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Friday, September 3, 2010

Papallacta Pass

This past week I paid a visit to Papallacta Pass. If traveling from Quito you would go east through Cumbaya, Tumbaco and Pifo, finally heading up into the mountain pass. The government has done a fairly good job of erecting signs indicating the way to this area. The drive will take about an hour. There are several busses that frequent this road and for the budget traveler you can get to the pass for less than five dollars, US.

When you get to the top of the mountain you will encounter a large Welcome sign (Bienvenidos). At this point you will see a small gravel road that goes off to the left. There is a fork in this road, the left fork going back down hill and the right fork heading up to the antennas and entrance to the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve. About 300 meters from the main road on the right fork you will encounter a gate and a ranger station. If there should be someone at the station you might have to pay a small fee to enter the park.

When visiting this area you need to keep in mind that you will be in the cloud-forest and the chances of getting a clear day are not in your favor. The pass itself is at about 4,100 meter (13,600 ft) above sea level. You will need to dress for the weather and climate. Layer your clothing to keep warm and take rain poncho or rain jacket to protect you from the elements.

Tawny-Antpitta (Grallaria hypoleuca)
On the day that I visited the weather was particularly ugly. The temperature was about 3 degrees C. (36 F). There was a misty rain mixed with snow and sleet. This was the kind of day that only birders and fisherman could appreciate.

I decided to take the left fork first, an area that is generally missed by tourists. The road is fairly good and easily walked. There are a number of small ponds along the road that attract Andean Teal and Torrent Ducks. Here I encounter some Tawny Antpitta and Stout-billed Cinclode. A Variable Hawk passed overhead as well as an Andean Gull. The birds were quite active but the weather conditions prevented me from taking many photos. I saw several Rufus Wren along the road. (Lat. 0 19' 20", Lon: 78 12' 41")

Bar-winged Cinclode (Cinclodes fuscus)
I spent about an hour along this road and then decided to head up to the antennas. (Lat: 0 19' 16", Lon: 78 11' 16", Alt: 4350 m) The road there was a little rougher and the wind was much stronger. The snow actually came down pretty heavy at times. But this did not stop the birds from being active. Here I encountered some Andean Teal in a small pond but the clouds were too heavy to get any decent photos. Caught a glimpse of a Noble Snipe but he didn't stick around for long. As the clouds got heavier it was becoming too difficult to spot much of anything. I stayed for a few minutes and then started back down the hill. When I got back to the ranger station I had to get out of my car to open the gate and there was a Bar-winged Cinclode searching the grass next to my vehicle. I was able to get a few photos of him as he hopped off. He was not particularly afraid of me as he went about his business.

I did not spend a lot of time at the pass on this day but I plan on returning when it is a little clearer. I would like to explore the lower fork a little more as there were a lot of birds in this area. I can see the mountains from my bedroom window in Quito and I have been watching for a clear morning. The first one that I see I will head back up to the pass for a better look.

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