Itinerary 7 Nights / 8 Days
2 NIGHTS GUANGO LODGE, 3 NIGHTS AT BIGAL AND 2 NIGHTS SAN ISIDRO
Time to escape from Quito! Today we will want to rise early and get on our way since we have a variety of habitats that we will want to explore. Our drive to Guango Lodge will initially lead us through the drier central valley where we will pass through a mix of agricultural zones and native chaparral forests before rising up steeply to the high and (often) windswept paramo.
Among the many bird possibilities, we will be particularly on the lookout for Andean Condor (sometimes hard), Carunculated Caracara, Andean Gull, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Scrub & Blue-and-yellow Tanagers and Southern Yellow-Grosbeak. If there were a day to have your camera ready, this would be it – on clear days the scenery is spectacular, with superb views of the snow-capped Volcán Antisana, and seemingly endless high Andean mountain-scapes harboring a backdrop of textures that make for an unforgettable birding setting. This area, known as the Papallacta Pass by birders, is rich in paramo birdlife, and with the proper weather, you can expect to see some of the following: Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Tawny Antpitta, Many-striped Canastero, White-chinned Thistletail, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, some interesting seedeaters, and even Giant Conebill (with a bit of luck, up in the Polylepis woodlands).
The Papallacta Pass is right on the continental divide, and once we finish up with our paramo birding, we will work our way down the east-slope – Amazonian drainage now – towards Guango Lodge. On the way we will pass through some beautiful high-elevation temperate forests where we will have a chance to stop and soak in this birdy zone; some of the possibilities include Blackchested Buzzard-Eagle, Viridian Metaltail, Black-backed Bush-Tanager, just to name a very few. We should arrive to Guango Lodge in the late afternoon/early evening for a first crack at the hummingbird feeders that will be
dripping with species such as Tourmaline Sunangel, Sword-billed Hummingbird and White-bellied Woodstar. Our box lunch in the field will allow us to remain flexible with respect to how we plan our birding for the day. At dinner we will be officially welcomed by the lit fireplace and have our first taste of Ecuador’s best known hot toddy, a delicious drink - called “Canelazo” - made from water boiled with real cinnamon, fruit juice and a dash of cane alcohol, that is sure to help warm us up. Night at Guango Lodge.
Depending on the weather - which can change unpredictably - we will drive back – about 20 minutes - up to the lower entrance to Cayambe-Coca National Park (just uphill from the town of Papallacta) to bird the elfin woodlands there for the morning for a shot at a few special mountain-tanagers (Black-chested and Masked) and other flock birds. This makes for a comfortable morning excursion since we have two nights at Guango. If it turns out to be rainy, we may want to stick closer to Guango, so our plan will be weather contingent.
At any rate, a hot lunch awaits us at Guango, once the morning activity has waned. The afternoon will be devoted to birding the trails and spectacular hummingbird feeders (which can be a bonanza for those interested in photography) at Guango Lodge. On the grounds at Guango we frequently run into some of the best temperate forest flocks on any of our tours in Ecuador; in a matter of minutes it isn’t uncommon to see Bar-bellied Woodpecker, White-banded Tyrannulet, Bluebacked Conebill, Black-capped and Black-eared Hemispingus, Slaty and Palenaped Brush-Finch, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, several species of mountaintanager and even Plushcap. We will always have our eye out for other particularly local or aesthetic highlights, and Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan and Mountain Avocetbill are among them. Night Guango Lodge.
After a very early breakfast, we will start driving down from the higher eastern slopes of the Andes to the lowlands, until we reach the small Amazonian town of Loreto, located at 400 meters above sea level. Along the way, if time and weather allow, we will take the time to search some interesting eastern foothill specialties such as the Cliff Flycatcher and the rare and local Orange-breasted Falcon, and maybe even a mixed flock or two, which often grace the roadsides.
The drive from Loreto towards Bigal River Biological Reserve will offer some fine opportunities to spot such colorful birds as araçaris (Lettered Araçari, Chestnuteared Araçari, and Many-banded Araçari), toucans (Black-mandibled Toucan, White-throated Toucan, and Channel-billed Toucan), parrots (Blue-headed Parrot, Orange-cheecked Parrot, Mealy Amazon, Orange-Winged Amazon, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, etc), macaws (Chestnut-Fronted Macaw, Military Macaw, Scarlet Macaw, Blue-and-Yellow Macaw, Red-and-Green Macaw), birds of prey (White Hawk, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Orange-breasted Falcon, Barred Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Swallow-tailed Kite, Black Hawk-Eagle, etc.) Woodpeckers (Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Red-stained Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Crimson Crested Woodpecker, Little Woodpecker, etc.), among many others.
Once we have reached the end of the drivable path, all gear and supplies will be sent by mule; we'll just keep our binoculars, cameras, and rain-gear handy to enjoy about an hour-and-a-half of birding, as we hike our way to Bigal River Research Station. Once there, we will settle in, have dinner, and spend the night.
As we get ready to fall asleep, alongside the chorus of countless tree frogs, we will get acquainted with the calls of birdlife coming from the jungle after dark (Nocturnal Curassow, Foothill Screech-Owl, Band-bellied Owl, Black-banded Owl, Crested Owl, Spectacled Owl, among them).
Bigal River Biological Reserve's old growth, foothill forests (situated between 450 and 1000 meters elevation above sea level) are home to a wide array of animal life which includes Andean higher elevation species, as well as many species usually found in the Amazonian lowlands. Birdlife is particularly diverse and flamboyant, with more than 460 species recorded so far.
Today we will get up very early to start birding the Reserve's main track (Bigal Trail), on the lookout for some species difficult to find in other parts of the country (White-chinned Woodcreeper, Pink-throated Brilliant, Collared Puffbird, Speckled Spinetail, Olive Tanager, Cinnamon-rumped Foliage-gleaner, Plain-winged Antwren, Blackish Pewee, and more). Back at the buildings around 11:30 am, we will rest for a bit before devouring a substantial lunch. At 4 pm, we will undertake some understory birding; this is a more challenging habitat with respect to spotting birds, due to vegetation density, but with some patience, there are always some good finds. Although we will probably hear more species than we will actually see - typical in the humid tropics - we do have realisitic opportunities to see some rare species, like Salvin's Currassow, Sapphire Quail-Dove, Graywinged Trumpeter, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Hairy-crested Antbird, Streamcreeper, etc. With any luck at all, we will likely come across some large canopy flocks that will greatly heighten or chances of spotting countless tanager species and many other families of interest, such as manakins and woodcreepers.
Back to the Station around 6 pm. After dinner, there will be an option to go on a night walk in search of nocturnal birds, birds sleeping in the understory, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. Night at Bigal River Research Station.
This Morning, after breakfast, we will pack our lunch and follow one of the Reserve´s longest trails. The PNS trail will take us to the largely unexplored southern boundaries of Sumaco National Park giving us the opportunity to observe more species of interest (Nocturnal Curassow, Rufous-tailed Foliage-gleaner, Ocellated Woodcreeper, Foothill White-crowned Manakin, Tinamous, Wood-Quails and Trogons). We'll have lunch in the forest and will start hiking back to the camp around 1:30 pm, always on the prowl for more bird species, canopy flocks, and even a troop of monkeys or two. Arriving back at the camp at approximately 3 pm, we will relax until dinner. Those who wish to continue birding can feel free to do so around the Station with or without a guide. After a good hot meal, a night walk will also be an option. Night at Bigal River Research Station.
We’ll start the morning off birding on foot along the Bigal Trail and take full advantage of the morning activity to observe some new species, or maybe even explore a different trail, depending on what birds we have already seen to this point.
After the morning activity has run its course, it will be time to zip up our bags, pack the mules, and get ready for the drive to Cabañas San Isidro.
Driving straight through takes about 3 hours but, as birders, we’ll probably find ourselves making birding stops along the way. The plan is to take a packed lunch from Bigal and find a nice spot at which to eat along the way. We'll get to San Isidoro between 3 and 4 pm and will be able to spend the rest of the afternoon either birding one of the forest trails – maybe down to the Andean Cock-of-theRock lek – our try a stroll along the forested roadside. As dusk settles in, we should try and spotlight Rufous-bellied Nighthawk as they often come zooming in overhead around the lodge.
After a wonderful dinner, and assuming the weather cooperates, we will probably want to try a short night walk - right between the cabins and the dining room - in search of the “mystery owl”. This is a gorgeous owl that may one day prove to be a new species to science. Night at Cabañas San Isidro.
We plan to start the morning off with some busy birding right around the lodge, where we often find it hard to pull ourselves away… the birds just sometimes keep coming. Some of the regulars include Powerful Woodpecker, Montane and Olive-backed Woodcreepers, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Blackbilled Peppershrike, Inca Jay, Bluish Flowerpiercer and Subtropical Cacique! After about an hour of this, we will want to visit the Antpitta feeders, where you will likely see White-bellied Antpitta only feet away, and maybe even the very rare Peruvian (!). The rest of the morning will be spent birding the ample trail system and/or forested roadside at Cabañas San Isidro. After lunch at the lodge (and possibly an afternoon break), we can choose any of the trails that sprawl out from the lodge (or even the roadside) for a second crack at flocks and other activity… quetzals or maybe a fruiteater anybody? We may even want to try a spot near the lodge for Andean Potoo and Rufous-banded Owl pre-dinner. Night at Cabañas San Isidro.
Morning birding the beautiful Guacamayos ridge trail – only about 20 minutes from the lodge by vehicle - where some of the birds we hope to see include Green-and-black Fruiteater, Handsome Flycatcher, Rufous Wren, Turquoise Jay, Grass-green Tanager, a few species of skulking tapaculos (and maybe even an Ocellated) and Northern Mountain-Cacique. While not as common, but still regularly seen here, some of the other harder possibilities include Greater Scythebill, Dusky Piha and Black-billed Mountain-Toucan. Depending on the guide’s plan for the day, we may enjoy one last meal at Cabañas San Isidro, or choose to bring along a box lunch for our birding drive back to Quito to give us a chance at cleaning-up some of the missed species we had searched for on the first day.
QUOTE PER PERSON:
Based in 1 participant: 3,020 USD per person
Based in 2 participants: 1,840 USD per person
Based in 3 participants: 1,700 USD per person
Based in 4 - 6 participants: 1,465 USD per person
SERVICES INCLUDED: Lodging from day 1 to day 7 (please note that lodging in Bigal will be in a tent), meals from lunch on day 1 to lunch on day 8, transportation when needed, bilingual naturalist guide, Spanish speaking bird guide, all activities, purified water and taxes.
SERVICES NOT INCLUDED: Meals in Quito, extra expenses if a bag doesn't arrive on time, drinks (except purified water), and personal expenses.