Laguna San Pablo: August 23, 2009

Most visitors to mainland Ecuador make the trip out to the indigenous town of Otavalo, home to the famous Saturday market. On the way north along the Panamerican Highway, you'll pass by the daunting but extinct Volcan Imbabura, with Laguna San Pablo stretching out from its base picturesquely. While the area is littered with small, traditional communities, there is still some decent marsh habitat along the shores of lake which is good for ducks, grebes, herons, gulls, and shorebirds. I've even heard reports that the Subtropical Doradito is found here, although I've never seriously looked for it.

On the evening before I returned to work, we stopped here to enjoy the sunset and check out the bird activity. On the northwestern side of the lake, the side closest to the town of Otavalo, there were hundreds of Andean Teal, Andean Ruddy Duck, and Andean Coot, all perhaps blown to this side by the tremendous wind that day, so I set up the scope so my dad could get some good looks at these common Andean waterfowl. Meanwhile, Blue-and-White Swallows darted about and massive streams of Cattle Egrets passed by overhead, grouping together by the hundreds nearby in the marsh for the night.

While he was digging the electric-blue bill of the male Andean Ruddy-Duck, I noticed a bird that didn't fit in, first feeding from the surface like a duck and then wading through the mud like a rail. Not being very experienced with identifying shorebirds, I first guessed it was the Ecuadorian Rail, correcting myself once I looked the bird up in the field guide, as this one was without such a long, straight, and orange-colored bill. After much deliberation and investigation on the Internet, I'd have to guess that it was an immature Sora. While the Sora is a boreal migrant, but there almost has to be some residents on the lake. Plus, this bird had some faint brown barring on its belly, which is visible in other photographs. At any rate, it was definitely surprising for me to discover a birding mystery in such a heavily populated and disturbed area. The site is certainly worth checking out, if you're visiting the market.

Update: Roger Ahlman set me straight on the bird, correctly identifying it as an immature Common Gallinule. Aves Ecuador is a great place to have your mystery birds identified, by the way, and is regularly updated with birding news from Ecuador.

Notable birds seen: Andean Ruddy-Duck, Andean Coot, Andean Teal, Common Gallinule.

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