Wednesday, February 27, 2019

my favorite pic of the trip?

Variable Hawk is the common buteo of the high elevations and paramo.

This is one of my favorite pics of the trip, I like that the habitat shows well.  The small version doesn't show the details of the face as well as the big version that's the background on my desktop does.

The bird banked showing off the rufous back.

Variable hawks are ... variable.  Here's a light morph bird.

Here's a different dark morph

We watched a couple of young variables interact and swirl about

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Streak-backed Canastero

Continuing the high-elevation ping-pong between birds great and small...

Canasteros are small birds of the treeline and above that skulk like sedge wrens, are shaped like  pipits, and are active as gnatcatchers.  We (briefly) encountered Many-striped last year, but this year Alex coaxed the less common relative (Streak-backed) from the grasses.  There are a lot fewer photographs of this bird in the open on Google than most birds.

Aside from a mulberry throat, the birds are pretty much patterned in identical shades to the grasses they inhabit.

While a lot more subtle than the lower elevation toucans and tanagers I was excited to have learned and then seen this bird.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

on (Buzzard) Eagles' wings

somehow that doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but a name's a name.

Black-chested Buzzard-eagle is a species I was hoping we would encounter last year in the highlands, but did not find.  This year we saw multiple individuals, including a couple only a few minutes after the condors.

The combo of the hood, super-broad secondaries and very short tail make it look more like something from Africa than the Americas.  Given that South America and Africa were once connected I'd speculate that perhaps it shares a common ancestor ... though a quick google search says birds have existed 60 million years and those two continents separated 180 million years ago.  So maybe not.

One last view of a distant Buzzard-eagle in front of the condor cliffs...

Sunday, February 17, 2019

from great to small

Condors weren't the only birds inhabiting the "dry" paramo above the treeline in the Andes, there were a lot of little birds too.

Brown-backed Chat-tyrant is a small flycatcher of the last thickets.  This one ventured all the way out to the ground.

Plumbeous Sierra-finch is one of the most common birds of the barren open country.

Followed perhaps by Stout-billed Cinclodes.  I don't know where the finch nests, but the cinclodes excavates burrows.

Equadorian Hillstar is still a bird I would like a better look at.  Most of the birds I've encountered have been fairly distant females.  Here an immature male interacted with a female up the slope.  Full adult males have purple heads.

Another high-elevation hummer is Black-tailed Trainbearer, though it seemed to prefer areas where there was at least some brushiness.

Same for Blackish Flowerpiercer.

Finally a look at some giant dock-looking weed.  The seed head was probably 2 feet tall and the entire thing 6 inches across.  It'd be the stuff Downy Woodpecker dreams are made of.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

on Condors' wings

That's right.  Condors.  Plural.

My group made our return to Ecuador earlier this month, this time focusing on the middle slopes east (rather than west) of the Andes.  Last year we encountered a ton of rain and I was hoping that being on the East side would shield us from the moisture from the Pacific Ocean.  And I wasn't wrong, the Andes did shield us from the Pacific.  However.  And this is a big however, they also provide a barrier to the moisture rising up from the Amazon basin, so we still had significant rain.

But let's hold off on the rain for a bit.  On the first day we drove out from the moderate elevation of Quito (it's "just" at 8000 feet, or half a mile higher than Denver) up into the heights of Antasana Reserve and checked some cliffs we checked last year for condors.  We struck out last year.  This year we were there an hour earlier by skipping some roadside we did last year.  And the condors were there.  At least two adults were resting on the cliffs along with a year old juvenile.  Within 10 minutes they took off.  I thought they would go right overhead, but after approaching they headed up the valley instead.

Check out the flexibility of the emarginated primaries.

And wow are those wings broad.

Long too.  My references on raptors says they can sometimes exceed 10 feet (California is more in the 9 foot range).  That book says they may not be all that closely related.

Our guide Alex said there's thought to only be about 60-80 condors in Ecuador so we saw a significant portion of the population that morning!