This page summarize our recent trip to Ecuador. The trip involved flying from Lima, Peru to Quito on August 4th and spending the next 8 nights at a hotel just east of downtown on a ridge overlooking the airport (in the distance). The main reason for the stay in Quito was to participate in the IBS conference and thus we did not have opportunity to explore far from the conference venue (Universidad San Francisco de Quito).
A summary of the main areas of our trip included the following:
Western Andean slopes: Septimo Paraiso, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Bellavista Cloudforest Lodge area and Alambi.
Inter-Andean Valleys: Bosque Protector Jerusalem
Eastern Andean slopes: Guango Lodge
Cabañas San Isidro
Gran Selva Lodge
Papallacta Pass area
Aug 10: Only after the conference ended did we have time to participate in a conference-organized tour to the Yanacocha Preserve on the western side of Quito. This reserve protects high altitude cloud forest on the extreme upper end of such forest on the western Andean slopes.
Our tour collected everyone from their respective hotels and we proceeded up the mountain, making a few stops along the way for birding and to see the vegetation. We arrived at the preserve entrance, which had basic information.
A small visitor center was farther in, with good exhibits about the preserve. On the top floor of the center was a restaurant – where we had lunch after our morning walk.
Aug 11: We rested and prepared for our vehicle rental at the airport the next morning.
Aug 12: Our rental car company did not have the high clearance Suzuki Vitara (not 4×4 however) that we wanted and gave us a standard Toyota with the promise to deliver the Vitara later that day (it was under maintenance). Thus, we proceeded towards the Mindo area. Our first lodging was at the Septimo Paraiso which was not a dedicated “birding” lodge, but did have (according to reviews) good feeders, trails and was in a forested region with its own lands. This lodge was considerably less expensive that some of the alternatives, though it was not in Mindo itself, with its variety of restaurant, shops and normal tourist facilities.
We used the Septimo Paraiso lodge as a base for our explorations for the next two days.
Aug 13: We drove to the Bellavista Cloudforest Lodge via a very lightly traveled dirt road that was in good condition. We stopped along this road to check for birds and plants, eventually arriving at the Bellavista Lodge near xx AM. The lodge is at nearly 8000 ft elevation and different birds were to be expected. The lodge also has a considerable reputation among birders.
At Bellavista we walked one of the trails – there is an extensive network. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail we walked. We also watched the feeder birds for a little while. The feeders were not as extensive as at Septimo Paraiso, but there the a few different feeder birds (e.g. Blue-winged Mountain Tanager) or birds that we saw on the trail (e.g. Ocellated Tapaculo, White-throated Quail Dove) that we hadn’t seen at Septimo Paraiso.
Aug 14: Based upon comments we heard and internet readings we decided to drive to the Milpe Bird Sanctuary. This is only about 20 minutes west of Septimo Paraiso and is at 3800 ft elevation. Only about 1 km off the main road to the lowlands, the information center was nice and had a variety of books and touristic nature materials. The person in attendance was very knowledgeable and afterwards we walked only a few feet farther to an outdoor small restaurant with hummingbird and fruit feeders very close by. The hummingbirds were mostly those we had seen at Septimo Paraiso but were very numerous. More dramatic were the birds we saw at the fruit feeder. In the course of about an hour watching, we saw three different Toucans, a handful of Tanagers we hadn’t seen elsewhere, and some other new birds.
We took a short trail at Milpe and the forest was different from that at Septimo Paraiso. Parts of the trail were obviously in a state of regeneration, but other parts were steep and more closely represented a probable climax forest for this location. We came across a species of Glass Frog, that we later identified with help from the Milpe Center personnel as ZZZZ.
For the birds that we saw and the ease of arriving to the site – along with the trails to explore, we would highly recommend the Milpe Bird Sanctuary. We spent almost 6 hours there, but barely sampled the trails.
Aug 15: Our plan was to leave the western slope forests and travel towards the paramo near the Colombian border to see the Espeletia “forests” found there. We had seen Espeletia in Venezuela and wanted to see the on reserve in Ecuador containing forests of this species. First, we planned to visit a restaurant and bird feeder local just off the highway known as the Alambi Reserve; they have some rooms for rent and a small restaurant. But it appeared that they survived on day visits from birding tours. There were many feeders, both for hummingbirds and fruit eaters.
After the Alambi stop, we wanted to visit the small reserve of dry forest – the Bosque Protector Jerusalem – that was en route to Ibarra, our stop for the night prior to planning to see the Espeletia on the following day. It was a lengthy uphill drive from Alambi, then down into the suburbs of Quito before heading out to the Bosque Protector. Unfortunately the road network near Quito forces one to drive nearly into Quito; a good bypass to head northward is lacking. Most tourists, traveling with a tour or via taxi would of course not have to worry about such “details”.
The Inter-Andean dry forest is a relatively uncommon vegetation type in Ecuador. It receives much less precipitation than the western or eastern Andean slopes, and its best preserved examples are on steep slopes (less suitable for agriculture) at lower elevations of the Inter-andean valleys.
We had read that the Bosque Protector was best visited on weekdays, since it became extremely crowded on weekends. Not because of the nature trails through dry forest vegetation, but because of camping possibilities and play areas. We did not explore the entire Parque, but focused on the nature trail area. A large board displayed a map of the Parque and we chose of of the trails to explore. This was a self-guided trail, with plaques explaining features along the way. Unfortunately, the plaques did not focus on nature topics, but rather historical and archaeological aspects of the area. The trail led to a small lookout that provided a nice view of the terrain. Unfortunately, the Bosque Protector lies under the flight path of aircraft landing or taking off (depending on the wind direction) from the new Quito airport so it can be less quite than it might otherwise be.
Although we enjoyed our visit to the Bosque and then proceeded northward, we ran into heavy traffic along the secondary highways. A combination of frustrating traffic and the realization that our Espeletia destination was too far in distance and time for the time we had allotted forced us to abandon this goal. We decided to cut our losses and look for another hotel closer to our route eastward through Papallacta Pass. We were able to make the arrangements via cell phone and internet contacts and found a hotel very close to the airport. This hotel had large grounds and we were even able to bird before dark and the next morning.
Aug 16: Travel to Guango Lodge
Aug 17: Guango Lodge
Aug 18: Travel to Cabañas San Isidro
Aug 19: Cabañas San Isidro
Aug 20: Gran Selva Lodge in lowland forest
Aug 21: Gran Selva Lodge in lowland forest
Aug 22: Papallacta Spa
Aug 23: Return car and night at Quito Hotel
Aug 24: Fly our early in AM