Volcán Cayambe: June 13, 2009

Reaching almost 5800m, Volcán Cayambe is a bulky, glaciated peak straddling the equator. It's a popular, non-technical climb located a few hours from Quito, but it's often battered by poor weather rising over the eastern cordillera of the Andes. I've reached the summit once before, but I haven't explored the flanks of the volcano much, so I eagerly jumped at the chance when Mark Thurber, one of Ecuador's most experienced and knowledgeable climbers, invited me to explore the the northern face of the mountain. While Mark's not really a birder, I made sure to tuck my binoculars in my pack as the outing was bound to land us in good elfin forest and paramo habitat.

Sure enough we encountered some terrific highland birds as we ascended to 4700m, just above the glacier line: a splendid Andean Condor soared past us on a ridge as we both scrambled to assemble our cameras; a Red-Rumped Bush-Tyrant was being harassed by a group of Plumbeous Sierra-Finches in a stand of Quinua trees; and we located two pairs of Rufous-Bellied Seedsnipes foraging in the cushion plants at bout 4500m. I was most excited by the presence of the latter bird, as it was only the second time I had ever observed the seedsnipe (the first was at Papallacta Pass, which feels more like a stake out than an original encounter). Even Mark had to remark on the bird's beautiful plumage and goofy call, which lends the bird an air of vulnerability despite its ability to withstand the extreme climate.

Notable birds seen: Andean Condor, Carunculated Caracara, American Kestrel, Andean Snipe, Rufuous-Bellied Seedsnipe, Blue-Mantled Thornbill, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Tawny Antpitta, Red-Rumped Bush-Tyrant, Paramo Ground-Tyrant, Grass Wren, Black Flowerpiercer.

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