Ecuador – Tumbes Endemics and other Southwest Specialties

I’m way behind on posting reports from my birding trips, and with more trips to come I’m going to have to take a more compressed approach. So instead of long and detailed stories, these will be mostly pictures with a little bit of context. Let’s start with Southwest Ecuador in March 2022.

Ecuador - Tumbes endemics
Scarlet-backed Woodpecker

Ecuador is one of the bird-rich countries – number five in total species, behind only Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Indonesia. But a quick glance at a map will tell you that the countries ahead of it are much larger, meaning the density of birds is high. So Ecuador is a must-visit destination on the world bird circuit.

Broadly speaking Ecuador has three main birding regions: the Northwest, running from Quito up to the Colombian border, the eastern slope of the Andes leading down to the Amazon basin, and the southwest corner bordering Peru. The latter option was the one I visited in March, though I did do a few days of bonus birding in the Quito area at the end of the trip.

Tumbes Endemics

One goes to southwest Ecuador (assuming that one is a birder) primarily to explore the Tumbes ecosystem. This area of seasonally dry forest and near-desert lies along the coastal plains of southern Ecuador and northern Peru. It features an annual cycle where a short season of heavy rain is followed by ten months of heat and drought.

A typical example of Tumbes scrubland.

The area is characterized by dry deciduous forests (which shed their leaves after the rainy season), chapparal, and desert. Plant and animal species have evolved to survive these extremes of climate, leading to a high rate of endemism. (Endemic species, you will recall, are those found only in a specific habitat or a specific geographical area). Areas of high endemism draw birders and botanists as moths are drawn to flame.

Our trip started in Guayaquil, and we worked our way down the coast with stops in known spots where the Tumbes endemic birds hang out.

Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco and Southwards

The first stop, at a woodland area above a water reservoir, yielded the first target birds: Short-tailed Woodstar, Grey-backed Hawk, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Red-masked Parakeet, and Sooty-crowned Flycatcher were seen and photographed. We had one frustratingly short glimpse of the Black-capped Sparrow (spoiler alert: this photographic lacuna was to be rectified later in the year), and good views but no photos of the Peruvian Pygmy Owl.

Ecuador - Tumbes endemics
Short-tailed Woodstar – female
Ecuador - Tumbes endemics
Sooty-crowned Flycatcher
Ecuador - Tumbes endemics
Grey-backed Hawk

Of course there were plenty of other good species aside from the Tumbes endemics, not the least of which was a skulking Grey-capped Cuckoo – life bird #2000 for me!

A couple of dusty roadsides along the way south added the smart Crimson-breasted Finch (shown at the top of this page) and the hulking Baird’s Flycatcher to the tally, not to mention good birds like the odd Short-tailed Field Tyrant and Snowy-throated Kingbird.

Ecuador - Tumbes endemics
Baird’s Flycatcher
Short-tailed Field Tyrant

We took a short break from desert scrub to explore an area of rice paddy and wetlands, and that yielded necessary ticks like Ecuadorian Ground Dove, Peruvian Meadowlark and Horned Screamer, as well as Tumbes specialties Pacific Parrotlet, Superciliated Wren and Pacific Hornero. Just as we were about to leave I spotted a heron-type skulking through the grass, which turned out to be the rare and hard-to-see  Pinnated Bittern.

Ecuadorian Ground Dove
Pinnated Bittern

The Horned Screamer is a great bird, but they were rather distant. For a closer look see here.

Reserva Buenaventura

Our first long stop was at Reserva Buenaventura, one of the lodges that the Ecuadorian conservation organization Fundación Jocotoco has established at its reserves.  The main attractions at this property are the Long-wattled Umbrellabird and the rare and endangered El Oro Parakeet. But being a lodge in the neotropics it inevitably had an array of feeders, and a consequent array of hummingbirds, aracaris and parakeets. New life birds like the Violet-bellied Hummingbird and Pale-mandibled Aracari were enjoyed while drinking our morning coffee.

Violet-bellied Hummingbird
Pale-mandibled Aracari

The Umbrellabird was a bit harder to find, but after a number of walks around the lek area we spotted one. Finding the Parakeet required staking out an active nest, and after waiting for about two hours the pair showed up. Needless to say lots of other great birds were seen as we patrolled the paths and roads in and around the reserve.

The bizarre Long-wattled Umbrellabird
A rather distant El Oro Parakeet
Mantled Howler Monkeys watching us as we watch the parakeets.

At the end of three bird-filled days we left Buenaventura and continued the hunt. Stay tuned for the next installment: Reserva Jorupe and Loja Province.

More Great Southwest Ecuador Birds

Masked Parakeet, apparently after a bath
Ochraceous Attila
Choco Toucan
A not-too-great shot of a great bird: Club-winged Manakin

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