If you enjoy seeing birds then Ecuador is a very good place to go. It’s a relatively small country (the size of the state of Colorado) and has 1,663 bird species (compared to 990 in the United States). Per square mile there are more bird species in Ecuador than anywhere else in the world (if I figured that one out correctly). Clearly, our trip to Ecuador had to include time to see birds!
First, we searched for arranged, guided bird-watching trips but knew most were priced beyond what we could afford. After a lot of research, the perfect solution appeared. Our friends, Jo and Louise, and we all booked a week at Reserva Las Gralarias, a not-for-proft organization preserving this bird-rich natural habitat near Mindo, Ecuador. Our days would be spent birdwatching with Marcelo Quipo, our guide, along with our driver, Milton. We would birdwatch every day and come back in the late afternoons to Las Gralarias, relax by the fire in the sitting room, have a lovely dinner, and spend the nights there.
Jane Lyons, the founder of Las Gralarias, suggested a schedule that included seeing a wide variety of birds in different terrains.
We climbed up slick paths in the forests and were rewarded with sightings of 3 different antpittas, dark-backed wood-quail, golden-naped tanager, and others.
Even on days when the clouds settled over us, we had great sightings of powerful woodpeckers, golden-headed quetzal, crimson-mantled woodcreeper, hooked-billed kite, and many more.
Most birds could easily be seen with binoculars, but photography with our small cameras was limited. Marcelo took this photo of the Masked Trogon with Joe’s iPhone and his spotting scope.
One day we drove some distance to see some unusual species of birds, such as cock of the rock, but our favorite of the day were oilbirds in a grotto. The oilbirds perch on rock walls during most of the day and search for fruits at night. They fly using echolocation like bats.
The Toucan Barbet flew in to a clearing with feeders, waiting for an opportunity to dine on bananas.
The hummingbird feeders at Las Gralarias provided relaxation and great bird viewing. We perched on chairs with cameras and binoculars in hand and watched a dazzling array of hummingbirds.
The hummingbirds all have amazing names like Brown Violetear (photo), Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Tyrian Metaltail, Saphire-vented Puffleg, Shining Sunbeam, Black-tailed Trainbearer, …
We stayed in the 3-bedroom guesthouse at Las Gralarias; relaxed on the terrace; watched the birds at the feeders; and, when the sun got low, we went inside and Marcelo lit a fire in the fireplace for us.
The week at Las Gralarias exceeded our expectations. We saw over 200 bird species due to our brilliant guide, and many plants and animals we’d not known. Staying at a comfortable lodge with good hosts and wonderful food was an extra bonus.