Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Atlanta, Georgia, USA – 35 lifers in one day

After a full day of birding near Lima, I was glad to have a complete change of clothes handy before getting ready to board our plane.  When we reached our boarding gate, we realised that my seat was not with Chris and Birdgirl.  We were going to see if I could swap with someone, but we need not have worried.  Huge numbers of people on the flight were called up to be given new boarding passes with new seats.

When we arrived at Lima airport, we noticed that the flight to Miami had been delayed.  We had read on BBC News that Hurricane Isaac was likely to hit Florida in the next few days and Miami airport had been closed.  A lucky few from the Lima to Miami flight were transferred to our Atlanta flight, directly north of Miami.

On the plane, I searched the newspapers for the weather forecast for Atlanta for the next day.  The news was not good, thunderstorms off the back of hurricane Isaac.

Birdgirl and I managed a good night’s sleep on our night flight, but Chris less so.

We arrived at Atlanta, USA on time and were out of the terminal by 9.00 am.  It seemed all very easy, but we had no idea whether we were waiting in the right place.  Chris asked me what the arrangement was with Bill. 

I had contacted Bill Lotz through Birding Pals back in April, when we had booked our flights from Peru and knew that we had a day in Atlanta.  Bill had been great, giving us links to Georgia and Atlanta sites and lists.  I had prepared a list of the birds of Georgia that one of us needed and sent it to Bill, for his information.  However within a few days he had sent the list back with comments against each bird with how likely it was whether we might see the bird and specific sites.  From this, we had whittled the list down to about 50 possible birds, taking into account that our visit would be on the 28th August 2012, before migration really got going.  I know Americans have a reputation for being helpful, but I couldn’t believe that someone I didn’t know would put so much effort to make our 1 day trip a success.

Bill had also taken our flight information, so he could check for delays and sent me his mobile number.  I had said that we were likely to be out by around 9.15am.  A few days before, Chris had suggested to me that I save Bill’s number into my phone.  I had dismissed the idea as being unnecessary, as I had Bill’s e-mail on my I-Phone.

This takes us back to Atlanta Airport.  I told Chris that Bill had said that he would pick us up, but did not specify where.  Although he knew what we looked like as I had sent him a link to our blog.  Chris suggested that I phone Bill to check that we were in the right place, so I looked through my e-mails from Bill trying to find the one with his mobile number.  It wasn’t there.  I told Chris that I couldn’t find the e-mail with Bill’s number and suggested that I go back inside and check if there was anywhere else he might go.  A sleep deprived Chris was not at all happy with the situation.  We were standing outside Atlanta Airport, the biggest airport hub in the USA, with no phone number for the person who was picking us up and no specific arrangement where we should wait!  Well there was no point shouting at me…that wasn’t going to help, was it?

I went back towards the building and spoke to some airport staff, who confirmed that this was the only pick up place for international passengers.  Well that was something at least.  I was praying that Bill arrived to pick us up, as otherwise I was going to be in dead trouble.

As I was walking back to Chris and Birdgirl, I tried connecting to the internet (probably at huge expense) so that I could send Bill an e-mail confirming our arrangement.  Just as I sent the e-mail, I looked up and saw that a pale 4x4 had stopped next to Chris and Birdgirl and they were being greeted by a man in shorts, who must have been Bill Lotz.  He had arrived bang on time at 9.15am into an empty pick up area (so we were easy to spot) and saved me from 2 days of grief for the rest of the journey home.

Bill was a friendly and knowledgeable local Atlanta birder who had taken up birding since his retirement as a travel agent.  As we chatted, he explained to us how County birding worked.  We had never heard of it and the idea is really interesting.  The idea is that you try and see, say 50, birds in each of the Counties in your State.  He told us that Georgia had a high number of Counties compared to most states and that the record was more than 100 birds in County.  I wondered whether that would translate to the UK.  Maybe there are people doing it already?  Obviously, people keep county lists and many are passionate about these, but not many people have more than, say, 4-5 County lists.

We were going to be birding about 30 minutes from the airport at Clayton County Water Authority pools and Recreation Centre.  Bill’s friend, Jeff Sewell, another local birder was going to be meeting us at the pools as he had birded them within the last couple of days.

It was cloudy and Bill confirmed the report of rain.  He had brought his wife’s rain coat with him, which proved a godsend for me.  Bill had also printed a copy of the Georgia checklist and put this onto a clip board.  This was perfect for keeping a tired Birdgirl enthusiastic.  What a star!

Jeff joined us at the first pool and together we birded the pools and the areas around them.  It is always fun birding in a new continent, as so much is new.  Birdgirl and I had studied our target birds in ‘The North American Bird Guide’ by David Sibley in the library at the owlet lodge.  This had been great as we didn’t have a North American Guide Book with us.  We spent an hour looking up the birds we already knew and the bird families that we were completely unfamiliar with.  Waders and ducks were mostly fine, as we had seen so many as vagrants in the UK or in South America.  So were families we had seen in South America or possible vagrants to the UK that were not yet seen by us but regularly discussed and dreamed about.  It was the common land birds that were not likely to be arriving in the UK any time soon that we needed to study: Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown Thrasher and Eastern Towee.  We had no idea what these were and could not guess at it.  There was no point trying.  I had heard the names, read about them in autobiographies and should know what they were, but I was ashamed to say that I did not.  At least Birdgirl had the excuse of youth on her side.  It was going to be OK.  Chickadee and Titmouse looked like our tits, Thrashers were sort of like thrushes and Towees were like sparrows except Eastern Towee was bright red on the sides.

As we birded around the pools the rain started and then got heavier.  We then birded around the Recreation Centre before carrying on to Newman Wetland Centre.  Jeff’s wife, Carol Lambert, worked here and showed us around the Centre.  Birdgirl was really interested to see the stuffed Bear, Deer and Beaver.

We left the dryness of the Centre to walk around the boardwalks of the Wetland area.  Within a few minutes the rain became torrential.  Bill and Jeff seemed not to notice the rain.  The rain got heavier when we thought it could not.  We were drenched to the skin and dripping from everywhere.  I suggested that maybe we take shelter as there were few birds about in the rain.  So we stood under a roof for shelter for 15-20 minutes until the worst of the rain had eased.  It was still raining heavily though and I marvelled at Bill and Jeff’s commitment.  I would need a rare British lifer to entice me out in this kind of weather, let alone showing some tourists your common local birds.

At this point, Bill suggested lunch and we readily agreed.  Maybe the rain would ease off.

We arrived at an American Diner, straight out of our TV’s, for lunch.  The air conditioning was on high, so we sat there freezing in our dripping clothes.  Although we were cold, it did help to dry us out.  By the time we got out of the Diner, the rain had stopped and things had warmed up a little.  We were hopeful for a good afternoon, as in all likelihood birds would be particularly active, feeding after the heavy rain.

We headed back to the pools, to see their first Short-Billed Dowitcher of the autumn.  As we looked at this wader (or shorebird as they are called here), I told Birdgirl to have a good look, so that she could maybe find and ID her own bird in the UK one day.  We all smiled at the lovely thought.  Little did we know that she would in fact be looking at one only a week or two later not far from home!  We drove around the pools picking up more of our target birds as we went.

We then drove back to the Newman Wetland Centre and birded the same boardwalks as the morning, but this time seeing lots of new birds.  The sun was extremely welcome and managed to completely dry our lightweight clothing very quickly, which seemed amazing considered how wet we had been only a few hours earlier.

Despite the rain, we had a very successful day of birding with Birdgirl seeing 35 new birds, 33 for me and even 3 for Chris who had visited the states on business a few times.  Highlights were Red-Bellied, Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpecker, White-Breasted and Brown Headed Nuthatch, Blue Grosbeak and Field Sparrow.  It was a brilliant day to end our journey and took Birdgirl well over 2900 on her world list.

Bill then dropped us back to the airport, in time for a Mexican dinner before boarding another night flight, but this time bound for Heathrow.  We had accopmplished our mission for the day: Birdgirl had decided when she was 8 years old that she wanted to visit all the contanants before she was 15 years old.  This was North America visited.  We are trying to keep extensive trips here for our old age, when Birdgirl will be expected to return the favour and wheel us around birding sites getting in some easy birding.  The lifers were an added bonus as was the good company and American hospitality.

Thank you to Bill and Jeff for giving up their day to spend with us and showing us their local patch.  I hope we get the opportunity to return the favour one day.


Birdgirl and Chris with Bill Lotz

Monday, 3 September 2012

Peru, the final count – 1019 birds recorded

We were away from home almost 9 weeks on this trip, 30/06/2012 – 29/08/2012.  At the pace we were birding, with only one day of rest, this was hard work and probably a little long.  Overall though I think the trip went quicker and was easier to cope with than I was expecting (which was a very rough and tough trip).

We had 53 birding days, not including any travel days or our day off, less than 8 weeks of actual birding.  The aim of the trip was to see any many new birds as possible, rather than to get the biggest trip list.  There were many occasions where we spent an entire morning trying to see one difficult species we had not seen before and ignored the calls of something else that we had seen before, but was new for Peru.  For this reason I have given the total of birds recorded, as another group might have a different focus.  I can send a full trip list, sorted by site and day, to anyone who would like this.

Total number of birds seen, 974 plus 45 heard, giving a total of 1019 bird species recorded by one of the three of us.  There would have been a number more recorded by one of our birding companions or our guides.

We saw 364 new birds from our target list for the trip.  Before we had started, I had hoped for 300 new birds, which Chris had thought was wildly optimistic, so were ecstatic with this result.  Birdgirl saw 358 new birds, I saw 347 and Chris saw 338.  Birdgirl left Peru with a world list of just short of 2,900 birds, so is planning her next trip!

We saw 87 SACC endemics out of a possible 103 (85%) plus another 4 yet undescribed endemic species.

We used Kolibiri Expeditions and had a great trip.  I have set out our itinerary below, which is a patchwork of standard Kolibiri tours.

DayBirding DayDateItinerary
130/06/2012Leave home, flight from Bristol 8.45 am, Arrive Lima 6.10 pm
2101/07/2012Pachacamac & Tinijas Road
3202/07/2012Santa Eulalia Canyon
4303/07/2012Santa Eulalia Canyon (polylepis forest), Ticlio bog (4,900m), drive to Conception
5404/07/2012Birding Andarmaca Valley
6505/07/2012Birding upper Satipo Road
7606/07/2012Birding upper Satipo Road
8707/07/2012AM - birding lower Satipo Road PM - Birding between Satipo and Villa Rica
9808/07/2012AM- birding above Villa Rica, PM - birding  Villa Rica - Oxapampa
10909/07/2012Full day around Oxapampa
111010/07/2012Birding Oxapampa to La Merced
121111/07/2012Birding La Merced to Huanuco stopping at Alto Pinchita and polylepis forest
131212/07/2012AM - Paty Trail,  PM - birding near Tingo Maria
141313/07/2012AM - Tingo Maria & Tinga Maria NP (oilbirds) PM - Carpish tunnel
151414/07/2012Bosque Unchog
161515/07/2012AM - Bosque Unchog, PM-birding on the way to Huanuco
171616/07/2012Carpish Tunnel and Paty Trail
181717/07/2012AM - Huanuco to Junin Lake, stopping at polylepis forest 
191818/07/2012AM - Birding Junin Lake and drive to Lima, stopping at Ticlio Bog
2019/07/2012Afternoon flight to Cusco, train to Aguas Calientes via Ollanaytambo
211920/07/2012Full day birding Aguas Calientes
2221/07/2012Am predawn to Machu Picchu for sunrise.  Train to Ollantaytambo 7 pm.
232022/07/2012 Abra Malaga Road & Canchayok
242123/07/2012Am- Birding Abra Malaga high polylepis forest,  Pm- Drive to Cusco
252224/07/20124 am start.  Temperate forest in the early AM. Birding start just before Acjanaco 
262325/07/2012Subtropical cloudforest
272426/07/2012AM  - birding near CoR Lodge, PM - Pilcopata
282527/07/2012Birding around Amazonia Lodge
292628/07/2012AM - Birding around Amazonia Lodge, PM - Patria/nr CoR Lodge
302729/07/2012Birding near CoR Lodge
312830/07/2012AM  - birding nr CoR Lodge, PM - Rocotal & Huacarpay, travel back to Cusco
322931/07/2012Leave Cusco, via Salcantay Lodge Sorayapampa and then Apurimac Valley above Abancay
333001/08/2012AM - Birding above Abancay PM - Patpachacha Bridge
343102/08/2012AM - Bosque Ampay PM - travel to Cusco
353203/08/2012Am - flight to from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado,  PM - birding in Puerto Maldonado
363304/08/2012PM - birding Las Piedras River
373405/08/2012Birding around Piedras all day
383506/08/2012Birding around Piedras all day
393607/08/2012Birding around Piedras all day
403708/08/2012Am - depart ARCC lodge and travel to Tipishca
423910/08/2012Am - Tipishca  PM - Travel to Puerto Maldonado
4311/08/2012Am flight to Cusco, rest of day free in Cusco
4412/08/2012Free day in Cusco
4513/08/2012Am - free in Cusco,  late morning flight to Chiclayo (via Lima)
464014/08/2012AM - Bosque Pomac PM - Quebrada El Limon
474115/08/2012Abra Porculla
484216/08/2012Jaen to Leimebamba
494317/08/2012Leimebamba to Cajamarca, stopping at El Limon and birding above Celendin
504418/08/2012Am - San Marcos PM searching for Comet and then drive to Celendin, birding on the way
514519/08/2012Celenden to Pedro Ruiz, birding on the way stopping at El Limon
524620/08/2012Am - Searching for Maranon Spinetail PM - Pomacochas feeders
534721/08/2012AM - Birding at Yanaycu & Morro de Calzada near Moyobamba PM - RS trail,  drive to Tarapoto
544822/08/2012AM - Juan Gerra & Tarapoto tunnel area PM - Morro de Calzada then to drive to Pomacochas
554923/08/2012AM - San Lorenzo Trail & Afluentes PM - Drive to Owlet Lodge
565024/08/2012Am - Owlet Lodge PM - Afluentes
575125/08/2012AM - Owlet Lodge PM - Waycuecha feeders/ Mishquiyacu Valley, drive to Tarapoto, flight to Lima
585226/08/2012Pelagic - includes transport to/from pelagic, parks in Miraflores
595327/08/2012AM- Lomas De Lachay PM - Laguna de Ventanilla
6028/08/2012Flight to Atlanta - 12.40 am - Atlanta Arr
6129/08/2012Arrive Heathrow - 12.15pm

Lomas de Lachay, Peru

Our last full day in Peru, with another 5.00 am start.  These really are getting harder and harder.  This time though we have a two hour drive, so can be waking up at a reasonable time.

Our Guide for the day was Alejandro Torres, who had been with us at the start of the trip, which now seemed such a long time ago (almost 9 weeks).

The first stop is the Lomas National Park, a dry baron desert.  Here we saw Grayish Miner, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant and the endemic Coastal Miner without much searching.  Both of these were new birds and so this was a great start before breakfast.  We also heard Cactus Canestero, but we had seen these on the trip before so we didn’t spend time trying to locate it.

We then drove to the entrance of Lachay National Park where we trip ticked loads of Least Seedsnipe, Yellowish Pipit, Baird Sandpiper and saw a flock of 18 endemic Raimondi’s Yellow Finch, which we saw in two places and 5 Tawny-Throated Dotterel.  As we carried on driving along the dry road we also some burrowing owls and had a Short-Eared Owl flush from the side of the road, which the first one that Alejandro had seen at this site.

Inside the National Park we saw no less than 9 different Andean Tinamou, as Birdgirl commented “The are like chickens!”. This was a new bird for myself and Birdgirl and particularly significant as we had missed one running across the road at Apurimac (which I had not taken very well).  I had now caught up all three birds that I had missed.  Birdgirl has still missed two, one that she opted not to climb back up a mountainside for a second time at altitude and one that she worked really, really hard for but missed a split second view, which we don’t talk about (and which she thinks it is only right that we don’t tick either - yeah, right!).

With 9 new birds off our target list, this was a brilliant morning of birding on which be finishing the trip.

On the way back to Lima, our stop was Laguna de Ventanilla.  The plan was to catch up with one or two new waders for Birdgirl and maybe get some trip ticks.  Here we bumped into the French speaking group that we met on the pelagic the day before.  It was lovely to see them again and say goodbye.  They had been at the Laguna all morning and were able to give us a long list of American waders that they had seen which made our visit far more targeting, which was good given our short time.   New birds for the afternoon were Grassland Yellow-Finch, Killdeer (for Birdgirl), Husonian Godwit and Great Grebe as well has a whole host of trip ticks.  It was a really enjoyable birding day and was the best way to end a trip.  It was much better than driving around for one new species or worse dipping on a one new species.

From here we were dropped off at the airport with plenty of time to catch our 12.40 am flight to Atlanta. 

Friday, 31 August 2012

A Pelagic sea trip from Lima, Peru

At Tarapoto airport there was a group of foreign travellers in the queue ahead of us.  I wondered what they had been doing in the area, but decided from their walking boots and well dressed manner that they must have been visiting the Amazon or hiking.

Then as we were waiting to get off the plane, one of their group walked past with a Birds of Peru field guide.   I suddenly remembered that Gunnar had told us that there was a French speaking Belgium group on the Pelagic with us the next day and were on the same flight from Tarapoto.  That must be the group. In the baggage area I approached the man with the field guide and said “Bonjour, are you Belgium?”  My french accent must have been terrible; as he responded in Spanish saying he didn’t speak Spanish.  At this point we had a confused conversation until he realised that I was English and managed to understand that we were on the same pelagic together.  I then had to explain how I knew he was on the pelagic and that we had been on a tour with Gunnar.

We were then introduced to the rest of their group of six, of whom two were French, one from Luxemburg (the man I had first been talking to) and three from Belgium.  At this stage our bags arrived and we said goodbye until the next morning.  There was a car waiting for us at the airport that took us to our hotel, where we arrived at 12.30 am.  We were being picked up at 5.15am and so were going to be exhausted tomorrow, poor Birdgirl.

When we were picked up the next morning by Gunnar driving the “Hippy Van”, the other group were already onboard.  As we sat down in the back, I caught an awful smell.  “What is that smell?”.  Chris responded, “Where are you going and what do you think it is?  OMG, chum!  It is basically fish bits and leftovers, left for a day or two and mixed with fish oil to entice sea birds from miles away to come to the boat area, where we can see them.  We had another half an hour in the vehicle with the vomit inducing smell.  I felt sick and we hadn’t even got on the boat yet.  I think next time, I’ll get a taxi.

I get very, very seasick even in calm water and now have a prescription only anti-sickness drug on prescription from my GP to take for boat trips.  I have used it before for a couple of Isles of Scilly pelagic and so know they work, but they do cause drowsiness.

The sea has been very stormy recently with a pelagic three days earlier being cancelled.  We had only had confirmation the day before that our pelagic was still going out as it had looked as though it would have to be cancelled as well, due to high wave height and wind.  The proviso from the captain was that we could not go out very far, as he did not want to take any risks.  This meant that we had little chance of seeing any albatrosses, which was disappointing.  However, at least we were still going out at all.  Also this kind of weather is not optimal for pelagic, as the waves and the wind break up the slick caused by the chum and so attracts fewer birds.

As we left the harbour, our small boat started hitting the waves, making my stomach jump with each bump.  I held on and tried to move with the boat.  It was too rough to go out far yet, so we went around some nearby islands getting good views of Humboldt Penguins, surfbirds and the endemic Surf Cinclodes.

As we went out further, it was hard to stand as we were thrown around as the boat hit the waves.  I spent the first three hours feeling very drowsy from my tablet (and probably also lack of sleep), which was good for sea sickness but not so good for birding.  I somehow managed to be woken up to see each of the special birds.  Birdgirl was very excited for the first few hours of the trip before being flat out for the remainder, waking only briefly for any new birds.

Véronique was unfortunately unwell for most of the trip, unable to do or see anything.  I really felt for her, as when you suffer from bad sickness, all you want to do is get off the boat or die.

Despite the windy conditions, we had an excellent pelagic, the other highlights being Cape and White-Chinned Petrel, Peruvian Diving-Petrel, Elliot’s and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Chilean and South Polar Skuars, Swallow-Tailed, Gray and Belcher’s Gull and Peruvian Tern.

It was great to have David, from Sheffield, on board as he had been on a few pelagic before and was quick at calling things.  David is married to a Peruvian lady and so comes to Peru every summer with his family, hence making the regular pelagic possible.
With us on the pelagic were Gunnar Engblom (Kolibiri Expeditions running the trip), Guy Mirgain, Benoit Maire, Alain Nathurin, Jacques Franchimont, Hughes, Dufourney, Véronique Buchet and David Wood.


Photo taken by and copyright Benoit Maire


Photo taken by and copyright Benoit Maire
 We were on our way back when the Captain suddenly slowed down and told us that he had seen a large animal in the water.  We all jumped up and looked, waiting to see something.  Then we were rewarded with a whale breaching the surface not far away.  It looked like a hump back whale.  Birdgirl managed to lift her head up and see the whale as it was on its way down.   We then had two more views of the whale pretty close and Gunnar suggested that there was a chance that it might be Pygmy Blue.  It was a great finish to an enjoyable pelagic but being a person who is never happy, I can't but help think about the albatrosses that we didn't see...

On the way back to our hotels, we stopped for closer views of Surf Cinclodes along the coast and then a few of us went to look for two parrot species in local parks.  We were successful with Red-Masked Parrot but not with the Canary-Winged Parakeet, which will have to wait for our next Peru trip.  We said our goodbyes to Gunnar, who had organised our long trip for us and guided us for a section. 

After a quick Pizza, it was time for an early night (for  Birdgirl at least).