Saturday 28th November. Seven am pick up at the hotel and off to the mountains to the East of Quito to look for Condors and birds of the paramo. Paramo is the treeless, uninhabited, uncultivated rolling steppes just below the snow-limit. We would explore this habitat in the foothills of Mount Antisana, at 5704 m. the fourth highest peak in Ecuador. It is a glacier covered dormant volcano, unlike the second highest peak Cotopaxi (5897 m.) which became active this year.
We had tremendous views of Cotopaxi on the way. It is one of the highest volcanoes in the World which erupted in August this year and continues to rumble, a very threatening situation.
I had insisted on this excursion today which was not included in my original itinerary. What would be the point in coming to the Andes and not even trying to see a Condor. Also my appetite had been whetted by the photo below taken by my friend and tour companion Mike Martin, a couple of days before I arrived. It's a superb shot which captures the essence of the high peaks of the Andes.
I did manage to get quite a few similar shots today, the Condors were very active in the morning before the visibility closed in and it rained in the afternoon.
The next shot shows an adult Condor at much closer range flying past over the paramo. We had many excellent sightings of these iconic raptors, no close-up views but when the bird is so large that is less important. The images work well because of the setting against the glacier covered volcano.
Strangely the next shot is of a Sword Billed Hummingbird doing what hummingbirds do best, taking nectar from a flower. This was in taken the grounds of a small and very isolated restaurant, the only building for miles around that was set up opposite a Condor roost on the rock face a mile or so away across the paramo.
We continued to move higher and deeper into the paramo, getting quite frequent views of Condors but there were other birds to be recorded. This Paramo Pipit for example may not be as exciting as a Condor, but they all count.
I think I mentioned earlier that in Ecuador wherever you go you will see Hummingbirds. And so it was up here at altitude but they were mainly different from the lower species. I was very pleased to record this endemic Ecuadorian Hillstar for example. Not a bird that visits feeders so much harder to get.
There were numerous birds in the paramo scrub. This one is a Many Striped Canastero.
One of the most numerous and perhaps the easiest bird to spot was the Carunculated Caracara, a scavenging raptor that will eat carrion and small animals.
Fortunately in open country such as this any large birds are easy to spot. Black Faced Ibis were a frequent sighting, these being a subspecies (branickii) that is only found at altitudes of 3000 - 5000 m.
The next one is a Stout Billed Cinclodes. Not much to say about this one, well ok, it does have a stout bill.
Andean Gulls were numerous, it's a long way from the sea up here but they seem to like it.
The next four are purely record shots. The Alpacas are presumably domestic animals but I saw no fences or tethers. However there is nowhere to hide up here so it wouldn't be hard to find them.
It took some time and effort to get a decent shot of the little Grass Wren, but I thought it worth it. I like Wrens and this is a very nice one.
Next is a pair of juvenile Condors, they lack the white wing coverts of an adult bird.
Do you see the black cloud in the shot above. Well soon afterwards it was raining hard so we made our way back to the delightful restaurant opposite the Condor roost to have some lunch. They have a few feeders set up around the terrace and I was very pleased to get shots of three new species. Considering that I took these through plate glass windows and in the rain I think they came out very well. The first is a Giant Hummingbird which is almost twice the size of the next largest Hummer, it is about the same size as a European Starling.
And next is a beautiful Sparkling Violetear. A superb Hummer, my photo does not really do it justice.
Third is a Shining Sunbeam, a lovely name for a lovely bird but again photographed through glass and in the rain.
I also picked up a shot of a Black Flowerpiercer in the flowers close to where the Sword Billed Hummer was seen earlier that day.
I know this is a birding blog, but on the way back to Quito we came across a village fiesta with a temporary bullring where the local lads were testing their matadoring skills. We stayed and watched the fun. I am pleased to say the bulls were not hurt, once they were tired out they were expertly lassoed and led back into the pen.
It all looked great fun as the guys showed off their courage and skills.
One chap did get tossed and then received a bit of a mauling, thankfully he got up and walked away.
On a final birding note we did see another very interesting hummingbird, a Black Tailed Trainbearer, however I was not able to get a closer shot than this, it never sat down for long enough. Ok, I'll have to go back.
I was well pleased with the Condor sightings and my bird list was growing rapidly, quite a few picked up today even though the rain cut our time short. Back in Quito I said goodbye and thanks to Gabriel, a super bird guide and thoroughly nice guy. I wish him every success in the future.