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Rainforest to Paramo

3–18 August 2024
25 January–9 February 2025

Ecuador has an extraordinary variety of habitats, from lowland tropical rainforest to the Paramo high up in the Andes, and from the Pacific coast to the temperate sub-tropical forests. It has a species list of about 1550, over half of the South American total. We will be concentrating on the north of the country and should see over 450 species during the trip. A Galapagos Islands extension is available.

Day 1 Scheduled flight to Quito, where we will be met by a representative of Neblina Forest and transferred to an excellent hotel for the night.

Days 2–3 Our local leader and driver will meet us for an early start on the fifty-mile drive northwest to the Tandayapa Pass. This may take us a whole day because we will have to make frequent stops to birdwatch! The Nono Mindo road winds down the western slopes of the Andes through the lush cloud forest of the temperate and sub-tropical zones. Densely-vegetated montane forest habitat hugs the roadside along the entire route as we descend from 3000 to 1200 metres. Mixed foraging flocks of birds will appear from time to time, including a veritable rainbow of tanagers, flowerpiercers, brush-finches and flycatchers. Other species we will be looking for include Torrent Duck, Ornate Hawk-eagle, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Fasciated Tiger Heron, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Toucan Barbet, Spotted Barbtail, Uniform Treehunter, Beautiful Jay and Snowy-throated Kingbird. Of the hummingbirds, Booted Racket-tail is one of the most spectacular and we will see many others including Green-fronted Hummingbird, Empress Brilliant, Brown Inca, White-necked Jacobin and Hoary Puffleg. We can hardly miss some of the colourful tanagers and manakins and new birds will be coming thick and fast! Two nights at Bellavista Lodge. Day 3 will also be spent in this beautiful cloud forest.

Days 4–5 Birding en route, we will travel to the Mindo area, where we will spend the rest of the day and all of the next day exploring the many forest trails. New birds may include Sharp-shinned and Barred Hawks, Barred Forest Falcon, Wattled Guan, White-throated and Uniform Crakes, Sunbittern, Scaly-naped Amazon, Little Cuckoo, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Ivory-billed Aracari, Powerful and Scarlet-backed Woodpeckers, Dusky Leaftosser and a myriad of tanagers. One of the highlights will be a visit to an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek. After our evening meal we will look for Mottled and Rufous-banded Owls, Band-winged and Lyre-tailed Nightjars and maybe even Common Potoo. Two nights at Mindo Gardens.

Day 6 After breakfast we will return to Quito, birding at a number of sites en route looking for species we may have missed. Overnight in Quito.

Day 7 Today we will fly to Sacha Lodge in the eastern lowlands, although the closest we can get by air is 100 kilometres, so the flight will be followed by a three-hour motorised canoe journey along the River Napo! We will be birding our way down the river looking for Sand-coloured Nighthawk, Pied Lapwing and Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns. The lodge, which is situated in humid rainforest near La Selva Lodge, has six main trails radiating out from it as well as a boardwalk, a dugout canoe route, a superb canopy tower taking up to 12 people and a new canopy walk. The unspoiled habitat means that there is a huge diversity of birdlife, although, as in all rainforests, birds are not always easy to see! Some of the species we can expect to find here include Salvin's and Nocturnal Curassows, Spix's Guan, Blue-and-yellow and Red-bellied Macaws and Harpy Eagle. Four nights at Sacha Lodge.

Days 8–10 Each day will be spent with a local guide exploring the trails around the lodge. There are simply too many birds here to list them all, but the highlights may include Hoatzin, Zigzag and Agami Herons, Scarlet Macaw, Dusky-billed and Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets, Orange-cheeked Parrot and White-throated, Golden-green, Ringed and Rufous-headed Woodpeckers. The understorey contains many skulking birds that follow the Army Ants, including Rio Suno, Dugand's and Chestnut-shouldered Antwrens, Yellow-browed, Black-and-white, Banded, Dot-backed and White-plumed Antbirds, Black-spotted and Reddish-winged Bare-eyes, Ochre-striped Antpitta and Chestnut-belted Gnateater. Flycatchers are abundant and include Yellow-browed and Golden-winged Tody-flycatchers, Brownish Twistwing, Cinnamon Attila and Sulphury Flycatcher. There are Purple-throated, Plum-throated and Spangled Cotingas, whilst the amazing Amazonian Umbrellabird is often found along the edge of the river. One day we will take a motorised canoe-trip and visit a parrot salt-lick on the banks of the river, frequented by spectacular numbers of Blue-headed Parrots and Southern Mealy and Yellow-crowned Amazons. On the way back to the lodge we will stop on an island for a couple of hours to search for roosting Ladder-tailed Nightjar and the very-local Black-capped Donacobius.

Day 11 Sadly, after early-morning birding and breakfast, we will have to leave Sacha Lodge by the same means that we arrived! We will return to Quito for one night.

Day 12 Today we will head eastwards into the Andes until we reach the Paramo habitat above the tree line at about 4000 metres. The scenery here is spectacular, with views of the Andes including many dormant volcanoes. Because of the altitude, however, birding can be hard work, although the rewards are great, with many new species that are truly montane including Andean Condor, Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Andean and Noble Snipe, Giant Hummingbird, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Mountain Velvetbreast, Giant Conebill, White-capped Dipper, Andean Tapaculo and Andean Tit-Spinetail. Overnight at Papallacta.

Day 13 We will continue our journey down the eastern slopes of the Andes to a completely different avifaunal area at San Isidro. Along the edges of pasture and on the entrance road and forest trails we will have many birding opportunities in this wonderful sub-tropical zone: Streak-headed and Bicoloured Antbirds, Speckle-faced Parrot, Crested Quetzal, Inca Jay, Mountain and Scarlet-rumped Caciques and Golden-eared, Grass-green and Orange-eared Tanagers are just a few of the many possibilities in this richest of areas. Night at San Isidro.

Day 14 After some early-morning birding we will retrace our steps westwards, taking all day to reach Quito. On the journey we will not lose any opportunity to add new species to our tally and the scenery will once again be spectacular as we traverse the Andes. Overnight in Quito.

Day 15 There will be an optional early-morning visit to a volcano to look for Andean Pygmy Owl and Black-chested Mountain Tanager before we drive to the international airport for our overnight flight to London, arriving on Day 16.

General Information Although Ecuador straddles the equator, the climate can be somewhat variable because of the large range of altitudes. In the lowland forests it can be hot and humid and, although we are going in the relatively dry season, it can rain at any time. On the Paramo, however, it can be very cold in the early morning. There are a number of health requirements and you are advised to refer to your doctor for specific advice. The itinerary is fairly relaxed and the physical effort required is mostly light. Walking at high altitude can be more strenuous however, and, at times, heat and humidity may be tiring.

Group size Minimum number for tour to run: 4; maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader.

Galapagos Islands extension available for seven nights from £1495. Please contact us for full details.

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin

Recommended books available from NHBS