03 January 2010

Birding the High Andes...(Antisana, E Ecuador): December 21, 2009

For the first day of our custom tour in the east of Ecuador we visited the paramo grasslands of Antisana, birding in the shadow of the huge snow-cone of the volcano of the same name lurking impressively in the background. Bruce and Terri had both been here before with me two years before, and were just dying to return there to sample those fascinating high Andean birds and spectacular scenery all over again. During our morning there we scattered a number of cinclodes off the road, including Stout-billed Cinclodes that is pictured here (fourth photo down). Before we reached the high grass covered plateau, we stopped by some high Andean scrub where blossoms attracted a number of dazzling hummingbirds, including the awesome Sword-billed Hummingbird, the incredible Black-tailed Trainbearer, and the largest of all the hummingbirds, the well-named Giant Hummingbird.

Up on the high plateau, black shapes patrolled the "plains", as well over a hundred
Carunculated Caracaras were seen searching for prey on the ground, and flapping lazily around in the skies above. This included both adults (top photo), and juveniles (second photo down). Also around in numbers were Black-faced Ibis, and I recorded the highest numbers I had ever experienced there during my four years living in Ecuador, with at least 40 different birds (see flight shot). Also up there spots of white scattered the grasslands: flocks of Andean Gulls rooting around on the plateau too. Flowering orange, thistle-like, shrubs attracted one of Ecuador's most exquiste hummingbird species, the violet-headed Ecuadorian Hillstar. A high Andean lake was spotted with waterfowl, including Andean Ducks, and Silvery Grebes. However, the big draw at Antisana is Ecuador's national bird, one of the planets giants, the Andean Condor, two of which performed aerial acrobatics overhead. Lastly, as we were leaving for our journey to San Isidro, an Andean lodge further down on the eastern side of the Andes, we were distracted by a pair of fantastic Aplomado Falcons (see last two photos). At the end of the day we checked into the scenic mountain lodge of Cabanas San Isidro, where their famous "Mystery Owl" (see earlier post on this for info and photos in September), an as yet undetermined species of cicaba owl, stood sentry by our cabins after dinner.

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