Bird watching practice in Cuenca
Ecuador with its natural structure and separate regions: Amazon, Highlands and Coast, provides wide scenery for bird watching. The location of Ecuador, on the Equatorial Division, has a variety of habitats and climate conditions which grant it a vast amount of bird species living in Ecuadorian forests with more than 1614 registered species. This amount almost represents 20% of the global list of birds in the world.
Countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Peru only surpass Ecuador in the number of species, considering their larger territorial size; but if you relate the number of species and the surface area, Ecuador has a bigger diversity of birds than Brazil; it has placed the nation in the list of 17 countries of the world with mega diversity of birds.
Ecuador shows diverse ecosystems and it possesses about 500 bird species to be potentially watched. These species are quite astute; therefore much more time and dedication is required to find them. View Map: Bird Watching
Cuenca & Ecuador bird watching tips
Ornithology is an activity that requires discipline and patience. t is important to have the appropriate knowledge and the appropriate equipment in order to be able to enjoy this activity in fullness.
The best schedule to perform the identification of species is from 05h00 to 09h00 o'clock in the morning and between 16h00 to 19h00 in the afternoon. Concerning their characteristics (behavior of birds), it is at these times that the birds leave to feed their chicks and to seek for a couple.
The use of binoculars is fundamental. The recommended measure is of 7 and 10x with an objective diameter of 35 and 40mm. The bigger the measure, the best it is.
Because of their nature, birds are very astute and easy to be frightened. Besides, in bird watching excursions, silence is indispensable to succeed.
The number of people in the group should not exceed 8 and they should not wear attractive clothes; preferably, they should be camouflaged with the surrounding vegetation.
When the place that species frequently visit is identified, it is necessary to have a lot of patience and to wait until the species stay in near places or you can reach them with the use of binoculars.
Field guides are indispensable. The shapes of picks and paws, as well as the patterns of coloration, song, and the way birds hang are necessary to identify the species. A notebook should always be at hand to be able to write down all annotations.
Cuenca Bird watching routes
In the city of Cuenca and its surroundings, there are several places where the concentration and diversity of birds make it possible to practice bird watching.
ROUTE CUENCA - EL BARRANCO
Inside Cuenca, there is a countless number of bird species which are especially located on the riversides of the 4 rivers that cross the city: Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui, and Machángara. The availability of food, the proximity of nesting places, and the warm weather have helped to the fact that birds have gotten used to live in the presence of human beings. It facilitates the discovery inside the urban area.
It is not necessary to look for too much or to go very far.
The place well-known as "El Barranco" (popular neighborhood) that is located on Calle Larga Street and Fray Vicente Solano Avenue. This observation route culminates in the park besides the Tomebamba River which is called "El Paraíso". It represents an ornithological tourist corridor inside the limits of the Historical Center of Cuenca which is a "World Heritage Site" by declaration of the UNESCO.
This place has short height and very leafy bushes and trees on the riverbank. The very presence of the water is an especial attraction for the species of birds that meet in this place very early in the morning to sing and play just as they do at dusk. On the riverbanks of these rivers, there are species such as Tangara Azuliamarilla (Thraupis bonariensis), Southern Yellow Picogrueso (Pheuticus chrysogaster), Grackle Chiguanco (Turdus chiguanco), Cachetilineada Colaespina (Crenioleuca antisiensis), Swallow Azuliblanca (Notiochelidon cyanoleuca), Quilico (Farco sparverius), Steeple (Tito dawn) Owl, Blacksmith Hummingbird (Hummingbird coruscans), Colacintillo Coliverde (Lesbia nuna), and Hooded Goldfinch (Carduellis magellanica).
At the end of "El Barranco", we arrive to an area with abundant vegetation called "El Paraíso" (Paradise). This park with a surface area of 20 hectares is located in the proximity of the joint of the Tomebamba and Yanuncay Rivers. It is covered by forests of native vegetation and areas of Eucalyptus trees. In this place, there are areas of recreation and environmental interpretation. It is located on El Paraíso Avenue, continuing on 12 de Abril Avenue which comes from "El Barranco". In this area, it is possible to find species of very attractive birds due to their shape and color such as Elenia Crestiblenca (Elaenia albiceps) Alinaranja golilistada (Myiotheretes striaticollis), and black Pinchaflor (diglosia humeralis) among the most common species. Inside this corridor, there are 15 species of birds registered.
CAJAS NATIONAL PARK BIRDWATCHING ROUTE
Cajas National Park is one of the main ecosystems in the surroundings of Cuenca. The great extensions of the moor and Andean forest have placed it in the aim of the UNESCO to declare it as Natural Heritage Site. It is only 35 km. from the city of Cuenca, and it is an area categorized as a place of conservation (RAMSAR) and as an area of bird protection (AICA) by the international community of flora, fauna and environment protection.
In this place, you will be able to walk and appreciate several species of birds, some of them are endemic of Ecuador, except for two species which are restricted to the area of Azuay, and these are: The Metallura Gorgivioleta hummingbird (Metallura baroni) and the Matorralero cabecipalido (Atlapetes pallidiceps).
Inside the extension of the PNC, there are about 150 species of birds registered. It is possible to arrive there taking the Cuenca-Molleturo-Naranjal highway, which crosses the park and takes you to any of its operation and interpretation points settled by the administration offices of the park. In each one of its paths and vantage points, there are places where you can appreciate a part of the diversity of birds in the area. It is recommended to visit it between September and January, since that is the season of less rain in the moor. The entrance fee is $10.00 USD for foreigners, and $1.50 USD for local people.
VALLEY DE LLAVIUCO
In the Valle de Llaviuco area, it is possible to find species of birds such as the Andean Toucan pechigris (Andigena hypoglauca), the Andean pava (Penelope montagnii), the masked trogon (Trogon personatus) and the turquoise magpie (Cyanolyca turcosa).
Since this is an area where vegetation changes inside a relatively small surface, it is possible to find several ecosystems and climatic floors (each one very near to each other) such as: forest montano, Andean forest and moor, (each one with diversity of species). In the area of the lake, it is possible to observe species like the Andean teal (Ells andium), the reddish duck (Oxyura ferruginea), the Andean focha (Áulica ardesiaca) and the Andean gull (Larus serranus).
There are three paths in the area that take around the lake to reach the San Antonio forest. This valley is located 17 km. from Cuenca, taking the same route to the PNC. This road has good signaling and marks and a camping site is available.
TOREADORA AND ILLINCOCHA LAKES
The Toreadora Lake is 36 km. away from Cuenca and is one of the most beautiful places inside the PNC. This place is properly equipped with a restaurant, and an administrative and interpretation center. One of the most attractive places for ornithological tourism is located 1 Km. from the Toreadora Lake area, near to the Illincocha Lake. It is a very rough and rocky area covered by a segment of Polylepis forest, which has created an ideal microclimate where strange species in danger of extinction such as the Xenodacnis (Xenodacnis parina), Metallura gorgivioleta (Metallura baronni), the American Crowned Owl (Bubo virginianus), and the Ecuadorian Star (Oreotrochillus Chimborazo) establish their habitats.
While you are walking on the paths, it is possible to see species of Curiquingues, Gralarias and Cinclodes, and typical picogruesos of the heights of the Ecuadorian moor.
FOREST OF MIGUIR
This is a private reserve in the limits of the PNC. It is a resting place for all bird lovers. In this forest, there is an important population of the endemic Gorgivioleta (Metallura baroni) hummingbird, it is a bird considered unique of the PNC. It is easy to observe it foraging the low parts of the forest.
Also, here it is possible to see the attractive Cotinga crestiroja (Ampelium rubocristatus) and the pearly subepalos (Margaromis squamiger).
This forest is at about 8km from the center of La Toreadora and crossing the second control of the PNC, in the well-known sector of Huagrahuma. The access is free, but it does not have any infrastructure or services.
VALLEY OF YUNGUILLA
This productive valley is located 33 km. to the south-west of Cuenca. It is an area that does not surpass 2.100 meters high and has an average temperature of 19°C. It shows a variety of birds of tropical weather. Due to its pleasant climate and fertile soils, this valley has been exploited by the production of sugar cane which has tremendously decreased the native vegetation of the area exposing the Matorralero cabecipalido (Atlapetes palidiceps), an endemic species of the high basin of the Jubones River, to critical danger of extinction. View Map: Valley of Yunguilla
WATERFALLS OF GIRON
This waterfall, of almost 70 meters high, is located 6 km. from the town of Girón. It is an ideal scenario for bird watching, surrounded by native vegetation, full of several species of orchids, bromeliads, and ferns. This is an area of high humidity because of the waterfall which forms a puddle of crystalline water as well.
There are several species such as Quilico (Falco sparveruis), Paloma collareja (Fascist Columba), Marbled Hummingbird (Adelomyia melanogensis), Frentiestrella Rainbow Hummingbird (Coeligena iris), Queen Crestinegra (Basilueterus nigrocristatus) and Owl Frentianteanteado (Aegolius harrisii), besides species of Tangaras and Pinchaflores.
RESERVE OF YUNGUILLA
This remainder of native vegetation, with dry heaths inside the valley, is administrated by The "Jocotoco" Foundation of Conservation. It is dedicated to the conservation of natural spaces and fauna species in danger of extinction. In this reservation, there is the Matorralero Cabecipalido (Atlapetes palidiceps), which is a bird specie rediscovered in 1998 after several decades of being considered as extinct. The population of these birds does not overcome 50 couples. This program includes the control of a bird parasita called Vaquero Brilloso (Molothrus bonariensis).
The females of these species place their eggs in the nests of the "matorralero cabecipalido" (a kind of bird) and at birth they kill the chicks of other species. Besides, it is possible to find several hummingbird species, tangaras, owls, grackles and elenitas in this place.
At the Southwest of the Andes Valley, following the Cuenca-Molleturo-Naranjal highway, you arrive to an area that is considered as one of the main "spots" of avian-fauna in Ecuadorian Austral lands. This is located near the community of Manta Real, almost on the provincial limits. This place does not have an appropriate infrastructure to receive visitors, although it is possible to find places for camping. It might be possible to find some natives who can guide you inside the numerous areas of primary forest where they have registered about 200 bird species. Among these species we find the highlight hummingbird (puntiblanca pechipurpura) (Urosticte youngest son), the trogon of the choco (Trogon comptus), the toucan of choco (Ramphastos brevis) and the umbrella bird (Cephalepterus penduliger). Also, there are plentiful species of parrots, macaws, tangaras, sparrow hawks, carpenters and mosqueritos. View Map: Manta Real
LA JOSEFINA LAKE
In 1993, a part of the Tamuga Hill collapsed and blocked one of the meadows of the Cuenca River. As a result, a gigantic reservoir of water was created. After the opening of the blocked area, the water still collapsed and created a 23 km lagoon in the northeast area of the city of Cuenca. This place has been developed quickly by native birds and vegetable species.
Species of aquatic plants as well as seaweeds proliferate also. It created a good environment for aquatic life, and it catches the attention of birds like the Andean Gull (Larus Serranus) and the Reddish Duck (Oxyura ferruginea). This lagoon is a place of forage for these birds, and has not been a nesting place due to the environmental unfavorable factors of the area; even the flocks are quite big.
This one is located 20 Km. away from the town of Gualaceo, following the highway that takes to Limón. This area has been declared as "of great interest" and as a point for ornithologists; here there are very strange and new species found by the scientists such as the Cotinga Ventricastaña (Calidris bairdii) discovered in 1989 which is still not deeply known.