From the towering Andes to the dense Amazonian rain forest, Ecuador is incredibly diverse. With about 4000 species of butterflies found within its relatively small borders, Ecuador is arguably the butterfly capital of the world! Approximately 2000 species of butterflies have been seen in the areas we will visit! We have been fortunate to see huge numbers of butterflies on this trip, with as many as 750 species on a single trip!
Day 1. Monday. The tour begins this evening at the airport in Quito, Ecuador. We will spend this night at a very comfortable hotel. Night in the Quito area.
Day 2. Tuesday. This morning we will drive east from Quito, crossing the Andes through a pass at 13,000 ft. over the páramo moorlands, and have the opportunity to witness a splendid view of the Volcano Antisana (almost 19,000 ft.). After crossing the pass we'll access a national park track into the valley above, and start to search for some rarely seen high-elevation pronophiline satyrs, including White-edged Lyman (Lymanopoda huilana). Other butterflies we are likely to see here include unusual elfin blues. We'll then drop down through a steep river valley, shrouded in forest, stopping at various points en route. We'll travel through Paramo moor land at the top of the pass, through progressively higher vegetation, beginning initially with scrubby bamboo stands and patchy bushes, to low Elfin forest, and then to the more majestic cloud forest with its beautiful ferns and imposing trees. We should see a variety of high and middle elevation cloud forest species, such as the tailed reddish-brown Cinderella Mapwing (Hypanartia cinderella), sailing black and red surprising-whites (Pereute), numerous pretty pierids such as Spurred Tilewhite (Hesperocharis marchalii) various dartwhites (Catasticta) and plentiful green-eyed whites (Leptophobia), as well as various large high-elevation skippers such as eye-catching Blue-and-orange Firetips (Chalypyge zereda) and the arresting orange and black banded Hewitson's Orange-stripe (Mimardaris pityusa) We plan to stop at a small meadow that is surrounded by cloud forest and has a stream that runs through it attracting a large number of species within easy range of our lenses. Here at 5700 ft. we see an entirely different butterfly fauna, with a much greater diversity of genera represented. We may see our first green, blue, and red, Blue-bordered Metalmark (Necyria bellona), the brilliant iridescent blue and pink Pink-C Beautymark (Rhetus dysonii), many species of dartwhites, garish orange, red, and pink actinotes, iridescent blue-patched emperors, and colourful eighty-eights in the genus Perisama, the black and red banded Kollar's Surprising-White (Pereute leucodrosime) large blue and white banded flashers, as well as various ticlears, and if we are lucky we may also see the green and black Teal-bordered Leafwing (Memphis lorna). From the meadow, we drive to Tena over the impressive and mysterious Sierra de Guacamayos, with its heavily forested deep ravines which are often cloaked with swirling mist, and we are treated to views of more than 60 miles, including the conical volcano Sumaco to the east of us. Once off the Sierra we descend quickly into more populated areas with plenty of evidence of local deforestation for agriculture and cattle pasture. Nonetheless there are still large swathes of forest visible from the road, and the views of babbling brooks, winding streams, and broad boulder-strewn rivers add a magical touch to the journey. From the roadside the eastern Andes look magnificent, especially as we descend in the late afternoon with the sun’s rays shining out at an acute angle over the forested hills to our east. Night at a comfortable hotel in Tena.
Day 3. Wednesday through Day 6. Saturday. Tena, in the tropical lowlands at about 1600 ft., will be our base for the next 4 days.Tena is a superb hub from which to radiate out to numerous excellent sites for butterflies. Despite its size and the fact that it has been here for over 500 years, there is still excellent forest even in close proximity to the town. Most of this is secondary, but it’s old and well established and is an excellent nursery for the more than 2000 species of butterfly that we can find in the area! Your leader will choose from the following sites depending on weather conditions and the level of success we enjoy at neighboring sites. They are presented based on geographical location, and not in any particular order of hierarchy. Some sites will be visited on days 3 through 6 and others on days 10 through 12 (see below).
North of Tena
At about 7000 ft. in the Sierra de Guacamayos, we find ourselves in secondary cloud forest interspersed with stands of extensive bamboo, which attract a lot of pronophilines satyrs such as the exquisite Orange-patched Satyr (Daedalma dinias), White-spotted Oxeo (Oxeoschistus leucospilos), and Marbled Satyr (Junea dorinda). Here we have also seen over 30 species of ticlears in a single day, including Giant Ticlear (Megoleria orestilla), and we are likely also to see various Perisama species with their kaleidoscopic colors, the delicate orange-patched Golden Sister (Adelpha saundersi) and boldly patterned Cloud-forest Catone (Catonephele chromis), as well as the ubiquitous mauve-patched Orange-edged Daggerwing (Marpesia corinna).
South of Tena 1
A number of exciting locations can be reached within an hour. One forest trail weaves along a ridgeline through tall forest, and as Common Morphos (Morpho helenor) and Achilles' Morphos (M. achilles) flash past us, in the many sunlit patches and clearings we will have the chance to see many different species from across the butterfly spectrum, including stunning blues and jewelled riodinids such as various jewelmark and beautymark species. This spot is especially good for the real “Oh My!” butterflies such as various preponas and Agrias species, including the striking crimson-red and blue Black-arch Agrias (A. claudina) and the exquisite blue and green Red-crescent Agrias (A. hewistsonius beata) as well as their smaller mimics, the equally sumptuous Orange-based Satinwing (Asterope degandii), Black-peaked Satinwing (A. leprieuri optima) and Marked Satinwing (A. markii). On tree trunks in the clearings, the blue-gray Red-spotted Cracker (Hamadryas chloe) one of the smaller crackers, is relatively common, often accompanied by the attractively-striped Tiger Beauty (Tigridia acesta). In the deeper shade of the forest we might disturb an Owl-Butterfly or two, including the gigantic Plain Owl-Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus).
South of Tena 2
On an unpaved road, especially near puddles, we can find groups of sun-worshipping species, especially swallowtails and pierids. There are many species that we are likely to see, but some that stand out include Thin-tailed Kite-Swallowtail (Eurytides dolicaon), Yellow-spotted Kite-Swallowtail (Eurytides telesilaus), and Nomad Swallowtail (Papilio menatius). We may see a number of species of dazzling eighty-eights and relatives, such as the crimson, orange, and black Duck-head Eighty-eight (C. cynosura), and the Aqua-arched Eighty-eight (Catacore kolyma). We will be teased by fast-flying purplewings, which fly off just as we succeed in approaching close enough for a photo – our patience will however eventually be rewarded, and we hope this will include the silky black and green, Blue-celled Purplewing (E. volumna). We should also see high-flying Morpho species lazily following this track, especially the exciting giants, Sunrise Morpho (Morpho cisseis phanodemus) and Sunset Morpho (Morpho hecuba) with their 6 inch wingspans, the powerful high-flier Falcate Morpho (M. rhetenor), and the more dainty Small Morpho (Morpho marcus) which may perhaps tantalize us with its silvery-blue iridescence. Here we have the chance to see almost any lowland tropical species from the region. On past trips these have included Charaxes-like species of beauties, the huge leaf-like Magnificent Leafwing (Coenophlebia archidona), green and blue olive-wings (Nessaea), the specatacular red, blue and yellow Painted Panacea (Batesia hypochlora) Inky Leafwing (Memphis anna), and the red and blue mimic of Black-arch Agrias. The area is also excellent for ticlears such as the huge Great Ticlear (Athesis acrisione), satyrs such as brilliant blue-patched Pierella, lycaenids including greatstreaks, and metalmarks such as the psychedelic Semicherry-bordered Metalmark (Lyropteryx apollonia), named for the female.
South of Tena 3
Driving south from Tena for about 40 minutes we reach a dirt track at about 3300 ft. following the edge of a beautiful steep and forested valley. It is particularly good here for the stunning hybridized forms of Erato Heliconian and Tragic Heliconian (H. melpomene). They are created where the lowland subspecies with orange rays meet the highland subspecies with two pink forewing spots. The resulting forms produce a magnificent palette of colours and designs including orange, red, pink, white and yellow patches and bands. This locality is also very good for cattlehearts, such as Red-haired Cattleheart (Parides aeneas), and Green-celled Cattleheart (P. childrenae), velvet black with vivid red and iridescent green patches. There is also a colony here of elusive silky-green and orange-banded Orange-patched Purplewing (Eunica chlororhoa) and high-flying Short-tailed Morpho (Morpho theseus juturna) with their striking snow-white topsides.
South of Tena 4
The thickly forested banks of a river that we know is a good place to see the very local, orange-striped Ecuadorian endemic Ecuadorian Heliconian (Heliconius timareta). The locality is also good for firetips such as Shining Orange-stripe (Mimoniades nurscia), which is black with vibrant fuchsia bars on its forewing, and the black and orange banded Ecuadorian Orange-stripe (Mimardaris minthe) and Orange-lead Firetip (Pyrrhopyge martena). We may also see large groups of colorful actinotes, sometimes numbering many dozens of individuals, and hope to see several species of colorful periclouds (Perisama), with their dark upper wings crossed by bands of iridescent blue and green; the most likely are Alice's Pericloud (P. alicia) and Blue-dotted Pericloud (P. bomplandii), both with distinctive white hindwings below. Other visitors we may find include giant Almond-celled Owl-Butterfly (Caligo oileus), dramatic Triangle Kite-Swallowtails (Eurytides leucaspis), and several species of purple and orange banded banners.
South of Tena 5
Continuing a further 15 minutes up the valley we visited in South of Tena 3, we arrive at the furthest destination on our itinerary. Here we follow a forested path above the river of the same name, climbing slowly and at our own pace from 1550 up to 1800 m elevation. It is worth the climb to see (we hope) two beautiful and very local Müllerian mimics: White-traced Heliconian (Heliconius hecuba), and the ithomiine Black-and-yellow Ticlear (Elzunia humboldt); as is to be expected, both are remarkably similar despite being in different subfamilies: they are rich black with numerous white, silvery, grey-green, and cream patches, punctuated with bands of chestnut brown. On this path we will also start to see a number of species more typical of the mid to upper cloud forest fauna, such as the unusual tailless Chartreuse Swallowtail (Battus madyes), its underside HW dusted with greenish-yellow scales and punctuated with red and yellow patches, the giant Brown Prepona (Noreppa chromus) with a large iridescent blue patch on its hindwing; the large Cloud-forest Beauty (Pycina zamba), which reminds us of more northern species such as Red Admiral; and if we are very lucky we may see the rare Cloud-banded Swallowtail (Papilio cacicus) a large and striking swallowtail which is highly localized, or the magnificent giant blue, green and red Crowned Greatstreak (Evenus coronata).
Day 7. Sunday to day 9. Tuesday. On Sunday morning we will drive to the Sumaco area, about one hour northeast of Tena. We will spend today, Monday and Tuesday exploring this beautiful area. If we are lucky, we might see species such as Cloud-forest Mimic-White (Dismorphia crisia), Lilac-banded Owl-Butterfly (Caligo oberthuri), and Pink-celled Leafwing (Anaea "Fountainea" nessus) close by out hotel. In addition to the spectacular and productive area around our hotel, we may visit some or all of the following areas.
Sumaco Area 1
This area is legendary for the presence of a colony of the rare Red-banded Prepona (Prepona praeneste), and is the best known site in Ecuador for charaxines – we have seen up to 16 different species in a single day, including the delightful Felder's Leafwing (Anaea "Memphis" anassa), Lined Leafwing (A. "M." lineata), and Comic Leafwing (Anaea "Fountainea" sosippus). Other marvels include the astonishing Ecuadorean Blue-Satyr (Caeruleuptychia coelica), and the ghost-like Pink-tipped Phantom-Satyr (Cithaerias pyropina) with its transparent wings tinged with startling fuchsia gumdrop-shaped patches. If time permits we will visit a second site in area. Here we will walk down to a beautiful waterfall, and into the gorge itself, where the river has pounded the rock into a narrow channel. The view from the nearby bridge is exceptional, and puddling butterflies can be found everywhere, especially various eighty-eights, including the deep blue-flushed Short-lead Eighty-eight (Diaethria euclides).
Sumaco Area 1
The river banks and road verges in this area may have groups of puddling species, and many interesting lower cloud forest species. This site is renowned as one of the few places where one can regularly see the rare Surprising Swallowtail (Pterourus euterpinus). This species is black with a red forewing band, and is a mimic of various other species of butterfly including surprising-whites! Other eye-openers include the jewelled Tricolor Beautymark (Ancyluris formosissima), the giant blue Red-ringed Morpho (Morpho menelaus didius), and the dazzling blue-patched Cyan Emperor (Doxocopa cyane), Orange-striped Banner (Epiphile orea), Double-crescent Purplewing (Eunica norica), and the superb, tailed Groovy Leafwing (Polygrapha cyanea) with blue-banded upper wings contrasting strikingly with its cryptic underside.
Sumaco Area 3
Some 25 minutes beyond site 3, we come to another delightful river. The trail here is surrounded by flowers and low vegetation, and a couple of streams wash across to leave exposed areas of gravel and mud which lure in a large number of attractive species. On the last trip here we photographed the exceedingly rare Blue-spotted Banner (Epiphile lampethusa), and had plenty of time to admire the rare Orange-rimmed White (Cunizza hirlanda) with it’s yellow and black-barred hindwing encircled by saffron orange. Floating lazily along high above the river we may see Stormy Morpho, (Morpho telemachus), while various black, green and red cattleheart species such as Emerald-patched Cattleheart, often grace us with their presence. Near the stream, flitting provocatively from leaf to leaf, we may find the stunning Sky-blue Eyemark (Mesosemia loruhama).
Day 10. Wednesday. Depending upon our experiences so far, we will either spend the day in the Sumaco area or we will leave Sumaco in the early morning and drive to one of the sites in the vicinity of Tena. Night will be in Tena.
Days 11. Thursday to day 12 Friday. We will visit areas around Tena (listed above) that we have not already visited or, if one or more areas were truly spectacular, we may visit them again.
Day 13. Saturday. This morning we will begin our drive back to Quito, butterflying along the way. We will revisit some of the sites we stopped at on day 2 and perhaps some others. Night in Quito.
Day 14. Sunday. The trip ends this morning at the Quito airport.
Leader will be Andrew Neild, an experienced butterfly tour leader and author of Butterflies of Venezuela.
Cost of the trip is $TBA/person from Quito. Cost includes double-based accommodations, meals (except, because of staggered arrival times, dinner the first night), ground transportation, airport transfers, tour leader fees and entrance fees. Not included are alcoholic beverages, laundry services, and other items of a personal nature. Single supplement is $TBA. This trip is limited to 8 participants.
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