Birdwatching has become an exciting activity for millions of people, with an increasing number of clubs and groups found in different countries across the globe. In fact, it has become one of the fastest-growing hobbies in all of North America! Even though it has suffered a temporary setback from the COVID-19 pandemic and its travel restrictions, birdwatching tours have evolved from a simple recreational activity to a burgeoning industry and one of the world’s strongest ecotourism drivers.
The industry has led to a spike in sales for seed suppliers, birdhouse builders, and small businesses, helping people connect with nature in their own backyards. However, as people are starting to venture out into the world again and birdwatchers are ready to explore even the most remote corners of the planet, there’s no doubt that Ecuador is one of the very best destinations to embark on a birdwatching tour.
Home to over 1,600 bird species within just 283,000 km2 (109,000 mi2), this mega-diverse paradise hosts the verdant Amazon rainforest, the towering Andes, the lush Pacific coast, and the renowned Galapagos Islands. Each of these incredible habitats is home to dozens, if not hundreds, of different bird species.
However, perhaps Ecuador’s crown jewel for birdwatchers is nestled deep within the Andean cloud forest where the Andes meet the Pacific coast. Known as the Choco Bioregion, it is home to hundreds of bird species, many of which are endemic to the region, leading to incredible opportunities for observing some of the planet’s rarest species. Right in the middle of the Bioregion lies the private Mashpi Reserve, which consists of over 5,000 ha. of pristine, original-growth cloud forest – a veritable paradise for birdwatchers.
Mashpi Lodge offers a haven to explorers seeking to get closer to all the incredible bird species that inhabit the beautiful Choco Bioregion, one of Unesco’s biosphere reserves. That’s why, if you’re interested in enjoying a unique birdwatching experience, we got you covered!
Birdwatching at its finest: Mashpi is home to native and endemic species that cannot be seen elsewhere
The sheer number of bird species found in the Mashpi Reserve –nearly 400 to date, of which 36 are endemic (meaning they are found nowhere else in the world)– is simply mind-boggling.
One of the Mashpi forest stars is the Andean cock-of-the-rock, or Gallo de las Peñas in Spanish. Like many others, the males and females have very different features, most notably the color of their plumage with this particular species. The male has a large disk-like crest and brilliant scarlet or orange color on its head and upper torso. It has a black tail and wings, and pale greyish scapulars. The female is significantly drabber and browner than the male and has a less prominent crest. The male’s bright orange color makes it easy to spot, especially when they team up to dance en troupe for the females! Reaching the place where they perform this dance can be a bit difficult, but the reward is truly impressive. This experience is truly fascinating if you’re looking for a challenging birdwatching tour!
There are also three different Toucans species in Mashpi, each of which differs in size and colors. Well-known for their large multicolored beaks and vibrant plumage, they live primarily in tropical climates but can also be found in the Choco. Their brightly-colored feathers and bills can help you spot these birds among the dense forest canopy. These are just two of the 400 species we mentioned earlier. The pristine environment at the Mashpi Reserve makes it an ideal place for them to live and, in turn, a perfect place for birdwatchers to come and enjoy these stunning species in their natural habitat. Every activity you do in Mashpi Lodge is technically a birdwatching tour!
Mashpi has knowledgeable and native guides that have first-hand knowledge of the bird species
Since the creation of Mashpi Lodge, the closely-knit team has always sought to work with the local community and those living in the area surrounding the Reserve, who actively contribute to the forest’s conservation. Mashpi Lodge offers numerous job opportunities for its neighbors and gives them professional training and English classes. These same people share their vast knowledge of the surrounding lands and wildlife with the Lodge guests, making birdwatching a unique, enriching experience.
The bilingual Guides and Expedition Leaders at Mashpi Lodge are thrilled to share everything they know about the Reserve’s bird species. Whether you have questions about their eating habits, mating habits and rituals, or even why their plumage is a particular color, they have the answers!
Guest experiences are tailored to their interests and ability levels. When they arrive at the Lodge, you will see a chart with all the activities you can do during your stay. Adjustments can be made at any time along the way, ensuring that guests have the experience of a lifetime in the Mashpi Reserve.
One incredible opportunity tailored for birdwatchers is the early morning wildlife observation offered from the rooftop terrace of Mashpi Lodge. Every morning, starting at 6:00 A.M., guests can go to the terrace where warm, freshly-baked snacks and hot coffee, tea, and chocolate are set out, along with several spotting scopes and pairs of binoculars. As the day breaks, the air fills with the sounds of hundreds of birds, many of which are perched in the trees and vegetation in the immediate surroundings of the Lodge, meaning that guests can often see incredibly rare species from the very Lodge itself!
Exploring with Varying Levels of Challenges
Besides early-morning observation, the very best way to see the Bioregion’s unique and colorful birds is to delve into their natural habitat. Doing that may require longer walks into the Reserve that, while giving guests incredible opportunities to see Mashpi’s many inhabitants, present different challenges as well. When guests arrive at Mashpi Lodge, they discover that they are actually stepping into a cutting-edge research station at the forefront of cloud forest and rainforest conservation. Even while the Lodge itself was being built, many unusual steps were taken to preserve the Reserve, making sure that nature itself was disturbed as little as possible.
In fact, the Lodge is proud that they didn’t cut down a single tree or opened up a trail while it was under construction. The trails winding through the Mashpi Reserve are actually old trails that already existed before the land being purchased by its current owner. This, however, can mean that some of the hikes may be a little trickier to navigate. The Lodge’s website provides guests with maps and pictures of the trails to give them a better idea of how long and the trails can be and their differing levels of difficulty.
However, keeping in mind that the purpose of a trip to Mashpi is to see remarkable bird species and breathtaking nature in general, guests will have plenty of time to take a gander with their binoculars and take award-worthy photos. Whether pictures are taken with smartphone cameras or professional cameras with telescopic lenses, guests have more than enough time to catch their breath and listen to the fascinating stories and facts that the Guides as so good at telling.
So, once you are ready to revisit the world, Mashpi Lodge is definitely the best place in Ecuador for embarking on a birdwatching tour. Start planning yours today!