16 December 2012

Jerusalem...ECUADOR (8 Dec)

Not the one in Israel, but the considerably less famous reserve with the same name in Ecuador's Andes. This is an underbirded, and perhaps under appreciated, site within the dry Inter-Andean Valley, north of Ecuador's capital Quito. Ecuador's geography is interesting, and significant, when considering its birdlife: a double chain of the Andes runs north-south through the country, forming the spine of Ecuador. These parallel chains are bisected by a valley, the so-called Inter-Andean Valley between them. The climates of the outward facing slopes of the Andes (west and east slope) are markedly wet, and naturally covered in dense rainforest eventually giving way to the mighty Amazon as you reach the eastern lowlands, (or the Choco lowlands in the lowlands of the northwest). The valley that bisects these wet slopes, however, is semi-arid in nature, and dominated by scrubby, cactus-infested, habitat of a very different nature to the west and east-facing slopes of the Andes, which therefore forms a significant barrier to bird movements between these slopes, and subsequently a number of bird species are confined to either these west or east-facing, forested slopes.

So our day to kick off our tour was to focus on the dry, cactus-inhabited valley hemmed in between the great Andean chains on either side. It did not take long before we started seeing some of the key species in the area, when a gas station provided an unlikely birding venue for picking up some of our targets, such as smart-dressed Blue-and-yellow Tanagers, considerably less smart Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches and Grassland Yellow Finches, and an immaculate adult male Purple-collared Woodstar preening in the first rays of sunlight. Then we went into Jerusalem itself, a popular park with "Quitenos" (i.e. people from Quito), looking to have a barbecue in the warm, dry climate of the area. Being a Saturday we hit it badly in terms of non-birding tourist numbers, although the birding here is so easy it did not affect our ability to find the area's most wanted birds, including Scrub Tanager (a local bird in Ecuador, only also occurring into Colombia), which gave itself up easily right at the park entrance. Equally popular among the group from South Africa's Wits Bird Club (which I was guiding), were the neon red male Vermilion Flycatchers that adorned the park at regular intervals, along with our first cracking woodpecker of the tour, and what an opener in that regard, with the striking Crimson-mantled Woodpecker proving a very popular bird indeed.

We closed the afternoon at one of Ecuador's volcanic lakes, Laguna San Pablo, sitting at the base of the intimidating, though dormant, Volcan Imbabura. The lake was dotted with ducks, such as Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, and (Andean) Ruddy Duck. The most prominent resident though were the many Andean Coots sprinkled along the edges. However, we were here to try and find a songbird and a waterbird that lurks in the reeds. We got bief views of the first-Subtropical Doradito-in challenging, windy, conditions for seeing passerines, and were rewarded for being hassled by a local pack of dogs when they successfully flushed the second: Ecuadorian Rail, which gave us a long flyby as a result. It is not often I welcome the presence of dogs, although I could have kissed that one right there and then! However, the real five-star sighting of the afternoon was a young COMMON TERN doing loops around the lake, which may represent the first highland record of this species in Ecuador.

Our next trip out was to be up into the high Andean paramos (moorlands above the treeline) in Antisana and Papallacta...

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