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Yanacocha Reserve, Ecuador

Like special wines made from persnickety grapes that only grow on certain slopes in California, the birds of Yanacocha exist only in narrow channels along the northwestern slopes high in the Andes between Peru and Ecuador.

Black-breasted mountain tanager
Black-breasted mountain tanager, Yanacocha Reserve. Photo: Susan Rouillier

Yanacocha. You have to really want to get here. It’s a two hour drive from Quito along painfully bumpy, windy roads only to arrive at a fence opening to a narrow mountain trail. “Now we walk.” said Louis the guide. “How far?” “Only a few hundred meters," he said. Lost in the translation was a couple of decimal points. It was really over a 6000 meter (3.7 mile) walk up and around a mountain ledge at 11,500 feet, while lugging camera gear in order to find some high dwelling birds. There is a reason for the phrase “Rocky Mountain High” and it’s not altitude. The air is so thin your head spins, so I became the one who slowed the trek waaaay down to stop and breathe every 100 meters or so.

Sapphire-wing hummingbird
Sapphire-wing hummingbird, found at the highest altitudes in Yanacocha. Photo: Susan Rouillier

The birds were worth passing out for. Here in the same area you could see the exotic Sword-billed hummingbird that sports an 8 inch beak on a 4 inch body, a stunning Great Sapphire-wing hummingbird, or the multicolored Black-breasted Mountain tanager - really hot stuff, for a bird photographer.

Swordbill hummingbird, Yanacocha Reserve. Photo: Susan Rouillier

The landscape leading toward Yanacocha Reserve, Ecuador. Photo: Susan Rouillier

Thankfully, Louis the guide carried some of my gear.

On the way down the mountain we passed three robust Germans who were smiling while briskly walking in the other direction, almost sprinting up the trail. I knew I was outclassed physically, a mere wimpy earthworm by comparison, but felt very proud that an Alabama sea-level dwelling girl had made it to the top, (and don't forget back down) with photos to prove it.

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That was a well written description of your adventure. it carries the reader along that breathtaking path. And, CONGRATULATIONS on making the trek!

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Susan Rouillier
Bird Photographer and Painter

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