Top components of a winter birding getaway are often a warmer climate and seeing new and endemic birds. I have made a number of trips to Ecuador, but I have made a number of trips to Ecuador, but one of the most interesting was when I visited several of the jewel-like reserves of the Jocotoco Foundation — an NGO which was founded over 20 years ago to preserve the habitats of globally endangered species and endemics. Apart from the stunning beauty of some of these reserves, you are almost ensured to add new birds to your list. But more importantly, your visit helps make it possible for those birds to continue to exist in their natural habitat.
The discovery of a new species of bird on a critically endangered habitat was the beginning of the Jocotoco Foundation, when in 1998 Robert Ridgely was doing research in Ecuador and discovered an
antpitta unknown to science and teetering on the brink of extinction. With the help of Nigel Simpson, the remnant of this bird’s habitat was purchased and made into a reserve, protecting it from future development. The bird was named the Jocotoco Antpitta (the featured bird at the top of our newsletter this month), and this successful method of protection set in motion the beginning of what is now a baker’s dozen of stunning reserves in Ecuador of varying sizes – each one benefiting birds which are globally threatened and local endemics. In fact, currently 36 of the 51 globally threatened birds in Ecuador exist in Jocotoco reserves which cover over 22,000 hectares, protecting more than 900 species of birds, of which more than 100 species are regional endemics or species of restricted geographical distribution. And if this isn’t enough nature for you, the reserves are awash with 200 species of amphibians and reptiles, many of which are threatened and several newly discovered; and they protect large and rare mammals such as the Spectacled Bear, Mountain Tapir, Chocó Tapir, Puma and Jaguar. In short, these reserves are treasure-troves.
On the trip I took with some friends, we visited three of the 5 reserves which have lodges – all in the south of Ecuador. Not each reserve has facilities, but those that do provide comfortable digs with hot water, private baths, often wifi and excellent food. We stayed at the Casa Simpson at Tapichalaca Reserve where you are guaranteed excellent views of the Jocotoco Antpitta. It is also home to other globally threatened birds like Bearded Guan, Coppery-chested Jacamar and Masked Mountain Tanager, and is an important migration corridor for Andean Tapir, Spectacled Bear, Puma, Andean Paca, Red-Sprocket Deer and Andean Coati. At nearly 7000 feet, this location can be a bit cool at night but you will be plied with tasty soups and lots of tea, and there is a very warm fire in the common area! The habitat is stunning – lush forest with beautiful birds and equally wonderful natural surround sound. It’s a jewel of a location and every trip to Jocotoco Foundation reserves should include this one.
We also visited The Umbrellabird Lodge at Buenaventura which is in the same general area but at a lower altitude and is a tropical rainforest. In 1980 Robert Ridgely discovered the El Oro Parakeet here and this reserve was created to preserve the remnant forest in which this species lives which is now surrounded by pasture. There are 330 species of birds including 15 globally endangered species and 34 endemics, lots of hummingbirds at feeders around the lodge and of course, there are Umbrellabirds, and loads of Coatis wandering around in plain sight. Capuchin Monkeys and Two-toed Sloths are among the other animals seen here and it’s a wonderful tropical experience. Urraca Lodge which is in Jurupe Reserve is Tumbesian dry forest with 190 bird species including all the endemic Tumbesian dry forest birds – 15 of which are globally threatened. If King Vultures are on your list of go-to birds, this is the place to find them.
Using these three lodges, it’s also possible to easily visit some of the other Jocotoco Foundation reserves which do not have their own lodges, such as Utuana which is a small remnant reserve which supports 100 species including some spectacular hummingbirds and tanagers.
Ecuador offers a wide variety of birding and nature opportunities, but the Jocotoco Foundation offers a dozen beautiful locations around Ecuador where you can be in the wilderness and see rare and endemic birds and fabulous wildlife fairly easily. And because the lodges are small and remote, you will have a real wilderness experience. To find out more about how to book a trip to their lodges, check out their ecotour site Jocotours and get ready for some spectacular sightings!