Ecuador – Part 3. Altitude sickness sweets at over 4 times the height of England’s highest mountain.
After the brief overnight stay in Quito we left before dawn and made our way to an area on the outskirts of the capital. This yielded giant hummingbird, scrub tanager and sparkling violetear (another hummingbird).
|Giant hummingbird - female|
|Sparkling violetear. It doesn't really have a rusty throat; it's just pollen!|
We moved on to another suburb nearby, seeing hooded siskin, vermilion flycatcher, eared dove and southern beardless tyranulet among several others.
Much of the rest of the day was spent travelling, with the odd stop. We climbed higher and higher up the mountains. It got colder and colder with strong winds but glorious sunshine. Despite this, the sun shone and it was so clear that, from our viewpoint, it was possible to see all the major peaks and volcanos clearly. These included Antisana (5,704m), Cayambe (5,790m), Cotopaxi (5,897m) and Chimborazo (6,267m). Gustavo told us that this was very unusual. He couldn’t remember a time when it was clear enough to see them all!
|This volcano is Antisana - 5,704m|
We arrived at the summit of the mountain just below the tangle of aerial masts, cables, satellite and microwave dishes and the small military hut. We put on all our warm clothing. Fortunately, Birdfinders had warned us of the likely conditions.
|At 4,368m. (photo by Jörg Schmitz)|
Our target birds were very hardy indeed. We were at 4,368m above sea level, over 4 times the height of England’s highest mountain. The rufous-bellied seed-snipe, bar-winged cinclodes and Paramo ground-tyrant are birds which are generally found only above 4,000m. There was not much vegetation and what there was grew very slowly.
|Typical plant life at over 4000m|
This isn't surprising as there was ice in the sheltered spots that didn't melt in the 'heat' of the afternoon.
Lynne decided to stay in the van while the rest of us
climbed the 100 vertical metres to the very top and over the adjoining hills in
search of our quarry. Climbing or hurrying was fatiguing at that altitude due to the lack of oxygen. We got out of
breath easily. Gustavo gave us some ‘coca’ sweets to combat altitude sickness.
I observed that they were made in Peru and something made me doubt that we
could get them in England!!
|Icicles hanging off the plants at 4,200m|
|Plain-capped ground-tyrant (until recently called: Paramo ground-tyrant)|
We saw Carunculated caracara, Paramo ground-tyrants (now called Plain-capped ground-tyrant) and bar-winged cinclodes (now called chestnut-winged cinclodes) but, in the 2 hours we searched, the seed-snipe remained elusive.
|Chestnut-winged cinclodes (until recently called: bar-winged cinclodes)|
We went back towards the van where Gustavo talked to the soldier on duty. It seemed that the birds had been near the summit by the upper masts earlier in the day but he hadn’t seen them since then.
Ah, Well! Win some, lose some! We decided to go. The others moved back to the van. I had one last scan of the summit with my binoculars. After only a few seconds, there it was! Rufous-bellied seed-snipe!! I yelled “Gustavo, Gustavo!”. Everyone returned to see it and we climbed up to the top again for some really good views of this rare bird.
|Rufous-bellied seed-snipe. Found in the nick of time!|
We pressed on, making a little excursion to a high lake for distant views of Andean coot, Andean ruddy duck. We then carried on to slightly lower altitudes until we reached the village of Papallacta at about 3,300m. Here, at the trout farm pools we saw Andean gull and Andean teal. Our overnight stop here was at the Termas de Papallacta. This is a spa hotel where there is a warm spa pool literally outside every room. We quickly changed into our swimming costumes and waded into the warm water to relax before a welcome dinner and a good night’s rest.
|Termas de Papallacta, just outside our room. Lovely!|
Another early start the following morning before breakfast found us higher up again on the trail above Papallacta for other high altitude (Paramo) birds. These included grass wren, shining sunbeam (hummingbird), tufted tit-tyrant (yes, really) and scarlet-bellied mountain-tanager.
|Shining sunbeam - another hummingbird|
During breakfast I had to go outside to take pictures of a lovely spectacled whitestart in the garden.
After breakfast we toured the grounds of this lovely hotel finding many new birds.
After lunch we were off to pastures new. On the way we saw the feisty torrent duck. It is aptly named as it frequents really fast flowing torrents, hurling itself beneath the swirling white water and managing to jump out again in the same place!
|Torrent duck. This is the male. The female was just as corageous!|
|Jörg, Gustavo, the guide, and Lynne on the bridge overlooking the torrent duck.|
|Chestnut-breasted coronet (yes, another beautiful hummingbird)|
|Common bush-tanager with one of the bugs off the lamp-post|
After breakfast, we went to see a white-bellied antpitta which one of the men had managed to train to come out of the undergrowth briefly. That is amazing for such a shy bird.Ecuador - Part 1
We worked the gardens and the surroundings of San Isidro
Lodge until early afternoon. On the road again, we stopped at Guango Lodge for coffee and another batch of hummingbirds. One of these was the magnificent sword-billed hummingbird. Nothing can really prepare you for the sight of such an enormous bill!!
After coffee it was back to Quito for another overnight stop
before our flight to the Amazon basin for the final part of the trip. This
heralded a region much closer to sea level, with new birds and, above all, warmth. Even though Ecuador is on the
equator, at the altitudes we had been so far, we hadn’t known any real warmth (except
from the lovely people, of course).
Ecuador - Part 2
Ecuador - Part 4