The High Country: El Cajas National Park
Friday, July 18, 2008: Today we headed up to the páramo in El Cajas National Park. Needless to say, we found a new set of birds in the páramo. We started doing some serious birding near the park toll booth, located at about 12,000 feet elevation. Lifers near the toll booth included Violet-throated Metaltail, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, and Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant. Other birds present included Rufous-collared Sparrow and Great Thrush, which seem as at home in the páramo as they are next to the Hotel Sebastian in downtown Quito and Brown-bellied Swallow.
|Violet-throated Metaltail||Bar-winged Cinclodes|
|Great Thrush||Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant|
Although we are near the equator, it's cool at 12,000 feet. There was even some frost early in the day. High mountains also mean wildflowers, and we found those too. There was even a llama near the toll booth.
Further up the road, we stopped near some polylepis stands. We soon found a Many-striped Canastero, followed by a Blue-mantled Thornbill feeding in the grass. This hummingbird is actually collecting nectar from the wildflowers on the ground. It's quite a sight to see it hovering right above the ground and even landing to get at the low flowers.
Pretty soon we had also found Andean Tit-Spinetail, Ecuadorian Hillstar, and Stout-billed Cinclodes, as well as Black Flowerpiercer. Then we spotted a Tawny Antpitta running along the ground among the polylepis trees.
|Wildflower||Polylepis Stand||Many-striped Canastero|
|Blue-mantled Thornbill||Stout-billed Cinclodes|
|Andean Tit-Spinetail||Looking for Antpitta||Tawny Antpitta|
We headed on up the road, passing by a number of lakes. One had Andean Gull! A Variable Hawk (Puna Hawk) soared overhead before our next stop, which added Tit-like Dacnis to the list.
|Andean Lake||Andean Gull||Another
Still higher, we ran across a couple of Carunculated Caracaras. As they cruised in for a landing, they put up a Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant.
|Outcrop Vegetation||Páramo Waterfalls|
|Giant Conebill||Interesting Plant|
Our next major stop brought more Tit-like Dacnises, Giant Conebill, and Mouse-colored Thistletail. By then we were close to 13,000 feet and I was feeling a touch of mountain sickness (headache and lethargy). However, when Kevin spotted pair of Andean Condors, I came back to life for a few minutes. We had nice long looks at an adult and juvenile soaring overhead.
The top of the road is about 13,500 feet. We travelled down to the pay station on the other side, then returned. By the time we passed 12,500 feet, I was starting to feel better. We added Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and Paramo (Plain-capped) Ground-Tyrant before stopping for lunch at Dos Chorreras. By the time the food appeared, I was feeling normal again, just in time to enjoy lunch!
|Paramo Ground-Tyrant||Inside Dos Chorreras|
We birded some more before returning to Cuenca. I finally caught up with the Turquoise Jay and we also saw Line-cheeked Spinetail.
Today's totals were 36 species including 22 lifers, making a grand total of 237 bird species with 159 lifers.
Hotel Pinar del Lago, Cuenca