Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Peru, the first 4 weeks of birding - 56 endemics

We have just returned from Manu Road back to Cusco and are preparing to leave early tomorrow morning for three days of Andes birding 200km west of Cusco for a few specialities.

After 28 days of birding, we have seen 647 species of birds and 24 heard another species, giving a total recorded of 671 birds.  Some of the heard species are ones that we have tried long and hard for and others might have been viewable with some patience, but we have seen elsewhere this year already and so invested the time on trying to see other birds.

Chris has seen 173 new birds, I have seen 176 new birds and Birdgirl has seen 179 new birds, taking her world total to just over 2,700.  Between us, we have seen 186 new birds from our target list.  Of these 56 have been endemics with two more undescribed species.

The guides and tour have been great, everything working like clockwork.  The accommodation has been clean and comfortable, more than is necessary on a birding tour – but always welcome.  We would definitely recommend Gunnar Engblom and Kolibiri Expeditions.  We have been really lucky that our fellow birders Andy Marshall and now Lorand Szucs have both been great company and really good with Birdgirl, making things all the more enjoyable.

Still more than 4 weeks to go of birding…

Manu Road – a journey into the Amazon foothills, Peru

Getting up at 3.30am has got to be early in anyone’s books. Psychologically I was coping by knowing that I would be able to sleep for three hours in the vehicle. However, that was not to be. South American drivers refuse to put on the heating in their vehicles, presumably because they think that it will use extra petrol. I even resorted to asking Alex to ask the driver, but he just laughed as if I was mad. The road went through a pass at 3,600m and foolishly I had left our winter clothes in Cusco, thinking that these would not be needed in the Amazon. Our driver was dressed in a woolly hat, jumpers and waterproof trousers over his trousers to keep him warm. Our breakfast stop was in Paucartambo, the last town before the Amazon. Here at least we could warm our hands on hot drinks.

Birding on Manu Road

The lovely Manu Road

Birdgirl sneaking in a bit of reading

We were driving along the famous road to Manu, staying two night at Cock of the Rock Lodge at 1,600m. Here there was no electricity except for two hours at night in the dining room. The lodge had lovely cabins set in the beautiful grounds, holding some great difficult to see birds, hence the reason birders flock here.

Our cabin at Cock of the Rock Lodge

Birdgirl enjoying the balcony at Cock of the Rock Lodge

These are the Amazon foothills, beautiful mountainside covered in pristine forest with a road winding its way down through it. We drove up and down East from Cusco and then North, driving down and down.

Highlights of these first two days were the endemic Red and White Antpitta, Peruvian Piedtail, Black-Backed Tody-Flycatcher and Cerulean-Capped Manakin, Black and Chestnut Eagle, a Solitary Eagle on the nest, Yungas Pygmy Owl, Greater Scythebill, Black-Faced Brush-Finch, Slaty Gnateater, Yellow-Throated Tanager, Short-Billed Bush-Tanager, Stripe-Throated and Yellow-Rumped Antwren.

Yungas Pygmy Owl, taken by Alex Durand on our Nikon
Andean Cock of the Rock taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Brown Agouti

We heard White-Throated Antpitta but just could not see it before it got dark the first day and only heard it briefly distantly the second day.

We then headed down to the river, three hours downhill, where we were taken by boat to Amazonia Lodge. We passed a group of cyclists during the journey, who then overtook us and were having a drink in a café as we boarded our boat. This group of Brits turned out to be staying at the lodge with us for two nights and were great company.

Birdgirl enjoying a boat trip along the Amazon

Along the Amazon

The lodge was more basic than the Amazon lodges we had stayed in previously and after arriving, Alex told us that the lawn around the Lodge had chiggers this time of year. He had told us the day before that there would be chiggers in the Amazon, but I had not taken precautions for the journey down. It was of course now a bit late by now as we had not sprayed our boots and socks and were already walking across the grass unprotected and with repellent spray not on is.

We were then shown the shower and toilet block some way from the rooms. I had visions of Barba Azul in the Bolivian Amazon and mosquitoes entering the room as soon as you opened the door to go to the bathroom, mosquitoes in the bathroom and generally wet muddy bathroom floors from general use. The anxiety caused by my thoughts definitely pushed me to my limit (for the second time on this trip – the first at the basic accommodation at Satipo Road). We then headed out for some pre-dinner (unsuccessful) owling, when I got bitten by mosquitoes over my face and this was the final straw for me…I did not want to be there.

However, after spraying the room with mosquito spray, a good dinner and realising that the bathrooms were being cleaned again after being used by the cyclists, I even went for a hot shower with Birdgirl. The beds were very comfortable and after a good and long nights sleep I felt much better. There were in fact virtually no mosquitoes around the rooms themselves and we all escaped being chiggered. Maybe Amazonia Lodge was actually nice?

Enjoying the hummingbird feeders at Amazonia Lodge

Amazonia Lodge

The birding at Amazonia Lodge was fantastic with a day list of 98 birds seen during our full day. The second day we visited their 25m high metal canopy tower. It was not as high as those in Ecuador, but moved about a lot in the breeze, which I was assured that the tower as designed like this and it made it stronger. I was pretty glad to be getting down again.

Birdgirl not enjoying the Canopy Tower

I am sure this tower is not meant to wobble!

Amazonia Lodge Canopy Tower

Highlights of the stay were Long-Tailed Potoo (a night bird that I found); Cineruos, Black-Capped and Great Tinamou (seen on the same wide path, two within a couple of minutes of each other), Koepck’s Hermit (an endemic), Scarlet, Blue-Headed and Military Macaw, Bamboo and Bluish-Slate Antshirke, the tiny and rare Rufous-Breasted Piculet, Amazonian and Thrush-Like Antpitta, the tiny hummer Rufous-Crested Coquette with it’s amazing hairdo and a very obliging Hairy-Crested Antbird with it’s enormous eyes and hairy head.

Great Tinamou taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Long-Tailed Potoo taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Rufous-Creasted Coquette taken by Alex Durand on our Nikon

Rufous-Creasted Coquette taken by and copyright Alex Durand

White-Necked Jacobin taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Long-Tailed Hermit taken by and copyright Alex Durand

A bit of Amazon birding

It was certainly hotter at 700m and it made me realise that our next trip to low land Amazon at 200m was going to be very hot and sticky.

Time to leave Amazonia Lodge

We then drove back up to Manu Paradise Lodge, just across the river from Cock of the Rock Lodge but newer, modern but without its own trails. Our room had windows across the whole of one wall and most of another two walls.

On the way we passed Andy Marshall and his crew birding at the roadside. They were on their way to Amazonia Lodge, so we were not going to spend any time with them. We didn’t see Andy until we were driving by so were only able to shout hello through the window as we passed. We also had a successful stop for Olive Finch, another tough bird.

The next day was a tough and disappointing day. This happens in birding. We had seen a lot of the species on our way down and so it was inevitable that it would be the difficult to see ones left. Of the two birds that would have been lifers, one I saw badly and one I missed completely. We returned to the lodge at 10.30am a little despondent, but at least had a few hours off to catch up with home education, rest and watch the hummingbird feeders from our beds.

The plan for the afternoon and evening was to head up the hillside for another try for the Antpitta, Andean Potoo and Rufescent Screech Owl. We had another quiet afternoon not even hearing the Antpitta and it seemed like also no luck with night birds. At the very last stop, Birdgirl and I waited in the vehicle expecting no luck when we suddenly had a bang on the window. We jumped out of the window and were lucky enough to see a relocated Rufescent Screech Owl sitting in a tree.

To finish the day, it then started to pour with rain: the sort of rain that you only get in the tropics. We only had to run from the vehicle to the dining room but all got soaked even in our rain gear.

The next morning we had another early start, so that we could start the day birding at a higher elevation. Here we saw Stripe-Faced Wood-Quail, Rufous-Capped Thornbill and Fulvous Wren.

It was then time to head back on our long drive back to Cusco after a great 7 days. We had a quick stop at Huacarpay Lake, where we even managed to see a couple of new birds.

Back in Cusco, we went out for an Indian meal close to the main square. When we went in, they explained that it was buffet only but that they had plenty of vegetarian food. However it was $70 sol each (almost $30 US each), I explained that this was a bit pricy for us as we were just going to eat a bit of veggie food. On our way out, I saw a sign and realised that the price was in fact a far more reasonable $17 sol each. They must have thought we were right tight a***s! I had to go back and explain the mistake before we sat down again.

Chapati anyone?

21 days of birding in Peru – 51 endemics

After our first 21 days of birding (excluding two not birding days) our trip total was 487 bird species seen.  We had also heard another 10 birds, giving a total number of birds recorded as 497.
Chris had seen 124 new birds, I had seen 125 and Birdgirl 128.  Between us, we had seen 133 new birds from our target list.

Of these, we have seen 51 Peru endemics out of a possible 103 official endemics and another 2 as yet undescribed endemic species.

I’m pretty pleased with this and it puts us on target for my ideal of 300 new birds between us from our target list (which Chris thinks is pie in the sky).

The trip so far has been great.  Our Guide, Alex Durand, from Kolibri Expeditions has been excellent and has put in effort to dig out the birds for us – really going the extra mile.

The trip has been well organised by Kolibri Expeditions and all very comfortable.  The hotels have virtually all been of a higher standard than I was expecting on a budget tour and certainly better than if we had booked them ourselves.  I would definitely recommend them.

Abra Malaga High Pass, Peru

The next morning was a very early 4.30am start to drive over the Abra Malaga pass and over the other side for some speciality birds.  It was cold when we got there and no one told the birds that 6.00am was their waking up time, as it was another two hours before we saw anything.  We spent the day birding this side of the mountain and then birding our way back to Ollantaytambo.  It turned out to be a spectacular days birding with lots of new birds for us all.  We even got back early enough to see the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo, where the Incas were finally defeated by the Spanish and it seems completed annihilated. 

Black-Faced Ibis

The next morning was a very late 6.00am start as we were only going as far as the Abra Malaga pass, at 4,300m.  Here we had to climb up a steep mountainside to get to polylepis forest.  I was gasping for breath but got there after a steady climb.  Alex said that the last time he was here, he was having to get 75 year old Americans up to the top.  Fair play to them, they all made it.  Fortunately for us the rest of the walk was mostly downhill, with a two hour walk back down the valley where he car was waiting.

The big target here was the endemic Royal Cinclodes which you only get in this small polylepis forest.  We spent much of the early morning searching with no luck.  Lori managed to see an Andean Snipe, which we missed and could not relocate.  Alex was keen that we did not waste time but keep looking for the Cinclodes as this was the key species.

Eventually, we saw the Royal Cinclodes in the last section of polylepis forest.  We had done very well during the morning, seeing most of our target birds, but not Andean Snipe.

At this point, I said that I wanted to climb back up to the much higher wet polylepis to look for Andean Snipe again.  Alex was not happy with this as he announced that it was a two hour walk back to the car and Andean Snipe was very difficult.  I said that it might be difficult but if we didn’t look then we definitely would not see.  He said that he had been looking the whole time and had not seen one.   Presumably he was concerned about us running out of time and jeopardising other birds.  I said that Lori had seen one it was worth going back.  Lori obviously wasn’t going back up the mountainside looking for a bird he had already seen and Birdgirl, who was exhausted from the altitude, opted to stay below with him.  Chris told me that I was wasting my time but we headed back up the hill, me trailing behind gasping for breath.  We pushed our way through polylepis with no luck, until we hit the same patch that Lori had his bird.  Alex was trying really hard to find me a bird and managed to flush one, which Chris saw but I missed because I was behind him and around the corner, with no view.  I ran up the hill and headed for the bushes where Chris felt sure the bird had landed.  Nothing flew out.  Ten minutes later there was still no bird.  Where could it have gone?  I felt sure that it must still be in there sitting tight.  I then went into a very thick section of polylepis, unable to push inside very fast when Chris gave a shout, the Snipe had flown again out of the polylepis into a more open area.  It took me a few minutes to extricate myself from inside the deep bush and get myself to a good view point of both directions of the hillside.  Alex then carefully walked around the area, but still with no Snipe.  Surely it could not have walked away without one of them seeing?  Chris then walked the same area but this time the large Snipe flew up and away to another part of the hillside.  It felt great to see it, but not the same without Birdgirl. 

Two hours later, we were pleased to see our vehicle parked at the bottom of the valley trail.  We then drove back to Ollantaytambo, collected our bags, delayed lunch (no time now) and instead headed straight for Cusco, stopping for Bearded Mountaineer enroute.

Bearded Mountaineer taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Cusco really is a beautiful city, with cobbled Inca streets and lovely old buildings.  For our late lunch/dinner we headed for the main square and a tasteful restaurant full of wooden furniture and plenty of vegetarian food.

The next morning we were heading off early to the Amazon for a week.

Machu Picchu and The Sacred Valley, Peru

Our flight to Cusco was delayed by an hour but we managed to entertain ourselves with our first wifi for days. Arriving at Cusco airport, we knew that Alex would be meeting us but were not sure what the arrangements were with Lorand. We need not have worried because as we walked into the baggage area a tall, tanned man with bins immediately waved to us.  He had recognised us from a YouTube video link that Gunnar had sent him, presumably to allay any fears re joining us!

Lorand Szucs (pronounced Lauren Sooch or Lori for short) turned out to be a pretty laid back Hungarian tennis coach living in Sidney, Australia with a large world bird list and a desire to see every bird family in the world.  As well as to see lots of birds and Machu Picchu, he was in Peru to see a Trumpeter in the Amazon.  He only had this and a Picathartes (we saw one in Ghana in January) to see and he would have seen a bird from every family:  a great achievement.

After meeting up with Alex and our driver, we were whisked off to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, an hour and forty minutes from Cusco.  Here we had a very quick dinner close to the Inca ruins, dumped our extra case and laundry at the hotel we were coming back to and got on the train for Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo), the town a the bottom of the hill from Machu Picchu.

The only hiccup was that when we tried to get board the train, we were told that Birdgirl’s seat was in a different carriage to ours.  However, Lori kindly offered to swap seats, though this was still a palaver as he had to be taken to his seat as he would not otherwise have got onto the next carriage.

I had a very nice Swiss gentleman sitting next to me who spoke virtually no English.  My French is normally pretty basic, but after so many months in South America when every time I go to say something in Spanish the French would pop into my head, I could recall virtually no French.  However, he was very friendly and we managed to chat quite happily with him talking in French and me responding in English with a few French words thrown in!
Meanwhile, Chris went through some work that Birdgirl had done earlier that day.

It was almost 9.30pm by the time we got to our hotel in Aguas Calientes and so it was a relief that we had opted for a birding morning the next day rather than the original planned Machu Picchu visit.  Aguas Calientes has no vehicular access except for the coaches taking people up the mountain road and virtually all of it is pedestrianised with cobbled narrow streets on the steep slopes.  It is very touristy but I thought in a Bath kind of way rather than a Chedder Gorge kind of way, which made it still lovely to wonder around.  Birdgirl commented that it was strange to go from not seeing any other tourists at all to being surrounded by them.

The next morning we had breakfast and headed off at 6am to bird around the town.  As we passed the road, the queue for the coaches was already enormous and we made a mental note that we would have to be early the next day.  Birds of the day were the endemic Green and White Hummingbird, Masked Fruiteater and Inca Wren.

It was a long birding morning and we did not get back to town until 2pm for a late pizza lunch.  Having seen virtually all our target birds and being exhausted from our long walk, we were allowed to have the afternoon off.  We took advantage of the hot showers before heading out for a stroll around town.

For dinner, we persuaded Lori to try a vegetarian Hari Krishna restaurant, which was great for us but slow and was probably not so good for Lori’s jetlag.  Birdgirl had grown confident in her environment and spent much of the time running around the street interacting with local children playing outside their parents’ tourist shops.

The next morning was an early start at 4.30am, with breakfast at 5.00am and getting to the coach stop for 5.20am.  Alex had said that he would stand in the queue for us and it turned out that he had been in the queue since 4.40am, but was still far enough back we were in the third coach to leave after 5.30am.  Poor Alex had to get up at 4.00a, to line up in the queue for us, all because I had wanted to be at Machu Picchu for first light.  That really is dedication in a guide.

We were up at the entrance before 6.00am when the gates opened and headed in with the hoards, immediately turning left to climb steps to get the famous view over the ruins and Wayna Picchu, the small peak behind.  Climbing the steps was pretty tough and we had to stop a few times to catch our breath, before we got to the first platform from which the ruins were visible.  The sky had lightened by now, but it would still be more than an hour before there was any sun.  The view of the Machu Picchu ruins with the small mountain behind it was breathtaking.    The site is surrounded by terracing and mountains on all sides and it seems unbelievable that people could build it in such a high, isolated and hidden place.

Before the visit, I had braced myself to be disappointed as Machu Picchu had been my number one place in the world that I wanted to visit, but I was not at all.

After lots of photographs, we continued to climb the steps to get better and better view of the ruins.  We then headed away from the ruins, upwards along the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate.  The trail is made from stone and a few feet wide.  We had to stop regularly on the way up, birding as we went.  Elated but exhausted tourists passed us in the other directions, completing their five day hike, with their first views of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate.  As the sun appeared over the mountain side, the rays hit the ruins and the view was magical for a few minutes.  I am sure that it was no coincidence that the Incas built the city on the highest point and the first place to get the sun.

Birdgirl on the Inca Trail

Although the American Hiram Bingham “rediscovered” the site in 1912, he was brought here over the mountains by locals who knew of it’s existence.  Also it seems that a couple of Germans looted the place in the 1860’s (probably with some money passing to the then Peruvian Government) but I’ve no idea what happened to the stuff they stole and why they never told anyone about the place.  Hiram Bingham also did his own looting (or should I say taking back to the American University) and most of what was there is gone.  I suppose that is what people did back then.  Still I can imagine that it was a bit like being Indiana Jones being Bingham or Carter a hundred years ago.

Much of the extended site is still covered in jungle and so you can see why it was not visible from below.  Alex was telling us that some sections of the terracing was only uncovered a year ago. 

Having seen the Inca Finch the day before, today was really a tourist day.  Although we still managed to see two new birds, Barred Parakeet which was new for Chris and I but which Birdgirl had managed to see flying over in Ecuador and White-Throated Hawk.

A group photo

Lori on the Inca Trail

Birdgirl loved Machu Picchu and wondered the site videoing the chambers and walls with commentary from her: the rooms that the Inca himself lived in; some for his wives and children; another for the virgins waiting to be sacrificed.  I am sure that she that she will never forget her experience and hopefully she will be able to return as an adult.

Birdgirl enjoying her video cammentary, with Lori looking on

We got back to Aguas Calientes for a very late lunch, exhausted but happy.  A great day of site-seeing but we were ready to continue our birding the next day.  After a few hours off sitting in the hotel lobby catching up in e-mails and Face Book, we were back for a quick dinner before catching the 7.15pm train back to Ollantaytambo, where we were staying for 2 nights.

Birdgirl looking very beautiful

What have we got here?

The Inca's toilet
Not sure if it still smells!

Culture and education in Peru

Having finished the Central Peru tour, we had a morning in Lima for a lie in and educational visit to a museum. I had checked out the Lonely Planet and opted for The Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology of Peru, which didn’t seem too far away. Gunnar had said that our hotel was really well placed for museums and so this seemed right.

I was really looking forward to our lie in and set the alarm for 7.30 am, giving us plenty of time to get repacked, visit the museum and get back to the hotel for our 11.40am pick up by Henri.
So it was pretty annoying when Chris and I both were awake by 5.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Even Birdgirl was up at 7.30am, unable to stay in bed any longer.

Before we headed out, I looked at the map and realised that the museum was just off the nearest main road to the hotel.  Judging by the direction that we had come from the airport, I decided that we were west of the main road and the museum was east.  I then asked the owner of the hotel for more directions, but interpreted his answer to fit my pre-conceived ideas of the way (my usual trick).  From the hotel we headed to the main road, turned right and walked for 10 minutes before deciding that we must have gone the wrong way.  A kind man stopped and gave us directions back the way we came and 10 minutes later we were turning right at the junction where we were had joined the main road.  10 yards later we were at the museum, which was probably a 3 minute walk from the hotel!

The museum had loads in it, including pre Homo Sapien skulls and sections on the Wari and Incas.  The Wari dominated before the Incas and spread from Quito to La Paz.  It was great to learn about the pre-hispanic cultures and history before heading to Cusco, the Inca capital.  Birdgirl loved it all, there is nothing like real life learning.

It was obviously much quicker to get back to the hotel, in time for our lift to the airport and heading for Cusco.  We said our goodbyes to Henri, who had been a great driver, cook and administrator.  The drivers/cooks really make the difference for us on trips.  Henry was fab, always making sure that Birdgirl had food she liked for meals, making her popcorn and hot chocolate and generally being friendly and attentive to her needs.  It make things easier for us but also makes things much more enjoyable for Birdgirl.  It is tough being 10 years old and constantly amongst strangers.

Having had a good week with Andy, I was feeling tense about what Lorand Szucs was going to be like, as we were with him for three weeks, which is a long time for Birdgirl to be good…

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A search for a hummingbird in Peru

From Junin, we then continued our journey south towards Lima. We stopped at a Chinese for lunch (what else?) and then at Ticlio Bog again, at 4,900m. Andy needed to catch up with the birds there and Birdgirl and I wanted to try and see the nomadic Olivaceous Thornbill, a large plain coloured hummingbird. Chris had seen one when we had stopped on our way out, but had not realised it was anything special he says because Alejandro had not mentioned that it was a target bird. It was only later when he spoke to Gunnar that he realised what his mystery hummer must have been. I was annoyed at missing the bird (as always!).

After an hour at the bog, Andy had seen the two other target birds and Alex tried to get us in the car to leave.  I was not happy to be leaving so early when I had a bird to still see.  The Alex let slip that he had seen one distantly a little while before.  I was even more determined that we were not leaving until we had given it a proper search.  Alex said that it was going to be late when we got to Lima, but could see from the look on my face that I did not care.  Who cares about getting to bed late if you get an extra lifer? He therefore gave in and went to look for the Thornbill, in what seemed a bit of a strop (what could else could I expect?).   Chris re-emphasised that the Thornbill was rare and nomadic and there wasn’t any good area for them, it was a case of keeping a lookout, which Alex would have been doing the whole time we were there.  When I am on a mission, do I listen?

We spent the next 45 minutes, spread out over the bog, searching on little flowers for the hummer.  At this point I decided that we had given it a good go and was prepared to leave, however Alex was looking some distance away and was determined to ignore my shouts.  Maybe he was just determined to find me the bird.  The rest of us gathered together waiting for Alex to return and Chris headed off to another area of flowers 100m away.  I carried out a last despondent search and suddenly saw a bulky bird that flew like a hummer but then it started feeding on the ground and I thought I must be mistaken and it must be a pipit type thing.  Then it flew again and I knew it was the Thornbill.  I gave a shout and Birdgirl was by my side and onto the bird within a second.  Next Andy got onto the bird, feeding on some flowers.  We decided to walk forward a little but by the time we walked a few meters, the Thornbill was gone.  It was a good job that Chris had already seen one, as we could not relocate it. 

I was very pleased with myself for picking up the hummer myself and proving to Alex that it was worth looking for an extra hour.  He was just glad we saw the bird and wasn’t as childish as me.

Next stop was 45 minutes down the mountain, in Santa Maria, where we were dropping Andy for his extra day in the Santa Eulalia Canyon, which we had visited at the start of our tour.  Andy thought Alejandro might be arriving the next morning but did not know what the exact plan was yet.  However, when we pulled up into the hotel car park, Alejandro and Julio his driver were already waiting in Gunnar’s 4x4, which was now fixed.  We were able to say “hola” to Alejandro again and meet Julio, who was going to be our guide in the last section of our tour.  The organisation was all very impressive.

We said goodbye to Andy and hoped to meet up again during the next week or two, when we thought our paths might cross.  If not, we would definitely keep in touch.  Birdgirl shared a few jokes and gleefully told him that her behaviour in the last week was her on “good behaviour” and that she couldn’t be good for than a week.  Andy laughed, clearly having enjoyed her company and said that Lorand didn’t know what he had in store for him!

In Lima, it was a quick Pot Noodle before bed at 9pm.  I did have a few guilty pangs about how late it was, as Alex had to be up at 4.00am to catch his flight.  I do find it hard to know when it stop.  However, it was going to be lovely to have a lie in the next morning…

Boating on Lake Junin at 4,150m, Peru

From Huanuco we headed south to Junin, stopping at a couple sites that we had stopped at on the way up, for Andy to catch up with some birds.  At the polylepis site, Birdgirl enjoyed running around, exploring and paddling in a cold but clear mountain stream.

By now I had plucked up the courage to ask Andy (in a round about way) what his list was.  We had already worked out that it must be enormous, but we were surprised at just how enormous it was.  I’m glad I didn’t know before meeting him, as I would have been extremely anxious about Birdgirl and I being on a trip with a big world birder!  Andy has been extremely good company and brilliant with Birdgirl.  Hopefully, we will meet again on this trip if not back in the UK.

Junin Lake is the second largest lake in Peru and is a 4,150m, significantly higher than the largest lake, Lake Titicaca.

We arrived in Junin in time for lunch and then checking into to our hotel.  It was market day and so Birdgirl and I went out to have a look around and buy some embroidered blankets (used for carrying babies and loads on women’ backs).   The market was full of amazingly fresh fruit and vegetables, probably picked that day.  Less pleasant was the snake skins for sale and also what looked like a freshly skinned snake.  We tried to avert our eyes.  We managed to buy our blankets and returned very pleased with ourselves. 

We then headed off to Junin Lake, picking up a local guide Cesar on the way.  The target for the afternoon was Junin Rail, a subspecies of Black Rail (reputed to be the hardest bird in North America to see).  We had heard that the only way to see Junin Rail was to catch it in a mist net, but in the last year or two Cesar had managed to show them to people in grassy fields near the water’s edge.

What they had forgotten to tell us was that the fields were very marshy.  Birdgirl and I fell behind the others as we tried to negotiate the deep water by trying to hope from one tussock to another.  Walking at this altitude was tough on the chest, particularly as we were hurrying to try and catch up but instead had fallen further and further behind.  I then tripped on some barbed wire and fell into a ditch, soaking my trousers from the knee down as well as up to my elbows on my fleece.  I was not happy at all.  Obviously it was Chris’ fault for not staying back with me and helping me through the quagmire!  I carried on walking but then reached a section that was deep in water and seemed impossible to cross without very wet boots.  By this point I was very fed up and annoyed.  The group ahead stopped and Chris finally stopped and beckoned for me to come over.  I did not move, determined to be as annoying as possible.  Chris lifted his bins to see why I was not moving towards him as I vigorously stuck two fingers up at him.  The stand off continued for a few moments longer until I eventually marched through the water, shaking with anger.  As I approached them, I childishly shouted that I was really p*****d off and at the same time stumbled and fell over, adding to my rage and ridiculousness. 

Cesar seemed oblivious to my immature behaviour and continued to search for the rail.  It was not long before he heard one and instructed us to look towards a small dark hole in the bottom of the grass only 6 inches wide.  Even before we were completely ready and standing in place, just as Cesar started to play a recording of the bird calling, a Junin Rail ran across the hole giving us all a short but good view.  Cesar continued to play the recording but the rail did not reappear.  At this stage, Birdgirl whispered that she felt hot and sick.  She then had to sit down and recover from the sudden effect of altitude and sun.

Chris and Andy got some more views whilst I stayed with Birdgirl.  This gave me the opportunity to reflect on my behaviour and improve my mood!

Birdgirl was feeling much better but needed to go back to the vehicle, so Chris walked back with her whilst I stayed with Andy to try and get another view of the Rail, with no luck.

The sun had gone down by this stage and it had turned pretty cold.  Back at our comfortable but basic hotel Birdgirl and I decided that full thermal wear was necessary and that we were going to go to bed fully dressed.  We therefore had a wash, quick change of underwear before getting re-dressed in as many layers as possible.  This paid off when we went out for dinner, as it was cold and all the locals were also eating with their woolly hats on.  Getting ready for bed was a taking our coats off, brushing our teeth and getting into bed.  We amazingly both got 9 hours sleep, despite getting up at 5.30am the next morning.

Next morning we went out on a little boat to see Junin Grebe.  The water levels were very low, so Alex, Cesar and Andy pushed the boat whilst we jumped when the water got too deep for boots.  At such a high altitude it was enough to almost kill Andy!

Boating anyone?

It is a bit cold

Junin Grebe

Ornate Tinamoou

We got some great views of the Grebe before going around to the other side of the lake and managing to get close views of Andean Avocet, a bird we didn’t get to see in Bolivia and a lifer for Alex, even though it was his 8th visit to the Lake.

Andean Avocet

Chilean Flamingo
Junin Lake

A group shot