Please note that the itinerary below offers our planned program of excursions. However, adverse weather & other local considerations can necessitate some re-ordering of the program during the course of the tour, though this will always be done to maximize the best use of the time and weather conditions available.
To enjoy the trip to the full you should enjoy spending time in the fresh air on foot. The time spent up on the Papallacta Pass will be at over 4,000m in altitude. It is not a strenuous tour involving difficult walking or terrain, although there will be some early starts.
The climate in Ecuador varies enormously, depending on the region and the altitude. Quito is mild and temperate with chilly nights; like a spring day in England. In the Amazon it will be hot and humid. There is a possibility of heavy rain at any time, but hopefully not to the extent that it will spoil your enjoyment.
Please inspect the separate clothing list, sent to you on booking, thoroughly.
Bird lists & previous tour reports
Our comprehensive tour report on this holiday will be automatically provided on booking. However, we will gladly send it to you before, if you wish for a more detailed preview.
One final walk along the boardwalk through the flooded palm forest will bring us back out to the River Napo for our journey upstream to Coca. From here we board a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle. Once packed and on board, we head east over the Amazonian floodplain. If the weather is clear, the Andes will gradually loom into view, with the isolated volcanic peak of Sumaco (12,600 ft. - dormant) to the north of our route. After a couple of hours of fairly uneventful travel, we will reach the Andean foothills and start to gain altitude, finally reaching Cabañas San Isidro, which nestles at 6,800 ft in the picturesque Quijos Valley, one of the westernmost headwaters of the Amazon basin.
Cabañas San Isidro was founded over forty years ago by the Bustamante family of Quito when the uncharted lands of eastern Ecuador were first made available to the public by a government campaign to convert unclaimed lands into productive farms. With a deep concern for proper natural resource management as well as for the urgent need to protect the unique flora and fauna of the zone, Simón Bustamante (one of the pioneer modern-day explorers of the Ecuadorian Amazon) left the majority of his 1,300-hectare property untouched despite the pressure from many levels to clear the forest for what was then considered a land improvement.
Over the years and through a slow evolution, Cabañas San Isidro has matured into a comfortable birding/nature-oriented lodge surrounded by some of the largest and most accessible tracts of primary, humid subtropical forest in Ecuador. Simón's daughter, Carmen, our host, has managed the lodge for the last 20 years. It is into this comfortable and superbly-located base that we settle for the next 2 nights.
Cabañas San Isidro and its immediate surroundings boast a bird list of about 310 species, many of which are more easily found here than anywhere else in Ecuador. Branching out from the lodge, trails lead through elevational gradients that pass-through habitats from 2,400 meters all the way down to 1,850 meters. This means birders have an ideal base to observe Andean birds from the lower reaches of the temperate zone down into the heart of the subtropical zone. Birds such as Highland Tinamou, Greater Scythebill, Bicolored Antvireo, Peruvian and Giant Antpittas, and White-rimmed Brush-Finch are a few of the exciting rarities that make their homes at San Isidro Lodge. The White-faced Nunbird might even put in an appearance as it has been seen at San Isidro more in recent years than at any other single site on the east slope in Ecuador.
While rarities are fun to aim for, they are indeed hard to come by and not to be expected! What really makes San Isidro Lodge such a joy to birds though are the hundreds of other bird species that one has a good chance of seeing while quietly strolling down the forest trails and forested roadsides. Pick a direction to start walking from the cabins, and there will be birds all around! Right from the cabin doorstep, you can start looking out for White-capped Parrot, Powerful Woodpecker, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Pale-edged Flycatcher, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Green-and black Fruiteater, Inca Jay, Black-billed Peppershrike, Andean Solitaire, and Saffron-crowned Tanager.
A short walk from the cabins, the forest awaits, whether along with one of the winding trails or simply right from the roadside. Here mixed understory and canopy flocks seemingly drip from the foliage, frugivores – large and small - raid trees and bushes for the 'fruit-of-the-month' and skulkers steal about in the shade of low vegetation betraying their presence by an occasional whistled song. Be especially on the lookout for Sickle winged Guan, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Masked Trogon, Highland Motmot, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Streak-capped and Striped Treehunters, Long-tailed Antbird (a bamboo specialist), Chestnut-crowned, White-bellied, and Slate-crowned Antpittas, Barred Antthrush, Marble-faced & Variegated Bristle-Tyrants and Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet (only a few of a long list of varied tyrannids to be found in the mixed-species flocks), Black-chested Fruiteater, Dusky Piha, Palefooted Swallow, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, a wonderful selection of colorful tanager species including Red-hooded and White-capped and Northern Mountain and Subtropical Caciques. All of these species, among many others, are residents here and are commonly seen by visitors.
Of all of the known sites where Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is found in Ecuador, the small congregation of brilliant orange, screaming individuals at San Isidro's mating lek (most active between Oct-Mar.) are relatively easily accessible, being only a twenty-minute walk from the cabins down an easy-to-walk trail. Once the morning activity has waned, around 10 am, it's time to watch the skies for soaring raptors that take flight over the lodge's forests on sunny days: Plain-breasted, Barred, and White-rumped Hawks, and Black and chestnut Eagle are all readily seen during a stay of a few days. With some extra luck, a Semicolloared Hawk or even a Solitary Eagle might glide into view.
One does not need to go any further than the front porch or the hummingbird garden to enjoy the dazzling array of hummingbird species. 18 of the known 30 hummer species of the area are either resident or seasonal visitors to the feeders: Sparkling Violetear, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Bronzy and Collared Incas, Buff-tailed (the rare eastern flavescens race) and Chestnut-breasted Coronets, Tyrian Metaltail, Long-tailed Sylph and Gorgeted Woodstar can be found at the feeders for much (or all) of the year, while species such as Brown and Green Violetears, Rufous-vented, Whitetip, Violet-fronted Brilliant, White-tailed Hillstar, Mountain Velvetbreast, Wedge-billed Hummingbird and White-bellied Woodstar show more seasonality and tend to be present in smaller numbers. The hummingbird garden is a great place to relax after a long hike or during a rainy spell.
San Isidro and its surroundings abound with nightbirds, including Andean Potoo (rare, but sometimes staked-out), Rufous-bellied Nighthawk (almost every dawn and dusk around the cabins), and Rufous-banded and Mottled Owls (both of which inhabit the immediate surrounding forests), but the most exciting night attraction in recent years has been a large and beautiful species of owl that is only currently known from the forests next to the lodge, from where it emerges in the early evening, and then hunts (right next to the cabins!) on a nightly basis. On two occasions the resident pair have even raised young. Similar in appearance to the Black-banded Owl, many top ornithologists believe it to represent a new species to science and studies are underway to determine its identity. During a multi-night stay such as ours, guests have a very good chance of seeing this owl, and at very close range. There are some possible sightings from other areas, but nowhere else has this 'mystery owl' recently been seen with certainty. What better way to finish a day of birding than with a gorgeous new species of owl?
The majority of the forests here are what most newcomers to the tropics envision: large hardwood trees draped with lush mosses that support a seemingly endless number of orchid and bromeliad species. Orchids and other flamboyant epiphytes reach their peak diversity at these mid-elevation habitats, and the accessibility of these species for photography and admiration are among the many benefits of staying at San Isidro.
Other distinct and fascinating habitats to explore include the vast Chusquea (bamboo) stands and riverine edge forests; each supports its own complement of flora and fauna. Around one corner a brightly colored hummingbird may be sipping nectar from a gaudy red epiphyte bloom; around another, a tanager flock might be gulping fruits at a canopy tree, flashing their gaudy blues, yellows, and greens. Along the rushing rivers and streams of the area, watch for Torrent
Duck and White-capped Dipper, both are regulars. San Isidro’s antpitta feeders are another key attraction; here we will likely see White-bellied Antpitta only feet away, and maybe even the very rare Peruvian.
An action-packed couple of days of rewarding birding is promised at San Isidro, with a comfortable, homely, and superbly-located lodge to return to each evening.
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