28 November 2012

Antennas & Seedsnipes...ECUADOR (16 Nov)

...No not the name of a new rock band, but appropriate for my second day in the high Andes with the Cape Bird Club. Our first day was within paramo, like this day was (at least partly), though this time our focus was around Papallacta, where the paramo is notably wetter, offering up a slightly different set of birds from those experienced the day before at Antisana. However, before we hit the paramo again, we visited an area of elfin forest, not far from our hotel. Amazingly, after such enjoyable dip by the group into the naturally fed hot springs outside our room, most opted for birding over this again. The temptress though in this was the chance to find the rare Masked Mountain-Tanager. We opened shortly after dawn with a pair of Culpeo or Andean Fox crossing an open pasture at the edge of the cloudforest. All too soon they realized they were being watched and vanished into the forest. When we reached the elfin forest, and the zone at which we hoped to find the tanager, we glanced back down the road and were hit with spectacular views of the Antisana Volcano, which had been all but hidden from us the day before by a thick blanket of cloud. This time though it looked regal and was unhindered, save for a wash of pink provided by the magical first light of an Andean dawn. Once the dawn gave way to normal daylight, the search was on for the Masked Mountain-Tanager which Jose Illanes, my experienced Ecuadorian co-guide for the trip duly spotted and ensured we all soaked up at length. 

Next stop was the antennas above Papallacta Pass, the only reliable spot in Ecuador for a special Andean shorebird, the "ptarmiganesque" Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. Weather was still on our side, even up at the lofty elevation of nearly 4400m, and we were greeted with a wonderful panoramic of the surrounding Andean hills, lakes and paramo, as a backdrop to our search. 

Brief views of four fleeting  and flying, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes failed to satisfy before, again, Jose hit the headlines, as he almost stepped on another pair of seedsnipes. After a breathless hike to Jose's high position we were soon to all enjoy long, long looks at these remarkably tame Andean birds. 

We finished off a memorable day in the Andes with views of no less that three separate Giant Conebills working their way through the maze of polylepis trees which grow at the substantial heights around Papallacta Pass. 

We finished up back in Quito, and readied ourselves for a vastly different experience which loomed next: The Amazon Jungle...

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