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Cruise the Galapagos Islands
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Bird enthusiasts [nicknamed "twitchers"] consider Ecuador, from its wild paramo and mountain forests to coastal plains and dense Amazonian jungles, to be the hottest spot for birding in South America. Some 1,600 bird species have been recorded in Ecuador, about 18 percent of the world's total and twice the number found in Canada and the United States combined. And new bird species are still being discovered.

Such is the country's wealth of bird life, you don't have to be a dedicated birder to catch the twitching bug. The sight of trees full of vivid macaws and parrots in the Oriente, a cock-of-the-rock near the Cascada de San Rafael, or the comical boobies and swooping frigate birds of the Galapagos are enough to turn most people into bird enthusiasts overnight.

Birders arriving in Ecuador usually start with some of the lesser-used westerly roads down the slopes of the Andes from Quito to the coast. Close to Santo Domingo de los Colorados [on the road to Pedernales on the coast], the 40-year-old Tinalandia hotel has long been a favourite with birders, while the old Nono road towards Mindo [northwest of the capital] becomes the Yes-Yes road when birders encounter a flock of a dozen or more species. The small town of Mindo is a Mecca for cognoscenti birdwatchers, and a number of comfortable lodges have sprung up to cater for them In the dense surrounding cloud forest some 400 species have been observed, including such trophies as the fabulous scarlet-crested, black-bottomed Andean cock-of-the-rock, along with golden headed and crested quetzals, the plate-billed mountain toucan, grass-green tanagers and velvet-purple coronets. In the rich subtropical forest there are also howler monkeys, many brilliant butterflies and hundreds of species of orchids.

Another excellent area to spot the cock-of-the-rock is in the vicinity of the Cascada de San Rafael also known as the Coca Falls - on the road from Quito east to Lago Agrio, close to the town of Baeza. Reports speak of dozens of these birds coming together and making a raucous racket to attract females. The male with the loudest call and brightest colours generally wins the lady.

From Baeza, all roads lead to the Oriente, Ecuador's Amazon region. Here, the jungle lodges outdo each other with bird-species counts - some are as high as 550. Walks in jungle are often rewarded with flocks of nose-heavy toucans, and early morning boat trips to saladeros [where parrots and macaws come to feed on clay to aid their digestion], provide wonderful opportunities to spot tens of species.

After the Oriente, many birders head to the coast. Probably the most popular haunt is Parque Nacional Machalilla, because it encompasses several micro-climates. The park includes the "poor person's Galapagos" - Isla de Plata - home to all three types of boobie, as well as frigate birds and waved albatrosses. Inland, the cloud forest up from the village of Agua Blanca also boasts good birding. Heading south of Machalilla, there are many rich salt ponds around Manglaralto and Salinas, the preserve of large numbers of seabirds.

Of the other highland areas, the most frequented are the Paramo El Angel, close to Tulcan; the Pasochoa Reserve, about 40 minutes' drive southeast of Quito, and the El Cajas and Podocarpus national parks in the southern Sierra, home to many stunning hummingbirds.

|more about birdwatching||
|Article contributed by Dominic Hamilton|||
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