Day 1 – Arrival and Welcome
Arrive at Ecuador’s Quito Mariscal Sucre Airport (7,920 feet). The friendly staff from Puembo Birding Gardens will pick you up and get you settled in. The garden is full of feeders that attract a surprising array of birds including Sparkling Violetear, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Western Emerald and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. We should also pick up Crimson-mantled Woodpecker and Blue-and-yellow Tanager.
Day 2 – Taking the high road
After a hardy breakfast, we will drive to the Jocotoco Foundation’s Yanacocha Reserve (11,155 – 13,123 feet), high in the Andes. Alambi Hummingbird Reserve is our spot for lunch, where we will enjoy local cuisine while watching 30+ hummingbird feeders. The Nono–Mindo Road will take us on our descent down into the Tandayapa Valley (5,643 feet), providing spectacular views of the cloud forest along the way (pictured above). Overnight in Bellavista Lodge will also offer a wide variety of feeders to explore after dinner (6,562 feet). Targets for today include Tyrian Metaltail, Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted Puffleg, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Mountain Velvetbreast, Montane Woodcreeper, Red-crested Cotinga, Spectacled Redstart, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Glossy Flowerpiercer, White-capped Dipper and the eye-popping Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager.
Day 3 – Antpittas and Hummingbirds
Refugio Paz de Aves private reserve (4,590 feet) has 74 acres of primary and secondary cloud forest, an antpitta show and hummingbird feeders. Some of the possible antpittas include Giant, Mustached, Scaled, Yellow-breasted and Ochre-breasted. Also, there is a Cock-of-the-rock lek and active fruit feeders that frequently have Toucan Barbet, Sickle-winged Guan and Crimson-rumped Toucanet among others. Other tantalizing targets include Lyre-tailed Nightjar, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Masked Trogon, Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Brown Inca, Booted Racket-tail, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Andean Emerald, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, White-tailed Tyrannulet and Golden-headed Quetzal. Return to Bellavista Lodge for the evening (7,200 feet).
Day 4 – The Mindo Valley
Exploring the Mindo Valley is every birders dream come true with a variety of reserves, roadsides and trails to explore (5,000 feet). The number of possible species is the highest in northwest Ecuador. New hummingbirds that we could see are Brown Violetear, Collared Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet and Purple-bibbed Whitetip. Other possible birds include Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Azura’s Spinetail, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Russet-crowned Warbler, Flame-rumped Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Dusky Chlorospingus and Scrub Blackbird. Overnight at the Sachatamia Lodge (5,577 feet).
Day 5 – Milpe and Rio Silanche
This day highlights the Pedro Vicente Maldonado region (1,929 feet) and patches of the Choco Forest, including Milpe and Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuaries. We’ll keep a look out for Thick-billed and Orange-billed Euphonia, Ochre-breasted, Golden and Bay-headed Tanagers, Bananaquit, Yellow-throated Chlorospingus, Buff-rumped and Golden-bellied Warbler, Club-winged Manakin, Ornate Flycatcher, Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner, Spotted Woodcreeper, Bronze-winged Parrot, Choco Toucan, Collared Aracari, Ruddy Pigeon and hummingbirds Green-crowned Brilliant, Green Throntail, White-whiskered Hermit and White-necked Jacobin. Overnight near the town of Mindo, Ecuador’s Choco lowlands.
Day 6 – Finsh the West Slope
After exploring the northwestern slope from top to bottom, we’ll bird our way back up to Quito looking for any elusive species that we missed. This is the day to enjoy the unbelievable views of the Choco-Andes bioregion. Overnight at Puembo Birding Garden.
Day 7 – On to the Amazon
The feeders and colorful flowers of the garden will delight us until we leave mid-morning for our 30 minute flight to Coca, Puerto Francisco de Orellana (977 feet). This starts the Amazon portion of the trip. A two hour motorized boat trip down the Napo River, a major tributary of the Amazon Rainforest, is the next leg of our journey. After a short break, local villagers will paddle our canoes through the final passage to either Napo Wildlife Center or Sasha Lodge (800 feet). This will be our home for the next four days. The stunning setting of these two eco-lodges in the middle of the Amazonian Rainforest is a birder’s paradise. Up to five kingfishers and eleven herons will dot the shoreline. Other targets along the Napo River include Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Yellow-billed Tern, Gray-breasted Martin, Black and Yellow-headed Caracara and Pale-vented Pigeon.
Day 8 to 10 – The Amazon region
We will bird the rich Amazonian Rainforest around the lodge and revel in its unparalleled biodiversity. 44 percent of all the birds found in the Amazon can be found in this region of Ecuador. Elevated trails, an observation tower, river islands and oxbow lakes are all part of the experience. Parrots, macaws and parakeets gather at the nearby mineral licks, creating a kaliedescope of color in motion. Climb the elevated tower for a rare opportunity to bird the forest canopy. Observe mammals, reptiles and insects in this abundant habitat, including the endemic Giant Otter. Multiple species are likely within the Tinamous, Herons, Crakes, Trogans, Nunbirds, Woodcreepers, Flycatchers, Tanagers and Euphonias. If we encounter an ant swarm, mixed flocks of Antshrikes, Antwrens and Antbirds could move in for the feast. The species mix could be unbelievable! We’ll likely see Speckled Chachalaca, Hoatzin, Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Gilded Barbet, Black-tailed Tityra, Violaceous Jay and Yellow-rumped Cacique.
Day 11 – Amazon to Puembo
Parrot mineral lick at Napo Wildlife Center
After our last Amazonian breakfast, we’ll start the day riding in our canoes and motorized longboat back to Coca for a mid-morning flight to Quito. Enjoy a relaxed day of sightseeing in this capital city, taking in the sights, sounds and local cuisine. Overnight at what, by now, feels like our Ecuadorian home – Puembo Birding Garden.
Day 12 – Papallacta Pass and Guango
We will start early for a drive up and over the continental divide, crossing Papallacta Pass (13,500 feet). This road provides access to scrub, grassland, forest and paramo, including the Polylepis Forest. Wind, snow and rain could hit us at any time at the crest of the Andes so an early arrival is a must. Our targets include Rufous-bellied Seed-Snipe, Silvery Grebe, Giant Conebill, Variable Hawk, Tawny Antpitta, Paramo Tapaculo, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Many-striped Canestero, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch. Descending to lower elevations through the temperate forest of the northeastern slope will be a warming experience. At the famed hummingbird feeders of Guango Lodge we’ll look for Tourmaline Sunangle, Buff-tailed Coronet, Chestnut-breasted Coronet and White-bellied Woodstar. The surrounding temperate forest might reveal Torrent Duck, Pearled Treerunner, White-banded Tyrannulet, Gray-headed Bush-Tanager, Blue-and-black Tanager, Masked Flowerpiercer and the raucous Turquise Jay among others. Overnight at Guango Lodge (10,078 feet).
Day 13 – Guango to San Isidro
Heading out early, we will descend further to Baeza, Cosanga and then to San Isidro Lodge. The lodge trails go from the lower reaches of the temperate forest down into the heart of the subtropical zone (7,900-6,200 feet). Birding trails and roadsides through primary forest, identifying colorful tanagers at the feeders and quietly approaching the antpitta feeding station will keep everyone at the top of their game. Get ready to add more species and enjoy this beautiful setting. Wattled Guan, San Isidro Owl (undescribed), Sparkling Violetear, Long-tailed Sylph, Bronzy Inca, Crested Quetzal, Andean Motmot, White-bellied Antpitta, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Rufous-breasted and Pale-edged Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant, Smoke-colored Pewee, Brown-capped Vireo, Black-billed Peppershrike, Green Jay, Glossy-black Thrush, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Cacique and Russet-backed Oropendola are just some of the possible birds. Overnight at San Isidro Lodge (6,900 feet).
Day 14 – Loredo Road
For our last full day of birding, leaving early is a must. We’ll drive the upper Loredo Road, birding as we descending further down the northeastern slope of the Andes from 4600 to 2600 feet. Target species include Roadside Hawk, Squirrel Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Red-headed Barbet, Lined Antshrike, Cliff, Olive-sided and Boat-billed Flycatcher, Black-billed Thrush, Magpie, White-shouldered, White-lined, Silver-beaked and Paradise Tanagers, Yellow-billed Dacnis, Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, Chestnut-bellied and Grayish Saltator and Yellow-browed Sparrow. As we head back to Quito, our last birding stop is the Guacamayos Cordillera Ridge (7,550 feet), where we’ll look for White-collared Swift, Emerald Toucanet, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Blackish and Spillmann’s Tapaculo, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Cinnamon and Handsome Flycatcher, Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater, Plain-tailed Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Great Thrush, Grass-green and Beryl-spangled Tanager, Common Chlorospingus and Mountain Cacique. Wow! Puembo Birding Garden will host our farewell party, while we share pictures and stories of our birding adventure together.
Day 15 – Departures
Car ride to the airport for the flight back home.