Birding with Murray

Every once in a while here in Ecuador, a unique opportunity comes along that doesn’t have to be about kayaking. For us that happened a few days after arriving in country when our good friend Rickie Alzamora invited us to travel to the flanks of Volcan Antisana on a photo shoot with Murray Cooper. Murray is an amazing photographer whose work I have long admired. His specialty is wildlife and conservation.

Volcan Antisana Ecuador
Upper flanks of Volcan Antisana.
Murray Cooper photographer
Murray Cooper conservationist and photographer.

Murray had been documenting the nest of a pair of rare falcon and it was time to revisit the site. Permission to visit the area is required, making the invitation all the more unique.

With an early start from Quito we arrived at the mountain an hour after sunrise. The falcon’s ground nest revealed an abundance of feathers about. The birds were gone. Murray felt it was too early in the nesting cycle for the chicks to have left on their own and suspected that they may had fallen prey to fox or wolves, predators of the paramo.  This finding served to remind us of the delicate and vulnerable existence of something as seemingly invincible as a bird of prey.

The day had dawned clear for us and the weather was holding.  Anitsana is the fourth highest mountain in Ecuador at 18,875 ft. and one of the most difficult to climb.  It sits on the cusp of two weather systems, making a window of clear weather even more unpredictable than most peaks in the Ecuadorian Andes.  Also of great interest to us is that Antisana is the source of the Rio Quijos, the river system on which much of our paddling takes place.

Volcano Cotopaxi Ecuador
Volcan Cotopaxi as viewed from the paramo near Volcan Antisana.

From our position we could also see Volcan Cotopaxi and it’s satellite peaks to the south, as well as the smoke plume from the semi-active volcano Tungurahua near the tourist town of Baños, many kilometers away.

With Murray’s original objective gone, he turned his attention to photographing other birds in the area such as the rare Black-Faced Ibis and the Ecuadorian Hillstar hummingbird. Both species were found above 13,000 ft.

Ecuador contains over 130 species of hummingbirds. This one was found at over 13,000 ft.
Scarlet Ibis take flight near Volcan Antisana.
A small flock of Scarlet Ibis.

It was fun to watch Murray’s opposing moods as he worked; his quiet patience needed to photograph his subjects, and his infectious enthusiasm for his work and the mountain paramo.

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