Having already shared the gorgeous scenery we Queens birders encountered when we went into the high elevation grasslands in Ecuador I would be remiss if I failed to also bring up the birds.  There are a host of great birds in Ecuador’s páramo and we did our best to see all of them.  Our drive up and up and up into Antisana Ecological Reserve was one of great anticipation.  Would we see an Andean Condor?  A Black-faced Ibis?  An Andean Lapwing?  What about the ducks?  The Ecuadorian Hillstar?  No one asked about the high-elevation cinclodes, canastero, pipit, or finch but I am sure that they were in the back of someone’s mind.  Before we even reached the park proper we pulled over to more carefully look over some raptors soaring on the ridgelines above us and were rewarded with both Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles and Carunculated Caracaras, two birds that are actually and amazingly both bigger than their names.  Once Renato handed the guards at the gate our entry tickets and we entered the reserve proper all of us in the van were non-stop scanning for birds hoping to find something really good.

Carunculated Caracara Phalcoboenus carunculatus

So, of course, as always happens, our persistence paid off with an absolutely awesome bird!  As we drove along the road Renato and I simultaneously spotted a falcon perched on a fencepost on the left side of the road.  Renato nailed the brakes as I brought up my binoculars and I am pleased to say that I clearly said “Aplomado Falcon” without stuttering, screaming, or sounding stupid, quite a feat considering how good a bird an Aplomado Falcon is.  Not as impressive a feat was my ability to leave my lens cap on the end of my scope when I tried to digiscope the lifer while hand-holding my digiscoping rig.  By the time I realized the problem the bird had taken wing.  Don’t worry though, Renato will eventually share the absolutely amazing shots he got of the bird…

Black-faced Ibis Theristicus melanopis

As we continued up into the amazing high-elevation preserve bird after bird was checked off of our checklist.  Black-faced Ibis?  We saw a whole flock, some of which are in the above image.  Many-striped Canastero?  I was fortunate to get a lousy picture that confirmed the identification.  Stout-billed Cinclodes?  Take a look at the images below…

Stout-billed Cinclodes Cinclodes excelsior

Stout-billed wasn’t our only cinclodes either, as we also managed to spot Bar-winged Cinclodes.  I guess I should also mention the nesting Brown-bellied Swallows we found, and I can’t forget the Paramo Ground-Tyrant.  Of course, those birds were all forgotten when we came across our first Andean Lapwings!  What great little birds!

Andean Lapwing Vanellus resplendens

Then, once we reached the lake, well, the lifers came in numbers!  Andean (Ruddy) Duck?  Check.  Andean Teal?  Check.  Andean Coot?  Check.  Silvery Grebe?  Check.  Andean Gull?  Check.  Yellow-billed Pintail?  Way across the lake…check!  It was a life bird bonanza!  Some of the birds gave great looks too…

Silvery Grebes Podiceps occipitalis

Andean Coot Fulica ardesiaca

Andean Teal Anas andium

All too soon we had to leave the lake in order to check another spot, slightly higher up, for any sign of our number one target for the day, Andean Condor.  We all really wanted to see a bird that could, at a glance, be mistaken for a small plane.  Sadly, we were not fortunate enough to see any condors.*  Our highest stop in the páramo before we started back, where we scanned for condors, was covered with a spiny plant that had beautiful orange flowers.  And we weren’t the only creatures admiring the flowers.

Ecuadorian Hillstar Oreotrochilus chimborazo (look for a full gallery eventually)

As we drove out we made a couple of more stops, getting better looks at some birds that we had only distant looks at earlier.  We puzzled over a bland female hummingbird until we realized that she was a female hillstar and we appreciated our only perched Variable Hawk of the trip.  Finally, once we were well out of the reserve we stopped at some fish ponds in the hopes of getting better looks at some of the ducks we saw earlier and of the Andean Gull, and while we succeeded at the latter we failed at the former as the puddle ducks were not around that day.

Variable Hawk Buteo polyosoma

Black-winged Ground-Dove Metriopelia melanoptera

female Plumbeous Sierra-Finch Phrygilus unicolor

Andean Gull Chroicocephalus serranus

Our trip to Ecuador’s high elevations was a resounding success and we still had hours of daylight left!  The beginning of our exploration of the east slope of the Andes will be where I pick up when next I write about our Ecuadoran adventure.  I must say though, that Antisana Ecological Reserve was one of the coolest places I have ever been and I really hope to go back again someday.

*We weren’t the only ones to dip that day.  Two other birding tour groups were in the park and they dipped as well.  It almost made me wish we had pitched in and gotten a rancher to slaughter a horse to bring the condors in (and, no, I’m not joking…it can be done for a price).

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.