Cayambe-Coca Reserve, Guardiania Baños: March 22, 2009

The Cayambe-Coca Reserve is a massive, wild area covering an incredible range of habitats on the eastern slope of the Andes. The reserve can be accessed at several points by car, as a network of roads exists in the highland section, but the majority of visitors simply walk up the road from the Termas de Papallacta, a luxurious but popular thermal springs destination located just an hour from Quito. The habitat here ranges from disturbed temperate montane forest, to elfin forest, to paramo and polylepis forest, and it's a great place to search for treeline specialties on the eastern slope, especially Black-Backed Bush-Tanager, Masked Mountain Tanager, and Glowing Puffleg.

After stopping briefly at the antennas at Papallacta Pass to search yet again for the Rufous-Bellied Seedsnipe, Aimee and I slowly made our way up the road from the Termas to the entrance of the reserve, which is about 5km and passes through decent habitat. We parked off to the side as soon as we encountered a mixed flock, and birded for the next hour with no break in the action. Highlights included a family of three Powerful Woodpeckers, a plethora of stylish Black-Crested Warblers, and a solitary Buff-Breasted Mountain-Tanager moving quietly about the understory. Noisier White-Throated and White-Banded Tyrannulets, Scarlet-Bellied Mountain-Tanagers, and Spectacled Whitestarts were all common.

We next parked at the entrance and walked up the Sendero del Agua trail towards Paracocha, a huge paramo lake that drains into several others lower down. Grass Wren and Tawny Antpitta were calling all over, and I also heard a Rufous Antpitta from within in paramo habitat, but aside from some soaring Carunculated Caracara and a single Glowing Puffleg in a polylepis stand we saw very little on our two-hour walk. Just before we returned to the car though, I spotted a juvenile Andean Condor soaring just above the ridge line, still lacking the characteristic white collar but with its primary feathers splayed out magnificently as it passed overhead.

As the highlands section of the reserve is currently closed to car traffic, we returned to birding the entrance road back towards the Termas. Road birding from the car is an odd endeavour, as it simply entails driving around until you see a lot of bird activity, but it worked to perfection this time as I stopped the car in front of two disheveled Agile Tit-Tyrants foraging just a meter away. They were part of a terrific flock that contained Superciliaried Hemispingus, Blue-Backed Conebill, and five Pearled Treerunners, among others. I followed them up the road at times almost coming within an arm's length of the edge species, firing away on my camera much of the time. As the flock passed, the sun came out blazing through the clouds, and a perched Tourmaline Sunangel proved a brilliant end to a fine morning of birding.

Notable birds seen: Andean Condor, Carunculated Caracara, Buff-Winged Starfrontlet, Glowing Puffleg, Tourmaline Sunangel, Powerful Woodpecker, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Pearled Treerunner, Tawny Antpitta, Agile Tit-Tyrant, Grass Wren, Black-Crested Warbler, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Cinerous Conebill, Blue-Backed Conebill, Buff-Breasted Mountain-Tanager, Scarlet-Bellied Moutain-Tanager, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Pale-Naped Brush-Finch.

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