15 September 2009

"Seedy" Goings on in Papallacta...(E Ecuador): September 13 & 14, 2009

Continuing on the same "British" tour of northern Ecuador we set out from the capital Quito, crossed the continental divide, and birded the wet paramo grasslands (like high altitude moorland) around Papallacta Pass (4000m). For one special bird we ventured even higher to the lofty heights of 4200m in search of an unusual, ptarmigan-like bird. Despite appearances the bird, a Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, is not a gamebird at all but sits within a strange family of grouse-like shorebirds, the seedsnipes (Thinocoridae). This largely Andean family (comprising 4 species) is an endemic family to South America, and so was of course a high target for our high Andean day. The problem with finding this bird lies not with the bird itself but with the frequently inclement weather associated with such high altitudes. However, on this day we were greeted with deep azure blue skies, and with it spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes: Antisana (see photo), 5758m, and Cotopaxi, a large and active volcano (5897m). Despite our initial failings we eventually found a Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe feeding inconspicuously on the bright green cushion plants that add to the splendour of birding this high Andean site. Over our several days in the area we also logged several exquisite Ecuadorian Hillstars (a crazy hummer that manages to live at these extreme altitudes), Ecuador's national bird, the majestic Andean Condor, along with Black-backed Bush Tanagers and a bruising Masked Mountain-Tanager to name a few.

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