Ecuador June 22-July 7, 2011 Conservation Birding

We visited two cloud forest areas, a total of four eco-lodges, for 12 days of birding on the west and east slopes of the Andes. Forget the bird list -- way too long-- and just know that birding in Ecuador is one of the world's greatest wonders. A teaser: we identified 33 species of hummingbird in our short trip.

Who knew that butterflies and moths are the foundation for birds in the cloud forest? -- their larvae are a key food source. After a night of pouring rain, we watched birds snapping up drowned moths for their breakfast.

The four lodges we visited all provided excellent food and lodging but also a vital connection to conservation and research to protect the wildlife habitat. Here our tourist dollar supported wildlife protection and sustainable business development.

Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Preserve An 1,800 acre cloud forest preserve owned by a community for conservation, with over 390 bird species. Here we met busy volunteers and researchers from Earthwatch, and enjoyed exploring with local Spanish speaking guide (who knew quite a bit of English - Mauricio Flores 090381326), who showed us the many special birds of this area. The food was delightful. It takes effort to hike in and see this preserve. The hike up to it is steep (luggage goes by mule) and the birding trails are up and down the slope. The Santa Lucia community is well organized and well worth the visit. Early to bed . . . no electricity.

Maquipucuna Cloud Forest Preserve & Eco-lodge A nonprofit foundation since 1988, Maquipucuna is a leader in land conservation, education and research, and eco-tourism. The reserve has 14,000 acres of cloud forest habitat and hosts researchers and student programs as well as birding tourists. Food was great. The place is bubbling with the energy of volunteers and visiting researchers and students. We explored trails on our own and with guide Manuel Sanchez - who also guided us back to Quito via top birding areas including Yanacocha (Jocotoco Foundation) right outside Quito. Maquipucuna is all about experimentation. We saw mock thatch from plastic bottles as well as resident toucans, mot mots, hummingbirds, hawks and many other species.

Cabanas San Isidro - Guango Lodge Carmen Bustamante will handle your travel needs and pile on the unforgettable experiences at these comfortable linked east Andes birding lodges. Her cloud forest cuisine, served at Cabanas San Isidro, includes such delights as the Black Pepper Ice Cream with Babaco and Basil Syrup. The orchid gardens at these two lodges are well worth the visit. Hummingbirds galore, also Inca Jays, Turquoise Jays, Caciques and Oropendulas very present. Don't miss the guided visit to the Yanayacu Biological Station.

Tip for traveling to Ecuador: Stop in Panama!

Panama City is an easy and natural layover to/from Quito, with an abundance of birdwatching. We stayed at La Estancia on Ancon Hill (Cerro de Ancon), enjoyed a day birdwatching with Mario Bernal (56 species), and a day visiting the Miraflores Locks and climbing Ancon Hill for the views, history and birds. Quito is just an 1 1/2 hour flight south.