Giant Antpitta
Giant Antpitta

We arrived yesterday afternoon into Quito and met up with our excellent local guide, Juan carlos Calvachi, and driver (Carlo) and drove a couple of hours straight to Septimo Paraiso. It was late in the afternoon and we only had a a very brief time to see some common hummers at the feeders before dark. Our first of many, many excellent dinners was thoroughly enjoyed this evening and we already knew this was a tour you won't lose weight on!

Anyway, after an excellent night’s sleep we were ready for a 5.30am breakfast and with a few minutes to spare before heading out we had a quick check of the hummer feeders where a Sparkling Violetear, White-necked Jacobin and Andean Emerald were seen in the early morning gloom. But we were on a mission this morning to get up to Refugio de Las Aves as soon as possible before driving 7+ hours south to Ayampe. Our main reason for coming here was to see antpittas and we were all very excited I can tell you! Upon arrival we had a few stunning Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers and a Scale-throated Foliage-Gleaner close by, followed by a pair of very nice Ornate Flycatchers. Even better was a roosting Lyre-tailed Nightjar on the bank behind us that I teed up in the scope. Wow!!!!! Then a Golden-headed Quetzal flew in and landed on a mossy branch for the briefest of times and 3 Crested Guans were seen. Once the brother of the famous Angel Paz arrived we went to the first stake-out and in no time at all an absolutely hulking Giant Antpitta appeared…… What a beast and it was incredibly right out in the open, basically just a few metres away from us. Wow!.

Driving to a different spot, we waited by some hummer feeders that were alive with birds. In a matter of seconds we had seen Velvet-purple Coronet, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Lesser Violetear, White-booted Racket-tail, Andean Emerald, Purple-throated Woodstar, and Violet-tailed Sylph. With a confiding Crimson-rumped Toucanet feeding on bananas right behind us as well, with a Chivi Vireo also present. And then we walked along a trail to a feeding station where an Ochre-breasted Antpitta was waiting for us on an exposed branch on the slope above us. What a little cracker! After a few minutes it was joined by a cracking Moustached Antpitta that hopped out into the open for less than a minute before scurrying away into the dark forest. Keeping a high tempo we drove up to another spot  for a toilet break where Golden Tanager and an Orange-bellied Euphonia were seen and then drove a few more minutes to another antpitta stake-out. Unfortunately Yellow-breasted Antpitta would elude us, despite 3 attempts at a couple of spots but we had a consolation Sharpe’s Wren or three at one of them.

Finally we stopped at the main restaurant for a coffee and snacks and more hummer feeders, where we added Speckled Hummingbird, Tawny-breasted Hermit and Brown Inca to our ever growing hummer list. Other sightings this morning included Plumbeous Pigeon, Hook-billed Kite, Slate-throated Whitestart, a Crimson-rumped Toucanet feeding a well grown youngster at a nesting hole, and a Chestnut-capped Brushfinch. And then it was time to leave 11:45am and head out on the 7+ hour drive to Ayampe in the distant south of Ecuador.

A few roadside birds were seen but a lunch stop gave s Tropical Kingbird, Buff-throated Saltator and House Wren followed by Red-masked Parakeet and Grey-cheeked Parakeet, Pacific Hornero and a few other common species. It was around 9.30pm when we eventually pulled up at our lodge....

Pacific Pygmy Owl
Pacific Pygmy Owl

Well, after last night’s late arrival to the eco-lodge, we were all a little bleary-eyed for our 6am breakfast but were very ready for our first taste of birding in southern Ecuador. From the breakfast table we could see Brown and Peruvian Pelicans flying offshore.  A short walk around the vicinity of the lodge to check for any flowers suitable to host Esmeraldas Woodstar drew a blank, although we did see our first Tropical Gnatcatchers and more importantly a fine Necklaced Spinetail, plus an Amazilia Hummingbird. Then it was a very short ten minute drive to the start of the trail where we would bird along for the next 5 hours and as soon as we left the minibus we were hit by a wall of new birds in a relentless episode that every birder relishes. New species came rapidly and it was one of those times you just didn’t know where to look first. First of all a pair of Yellow-tailed Orioles at the top of a bushy tree were scoped – for a few seconds, as a group of Pacific Parrotlets were found close by. Binoculars were raised to look at these little beauties and no sooner that happened when a male Collared Antshrike was called, followed immediately by a Pacific Pygmy Owl flying into the tree next to us in response to its call via the iPhone! Manoeuvring to get a clear view through a tangle of branches then revealed both Speckle-breasted Wren and Superciliated Wren mobbing the owl. Phew! Struggling to keep up with writing notes meant that I almost missed seeing a lifer Ecuadorian Ground-Dove flying by! Amongst the tall grasses and bushes next to the track we watched a flock of Variable Seedeaters disappear into the vegetation, and just then a Striped Cuckoo jumped up and promptly flew off. But further scanning revealed a cracking Crimson-breasted Finch posing in a bare tree with Thick-billed Euphonia and a Pacific Hornero. Then the seedeaters reappeared, posing nicely in some bushes and were joined by many Saffron Finches and a couple of Streaked Saltators. And all this whilst walking about 100m..!! So off we set, for maybe 30 more metres before finding a pair of Black-striped Sparrows, followed by a flyover Ringed Kingfisher and then finally scope views of a group of cackling Rufous-headed Chachalacas. Walking on and a fine Black-capped Sparrow was really appreciated by all, followed by nice scope views of a pair of Hook-billed Kites, close Fulvous-faced Scrub-Tyrant, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and the first of many stunning male Yellow-tufted Dacnis (plus several females throughout the morning too), Masked Water-Tyrant, Pacific Elaenia, Tropical Parula, Bananaquit, Lemon-rumped Tanager and Tumbes Pewee. It was about now that we started to experience some very light rain and this seemed to cause bird activity to drop a little. But that being said, new birds still came steadily and we continued our tick-fest with Plain Antvireo, a stunning Grey-and-gold Warbler, Buff-throated Saltator, skulking Olivaceous Piculet, and an equally tricky-to-see Scarlet-backed Woodpecker all in the same spot.

Over the next hour we kept walking and saw White-bearded Manakin, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Bronze-winged Parrot both in flight and perched, several Sooty-headed Tyrannulets, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Streaked Xenops, brief Baron’s Hermit, a pair of Red-rumped Woodpeckers, Great Antshrike, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Lesser Greenlet, Stripe-throated Hermit, Sooty-crowned Flycatcher, and finished with an Ecuadorian Trogon perched above us. What a morning that was! And once back at the lodge we checked the flowers for woodstars again without any joy, but did find a group of Saffron Siskins.

After a leisurely lunch and a bit of a siesta we checked out several areas around the village. New for our lists were a confiding and noisy pair of Fasciated Wrens, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Baird’s Flycatcher, West Peruvian Dove, an Elegant Crescentchest for Brian and we ended this superb day with an Anthony’s Nightjar circling us in the spotlight. Wow!

Pacific Parrotlet
Pacific Parrotlet

We began the day with a 5.30am breakfast, a quick pack of the minibus and short drive back into the birding trail of Ayampe. Along the way, Juan Carlos heard a Watkins’s Antpitta calling so we made our first attempt at this tricky species, but despite a valiant effort we never got close to it. So back into the trail, and alas no woodstars or much of anything to be honest apart from a cracking pair of Guayaquil Woodpeckers above us in a huge Cecropia tree.  And that was it, adios Ayampe as we had many more birds to see during what turned out to be an action-packed day. So we headed to the Santa Elena Peninsula, spotting our first Burrowing Owl along the way. At an arid area of thorn bushes and scrub we spent a pleasant couple of hours despite the heat walking along a path where Croaking Ground-Doves and Long-tailed Mockingbirds were common. Almost immediately we had the first of several Short-tailed Woodstars, followed by a Grey-and-white Tyrannulet, several Parrot-billed Seedeaters, a group of Collared Warbling-Finches, and some nice close Pacific Parrotlets posing nicely for photos. An Elegant Crescentchest was next up and this time showing several times amongst the bushes. Wow! A pair of Variable Hawks sky-danced, a Short-tailed Field-Tyrant hung around for ages, more Burrowing Owls were seen and a demure Tumbesian Tyrannulet was a lifer for everyone.

Driving down to the peninsula we stopped to look at Harris’s Hawk, Vermilion Flycatcher and took a detour for Peruvian Thick-knee before reaching the coast. Fine sandy beaches lined this end of the peninsula and were home to American Oystercatchers, Hudsonian Whimbrels and Sanderlings. A stop at some lagoons allowed us to scope a surprising variety of shorebirds this early in the season and to Brits there’s nothing better than scoping distant specks but we amassed quite a list: Black-necked Stilt, Common Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Western, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plover, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Green Heron, Cocoi Heron, our one and only distant Chilean Flamingo, Pied-billed Grebe and a single Red-necked Phalarope. Just over the road we scanned the beach and ocean and were fortunate to spot a lone Grey Gull several hundred metres away. Even luckier, it flew towards us and landed nearby. Wow! We did see a few more as we drove along the coast road a little later. But from our vantage point overlooking the beach we also spotted a group of Common Terns, a few Royal Terns and a couple of Blue-footed Boobies out to sea. Driving along a large lagoon held what could well have been over a thousand Red-necked Phalaropes! Amazing!

Driving down to La Chocolatera Viewpoint we passed another lagoon and simply had to stop when we spotted a group of Roseate Spoonbills.  A quick scan revealed 6 Wilson’s Phalaropes, 2 Snowy Plovers, Spotted Sandpiper and a Gull-billed Tern. Once at the viewpoint we saw many Blue-footed Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds flying past, found a Wandering Tattlerand amazingly a young Swallow-tailed Gull. That was quite some day! But there was still the small matter of a 2+ hours drive to our hotel in Guayaquil, arriving shortly after 6pm where we had another fine meal and cervezas!

Giant Conebill
Giant Conebill

DAY 4   MANGLARES CHURUTE – QUIZAS HOY – EL CAJAS Breakfast at 6.15am was a luxury followed by just over an hour’s drive to the mangroves at Manglares Churute. On the drive in we stopped to see our first Savanna Hawk and a pair of Pale-mandibled Aracari stealing eggs from a Pacific Hornero’s nest, plus we had a flock of Bronze-winged Parrots flying over, Groove-billed and Smooth-billed Anis, Grey-and-gold Warbler and a Social Flycatcher. Our first attempt at Jet Antbird proved to be a little frustrating as it only showed briefly, but our second try was much better with some great views. A Common Black Hawk was perched at the entrance to the boardwalk but we couldn’t find any Rufous-necked Wood-rails, instead just had a Green Kingfisher, Tricoloured Heron, Roseate Spoonbill and a Mangrove Warbler.

Leaving here we drove to another area for Horned Screamer, which was seen well through the scope. Along the way we had Grey-lined Hawk and Crested Caracara and on the drive out we well and truly nailed Scarlet-backed Woodpecker. An abortive attempt was made at seed-finches as the stake-out has been destroyed so we carried on to Quizas Hoy. Here we had great looks at Baron’s Hermit, along with Yellow-olive Flatbill, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, White-shouldered Tanager and best of all, a pair of White-whiskered Puffbirds. But we will have to return as there were no Pacific Royal Flycatchers today. So we stopped nearby for lunch and then drove up to 4,160m at El Cajas National Park. Amidst this spectacular setting we had excellent views of a pair of Polylepsis specialist Giant Conebills and at another spot we found a pair of awesome Tit-like Dacnis feeding beside a lake. And this area was good for Blue-mantled Thornbill, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Tawny Antpitta and Mouse-coloured Thistletail. Other species seen included Pearled Treerunner, White-spectacled Redstart, White-throated Tyrannulet, Stout-billed Cinclodes, and a pair of Andean Teal. From here it took nearly 2 hours to reach our hotel in Yunguilla, but boy the beers were good!

Pale-headed brushfinch
Pale-headed Brushfinch

After a 6am breakfast we visited the Jocotoco Foundations Yunguilla Reserve, just a 15 minute uphill drive from our hotel. We walked down a track for a good half an hour to a feeding station where the ranger we’d brought with us from town placed some food out. Even before this we’d laid eyes on the mega Pale-headed Brushfinch and whilst food was being put out a pair of Grey-browed Brushfinches perched right next to the ranger! Anyway, we had great views of both brushfinches, as well as a Chestnut-crowned Antpitta that also lingered around the feeding station. But it was Pale-headed Brushfinch we’d come to admire and weren’t disappointed with at least two individuals coming frequently to feed. With no more than 300 individuals in the 36km2 area this is a rare bird and classified as Vulnerable by BirdLife International. We enjoyed watching the feeding activity and remained here for a couple of hours, during which time Black-crested Warbler, Line-cheeked Spinetail, Rufous-chested Tanagerand a pair of Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrushes also appeared. A walk around the reserve resulted in very brief Azara’s Spinetail and a perched female Purple-collared Woodstar. So we returned to the minibus and then had a little time off back at the hotel before lunch. We were away and on the road by 1.15pm and heading to Umbrellabird Lodge located in the fantastic Buenaventura Reserve – another jewel in the Jocotoco Foundation’s string of reserves, where we arrived at 4.30pm. After placing our luggage into the very nice cabins we headed out 45 minutes later to try and see the umbrellabirds but we were too late. But the hummer feeders were really busy with multiples of Green Thorntail (much the commonest hummer here), as well as Brown Violetear, Andean Emerald, White-necked Jacobin, Green-crowned Brilliant, and a Violet-bellied Hummingbird. So we had another nice dinner and enjoyed a fine Black-and-white Owl in the spotlight before retiring to our cabins by 8.15pm to prepare for a very early start to the paramo tomorrow morning for one of the rarest birds on the planet.

Blue-throated Hillstar
Blue-throated Hillstar

A 4.20am start (ouch!) saw us heading out to the paramo of Cerro de Arcos in search of a bird only discovered in 2017 – Blue-throated Hillstar. This entailed a one hour drive in the minibus and then two hours up the mountain in a couple of 4WD vehicles. It was bumpy and uncomfortable but we felt it was a bit of an adventure and enjoyed the experience. Well, at 3700m it was cold and a gale was blowing but we walked over the brow of a hill in to the leeward side and it was quite pleasant. Within a couple of minutes a fine Blue-throated Hillstar flew in and landed on a tall, moss-encrusted stalk and stared at us, its blue throat literally glowing. Wow! We stayed here for about an hour and watched a couple hillstars chasing Black-tailed Trainbearers and Shining Sunbeams away from its favourite food source. After a while a Viridian Metaltail appeared and he too was chased away!

What a magical experience!

So we left here and headed downhill to our waiting minibus and then visited a small garden where we saw White-vented Plumeleteer easily. This is an isolated population and may warrant full species status as Ecuadorian Plumeleteer in the future. Leaving here, we drove to Quindi Garden where we failed to locate Ochraceous Attila but enjoyed the hummer feeders and the spectacle but added nothing new. So after a picnic lunch here we drove to the higher section of Buenaventura Reserve and our El Oro Parakeet stakeout. After an hour’s wait it wasn’t looking good until Juan Carlos found a small group loitering at the top of a bare tree across the valley below us and they looked mighty fine in the scope! We’d also seen a few other species in the same area including Spotted Woodcreeper, Scaly-throated Foliage-Gleaner, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Golden Tanager, Dull-coloured Grassquit, Common Bush-Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, and a few other previously seen species.

With the day slipping away we decided to push our luck and ended the day at a different section of the reserve seeing a pair of unusually cooperative Esmeraldas Antbirds on the way to getting crippling views of the fantastic Long-wattled Umbrellabird. We had an incredible encounter with one as it flew from perch to perch uttering its low display call. And so a remarkable day ended on a fantastic high with what can only be described as a terribly weird but undoubtedly cool looking bird.

long-wattled umbrellabird
Long-wattled Umbrellabird
Grey-backed Hawk
Grey-backed Hawk

Breakfast at 5.45am was followed by a session watching the birds from the verandah with a cup of coffee in hand. Ah yes! The hummer feeders were bristling with all the same species but the surrounding forest was alive with activity. A pair of Blue-necked Tanagers were nest-building right next to the front porch and at one stage a Black-crowned Antshrike seemed to hone in on the nest as if he was going to rob it! In the large trees at the front we saw Spotted Woodcreeper, Bananaquit, Orange-bellied Euphonia, One-coloured Becard, a pair of Buff-rumped Warblers, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, a group of Ashy-throated Bush-Tanagers, Bay Wren and a pair of Yellow-throated Toucans. Phew!


We then drove higher up the road and walked for an hour or see and had Orange-billed Sparrow, many Yellow-throated Bush-Tanagers and an Olive-striped Flycatcher, but it was a little tricky to get any details on these birds due to the mist, until we could call them in closer. As the mist lifted we had decent looks at Club-winged Manakin, as well as White-tipped Sicklebill, Song Wren, Silver-throated Tanager, and a brief White-throated Daggerbill. Unfortunately we had to leave this wonderful reserve so returned to our cabins and loaded the luggage, but then had to drive back uphill as a pair of day roosting Crested Owls had been found by one of the lodge’s workers. And sure enough we feasted on crippling views of a pair right next to the track.

Leaving on the long drive to Jorupe we tried for Ochraceous Attila but only had it calling back and not moving, so had to content ourselves with a group of Yellow-bellied Siskins bathing in a puddle, a Stripe-breasted Hermit and a Black-cheeked Woodpecker. Driving towards the main road on the muddy, bumpy track we stopped suddenly when Juan Carlos spotted a Grey-backed Hawk perched on a low branch a little too close to the track as not everyone managed to see it before it flew away.

It was around 5 hours to drive to Jorupe, but we stopped in a dry area very different to the one we had left a few hours ago. And pretty quickly we nailed White-headed Brushfinch beside the road, followed by a not-so-stunning Tumbes Hummingbird. Once at Urraca Lodge we had a couple of hours to chill before dinner, but we still saw a few birds with a flock of Blue Ground-Dovesvisiting the feeder, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Grey-and-gold Warbler and Jo found her own Ecuadorian Trogon. An owling session only produced several calling West Peruvian Screech-Owls and we ‘d have to try again tomorrow night to get a view of this bird.

West Peruvian Screech Owl
West Peruvian Screech Owl

6am breakfast today with another try for owls around the cabins beforehand – again without any success. So after a fine breakfast we staked out the feeders in front of the main dining room, seeing some cracking White-tailed Jays, both Ecuadorian and Plumbeous-backed Thrushes, a gang of Rufous-headed Chachalacas, Amazilia Hummingbird and several Blue Ground-Doves. Then we hit the trails, getting a relatively slow but steady list of new trip birds and lifers for everyone starting with a couple sightings of the much-wanted Watkins’s Antpitta. Not a bad way to start our 4 hour wander and we followed that with Boat-billed Flycatcher, an extremely wary and shy Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner, Blackish-headed Spinetail and Grey-breasted Flycatcher. Already we’d nailed several of our main targets for this area and next up was One-coloured Becard, Pacific Elaenia, Olivaceous and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Plain Antvireo  and more importantly a few views of Rufous-necked Foliage-Gleaner. Walking along a narrow trail across the hillside towards the lodge and things were a little slower with common species such as Tropical Parula and Streaked Xenops, plus a slightly more interesting Ecuadorian Piculet. Roberta had stayed behind at the lodge and was rewarded with a Pale-browed Tinamou visiting the feeding station and she joined me for a short walk before lunch seeing Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Black-capped Sparrow.

After a nice rest following lunch we headed an hour or so up the road to an elevation of 1850m and birded patches of decent habitat, with some roadside birding thrown in. This session proved to be extremely fun and rewarding as we kick-started things with Three-banded Warbler, Golden Grosbeak, a pair of Silver-backed Tanagers, Brown-capped Vireo, a flyover Short-tailed Hawk and best of all, 3 rare Scarlet-fronted Parakeets. Walking downhill along the road and a White-rumped Hawk circled in the blue sky right above us, our first Band-tailed Pigeon appeared and a Black-crested Warbler showed nicely. The we hit a purple patch with Bay-crowned and White-winged Brushfinches, a pair of Tooth-billed Tanagers, Smoke-coloured Pewee, and a pair of Chapman’s Antshrikes showing amazingly well. A flock of Red-masked Parakeets wheeled around the valley below and just before we reached the minibus a Loja Tyrannulet was spotted. Then we drove down to the village of Sabiango and watched a bunch of Chestnut-collared Swallows coming to roost. After dinner we made our third attempt at finding West Peruvian Screech-Owl and struck lucky with fantastic views of a bird perched close by. It was just a shame the calling Spectacled Owl near the cabins didn’t show but anyway, we’d had a superb day.

Rainbow Starfrontlet
Rainbow Starfrontlet

After a 5am breakfast (ouch!) we returned to the Sozoranga area that we visited yesterday afternoon and at a little over 2500m it was a little chilly to start with. A Grey-chinned Hermit was a little higher up the mountain than it had any right to be, whilst another Silver-backed Tanager and Speckled Hummingbird were the only species of note and it was noticeably quieter than yesterday, so we continued on to Utuana Reserve. It was a bit slow to start with although White-sided Flowerpiercer and more importantly, a Black-cowled Saltator were new for the trip. So we continued walking but failed to locate the mega Grey-headed Antbird or Piura Hemispingus and all we had to show for a couple hours of searching was White-crested Elaenia, Blue-capped Tanager and Slate-throated Whitestart. Well, that was until we reached the feeders where numerous lifer Rainbow Starfrontlets and Purple-throated Sunangels fed. What scorching birds and we thoroughly enjoyed the fine views. Walking on we eventually located a furtive Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant that appeared to be joining a flock containing Line-cheeked Spinetail, Streaked Tuftedcheek, and a couple of White-tailed Tyrannulets. So we left here and drove to a different spot where amazingly, a mega Black-crested Tit-Tyrant gave crippling views! When I say mega, it’s more of a northern Peru species really and only just creeps over the border into Ecuador in a few places. We spent the rest of the day driving to the eastern Andean slope and a two-night stay at Tapichalaca Reserve. A stop along the way gave us Tumbes Sparrow, Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch, Long-tailed Mockingbirdand Blue-black Grassquit.

Our route took us through incredible East Andean scenery on ever winding roads until we reached Podocarpus National park and could see vast forested ridges all the way to the horizon. The habitat looked pristine and totally awesome! We arrived at Tapichalaca and our next lodge, Casa Simpson, around 5.30pm giving us some time to check out the feeders whilst drinking a very welcome mug of hot chocolate. Chestnut-breasted Coronet was the commonest hummer, followed by a few Collared Inca, but a single Amethyst-throated Sunangel only appeared briefly on two occasions. A group of Bearded Guans hung around the garden, whilst Masked Flowerpiercer, Blue-and-Black Tanager and a few Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers fed quietly in the bushes at the edge of the garden. What a cracking introduction to our stay in this wonderful cloud forest. Unfortunately heavy rain meant that any chance of owling tonight had gone, so we were in bed by 8.30pm full of anticipation at tomorrow’s potential avian extravaganza…..

Jocotoco Antpitta
Jocotoco Antpitta

This is one of those days that you look forward to more than most others. It’s a crescendo of excitement that only birders can appreciate and this was the day we had our shot at the big one. The special one (and it wasn’t Jose Mourhino), but the one and only Jocotoco Antpitta. However, we were sat at breakfast at 5.45am listening to the rain that had continued unabated throughout the night and wondering if it would ever stop. Combine this with recent tales of the antpitta not showing recently and we were certainly on edge driving the short distance to the start of the trail. It was a steep start for maybe just a 100m or so before the rest of it was relatively easy and a Black-throated Tody-Tyrant was the first bird of the day. Walking slowly into the cloud forest we enjoyed multiple sightings of Orange-banded Flycatcher, which amazingly moves around in little flocks of the same species. At the same corner in the trail a stunning Green-and-black Fruiteater posed in a nearby bush. We then had Spectacled Whitestart, several Grey-hooded Bush-Tanagers moving through the canopy of moss-encrusted trees, a fine Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, quick but decent views of Blackish Tapaculo, a brief Blue-backed Conebill and a superb Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager. As we rounded a corner a White-throated Quail-Dove walked off the path in front of the viewing hide and then we walked down to the antpitta feeding station. 

We had no sooner sat down on the bench when a Chestnut-naped Antpitta appeared next to us, walked right in front of us just a metre away before cramming a whole load of worms in its beak and then moved back into the forest as it had chicks to feed. Wow! It reappeared a while later to collect more worms, meanwhile we waited quietly in edgy uncertainty as time was passing. Then a pair of Barred Fruiteaters came in to feed on worms and provided a little distraction for a few minutes. The local ranger Franco was continually whistling and calling for the Jocotoco Antpitta but after roughly 90 minutes it was seemingly apparent that the bird wasn’t around and when he told Juan Carlos that it never usually shows after 9am (and it was 9.15am by now) we felt utterly dejected. It was at this point that Brian decided to go and answer a call of nature and as he disappeared around a bend in the trail, Franco pointed excitedly into the forest and said “it’s here!” Well you couldn’t begin to understand the relief we all felt as the best antpitta in the world appeared from behind a mossy log and stared balefully around at us. Wow! Wow! and wow again! This majestic beast hopped down and fed on worms but all too quickly disappeared back into the forest and out of view. And just then Brian returned and for a moment wouldn’t believe us when we said the bird had just appeared. A tense few minutes ensued before Juan Carlos picked up the bird returning towards the feeding station and onto Brian’s life list – thankfully. In fact, the Jocotoco Antpitta remained for several minutes before once again departing and then reappearing a little while later. We were able to study it, take photos, videos and all this with the bird just a few metres away. We learnt from the ranger that it was a young bird which had disappeared a few months ago, due to the adults evicting it from their territory. But as the adults weren’t currently around, this youngster was able to come into the feeding station without fear of attack. This was undoubtedly one of our best ever ornithological experiences ever. When you consider this species wasn’t discovered by Dr Robert Ridgely until 1997, it still ranks as one of the major ornithological discoveries of recent times. And we’d seen it!

Once the bird left we walked on down the trail, seeing Turquoise Jay, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, and after a tense battle we saw a Slate-crowned Antpitta in the undergrowth below the trail.  We continued on with Rufous Wren, a fantastic Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Grass-green Tanager, Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch, Sierran Elaenia, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Hooded Mountain-Tanager and finally a pair of Golden-plumed Parakeets at a nest box before returning to the waiting minibus. Phew, what a morning!

We enjoyed a fine lunch and some time watching the feeders where a Chestnut-naped Brushfinch appeared, along with Bearded Guan and the usual hummers before driving lower down the road towards Valladolid. The rain kept hampering us but we ploughed on with umbrellas in hand and found a superb Maranon Thrush, along with Dull-coloured Grassquit, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Rufous-fronted Thornbird and a few Silver-beaked Tanagers before driving to a different area above the town. Here, at a patch of cloud forest we found it to be buzzing with activity. A Cinnamon Flycatcher, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Montane Woodcreeper, Saffron-crowned Tanager Golden-naped Tanager, Streak-necked Flycatcher, pair of Golden-collared Honeycreepers, Silver-backed Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager and an Andean Solitaire were all seen close to the minibus before we left and returned to the lodge. After dinner it didn’t take us more than ten minutes to find a White-throated Screech-Owl(and I really messed up my camera settings) to end an already fantastic day on a high.

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill
Rainbow-bearded Thornbill

A 5am breakfast saw us on the road mega-early and heading up to the giddy heights of 3100m at Cerro Toledo in search of some more southern Ecuador megas. Our minibus got us most of the way up before we had to switch into a pickup van to get to the mist-enshrouded treeline. And boy was it cold with a stiff breeze, combined with visibility down to just a few meters it didn’t look promising. However, the mist did lift somewhat and we had the total good fortune when Jo walked around the opposite corner to the one we were heading towards for a ‘comfort stop’ and when she returned, described seeing one of the key targets up here – Masked Mountain-Tanager. So we raced around the corner and quickly discovered a few stunning Golden-crowned Tanagers, several Pale-naped Brushfinches and a short while later an absolutely crippling Masked Mountain-Tanager appeared in the gloom. We then chased this little flock up and down the road, trying to get better views until eventually it flew below us and landed in a little bare bush. Wow!

So with that crippler sorted we began walking up and down a 300m stretch of cloud forest road looking for Neblina Metaltail, but initially could only find a stunning Rainbow-bearded Thornbill perched next to the dirt road. Pretty good compensation though!  The colours on its beard are absolutely stunning. After a long search we eventually found a Neblina Metaltail perched below the road and allowed us some fantastic views. From here we walked down the road for around 7 kilometers picking up a few Glowing Pufflegs, Brown-bellied Swallow, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Plushcap, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, White-banded Tyrannulet, Red-crested Cotinga, Chusquea Tapaculo, Grass-green Tanager, Grey-hooded Brushfinch, a fantastic Flame-throated Sunangel, heard a Greater Scythebill, and finished with a Black-throated Toucanet. We called in to a small marsh in Vilcabamba to see Plumbeous Rail, but only one of us did! An ice-cream stop was more ‘fruitful’ before we drove to Loja and our hotel stop for the night. One of the quickest owling sessions I have ever experienced happened after dinner, as we drove up to the University in this surprisingly large city. Hopping out of the minibus, Juan Carlos played the call of Koepcke’s Screech-Owland it immediately flew down towards us across the grassy slope above, landing directly overhead. And there it was! We had superb views before it flew across the road, briefly landing on an open branch once again before flying off.

spangled coquette
Spangled Coquette

We birded the old Loja-Zamora Road this morning on our way to Yankuam, and what a day it proved to be. Our first stop beside a rushing river failed to produce any Torrent Ducks but we had an unexpected Golden-crowned Flycatcher (no Ebird records for Ecuador!!), a flock of Yellow-whiskered Bush-Tanagers, Three-striped Warbler, Subtropical Cacique, Sickle-winged Guan, a fantastically cooperative Olive Finch and a female Andean Cock-of-the-Rock – all new for the trip. Then we drove on along the dirt road a few kilometres before stopping beside a cut over area dotted with large, bromeliad and moss laden tall trees on the slope below us. Fortunately, one of them was fruiting and attracting a lot of birds. In fact it was a veritable tanager-fest with Blue-necked, Golden-naped, Golden-eared, Bay-headed, Saffron-crowned, and Spotted Tanagers! An Ash-browed Spinetail,Masked Tityra, Bronze-green Euphonia and best of all a Rufous-winged Tyrannulet joined them. A flock of White-eyed Parakeets flew along the valley below us and a Roadside Hawk put in an appearance. Just then, as we walked towards our minibus an Olive-chested Flycatcher was heard and we called it in for a decent look at this subtle and pretty scarce bird. Another short drive and then we were out again and walking in the sunshine seeing Fork-tailed Woodnymph, a group of Ashy-throated Bush-Tanagers, Paradise Tanager, Green Hermit, Olivaceous Greenlet and down by the river our first Cliff Flycatcher.

Then we left this fantastic area and headed towards Yankuam, stopping beside some open fields where Black-billed Seed-Finch, Chestnut-bellied Seedfinch and Chestnut-bellied Seedeater were nice additions to our ever-increasing trip list. A Ruddy ground-Dove was also new but almost ignored in all of the excitement. However, just another short drive away to a stakeout for Spangled Coquette got us crippling views of this beast perched in a tree and then feeding on Verbena flowers right in front of us. We had our picnic lunch here before driving to the lodge at Yankuam where Jeff saw a Little Woodstar in the gardens. And we spent the rest of the afternoon on a boat ride along the Nangaritza river, seeing White-banded Swallow, Violaceous Jay, Green-fronted Lancebill, Short-tailed Swift and Plumbeous Kite. When we returned to the lodge a flurry of activity led to more trip ticks with Magpie and Green-and-gold Tanagers, Long-tailed Tyrant, Great Kiskadee and Glittering-throated Emerald. A night foray for Band-bellied Owl was a dud but we found a recently deceased Tropical Screech-Owl that had just flown into a passing motorcyclist!

Little Woodstar
Little Woodstar

We birded the Amazonian foothill reserve of Maycu this morning, which entails walking along the dirt road that passes through the reserve and is being used by the illegal gold mining companies with some pretty large trucks driving at breakneck speeds. I found this very flipping annoying initially, until some incredible birds started to appear. We began with a very skulky Ruddy Foliage-Gleaner, followed by White-throated Woodpecker and Gilded Barbet. All of a sudden we heard the distinctive call of Orange-throated Tanager and called in a pair that didn’t stay long enough in the large cecropia tree above the road for photos but we well and truly nailed this must-see bird for this area. Indeed we had further views a little later on. Just then we had a superb Yellow-bellied Tanager was followed by a Wing-barred Piprites being called in, followed by Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Green-and-gold Tanager, Masked Tanager, a pair of Golden-collared Toucanets, perched Black-throated Brilliant, Lined Antshrike, Mouse-coloured Antshrike, a pair of Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers and a pair of Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireos. So far these birds had been coming one at a time but right about now we were caught up in a mega-flock working through the canopy overhead. There was a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Fasciated Antshrike, Rufous-tailed Foliage-Gleaner, Flame-crested Tanager, Plain-winged Antshrike, Yellow-backed Tanager, Little Woodpecker, Black-faced Dacnis, Lemon-throated Barbet, and several Yellow-throated Bush-Tanagers worked the understorey. It’s one of the most exciting birding phenomenons to experience and that feeling of not knowing where to look first just can’t be beaten!

Moving on at a slow walk, a Green-backed Trogon was called in, as were a pair of tiny Black-and-white Tody-Flycatchers, followed by a pair of Peruvian Warbling Antbirds, a Greater Yellow-headed Vulture drifted over, and then Juan Carlos picked up a Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher – an Amazonian species that to his knowledge had never been recorded at Maycu! A Squirrel Cuckoo appeared some time later and as we started to walk back to the minibus a Green Honeycreeper was seen and we ended the morning session with a White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant. What a morning!

We had a nice couple of hours off over lunchtime to rest, so naturally we birded the grounds and staked out the Verbena flowers where a Little Woodstar duly performed admirably in front of us. We also had Flame-crested Tanager, a bunch of Paradise Tanagers, Fork-tailed Woodnymph and a few other common species. Our afternoon session was delayed a bit due to rain, so we ended up leaving later this afternoon when we drove back just 10 minutes into the Maycu Reserve and staked out a clearing with scopes and where a recently returned Olive-sided Flycatcher posed on a bare branch. There was also Crested and Russet-backed Oropendola, Masked Tityra, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Long-tailed Tyrant, Olive-faced Flatbill, and a Great-billed Hermit. Walking down the road a few hundred metres got us close views of Purplish Jacamar in the gloomy overcast conditions, as well as a rare Cinnamon Neopipo (manakin-tyrant), Black-eared Fairy, Turquoise Tanager, Blue-headed Parrot and Crimson-crested Woodpecker. At dusk we staked out a site for Band-bellied Owl and were able to get decent views of an adult perched in a Cecropia tree above us. Result!

Grey Tinamou
Grey Tinamou

We returned to the Maycu Reserve this morning but were hampered by rain for most of the morning, but we still managed to pick up a dozen new birds for the trip. We began with a Red Pileated-Finch in the lodge gardens before breakfast and followed that in the reserve, which is just a 10 minute drive up the road, with a pair of unusually skulking White-browed Antbirds. In between dodging showers, sitting in the minibus or standing around under umbrellas we chalked up a couple Lafresnaye’s Piculets before doing battle for some time with a pair of Golden-winged Tody-Flycatchers that would appear for the briefest of moments before simply vanishing into thin air! It was about now that the rain became heavier and we had to shelter in the minibus longer than before. A fruiting tree nearby was attracting Masked, Green-and-gold, Silver-beaked, Palm and Blue-necked Tanagers and several Russet-backed Oropendolas then appeared, with some Crested Oropendolas tagging along behind. Once the rain eased we walked down the road and found a pair of Slate-coloured Grosbeaks, as well as Purple Honeycreeper, a Golden-tailed Sapphire was scoped high up in a bare tree, a pair of White-winged Becards appeared, Bamboo Foliage-Gleanershowed well, a Bat Falcon posed nicely, Eastern Woodhaunter was unusually showy and decent views of a White-flanked Antwren ended our time in this wonderful area.

After lunch we set off on the 2 hour drive to Zamora and the wonderful Copalinga Lodge. This was yet another fantastic Jocotoco Foundation lodge to stay at, complete with a set of feeders at the front and back of the property, trails and most importantly, a feeding station with a blind set up for Grey Tinamou! So upon arrival we went straight to the open air restaurant to view the fruit and hummer feeders. And wow! Straight away we were confronted by a flurry of activity with Golden-tailed Sapphire, Many-spotted Hummingbird and Green Hermit zipping in and out. The fruit feeders were attracting Silver-beaked, Palm, Green-and-gold and Golden-eared Tanagers, at least a dozen Orange-bellied and Thick-billed Euphonias, Sickle-winged Guan, Buff-throated Saltator, Inca Jay and a posse of Russet-backed Oropendolas. And all of these were just a couple of metres away. Out front on the bank of verbena flowers several Violet-headed Hummingbirds fed avidly and a male Red Pileated Finch was posing nicely. At 4.30pm we walked up the trail for ten minutes to the Grey Tinamou hide where after a tense 30 minute wait 3 individuals appeared and fed no more than 5 metres away from us. At one point they came just below our blind and were too close to use binoculars! Wow! After this we did the checklist and then at 6.30pm drove just down the road where we had a Blackish Nightjar hunting on the slope above us and got a really nice view in the spotlight to finish another superb day.

Black-streaked Puffbird
Black-streaked Puffbird

After a 5.45am breakfast we spent a little time loitering in the car park, where a female Rufous-throated Sapphire had been seen recently and is something of a rarity here. Luckily it was still around and we watched it feeding on the Verbena flowers along with our first Wire-crested Thorntail. Overhead we had both Chestnut-collared and Grey-rumped Swifts motoring through the valley. And then we drove a short distance to the trail of the Bombuscoro Section of Podocarpus National park and spent the morning birding the excellent forest. There’s not as big a variety of species here as at Maycu Reserve but what’s here is special. First up was a female White-crowned Manakin in the canopy beside the trail, followed by a White-necked Thrush and then a very confiding Black-billed Treehunter. A short distance further along the trail and a Black-streaked Puffbird was a welcome addition to our life lists and it showed really well at eye level for several minutes. Next up was Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher and Montane Foliage-Gleaner, the latter probably loitering at the edge of a large mixed species flock just around the corner. In this mishmash of movement in the canopy above were several previously seen tanagers in good numbers including Yellow-bellied, Spotted and a few delightful Orange-eared Tanagers, a pair of Red-headed Barbets, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, and a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper. And then we arrived at the park HQ where a pair of Lemon-browed Flycatchers called away and just at this point a superb Amazonian Umbrellabird appeared and we saw it several times before flying off into the forest. We followed this with Foothill Elaenia, before a group of stunning White-breasted Parakeets flew in and landed in the tree next to us. Wow! Further along the trail a pair of Ecuadorian Piedtails showed nicely, a Foothill Stipplethroat came in to check us out at very close quarters and at this point in the trail we decided to turn around. Fortunately our timing was impeccable as an exceedingly rare Orange-crested Flycatcher began calling and Juan Carlos called it in for a decent view and a Plain-breasted Hawk then flew in and landed nearby.

Back at the lodge, it was 1pm and time for yet another excellent meal. We hung around until 3.30pm, checking out the various feeders. A Crowned Woodnymph seemed a little out of range, and we had fine views of Many-spotted and Violet-headed Hummingbirds, as well as Golden-tailed Sapphire, Sparkling Violetear and Violet-fronted Brilliant. Once the White-facedCapuchin Monkeys had departed some more fruit was put out and we enjoyed a flurry of activity with Golden-eared, Silver-beaked, Golden and Green-and-gold Tanagers all coming in – at one point they were side-by-side (check out my video on YouTube). Russet-backed Oropendolas came in en-masse, a fine male Green Honeycreeper lingered, and both Thick-billed and Orange-bellied Euphonias were once again in good numbers. Orange-billed Sparrows lurked in the understorey, and then a Grey-chinned Hermit came in to a close feeder, but was chased away by the larger Green Hermit. And that was it. So we drove back 90 minutes or so to Loja and the same hotel as we’d stayed in a few days before, where we enjoyed a nice meal out a local restaurant to celebrate my birthday.

Equatorial Antpitta

We headed up to Cerro Acacana at 3200m in search of Crescent-faced Antpitta this morning, which involved a 5am breakfast at our hotel in Loja and then just over a 90 minute drive with the last 8kms steeply uphill on a track barely passable by our minibus. But we made it and got cracking on the antpitta straight away. Unfortunately the CFA didn’t respond despite numerous attempts involving walking into the bamboo understorey and crouching down on the steep slope. But all wasn’t in vain as Juan Carlos called in an Equatorial Antpitta on two occasions with the latter attempt getting us cripplingly close views of a bird perched a few feet off the ground right in front of us. What a chunkster it was, a real round ball of bright rusty brown! We also had some very, very good views of a Mouse-coloured Thistletail that didn’t really skulk too badly beside the track, as well as a Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant being another new addition to the trip list. Previously seen species included Glossy Flowerpiercer, Red-crested Cotinga, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Glowing Puffleg and Tyrian Metaltail. We spent a good few hours searching for the near-mythical Chestnut-bellied Cotinga without any luck, and also a calling Andean Pygmy-Owl didn’t cooperate either. Bird density was very low at this altitude so we called it quits and headed to lower elevations, which proved to be a genius move as we had cracking views of an Ocellated Tapaculo calling away from a tree stump beside the track. It was an unbelievable sighting and we watched it for a good 5 minutes before it jumped down off its songpost and melted into the undergrowth. A Masked Trogon was equally showy at the same spot and we also added Crowned Chat-Tyrant to our impressive list as well before leaving for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

Well , we ate our packed lunch at the restaurant actually and had a cup of coffee before going to the Red-faced Parrot site, just a 20 minute walk across a field and through a narrow belt of forest to a clearing. All uphill of course! But boy was it worth it as we saw over 20 Red-faced Parrots flying around the epiphyte-laden forest, as well as nailing a couple really clear scope views of perched individuals. Yes! And what a beautiful parrot it is. There was also scope views of Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan and a Northern Mountain Cacique to add to the excitement as well. And then it was a 3 hour drive to our amazingly plush hotel at El Cajas NP.

Violet-throated Metaltail
Violet-throated Metaltail

Our final morning’s birding was spent in the valley below our hotel, which entailed a 4.30am departure in order to make an attempt at Rufous-banded Owl. Well we well and truly nailed this bird with point-blank views shortly before sunrise. The rest of the early morning was taken up with walking around the lake seeing many Andean Gulls, Andean Coot, Andean Teal, a superb Ecuadorian Rail, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Tyrian Metaltail, Plain-coloured Seedeater, Mountain Wren, Grass Wren, Sapphire-vented Puffleg and Turquoise Jay. Then it was back to the hotel for breakfast and a quick check above the hotel for Violet-throated Metaltail that took all of 10 seconds! And that was it, we were done. All that was left was to get ready, pack our luggage and set out on the nearly 4 hour drive to Guayaquil airport where we said our goodbyes to our excellent guide Juan Carlos and great driver Carlo. What a tour!





Golden-tailed Sapphire
Golden-tailed Sapphire