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November 11, 2016



The day starts with breakfast – cereal with yogurt and eggs for us, earthworms for the Chestnut-Crowned Antipitta. The Guango caretaker lays out worms on a board in the trail and before he can take one step away, the bird is there picking up worm after worm, lining them up in his beak so they drape down on either side like sausages in a butcher shop. (Reminiscent of the lined-up fish in the beaks of Puffins in North America.)


We drive back upslope toward Papallacta Pass high in the Andes and turn off at a very popular thermal area that was developed many years ago as a spa. The buildings here are of the most creative and pretty stonework, with wonderful landscaping and gardens. We drive quickly through to a narrow unpaved road that winds up, up, up into the national park. We were here on our last trip to Ecuador (2013 Anniversary trip) and are delighted to experience this breathtakingly beautiful landscape again.


The road we travelled was hewn into the side of a very steep slope, climbing steeply from the road-cut upwards and falling precipitously down below. The terrain is an impenetrable shrub land of low squat plants intermixed with various tall grasses. The ground was covered with a variety of dome-shaped cushion plants and mosses; wildflowers were abundant, from daisy-like and aster-ish composites to bright yellow orchids high up in the trees. There were numerous small trees, singly and in large clusters here and there wherever you looked. They seemed like very old trees with stunted and contorted forms, and hosting thick dark sweaters of arboreal ferns and airplants, orchids, and lichens, many of which were snow-like against the dark green foliage of the trees and their epiphytes.


A river coursed downwards through the deep valley below, and though we could rarely see the river, we were never out of hearing of its roar. Far off on the opposite side, an occasional waterfall cascaded down from the heights, accented by massive rock outcroppings that soared as nearly vertical rock faces far above everything. Meadow-like areas of paramo extended right up to the bases of these monoliths, with a mosaic of subtropical cloud forest, grassy cushion meadows, and a patch of polylepus forest here and there.


As we went ever higher, a foggy mist seemed to be following our ascent, and after a couple of hours it caught up with us, so thick we could no longer see the other side of the valley. From time to time, a fine misty rain set in that was more magical than bothersome. Even before the rain, the exposed rock faces alongside the road were slick, shiny black with moisture, dripping down into the moss patches that clung here and there to the rock. My guess is that these rock faces are always wet; cooled at night, the rocks cause moisture to condense from the humid air that works its way up from the valley below.

We would go on forever without encountering a single bird, and then a couple of times we came upon a mixed flock – a feeding group of several kinds of birds – that would put us on our toes. Two different species of high altitude hummers, both of them thornbills, popped up and then vanished into the brush – raising our pulse and then dashing our spirits all in a 2-second period. But we persevered and managed to pick up a few lifers.


By now, altitude and travel weariness had caught up with Ann, and after our return to the lodge for lunch, she retired for some R & R. Mauricio and I took an afternoon hike along the upper trails at Guango and then down along the river; seeing a Fasciated Tiger Heron and a family group of Torrent Ducks were highlights. I got a good look at a bird we’d “tummy-seen only” earlier that day, and then managed a tummy only on two more species that I most wanted to see. Well, it’s not all beer and skittles!

Mauricio left us just before dinner and headed back to his family in Quito. He’ll be back at 2pm on the 21st to take us to Cabanas San Isidro and guide us there a couple of days. At dinner, we joined a delightful couple from California, and enjoyed conversation about travel, teaching, reptiles, the Peace Corps, and many more topics of interest.

Daily stats: 35 new spp for the trip, 9 lifers for Phil, 5 for Ann.


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One Comment
  1. Denise Clarey permalink

    Another enjoyable read! Thank you very much.

    Sent from my iPad


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