Guest post by Kathi Borgmann
The Chocó biogeographical region extends from the Darién in Panamá along the pacific coast of Colombia, to northwestern Ecuador. The Chocó is one of the world’s 10 most important biodiversity hotspots and it is one of the last coastal tropical rainforests left on the planet. It is home to more than 900 species of birds and 11,000 vascular plants, many of which are endemic to the region. This area is also among the very wettest places on earth with areas near Quibdo, Colombia receiving up to 510 inches of rain a year! It goes without saying that birding in the Chocó is pretty amazing and a must for tropical birding.
There are some excellent accessible Chocó destinations in both Colombia and Ecuador but perhaps the single best Chocó birding destination in Ecuador is the Jocotoco Foundation’s Canandé Reserve. The birding at Canandé Reserve is incredible, and this is one of very few places to see some amazing Chocó endemic species such as Banded Ground-Cuckoo, Purple Quail-Dove, Berlepsch’s Tinamou, Baudo Guan, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, and Plumbeous Forest-Falcon. The reserve boosts miles of trails through some great forest. However, the trails near the lodge touch only a portion of the 2,000 hectares of the reserve.
All of the trails in the reserve are worth spending some time on, but the best circuit to hike is the Chocó Tapaculo Trail to the Banded Ground-Cuckoo Trail and then continue on to the mirador along the ridge. From the mirador, either return via the same set of trails or if your knees are up for it, take the steeper Tawny-faced Quail Trail, where there is a section of steep downhill, back down to the lodge. The footing is though but the trail allows for good views into the canopy, which also makes this section better to hike downhill than uphill. Species seen on these trails include several Chocó specialties; Rufous-fronted Wood-Quail, Baudo Guan, and Purple Quail-Dove.
Other species of interest include Lita Woodpecker, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Rufous Piha, Gray-and-Gold Tanager, and many more. The Manakin Trail makes a nice shorter loop where we had a great, prolonged look at a Green Manakin, an uncommon, quiet, and very inobvious and easily overlooked species. Other noteworthy species on the Manakin Trail included, Red-capped Manakin, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Choco Tyranulet, Ocellated Antbird, and more.
The Chocó Tapaculo Trail (the section between the Tawny-breasted Quail Trail and the Banded Ground-Cuckoo Trail) is a good place to try your luck for the Berlepsch’s Tinamou. The understory here is fairly open which improves your odds of seeing this rare and shy tinamou. Around the lodge, Green Thorntails take over the porterweed shrubs while Purple-chested Hummingbirds, White-tailed Jacobins, and Green-crowned Brilliants can be readily seen at the feeders. There is also a small tower in the garden area that is great for scanning the tree tops. From here you can easily see Orange-fronted Barbets, Chocó Tyrannulets, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, and an occasional Black-tipped Cotinga or Gray-backed Hawk. The observation tower is also the place to see Scarlet-breasted Dacnis.
To visit Canandé you need to make arrangements with JocoTours. They prepare the lodge and send you a letter giving you permission to cross the Rio Canandé on the barge operated by the Botrosa Timber Company. Getting to the lodge requires a 4×4 truck with clearance. The trails were muddy when we visited and required rubber boots. The trails also require a little bit of fitness as some sections are steep. You are also likely to be out for a half-day to a full day instead of just a couple of hours and it can get quite hot and not to mention wet. You know it’s going to be wet when the staff puts an umbrella on every bed for guests! The rooms at the lodge are basic but comfortable and there is electricity, although be prepared for blackouts as the electricity has a tendency to go out. The lodge also has a nice dining hall at the edge of the forest allowing you to bird while enjoying your meals.
In my opinion, Canandé ranks with Anchicayá in Colombia and Darién National Park in Panamá as one of the very best Chocó birding sites! Read more about birding in Ecuador at Bird of Passage .