The multicoloured Toucan Barbet is an iconic species of the region, one we should encounter on several days. Photo: Steve Howell
The Andes of western Ecuador have some of the best and most accessible birding locations in all of South America, and the wonderful Séptimo Paraíso Cloud Forest Reserve is a prime example. While one-stop Ecuador tours will produce fewer species than a multi-week, all-country blitz, even a short tour based at a place like Séptimo Paraíso offers a superb combination of remarkable close-at-hand bird diversity and the inherent convenience of birding from a single comfortable base.
Séptimo Paraíso Lodge is comfortable indeed, with its own restaurant, spring-fed pool, spa, and support services. It is delightfully situated in the Mindo Valley and has great birding right in the grounds, as well as being an excellent base from which to explore surrounding areas. We’ll visit a variety of birding locations including Tandayapa Valley, Mindo, the Paz de las Aves reserve, and the cloud forest preserves at Milpe and Silanche - all of them within 15 minutes to an hour or so from the lodge and all serviced with good wide trails. During our seven days of birding we should encounter close to 300 species, possibly including some of western Ecuador’s most celebrated: Giant Antpitta, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Ocellated Tapaculo, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Club-winged Manakin, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Tanager Finch, and as many as 40 species of hummingbirds and 50 dazzling tanagers.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6.30 pm in Puembo, a colonial suburb of Quito. Upon arrival at Quito’s international airport you will be transferred to our hotel. Night in Puembo.
Day 2: We’ll leave early this morning for the short drive to Yanacocha Reserve on the Pichincha Volcano. Located in temperate cloud forest, Yanacocha is home to a number of interesting high-elevation species. We’ll watch the hummingbird feeders particularly for the endemic Black-breasted Puffleg (which is extremely rare and not to be expected!) but also for the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, and Great Sapphirewing. Tanagers are abundant at this elevation, and we’ll hope to find such mountain-tanagers as Scarlet-bellied, Hooded, and possibly the rare Black-chested. We’ll then descend below the town of Nono through relatively untouched temperate and subtropical forest. Here we’ll look for White-capped Dipper, roadside mixed-species flocks, and perhaps a Torrent Duck or our first Andean Cock-of-the-rock, before arriving in late afternoon at Séptimo Paraíso Lodge, our home for the next six nights. Night at Séptimo Paraíso.
Days 3-7: We’ll have five full days to explore the many birding locations close to Séptimo Paraíso. The lodge is situated in a forested valley with a trail system right in the grounds. The first morning we’ll awake to the sounds of quetzals, motmots, numerous hummingbirds, and perhaps even the bizarre calls of a Wattled Guan, and then spend our time in the lodge grounds in search of tanagers, toucans, antpittas, and myriad other species. On another day we’ll visit the nearby Tandayapa Ridge and Tandayapa Valley, and watch hummingbird feeders hoping for specialities such as Violet-tailed Sylph, Collared and Brown Incas, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Fawn-breasted and Empress Brilliants, and Buff-tailed and Velvet-purple Coronets. Birding the flocks along the road can be exhilarating, and we’ll look as well for Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan and Toucan Barbet. Other highlights might include Masked Trogon, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Turquoise Jay, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Streak-capped Treehunter, Plain-tailed Wren, Russet-crowned Warbler, many tanagers including Grass-green and Flame-faced, and perhaps even the very rare Tanager Finch.
On one morning we’ll depart before dawn to visit a Cock-of-the-rock lek. The number of brilliant males attending the lek varies from day to day but the experience is never less than fascinating. If it can be arranged, we’ll also witness the now-famous local farmer Angel Paz feeding antpittas (possibly including Giant, Moustached, Ochre-breasted, and Yellow-breasted Antpittas) and other species at his forest reserve, a truly amazing spectacle! On other days we’ll drive to slightly lower elevations and encounter a host of different species, some widespread in the Tropics, some at the southern end of their range (whose northern limit lies in Central America), and some endemic to the Choco region of western Ecuador and adjacent Colombia. We’ll search for species such as Blue-tailed Trogon, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Esmeraldas Antbird, Club-winged Manakin, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Golden-bellied Warbler, and many new tanagers including Moss-backed, Glistening-green, Gray-and-gold, Rufous-throated, Emerald, and Scarlet-browed. We could also encounter Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Orange-fronted Barbet, Red-billed Scythebill, the ethereal Black-tipped Cotinga, the diminutive Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and the very local Indigo Flowerpiercer. Nights at Séptimo Paraíso.
Day 8: We’ll have much of today to look for anything special we may have missed. After lunch we’ll drive back to Puembo, perhaps stopping in the arid country above the city to search for White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, one of the rarest flycatchers in the Andes. Other birds at this site include Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch, Band-tailed Seedeater, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, and Sparkling Violet-ear. We’ll arrive back at our hotel in Puembo in the late afternoon in time for a rest and a delicious farewell dinner. Night in Puembo.
Day 9: The tour ends this morning in Puembo.
Updated: 17 November 2020