Tuesday, 31 July 2012

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.

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