Yaguarcocha: January 17, 2010

Yaguarcocha is a relatively large highlands lake located just north along the Panamerican Highway past the regional capital of Ibarra. Bordered in places by marsh habitat, it's a good site for ducks and grebes as well as shorebirds and rails. Supposedly, it was also once the site of a brutal massacre in which the Inca invaders slaughtered thousands of the indigenous Cara people, hence its name, which means "lake of blood" in Quichua. Now, it's simply a pleasant place for the people of Ibarra to get away from the city and enjoy nature, as well as the delicious platos tipicos which are served by the hundreds in the town on the far side of the lake (the yaguarlocro is particularly good).

I stopped by Yaguarcocha Sunday afternoon to stretch my legs while returning from my recent trip to northern Ecuador, which included a visit to Cerro Mongus and La Bonita Road along the Colombian border. Stopping at a few places along the shore as I drove around the lake, I noted a large number of Andean Coot and Pied-Billed Grebe as well as a few unusual records, including Laughing Gull and Black-Necked Stilt. The latter seems suprising enough that I'm posting a record shot below in which the distinctive orange achote flowers of the interandean valley can be seen in foreground. The lake is also a popular spot for Neotropic Cormorants, which were perched by the dozen in the pine trees that were being buffeted by the wind on the border of the lake, presumably to dry out.

The hills to the north of the lake are blanketed in very arid scrub habitat and might be good for interandean species such as the Scrub Tanager, Giant Hummingbird, and Southern Yellow Grosbeak. An early morning search through the marsh habitat should also yield Ecuadorian Rail and perhaps even Subtropical Doradito. I spotted the Tropical Mockingbird here and at other places in the Chota Valley further to the north, which seems to be spreading south through the highlands according to the information in the field guide. Recently it was even spotted in Quito at the Cumbaya Reservoir.

Notable birds seen: Pied-Billed Grebe, Andean Coot, Black-Necked Stilt, Andean Gull, Laughing Gull, Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Mockingbird.

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