Report 2. Tuesday, September 4, 2007. Ecuador Birding Day 1. Birding the Antisana Area of the Ecuadorian Andes. Then on to Papallacta, East of Quito.

Note: Sharon's notes are in {green curly brackets}. Information added to the original reports will be in [red].

Rough Map of North Central Ecuador

The map above, which I shot from a brochure, shows many of the locations we will visit. The brochure advertises a chain of haciendas, one of which is Hacienda Antisana. Mt. Antisana is shows as 5753 meters. To convert to feet, triple, then add ten percent. So 5700 would be about 17,000 plus 1700 or 18,700 feet!!! That's getting' up there. We also visit La Mica Lake in this first report. The guest house mentioned below in this report is in Sangolqui, southeast of Quito. Later reports will mention Mindo and Cotopaxi.

Quito is in north central Ecuador. Papallacta is SE of Quito and north of Mt. Antisana. This looks to be impossible on the map above, but it is because the map is not to scale.

FIRST MORNING IN ECUADOR

6:20 am. We're up, after our alarm went off at 550 am. We are looking into the courtyard, dark when we arrived last night

Our Courtyard

We can hear dogs barking and birds singing. Sharon is chomping at the bit because she's ready to go out and I'm not yet.

CINGULAR/AT&T

The remarkable thing is that I've got five bars on my Cingular cell phone, much better than I get in my house. We use the cell phone for the alarm clock

FIRST BIRD

We're out the door at 6:30 and our first bird is the Rufous-collared Sparrow. This is not a life bird for us, and it is extremely common here, so we're not too excited for this to be our first bird.

Then Sharon gets us on a hummingbird sitting high in a tree, and it has a very long tail. It flies off and Steven says it's a LONG-TAILED TRAINBEARER. What a great name, what a great first life bird for us.

Steven, Magda and Wilson

We are all packed up, and just before we leave, Steven points out another adult hummingbird, called a SPARKLING VIOLETEAR, and its sitting close to its tiny but empty nest.

There are EARED DOVES, similar to our mourning doves in the U.S., sitting on wires and all over the place. A GREAT THRUSH hops around, like a huge american robin, but all very dark brown, with a bright orange beak and eye ring. Steven says we will get tired of seeing this bird.

We drive over to what Steven calls "The Guest House", owned by one of the top five or so birders in Ecuador and a good friend of Steven. His name is Juan Carlos Calvachi, and he is the one who mapped out our itinerary and arranged for the hotels and lodges and driver. He also leads tours in the Galapagos and Peru.

We have breakfast at his home, meet his wife Pauline, small son and daughter, and take off. Wilson will drive us the approximately 90 minutes to get to our destination

OUR VAN

I don't even know what kind of van it is [Hyundai, it turns out], but it has a split bench seat in front. You drive on the right in Ecuador, so the driver's seat is on the left. Magda sits in the middle and Steven on the passenger side by the door, in the wider part of the bench seat.

A typical sliding van door opens to reveal a fold up seat adjacent to a two-person bench seat. We decide that on long trips, Sharon will climb in first and sit in the big seat because it's more comfortable and easier on her back, and I will take the "jump seat." For short trips, when we're getting in and out of the van a lot, we'll switch places, so Sharon doesn't have to do all that climbing over to the big seat.

There is another 3-person bench seat behind our seat, that Wilson uses for water, lunches, my backpack stuff (electronics, photo gear, etc.) and laptop. Then in the "way back" is all our luggage.

There is plenty of room. The only odd thing is that wearing seat belts seems to be a passing thought, and we don't wear them most of the time. The jump seat doesn't have one and it's a bit of trouble to put one on over all the stuff around our waists.

{Sharon: I start by looking for the seatbelt every time I get in but we are mostly on back roads and traveling slowly so after a while I give up the fight. I do notice that the only time our driver, Wilson puts his on is when we go through a police checkpoint so I'm guessing that it is actually the law that you must wear it. P.S. He takes it off immediately after we pass through the checkpoint.}

We get Vermilion Flycatcher, a trip bird but not a life bird. Beautiful sparkling red and brown.

We make a fairly long drive to get to the main birding area of the day, encountering spectacular vertical views of farm and ranchland. Most of the cattle we see are scattered across very steep pastures.

Mountain highland farm and ranchland early in our drive.

We come to a private area entry point of some kind. Wilson shows the car's papers and we're allowed to pass. We quickly begin to see soaring birds, which turn out to be CARUNCULATED CARACARA. An American Kestrel also hovers.

We stop and get out to bird. Three HOODED SISKINS do a flyby. There are BROWN-BELLIED SWALLOWS up above us, over a ridge.

A GIANT HUMMINGBIRD comes zooming down from higher on the hill. It's huge. We get another hummingbird with the elegant name of SHINING SUNBEAM, which Magda spots first.

We drive on, making a second stop. We get the first of many PLUMBEOUS SIERRA-FINCHES. Sharon sees a black-tailed shrike-tyrant, but I miss it so we can't count it Flycatchers are abundant in Ecuador, and we get a BROWN-BACKED CHAT-TYRANT, down on a spiky plant by the stream below. More caracaras are overhead, plus our first VARIABLE HAWK, hovering in the wind. We get a nice BLACKISH FLOWERPIERCER. These birds don't dip into a flower's natural opening for nectar, but using a hook on the end of their upper bill, pierce flowers at the base, and steal nectar that way. Sharon spotted it first and Steven made the ID.

We get what turns out to be a fairly common bird during our trip, a BAR-WINGED CINCLODES (say sin-KLO-deez), and it has a nest in a hole dug into the dirt side of the bank on the uphill side of the road. We can hear the babies calling when they hear the parent coming.

We continue on, and I spot and ID a MANY-STRIPED CANASTERO, near a couple of bunnies, which Steven IDs as Brazilian Rabbits. Near an old building, we get a feeding flock of BLACK-WINGED GROUND-DOVES.

We continue on, ever rising. Wilson stops where we look down the slope to our left, towards a stream and get PLAIN-COLORED SEEDEATER, plumbeous sierra-finch, more cinclodes, and black-winged ground-doves. We take off again, and get ANDEAN LAPWING off to our right, with many caracaras on the ground on our left -- perhaps a dozen adults and juveniles.

Steven points out a few Baird Sandpipers on our right, just this side of a fallen-down fence. Another variable hawk holds still in the wind, then dives out of sight. I ask Steve what our altitude is, and checking his watch, says we're at 12,500 feet. We're in a big open area, with mountains off far to the right.

That Sharon. She says, "I have a huge bird with white on the wings." BAM! Steven IDs them as one of the top target birds of our trip -- ANDEAN CONDORS. There are two or three, and they slowly glide out of sight. Fantastic.

It's now a little before 11 am (we're on Central Daylight Time, U.S.).

Steven gets us a new STOUT-BILLED CINCLODES, very similar to the bar-winged except for the much-bigger bill. We come to La Micha, a high Andes lake. It's cold and gray, the wind is blowing, and there is a big bus, full of birders who came here for the annual ABA (American Birding Association) convention. They move their annual meeting all around the world, and by coincidence, this year it happened to be in Ecuador.

Steve points to one of the men standing outside the bus and says, "That's the guy that wrote your field guide -- Paul Greenfield." Between you and me, I can't imagine him being much better than Steven is. Plus Steven's jokes HAVE to be light-years better.

Steven spots us a PARAMO GROUND-TYRANT.

Paramo is a word that refers to high-altitude grasslands and shrublands, above the cloud forests. It covers about 10% of Ecuador's land area and is characterized by a harsh climate, high levels of ultraviolet light and wet, peaty soils. It is also characterized by dense thickets of small trees. Quite a number of birds are unique to this environment, and most have the name "paramo" in their name.

Paramo Sharon is freezing. She has all of her layers of clothing on and has a scarf wound around her head from chin to the top of the head, so as to cover her ears. But there are great life birds here, so she doesn't even notice the cold. Wellll... {Sharon: We are on the Equator. I expected hot and humid so I only brought a few warm clothes. As it turns out, I wear them in layers for most of our trip. Thank goodness I brought them!}

We get fairly easily ANDEAN COOT, YELLOW-BILLED PINTAIL, ANDEAN RUDDY DUCK, ANDEAN TEAL and the gorgeous ANDEAN GULL.

We drive further on, and Wilson meets a fellow driver on the road. We stop driver-to-driver and they exchange information in Spanish. Wilson's excited to learn about a bird Steven's been hoping to get for us. We drive a short distance, then he pulls over. He sets up the scope, and we get a couple of ANDEAN IBIS.

We continue on and stop at another section of the lake, picking up SILVERY GREBE, a long way off, in the scope, beyond some coots.

We come to the far extent of our trip today, a little group of buildings Steve calls Hacienda Antisana. Mt. Antisana is a volcanic peak -- one of Ecuador's most famous.

Mt. Antisana, behind a rustic barn at Hacienda Antisana

One specialty here is the ECUADORIAN HILLSTAR hummingbird, and we get it right away, on a feeder.

We bring in our lunches, packed for us, and enjoy them, after stops in the rest room.

NOW ABOUT THE REST ROOMS...

When you enter most rest rooms here, there is a friendly sign above a plastic waste basket with a plastic top and a swinging lid, that says something like, "PLEASE DO NOT PUT TOILET PAPER IN THE TOILET. PLACE IT IN THE PLASTIC WASTE BASKET PROVIDED." When we saw this first, I was puzzled, thinking the wording was bad. But it turns out that that's the way it was everywhere we went. Instead of flushing the, shall I say used, toilet paper down the toilet, you drop it into the plastic basket.

If you are like us, you are probably cringing right now. Here's what "Lonely Planet" guide books say about this:

"Ecuadorian plumbing is poor and has very low pressure. Putting toilet paper into the bowl may clog the system, so a waste receptacle is provided for the used paper. A basket of used toilet paper may seem unsanitary [duh!], but it is much better than clogged bowls and water overflowing onto the floor...". It goes on to say that "... more expensive hotels have adequate flushing capabilities."

But those expensive hotels are for namby-pambies, not for us rugged birders.

ENOUGH ABOUT THE REST ROOMS. We got used to them.

After we finish lunch and birding, we load up in the car, and as we take off, I get this shot of a young Ecuadorian.

A young lad shows off his cap and jacket

We retrace our drive, stopping at a small barn, and get (me, just barely) a BLACK-BILLED SHRIKE-TYRANT, just as it lifts off from atop the peak and flies up the hill.

We drive to the village of Papallacta (say poppa-YOCK-tuh) to our hotel for the next two nights. It is a thermal hot springs center, and here is the view out our room's window. Nice, huh?

Hot spring pools viewed from our room.

We check in, then do a little birding. At the lodge, we get MASKED FLOWERPIERCER, then head up a gravel road, climbing the mountain behind our lodge. I get a nice shot of a shining sunbeam (hummingbird)

Shining Sunbeam

We get TYREAN METALTAIL (a hummingbird), and a SPECTACLED WHITESTART. We hear a TAWNY ANTPITTA, nicely duplicated by Steven's whistles. Magda spots a RUFOUS-BREASTED CHAT-TYRANT, up by the pasture with some cows. There are cows to our left, downhill, and forest to our right, uphill, past another small expanse of pasture.

Steven IDs a beautiful MOUNTAIN VELVETBREAST (another hummingbird), then we hear the beautiful song of the Gray-breasted Wood-wren. It's a little before 6 pm and getting dark. Suddenly after a flash of brilliant red crosses the road, we get a pair of knockout SCARLET-BELLIED MOUNTAIN-TANAGERS.

After eliminating rusty flowerpiercer as a possibility, Steve gets us a BLUE-BACKED CONEBILL.

As we began walking the road, we noticed a couple of men trying to deliver a calf from a cow, which was standing in a field below us. Everybody but me watches intently, as I stand, thinking about baseball and fantasy football, and remembering all the places I've lived before. Keeping my mind away from the gruesome scene below. "WOW", "WHOA!" my fellow birders yell. "Don't you want to watch this?" they tease me.

OK, freshman and sophomore year at Missouri University - Stewart Hall. Junior year the attic apartment of that house in University Avenue...

Anyway, the cow and future mom falls down from the tugs of the men with the ropes around the legs of the calf, and at LAST Sharon yells, "It's OUT!" I relax, letting go of the basement apartment my senior year. {Sharon: We at first thought the calf dead from all the stress but we see the men clean its nose with straw and one of them does a modified CPR on its chest and then BEHOLD, it's alive. Great work, guys.}

We finish up the birding and go back to our room.

We meet for dinner at 6:30 pm, after I get on the wireless internet. It looks like I'll be able to send off a report tonight or tomorrow, until I see how slow it is. I type in a command, then get a response in about 20 seconds. And that's when it's doing well. So I look at a few incoming emails, but don't send any out.

We have this great egg soup with onions, cheese and milk. There are toast bits with hot sauce drizzled on. My steak is really tough. I think of those cattle climbing up and down the mountainside, and understand where the toughness must come from.

The dessert is a raisin and fruit pudding thing, and is just ok.

We go back to the room, change into our hot tub duds {Sharon: Guess who thought to bring a bathing suit and who had to wear her sports bra and underwear?} , and hit the pool in front of our house for half-an-hour or so. Steve and Magda join us in the huge pool. We think the temperature could be hotter, and we follow up on a rumor that an adjacent pool, away from our room, is hotter. And the rumor proves true. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. Plus, within the pool, the hot water is pouring out of a big jug, leaning out over the water. THAT is hot water, and THAT is where you find Sharon.

The air temperature is cool and almost cold, so a person freezes on the way to the pools, which luckily, are very close to our room. The stars are out and if I had my glasses on, I still wouldn't be able to see them because they'd be fogged up. I mean I can see them, but each one is a little blur. Blur light, blur bright...

Man, this is fantastic.

We are finally warm enough and go back to the room, re-freezing on the way. Sharon reads and I load in the day's photos and transcribe the day's digital voice recorder entries. I delete the dud photos, make a slide show, and we watch it. This is a traditional activity at the end of each day.

I save a couple of hours of sleep time because I don't have an access point to send you this email.


DAY 1 TOTALS

Trip Birds Seen Today (First Time on the Trip): 44
Total Trip Birds to Date: 44

Life Birds Seen Today: 39
Total Life Birds to Date: 39

Best Birds: Andean Condor, Andean Gull, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager.

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