – ISABELA ISLAND
After breakfast we transfer to the pier to take a public speedboat to Isabela Island, taking approximately two hours. We transfer to our hotel, then visit the 'Humedales', or Marshlands; a place with a pristine ecosystem of tidal mangrove-rich lagoons that is the habitat of flamingos and migratory birds, and a good place to see several species of Darwin Finches, stunning Mangrove Warbler and many others. Next we visit Sierra Negra Volcano, and en-route stop in Campoduro where a delicious lunch will be waiting. Sierra Negra is the largest and one of the most impressive volcanoes in the archipelago, and we hike up the trail to the caldera, which is approx 10km wide. The caldera is our best place to look for Galapagos Martin, and we also seek Galapagos Rail, Woodpecker Finch, Green Warbler Finch, Small Tree Finch and Galapagos Flycatcher. On the return journey to Puerto Villamil, if time permits, we stop at the small Flamingo pond. Overnight at Iguana Crossing on Isabela for two nights.
DAY 17: Wed 25 September ISABELA ISLAND
After an early breakfast we take a small speedboat to Iguana Cove, where we have the opportunity to see one of the most amazing endemic species, Flightless Cormorant, the largest species of cormorant in the world. Other birds here include incredible Galapagos Penguin, Magnificent Frigatebird, shearwaters, phalaropes, Greater Flamingo and finch species. Afterwards we return to Puerto Villamil and our hotel.
DAY 18: Thur 26 September ISABELA ISLAND – FLOREANA – SAN CRISTOBAL
Today we begin with a visit to Floreana Island, where we visit the highlands looking for Medium Tree Finch, the only site for this extremely rare bird. We also visit a tortoise reserve and the freshwater spring. Lunch is in a local restaurant and in the afternoon we continue onwards to San Cristobal. On our journey we first circumnavigate Champion Islet to search for extremely rare Floreana Mockingbird. The species is critically endangered and the surviving population is tiny. It survives on two small satellite rocks that are located close to Floreana (Champion and Gardner Islet by Floreana). Late in the afternoon we arrive at San Cristobal island, where we overnight at Seaside Hotel for three nights.
DAY 19: Fri 27 September SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND: PUNTA PITT
After breakfast we travel by speedboat again in order to reach Punta Pitt located at the north of San Cristobal Island. This is a combination of eroded volcanic cones and is sparsely vegetated by endemic plants. The environment provides protection and warmth for species including sea lions, lava lizards, marine iguanas, frigates, pelicans and boobies. Punta Pitt is one of only two places on the Galapagos islands where you can see three species of boobies nesting in the same area, Red-footed, Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies. Other birds today might include storm petrels, shearwaters, phalaropes, Lava Gull, Lava Heron, Great Blue Heron, Peregrine Falcon, Great Frigatebird, Magnificent Frigatebird, Chatham Mockingbird, Small Ground Finch, Dark-billed Cuckoo, Large Ground Finch and Large Cactus Finch. If we are lucky we might see rare Galapagos Petrel at sea. We return to our hotel in time for dinner.
DAY 20: Sat 28 September ESPAÑOLA ISLAND DAY TRIP
After an early breakfast we depart to Española Island. In the morning we visit Punta Suarez, a rocky point of land that sustains one of the most impressive and varied colonies of seabirds in Galapagos. Along its southern shore, steep cliffs rise up from the sea for a spectacular view of soaring birds and the famous blowhole. A noisy colony of Sea Lions and curious Hood Mockingbirds greet us as we land on their beach. We meet a multitude of Blue-footed Boobies, Masked Boobies, Waved Albatross, Red-billed Tropicbirds, Galapagos Shearwater, Phalaropes, Large Cactus Finch, Galapagos Hawk and Marine Iguanas as we walk gently across the volcanic landscape.
We take lunch on board and in the afternoon visit Gardner Islet, where it is possible to see fascinating creatures including snake eels, marble rays, diamond rays, Galapagos pufferfish, plenty of red-lipped batfish and the occasional Hammerhead Shark.
DAY 21: Sun 29 September SAN CRISTOBAL & FLIGHT BACK TO QUITO
Early in the morning we depart to the Highlands of San Cristobal island where we visit El Junco Lagoon, a freshwater spring. This is the crater of an extinct volcano and here we may find White-cheeked Pintail, Common Gallinule and both Great and Magnificent Frigatebird, which come here to bathe in the lagoon, uncommon behaviour for any frigatebird! Afterwards, we transfer to the airport in order to catch our flight back to Quito where we stay again at the excellent Hotel Finlandia.
DAY 22: Mon 30 September FLIGHT HOME
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, arriving on Tue 1 October 2024.