Birding Northern Ecuador
|Papallacta Pass and Upper Valley
Altitude 14,227 feet
|07 Feb 09 - Guango Lodge, Napo, EC
We left Quito c. 5:30 AM and drove up to Papallacta Pass. The valley you travel to get there is interesting, far too large for the tiny stream that drains it. I'd say glacier-carved by the shape, but we are at the equator. Was there big ice as low as 10,000 feet during the last ice age? If so, lots of post-glacial effects, including serious ash falls.
Papallacta is over 14,000 feet; we spent all morning above 13,500, with some side roads as high as 14,600 feet. At that altitude, we could talk or we could walk, but we couldn't walk and talk at the same time. And walking uphill you stopped frequently to pant. We started at the ridge itself, birding under a forest of microwave dishes, cell phone towers and antennas. Visibility was 200 feet down to zero. A strong wind blew chunks of snow and slush off the towers onto us. But we birded, and even picked up a Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, a Papallacta specialty. We birded a little lower from there, walking side roads below the clouds and stronger winds. Pretty good success, including some fairly rare species that had José pretty excited.
We had lunch at a small reservoir, east of the pass. It's apparently a place where travellers stop to throw stones and pee. From there we birded down backroads mostly, avoiding the more heavily trafficked highway. We had a very nice stop at about 10,000 feet, with a mixed flock of Tanagers. Even a traffic stop where they were clearing a mudslide gave us Plushcap, White-capped Dipper and Northern Mountain Casique. Birding is good when a stop for road maintenance gets you three lifers.
Once we got by the mudslide, it wasn't far to Guango Lodge. It's a fairly new place, between the main highway and the Papallacta River. The hummingbird feeders are extraordinary; not as many birds as Tandayapa, but perhaps more species. After a break, we birded the pipeline corridor through two mixed flocks of birds. We had a real treat when two Beryl-spangled Tanagers got in a tussle, locked together and fell to the ground. They were so distracted they let Nancy and José pick them up. An amazing bird in the hand.
We also got Torrent Duck finally, three-quarters of a mile downstream from the Lodge.
A terrific day of birding. It's a real shame Nick, Dave and Jeff aren't here...
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