WildlifeKate in Ecuador: Day 1 – Antisana Reserve and Tambo Condor

After months of planning and emails, the day had finally arrived! With Christmas done and dusted and a rapid take down of all my Christmas decorations, I made final checks on my luggage, which seemed to consist more of camera kit than clothes!

An early start to Birmingham airport and my journey to Ecuador had begun! I flew to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and it was a relatively easy trip; a flight to Paris and then direct to Quito. The flight was long  (nearly 12 hrs!) and I arrived at 8pm, their time. Ecuador is 5 hours behind the UK, so not too bad regarding jet lag issues.


I was met from the airport and taken to my hotel. I was pretty exhausted and, knowing I had an 8am pick up, I wanted to be ready to face my first day in Ecuador! My hotel was the Radisson Park Inn, in the heart of the city. It was clean, modern and had everything I needed, especially a great shower and a comfy bed. #gallery-21533-22 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21533-22 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21533-22 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21533-22 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

It was Friday night and, being in the centre of the city’s entertainment district, there was quite a lot of music and night life going on, but I was on the 8th floor and with double glazing, I soon fell asleep to a vague background buzz of Ecuadorian music and celebrations.

At 8am, I was met by Danny Jumbo, who was going to be my guide for the next 4 days. Danny has been guiding for over 16 years and, as I was travelling solo, it was lovely to see a friendly face and be looked after so well! You can find out more about Danny by visiting his website at www.mindobirding.com. #gallery-21533-24 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21533-24 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21533-24 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21533-24 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

Danny’s English was excellent, and we were soon loaded up in the car heading to our first destination. Danny’s skills were going to be put to the test over the next few days as, anyone who knows me will tell you, I am always full of questions and somewhat enthusiastic! This small country is home to an astonishing diversity of bird life, containing 15% of the world’s known bird species (Ecuador has more species per unit area than any other country in South America!) Bird watching her was going to be exciting with more than 1,600 bird species  recorded on the mainland!

As we drove to our first destination, I got my first views of  the country that was to be my home for the next two weeks and Danny was happy to tell me about the districts we were travelling through and about the places we were going. My itinerary had been organised by the Quito Tourist Board, and our first stop was to be Antisana Reserve. This Ecological Reserve is in the central highlands, located at the feet of the volcano, Mount Antisana, (5705 metres high) This protected area aims to preserve native plant and animal wildlife in the Andean paramo, which is a habitat situated between elevations of 3600 m and 4800 m and whose wildlife is highly adapted to the harsh conditions there.

We stopped at a couple of roadside locations on the way, where we looked for birds. The landscape was varied, with little hollows like this, carved out by a small stream. Birds flitted around constantly and, thanks to Danny’s sharp eye and scope, I was able to see my first real views of some of Ecuador’s impressive number of species! #gallery-21533-25 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21533-25 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21533-25 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21533-25 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

This area was covered in  spiky bushes, covered orange flowers. These are Chiquiragua blooms. Danny told me to look out for tiny movements near these flowers. Sure enough, I spotted something! Looking through the scope, I was able to watch a tiny hummingbird; the  Ecuadorian Hillstar.  A symbol of the Ecuadorian Andes, this tiny fragile-looking bird is able to survive the highest of altitudes and is only seen where these plants flower.



It wasn’t just birds we saw… this lizard let me get quite close! I think it is a lava lizard…. #gallery-21533-26 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21533-26 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21533-26 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21533-26 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

We headed into the reserve. All vehicles are registered in and out, in an attempt to monitor visitors and protect the area. We drove, stopping frequently to scan for species…. the list was increasing! The stunning landscape was prairie like with ravines and areas of vegetation. Every new species we saw was exciting……


One of my favourites, that came close enough for me to photograph, was the Carunculated Caracara. This bird is quite common in landscapes like this Paramo prairie. Often quite close to the road , they would sometimes stop long enough for me to grab a shot. They forage in the grassland, looking for carrion and small animals. Apparantly, this reserve is one of the best places to see these impressive raptors!

This Black-faced Ibis was another great tick. There was a small flock, and I managed to get a few shots before they were hidden by the Andean grasslands. The Antisana National Park is one of the few places to see this rare Ibis!


Seeing a movement close to the side of the road, I got a fantastic view of this beauty! I could tell that it was a lapwing of some kind as it has a lot of similar features to our UK species. This is the Andean lapwing.


We headed higher, stopping briefly to watch some llama and deer in the distance. As we did, we caught a glimpse of something else; an Andean fox! It trotted across the grassland, in full view, through the scope for a minute or so. It was more grey than our red fox. I was delighted!

We headed higher, to La Mica Lagoon. The lake is often called Micacocha, a hybrid of the Spanish word for mica, a shiny mineral that reflects sunlight, and the Quichua word cocha, meaning body of water. Laguna Mica is best known for providing drinking water to the city of Quito. Although lakes do is exist in the Andes, lakes as large as this one do not and it attracts a range of interesting species. #gallery-21533-27 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21533-27 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21533-27 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21533-27 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */


My pounding heart and shortness of breath confirmed to me that we were nearly 4000 metres above sea level! For someone who is used to being fit and walking at a fast pace, I found myself restricted to a slow amble, with my heart threatening to burst from my chest….. it is the highest altitude I have ever been. The cyclists passing us on the road up to this location deserved  much admiration!

Scanning this wonderful landscape, wild horses passed beneath us and suddenly a deer appeared to our left, passing right in front of us. This is the White-tailed deer.


We scanned the lake with the scope and were treated to views of Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean teal, Andean duck and Silvery grebes. All too far away to photograph, but excellent views through the scope.

The afternoon was disappearing fast, so we headed back down again stopping regularly to take advantage of the spectacular views of the landscape and a variety of bird species! A huge mountain, Antisana, the fourth tallest in Ecuador, dominated the landscape every time the cloud cleared. Rising impressively from the flatter grasslands, we stopped several times so I could take some pictures. Much of the mountain is usually shrouded in cloud and mist. Early mornings and late afternoons provide the best opportunities for a good view and we timed it just right!


Heading lower, we left the park and headed back to the 7,000 acre Antisanilla Reserve was founded in 2014 by the Jocotoco Foundation. We had driven through here on the way up. The land expands protected habitat for many native species and add to a wildlife corridor project by the Cayambe-Coca National Park, Sumaco National Park, and the Antisana Ecologic Reserve:


A must stop location is a viewing platform, facing a huge cliff face.


The landscape is truly spectacular. With steep sided cliff faces, rising vertically , this is one of the best places to get a good view of one of the most iconic species of the Andes. Within seconds, Danny had spotted one. Far away, perched on the distant cliff, I got my first view of a wild Andean Condor!


It was far away, but, as it took to the air, my heart raced. Seeing this magnificent vulture, with a wingspan of 3.2m, soaring in front of me,was exhilarating. It is a rare and declining species, despite conservation efforts. Andean Condors mainly live above 5,000 feet, they nest in hard to reach, rocky terrain and prefer open grassy areas to spot carrion, on which they feast.  They are often seen  hundreds of meters overhead, riding thermals and soaring on wide, flat wings.

These images were taken with a 400m lens, and heavily cropped.


To add to the excitement, my first close view of a hummingbird, these beauties were feeding around the platform. I think it is the Tyrian Metaltail. #gallery-21533-28 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21533-28 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21533-28 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21533-28 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

By now we we pretty hungry and we headed to ‘Tambo condo’, very close to the  platform.


Nestled in the huge landscape, nest to the Condor cliff, this was a welcome stop. A beautiful restaurant, with impressive views of both cliffs and hummingbird feeders, I was in heaven! Despite feeling a little fragile after my long journey from the UK and high altitudes, I enjoyed the delicious, wholesome, home-made veg starter and delicious soup. #gallery-21533-29 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21533-29 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21533-29 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21533-29 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */


Another platform outside, with seating, was another great condor-watching location and hummingbirds and numerous other species flitted around us. #gallery-21533-31 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21533-31 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21533-31 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21533-31 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */


I was captivated by the feeders and this Sparkling Violetear had me captivated… I would have stayed all day, especially as I saw the giant hummingbird here too!


It was time to head back to Quito. I was reeling with the number of birds we had seen!!!


We were due to go out for a meal in Quito and explore some of the city, but the last few days had caught up on me. I knew that, to enjoy my packed itinerary, I needed sleep. Danny dropped me back to the hotel and I fell into a deep sleep, dreaming on soaring condors and tiny jewelled hummingbirds!

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