11 February 2013

7 February 2013

Today I woke at 5:00am, and with the rest of the group met Tropical Birding guide Andrew Spencer in the hotel restaurant at 5:30am. After brief introductions, we reviewed our trip and day plans, ate breakfast, and checked out of the hotel. Waiting outside was our transportation – a 16 passenger mini-bus with plenty of room for the five of us and our gear. Compared to the rental car we had yesterday (the most basic two-door Chevrolet Vitara I’ve seen), when we were like sardines packed into a tin can, this was luxury. We departed the hotel at 6:45am.

Our destination today was Antisana National Park. It took about an hour to drive to the first birding location, a section of road that leads to the preserve but adjacent to a rock quarry. Here we had Tufted Tit-Tyrant (lifer), Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet (lifer), Cinereous Conebill, Black-crested Warbler, and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant. A little further along the road we had Azara`s Spinetail, Giant Hummingbird, Tyrian Metaltail, and a pair of cooperative Blackish Tapaculo’s (lifer) that responded to call playback.
Ascending further up the road, toward the main access gate, we had good looks at Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and Carunculated Caracara, the latter being a target bird I really wanted to see. As we approached the gate, Andrew indicated that permitting and access to the reserve had recently changed, and that getting into the reserve now required a local person and vehicle. With that, Tropical Birding had arranged with the Guaytara Hacienda to gain access to the reserve with us, in exchange for having the tour stop and have lunch at the hacienda – a fine deal indeed.

After winding down a narrow, twisting road and arriving at the hacienda we learned that there was no need to switch vehicles; the local operator simply joined us in our bus. After spotting a few birds around the buildings, such as Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Shining Sunbeam and Ecuadorian Hillstar, we were back on our way to the reserve. Once in the reserve, the trees and shrubs gradually transitioned to paramo (grassland) habitat. Initial highlights included Black-winged Ground-Dove (lifer), Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Streak-headed Canestero (lifer), Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant, and Paramo Pipit (lifer). Further along we got another key bird, Andean Condor; although quite distant, field marks were very distinct, and later in the day at Guaytara we saw another individual a bit closer and in better light.

As we neared the latter third of the Antisana road we descended into a flat depression that was particularly attractive to the local birds. Here we saw more than 100 Carunculated Caracaras, 46 Black-faced Ibis (lifer; also the highest count Andrew had ever observed here), and more than 200 Andean Gull’s. Almost at the end of the road, where we had to pass yet another guard station to get to Mica Lake, the local guide had to apparently convince the gate-keepers that passengers onboard the bus (i.e., us) were incapable of walking to the lake.  Howard was quick to feign his incapacity (and did a fine job), while the rest of us tended to act like sorry sods from a low-budget sitcom. The guard didn’t bother to check our ‘condition’, which honestly would have been pathetic. We passed on through the gate.

At Mica Lake the wind blew hard and cold, and within minutes I had a ear pains. That however didn’t stop us from getting several good birds, including Andean Lapwing (lifer), Andean Teal (lifer), Silvery Grebe (lifer) and Northern Shoveler (a very rare bird in Ecuador, and even more so away from the coast in a remote area such as Antisana). Andrew hastily traversed across the paramo to get a few documentation photos, which later would be posted to SurfBirds. After tallying a few more waterbird species we headed back to Guaytara where we enjoyed a delicious lunch.
As we departed Guaytara we added a few more birds to the day's tally, including another five Carunculated Caracara’s, an Andean Tit-Spinetail, Variable Hawk, and several Tourmaline Sunangel's feeding on the bright orange blossoms of the Chuquiragua shrub. Back on the main road out of the reserve we were now on our way to Guango Lodge on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. I think each of us tried to sleep on the bus at some point, but given the state of the roads and driving habits in Ecuador, sleeping was more likely to result in a serious neck injury; as Andrew dozed off his head bobbed about like a Weeble.

We arrived at Guango Lodge about 1.5 hours before sunset and immediately started birding. The obvious attraction upon arrival were the hummingbird feeders, where we quickly tallied Tourmaline Sunangel, Long-tailed Sylph, Tyrian Metaltail, White-bellied Woodstar, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant and Collared Inca. Once the initial excitement of the feeders wore off, we then headed down one of the main trails with the intent of finding Torrent Duck from one of several view points along the river. Along the way we spotted Pearled Treerunner, Blue-and-Black Tanager, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher (lifer), Mountain Wren (lifer), Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant (lifer), and White-capped Dipper. We could not find Torrent Duck.

On the return back to the lodge we added Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan and Andean Guan to the day’s list. Back at the lodge we unpacked,  quickly cleaned up, and had dinner at 7:15pm. I think by 9:00pm we were all asleep.

Total species today: 70
Total cumulative species for the trip: 151
Total lifers today: 16
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 31

P.S. Melissa – your Dad sends his love.