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February 14, 2012 – First day at El Desafío

February 17, 2012

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The weather was sunny with a bit of cloud cover and a cool breeze. Half of the group began the walk up to the “Honeymoon Suite”, while the other half drove up in the van. When we arrived, we observed a female black-chested buzzard eagle circling above us. It

had a white underbelly, broad wings, and a very broad, short tail. We also saw three adult condors – two males and one female. A pair of buzzard eagles often nests with the condors on the rocky peaks, according to our guide, Lorenzo. We observed the condor nesting site at the top of the rock cliffs. The adult condors are characterized by a more slender profile than the buzzard eagles, with long, thin, tapered wings. The males are completely black except for a white ring around their head, while the females are brown. We saw one juvenile as well, distinguishable by its grey colouration. The juvenile males develop the white ring around their head at 6 to 7 years of age,  and turn completely black at 8 to 9 years. The females develop red eyes when they mature, which is thought to indicate sexual maturity. Condors usually head out to the steppe to feed, and roost up on the cliffs where they are safe from predators. We saw them as they were heading out to feed.

Afterwards, we walked out along the ridge to where the condors were nesting. During the hike up, we saw several lizards. They were greenish grey-brown with two white stripes down the back, and alternating brown and black spots. They also had very pale underbellies. When we reached the top, we saw red and blue mountains in the distance. The red colour is due to iron oxide in the rocks. This mineral was often used in paint by indigenous peoples. The aqua colour on the side of the mountain was due to copper.

Finally, we headed back downslope towards the “lengua” forest, which is an old-growth forest of Nothofagus trees. Recently, some researchers cored one of the trees and determined that it was over 600 years old. The locals have named this tree “El Abuelo” (Spanish for “The Grandfather”).

In the evenings, we set up mist nets to catch birds, and we caught a white-chested elaenia soon after.

– Caitlin, Ishanee, Amanda, Ayla

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