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November 4, 2016

Since it has been a while since I posted, I’ve been reading Phil’s account of our last trip to Ecuador and have decided to let him talk for a while.

From Phil’s Journal:

With many happy Andean Condor thoughts in our heads, we continued up the narrow road higher into the Antisana Ecological Reserve, gray skies continuing and rain drizzling down. We got up into the Paramo, the high ecosystem of bushes, not trees, altitude over 12,000 feet. Wide rolling alpine meadows flank both sides of the road and climb up the slopes, blanketing the lower rounded knolls and leading uphill until they meet areas too rocky for vegetation. It reminds me so much of the Alpine Zone of our Rocky Mountains in the U.S., with small, stunted plants, like mossy tussocks for gnomes to sit on.



I ask Mauricio to stop so we could check out a large bird in the meadow and there was our first Carunculated Caracara, a big hawk with a hunched-over chicken-like posture with a bright red face and dark and light streaks on the rest of his body. We celebrated our great fortune in finding this great bird, only to end up seeing 70 to 80 more walking around singly or in pairs nearly everywhere we looked! Soon we spotted two Black-faced Ibises and an Andean Lapwing and took a deep breath, knowing that our high country outing would be a great success no matter what happens next.

Other birds of that area and elevation that we saw were Many-streaked Canisteros, Stout-billed Cincloides, and Black-faced Ibis. Because of the absence of trees, most of these birds were right out in the open usually on the ground; no hiding places meant that they were much easier for us to see. Mauricio, was an expert birder and spotted and identified birds quickly. Also, he was adept at pointing them out to us, and fortunately, his English was good! He stopped the car occasionally and we can wander out into the damp, mossy fields and search for birds.



The road takes us up and over, winding here and there until we come upon Lago Mica, a huge alpine lake established as a reservoir of fresh water for the city of Quito, down mountain to the west. As we walk the lake trail toward a spot where we can scope out the lake, I start to feel the full impact of our altitude. Twenty-four hours ago we were in Miami, 10 to 15 feet above sea level. Now we are on the crest of the Andes at 14,000 feet! Shortness of breath up here where oxygen is in shorter supply – that was fully expected! But the light-headedness made for tipsy walking, and I had to steady my balance and suck in deep breaths to clear my vision and allay a headache that kept threatening to take over. But then we were seeing Silvery Grebe and Andean Ruddy Duck among other special new birds and my vertigo cleared until we headed back to the car. By now, the overcast had closed in and a steady light rain was falling, and we sat in the car and ate our box lunches, prepared by Mercedes, our hostess at Puembo Birding Garden.


After lunch, we back-tracked south and west through Antisana National Park and nearly back to Puembo, and then headed back east up the Andes toward Papallacta Pass. The higher we drove, the harder it rained, so we decided to defer our Papallacta birding until the next day and headed downhill toward Guango Lodge, where we would be for 3 nights.

Die-hards ever, we detoured off onto a two-rut “road” with a couple of inches of water rushing down each rut, as Mauricio rock-hopped our SUV downhill, and were rewarded when a Tawny Antipitta stepped out into our path. Great looks at a species that can be frustratingly tough to see but which has no scruples about taunting you with its whistled song the whole time you are in the high country.


Nine species of hummingbirds were there to greet us on our arrival at Guango Lodge, and with Mauricio’s help we were able to sort them out in short order. By day’s end, we would see two species of hummingbirds whose tails are more than twice their body length and one whose bill is the longest compared to body size of any bird on earth.


Ann headed in for an early afternoon rest and the guys, having more tenacity than good sense, headed out for a walk on some of the shorter trails around the lodge, with some very satisfying results. By day’s end, our first day of birding totaled 64 species seen by Ann and/or Phil plus another dozen or so ID’d by sound by Mauricio’s keen ear; 15 were lifers for Phil and 14 were lifers for Ann.

Our room at Guango is a barrel-shaped affair with an arched roof of varnished wood planks, a lovely window of like style, and white plastered walls. Twin beds, our own bathroom with shower and tub, cozy.


Meals are taken in an open dining room downstairs that has at one end a couple of clusters of soft and comfy chairs and a much-welcomed fire burning in a nearby fireplace. Several small groups were in residence, each dining at its own table; the two of us and Mauricio ate together.


Our meals were simple and straightforward with vegetables and fruits (with the exception of the dessert shown above) that were much tastier than the meat, and preceded by thick-brothed soups that topped everything else. Ann and I both really like the foods we are served in Ecuador, and we retire at night fully sated. Not much chance we’ll go home more trim than when we arrived.



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