The Birds of Ecuador: Field Guide
This is by far the most important resource for independent birders in Ecuador; in fact, even the most casual birder on tour should still have one of his or her own. Ornithologist Robert Ridgely and artist Paul Greenfield collaborated to produce this remarkable volume, the culmination of over twenty years of research and careful observation. The 96 color plates are faced with pages providing short passages assisting in identification, and the rest of the volume contains longer individual species accounts providing detailed information on physical description, similar species, habits, voice, and distribution. There is also a nice opening chapter entitled Beginning with Birds that will help birders who are new to the neotropics acquaint themselves with the various families of birds here.
Covering approximately 1600 birds, the Field Guide is heavy and many birders hesitate to bring it into the field, although I've never left it behind and without it would feel either completely lost or terribly frustrated in the field. Even when it's raining I'll pull it out on the trail and huddle under my umbrella to parse the distinction between two similar flycatchers, for example (my copy has also held up well to this abuse). If you're not a strapping young man, your options are to remove the color plates from the book and have them bound, or to buy the Spanish translation of the Field Guide that contains only the plates but includes the English names of the birds. These are for sale in Quito at Libri Mundi, a small but high quality bookstore chain.
The Birds of Ecuador: Status, Distribution, and Taxonomy
This is the companion volume to the book described above, and, when new, the two are purchased together in an attractive case. Personally, I rarely use this book even at home, except on occasion to look up when was the last time that someone encountered the Banded Ground-Cuckoo, for example; even then, the information is at least ten years out of date. Not being an ornithologist myself, and therefore only casually interested in taxonomical issues, for me the best part of this volume is the introductory chapters, which present valuable information on birding sites and habitats, as well as information on bird migration and endemicism in Ecuador. I don't recommend bringing it on a birding trip, but I wouldn't discourage anyone from buying it.
Birds of Ecuador: Sounds and Photographs
Published by Bird Songs International, this DVD-ROM contains 6015 recordings of 1184 species of birds in Ecuador; there are 824 photographs of 469 species as well. The principal contributors to this collection are Niels Krabbe and Jonas Nilsson, both renowned birders of South America who have spent many years in Ecuador. The DVD-ROM is only compatible with Windows operating systems, so I haven't spent much time exploring the interface, but I use the sound recordings in mp3 format on my iPod every time I go birding. Whether for playback or identification purposes, this extensive collection is the second most important resource for independent birders in Ecuador.
Another option for sound recordings is from the John V. Moore Nature Recordings collection. Broken down into different regions, such as southwest Ecuador and Ecuadorian highlands, and also including specific sites such as Cabañas San Isidro and La Selva Lodge, these set of CD's and Cassette are also excellent, if a little outdated in terms of their technological format. I found them difficult to track down in their entirety and a little cumbersome compared to Krabbe and Nilsson's Birds of Ecuador, which comes on a single DVD-ROM. The contributors to these sets include Moore, Krabbe, Nilsson, Ridgley, Paul Coopmans, Olaf Jahn, and Mitch Lysinger, who I've encountered in the field continuing to update and revise recordings.
Where to Watch Birds in South America
Nigel Wheatly's extensively researched guide covers over 200 birding sites on the continent, including 50 pages on Ecuador. For each site, he includes general information and directions, lists of special and more common birds, and hand-drawn maps or pictures of birds. Unfortunately, much of the logistical information has changed since its publication in 1996, and there are many birding sites not included, many of them recently created, such as Jocotoco's Jorupe Reserve or Angel Paz's antpitta farm. It's definitely a good starting place, though, and could be worth bringing on a trip to Ecuador if you don't trust the logistical information presented in trip reports posted on the Internet.
There are several other bird finding guide books, but all of them are at least ten years out of date and some of them are out of print or difficult to obtain. If you're interested in exploring these further the authors include Clive Green, Simon Allen, Robert Williams, and Heijnen, Best, and Williams, authors of the Guide to Bird Watching in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, which was almost certainly the best text to have in hand before the publication of the Ridgely and Greenfield's Birds of Ecuador.
Please keep in mind that in a developing country like Ecuador, birding sites evolve quickly, usually for the worse, and access often becomes trickier as more roads are constructed. The best source of accurate, or at least recently posted information, is indeed trip reports, the authors of which often provide detailed information about access and logistics. There's also a fair amount of information on this blog about individual sites, although I'm hesitant at this point to spend a lot of time posting detailed directions about how to access them.
Ecuador: Climbing and Hiking
Outdoorsmen Rob Rachowiecki and Mark Thurber have climbed and hiked all over Ecuador for decades, and this guide will serve as an excellent resource for information about possible birding expeditions. Much of the best hiking in Ecuador passes through outstanding and pristine bird habitats, including that of Volcán Sumaco, Rio Ayampe, and Antisana Reserve, and independent birders will appreciate the detailed information about access and logistics regarding these sites. The authors are also sensitive to specialties and frequently point out unique birds to look for on specific hikes. The sixth edition was published by VIVA Travel Guides in 2008, so much of the information is as up to date as you'll find anywhere. For the truly independent birder in Ecuador, this is an indispensable resource.
Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide
Birders are bound to encounter mammals in the forests of Ecuador, especially monkeys, rodents, sloths, and rabbits. There's also a chance to see anteaters, deer, tapirs, and cats. Given our nature to classify, you'll want to be able to identify these mammals as well. Published by University of Chicago Press and written and illustrated by Louise H. Emmons and Francious Feer respectively, this field guide is the key to facilitating accurate identifications of mammals. Granted it isn't necessary to have this guide in the field with you, and with good note-taking skills you shouldn't even have to bring it with you to Ecuador, but you'll definitely want to consult it before and after your trip. 206 individual species are addressed in the book as well as 90 genera of mammals, all presented in 29 excellent color plates and supporting text.