Beginning in Portovelo, near the Buenaventura Reserve in El Oro Province, this road may be taken to continue traveling south toward Loja Province, while heading either to Loja, or to the city of Macará via Catamayo.
This road covers a change in elevation from 400 m to 2350 m and passes through various habitats. There are no protected forests on the way but several forest remnants can be found along the road.
Tropical Deciduous Forest, Andean Mountain Scrub.
No special arrangements are needed to drive the road. The best places to stay in order to access this road are the Umbrellabird Lodge in the Buenaventura Reserve near Piñas, or Urraca Lodge in Jorupe Reserve near Macará. There is regular bus transportation from Portovelo to Catacocha and Macará, but birding the road on public transportation will be very difficult. Driving your own vehicle is a better idea. The road can be driven in any kind of vehicle but traveling in a high clearance car is a better option. Because the area is very close to the Peruvian border, there are a couple of military check points that could request identification at anytime. It is important to have your passport or identification card with you in this area.
The site can be visited continuing after your visit to Buenaventura Reserve. To read instructions on how to get to Portovelo and start driving this road, see the birding instructions in the respective subchapter on how to get here.
Begin at the roundabout where the road heading north goes to Piñas, the road east goes to Zaruma, and the road south goes to Portovelo. Set the odometer at this point to 0.0 km. Take the road toward Portovelo and drive on for 4.4 km. Here you will arrive at the small city of Portovelo.
Once in town you will have to navigate your way through the city, cross over the Amarillo River, and head southwest as you leave the town. Drive on for 9.3 km, or 13.7 km from the Zaruma-Portovelo junction. At this point you will cross a bridge over the Puyango River. This will be the end of the asphalt and the start of the gravel surface. Drive for 7.2 km, or 20.9 km from the Zaruma-Portovelo junction.
At this point there will be a split in the road. Avoid the right hand road as it goes to some farms. Continue along the main road to the left and drive for 3.4 km, or 24.3 km from the Zaruma-Portovelo junction. Here you will find a forested gulley with some of the commonest birds from the deciduous habitats. At times Watkins´s Antpitta may be heard or seen from the road.
Drive ahead for 3.4 km, or 27.7 km from the Zaruma-Portovelo junction. At this point you will be driving by a patch of forest that just might be worth exploring. Continue driving for 25.2 km, or 52.9 km from the Zaruma-Portovelo junction. At this point you will arrive at some wooded patches at an elevation of 1950 meters. The wooded stretches for other 0.7 km along the road, until 53.6 km from the Zaruma-Portovelo junction where you will find a bus stop. Despite its small size, the forest along here homes to several range restricted species. Look here for: Plain-breasted Hawk, White-throated Hawk (austral migration), Line-cheeked Spinetail, Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner, Chapman´s Antshrike, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Loja Tyrannulet, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Three-banded Warbler, Rufous-chested Tanager, Black-cowled Saltator and Blue Seedeater.
Drive on for 6.4 km, or 60.0 km from the Zaruma-Portovelo junction. At this point you will arrive to the asphalt surfaced E35 highway. Reset your odometer to 0.0 km for future reference at this split in the road.
The left hand fork takes you to Loja Airport. Catamayo Valley. The town of Catamayo is 24 km away from this point.
The right hand fork goes to Velacruz-Catacocha, and Macará-Velacruz road juntion, only 15 km ahead. In Velacruz you will find a road split. The road on your right goes to Balsas-Zaracay located some 108 km from this point.
Take the fork on the left heading toward Catacocha-El Empalme-Macará. Reset you odometer for 0.0 km for future reference. Drive for 15.5 km until arriving to split in the road. The road to the left goes to Catacocha, and the road to the right is the Catacocha bypass. Go to the right along the bypass for 1.5 km, or 17.0 km from Velacruz.
Here you will arrive at another fork. . The left hand road goes to Catacocha and the right hand one goes to El Empalme and Macará. Take the right and fork and drive for 4.5 km, or 21.5 km from Velacruz.
At this point you will see a road on the right exiting the highway. Park here and walk around the area. The scrubby habitat across the highway is a place where Watkins´s Antpitta can be seen. The cliffs in the mountain toward Catacocha used to have a nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons. This might represent a resident population, the subspecies identity which is yet to be determined.
Several other common birds occur here. Walk a short distance along this side road especially looking for Plumbeous-backed Thrush.
Continue along the main E-35 highway ahead for 36.9 km, or 58.4 km from Velacruz. At this point you will see some dry mountain scrub with a few Ceiba trees on the hill to the right. Find a place to park and explore the slope. You can follow some of the trails heading up the mountain. Here in this dry habitat we have recorded: Ochre-bellied Dove (only during the rainy season), Gray-capped Cuckoo, Tumbes Hummingbird, Black-and-white Tanager (only during the rainy season), Collared Warbling-Finch and Saffron Siskin.
Drive on another 7.6 km, or 66.0 km from Velacruz. At this point you will arrive at a split in the road and a military checkpoint, where you might be asked for passports and identification. Reset your odometer to 0.0 km here for future reference.
The right hand road goes to Celica which is some 21.0 km ahead. The left road goes to Macará. Follow the road to the right toward Celica for 1.8 km, and explore the dry scrub here in search of: Tumbes Hummingbird, Elegant Crescentchest, White-tailed Jay, White-headed Brush-Finch and Saffron Siskin.
Return to El Empalme and drive toward Macará for 4.7 km. At this point and along the road you will get to an area with very little vegetation. Some of the steep gullies on the left will have scattered shrubs where (if flowering) it is possible to find Tumbes Hummingbird.
Another 0.4 km ahead, or 5.1 km from El Empalme, you will see a wider gully on the left. This ravine is worth exploring, as the Tumbes Hummingbird also occurs here, along with: West Peruvian Dove and Baird´s Flycatcher.
Driving on for another 41.9 km, or 47.0 km from El Empalme, you will arrive at a split in the road just outside the city of Macará. The right hand road straight ahead goes into the city of Macará, and the left hand road goes to Jorupe Reserve along the Macará-Sozoranga-Utuana-Cariamanga-Loja highway. This fork located on the north side of Macará will be a point for future references.
Birds to look for
Andean Mountain Scrub (AMS), Dry Mountain Scrub (DMS), Second-growth (2G).
Common: Loja Tyrannulet (AMS,2G), Rufous-browed Peppershrike (AMS,DMS,2G).
Uncommon: Plain-breasted Hawk (AMS,2G), West Peruvian Dove (DMS), Tumbes Hummingbird (DMS), Line-cheeked Spinetail (AMS,2G), Watkins´s Antpitta (AMS,2G), Elegant Crescentchest(DMS), Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner (AMS,2G), Chapman´s Antshrike (AMS,2G), Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (AMS,2G), Elegant Crescentchest (DMS), Baird´s Flycatcher (DMS), Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (AMS,2G), Plumbeous-backed Thrush (DMS,2G), White-tailed Jay (DMS), Three-banded Warbler (AMS,2G), Rufous-chested Tanager (AMS,2G), Black-cowled Saltator (AMS,2G), Blue Seedeater (AMS,2G), White-headed Brush-Finch (DMS), Collared Warbling-Finch (DMS),
Rare: White-throated Hawk (AMS,2G), Peregrine Falcon (AMS,2G), Ochre-bellied Dove (DMS), Gray-capped Cuckoo (DMS),Black-and-white Tanager (DMS), Saffron Siskin (DMS).