Ecuador: The Northern Andes

July 9-17, 2011 Leaders: Brian Rapoza and a local leader

Toucan Barbet
Toucan Barbet
Brian Rapoza and a local leader, arranged through Tropical Birding Tours, lead this nine-day, eight-night trip to the northern Andes of Ecuador, beginning and ending in Quito. This trip involves seven full days of birding, and is designed for intermediate to advanced birders. Group size will be no more than eight (8) participants.

This tour is based in the best northern Andean lodges in Ecuador, Tandayapa Bird Lodge in the western Andes and Guango Lodge and Cabañas San Isidro on the east side. It offers a great introduction to Ecuador's amazing cloud forests and abundant birdlife, yet is fairly easy, safe, and the areas visited have very pleasant and cool climates. Tropical Birding Tours can also add an optional extension to an Amazon lodge or the Galápagos for anyone who wishes to stay longer.

Costs: $2,295.00 per person double occupancy, $140.00 single supplement. Cost includes transportation, meals, lodging and guides. Not included is round-trip air fare to Quito, tips, laundry costs and other incidental expenses.

Daily Itinerary

Day 1, July 9: Arrival in Quito
Most flights into Quito arrive rather late in the evening. You will be met at the airport and taken to the four-star Hotel Sebastian for the night. If any of the group wishes to arrive a day early, Tropical Birding would be happy to make the reservations in the hotel, and help arrange an extra excursion if desired.

Day 2, July 10: Yanacocha

Great Sapphirewing
Great Sapphirewing
We'll start in this beautiful reserve in the elfin forest cloaking the scenic slopes of Pichincha Volcano. Although the elevation here is 11,500 feet, walking here is on a flat, easy trail, and the birds are amazing. There are mixed flocks of gorgeous tanagers such as Scarlet-bellied and Black-chested Mountain-Tanagers, and the hummingbirds rank as some of the most spectacular in the world as their fancy names attest to: Great Sapphirewing (left), Shining Sunbeam, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill. The critically endangered Black-breasted Puffleg can also be seen here occasionally. We continue on down the Old Nono-Mindo Road to the superb Tandayapa Bird Lodge, which will be our base for the next three nights. Although we will have seen quite a few in Yanacocha, this is THE place for hummers. The lodge feeders are the best in the world, with up to 20 species in a day, and often 10 species at the feeders at once.

Day 3, July 11: Tandayapa Valley

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan
The mixed flocks of the upper Tandayapa Valley road hold a real feast of avian delights. Up to 12 species of tanagers can be present, including Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, and Grass-green Tanager. These colorful gems move through the trees with Green-and-black Fruiteater, the gorgeous Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, and various tyrannulets, wood-warblers, and others. This area is also home to two species that are among the most colorful and spectacular in the country, if not the world, the outrageous Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan (right) and Toucan Barbet.

Day 4, July 12: Milpe Bird Sanctuary and Los Bancos

Club-winged Manakin
We'll spend a whole day in the field concentrating on the lower elevation foothill forest at around 3600 ft (1100 m). This area has become the focus for local conservation due to its superb bird diversity. After a morning here you will see why it is worth protecting. We should see a host of colorful tanagers including Rufous-throated, Ochre-breasted, Blue-necked, and Bay-headed. This is our first chance to encounter several of the larger and more spectacular lowland toucans, and we have a good chance to find mixed flocks of foliage-gleaners, flycatchers, barbets, woodcreepers, and more. The attractive Club-winged Manakin (left) has a lek on the reserve, and we should be able to witness its bizarre and unique display. We'll have lunch at a nearby restaurant, which has excellent fruit feeders right outside the window. Depending on the weather, we might bird some more around Milpe or return to Tandayapa for more time at the hummer feeders.

Day 5, July 13: Paz de las Aves and drive to Guango

Giant Antpitta
Giant Antpitta
This reserve, located between Tandayapa and Milpe, has become the newest sensation in Northwest Ecuador. A local farmer has learned how to tempt some normally shy species out into the open by offering them juicy worms. Now it is possible to get great views of rarities like Giant (right) and Yellow-breasted Antpittas, and sometimes even Dark-backed Wood-Quail and Moustached Antpitta. If you don't mind getting up especially early, we can also watch the dawn display of the spectacular and iconic Andean Cock-of-the-rock from a well-placed hide. In the afternoon, we'll drive back through Quito and up over the 13,000 ft Papallacta Pass. If the weather is nice we may stop to bird, otherwise we'll leave it for later in the trip and head down to Guango Lodge, where we spend the next night. This small lodge boasts great hummer feeders, which attract Tourmaline Sunangel and the incredible Sword-billed Hummingbird.

Day 6, July 14: Guango & Papallacta

Many-striped Canastero
There is great birding right near the lodge, so no need to get up early. Forest patches nearby have Hooded & Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, Turquoise Jay, Slaty Brush-Finch, Black-capped Hemispingus, and more. After a couple of hours, we'll drive back up to the 13000 ft pass we crossed yesterday. The surrounding terrain is wet páramo, a high-elevation grassland with small shrubs, unlike anything else on the tour. It can be very cold and windy up here, and a few hardy birds make their homes in this unforgiving climate. The ptarmigan-like Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe will be our target at the top of the mountain, but can be tough to find if the weather is bad. We'll also look for Andean Tit-Spinetail, Many-striped Canastero (left), Tawny Antpitta, Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Giant Conebill, Black-backed Bush-Tanager, and others. Some lakes in the area might have Silvery Grebe, Andean Ruddy-Duck, Andean Teal, and Yellow-billed Pintail. In the afternoon, we'll drive about two hours to Cabañas San Isidro, a delightful lodge located next to beautiful old-growth cloudforest. We'll spend two nights here.

Day 7, July 15: San Isidro

Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher
We can start birding right after breakfast (or even during breakfast if a tanager flock comes by the window) by watching the birds come in to the streetlights to eat insects attracted over the night, such as Inca Jay, Subtropical Cacique, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, and Barred Becard. Later on, a worker puts out worms that might bring in Chestnut-crowned or White-bellied Antpittas. Later on we will wander down an easy dirt road through the cloudforest, where there will be plenty to keep us busy. Large mixed species flocks roam widely and hold flashy birds such as Saffron-crowned Tanager, Black-eared Hemispingus, and Rufous-breasted Flycatcher. Cute Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatchers (right) and Long-tailed Antbirds skulk in the bamboo but can be found with a little work. At night we'll search for the “mystery” owl that lives near the cabins; this bird could be an undescribed race or even a new species.

Day 8, July 16: The Guacamayos Ridge, return to Quito

Black-billed Mountain-Toucan
About 20 minutes from San Isidro, a famous birding trail descends slowly through lush forest. It's a bit higher than San Isidro, and home to some super-rare and beautiful birds, such as Black-billed Mountain-Toucan (left), White-capped Tanager, White-faced Nunbird, Slate-crowned Antpitta, Barred Antthrush, and Greater Scythebill. This is likely the hardest birding on the tour, but with a week of experience in Ecuador you should be ready for the challenge. After lunch, we'll return to Quito, but can have another chance to bird Papallacta if we had bad luck with the weather the first time around. We'll spend the last night in the Hotel Sebastian.

Day 9, July 17: Departure
Most airlines depart early in the morning. We'll transfer to the airport in plenty of time to check in and pass through immigration and security.


For a detailed itinerary and trip application, with reservation requirements, email Brian Rapoza at


Tropical Birding Tours can also arrange the following extensions:

Natural History of the Galápagos

Pre or Post-trip Extensions on the Yate Fragata.
Rates: 8 days/7 nights: $2576 per person in double/twin room accommodation, plus $420 return airfare + $100 park entry fee.
Dates: July 1-8, 2011 or July 18 - 25, 2011.
Additional Info:

Amazon Post-trip Extension: Sacha Lodge

Rates: 5 days/4 nights: $920 per person in double/twin room accommodation + $120 return airfare, or 4 days/3 nights: $729 per person in double/twin room accommodation + $120 return airfare. Expert bilingual bird guide is included.
Dates: Beginning July 18, 2011
Additional info:

Airport transfers and extra night's accommodations in Quito can be arranged, if necessary, for participants opting for trip extensions. Other Galápagos cruises, as well as extensions to other Amazonian lodges may also be available. Email Tropical Birding for details.

A selection of relevant birding books and songs are available from the TAS Amazon Store. See below.