Courtesy Phil and Sally Ellis
Finding ourselves with a last minute "spare" fortnight we opted for the Ecuador Custom Tour. We largely followed the standard tour, but added an acclimatisation day at the beginning as our Manchester flight arrived quite late, and we opted to do a full day trip to the Antisana volcano area. We experienced all sorts of habitats and weather and amassed a total of 483 species (375 lifers) and here are some highlights from each location
YANACOCHA A morning trip produced two main highlights – an Ocellated Tapaculo that appeared briefly on the path a few yards ahead of us (so close there was no need for bins and too brief to reach for the camera!) and very good views of a Tawny Antpitta being fed. Other main birds were Andean Guan, Golden-crowned Tanager, Rufous Wren, Tyrian Metaltail, Buff-winged Starfrontlet and Sapphire-vented Puffleg.
BELLA VISTA LODGE In the cloud forest with close views of a variety of hummers and tanagers at feeders. Main highlight was a great view of a Streaked Tuftedcheek from the lodge car park. Other birds seen were Plate-billed Mountain-toucan, Pearled Treerunner, Plushcap, White-winged Brush-finch, Russet-crowned Warbler and Blue-winged Mountain-tanager.
PAZ DE LAS AVES A morning trip largely to see forest birds at close quarters whilst feeding. Highlights were Giant and Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Toucan Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Sickle-winged Guan, Black-chinned Mountain-tanager, Violet-tailed Sylph and Empress Brilliant.
SAN ISIDRO Highlight (!) for us had to be almost getting stuck knee-deep in mud trying to get a better view of a Black-billed Mountain-toucan. Other species were Andean Potoo, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Black-billed Peppershrike, Bronzy Inca, Mountain Cacique, Cinnamon Flycatcher (right outside our window) and close views of feeding Chestnut-crowned and White-bellied Antpittas.
SACHATAMIA LODGE Our base for three nights in the Mindo area, with more excellent feeders producing new species. Our highlight was undoubtedly spending hours searching for a species we missed in Panama – Sunbittern. It may have involved a lot of effort and a near drowning in the Mindo River, but we caught up with a pair and got great views. A second highlight was clambering up a nearly dry stream behind the lodge to find a new Club-winged Manakin lek. Other birds included Black-capped Tanager, Choco Toucan, Andean and Black Solitaire, Bat Falcon, Red-faced Spinetail, Pacific Hornero and Montane Woodcreeper.
SILANCHE AREA A morning trip from Sachatamia Lodge produced excellent views of a Choco Tyrannulet from the watchtower as well as Guira Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Choco Trogon, Black-crowned Tityra, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Black-and-white Becard and Pale-mandibled Aracari.
TERMAS DE PAPALLACTA A fantastic spa hotel, but just our luck to be there on a bank holiday weekend! Still some great birds there, up at the Papallacta Pass and at the nearby Guango Lodge where the highlight was finding two of our key species, Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper, together at the same place! Other highlights were a Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe sheltering two chicks, Giant Conebill, Mountain Avocetbill, Shining Sunbeam, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, Lacrimose and Hooded Mountain-tanager and Turquoise Jay.
ANTISANA AREA A whole day trip searching for the high Paramo species. Highlight of this trip was standing in a dry valley watching a group of four Andean Condors circling to our right with another two in the air to our left. Other great birds included Andean Ibis, Andean Lapwing, Plain-capped Ground-tyrant, Paramo Pipit, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Black-winged Ground-dove, Ash-breasted Sierra-finch, Carunculated Caracara and, on the lake, Andean Coot, (Andean) Ruddy Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail and Silvery Grebe.
SACHA LODGE In the Amazon rainforest and loads of new birds (we spent four nights and could have spent many more). There were so many bird highlights it could warrant a trip report of its own! Our favourites were finding day-roosting Crested Owls, close views from the towers of White-fronted Nunbird, Many-banded Aracari, Lafresnaye's Piculet and White-throated Toucan, and the amazing spectacle of two different parrot licks. As well as great birds we had six monkey species (including Red Howler and Woolly), Black Caiman, a three-metre Anaconda, Caiman Lizard and several tarantulas. Other great bird species included Swallow-winged Puffbird, Spotted Tody-flycatcher, Cream-coloured Woodpecker, Screaming Piha, Peruvian Warbling Antbird, Black-capped Becard and great 'scope views of Slate-coloured Hawk and Slender-billed Kite.
PUEMBO BIRDING GARDEN On the outskirts of Quito and our base for the trip. Although located in a semi-suburban area we saw many species only here. Our highlights included a Streak-throated Bush-tyrant on a wire yards from the entrance and then a few minutes later a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle landing in a nearby tree. Birds seen only here included Saffron Finch and Shiny Cowbird (both numerous in the garden), Rusty Flowerpiercer, Olive Finch, Vermilion Flycatcher, Citrine Warbler, Scrub Tanager, Golden-bellied Grosbeak, Cinereous Conebill, Band-winged Nightjar and although we only heard it on our visit, a Stygian Owl was seen shortly after. Just to round off our trip nicely, a Giant Hummingbird was coming to the garden feeders on our last day!
Phil and Sally Ellis