Ecuador - January 2009

Cock-of-the-Rock Tour

This is an account of Naturetrek’s Ecuador Cock of the Rock tour of 13 - 21 January 2009, one of their budget tours. It was the first time three of us had been on an organised bird tour but the value for money provided by this tour tempted us.

There were ten clients: Dave Ferguson, Jim Rose, Dave Parmenter, Rob Andrews, Rob Hardcastle, Fred Homer, Barry and Christine Hancock, Lindsey Napton and Mike Witty. The leader was Willy Perez.

This account only mentions some of the species we saw. Given that the group saw 327 species, a list of these birds would make for rather tedious reading. Rather this account concentrates on what it is like to be on a Naturetrek budget tour. A comprehensive bird list can be found as a supplement.

The Andes provided some spectacular views - The shape of Antisana Volcano can just be made out behind the clouds.

This was a short duration, high intensity tour. It was designed to maximise the number of species to be seen within a few hours of Quito, so we visited both the eastern and western cordilleras and birded in altitudes between 1300 and 4400 m. The trip might reasonably have been named something like ‘Ecuador’s Northern Cordilleras’. The Cock of the Rocks, as you will see, formed a very small part of the holiday.

We were up before dawn - once we rose at 02.45 - and birded until dusk. We travelled in the bus every day but one, sometimes for several hours at a stretch. After dinner there was a call-over and after the call-over we went to bed. There were many walks, mostly along fairly level tracks but three were quite steep and slippery.

The high altitudes resulted in some deep breathing but nobody suffered from altitude sickness. One member of our group was attacked by chiggers. We saw no other biting insects or snakes or other nasties.

Wellies were recommended, and we took them, but waterproof hiking boots would have done. Several people took brollies but these are a bit anti-social as they can block the view. You also need three hands. Nobody took a Norfolk-in-midwinter jacket, nor were they needed. At the highest and coldest places I wore a jacket-in-a-bag over a fleece which was fine.

It was the rainy season west of Quito, the dry season to the east. The rains had been unusually heavy and we were often in rain and mist. On the plus side, the temperature was very pleasant. The weather in the east was near perfect for birding with only a short but violent hailstorm accompanied by thunder and lightning at 4400 m to upset us.

This cloudy scene was not untypical of the first few days when we were birding the western slope of the Andes.  This was at La Paz de las Aves (Cock-of-the-Rock and Giant Antpitta site)

The leader
Our leader, Willy Perez, lives in Quito, has been a Naturetrek leader for ten years and knows the area and its birds as well as anybody. As well as binoculars, he carried a Leica scope and a minidisk player. If it was possible, he set up the scope so that we could all see the target bird and he used the player to call in birds having initially identified the bird was present by its call or song. At this he was brilliant although the birds didn’t always co-operate.

Willy Perez - Our Naturetrek tour leader.  Willy was a truly amazing birder with an incredible knowledge of the sites, the birds and their calls.

Birding in the cloud forests of the Andes is among the most difficult birding in the world and many of the birds are skulkers. In addition some of the groups are difficult to identify, even when seen well. Without an experienced leader I doubt we would have seen half the birds we did.

The Team - Dave F, Jim, Dave P, Barry, Christine, Rob H, Willy, Fred, Lindsay, Mike, Rob A and Alfonso (our excellent driver)

13 Jan 2009

We flew from London to Quito via Miami uneventfully although the security check in Miami was tedious. We arrived at the Embassy Hotel in Quito, checked in and went to bed ready for an early start.


Trip Report written by Dave Ferguson
Web site editing by Jim Rose

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