Birding Northern Ecuador
Altitude 11,566 feet
|01 Feb 09 - Yanacocha Reserve
Our guide is José Illanes; our driver is Roberto. We were on the road after a cold breakfast at Hotel Sebastian by about 5:45 AM - it gets cloudy and foggy early at our destination. A fairly long drive, paved about one-third of the way, and steeply uphill every inch of the way. Essentially, it's a ridgetop high above the valley hosting Quito, and perhaps a bit north. Our vehicle is a J. L. Tourismo bus; big windows, but somewhat elderly. Roberto has to double-clutch to shift gears.
Hotel Sebastian is old-style, somewhat elegant, very comfortable, and has showers that blast you through adjoining walls. Unfortunately, it's also in a noisy, street-party quarter of Quito. We didn't get much sleep flying down here. We sure didn't get much last night, between the street noise and Quito's altitude. Everyone is a bit groggy. And Nick, who shared our room, talks in his sleep.
Reserva Ecologica Yanacocha is gaspingly high for these low-altitude Alaskans. At 11,566 feet, you don't walk and talk at the same time. I also discovered that I have the unconscious habit of holding my breath as I click the shutter; possibly from days when I hand-held a camera. At these altitudes, it's a great way to pass out.
Happily, the trail was relatively flat, and there were enough birds that altitude and exhaustion were pretty much forgotten. Near the turn around there were two sets of feeders that attracted amazing numbers of hummingbirds and flowerpiercers. There were dramatic cloudscapes, that occasionally socked us in tightly. Until we were three-quarters of the way back out to the bus, the light was never really good, but it was adequate for photography with most birds. There were no trees, but there were very large shrubs; utterly astonishing for Alaskans. There's nothing but rock and ice at 11,000 feet in Alaska. Not even lichen survives so high.
After lunch at Yanacocha entrance, which included a Peregrine Falcon fly-by, we birded the old Nono-Mindo Road down the Tandayapa River Valley, headed towards Tandayapa Lodge. Lots of good birds. After getting within 10 kilometers of our destination along the very windy, narrow mountain road, we encountered a large mudslide. It was impossible to cross in the bus, and far too large to hand-shovel. So we detoured, doubling back most of the way, then taking an even narrower, twistier road to a paved road, and then back up the road we'd intended to drive down. But along the detour, we saw a few more new species, including two Burrowing Owls, not a bird I'd expected to find in a cloud forest
Tandayapa Lodge is at the bottom of a steep climb from the parking lot. At 6,000 feet, with a group of very tired, somewhat grumpy Alaskans, it was a long climb, but the excellent food helped and the hotel staff wrestled luggage.
José is very knowledgeable. His recognition of fragments of bird songs is astonishing.
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