Trip Report – Ecuador Andes Mountains

Tour Leader : Pieter Verheij 
Local Guide : Juan Carlos Calvachi
Trip report Author: Pieter Verheij 

Day 1 – August 28th
Most members of the group had finished the Amazonia Wildlife tour the day before. Some others arrived late at night from Europe. A good reason to start slowly and to give everybody time to prepare for visiting the many beautiful places in the Andes Mountains. We drove for almost 3 hours (we had to pass Quito in rush hour) to arrive at our first stop in the Bellavista Cloud Forest. We stayed for a couple of hours on the property of the lodge observing the hummingbird feeders. We saw here the very common Buff-tailed Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Booted Racket-tail, Collared Inca, Purple-throated Woodstar, White-necked Jacobin and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. We also saw flame-faced Tanager and Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker and White-tailed Tyrannulet. Unfortunately it was very cloudy and finally it started to rain. We went on to the Septimo Paraiso Lodge where we would stay for three nights. We stayed in this Lodge before and we had always been very happy with the quality of service and excellent food. Unfortunately we noticed this time a different quality, not as good as we were used to. We discussed this with the staff and we really hope that they will recover their high standard as soon as possible.

Day 2 – August 29th
morning we had a very early breakfast, because we wanted to leave at around 4.30 in the morning to visit Refugio Paz de Las Aves. Our aim was to arrive at 5.30 at the Refugio and with half an hour walk we could be there at 06.00 to a place where everyday displays of Cock of the Rock takes place. We were very lucky to see the very rare White-faced Nunbird on our walk down. The display of the Cock of the Rock is amazing. A real spectacle to see those colourful birds flying around and a real challenge for photographers to get acceptable shots, because of the lack of light and the many obstructions of branches, leaves and so on, between the lense and the bird.After having enjoyed the “Cock of the Rock show”, Angel Paz, the owner of the Reserve, was able to show us some real beauties. First Giant Antpitta then the Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Black-backed Wood Quail, Moustached Antpitta and the Rufous-breasted Antthrush. The nicest thing was, that we could observe the birds from a very short distance. Angel is now working with fruit-feeders too, trying to attract more species. We had the Sickle-winged Guan, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and the beautiful Toucan Barbet. While the family served us a nice breakfast we could observe many Tanagers and other birds in the fruit trees nearby.Altogether this visit to Refugio Paz de Las Aves was a real highlight for us (and probably will be for all other groups coming here).We went on to Chontal to have a look at the Oil Birds. These birds are living in caves. We all had excellent views. Around the place, where we stopped, we had several other birds like the Bay-headed and Fawn-breasted Tanager.During dinner our guide proposed to make a short walk to see if we could find one of the Owls who are normally around. So we took off with a small group, armed with flashlights on cameras to find our way. We entered the forest for 50 metres when we heard one Owl calling. All lights were switched off and we were all listening in the complete dark of the forest. All of a sudden we heard a loud noise and soon we realized that one of the us has fallen down of the track in a deep hole, just beside the track. This hole was at least 3 metres deep and it took all our best efforts to pull him out. A good lesson: Don’t move if you cannot see where you are going! Fortunately he came out in one piece and we indeed found the Rufescent Screetch-Owl nearby, probably as surprised as we were.

Day 3 – August 30th
We left the lodge at sunrise. Our first stop was at a place where the lights had been switched on all night. A paradise for birds to find an easy breakfast and a paradise for birders to see many different species having breakfast. We found at this “breakfast table ” Barred Forest-Falcon, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Ornate Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Bay Wren, Tropical Parula, Slate-throated Whitestart, Three-striped Warbler, Slaty Bushfinch and many more.We went on to the area of the Milpe Reserve and had a nice walk. We had very good views of the Broad-billed Motmot, the Collared Trogon and the Ivory-billed Aracari. In the afternoon we went back to the Mindo area to look for the Golden-crested Quetzal. We heard it several times, but we did not see it. We saw several other birds and also some new ones such as Snowy Egret, Black phoebe, Choco Toucan, Roadside Hawk and Red-billed Parrot. Coming back we found a Common Potoo waiting for us, sitting on a post next to the lodge.

Day 4 – August 31st 
Septimo Paraiso Cloud Forest Reserve is a private protected area of 420 hectares of pre-montane and montane cloud forest. The altitude within the reserve drastically changes from 950 meters to 1650 meters above sea level. This morning we walked one of the trails on the property. Really beautiful scenery. We sawMasked Trogon, Smokey-brown Woodpecker, Slaty Spinetail, White-winged Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Buff-fronted Folinge-gleaner, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Red-eyed Vireo and finally after several times of only hearing them, we got very good views and photos of the Golden-headed Quetzal.
Coming back to the lodge we had a coffee and after a rest we left for a visit to the Mindo Butterfly Farm. There are around 25 species of butterflies on display, all are local and occurring in the surrounding cloud forest region of Mindo Protected Forest Reserve.  
We left the Lodge after lunch to return to Quito. We had a stop in the Calacali area where we had excellent views and photo opportunities of the Giant Hummingbird, Tricolored Brush-Finch, Ash-breasted Sierra Finch, Band-tailed Sierra-Finch and Plain-colored Seedeater.
We arrived at Quito B&B El Jardin at around 17.00

Day 5 – September 1st 
The Yanacocha Nature Reserve is located at around an hour’s distance from Quito. We had to leave early, because we wanted to be on the spot around sunrise. The Reserve is a fantastic place to find some very special species which are very difficult or impossible to find anywhere else. We had just started our walk on the Trocha Inca trail when our guide stopped because he heard the Ocellated Tapaculo calling. This bird is one of South America’s finest birds, but it’s heard much more often than seen. All of us managed to get good views, unfortunately we did not get any good photos. We had hoped to have a nice day, but the only thing predictable about Ecuador’s weather is its unpredictability. The clouds were very low and dense making it almost impossible to see birds in the canopy. We decided to go straight to the feeders to see if we could find some interesting birds there. We saw Maintain Velvetbreast, Great Sapphirewing, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird, Sapphire-vented Puffleg and Golden-breasted Puffleg. There were many birds around in the canopy, Blue-backed Cornbill, Grass-green Tanager, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Hooded Mountain Tanager, Black-chested Mountain Tanager and Scarlet-billed Mountain Tanager. Because of the clouds and the bad light, taking photographs was impossible. We decided to leave and try another place where we maybe could expect some better weather conditions. We drove to Calacalí a more arid area. Here we got excellent views of American Kestrel, Southern Yellow-Grosbeak and we had very good views of a pair of White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, which are very rare birds!

Day 6 – September 2nd
This day a visit to the Antisana Ecological Reserve was programmed. Knowing that we would go to an altitude of around 4.300 meters, the group was a little worried about the physical consequences and some took special drugs to prevent “altitude sickness” . The Antisana Ecological Reserve is located on the oriental slope of the Andes Mountain Range. The Antisana Volcano, with its 5,728 meters, is one of the most important volcanoes in the Andes. The region includes some high river basins of the rivers Coca and Napo. The reserve is only an hour’s drive from Quito. Arriving at the entrance of the Reserve we found out that the gate was blocked by people from the local village, as a protest for not getting any of the revenues of the huge quarry located just passed the entrance. Finally, and after a lot of talking of our guide Juan Carlos, they let us pass.

We were lucky to see within half an hour a pair of Andean Condors flying over and landing on a cliff on the other side of the valley. A bit far, but with the telescope we got good views. Going up to the paramo we saw Band-tailed Pigeon, Black-winged Ground-Dove, Sparkling Violet-ear, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Streak-backed and Many-stiped Canestero, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Paramo Ground-Tyrant, Paramo Pipit , Andean Lapwing and Andean Gull.
It was very cold that day high up in the montains, with a strong wind and a light rain. We saw from quite far a group of Black-faced Ibis. The brave ones in our group went for it and with success, they were able to get rather close and were rewarded with nice photographs. 
In the lagoons we found Andean Coot, Baird’s Sandpiper, Silvery Grebe, Yellow-billed Pintail and Andean Teal. All together it was a very productive and beautiful day despite the cold and altitude

Day 7 – September 3rd
left Quito at a very reasonable time to go to our next location for two nights. We had chosen the Termas Papallacta Spa Resort at 70 km east of Quito. The hotel is located in a high Andean Valley at an entrance route to the Amazonia of Ecuador. When we approached the Papallacta Pass it was already clear that a visit to the higher points, to look for some special birds living on the Tundra, did not make sense, because of the dense clouds and the rain. We decided to stay lower and find alternative places. We saw a Variable Hawk perched in a dead tree, staying there forever, giving everybody good chances to take photos. We stopped along the road not far from our hotel and walked into the forest. It was a good choice. We found Andean Tit-Spinetail and White-chinned Thistletailwhich really gave us all the opportunities we wanted to take good photographs. Other birds we saw were Torrent and White-banded Tyrannulet, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Cinerous and Blue-backed Conebill, Scarlet-bellied and Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager and White-sided Flowerpiercer. Altogether a very good stop.We moved on to visit Guango Lodge, on the shore of the Guango River. A lodge with very nice hummingbird feeders and also good opportunities for a walk along the river. Enjoying a nice cup of coffee we kept an eye on the feeders. A wide variety of hummingbirds were present and we took time to install our gear to make the best possible shots. Sparkling Violet-ear, Speckled Hummingbird, Mountain Velvetbreast, Collared Inca, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Sword-billed Hummingbird and more hummingbirds we had already seen before, but also some new ones for this tour such as Tourmaline Sunangel, Glowing Puffleg and White-bellied Woodstar. After lunch we went for a walk along the river and we were very lucky to see a pair of Torrent Duck. Unfortunately not for long, because they disappeared when our presence was noticed!

Day 8 – September 4th 
breakfast we looked around the grounds of the lodge to see if we could find some interesting species. We did not manage to find any new ones. After breakfast part of the group (some stayed in the hotel to enjoy the Spa facilities or to have a break) left to go back to the Papallacta Pass and to enter into the Cayamba Coca Reserve. First we went to the Antena station at the top. We looked for Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe which we found. Going down the track we stopped when we saw a White-tailed Deer, and a little bit later again when we heard the Tawny Antpitta. The track through the reserve is very good for those mountain birds which are difficult to find elsewhere. We found Paramo Seedeater, Black-backed Bush Tanager, Black-chested Mountain Tanager, Grass Wren, Brown-backed Chat Tyrant, Shining Sunbeam and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill.We went back to the Hotel for Lunch and after a welcomed rest we left the hotel to have a look at a track close to the hotel.

Day 9 – September 5th
This morning we left for a hearty breakfast in a local Restaurant in Baeza. This place is half way to our next location; Las Cabañas de San Isidro. San Isidro Lodge is situated at about 2050 meters above sea level, but the roads and tracks in the surroundings of the Lodge lead through elevational gradients that pass through habitats from 2,400 meters all the way down to 1,850 meters. It meant that this place is an ideal point to observe a wide variety of Andean birds. In the morning we had several stops at different locations and we made short walks. We saw many new species, amongst others , White-throated Hawk, White-capped Parrot, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Greenish Puffleg, Emerald Toucanet, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Dark-breasted Spinetail. We went back to the lodge where they had prepared a very nice Mexican lunch. After a customary rest we left the lodge again in the late afternoon to look for some night birds, after a walk on the Guacamaya Bridge. We were lucky to see very close the Rufous-bellied Night-Hawk and the Lyre-tailed Nightjar. Unfortunately we did not see any Owls and also the Andean Potoo was heard but did not show itself

Day 10 – September 6th 
We left in time to go and visit the area of WildSumaco Lodge, and maybe the Lodge itself. The Loreto Road going to the lodge is also a very good place for birds. we had our first stops close to the Guacamaya Bridge. A beautiful Chestnut-bellied Thrush was waiting for us, sitting and posing nicely from a tree at the perfect height and in good light. Very unusual for this scarce and normally very shy bird. It will probably win the prize for most photographed bird of this tour. The next stop was good for Blackish Nightjar, another very good species. A bit further on we stopped near fruit trees not far from the road, visited by a great variety of different birds. We took our time, because this was really a very productive place. Black-faced Dacnis, Magpie Tanager, White-capped Tanager, Oleaginous Hemispingus, White-lined Tanager, Bronze–green Euphonia, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Spotted Tanager, Blue-browed Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Masked Tityra, Pale-edged Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked Becard, Rufous-crowned Flycatcher are just a few of the of birds we could add to our list. The weather had changed quite a bit and it started raining again. We decided to go back to the lodge because it did not look very promising and driving for more hours in the rain did not appeal to anybody. And what is more, we had had a very good day so far. Back at the lodge we went out with one of the local men to try to find Antpitta’s. There are two different species who normally react on calls and come to feed. The chestnut-crowned Antpitta and the White-bellied Antpitta. We all saw the White-bellied Antpitta, but the other one did not show up, but was later seen by some of us.
In the late afternoon we left the lodge again because Juan Carlos wanted to show us another nightjar. The Ladder-tailed Nightjar, which we found. Everybody got good views of the female and the male with it’s beautiful long tail. 

Day 11 – 7th of September
last day arrived too soon. We spent the morning at the lodge, because so far we did not have the time to take photos of the hummingbirds at the feeders and in general there are many birds around on the land of the Lodge. Among the birds we saw were Masked Trogon, Western Emerald, Azara’s Spinetail, Rufous Spinetail, Lined Antshrike, Long-tailed Antbird, Rufous-crowned Tody Flycatcher, Ashy-headed Tyrannulet.
For lunch we went back to the restaurant in Baeza to enjoy one of the local dishes. Trucha al Ajillo (Rainbow Trout in Garlic sauce). Indeed a delicious dish. We arrived in Quito at around 17.00

Day 12- 8th of September 
day of saying goodbye to our fellow travellers. We had spent some great days together with many birds, and “the occasional” glass of wine. The weather was not always perfect, but we can all look back on a fantastic tour.

Travelling together as Friends