The Antisanilla Ecological Reserve is a 10,000 acre (4,000 hectare) high altitude habitat which was purchased by the Jocotoco Foundation to protect an important nesting site of the endangered Andean Condor. Most of the few remaining condors in Ecuador live in this protected area.
The reserve is also a refuge for South America's only bear species, the Andean Spectacled Bear. We were fortunate to see both of these on our drive.
The reserve is made up of páramo grasslands, wetlands and remnants of Andean forest at altitudes ranging from 11,000 to 15,000 feet (3400 to 4500 meters) in altitude.
To find the condors, one only has to look above the trails of guano dried on the cliffs.
I managed to catch one coming in for a landing. From this distance it is hard to appreciate the ten foot wingspan of these marvelous birds.
We were very thankful that our guide Manuel spotted the bear for us!
My target bird for this area was the beautiful Ecuadorian Hillstar. This bird favors high altitudes and is only found in Ecuador and a tiny bit of southern Colombia. We found plenty of the flowers it likes, but the birds were not cooperating. I did get a brief glimpse of a full-plumaged male, but I was not quick enough with the camera and only recorded a blotch. I definitely need to come back and spend a whole day in this area.
We did find a little immature Hillstar that didn't look like it had been very long out of the nest. Sheri Williamson thinks that the nest is probably under the bridge we were photographing from and this little guy/gal wasn't venturing very far yet.
We also found this female Tyrian Metaltail happily "flower piercing" to get the nectar. Some hummingbirds, especially with short beaks like the Metaltail, will pierce a hole at the base of the flower to sip the nectar and thus shirk their pollination duties.
We had lunch at the Tambo Condor Restaurant overlooking their hummingbird feeders that attracted many hummingbirds we've already photographed. The most photogenic of these was a little Shining Sunbeam with perfect eyelashes. The Giant Hummingbird also made a brief appearance.
After lunch we were off to visit the Guango Lodge and its many hummingbird feeding stations. Here we would get our first glimpse of the "eastern Andes" hummingbirds such as the Chestnut-breasted Coronet and the Long-tailed Sylph.
Guango Lodge is located near the páramo of Papallacta and I'm told that this was our first choice of lodges to stay for the night. They only have eight rooms and were booked many months ago. If you want to stay here, book now!
Guango has many trails through the temperate Andean forest and different feeding stations for its many hummingbirds. A new species here for me was the fabulous Tourmaline Sunangel, and I was able to get good pictures of both the male and female.
The Sword Billed Hummingbird never fails to delight everyone, and one of them liked to perch for us within shooting range. This hummingbird has evolved to reach nectar from very long tubular flowers. But now that I've seen the flower piercers, I cannot help but think that the poor Sword Billed is a product of millions of years of wasted evolution! A short sharp beak would have allowed this guy to preen more easily. Some of my Guango hummingbirds are pictured below.
After leaving Guango we headed to the Termas de Papallacta Hot Springs Spa and Resort. With the hot springs filling pools meandering through the property and the natural hot water directed to heating the bathroom floors, this place was not too shabby for a second choice!