San Isidro Lodge
Nestled in the picturesque Quijos Valley, one of the westernmost headwaters of the Amazon basin, San Isidro, in the Napo region of Ecuador, only 2 hours from Quito, lies at an elevation of about 2,000m above sea level in a zone still mostly blanketed by extensive humid forest. The private reserve consists of a variety of habitat zones typical of the region, including some of the most beautiful, accessible, and well preserved montane humid forest. San Isidro has built a reputation for being the premier spot for serious birders whose interests lie in seeking out the birds - rare or common - of the lush subtropical zone of the east slope of the Andes. Mammals are becoming increasingly rare in the neotropics - especially in the Andes - but species such as Spectacled Bear, Mountain Tapir, Pudu, Night Monkey, White-fronted Capuchin, Oncilla, Puma, Jaguarundi, Tayra, and even Giant Anteater are reported with increasing frequency on San Isidro's property.
Cabañas San Isidro was founded over forty years ago by the Bustamante family when the uncharted lands of eastern Ecuador were first made available to the public by a government campaign to convert unclaimed lands into productive farms. With a deep concern for proper natural resource management as well as for the urgent need to protect the unique flora and fauna of the zone, Simón Bustamante (one of the pioneer modern-day explorers of the Ecuadorian Amazon) left the majority of his vast (now 1,300 hectares) property untouched despite the pressure from many levels to clear the forest for what was then considered land improvement. His daughter, Carmen, has run the lodge for the past 20 years and with her husband Mitch Lysinger set up Napo Andean Forest Foundation, in order to acquire and protect further areas of forest connecting to the Reserve. To date there is 1800 hectares. San Isidro Lodge (through the Napo Andean Forest Foundation) has a strong association with the most influential local and international conservation organizations - including World Parks and Fundación Jocotoco - and has set in motion an alliance that is quickly turning the San Isidro/Cosanga region into a model for serious, large-scale Andean land and biodiversity preservation.
Cabañas San Isidro and its immediate surroundings now boast a bird list of about 310 species. San Isidro Lodge is situated at about 2050 meters above sea level, but the trails lead through elevational gradients that pass through habitats from 2,400 meters all the way down to 1,850 meters. What this means to birders is an ideal base to observe Andean birds from the lower reaches of the temperate zone down into the heart of the subtropical zone. Birds such as Highland Tinamou, Greater Scythebill, Bicolored Antvireo, Peruvian and Giant Antpittas, and White-rimmed Brush-Finch are a few of the exciting rarities that make their homes at San Isidro Lodge. The White-faced Nunbird might even put in an appearance as it has been seen at San Isidro more in recent years than at any other single site on the east slope in Ecuador. While rarities are fun to hope for, they are indeed hard to come by and not to be expected! What really makes San Isidro Lodge such a joy to bird though are the hundreds of other bird species that one has a good chance of seeing while quietly strolling down the forest trails and forested roadsides. Pick a direction to start walking from the cabins, and there will be birds! Right from the doorstep people often get their first looks at White-capped Parrot, Powerful Woodpecker, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Pale-edged Flycatcher, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Inca Jay, Black-billed Peppershrike, Andean Solitaire or Saffron-crowned Tanager. One does not need to go any further than the front porch or the hummingbird garden to enjoy the dazzling array of hummingbird species. 18 of the known 30 hummer species of the area are either resident or seasonal visitors to the feeders: Sparkling Violetear, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Bronzy and Collared Incas, Buff-tailed (the rare eastern flavescens race) and Chestnut-breasted Coronets, Tyrian Metaltail, Long-tailed Sylph and Gorgeted Woodstar can be found at the feeders for much (or all) of the year, while species such as Brown and Green Violetears, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Violet-fronted Brilliant, White-tailed Hillstar, Mountain Velvetbreast, Wedge-billed Hummingbird and White-bellied Woodstar show more seasonality and tend to be present in smaller numbers. The hummingbird garden is a great place to relax after a long hike or during a rainy spell.