Monday, April 16, 2012

The Elusive Condor: World's largest flying bird.

I have always dreamed of seeing a Condor- the Andean Condor preferably. The Andean Condor is slightly larger than the Californian Condor, having the largest wingspan of all birds measuring up to 3.2 metres! That is huge and must be a photographers delight to photograph these in flight! Even at rest they are impressive birds.

First Trip.

On our first trip to South America, I set my heart on not coming back until I saw a Condor!

No, not a Condor, this is a Bald Eagle at Parque Condor, Otavalo.

However, like all large raptors and vultures, Condor numbers are declining due to habitat loss, illegal wildlife trafficking, and even eating poisoned carcasses when extermination programs are carried out against other unwanted animals: those poisoned carcasses, if not all picked up, will be consumed by carrion eaters! And that's what condors are designed by Nature for- cleaning up all the dead carcasses.

Parque Condor.

So on our trip to Galapagos Islands, we would spend 3 extra weeks in Ecuador, with New Year in Otavalo, and visit Parque Condor just 5 km's from there. The sanctuary has condor and that was a must-visit for me!
Otavalo, a city of 50,000 inhabitants is a 2hr 30 mins comfy bus ride north of Quito. Our budget really got busted with the fare- $2.00 each! Then we caught a taxi for $5 from Otavalo. It's a walkable distance if you want to do it that way.

And nope, not a Condor. 

Parque Condor is a sanctuary and education centre for birds of prey ranging from condor to falcons, even owls. I'm not too fussed on seeing birds locked up in cages, so I looked with a very critical eye on what this sanctuary was about and how they cared for their captives.
We were assured no birds were taken directly from the wild but were rehabilitated injured, or rescued from unsuitable activities or poachers who supply the illegal wildlife trade.
The centre offers performances and lectures for the public in a purpose built amphitheatre at 2pm and 4.30pm. These education and flight demos, allow the public to get arms distance from the tamed birds, encourages valuable appreciation of their beauty, and educates about the pressures upon them in the wild and the important role they have in the natural world.

Not a Condor, this is a Harpie, or Monkey Eagle. Cool looking dude!

We watched a cautious public begin to relax and then enthusiastically enjoy the falcon master introducing a falcon, then a beautiful range of well trained birds before a bald eagle was flying just above their heads- awesome!
No, sorry. A Snowy Owl.
There's a natural tendency for young kids, especially boys, to grow up around air rifles (BB guns) or with shanghais - well, that's what we called a forked stick with a strip of bicycle tube rubber stretched between the 'y', with stones or ball bearings for ammo. Many a bird suffered as we acted out our great hunter-warrior roles.

But things could have been so much different in those days if just one person had taken me aside and talked to me about the great beauty of birds- their colours, the infinite variety of size and shapes, the majesty of their mastery of flight and how their singing brightens our lives.

Nope, no, never a condor here.  3 Barn Owls. Cute wee fellows!
Observing the joy on so many children's faces at that amphitheatre on that sunny afternoon, I couldn't help thinking that these kids will not be firing stones and ball bearings at any birds. I'm sure they will come away with a new respect for all birds now they have enjoyed such a close experience.

And therein lies the true value of sanctuaries that do have educational displays- changing attitudes of our children and adults to wildlife before it's too late. 

And my Condor? Well, they have one at Parque Condor but he hid away in his cave in the large aviary-probably just to annoy me! I was too interested in all the immense variety of other birds to wait around. Plenty to keep me occupied!
But as we left I did feel that disappointment at not finally seeing my condor. Was I destined to leave Ecuador never having seen one? To come so far, spend so much, dream so long and miss seeing one?

On our last full day in Ecuador a long walk around Guayaquil city centre and waterfront brought forth an unexpected surprise- I found my Condor!
A big, beautiful well cared for bird, proudly displaying just for me! How about that? My condor, on our last day in Ecuador!

My Andean Condor at long last!

Parque Condor



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Karl said...

hi i'm back. those are interesting looking birds. That snowy owl looks so elegant.

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Rachel Hoyt said...

Ha! Way to keep a postive attitude about seeing/not seeing your condor. :) The monkey eagle is super cool looking and I've always liked those snowy owls. Great shots. :)

Solo Female Nomad said...

I am hoping to get a chance of seeing a Condor at the Colca Canyon, Peru (I know I am going to accidently call it coca cola canyon soon!) They look like amazing birds and only hope they come out the day I visit!