Antisana Ecological Reserve

Last week I paid a visit to the fantastic Antisana Ecological Reserve on a birding trip from Bellavista. The reserve consists of about 120, 000 hectares of land, surrounding the snow-capped volcano of Antisana. This land includes a large area of cloud forest, highland grassland Paramo, several high altitude volcanic lakes, and precipitous cliffs, which are home to a range of unique and rare species of both plants and birds. The elevation ranges from 3100-4050 metres within the reserve, which is situated about an hour from Quito.

The Habitats

The high altitude lakes, in particular La  Mica Lagoon (from where Quito derives most of its water), are home to a range of rare species, such as Andean TealsAndean CootsSilvery GrebesAndean GullsYellow-billed Pintails and Andean Lapwings. A few migratory species like Lesser and Greater YellowlegsSpotted Sandpiper and Blue-winged Teal also stop off at these areas, feeding along the muddy shoreline. The dense areas of rushes around La Mica Lagoon is a good place to find scarce species like Noble and Imperial Snipe, plus the Ecuadorian Rail.

A large percentage of the reserve is made up of dry high elevation Paramo grassland, and of wet areas of cushion bogs. The high elevation plateau and these areas in general are excellent places to see the bizarre Carunculated Caracaras; the rare Black-faced IbisesAndean LapwingsParamo and Spot-billed Ground-tyrantsStout-billed and Bar-winged Cinclodes, and also the Black-winged Ground-doves. A unique range of plants and habitats make this ecosystem a very important one for a range of scarce species, such as the birds mentioned above.

Where the small upland rivers and creeks have carved ravines into the landscape, these valleys have often been taken over by a variety of dwarf trees and shrubs, which are good places to see Brown-backed Chat-tyrantsWhite-faced TyrannuletsTawny AntpittasShining SunbeamsTyrian Metaltails and White-browed Spinetails. These same valleys are in places covered with the very pretty thistle-like plant called the Chuquirahua- this plant is THE place that Ecuadorian Hillstar hummingbirds will be found. This species of hummingbird has one of the highest altitudinal ranges of any hummingbird, being found between 3500 and 5200 metres altitude. When the temperatures plummet at night, this tiny bird will enter a state of hibernation called torpor, where its core body temperature and metabolic rate are lowered to prevent the rapid usage of energy that usually takes place in a species with a heart rate of almost 1300bpm.

Towards the slightly lower altitudes and where the cool flowering plant called the Wanto-guando presides, you will find a range of seed-finches, siskins, hummingbirds, flowerpiercers and finches. This selection includes such birds as the Giant HummingbirdCinerous ConebillGlossy FlowerpiercerBlack-tailed Trainbearer and more Shining Sunbeams.

The Birds
The Antisana reserve is perhaps most famous for its largest inhabitants: the Andean Condor. This awesome bird soars on 10.5 foot wings above the highland plateaus and dramatic landscapes, but is a near-threatened species these days thanks to loss of habitat and secondary poisoning. As many as 20 individuals can be present in the reserve, and so Antisana actually holds approximately 33% of Ecuador’s 60 Condors. This species takes up to six years to reach sexual maturity, and the breeding cycle takes a long time, so much so that conserving this species is very tricky. Apparently the lifespan of the condor can be over 70 years, making it on of the world’s longest-living species of birds. 

Andean Condor

Andean Lapwing

Ecuadorian Hillstar

Carunculated Caracaras

Black-faced Ibises

Bar-winged Cinclodes

Silvery Grebe

Sword-billed Hummingbird
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