From the dawn screeches of male Andean Cocks-of-the-rock to the gleaming color of dozens of species of hummingbirds and tanagers in the alpine forest to a hand-fed Ocellated Tapaculo and dizzying rainforest canopy flocks, northwest Ecuador really is a birder’s paradise. From a home base at the Septimo Paraiso cloud-forest lodge we dabbled in the elfin forest below treeline, the lowland Choco rainforest and everything in between tallying more than 300 species including such gems as Sword-billed Hummingbird, Barred Puffbird, Club-winged Manakin and Tanager Finch. It’s hard to believe so much can be seen in such a small area in such a small amount of time.
On our first morning of birding we climbed above Quito to the elfin forests just below treeline and walked through the mists in the crisp cool mountain air in search of birds. Birding the flocks was tough in the fog, but we managed excellent looks at Bar-bellied Woodpecker, White-throated Tyrannulets, and the striking Crimson-bellied Mountain-Tanager. The grand finale came at the hummingbird feeders with Sword-billed Hummingbirds and others buzzing around while Spillmann’s Tapaculos trilled and Rufous Antpittas whistled from the hillside. All that before lunch, later that afternoon we were treated to a family group of White-capped Dippers in the stream along the road on our way downhill to Septimo Paraiso, our base for the next six nights.
With great birding just out of our doorstep we spent the next morning right outside of the hotel, enjoying the Booted Racket-tails at the hummingbird feeders and a nice mix of passerines right in the driveway (from foliage-gleaners to brush-finches). A Golden-headed Quetzal swooped in, posed, and was off: another colorful treat. With the afternoon we watched the antics of the Club-winged Manakins at their lek at the Milpe reserve striking chords being manic. The hummer feeders here, too, were excellent and we had our first look at the unbelievable Velvet-purple Coronet. With the right light, it’s one of those “double-take” birds.
One day’s destination were the steamy lowlands near Rio Silanche. Though the flocks made us work a little harder by keeping their distance from the canopy tower (though we still had killer looks at Double-toothed Kite, Guayaquil Woodpecker and Choco Toucan), the weather was excellent and the birds plentiful.
We spent another day birding a foothill road known among Ecuador birders as “the Mashpi Road”. The road spans farms and forest through a range of foothill elevations and the birding is rich, even in the rain. Near the crest of the road we encountered such specialties as Moss-backed and Glistening Green Tanagers, Indigo Flowerpiercer (well, some us of saw it!), and the incredible Toucan Barbets. While at the lower reaches of the road we found a pair of Barred Puffbirds which entertained us for entirely too long.
Reversing our course we spent a day “up” in the cloud forests above the Tandayapa Valley birding the Eco-Route. If the Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan wasn’t hard enough to top, we got great looks at a pair of Tanager Finches in one of the few spots in all of Ecuador at which they’re regularly seen. We also found a pair of Powerful Woodpeckers and the almost impossibly colored Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, quite a contrast to the grays and greens of the forest. The show continued at Tony’s hummingbird feeders with fifteen species visiting at once and a roving tanager flock that passed a few times and treated us to Flame-faced, Golden-naped and Blue-capped Tanagers among others. Based on the 100 pounds of sugar Tony goes through every two weeks during peak season, he estimates 5000-7000 hummers visiting a day! It’s a back porch experience that can’t be beat.
“Venga, venga, venga!” Angel Paz calls to his “amigos.” With a lot of charm and persistence, Angel has managed to coax out typically invisible forest birds to be fed in front of delighted birders. We were treated to a hip-shaking show by Shakira (the Ochre-breasted Antpitta) and great looks at Tomasito (the wildly exotic-looking Ocellated Tapaculo). The names he gives to his birds are all part of the Angel Paz experience. We also saw his resident covey of Dark-backed Wood-Quail, a visit to his fruit feeders by White-throated Quail-Dove and Sickle-winged Guan, and close-up looks at some of northwest Ecuador’s most beautiful hummingbirds: Velvet-purple Coronet and Empress Brilliant. Topped off with a lunch prepared by his family while we enjoyed the birds.
Our final morning was spent on the Eco-route birding our way out, then we crossed into the rain shadow and spent the afternoon in the entirely different habitat of the inter-Andean valley. After a week in the forest, the shoulder-high thorn-scrub was almost as foreign as it could get. The birds were also an entirely new mix with the tiny, but immensely long-tailed Black-tailed Trainbearer, the diminutive and charming Tufted Tit-Tyrant, the large and imposing (and rare) White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant and one bright male Vermillion Flycatcher eclipsing the Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch sitting nearby. We wrapped up and returned to the civilization of Quito to celebrate a week well spent.
When the young Dark-backed Wood-Quail pounced on the Giant Antpitta, as the otherworldly squawks of a cock-of-the-rock lek reverberated through the forest, we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. “Just another” Ecuador - A Week in Paradise tour. As well as Angel Paz’s now-famous Giant Antpittas, we enjoyed great views of Ochre-breasted Antpitta, and of Tómas, a very handsome (and usually very skulking) Ocellated Tapaculo, plus a procession of colorful birds at Angel’s feeders, from Toucan Barbet to Crimson-rumped Toucanet. And then there were 37 species of hummingbirds – from the spectacular Sword-billed and rare Black-breasted Puffleg to dazzling Velvet-purple Coronets and endearing Booted Racket-tails. Not to mention almost 50 species of tanagers, including Glistening-green, Moss-backed, Flame-faced, and Gray-and-gold. The spectrum of other highlights ran from point-blank views of Tawny Antpitta and Guayaquil Woodpecker to an ethereal-white Black-tipped Cotinga, from burning-bright Andean Cock-of the-rock males to remarkably adorned Long-wattled Umbrellabirds and Lyre-tailed Nightjars. Too many birds, too little time…
All arrived in good time for dinner and an introduction to one of the most exciting birding destinations anywhere in the world. An early start the next day got us out of Quito and up to the Yanacocha reserve on Volcán Pichincha, for a truly spectacular morning, with sun and beautiful vistas of the Andes. The sun made for relatively slow birding but the hummingbirds were still incredible, including the rare Black-breasted Puffleg and of course the amazing Sword-billed. Heading downslope through the fog Mark spotted an Andean Lapwing, another stop produced vocally arresting Plain-tailed Wrens that showed well, then a few White-capped Dippers, a male Torrent Duck, and a nice obliging flock that included Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Capped Conebills, Rufous-chested and Golden tanagers, Montane Woodcreeper, and on and on… We also enjoyed good views of displaying male Andean Cock-of-the-rocks against a wall of green forest, and reached Séptimo in late afternoon for a relaxing wander on the grounds. Not bad for a “travel day”!
Our first morning at Mindo we awoke to the sounds of motmots, tanagers, and hummingbirds and simply walked from the lodge, where there were more than enough birds to keep us busy. Highlights included an Ochre-breasted Antpitta, and a pair of Rufous-breasted Antthrushes that walked across the path as we were quietly watching a Nariño Tapaculo! Also appreciated were good views of Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, a pair of Red-headed Barbets, and a Smoky-brown Woodpecker. After lunch and a siesta, afternoon birding nearby produced great views of Choco Toucan and Rufous Motmot, after a shopping venture for Heather to obtain an umbrella - and subsequently almost banished rain from the trip! Thus, atypically sunny weather the next day made for glorious views and very pleasant birding, which started with the bizarre, cow-like mooing of Long-wattled Umbrellabirds and ended with a Golden-headed Quetzal perched over the road. Other notables were a quietly perched Masked Trogon, cute Booted Racket-tails among 20 species of hummingbirds (!), and a perched White-throated Hawk. An earlier start the next day took us to some more spectacular roadside forest birding. Highlights ranged from the little-known Indigo Flowerpiercer to a male Black-tipped Cotinga - a snow-white beacon in display flight over the canopy, and from a stunning male Guayaquil Woodpecker to the elusive Esmeraldas Antbird; plus flock after flock, with Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Moss-backed Tanager, Glistening-green Tanager, and Pacific Tuftedcheek, among others.
After a few days of “almost overload” birding it was pleasant to spend a quiet morning in the forest – if great views of Giant and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, Ocellated Tapaculo, and Velvet-purple Coronet, plus Toucan Barbets, Sickle-winged Guans, and Crimson-rumped Toucanets snarfing bananas at a feeder can be called quiet. And then there were those great bolones de banana! Relaxed afternoon birding at the lodge was followed by amazing views of spectacular Lyre-tailed Nightjars, their tails flowing like fern fronds in a gentle breeze, and a close-range Mottled Owl. Our day trip to the adjacent lowlands showcased a very different avifauna, with birds ranging from Chestnut-mandibled Toucan to the bee-sized Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, with the musical accompaniment of Rufous-fronted Wood-Quail choruses. The tower at Silanche allowed us a privileged view into the forest canopy world, where the progression of different flycatchers was impressive, at one point with Rusty-margined, Gray-capped, and Social all on the same tree. The host of other new species included several antbirds and numerous flycatchers (including a nice olive-morph Bright-rumped Attila) and tanagers (including Gray-and-gold, Scarlet-browed, and Bay-headed, plus Yellow-tufted and Scarlet-thighed dacnises). A stop on our way home produced lots of Green Thorntails and a close-range Broad-billed Motmot, while Club-winged Manakins “pinged” all around us.
All too soon it was time to leave our home in paradise and head back to Quito, but not before seeing a Streak-capped Treehunter in the hand (it had flown into the kitchen!) and a Tawny-bellied Hermit clinging to a thatch roof to collect spider webs. Our return drive and picnic lunch featured more dazzling tanager flocks and some stunning Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans before we re-entered the “real” (?!) world of Quito in time to relax, repack, and enjoy a last night dinner and good sleep. Thanks to all for making this such a memorable, bird-filled, and fun trip.
Updated: March 2013