10 March 2010

El Cajas NP...(S Ecuador): 3 February 2010

This was one of the most spectacular days of the tour, as we wandered just outside the colonial city of Cuenca into the high Andean park of El Cajas. While there we checked a number of high altitude lakes and ponds, wandered through temperate cloud forest, scoured the distinctive polylepis woods that dot the high spots, and walked the open paramo grasslands that dominate this scenic park. We started by a scenic lake (that held an assortment of waterbirds, including Andean Gull and Andean Ducks), that was fringed with thick temperate forest that bought us Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, and a couple of splendid multicolored Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucans, with freshly fallen raindrops glistening on their backs. Rarest bird though was the endemic Violet-throated Metaltail that was seen visiting bright pink blooms on the lake edge.

Once up in the
paramo we picked up an array of high Andean furnariids, like the Stout-billed Cinclodes, and a confiding Mouse-colored Thistletail, in addition to our final antpitta for the trip, the easiest of the lot, Tawny Antpittta that literally bounded clumsily across the main highway running through the park.

We visited a range of altitudes, up to just over 13,600 feet, which allowed us to explore the highest growing trees in the world, the flaky, red-barked
polylepis trees that bought us two of the days best birds, as both Tit-like Dacnis and Giant Conebill specialize in this endangered habitat (see photos). Orange chuquiragua flowers attracted a super, violet-hooded male Ecuadorian Hillstar, before we finally descended picking up both Andean Lapwing and Paramo Pipit before we finally left this beautiful park behind, for our return journey to the humid city of Guayaquil and the start of the Pacific Coast extension...

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