Monday, 16 July 2012

Camping in the Central Andes, Peru

We were up at 2.30am to leave at 3am for Bosque Unchog, forest and moor in a valley at 3,800m along the road from Cochabamba.  Birdgirl fell asleep immediately, with the rest of us dozing when we could on the very bumpy road.  At point I did open my eyes to realise that we were driving along a very narrow and high mountain road.  We then stopped and Alex got out and directed Henri in doing a three-point-turn.  At one point the vehicle was facing the sheer drop and something was jamming the wheel before we stalled.  I think we were all relieved when we were back on our way again.
We arrived at a cold and windy mountain top at about 6.15am, making sure that we had lots of layers on.  We were here to see 6 endemic birds, 4 of which were endemic to this valley.  We knew that one was very difficult but had been told that many of the recent tours had not seen another, Golden-Backed Mountain Tanager, which was a headline species to the site.  It was usually seen (with difficulty) along the other side of the valley but did not seem to be there now.  Alex however told us that he had seen the tanagers in the afternoon just by the camping place (the road), so we were hoping that we may get a chance that afternoon.  Alex had looked in the morning before and not seen them, so this was not our plan.

The plan was that we were going to camp, unless of course we saw all our target birds in one day!  We were not looking forward to camping as we had heard that it got very cold and windy.

We had breakfast and were just finishing our drinks when Chris started calling us over excitedly.  Alex and he had just seen a Golden-Backed Mountain Tanager fly across the valley.  The rest of us managed to get onto the bird, Birdgirl seeing it through a scope, before he flew back to just above where the car was parked.  This was amazing luck.

We headed off along the valley, first walking uphill before the path started heading down.  We heard a Nablina Tapaculo up to the side of the valley and so walked up to where we had heard it.  At 3,800m I can really feel the altitude as I walk and have to walk very slowly, taking a regular break.  As we tried to see the bird, Birdgirl suddenly said that she felt sick.  She looked very pale and looked light she might pass out.  Clearly the altitude had suddenly effected her.  Chris had to virtually carry her down, as her legs had virtually given way.  Back on the path, after some water and a Frosties’ Bar, Birdgirl was recovered and ready to carry on the walk.
We managed to see the endemic Bay-Vented Cotinga, Coppery Metaltail, Pardusco and Plenge’s Thistletail. However, we didn’t see Nablina Tapaculo or Rufous-Browed Hemisphingus and so camped for the night. Henri made Birdgirl some popcorn and a gas light/heater appeared from one of the local houses to help keep us warm before bedtime. We had all or layers on and went to bed fully dressed, including hats, gloves, fleeces and coats. Birdgirl slept in the middle and was toastie warm all night. I was cold when I woke up several times with not enough blanket, but otherwise slept well.

Breakfast after a night of camping

Coppery Metaltail taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Pardusco taken by and copyright Alex Durand

The next morning we saw the endemic Nablina Tapaculo but did not see the Rufous-Browed Hemisphingus, which Alex saw but we all missed.  

Birdgirl enjoying playing in a stream whilst not seeing a Rufous-Browed Hemisphingus

Not particularly happy birders - why cant we see all the endemics?

After lunch we headed down the mountainside, seeing Fasciated Wren enroute.  Back in Huanuco, we all enjoyed our hot showers before a quick Chinese and bed.

Andrew had finally told us that in fact he was Andy and not Andrew, which he clearly had not told me as he was too polite. Andy had been great company, laughing at Birdgirl’s jokes and backchat, and being a brilliant birding partner. As we talked more it became more evident how enormous his world list must be. When I eventually plucked up the courage to ask him, it was even bigger than I thought. He was very unassuming for someone with such a big list and I am really glad that I did not know before he arrived, as I would not have been able too cope with the stress and worry of having a big world lister join us on a family trip with Birdgirl, potentially being noisy and troublesome!

The next day we headed off to Carpish Tunnel again, looking for Rufous-Browed Hemisphingus, as it had been seen there a few times, including by Alex. No luck but we did see the endemic Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant and another Bay Tapaculo, a lifer for Andy, at Paty Trail. After lunch, we headed back to Carpish where we saw a Golden-Browed Chat-Tyrant which showed briefly and badly.

Back in Huanuco, we were back at the Pizza place before another fairly early night.

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