Friday, April 6, 2012

Visiting the paramo. Part I

For the second day of our birding trip in Ecuador, we planned a visit to the highest parts above Quito, changing completely the type of habitat in comparison with the previous day.  So, very early as usual, Washington picked us in downtown Quito, he drove through the city while we were watching the snow capped Cotopaxi volcano, and headed to the first spot, the Papallacta pass within the Cayambe Coca National Park.  In the way we stopped at a Polylepis patch, where we saw Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Shiny Sunbeam, Rufous-naped Brush-Finch and my life Tawny Antpitta (a singing pair).  We hurried up to our main destination because we wanted to have all the chances we could to find our main target: Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe.  
It was quite evident that it was not going to be easy... the weather at the top of the pass was harsh: freezing cold, rainy and windy... definitively too much for this used-to-the-heat-of-the-lowlands panamanian.  In spite of all that, I was excited (don't you see my smile in the photo?)... but concerned about my camera, so I only took some photos close to the car and then left it locked when we started to walk.  Each step demanded a great effort for Rafael and me, but thank God we didn't experience the "soroche", the feared altitude sickness... and we saw some birds: both Chestnut-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Many-striped Canasteros and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch (both photos are from later in the day... that's why look so sunny). 
We had breakfast after our first walk just to try again in the mist for the seedsnipe.  This time, we took the trail behind and up the antennas and there they were: a pair of heavy-bodied, absolutely-gorgeous-patterned Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes less than 10 meters from us!  It was a quite euphoric experience, to found our main target bird and having such good views (but no photos... need to go back... but I have photos of happy birders instead!).  
After our lucky start, we headed to another high elevation site, the Antisana Ecological Reserve.  The view of the Antisana volcano from the road that crosses the paramo (around 4200 meters above sea level) is incredible... the glacier atop the 5768 meters-high volcano reflected the sunlight like a mirror!
And about the birds, WOW!, this place was FULL of live... the paramo looked like a pasture land, not only for cattle, but also MANY birds!
Hordes of Carunculated Caracaras patrolled the paramo.  At least some individuals were always present wherever you see in the immensity of the place.  These are really beautiful birds... and we saw mostly adult birds, but also some immatures and juveniles.
A big flock of Andean Gulls were also feeding at the site.  It is weird to see a gull so far away of the ocean, but this species is perfectly adapted to its high elevation habitat... and is very successful.  However, once they lived close to the coast... but then the Andes raised and they simply "stayed".
We also saw Paramo Ground-Tyrant, Andean Lapwing, Andean Teal, migratory Greater Yellowlegs and many more... but the rarer of them all were the Black-faced Ibis that we enjoyed from quite close.
What a magic place... I can't tell you everything about the birds we found there, so stay tuned for part II of this post!

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