Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Tale of Two Condors Part II

 Antisano National Park, Ecuador.  February 2013.  Elevation 13,000 feet.  Early morning we join David and Jorge near Quito for the drive into the high Andes where we hope to glimpse an Andean Condor as well as numerous paramo specialties.  The landscape changes gradually as we climb, but within a half hour or so we notice a distinct difference in vegetation and the views are spectacular.  We stop at a small restaurant/hosteria where we traipse down a hillside pasture above a crater lake where Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintails, and Silver Grebes dabble and dive in the reflections of clouds and surrounding cliffs.  It’s chilly up here, so we don’t linger at the overlook but hurry back for a welcome steaming cup of chocolate.  The proprietors have scopes set up at the windows, and a log book sits on a nearby table where they record sightings of condors.  So maybe we might see one? we ask.  And no sooner are the words out of our mouths when someone exclaims, “Condor! There, above those cliffs!”  And then there are two, and three, and within seconds no fewer than twelve of the giant birds have risen on the updrafts above the escarpment.  

Photo: Captive Andean condor
Andean Condor. From National Geographic:  Photograph by Anne Keiser

We can’t believe our good fortune, which was augmented an hour later up on the paramo when three adult Andean Condors soared over our heads low enough that we could see their fluffy white collars with unaided eyes!  And, if that wasn’t enough, later when we stopped back at the hosteria for lunch, we spied an adult male bird perched on a small outcropping on the cliff face across the lake.  While we watched through the scope, it moved to another spot.  “Un Nino! A kid!”  David had zoomed in so we watched in amazement as Papa Condor regurgitated large pieces of dead animal into the offspring’s craw.

California Condor Photograph by Chad Olson, NPS
A couple of weeks later we were in the southern part of Ecuador, where we met Chad Olson and Sophie Osborn from Wyoming.  We birded together for a few days, during which time we learned they are also raptorphiles.  They had both worked on the California Condor Recovery Project, and had wonderful stories about their experiences.  Sophie was awarded the Best Outdoor Writer prize in 2012 for her book  Condors in Canyon CountryShe told of watching young California Condors playing with “toys” and of how each bird in the nursery had its own distinct personality. As the four of us discussed our individual experiences with the two species, and the awe we feel when watching, we all agreed that we like “our” condors best.

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