Foundation Reserves - Buenaventura, Jorupe, Utuana, Tapichalaca, and Copalinga
September 27 - October 9, 2018
With several excellent lodges providing access to great habitat and many species unique to the region, southern Ecuador has become a premier destination for nature-based travelers. On our route, which starts in Guayaquil, we visit moist Pacific lowlands, the tropical deciduous forests of the Tumbesian bioregion, Andean cloud forest, and the Amazonian foothills of the southeast.
As we head south from Guayaquil, we pass through large agricultural areas punctuated by remnants of native habitat that include freshwater wetlands, scrubby forest, and mangroves where we look for the only horned screamers outside of Amazonia, masked water-tyrant, long-tailed mockingbird, Pacific hornero, Pacific parrotlet, Peruvian pygmy-owl, comb duck, fulvous and black-bellied whistling ducks, white-cheeked pintail, masked water-tyrant, long-tailed mockingbird, Pacific parrotlet, jet antbird, Peruvian pygmy-owl, parrot-billed seedeater, croaking and Ecuadorian ground-doves, Baird’s flycatcher, savanna hawk, and various waders and shorebirds.
We end the first day at the Jocotoco Foundation's (JF) Buenaventura Reserve. Buenaventura may be the birdiest place in one of the world's birdiest countries. Between the hummers swarming in huge numbers at the feeders, the many mixed flocks, the rare and local El Oro parakeet, and a lek of long-wattled umbrellabird, this is an unforgettable place. We spend three nights here and usually see many of the west slope specialties as well as some Tumbesian and Choco endemics. Club-winged manakin, ochre-breasted tanager, crimson-breasted finch, barred puffbird, song wren, uniform treehunter, Choco toucan, gray-and-gold warbler, scarlet-rumped cacique, and rufous-headed chachalaca are among the many possibilities.
We then head to the far southwest and the JF's Jorupe Reserve where comfortable cabins set amidst spectacular tropical deciduous forest make for a perfect birding experience. "At the lodge" birds include pale-browed tinamou, west Peruvian screech-owl, gray-cheeked and red-masked parakeets, Tumbes swift, whooping motmot, black-capped sparrow, Ecuadorian trogon, white-tailed jay, black-capped sparrow, Watkin's antpitta, saffron siskin, and white-edged oriole. Deeper in the forest are blackish-headed spinetail, rufous-necked and henna-hooded foliage-gleaners, collared antshrike, gray-breasted, Baird's and sooty-crowned flycatchers, Tumbes pewee, slaty becard, and lots more.
We continue by traveling east to the high Andes and the JF's Tapichalaca Reserve, home of the range-restricted Jocotoco antpitta. On our way, we’ll make a side trip to the Utuana Reserve, where, at about 8000 feet, we’ll see rainbow starfrontlet and purple-throated sunangel and have chances to see red-crested cotinga, Chapman’s antshrike, line-cheeked spinetail, black-crested tit-tyrant, and others. While at Tapichalaca we'll enjoy the rich cloud forest and hopefully find many hummers (rufous-capped thornbill, flame-throated and amethyst-throated sunangels, collared inca, speckled hummingbird, tyrian metaltail), flycatchers (orange-banded, smoky bush-tyrant, black-capped turannulet, black-throated tody-tyrant), bearded guan, barred fruiteater, and turquoise jay. Rarer species such as white-capped tanager, gray-breasted mountain-toucan, and golden-plumed parakeet are also possible.
From Tapichalaca, we head to the eastern slope and beautiful Copalinga lodge, one of my favorite spots in Ecuador. Copalinga harbors a mix of foothill and lowland species including wire-crested thorntail, spangled coquette, coppery-chested jacamar, blue-rumped manakin, white-necked parakeet, Andean slaty-thrush, black-streaked puffbird, lanceolated monklet, Andean cock-of-the-rock, Ecuadorian tyrannulet, and many colorful tanagers - including paradise, golden-eared, golden, orange-eared, and yellow-bellied. We’ll visit several nearby spots at both higher and lower elevations for foothill and Amazonian species, and we’ll also enjoy beautiful cabanas and the best food of the trip. are a few of the gems we've seen here. We spend a morning at the Bombuscaro section of Podocarpus National Park and one along a quiet road at a lower elevation for Amazonian species. Both of these locations can be rich with mixed flocks which may include many tanagers, gray-mantled wren, montane foliage-gleaner, cerulean and Blackburnian warblers, Equatorial graytail, ash-browed spinetail, and more. Scarlet-breasted fruiteater, striped and blue-rumped manakins, lined antshrike, and bronze-green euphonia are also possible, and we've been fortunate to see the elusive maroon-chested ground dove. On the grounds at Copalinga, gray and little tinamous come to a corn feeder, white-crowned tapaculos have a nearby territory, and at least a dozen species of hummingbirds come to the feeders and flowers.
In addition to the many birds, we'll spend time learning about regional biogeography and the general ecology of Choco rainforest, Tumbesian dry forest, Andean cloud forest, and Amazonian foothill forest where many interesting species of plants, mammals, and insects make their homes. We’ve seen about a dozen mammals on this route, including mantled and red howler monkeys, white-fronted and white-headed capuchin monkeys, black and Central American agoutis, mountain and South American coatis, and Andean fox.
Between superb lodges, excellent food, good forest and a great diversity of habitats and species, Southern Ecuador has it all, and I can't wait to return.
Jocotoco Antpitta by Elizabeth Lauer