Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ecuador proper

Starting at the highest of elevations was somewhat of an odd introduction to South America.  The above-the-treeline paramo was a very unique habitat, scenery that was different from anything I'd ever seen.  It really did feel like a different continent.  We stayed at Guango Lodge for the night after our first day of birding.  The thin air allowed a moonset bright enough to hurt your eyes with a sudden direct look.  It was striking though.  But the moon soon set and the Sun quickly rose, casting early morning light on a forest that felt far less alien than the starkly beautiful paramo. 

Trogons are common throughout the tropics, Masked is the red-bellied version for the higher elevations of the Andes.  There was certainly familiarity here with its resemblance to several Central American cousins.

This is Black-crested Warbler, a bird that was singing fairly persistently early on our walk
This is one of the Basileuterus warblers (Rufous-capped which just gets into Arizona some years from its Central American haunts is another).  With plain wings and not much of a face pattern it didn't really resemble any of our breeders or migrants.

Probably no class of birds is more widely represented in South America than the flycatchers.  Fortunately for us, on this trip there weren't a lot of difficult to separate species pairs the way a person has to work for several groups of elaenia or flatbill on previous trips.  Of course as soon as I say that I can't remember if this next bird is White-tailed or White-banded Tyrannulet.
 My notes say it's White-banded.

Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant was our 2nd chat-tyrant of the trip, another cleanly-marked, neatly-patterned bird.

Cinnamon Flycatcher is perhaps the most boldly brown bird I've ever seen.

Finally the bird of the day for me, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, our second species of antpitta in as many days. 
The first 2 days of this trip therefore equaled the total number of antpittas I'd seen on every other trip I've made to the neotropics combined.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

I guess Seedsnipes need oxygen too

Because 11,000 feet at Antisana was just entirely too low for a chance at a couple birds, we went higher.  How does 14,000 feet sound to you?  Pikes Peak, Mt Ranier and the other highest summits in the continental U.S. are also ... 14,000 feet and change.  It's high enough that the barometric pressure is 1/3 less than sea level.  That means you get 2/3 of the oxygen you're used to.

Our target bird was a Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, a member of the sandpiper tribe that acts (and looks) like a ptarmigan.  I'll skip the suspense, despite a lot of effort we didn't see one.  The scenery was pretty fantastic though.  This is the Antisana volcano in the distance.

As a frame of reference its elevation is just a shade under 19,000 feet, Denali (formerly Mt McKinley) in Alaska is 20,000 feet.

There were birds though.  Here's Chestnut-winged Cinclodes in a more natural habitat than a gabled roof.

Honestly these next ones are more about the scenery than the birds, first a distant Plain-capped Ground-tyrant and then a Tawny Antpitta.

 The antpitta is standing atop the little lime green patch in the center.

We were high enough up that a Variable Hawk flew past beneath us.  They were usually really high up. 

Finally a few last pics of some of the craziest scenery that I've ever seen 

While the headache I developed was likely early altitude sickness, even without the Seedsnipe it was a really memorable afternoon

Monday, February 19, 2018

condor lunchdate

After a pleasant morning in the Antisana reserve I think most of us at least dozed (if not napped outright) as we descended a little to our lunch stop.

 It was a little restaurant (maybe with lodging possible?) which had a few hummingbird feeders arrayed in the landscaping surrounding the building

We'd seen Sparkling Violet-ear earlier in the morning but this was the first chance to see it well.

 A cousin to Green (now Lesser) Violet-ear, it filled a similar niche as a fairly dominant bird at the feeders and a prominent feature of the soundscape.

Tyrian Metaltail is a smaller more subtle species.

Nothing subtle about the next 2 birds.  First is Black-tailed Trainbearer.

Next is Giant Hummingbird, the largest hummingbird in the world.  The violet-ear gave it as much room as it wanted.

But we were looking for black birds.
 Maybe I should say big black birds (the Blackish Flowerpiercer was interesting, but not exactly meriting a restaurant to be named after it.).

About half way through the meal Jose (or one of the employees) started shouting CONDOR! CONDOR! in tones previously reserved by guides for HARPY EAGLE, HARPY EAGLE!

The bird landed on a cliff face half a mile distant.  We watched it through the scope until it again took flight.

It wasn't a great view, but a view nonetheless.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Aplomado where it belongs

We spent a decent portion of the first morning in the Antisana Reserve, a high-elevation (~11,000 feet) above-the-treeline area where we checked a few places for Andean Condor.  We saw some guano washes, but no condor.

Ecuadorian Hillstar is another specialty of the area though..
 The male has a blue-purple head setting off a white collar.  Our birds were female types.  The scenery at the pull-off for them was pretty sweet though.

And a close-up of the chukirawa (spelling?) flowers that the Hillstars favor.

We continued on to the Antisana reserve stopping for a few Paramo Pipits along the way.

Upon reaching the reserve we stopped for a bathroom break.  Jose mentioned it could be a good spot for Tawny Antpitta.  He was right.

A Many-striped Canestero also left the thicket and wandered out into the open.

A Chestnut-winged Cinclodes felt a defect in the roof of the building was close enough to an open tussock on uneven ground to build a nest.

 Did we mention that this was a good place to see Tawny Antpitta?  This hour doubled the number of antpittas I'd seen in my life.  Tawny apparently is a lot less skulky than are most of its relatives.  In its defense they were pretty common up there; we heard a lot of them, probably 5-10x as many as we saw.

Here's a pair of the larger Stout-billed Cinclodes at the opening to their nest burrow.

Finally it was time to leave and head for lunch (it was almost 2pm after all), but Jose's sharp eyes spotted another bird perched off the road.
It's an Aplomado Falcon.  They've been re-introduced in south Texas, but I've never seen one there (or anywhere else, despite their presence in the bird books for every country I've ever been aside from Canada).  While it felt a little odd to start South America in these cool high elevations there were birds everywhere; the cinclodes, sierra-finches, as well as Plain-colored Ground-tyrants were very common.  It made sense there'd be a medium sized falcon therefore.  "Aplomado" apparently means "poised" or "self-confident" in Spanish.  While I hate to anthropomorphize animals as much as the next guy, it seems fairly apropos here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

the Bird Continent

I returned a few days ago from a trip to Ecuador, my first ever experience with South America.  It was a fun trip, as always saw some great things, missed some others, would love to go back with more time blah blah blah.

We went with Tropical Birding, led by Jose Illanes who was one of the better guides I've worked with.  This trip focused on high elevations and the mid elevations on the west slope of the Andes.

We flew into Quito, which sits at 8000 feet of elevation.  What to do but start driving even higher the next day?

We started at a pull-off as we ascended a fairly rough rain-gouged road that the bus struggled to ascend in places.  The first chat- and tit-tyrants started appearing as did Plain-colored Seedeaters.  I had trouble learning the seedeaters and I was actually fairly proud that I was able to identify the first one I found (technically this is one from a little later in the morning who sang an electric little buzzing song that would have been fun to have recorded.)

Great Thrush is one of the most common birds just below the treeline.  They're about double the size of our robin, but shaped pretty identically.  Come to think of it they seemed a lot less vocal than our robins, but maybe I was too overloaded with new scenery/birds/sounds to really pick them out.

We broke above the treeline into the Antisana area, about 11,000 feet above sea level.  Carunculated Caracaras were quite common.

In some ways it felt kind of odd to start the trip with these birds; a person visualizes tanagers and hummingbirds and antbirds when they think of the tropics; the birds were much different here high above the tree line.  This is male and female Plumbeous Sierra-Finch

Cinclodes nest in burrows on the tundra, otherwise they seemed to fill even more of a robin niche than the Great Thrushes as they worked about the short grass probing presumably for insects.

Andean Lapwing was a neat little variation on the Southern theme.

Finally a fly-over Black-faced Ibis, another above-the-treeline Andean specialty. 
We saw a few foraging (like ibises) at a pretty good distance, but the two flyover birds came much closer.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

county lifer!

It's actually been over 2 years since I've seen a county lifer, so I was pretty excited to hear that Mary Jo had found a Barrow's Goldeneye between the piers a couple days ago.  This was a bird that I did not expect it to take over a decade to find in Berrien, but we'll see how the next 10 years goes.

The bird was distant and not easy to photograph during a light snow storm.

I didn't see any sign of hybridization, the crescent seemed nice and narrow, the head large, with a vertical forehead and elongated ruff at the back of the head, nice geometric white squares in the extensively black upperparts, and of course the spur dropping down from the back between the breast and the side panels.

And who knows, maybe a King Eider will drop in next!