Birding Tour Southern Ecuador — A Feast of Endemics March 2023/2024
Southern Ecuador — A Feast of Endemics
Although it is not as famous as the northern Ecuador birding circuit, the southern Ecuador route is truly a gem for birders, offering a very unique set of birds, including some country endemics and several range-restricted species shared with adjacent northern Peru only, with several of them hard to get in that neighboring country.
During these 19 days we will have the chance to explore a unique suite of highly endangered natural habitats, including the Chocó forest found only in western Colombia and Ecuador and home to the amazing Long-wattled Umbrellabird and Club-winged Manakin, and the Tumbesian zone, a very localized habitat that extends through southwest Ecuador and northwest Peru only and is home to a large number of range-restricted species such as Pale-browed Tinamou, Grey-backed Hawk, and Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner.
We also will cross different deciduous lowlands, high-elevation cloudforest, and páramo, looking for Jocotoco Antpitta, as well as tropical valleys extending the number of habitats encountered during this trip while visiting a few of the Jocotoco Foundation’s private bird reserves. On the foothills of the Andes of the Cordillera del Condor we will visit Cabañas Yankuam in search of the mythical Orange-throated Tanager and Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher.
Jocotoco Antpitta is one of our main targets on this trip.
The Podocarpus National Park and the foothills of the Cabañas Ecológica Copalinga are home to several tanager flocks and a high diversity of hummingbirds, such as the beautiful Spangled Coquette, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Wire-crested Thorntail, and the shy Grey Tinamou.
We will also explore the Cerro de Arcos in search of the endemic Blue-throated Hillstar, which inhabit a small portion of the southern Andes and was only discovered in 2017!
Finally, the Polylepis Forest, which is rapidly vanishing in the Andes of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, is home to special birds like the endemic Violet-throated Metaltail and the sought-after Giant Conebill.
Please do join us on this amazing 19-day Birding Ecotours birding trip! We are sure you will have a fantastic and bird-filled time with us!
We should see many special birds on this tour like this White-necked Parakeet.
Itinerary (19 days/18 nights)
Day 1. Arrival at Guayaquil and transfer to the hotel
You will arrive at Guayaquil’s José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport, meet your tour leader, and transfer to the hotel.
Overnight: Hotel Unipark, Guayaquil
Day 2. Churute Mangroves Ecological Reserve, transfer to Buenaventura Reserve
We will start our tour birding south of the city of Guayaquil in the Churute Mangroves Ecological Reserve, where we will enjoy views of Horned Screamer, Snail Kite, Pinnated Bittern, Savanna Hawk, Cocoi Heron, White-throated Crake, Limpkin, and Masked Water Tyrant. Then we’ll head to the humid montane forest on the west slope of the Andes. Much of this habitat has been heavily fragmented in the country, but there is still some well-protected forest such as the private Buenaventura Reserve.
Overnight: Umbrellabird Lodge, Reserva Buenaventura
Buenaventura is the best place to see the near endemic Long-wattled Umbrellabird.
Days 3 – 4. Birding Buenaventura Reserve including the Umbrellabird lek
We will spend two more nights in the Buenaventura Reserve, looking for the endangered El Oro Parakeet, Choco Toucan, Ochraceous Attila, Song Wren, Club-winged Manakin, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, White-whiskered and Barred Puffbirds, Rufous-throated Tanager, Black-winged Saltator, of course the big star of the reserve, the impressive Long-wattled Umbrellabird, and, if we are lucky, the secretive El Oro Tapaculo. Hummingbird feeders are not exclusive to northern Ecuador, and here in Buenaventura you will have nice views of White-tipped Sicklebill, White-booted Racket-tail, Crowned Woodnymph, White-necked Jacobin, Green Thorntail, Brown Violetear, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Andean Emerald, Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Wedge-tailed Hummingbird.
Overnight: Umbrellabird Lodge, Reserva Buenaventura
Days 5 – 7. Birding the Macara and Zapotillo Roads and Jorupe Reserve
We will be birding the Macara and Zapotillo Roads en route to Jorupe Reserve, where we will spend three nights. We’ll have the chance to explore the well-renowned Tumbesian zone, which is a famous endemic hotspot that ranges from the southwest coast of Ecuador to extreme northwestern Peru and is considered one of the most endangered bird habitats in the world.
This habitat is characterized by dry deciduous and humid evergreen forest and is home to several species found only in this habitat. We will spend these days looking for Pale-browed Tinamou, Tumbes Hummingbird, Tumbes Pewee, Red-masked and Grey-cheeked Parakeet, the elusive Grey-backed Hawk, Pacific Parrotlet, West Peruvian Screech Owl, Blackish-headed Spinetail, Elegant Crescentchest, Watkins’s Antpitta, Crimson-breasted Finch, Ecuadorian Trogon, Saffron Siskin, Pacific Elaenia, Red-billed Scythebill, Ochre-bellied Dove, Ecuadorian Piculet, and Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, among others.
Overnight: Urraca Lodge, Jorupe Reserve
The localized Pallid Dove can be seen in the Jorupe Reserve.
Day 8. Exploring the Sozoranga Road and the Utuana Reserve, transfer to Loja
Today we will leave Urraca Lodge and explore the Sozoranga Road, looking for higher-elevation species such as Grey-headed Antbird, Piura Hemispingus, Black-cowled Saltator, Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, Rainbow Starfrontlet, Purple-throated Sunangel, Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant, Chapman’s Antshrike, the localized Loja Tyrannulet, Chestnut-collared Swallow, Bay-crowned and White-winged Brushfinches, Amazilia Hummingbird, and Collared Warbling Finch. We will head to Loja and after supper, we will look for the recently discovered Ecuadorian population of Koepcke’s Screech Owl, which until recently, was considered a Peruvian endemic.
Overnight: Grand Victoria Boutique Hotel, Loja
Day 9. Exploring Podocarpus National Park and transfer to Tapichalaca Reserve
Today we will explore the Podocarpus National Park and the Tapichalaca Reserve. We will focus on the sought-after Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Peruvian Antpitta, Plushcap, Chusquea Tapaculo, Rufous and Plain-tailed Wrens, and with luck Chestnut-crowned and Undulated Antpittas. Other birds will include Masked Mountain Tanager, Neblina Metaltail, Mouse-colored Thistletail, White-throated Tyrannulet, Blue-backed Conebill, and Andean Pygmy Owl.
Overnight: Casa Simpson, Tapichalaca Reserve
Tapichalaca Reserve is a good spot for Chestnut-naped Antpitta.
Day 10. Tapichalaca Reserve and Valladolid Road
Tapichalaca Reserve is famous as the major spot for the recently described, regionally endemic, and striking Jocotoco Antpitta. We should have great views at the worm feeding stations. Other good birds found in Tapichalaca Reserve include Golden-plumed Parakeet, Bearded Guan, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Hooded Mountain Tanager, Barred Fruiteater, Turquoise Jay, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, White-browed Spinetail, and Chusquea Tapaculo. The hummingbird feeders attract Collared Inca, Flame-throated Sunangel, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Long-tailed Sylph, and Amethyst-throated Sunangel.
Overnight: Casa Simpson, Tapichalaca Reserve
Day 11. Birding the Zamora Road and transfer to Copalinga Lodge
We will descend into the upper tropical forest, birding the Zamora Road, where we should find species like Torrent Duck, Oilbird, White-capped Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, and the most wanted Vermilion Tanager. Other flocks of tanagers include Saffron-crowned, Golden, Orange-eared, Spotted, and Golden-eared Tanagers. Here we may also see the range-restricted Equatorial Greytail, Black-billed Seed Finch, Black-capped Donacobius, and others. We will reach the nice Cabañas Ecológica Copalinga, where we will stay for two nights.
Overnight: Copalinga Lodge, Zamora
Day 12. Birding Podocarpus National Park and Copalinga
Copalinga is famous for its very good service and for perhaps the easiest place to see the secretive Grey Tinamou at the lodge feeders. Other birds here include Little Tinamou, White-throated Quail Dove, Wire-crested Thorntail, Spangled Coquette, Little Woodstar, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Lanceolated Monklet, White-fronted Tyrannulet, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Western Striped Manakin, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, and with luck the elusive Amazonian Umbrellabird.
Overnight Copalinga Lodge, Zamora
The secretive Grey Tinamou is one of the Copalinga Lodge specials.
Day 13 – 15. Drive to the Cordillera del Condor and Cabañas Yankuam
The Cabañas Yankuam have become the most accessible and easiest place on earth to see the highly prized, monotypic Orange-throated Tanager.
Other birds include Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher, Gilded Barbet, Lemon-throated Barbet, Blue-headed Parrot, Green-and-gold, Yellow-backed, and Paradise Tanagers, Eastern Woodhaunter, Pygmy Antwren, and Chestnut-eared Aracari. We will then explore neighboring territories in search of the handsome and most-desired Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher, Golden-collared Toucanet, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak, Red-billed Tyrannulet, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Yellow-cheeked Becard, and others. At night, we will try for Band-bellied Owl and Blackish Nightjar.
Overnight: Cabañas Yankuam
Yankuam Lodge is the best place to see the mythical Orange-throated Tanager.
Day 16. Maycu Reserve and transfer to Loja
We will spend the morning exploring the Maycu Reserve looking for Speckled Tanager, Collared Puffbird, Hairy-crested Antbird, Peruvian Warbling Antbird, Black Antbird, Purplish Jacamar, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Speckled Spinetail, White-browed Antbird, Blue-crowned and Collared Trogons, Duida Woodcreeper, Many-banded Aracari and many more. After lunch we will be transferred back to Loja.
Overnight: Grand Victoria Boutique Hotel, Loja
Day 17. Explore Cerro Acanana, Blue-throated Hillstar and transfer to Giron
Today we will have an early start to explore Cerro Acanama where we will spend the first couple hours of the morning looking for the sought-after Crescent-faced Antpitta and Red-faced Parrot. Other interesting species include Black-headed Hemispingus, Black-capped Tyrannulet, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Black-chested Mountain Tanager, Chusquea Tapaculo, Northern Mountain Cacique and Masked Trogon. If we are extremely lucky, we could score with the rare and seldom-seen Chestnut-bellied Cotinga.
Crescent-faced Antpitta is another target to look for at Cerro Acanana (photo Daniel Orozco).
After a few hours of exploring the area, we will head towards the Cerro de los Arcos in search of the endemic Blue-throated Hillstar, which was described to science, as recently as 2017! This will be the main target of the area however we should find other classic high elevation species such Carunculated Caracara, Variable Hawk, Andean Lapwing, Tawny Antpitta, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Streak-backed Canastero, Black-tailed and Green-tailed Trainbearers, Shining Sunbeam, Paramo Seedeater and if we are lucky Jameson’s Snipe. We’ll then drive to Giron and stay overnight at Santuario Hibiscus, which will allow easy access to birding the Yunguilla Reserve tomorrow.
Overnight: Santuario Hibiscus, Giron
Day 18. Birding Yunguilla Reserve and heading to Cuenca
The Yunguilla Reserve is home to the Endangered (IUCN) Pale-headed Brushfinch, a country endemic which was rediscovered in the reserve in 1999, after an absence of 30 years. It will be our main target for the area. Other targets here include Pale-naped Brushfinch, Grey-browed Brushfinch, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Peruvian Pygmy Owl, Line-cheeked Spinetail, Rainbow Starfrontlet, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Little Woodstar, Blackish Tapaculo, Golden-rumped Euphonia, Black-lored Yellowthroat, and with luck Scaled Antpitta. After birding the area we will continue onto the charming Hosteria Dos Chorreras near the Cajas National Park.
Overnight: Hosteria Dos Chorreras, Cuenca
Day 19. Explore Cajas National Park, transfer to Guayaquil for departure
We will spend the last morning birding in the Cajas National Park near Cuenca, looking for high-elevation species such as Tawny Antpitta, Stout-billed Cinclodes, the endemic Violet-throated Metaltail, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Ecuadorian Rail, Giant Conebill, Tit-like Dacnis, Blue-mantled Thornbill, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant.
Green-and-gold Tanager is another gorgeous species we may see on this tour.
After a pleasant morning birding the park, you will be transferred to the Cuenca airport to connect with a domestic flight to Guayaquil, from where you will catch your international flights.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.
SOUTHERN ECUADOR – A FEAST OF ENDEMICS: TOUR-SPECIFIC INFORMATION
This southern Ecuador birding holiday is focused on finding many of Ecuador’s bird endemics and we will also target a number of regional endemics which are not easily targeted in neighboring Peru. Starting on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, we will explore wetlands and shrimp farms enjoying some classic species such as Horned Screamer, plenty of waterbirds and some secretive species such as Brown Wood Rail. In the Chocó woodlands of Buenaventura Reserve, we will look for endemics such as El Oro Parakeet, El Oro Tapaculo and other amazing species such as Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Toucan Barbet, Club-winged Manakin, and Choco Toucan. The Tumbesian zone of Jorupe will provide star species such as Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Grey-backed Hawk, Tumbes Hummingbird, and Watkins’s Antpitta. Elsewhere on this tour, we will target other incredible species such as Jocotoco Antpitta, Neblina Metaltail, Flame-throated Sunangel, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Grey Tinamou, Spangled Coquette and Coppery-chested Jacamar. Another great pair of targets are the rare Orange-throated Tanager and handsome Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher. We will end the trip by exploring the southern Andes looking for high-elevation species such as the endemic Purple-throated Sunangel, Violet-throated Metaltail, Giant Conebill, and with luck the most-wanted Crescent-faced Antpitta.
Our tour will start and end in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil. You can reach Guayaquil’s José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport with direct flights from the USA (including Miami and New York), Spain, the Netherlands and Panama. You might wish to consult your travel agent to book your most convenient flight (and feel free to contact us if you want guidance). Please e-mail ([email protected]) us before you book any flights, as the information shown here is just an initial guide. Your tour leader will be waiting for you at Guayaquil Airport and will then transfer you to your hotel. Please remember to keep your luggage tags, as they are often required to exit the terminal at Guayaquil Airport. Please be aware that most international flights arrive in Guayaquil in the afternoon or evening, so we do not have any birding activities planned for the first day. In case you arrive on an early flight, you will be transferred to the hotel where you may have to wait until check-in is available. For an early check-in you might be charged extra directly by the hotel; this cost is not included in the Birding Ecotours tour price. In case you want to organize any birding activities for the first day, we can arrange this with the local guide or the tour leader, at an extra cost.
When filling out the customs declaration form, please use this address for the hotel:
Hotel Unipark, Clemente Ballén 406 y Chile, Guayaquil, Guayas 090313
Our tour will end in Guayaquil after a wonderful 19 days and 18 nights in Ecuador. On the last morning your tour leader, or one of our tour representatives, will transfer you to Guayaquil Airport from where you can connect with your international departure.
PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS AND PACE
We qualify this trip as moderate. Although most of the birding will involve pleasant walks along undulating roads, we will encounter some steep trails (which can get muddy at times) in the Paramo and in tropical forests. We will also enjoy relaxed birding around the lodge grounds and we will get to enjoy hummingbird and antpitta feeders at a few lodges too. To access certain special feeding stations and key birding territories (for Jocotoco Antpitta, Grey Tinamou, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, El Oro Parakeet and El Oro Tapaculo) some hiking is required. We will explore Amazon Rainforest trails at the Yankuam Reserve where trails may be uneven and we may encounter obstacles such as fallen logs, which are relatively easy to pass. Please let us know if you require further information on this topic or further descriptions of rainforest trails and terrain.
This southern Ecuador birdwatching tour does not require any domestic flights. However, there are a few lengthy drives when traveling from one lodge to the next, with full days of birding along the road, usually only arriving at our lodges in the late afternoon. In some of the areas we visit, the roads may be in poor shape. This tour is not as easy and upmarket as our northern Ecuador tour but the quality of birds and the wonderful landscapes make the trip worthwhile.
Keep in mind that we need to be awake very early in the mornings, and pre-dawn starts are in order each day. Please be prepared to have early starts on each day.
We think this trip might be difficult for people with back, walking, and balance problems or for those who are not used to a birding trip with early starts involved.
ATM MACHINES & PAYMENT METHODS
We suggest you draw any cash (US dollars) you may need for this trip at the ATMs at Guayaquil Airport. Please bear in mind that we will stay in several remote reserves where there are no ATMs available.
Unipark Hotel, Hosteria Dos Chorreras, and Grand Hotel Victoria accept credit card payment for extra services. Buenaventura, Urraca, Yankuam, Copalinga and Tapichalaca do not accept credit cards. US dollars are widely accepted as Ecuador’s official currency.
We will reach our highest elevation of the trip at the Cajas National Park, at 13,100 feet (4,000 meters). Please ask your doctor if you have any medical conditions that might be affected by visiting high elevations. Spending a few hours at high elevation is not normally a problem, but some minor symptoms might appear, such as a slight headache and mild dizziness. A regular Paracetamol (400 mg), taken two hours before we reach this elevation, should help prevent any headache trouble. A light meal the night before normally aids with digestion on the day at altitude.
We ask you to be ready for all kinds of weather on this trip. Guayaquil, the Chocó forests and the Amazonian foothills (Yankuam and Copalinga) can be hot and humid with temperatures often reaching 86°F (30°C). Chocó forests are probably one of the most humid areas in the world and we will also likely experience rainfall in these areas, however, the rain is not likely to adversely affect our birding here. Areas such as Cuenca and Tapichalaca can be cold with temperatures reaching 46°F (8°C).
Laundry services are available at all lodges. Please note that laundry fees are not included in the tour price
Wi-Fi is available in Guayaquil, Cuenca, Loja, Hostería Dos Chorreras and Tapichalaca. While internet is very limited or non-existent at Buenaventura, Copalinga, Urraca, and Yankuam. You might consider purchasing a SIM card at Guayaquil Airport on the day of your arrival – the network provider CLARO is a good option and offers great coverage.
Please consult your tour leader when using flash photography, as it is banned in many reserves along our route. Failure to comply with flash photography regulations could lead to our removal from the reserve.
Even though bird and wildlife photography is welcome on all our tours, these trips are designed as birding tours, and so we ask you to photograph without jeopardizing other participants’ experience of the tour and without compromising our travel schedule. We invite you to read our expectations and rules for group tours, in particular Point 6, which refers to photography.
Please note that when at hummingbird and antpitta feeders, we are not allowed to alter or change the environment, even though we may want to make it look more natural.
Most of the meals on this tour will include fixed menus at lodges and hotels where you should always have a vegetarian option. If you do have any special dietary preferences, please let us know in advance.
For groups of 4-8 we will have a private van for our whole tour, with plenty of space for everybody.
An example of the private van that we use for this bird tour.
‘We birded with Galo Real for eight days in Ecuador as an extension from a family trip to the Amazon Basin and the Galapagos. He is a good birder with a great ear for the bird calls and knowledge of all sites. He is very agreeable and was patient and considerate of our needs and capabilities. We look forward to birding with him again.’
Jim and Barbara