Andean Condor

There is one bird that is held in such high esteem that it is the national symbol of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. It is also the national bird of Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, and Ecuador.

It is also one of the largest flying birds in the world with a wingspan of ten feet and a bird that was on the top of my Ecuadorian wish list, so much so that I took an extra day and hired a guide to take me high up in the Andes, and hour and a half from Quito. It is the Andean condor!

My guide Gustavo picked me up at my lodging at the Puembo Birding Garden and we headed southeast, our destination: the Antisana Ecological Reserve. The Reserve is centered around the 18, 714 foot volcano Antisana. The high Andes are perfect place to see the true giant of the Andes, the Andean condor.

The cloud hidden peak of Antisana. At 18,714 feet is is the fourth highest volcano in Ecuador.

After winding our way up from Quito on streets that got progressively narrower and more rustic through small villages we stopped for a mid morning snack and caffeine break at the appropriately named Tambo Condor Restaurant.

Condors, this way!

We stepped out on the patio and watched a giant hummingbird at the feeder. We were here to see another giant. Gustavo focused his scope on a distant smudge that was just to the left of the thin cascade of white that was falling from the cliff.

“There’s your condor,” he announced as he stepped back.

Centered in the scope was an adult condor, preening on a cliff ledge. Lifer! This was just the opening act. Looking down the valley, with the sprawling capital in the distant haze, three condors appeared on the wing. They rose up from the valley and flew above the cliffs, one condor coming in for a cliff landing.

Over the course of out time in Artisan we saw about eight condors. A true treat to see this slowly declining species and a symbol of the Andes Mountains.



The Cock-of-the-Rock and the Angel of Peace

There was one experience that I was really looking forward to in the Mindo Valley.

It was a visit to the legendary Angel Paz and his property called Refugio Paz de las Aves. Over the past ten years Angel has developed a relationship with a few species of hard to see antpittas. He is afterall known as the “antpitta whisperer”.

The Angel of Peace, feeding three dark-backed wood-quail.

Before we could see Angel coax antpittas out of the forest, we first visited the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek on his property. At just after 6 AM, we headed down the narrow path that ended in a blind. As we walked down the hill we could hear the otherworldly calls of the displaying males. The trees just down hill were filled with the iconic Andean specialty as they called and danced in there riotous plumage for the drabber but unseen female. The show lasted for almost an hour before the males dispersed to head off to start their day.

Male Cock-of-the-Rocks displaying at the Refugio Paz de las Ave lek.

The first bird that Angel conjured up was a cloud-forest pygmy-owl. We then headed to another part of his property and three dark-backed wood-quail where waiting by the side of the road for us. We then moved on and with the help of his brother Rodrigo, our search for the antipittas was to begin in earnest.

We walked a short way down a path and Rodrigo headed off trail and downslope. He whistled into the forest and called, “Andreita. Andrea. Venga, venga, venga!” Rodrigo repeated this and within five minutes “Andeita”, a chestnut-crowned antpitta appeared at the base of a log. Lured by worms, the antipitta made it’s way up the log and was now ten feet downslope from our position.

After getting great views we headed a little further down the trail and Rodrigo summoned “Williamina” a yellow-breasted antpitta from the forest. This shy, retiring bird stayed in view for a short time, taking the worms and then disappearing into the forest.

At the end of our unforgettable visit to Refugio Paz de las Aves, we had ticked almost 70 species of birds including two species of antpittas, the iconic Andean cock-of-the-rock, a common potoo with a chick, and the cloud-forest pygmy-owl.



A Surprise at the Feeders of San Tadeo

On the Fourth of July we where going to see some Ecuadorian fireworks at the fruit and hummingbird feeders of San Tadeo in the Mindo Valley.

These feathered fireworks mainly came in the form of tropical tanagers. Golden, flame-faced, blue-gray, golden-napped, back and blue-capped tanagers. Added to the show where crimson-rumped toucanets and red-headed barbets. But the most colorful explosion came in the form of a pair of toucan barbets.

This barbet is often described in field guides as “unmistakeable” and one tropical birding guide described the toucan barbet as, “a rainbow flavored snowcone.”

While our group was enjoying the firework display, some movement on the ground caught my attention. What I saw was what looks like a large dark rufous potato on sticks and I knew immediately what bird this was and I called out: “Antpitta!!

I later found out that, our guide Luke, at first, thought that I had misidentified the potato bird, that is, until he got his bins on the bird.

“Giant antpitta!” he announced to our group, proclaiming it’s existence.

All eyes were on the bird as it sulked and paused, sulked and paused, like a snowy plover on Ocean Beach.

The reason for the initial disbelief is that the giant antpitta, despite it’s name, is one of the hardest birds to see and see well in the Mindo region. If you don’t count the unusually tame giant antpitta at Refugio Paz de las Aves. In fact, no one had ever seen this bird at San Tadeo, including the owner and Paul Greenfield (the illustrator of The Birds of Ecuador).

We were all able to get views of this rare treat as it sulked behind the water feature, stopped and paused, then struck at something in the leaf litter. It then disappeared from view, heading into the leafy cover downslope.

We then headed downslope to the hummingbird feeders that offered an amazing view of Mindo Valley with the small town of Mindo nestled in the center of the valley.

It was at the hummingbird feeders that we first saw what Luke described as his favorite hummingbird in Ecuador. And the velvet-purple cornet is an absolute stunner!