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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Andean Gull

Andean Gull (Chroicocephalus serranus)

When visiting the beach there are three things that can be expected: water, sand and sea gulls. These ubiquitous clowns of the seaboard are certain to delight or plague the recurrent traveler as they swoop and dive, searching for tiny morsels of nourishment. It is sometimes refreshing to leave this watery playground, if for no other reason than to abandon these pesky little creatures at the waterfront.

The farther one travels from the shore, the less a person expects to see these lively creatures. However, the Andean Gull lives where it is least expected. High in the Andes Páramo, this fowl with its curious appearance lives a quiet, undisturbed life far from the maddening crowd of the boardwalk.
Andean Gulls at Lake Limpiopungo in Cotopaxi National Park
The Andean Gull is unique in that it is seldom found below 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) elevation and can be spotted at altitudes of 4,200 m (14,000 ft) around Páramo lakes and ponds. Ranging from extreme southern Colombia to central Chile, the greatest number is perhaps located around Laguna de Colta within the Chimborazo province of Ecuador. Nesting on grassy islets, these intriguing birds shun human contact unlike their seaside cousins.

The Andean Gull is predominantly white with a pearly gray mantel. A non-breeding male will show a black patch behind on the ear-coverts and a narrow black eye ring. While breeding, however, the male will display a lustrous black hood with distinctive white eye-crescents. (Refer to photos)

This gull species has murky red legs and bill: the eye dark. The tips of its primary feathers are black, this being much more obvious in flight. A juvenile will have brown mottling on the wing-coverts and a black lower tail-band.

Andean Gulls can generally be seen in small groups, mainly around isolated bodies of water in the Páramo regions of the Andes. (Páramo is a Spanish word meaning “desolate territory”, often compared to the Moors of Scotland.) They can also be observed flying high over the ridges and slopes of this inhospitable countryside. They feed on insects and worms scavenged from the adjoining regions. They will nest in small, scattered colonies, sometimes-solitary pair inhabiting a miniature patch of water.

When visiting the high Andes, this precious jewel can be the highlight of the excursion. Its squawking voice can be heard reverberating across the barren Páramo, breaking the deafening silence of this desolate dominion. Aside from Laguna de Colta, this fascinating avian species can be observed at Antisana Reserve, Cotopaxi National Park, El Cajas National Park, Podocarpus-Cajanuma, and Papallacta Pass.

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