Ecuador | Birding the Chocó-Andes Region: Western and Eastern Slopes of Ecuador

Ecuador | Birding the Chocó-Andes Region: Western and Eastern Slopes of Ecuador

About this trip

An extraordinary abundance of bird life inhabits the forests of northwestern Ecuador. Amid cloud forest, rainforest, páramo, and the eastern and western slopes of the Andes Mountains, you’ll seek out as many of the country’s 1,640-plus species as possible with assistance from your expert guide on this 10-day adventure. In particular, much of the avifauna you’ll encounter is endemic to the Chocó region, while other species are more easily found here than any place else. Along the way, attend a presentation by a local ornithologist, view the snow-capped Antisana Volcano, and straddle the equator at the Middle of the World Monument.

Highlights

  • Explore the Chocó ecoregion across a variety of protected areas, including Yanacocha Biological Reserve, Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Antisana Ecological Reserve, and others.
  • Visit the famed Refugio Paz de las Aves, known as a haven for antpittas and Andean Cocks-of-the-rock.
  • Meet a representative from a community project dedicated to restoring the habitat of the Black-breasted Puffleg, the official emblematic bird of Quito.
  • Bird the Mashpi-Amagusa Reserve for target species like the Rose-faced Parrot, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Chocó Vireo, Moss-backed Tanager, and Indigo Flowerpiercer.
8 Travelers

$3,195

Land Cost

Group size

Book 7 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

11 Travelers

$2,795

Land Cost

Group size

Book 10 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

13 Travelers

$2,695

Land Cost

Group size

Book 12 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

Quito

Day 1

Upon arrival in Quito, you'll be met outside the secured area of the airport and transferred to the hotel. Most flights arrive in the evening. No meals are included on this day. Quito's elevation ranges from 9,223 to 9,883 feet. To minimize your chances of experiencing altitude sickness, try to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, consume high-carbohydrate foods, avoid alcohol and fatty foods, and avoid strenuous exercise at high elevations.

Overnight at Rincon de Puembo

Mindo

Day 2

Depart early for Mindo, making several stops en route along the Paseo del Quinde ecoroute, known also as Nono-Mindo Road. Your first stop is at Yanacocha Biological Reserve. Clinging to the slopes of Pichincha Volcano at an altitude of approximately 10,000 feet, and comprising 2,371 acres of mostly elfin Polylepis forest, this protected area was established to safeguard the critically endangered and endemic Black-breasted Puffleg. Other high-altitude species include Andean Guan, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Golden-breasted and Sapphire-vented Pufflegs, Great Sapphirewing, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Rufous and Tawny Antpittas, Ocellated and Blackish Tapaculos, Black-chested and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, Golden-crowned Tanager, and many more. After a picnic lunch in the reserve, continue driving with quick stops to look for stunners such as Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and Beautiful Jay. While driving down to the lower altitudes of the subtropical forest region, be on the lookout for Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager and White-winged Brush-Finch. Next, stop at Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve, where 250 species-including 32 hummingbirds-have been recorded. The reserve covers a large range of altitudes (4,750 to 7,210 feet) and spans two major basins: the Alambi Valley and the pristine Goaycape Valley. Regulars include Brown Violetear, Booted Racket-tail, Fawn-breasted and Green-crowned Brilliants, and Golden and Silver-throated Tanagers. While at Alambi, stop to visit a plant nursery that's at the heart of a community reforestation project. Walk with a representative through the nursery and garden to learn more about the program and the various species of flowering plants being cultivated to restore Black-breasted Puffleg habitat. Continue to Mindo in time for a program orientation and dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia

Mindo

Day 3

This morning, visit Milpe Bird Sanctuary, a 250-acre subtropical rainforest reserve with an altitudinal range of 3,350 to 3,770 feet and protecting an important tract of remnant forest in the Chocó foothills. The Chocó is an ecoregion and biodiversity hotspot that ranges from the Pacific coast of Colombia south to Ecuador, and it supports the largest number of restricted-range birds of any Endemic Bird Area in the Americas, with 62 species. Chocó endemics reliably found at Milpe include Pallid Dove, White-whiskered Hermit, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Blue-tailed (Chocó) Trogon, Chocó Toucan, Esmeraldas Antbird, Club-winged Manakin, and Rufous-throated Tanager. Endemics that require a little more luck include Plumbeous Forest-Falcon, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Glistening-green Tanager, and Moss-backed Tanager. The reserve is also famous for its numerous manakin leks, both Club-winged and Golden-winged Manakins. In the afternoon, visit the productive feeders at the family-run San Tadeo Birdwatching. The mix of birds here often includes standouts such as Violet-tailed Sylph, Red-headed Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Flame-faced Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Golden-naped Tanager, and more Chocó endemics: Brown Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet, Empress Brilliant, Dusky Chlorospingus, and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager. Return to the hotel for dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia

Mindo

Day 4

Spend the day at Mashpi-Amagusa Reserve, a 320-acre protected area in the Chocó foothills that functions as a critical link between lower subtropical forest and higher montane forest at neighboring Mashpi Lodge. The altitude here ranges from 2,450 to 5,600 feet. The birding is fantastic along this corridor, with many Chocó endemics that are difficult to find elsewhere, such as Rose-faced Parrot, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Chocó Vireo, Moss-backed Tanager, Black Solitaire (seasonal), and Indigo Flowerpiercer; a few, like Long-wattled Umbrellabird, require a little luck. Feeders on-site have many of the same hummingbirds and tanagers seen at Milpe and offer another great opportunity for photos. Enjoy a boxed lunch during the excursion and return to the lodge in the afternoon.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia

Mindo

Day 5

Depart early for the one-hour drive to Rio Silanche, another reserve owned and managed by the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation. At an altitudinal range of 985 to 1,150 feet, the reserve sits firmly in the western lowlands, a region of Ecuador that has experienced considerable change from logging, agriculture, and other pressures. Famous for its large mixed flocks, a stroll on the preserve's trails is rewarded with specialties that include Dusky Pigeon, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Orange-fronted Barbet, Stub-tailed Antbird, Black-tipped Cotinga, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Gray-and-gold Tanager, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Scarlet-and-white Tanager, Blue-whiskered Tanager, and many more. Continue to Mirador Rio Blanco for lunch and to check out the feeders. Regular visitors include Green Thorntail, Crowned Woodnymph, Ecuadorian Thrush, and several euphonias and tanagers. Return to the lodge in the late afternoon.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia

Sangolqui

Day 6

Check out and start early with a visit to Refugio Paz de las Aves near Nanegalito (13 miles northeast of Mindo, at 4,590 feet). Angel Paz is the proprietor of this private reserve, and his story is an excellent example of community conservation. Angel was formerly a local logger who transformed his property into a haven for antpittas and Andean Cocks-of-the-rock over a decade ago. His early fame came quickly when he learned how to coax the rare and elusive Giant Antpitta into the open with earthworms. He now has six different species of antpittas staked out on his property: Giant, Yellow-breasted, Ochre-breasted, Chestnut-crowned, Moustached, and Scaled. Other incredible birds on the property include Lyre-tailed Nightjar, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, Olivaceous Piha, Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, and a fantastic mix of hummingbirds. En route to the hotel in Sangolquí, make a stop at the Mitad del Mundo Monument.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hacienda La Carriona

Cosanga

Day 7

Spend a full morning birding along the trails at the privately owned Antisana Ecological Reserve (11,500 feet), whose varied ecological zones range from páramo to lowland rainforest. More than 70 bird species can be found here, including the Andean Condor, Giant Hummingbird, Carunculated Caracara, Black-faced Ibis, Speckled Teal, Andean Duck, Silvery Grebe, Slate-colored Coot, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, and Aplomado Falcon. At 18,900 feet, the snow-capped Antisana Volcano is the fourth highest peak in Ecuador, adding to the breathtaking Andean scenery that can be enjoyed along the lower elevation trails. In the afternoon, continue to San Isidro Lodge. The lodge's private reserve forms an important bridge between the Antisana and Gran Sumaco Reserves, and the area boasts a bird list of about 330 species, many of which are more easily found here than anywhere else in the country.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at San Isidro Lodge

Cosanga

Day 8

The cloud forest reserve at San Isidro Lodge encompasses nearly 3,000 acres on the eastern slope of the Andes at an elevational range of 6,069 to 7,874 feet, making this an ideal base to observe Andean birds from the lower reaches of the temperate zone down into the heart of the subtropical zone. Nearly 500 species have been recorded in the area, and several-such as the mysterious "San Isidro" Owl and Peruvian Antpitta-are extremely local and rare. Birds regularly encountered include Wattled and Sickle-winged Guans, Golden-headed and Crested Quetzals, Masked Trogon, Andean Motmot, Southern Emerald-Toucanet, Powerful and Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers, Speckle-faced Parrot, Chestnut-crowned and White-bellied Antpittas, the beautiful Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Black-billed Peppershrike, Green (Inca) Jay, Saffron-crowned Tanager, and Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at San Isidro Lodge

Quito

Day 9

After breakfast, return to Quito with a stop en route at Guango Lodge, another private reserve on the eastern slope above San Isidro at an elevation of 8,858 feet. Cooler and often shrouded in mist, habitats here include humid temperate forest, chusquea bamboo thickets, and swift mountain streams. The area is characterized by its more stunted trees, thicker canopy, cooler climate, and different bird and plant composition. The feeders at the lodge are often hopping with birds; enjoy close views of Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Turquoise Jay, and more. Birds regularly found in the surrounding reserve include Torrent Duck, Andean Guan, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, White-capped Dipper, Slaty Brushfinch, Lacrimose and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanagers, and Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager. Have lunch at Guango, and in the afternoon, continue through the Cumbayá Valley to Quito. Have some time at leisure before attending a presentation by a local ornithologist to learn more about some of the species seen throughout the program. This evening, reflect on the journey during an early evening farewell dinner at the hotel. Most international flights departs very late this evening or before dawn the next morning, so please be ready to check out of the hotel and transfer to the airport immediately after the farewell dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Rincon de Puembo

Departure

Day 10

Arrival to United States.