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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cotopaxi with a New Friend

Cotopaxi Volcano

I just had the pleasure of making a trip to Cotopaxi with Graham Osborne, a new friend from a small town just outside London. He came here to spend a month visiting various areas around Ecuador observing the extensive avifauna of this beautiful little country. We met the night before for dinner and spent a wonderful evening talking about his exploits in the Mindo area and discussing our planned trip to the Páramo.

I met Graham at his hotel at 6:15 AM and we proceeded out of the Quito toward the park entrance. Since the ranger station does not open until 8:00 AM and we were a little early we decided to stop at a small café for some breakfast. As we ate a Black-tailed Trainbearer hovered around the flowers outside the window. It was an enjoyable moment before heading up the road to the park.

They have reduced the entrance price to $2 for both locals and foreigners, which was a pleasant surprise. The sun was shining, unusual for this time of year, and it was a perfect day for birding. We saw a little bird activity on the way up to Lake Limpiopungo, but outside of the variable hawk there was not too much to brag about. However, once arriving at the lake, there were many surprises.

Tawny Antpitta (Grallaria quitensis)
The ever present Andean Gull and Andean Coot were there to welcome us, along with Andean Teal, which can be seen on every visit. However, the teal had several cousins in for a family get-together. Andean Rudy Duck were swimming out near the gulls and Yellow Pintail were sleeping on one of the nearer patches of grass. Blue-winged Teal were also present, mixing in with the Andean Teal along the shore of the lake.

Before we could proceed around the lake, a Tawny Antpitta began calling out to us near the pathway from a tuft of grass not 20 meters from where we were. Graham took out his IPod and portable amplifier and began answering the little critter. Before long, the Antpitta hopped out from its cover and perched on a branch, singing melodiously to us as we watched. We spent several minutes listening to his song and observing his antics before continuing around the lake.

As we walked we came across several common species to the area such as the Grass Wren, the Plumbeous Sierra-Finch and the Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant. The highlight of the hike was several visits by the Ecuadorian Hillstar. It was very active, sometimes perching relatively close to us allowing time for observation and photos. Both the Bar-winged and the Stout-billed Cinclodes were present although on this trip the Bar-winged were more prominent.

Andean Coot (Fulica ardesiaca)
In addition to the bird species, there were several other visitors to the lake including numerous wild horses and a solitary buck deer that was grazing lazily on the northern shore of the lagoon. The deer watched us closely although he was a great distance from us with an expanse of water between. One additional visitor that is not seen as frequently was a Lesser Yellow-legs searching the marsh area for food.

Graham and I spent about two and a half hours searching the lake before deciding to return to the car and set out in search of some raptors. Unfortunately there was not much activity around the eastern edge of Cotopaxi other than Andean Lapwing, Black-winged Ground-Dove and Streak-backed Canestero. As it was getting late and the clouds were beginning to move in, we decided to head back to Graham’s hotel so that he could rest before heading out to the eastern slopes in the morning.

It was a good day for birding, observing many species and enjoying the elusive sunshine. Graham was able to observe many of the high-altitude species of the Páramo and took back some wonderful memories. It was enjoyable meeting a new friend and sharing this countries abundant beauty with him.