Ecuador! To birders, this small South American republic, straddling the equator, has a magical attraction. Known as the country with the greatest number of bird species of any nation, its biodiversity is staggering, and you’d need months to really do it justice. I hadn’t the means for that sort of trip, (there were available extensions to the Galapagos and Amazonia) and there were those – my wife included – who thought I was suffering from senile decay to essay a trip halfway across the world, carting my dodgy hip and asthma up to 14,000 feet ‘just’ to see a few birds. Well, I’ve been, and I’d go again – tomorrow!
I landed at Quito after a long, long flight on the much-improved Iberia. Quito is over 2,800 metres above sea-level, and feels like it! After meeting the rest of the party (including two ladies of 81 years’ vintage!) and getting a night’s rest, we were off at six next morning, with our superb guide Xavier Muñoz, a multi-lingual veteran of many tours. He uses a laser-pointer to pick out the birds in the dense canopy, and we were soon totting up tanagers (my favourite family), amazing hummingbirds, brush finches and warblers. We had an excellent driver, Rafael, who followed us with the bus when we walked along the generally good tracks, birding all the way. Organisation was fantastic, with well tried stops to spy on hummingbird feeders and the like, and our first night in the forest was in isolated cabins, near where we found – thanks, of course, to Xavier – the extremely rare Tanager Finch. More birding next day logged up an amazing array of tanagers, Araçari, parrots, flycatchers, Toucan and Barbet, and we wound up at the comfortable Sacha Tamia lodge for the next three nights. Whilst there, we were led down into a valley to a ‘lek’ of the famous Andean Cock of the Rock, where we also saw Giant Antpitta, had a day in the steamy sub-tropics (Toucans, more tanagers, woodpeckers, different species) and more cloud forest birding.
Then it was back to Quito for a brief stop at the ‘Centre of the World’ – where you cross the equator – and a quiet night before we set off to cross the Andes. Cold! At 4,500 metres, even on the equator, sleet fell, and hands and toes were chilled, but more new species were seen, Tawny Antpitta, and our first glimpse of a soaring Condor – wow! Down the eastern slope, and Andean Coot, Teal and Yellow billed Pintail were on the reservoir. At the Guanjo lodge, hot water bottles were provided. Next morning a walk turned up Andean Guan and loads of tanagers, then we were off, lower down towards Baeza. Stunning views of a Torrent Duck were to be had there, and still more new tanagers, before we made our way to the San Isidro lodge, where Inca Jay, Russet backed Oropendola, and Subtropical Cacique were all new. Next day, still more birds included a nice Black and chestnut Eagle, then it was back over the mountains to Quito, from where some of our party had to leave. Three of us, however, had a further day, and another guide, Jorge, took us up to the heights of Antizano, where we had tremendous views of Condors – at least four, including one perched near the nest – dozens of Carunculated Caracaras, and a lot of other high altitude birds. A great surprise was a flock of 20+ Baird’s Sandpipers, but Andean Lapwing, Silvery Grebe, and Andean Ruddy Duck were all just great. And that was about it. I ended up with more than 200 lifers, including 42 species of hummingbird, and a similar number of tanagers. IF you have even half a chance – GO! Xavier runs tours under his company name of Neblina Forest Tours – www.neblinaforest.com or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org