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CONDOR DAY – ECUADOR 2015 – PART 2

September 5, 2015

WINTER IN ECUADOR – 2015 – PART 2

For our first winter in North Carolina, we went to Florida and Ecuador! So much for acclimating on a year-round basis to our new home in the mountains. First we had a wonderful family Christmas party, and then since Phil had committed to teaching some of his former students, we spent some time in Everglades National Park – one of our favorite natural areas. Finally, it was time to embark on our long-planned-for 25-day trip to Ecuador. We had selected to fly Lan Airlines, have used them in the past, and were not disappointed with their service, and like many South American airlines they actually serve food on their flights!

We had 25 days to spend staying in birding ecolodges that protect and conserve habitats and wildlife – hiking and exploring in wild places, with our emphasis on seeing the fabulous birds of this tiny country. Another of our travel goals is to try to contribute to the local economies in ways that support a conservation ethic by staying at lodges that work on establishing and preserving ecosystems that enable wildlife to survive and flourish – and that cause as little disruption in the natural ecosystems as possible. In countries where the pressures are great for exploitation of natural resources, the temptation to “cut it all down” is always a threat.

On our previous trip in September, 2013, (see my October 12, 2013 post “Anniversary in the Rainforest – Part 1”) we discovered they had moved the Quito airport! What a shock! Who knew? Well, everyone but us. So this time we were prepared to land not in the area of almost-downtown Quito at an elevation of almost 9500 feet, but at the new Mariscal Sucre Aeropuerto about an hour east of town. As a result, we had followed the advice and wise counsel of our Ecuadorian travel guru, Carmen Bustamante from Cabanas San Isidro and birdecuador.com and her sister Irene, and had them book us a room at the beautiful Puembo Birding Gardens – and as their website says, “Its purpose is not only to give you a nearby comfortable and reliable accommodation but to provide an initial list of 30 some species of birds seen right from your breakfast table.” (puembobg.com)

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Puembo Birding Gardens Lodge

We were greeted at the airport by our driver/guide Mauricio who took us to Puembo Birding Gardens. The drive anywhere in Ecuador can be quite exciting – even horrifying if we are doing the driving. So it was especially pleasant this trip to have Mauricio in charge part of the time, and we could spend the drive looking at our surroundings, which varied from bustling, crowded city streets to bleak desert-like vistas and crossing very tall bridges spanning deep, deep crevasses with winding rivers at the bottom. In less than an hour we had arrived at our destination and were greeted by our hostess Mercedes who was as kind and welcoming as if we had known her for years and were visiting in her own home. She showed us to our room, right off the dining area on a large covered patio in the garden with bird feeders all around. Our nice-sized bedroom with private bathroom was very comfortable and well-furnished. The comforters on the beds came in handy since we were over a mile high (higher than Denver) and the nights would be chilly. The meals were excellent – fresh fruits, fish, omelets, juices, etc. and the birds were cooperative also – in fact the beautiful Saffron Finches and Scrub Tanagers coming to the many feeders were new for us.  In the morning after a sumptuous breakfast, Mauricio picked us up with our sack lunches prepared by Mercedes – and we were off for our first day’s adventure.

Note: All of the places we stayed provided 3 meals a day, which included a sack lunch if we were away for the day. All meals were served in dining rooms with the rest of the guests and usually served buffet style.

One of our target birds this trip was an Andean Condor, and this first day we were headed way out of town and up into the mountainous regions of Antisana Ecological Reserve southeast of Quito. Since this is the largest raptor in the world with a wingspan of over 10 feet, we figured they wouldn’t be too hard to find if we could get to the right altitude, since they are high mountain birds and (according to the field guide) frequently perch on cliff faces. So this should be easy. Of course, we had tried and failed twice before. Your driver gets you high enough and you watch the cliff faces and hope the weather clears. If the weather is clear, you might even see them soaring on thermals of air. No clear weather this day. We rode higher and higher (Antisana Peak is over 18,000 feet high) until we were above treeline, road getting narrower and narrower – cars having to slow down to pass each other, rocky cliff faces on both sides of the road – one rising hundreds of feet to the right of our driving lane and the other to the left of the car across a very deep canyon rising up to mountain peaks in the clouds. With gray skies and a drizzle of rain. A portent of things to come.

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Digiscoping an Andean Condor

Suddenly we rounded a corner and found 3 or 4 vehicles pulled off to the side of the narrow road, people standing around, in and beside the road, frantically motioning for us to pull over! Mauricio acted as though he was going to keep on going, but he finally pulled off to the side since several of the people kept motioning for us to stop, come and look, get out of the car, pointing off in the distance! And they were excited! Motioning, gesturing, trying to get us to see off across the canyon to the cliff faces beyond. They kept saying, “Condor! Condor!” They were a large family out for a Sunday ride up into their beautiful, though hazy,  mountains – mothers, brothers, dads, babies, grandmothers, school-aged children, all ages and sizes – about 20 of them all together. They pulled us across the road to where some of them were standing right on the edge, everyone babbling enthusiastically (in Spanish of course) and pointing. “Condor! Condor!” We realized that they actually were seeing a condor! And didn’t want us to miss it! So Phil took our telescope out of the car and Mauricio got his out and they set them up along the side of the road, and these wonderful people, who didn’t even have binoculars, could all take a good, close-up look at the Andean Condor, perched on a rocky cliff face way off across this canyon. This was their bird! The national bird of Ecuador! This was their condor! We found it and we want to share our special bird with you! The littlest kids got held up to the scope, every family member got a turn looking in the scope, and as each came away from the scope you could tell from their faces that they were thinking Wow!  That needed no translation. Someone went to one of their cars and even got the old grandpa out and gently helped him walk across the road so he could look, too. What a smile he had!

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Phil had a new camera device he was learning how to use and practicing with on this trip – it’s called digiscoping – using your smartphone’s camera through the eyepiece on the telescope. So he attached the smartphone to the scope (with a special device he had brought along) and on the phone you could see a relatively close-up view of the bird. As you would see if you looked directly through the scope. Well, you can imagine how excited everyone got when that happened! They all had to look at the bird again of course, and then one of them realized they could use their smartphones to take a picture of Phil’s smartphone’s view of the condor! Imagine! Can you picture all these folks – and us with no Spanish speaking ability “to speak of”, standing out in the middle of nowhere, high up in the Andes Mountains, chilly, drizzling rain, looking in the scope, taking pictures with their phones, babbling excitedly to one another, pointing off in the distance, occasionally stopping another car that happened by to show them,  and everybody smiling and hugging each other? Imagine!

I suppose I could write an essay about how birds can bring peoples together, but you get the idea. We eventually continued on our way, smiling quietly to ourselves, extremely satisfied with our first of many more birding adventures.

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2 Comments
  1. jan bloom permalink

    just got back a couple of weeks ago from a month-long trip to D.C., MD, VA and OH…finally read your blog and WOW! you are amazing…living the full life…I think it’s great…we all must do our part to make this world a more beautiful place to live in…jan

    • Hey, Jan! Good to hear from you!
      Traveling, traveling – soooo nice! Getting home is nice, too. We have a new bird experience in our “full life” at Trillium Woods! 8 chickens! Talk about an adventure!

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