over 16,000 known plants, and almost
400 species of mammals, Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries
in the world." -- Mark Pretti
In September 2010 we rejoined nature tour leader Mark Pretti on a birds and natural history tour of northern Ecuador. (We had been to Ecuador back in 1998 - before US dollars replaced the sucre and ecotourism took off - visiting the eastern lowlands with Victor Emanuel and Peter English.) We began the trip in the northwestern lowlands, foothills, and cloudforest. In the northwest, we stayed at the Tinalandia Lodge, Séptimo Paraiso (7th Heaven) Lodge, and Tandayapa Lodge, and also visited two reserves managed by the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, Rio Silanche and Milpe. We also visited Angel Paz to see his "habituated" antpittas (normally quite difficult to see) and more.
From Tandayapa we travelled to the eastern slope of the Andes to the temperate forests of the Guango Lodge, at almost 9000 ft elevation. Our drive to Guango took us over the 14,000+ ft Papallacta Pass where we birded and walked for a marvelous high-elevation, páramo experience. From Guango we went downslope to Cabañas San Isidro which, at about 6500 ft, was a transition zone between temperate and subtropical habitats ... not to mention a very comfortable lodge with great food. We made a day trip from San Isidro to the Guacamayos Ridge and the Jocotoco Foundation's Narupa Reserve, and also continued down a little further to the town of Tena for a brief tropical experience.
Our last day was spent with a second group who had arrived for the follow-on tour of southern Ecuador, going up to the Antisana Reserve. There surrounded by gorgeous views of volcanos, we birded up to about 13,000 ft, among other things seeing Andean condors.
Our fly-home day was somewhat more exciting than originally planned. The National Assembly had apparently passed an austerity measure that the national police took to mean that their pay and benefits would be cut. So mid-morning on 30 Sept the police effectively closed the airport with the assistance of some air force sevice members. The president went to the airport to talk with the police and wound up tear-gassed and taking refuge in the airport hospital, where he was "rescued" hours later by the army, and telling everyone that a coup had been thwarted. In the meantime with the police on strike, looters started running amuck in Quito and Guayaquil, and most businesses simply closed.
Luckily for us we had been told after midnight that morning that our 0900 flight had been delayed (and we found out later, cancelled) so we were put on a 0625 flight instead, which actually left after 0730, maybe an hour or so before the closure. We had no clue what was going on until we got to Miami (where we decided it reminded us too much of the Woody Allen movie Bananas). Two of our group had planned to stay an extra day in Quito and were effectively stuck at the hotel (not a good idea to go outside once a state of emergency was declared). Things settled down the next day and it appeared the state of emergency was being maintained for a week just to make sure.
There are five pages linked below - this home page, three more of photographs, and one containing videos of hummingbirds.
The videos are QuickTime movies.
See also the full itinerary [pdf] from Mark Pretti.
Click map to enlarge
Click photos to enlarge...