Ecuador | Birding the Chocó-Andes Region

Ecuador | Birding the Chocó-Andes Region

About this trip

Per square mile, Ecuador has some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Explore a selection of the country’s northern cloud forest and Andean landscapes on this 10-day birding adventure with Merlin Birding & Nature Tours. Accompanied by an expert local guide, you’ll seek out resident and migratory avifauna, with a particular focus on species that are endemic to the Chocó biogeographical region. Along the way, view the snow-capped Antisana Volcano, hear a lecture by a local ornithologist, and journey the famed Yanacocha and Quinde Eco-route.
OPTIONAL EXTENSION: Continue your Ecuador birding experience with "Birding the Amazon Rainforest," January 24-30, 2022.

Highlights

  • Explore public and private reserves, including Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve, the subtropical rainforest at Milpe Bird Sanctuary, páramo ecosystem at Antisana Ecological Reserve, and more.
  • Seek out dozens of hummingbird species, including the Giant Hummingbird, Black-breasted Puffleg, Sword-billed Hummingbird, and Tourmaline Sunangel.
  • Identify other target species like the Andean Condor, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Chocó Trogon, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and the rare Moss-backed Tanager.
  • Visit Refugio Paz de las Aves, a private reserve that provides habitat for Andean Cock-of-the-rock and several antpitta species.

Meet your leader

Steve Hoffman

In January 2017, after serving as Executive Director of Montana Audubon for 10 years, Steve Hoffman retired to start his own birding tour company, Merlin Birding & Nature Tours, LLC (merlinbirding.com). Over the past 20+ years, Steve has led or co-led many National Audubon Society, HawkWatch International, and Montana Audubon birding tours in Montana and abroad including Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Ecuador. Steve grew up in suburban Philadelphia, attended college in Reading, PA (near Hawk Mountain Sanctuary), and received his Master’s in Wildlife Ecology from Utah State University in 1979. Steve founded HawkWatch International in 1986, and has spent four decades exploring the mountains of the Rocky Mountain West, forever searching for new migratory raptor flyways. Steve currently resides in Bozeman, MT.

Quito

Jan 16, 2022

Upon arrival in Quito, you'll be met by your guide and transferred to the hotel.

Overnight at Rincon de Puembo

Mindo

Jan 17, 2022

Depart from the hotel early in the morning for Mindo via the Yanacocha and Quinde Eco-route for birding. Arrive to Yanacocha, a moss-clad temperate forest and Polylepis woodland on the side of Volcán Pichincha located at an altitude of approximately 10,000 feet. Yanacocha is the last refuge of the emblematic bird of Quito, the Black-breasted Puffleg (categorized as critically endangered). Other birds seen in the area include the Black-chested and Scarlet-bellied mountain-tanagers, Golden-breasted and Sapphire-vented pufflegs, and Great Sapphirewing and Sword-billed hummingbirds. Enjoy lunch at the reserve and continue along the Eco-route; there will be several stops to watch many spectacular birds, like the Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan and Beautiful Jay. We will then head down to a lower altitude to get into the subtropical forest; here we might see the Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager and White-winged Brushfinch. We'll visit Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve for hummingbird observation. The reserve sits at the junction of two major valleys and covers a wide range of altitudes (4,750 to 7,210 feet), thus comprising many different habitats. Alambi has a recorded list of 250 species of birds (including 32 hummingbirds), seen at feeders and throughout the reserve. Continue to Mindo for check-in, program orientation, dinner and overnight.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia

Mindo

Jan 18, 2022

This morning we shall visit the Milpe Bird Sanctuary, located in the subtropical rainforest. Milpe Bird Sanctuary covers 49 acres with an altitudinal range of 3,350 to 3,770 feet. Located in the Chocó Andean foothills, Los Bancos Milpe is within one of BirdLife International's Important Bird Areas (IBA), and birding guides consider this one of the finest birding locales in all of Ecuador. Many of the most spectacular Chocó endemics are protected here, including Plumbeous Forest-Falcon, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Glistening-green Tanager, Chocó Trogon, Club-winged Manakin, and Long-wattled Umbrellabird, to name a few. This site is also known for the rare Moss-backed Tanager. In the afternoon we'll visit the San Tadeo Feeders, where you can easily see a dozen different tanagers, aracaris, toucanets and barbets. Return to the hotel for dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia

Mindo

Jan 19, 2022

Mashpi-Amagusa is the last foothill-forest that directly connects to the lower subtropical western forest of Ecuador. Its unique location makes it particularly attractive for birders looking for the highest biodiversity with Chocó-endemic birds. The altitude range is 2,450 to 5,600 feet. Chocó endemics that can be seen in the reserve or along the road: Rose-faced Parrot, Orange-fronted Barbet, Toucan Barbet, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Moss-backed Tanager, Chocó Vireo, Long-wattled Umbrellabird as well as brightly-colored passerines like the Indigo Flowerpiercer. We will have a boxed lunch during this excursion. In the afternoon return to the lodge.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia

Mindo

Jan 20, 2022

Depart early from the hotel for a 1-hour drive to Pedro Vicente Maldonado where the Rio Silanche reserve is located. This important site is one of the last remaining accessible forest remnants found in this key life-zone. It is situated in hilly lowland forest at an altitude between 985-1,150 feet. The main attraction at Río Silanche is its exceptional birding: mixed-species foraging flocks abound, often packed with many important Chocó regional endemics. We will spend much of the day here searching for species like Purple-chested Hummingbird, Gray-and-gold Tanagers, Orange-fronted Barbet, Stub-tailed Antbird, Black-tipped Cotinga, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Scarlet-and-white Tanager, and Blue-whiskered Tanager. Continue to Mirador Río Blanco for lunch. This place is a birder's dream, great for seeing tanagers. Return to the lodge in the late afternoon.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia

Sangolqui

Jan 21, 2022

Early in the morning we shall depart towards Refugio Paz de las Aves located near Nanegalito (13 miles northeast of Mindo, at 4,590 feet). Angel Paz is the owner of this magical place; he is a resident of the Nanegalito area who decided to protect his property and convert it into an antpitta and cock-of-the-rock sanctuary. In recent years the reserve has become popular, as it is easy to spot at least three species of antpittas: Great, Yellow-breasted and Mustached antpittas. Other birds that might be seen in the area include the Crested and Golden-headed quetzals. En route we might make an additional stop in Quito at the Mitad del Mundo Monument and then continue to the hotel in Sangolquí. Dinner and overnight.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hacienda La Carriona

Cosanga

Jan 22, 2022

Full morning birding along the roads of Antisana Ecological Reserve (11,500 feet). Located between the high Andes and the Amazon lowlands, the privately-owned, 297,000-acre Antisana Ecological Reserve is composed of varied ecological zones ranging from páramo to lowland rainforest. More than 70 bird species can be found in the high-elevation páramo region, 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. The snow-capped Antisana Volcano may be visible, and is the fourth highest peak in Ecuador, with an altitude of 18,900 feet, adding to the breathtaking Andean scenery that can be enjoyed here. In the afternoon we shall continue to Cabañas San Isidro. This private reserve forms an important bridge between the Antisana and Gran Sumaco Reserves; the area boasts a list of about 330 bird 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

Jan 23, 2022

Explore the area accompanied by your guide. San Isidro Lodge is situated at about 6,726 feet above sea level, but the trails lead through elevations ranging from 7,874 feet all the way down to 6,069 feet, making this an ideal base to observe Andean birds from the lower reaches of the temperate zone down to the heart of the subtropical zone. Among the rarities here are Highland Tinamou, Bicolored Antvireo, Peruvian Antpitta, and White-faced Nunbird. Frequently spotted species often include Powerful Woodpecker, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Inca Jay, Black-billed Peppershrike, Wattled Guan, and Glossy-black Thrush. We'll also search for Sickle-winged Guan, Masked Trogon, Andean Motmot, Streak-capped and Striped treehunters, Long-tailed Antbird, Slate-crowned Antpitta, Black-chested Fruiteater, Pale-footed Swallow, and a variety of colorful tanagers in the mixed understory.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at San Isidro Lodge

Quito

Jan 24, 2022

After breakfast, check out of San Isidro and continue to Guango Lodge. Located about one hour away from San Isidro, Guango lies at an elevation of about 8,858 feet on Ecuador's eastern slope. This area is classified as humid temperate forest, a habitat distinctly different from San Isidro and characterized by its more stunted trees, thicker canopy, cooler climate, and completely different bird and plant composition. The hummingbird feeders here are especially popular, with some of the more noteworthy species including Mountain Velvetbreast, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, Golden-breasted and Glowing pufflegs, Mountain Avocetbill, and White-bellied and Gorgeted Woodstars. Other birds of particular interest that are seen regularly include the Andean Guan, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Turquoise Jay, Scarlet-bellied, Lacrimose, Buff-breasted and Hooded mountain-tanagers, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Black-headed, Black-capped and Black-eared hemispingus, and Slaty Brushfinch. Enjoy lunch at Guango, and in the afternoon continue through the Cumbayá Valley to Quito. (If you are continuing on the Amazon Rainforest trip extension, bid farewell to your travel companions and begin the journey to WildSumaco.) During a lecture given by a local ornithologist, learn more about some of the species seen throughout the tour. This evening we will reflect on the journey during a farewell dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Rincon de Puembo

Departure

Jan 25, 2022

Transfer to the airport for the flight home.

Breakfast- included