Andean Condor


So today after spending the morning poking around the Centro Astronómico Alfa Aldea, we decided to go to the big reservoir below Vicuña.  A dam across the Elqui river provides irrigation for 20,000 hectares of farmland, and forms a lake — El Embalse Puclaro.   We stopped first along the upper part of the lake, where there are mudflats and other inviting bird habitat, and saw a number of new species, including Red-Gartered Coots [not Grebes, thanks Bill Eddleman, yes, I'm tired], Yellow-billed Pintails, Yellow-billed Teal, and Great Grebes.

Even when they’re not in breeding plumage, Great Grebes are pretty impressive.
Great Grebe

Then we drove along the northern edge of the reservoir to Guailliguaica, a town on the reservoir known for kitesurfing.  After driving around and being sort of lost for a bit, we concluded that you can’t in fact drive all the way around Puclaro, and went back out to highway 41.  Heading west, and missing various turns and being confused a bit more, we finally found the way to the observation area on the dam.


You have to walk in a bit from the parking area, and when you reach the dam, there’s a huge metal sculpture that is an Aeolian Harp, with four piano wires that sing in the wind.  While admiring this and listening to the Big Ears-appropriate music it made, I saw two big black birds soaring over the lake, wings slightly uptilted in a shallow V.  Peggy asked what they were, and I said “Turkey Vultures,” brought up my binoculars, and added “I tell a lie.  Those are condors!”   The two proceeded to circle back and forth right over us for several minutes and about a hundred photos.    With a wingspan of almost 11 feet, they’re the largest flying birds in the world, and they’re really impressive.
Andean CondorThey disappeared over a ridge finally, and didn’t show up again while we were there.  I hadn’t expected them in that location at all, but what a great surprise!  After a long walk across the dam and back, we headed back to Vicuña, where we had a terrific lunch at the same place we ate dinner last night, El Chivato Negro.  You eat in an enclosed patio out back, and the food and beer are all locally sourced and reasonably priced.  Several cats wander around the place — last night I paid the bill with one sitting in my lap — and we saw Green-backed Firecrown hummingbirds in the trees. For dinner tonight we bought bread, cheese, salami, and olives at the grocery store, and we’d already stocked up on wine.  I’m beat.  If you’re keeping score at home, I’ve recorded 32 species on the trip, of which 19 are new to my life list.  But more locations to come!   At El Chivato Negro

One Response to “Condors!”

  1. Leon Book says:

    Wow, Andean condors! I saw a video on Facebook, but this photo is even better. And 19 lifers already. So cool. Wondered if you seen the California condors, too. I’ve seen neither but sure hope to someday.

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