23 December 2010

El Cajas Part I Highland Hummers....ECUADOR (19 Dec '10)

El Cajas NP in the southern Ecuadorian province of Azuay is a real gem of a birding spot. Set within the high Andes I find this one of my favorite venues in the south. The reason is simple, there is something very special about birding the high Andes. The air is crisp, clean and often clear, offering spectacular views of some truly staggering surroundings. On top of that there is a very distinctive set of birds, that are often surprisingly approachable, even tame at times. And unlike some of their lowland counterparts they can often be seen hopping around in the open... We begun our day though a little lower down around a tranquil, forest-fringed lake. Things were quite there, except for Sedge Wren rustling in the reeds, and Andean Teal and Andean Coots on the lake, and a Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet in a passing flock. We then headed to some scrubby hillsides higher up as we rose toward some of the higher sections of the park. We were here for a rare and local hummingbird - the endemic Violet-throated Metaltail. Hummingbirds, and metaltails, can be highly territorial. So I tried the I-pod and almost immediately an angry male Violet-throated Metaltail alighted on top of a near shrub! (top photo). They were not the only highland hummers in evidence that day as a number of feisty Blue-mantled Thornbills tussled with each other that day (middle photo note the fancy shimmering beard!)

On the paramo itself several Tawny Antpittas bounded past allowing close approach as did two species of ovenbirds - Stout-billed and Chestnut-winged Cinclodes. The latter sporting a new name, as a recent split from the now defunct Bar-winged Cinclodes that has been split into three species. The highland shrubs also played host to Many-striped Canasteros singing from their tops, and Andean Tit-Spinetails foraging within them.

Next stop though up on the high paramo within El Cajas NP, was for one of the special Andean habitats: polylepis woodland, that held some very special targets for us...

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