06 October 2016

The Fourth Musketeer…ECUADOR (23 Sept)


My first Ecuador tour in some time, started out with a dawn-time meet in Quito, before we were quickly heading further east up to Antisana National Park. This newly minted national park is a great spot to access high Andean birds close to Quito. It is also the Ecuadorian stronghold for the Andean Condor, one of the largest flying birds, with a huge wingspan, and also Ecuadors national bird. And so it was only fit that this was an early feature of our time there – an adult rested on a cliff opposite the official condor viewing area, and several others were seen on the wing, exposing their white upper shield on the wing as they banked in the air, with never a wing flap seen, or needed, by these masters of the air to remain airborne. As we drove higher into the park, the scrub and trees that featured near the start, soon gave way to an Andean type of moorland known as paramo; we were now above the treeline. At such a heady altitude (around 4000m), the bird list diminishes somewhat, compared with the considerably richer forests downslope. However, a trip into Ecuadors high Andes is about specialties of that environment, and not about building a big bird list. Stopping at an old, long abandoned, farm building, the usual birds were in attendance; a female Ecuadorian Hillstar zipped in and out of the ailing thatched roof, attending to its tiny nest, and Stout-billed and Chestnut-winged Cinclodes – both ground-dwelling Ovenbirds – regularly probed the earth below. 
















A Many-striped Canastero, another bird from the Ovenbird family occurring at high altitudes in the Andes, also performed in the same area, as did several Andean Lapwings. We continued upwards though soon after, and quickly emerged onto the open plateau, where the endangered Black-faced (Andean) Ibis, can often be found. They were strangely inconspicuous on this day, however, with only two birds seen in flight, despite long looks at the grassy plain. This did pay off with stellar looks at several Carunculated Caracaras that foraged terrestrially. 
















The same area also held a paltry 3 Andean Gulls, and offered up great looks at a Plain-capped (Paramo) Ground-Tyrant that preened in full view from the red-tiled roof of another abandoned building. Another roof provided a perch for an Aplomado Falcon that surveyed the surrounding paramo with intent. The same plains also tipped us off to some newly arrived boreal migrants, when a small flock of 15 Bairds Sandpipers was revealed when they took flight. A toilet stop provided relief but also absurdly close views of a friendly local Tawny Antpitta, and also led us to see a pair of Andean Tit-Spinetails (yet another high Andean Ovenbird), nesting in the roof of the parks information center. 
















Our final session before lunch at a local hacienda was to scour Mica Lake, where small groups of Silvery Grebes bobbed among the shallow waves at the lake edge, while Andean Ruddy Ducks, Yellow-billed Pintail, and Andean Teal also featured there. A Blue-mantled Thornbill was also seen foraging on some inconspicuous roadside flowers.

In the afternoon, we left the park and following an unsuccessful search for Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, at a windswept, and cloud covered Papallacta, rolled into Guango Lodge, a known hummingbird hotspot. Before the days end we were admiring the flurries of these birds swarming the feeders. White-bellied Woodstars were plentiful, as were Tourmaline Sunangels, which were joined by Long-tailed Sylphs, Collared Incas, Buff-winged Starfrontlets, and the always aggressive Chestnut-breasted Coronet, that try as they might, could not keep the other species from their chosen feeder. Best of all, among the hummingbird horde, for me, were several Sword-billed Hummingbirds, a cartoon bird that I dreamed of seeing as a kid, following David Attenboroughs landmark programme on hummingbirds called Birds of the Sun God. We had no sun at the time, but we had long, long, looks, at that incredible, and barely believable bill, the longest of any bird (relative to body size), in the World.

My eBird List for Antisana


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