Monday, 20 August 2012

Apurimac Valley – West of Cusco, Peru

Today was a 4.30am start.  We had arranged with Alex that our new driver Orlando would be picking us up and then we would pick up Alex on the road out of town.

Orlando was on time in his very new looking Hyundai H1 (seems to be standard for tourist vehicles in Cusco) but a couple of minutes into our journey we had stopped again.  Orlando wanted 4 more passengers to get into the vehicle and when we said no, he did a bit of pleading, but Lori was very good and held firm.  After a couple of minutes we were on our way to pick up Alex, without any additional passengers, feeling slightly bad that the other tourists had been left in the lurch.  As it turns out, we actually did them a favour as Orlando had thought we were heading for Machu Picchu and this was where the other tourists were heading.  They might not have been very happy if they had woken a few hours into the journey in the middle of nowhere, at a tapaculo site!

We managed to grab a few hours sleep in the vehicle, which was a relief for me as I had slept badly the night before and only got a few hours, maybe as a result of the effect of sleeping at altitude.  Despite the bad start, our driver had won favour with me as he had put the heating on in the vehicle, without even being asked.  All was forgiven.

Birdgirl and I were sitting in the back and both missed an Undulated Antpitta fly past in front of the vehicle.  We stopped the vehicle and Chris jumped out and disappeared around the corner.  Alex had started playing a recording of the bird so we had to call Chris back to let us out of the back seats.  I was not happy that he had forgotten us, but anyone can do it once.  Unfortunately the antpitta was long gone.  I felt disappointed, but tried to console myself with the fact that these things happen and even if I was sitting in the front I probably would have still missed it as I was reading a bird report at the time.

We were on our way to a birding spot (for Vilcabamba Tapaculo) close to the Salcantay Lodge at Sorayapampa in the Andes, well before the Apurimac Valley.  Soon after the antpitta stop, we had an excellent road side stop when we saw the endemic Apurimac Brush-Finch, White-Tufted Sunbeam and Creamy-Crested Spinetail as well as three Andean Condor, two of which flew over low.

Andean Condor taken by adn copyright Alex Durand


Apurimac Brush-Finch taken by and copyright Alex Durand

We then set off, however, not far down the road I suddenly heard a shout from Alex in the front “Tinamou!”.  I was sitting behind Lori and Birdgirl was sitting behind Chris, so we could only see a small section of the road ahead.  I manoeuvred myself quickly to be able to see more ahead, but there was nothing to see.  Then there was another shout “it’s still there, be quiet”.  Still I could see nothing.

The vehicle had stopped and Chris jumped out, but didn’t think of letting Birdgirl and me out of the back (again).  I was not pleased.  Lori explained where he had seen the Andean Tinamou disappear and we followed Alex down the road and up a bank to see if the tinamou was still there.  Obviously it had sneaked away, as they do.   We did manage to see Andean Parakeet, but I was still looking for the tinamou and showed cursory interest in them when Alex pointed them out.

As we walked back to the vehicle, I felt a massive strop come over me.  Chris offered his front row set to me but I snapped that it was a bit late now after I had missed the birds.  I didn’t want him to let himself feel less guilty by taking a turn in the back.  I had got it into my head that they had been watching the tinamou for 30 seconds without giving directions.  Anyone who has seen a tinamou run across a road knows this is rarely the case.

We arrived at the site for Vilcabamba Tapaculo shortly afterwards and did not have to wait long before the tapaculo showed itself.  Alex worked hard to get even better views for us, but I was sulking and refused to take any further interest.  Lori tried to engage in conversation but got short responses from me and an attempt at a hug from Chris was rebuffed.  Birdgirl dealt with her disappointment much more maturely, telling me that I should stop blaming other people….but I wasn’t blaming other people, just Chris!

Vilcabamba Tapuluco taken by and copyright Alex Durand

We then headed further along the road for a productive lunchtime stop.  I had snatched 30 minutes sleep and felt much better.  The disappointment and misguided anger had passed.  As expected, the others had in fact had a fleeting view of the tinamou running across the road and then again as it disappeared behind a hedge. 

Lori asked me if I was ill or just tired, so I had to explain that I had been “p***d off but was now OK.  I again felt embarrassed at my ridiculous behaviour and must try harder in future to be well behaved.  Hopefully I was forgiven?

Here we saw the endemic Apurimac Spinetail, Apurimac Brush-Finch (again) and as yet undescribed “Ampay” Tapaculo (after much effort from Alex).

Salcantay Mountain
Birdgirl at Salancay Mountain

We then carried on towards the town of Abancay and stopped 40 minutes above the town, where Alex heard endemic Vilcabamba Thistletail and as yet undescribed “Apurimac” Tapaculo.  It was getting dark, so we decided to return the following morning rather than go to Bosque Ampay.

Our hotel in Abancay was pretty decent and most importantly had wifi.  Abancay is at 2,400m and so the temperature was comfortable.  We were all tired after our long day, so had a quick dinner in the hotel restaurant before heading off to bed.  Alex was not feeling well, so we suggested a later than usual breakfast and start.

The next morning we had breakfast at 6.30am which felt like a real lie in!  We did not leave until 7.00 am and headed back up the hill.  Here we very easily got great views of the “Apurimac” Tapuculo and did not have to try too much harder for views of the Vilcabamba Thistletail.  We also saw the endemic Chestnut-Breasted Mountain-Finch and Creamy-Crested Spinetail. 

Birdgirl enjoying the luxury of a sit down breakfast
Apurimac Tapaculo taken by and copyright Alex Durand

The plan was to look for Pale-Tailed Canestero that afternoon, but we decided to look for it at this site but higher up.  This is a potential split from Creamy-Breasted Canestero.  We were all affected by the altitude walking up the mountainside, as it was probably over 3,300m here and therefore had to take our time.  Alex heard and then briefly saw a Pale-Tailed Canestero, but we could not relocate it when we caught up with him.

We therefore went back into town for a Chinese lunch before a couple of hours rest and going down from Abancay to Patpachacha Bridge where we did see a Pale-Tailed Canestero, River Otter and then a different subspecies of Peruvian Pigmy Owl (the same as you get in Lima and about half the size of the one we had already seen in Santa Eulalia Canyon) and brilliant views of two Koepck’s Screech Owl.  It was great to have such a successful owling session.

Pale-Tailed Canestero taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Koepck's Screech Owl taken by and copyright Alex Durand
When we got back to the hotel, Chris searched to find out more about Mr Koepck.  We were really interested to hear that Koepck was in fact Maria Koepck, who was German married to a Peruvian German and was killed in a plane crash over the Amazon in the early seventies.  We had remembered hearing about the story, as her 17 year old daughter was injured but managed to walk out of the jungle after 10 days.  Birdgirl said that she would like to find out more about what happened when we get home.

Having seen all the main targets, we agreed another late start for the next day and a visit to Bosque Ampay, a huge forested mountainside so that Birdgirl and I could try and see Undulated Antpitta.  Alex again worked hard to get us reasonable views, with Birdgirl managing to get a brilliant (but short) view of the antpitta sitting on a log.  We also got more stunning views of an Apurimac Brush-Finch.

We had a brilliant few days on this side trip with lots of new birds, including many as yet undescribed species and potential splits.  Hopefully Birdgirl will get some armchair ticks out of these in her lifetime.
It was still early when we left for Cusco and we made good time on the journey, delaying lunch until we got back.  Here we were saying goodbye to Alex after more than more than four weeks.  He had been an amazing guide – as good as they get.  We were really going to miss him, his birding skills and tenacity.

It was good to get an early night, ready to start our Amazon trip with Gunnar Engblom the next day.  It is always good to get a new guide, particularly when you have worn the last one out.

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