28 November 2012

High Andean Surprise...ECUADOR (15 Nov)


The Cape Bird Club tour continued, though changed tack; we had been entirely on the west slope of the Andes until this point, although (after our return to Quito for the previous night), we made our way over the Andes onto the east slope, and made our way up higher into the paramo (like moorland grassland) above the treeline (3900m). This would offer us a whole swathe of new and exciting species, not least Ecuador's majestic national bird, the Andean Condor. However, before we glanced skywards for the huge shapes of condors on the winf we birded some high Andean scrub, below the paramo itself, hoping to find the World's largest hummer, Giant Hummingbird. Unfortunately, few flowers appeared to be in bloom, and subsequently the hummer went unseen, although my "condor-eyed" co-guide, Ecuadorian Jose Illanes, made a shock discovery when he found a Great Horned Owl sitting out in the open at its day roost. Nice compensation indeed, and the first time either Jose or myself had seen this species at Antisana. 

Then, shortly after, some white-washed cliffs led us to several perched Andean Condors, which had presumably recently bred in the area, as a flock of five took to the skies, including three juveniles lacking the "Elizabethan" neck ruff of the adults gliding, effortlessly, closeby; what a start to our two days in the high Andes. On the way up to the paramo we picked up Ecuadorian Hillstar, though sadly only a dowdy female, and not the purple-headed male people (and Heather in particular!), so desired, and also enjoyed some wonderful views of Sedge (Grass) Wren that came in so well, that we could literally glance into its throat as it blasted its song back at us from point blank range! Up on the plateau we reached true paramo grasslands being attended to by a large flock of Carunculated Caracaras and Andean Gulls, the latter always looking out of place up in the mountain, rather than the coasts where most other gulls intuitively exist. Sadly, we could not find one of the other flagship birds of Antisana, Black-faced Ibis, a small population of which exists in the area, but we did find plenty of waterfowl on the Laguna Mica, where Silvery Grebes, Andean Coots, Andean Teal, Andean (Ruddy) Ducks, and Yellow-billed Pintails all competed for our attentions. After a picnic lunch, where Plumbeous Sierra-Finches gathered around us in the hope of some snacks, we turned around and headed to our final stop in the high Andes, Papallacta, where a fancy mountain resort awaited us, complete with personal pools outside our rooms, fed by natural Andean hot springs, allowing us all to enjoy a post-dusk soak to mend our weary bones after a fantastic day in the High Andes.

Reports from our second day, this time in the wetter paramo of Papallacta, to come...

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