Thursday, May 22, 2014

Papallacta Pass in Ecuador's Andes

Our final day in Ecuador is exhilarating, in the high reaches of the Andes at Papallacta Pass, not far from Quito. The weather couldn't be better –– and it's often a challenge here!

Looking down on the páramo from the heights near Papallacta Pass
(Photos by Narca)

Improvements to the highway from Quito that goes over the pass have made access to the countryside much more difficult. We pull off near the crest and study the situation –– we have been here several times before, and know there is access! –– and find the obscure dirt road that drops from the north side of the highway, and meanders to the guard post for the reserve here. After passing the guard's inspection, we mosey up the road that climbs to the towers atop the mountain.

Among the most sought-after birds in the high Andes is the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, a cryptic bird the size of a ptarmigan. I have only seen this seedsnipe once before, in Peru's high country, and then from a great distance. We are very lucky today. One flies in, calling and circling the towers, before landing on the ground not far away.

Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, a distant relative of our sandpipers and plovers, and not related to the grouse and ptarmigan it resembles!

Other high-elevation specialists also appear, including the striking Carunculated Caracaras.

 Carunculated Caracaras, with a pair below

After an hour or so at the towers, we return through the guard post, and follow the road in the other direction, moving downhill into shrubbier habitat.

A last glimpse of the páramo at Papallacta Pass

Here Andean Condors and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles are soaring overhead.

Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles show a distinctive, short-tailed silhouette.

Andean Condors are always a treat!

The rustling branches of a flowering composite eventually part, to reveal a charming tit-spinetail.

Andean Tit-Spinetail

 Polylepis trees provide refuge for other species.

A Bar-winged Cinclodes on a Polylepis branch

Plumbeous Sierra-Finch is characteristic of the high Andes... is the widespread Rufous-collared Sparrow.

Perky Shining Sunbeams are quite the fun hummingbird!

Among the shrubs is a familiar mammal.

Brazilian Rabbit

Lower down, in the forest, we find the last Roadside Hawk of the trip, ensconced in bromeliads.

Roadside Hawk

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