PERU: MACHU PICCHU & ABRA MALAGA
with Jesse Fagan of Field Guides Inc

and a pre-trip excursion to
PUCUSANA and PANTANOS de VILLA
with Jean Paul Perret of EcologisticaPeru

July 12 - 22, 2012

Narration by Martin Selzer - photos by Lynn C. Jackson

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July 12, 2012
Today we traveled to Lima via direct flight from Newark. Our flight was about 15 minutes delayed leaving Newark but otherwise our trip was uneventful and we were settled in our room without any trouble. The hotel is literally across the street from the airport, making it extremely convenient for transfers. We stayed the night in Lima at the Ramada Costa del Sol Hotel.
July 13, 2012
Today we had scheduled a pre-tour excursion to Pucusana and the Pantanos de Villa (Villa Wetlands) with Jean Paul Perret of EcologisticaPeru. Jean Paul had a driver (Juan) meet us at the hotel at the very reasonable hour of 8:00. Otherwise he would have had to come across Lima in rush hour traffic to get us and then backtrack south to our birding destinations. We then went and picked up Jean Paul and a friend of his, Walt, who would be joining us for the day. Once we got them, we were heading to our first stop which turned out to be the Villa Wetlands by 8:45.


Inca Tern flying in front of a mural

As we were driving along the coast we caught our first views of Peruvian Boobies, Peruvian Pelicans and Belcher’s Gulls even if none of these were what one would call quality views (those would come soon enough).

By 9:30 we had arrived at the Villa Wetlands and made the first of two major stops. One of the first birds we found was a pair of Long-tailed Mockingbirds.

Belcher's Gull
Peruvian Pelican

The first wetland area we visited held Common Moorhens, Pied-billed Grebes, Little Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night-herons, Gray, Belcher’s, Kelp, Gray-hooded and Andean Gulls. Here we also found two “target” birds for the area: Willets (a debate had been running amongst local birders as to whether or not these are Eastern (almost unheard of for Peru) or the more expected Western Willet) and a Roseate Spoonbill. This area also held Ruddy Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Great Grebe, and fly-by juvenile Inca Tern and Black Skimmer.

The second area we went to yielded Harris’s Hawk, several Plumbeous Rails, Wren-like Rushbird, Many-colored Rush-tyrant and the collection of herons again. We also tracked down the local “sooty” race of Vermillion Flycatcher. We then moved on to our third stopped which was along the road for White-cheeked Pintail, White-tufted Grebe, and White-backed Stilt. It was now 11:30 and we need to head to Pucusana and for our boat trip, lunch and some more coastal birding. In fact we were running a tad late but since it was just us, we had the ability to be somewhat flexible with the schedule.


Pucasana Harbor
Pucusana was 30 minutes away and once we arrived at the harbor, Jean Paul called for our boat and by 12:15 we were aboard and about to take our short ride from the main dock to visit the near beaches, cliffs, and tour around the islands that form the harbor. It was a great way to get close to Southern Sea Lions, Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants, Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian and Blue-footed Boobies, Inca Terns, Blackish Oystercatchers and too everyone surprise 3 Sea Otters. This little adventure took about an hour and was wonderful.

Southern Sea Lion
Blackish Oystercatcher
Inca Terns
Marine Otters- Lontra felina , in the same genus as the North American river otter but not directly related to sea otters.
Red-legged Cormorant
Guanay Cormorants

After returning to the dock, we then walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch. While eating we found a pair a Surf Cinclodes feeding on the rock in the tidal cave near the restaurant. Following lunch we drove around the corner to a promontory to look for the local Humboldt Penguin colony. We found most of them out in the surf but then 3 birds swam out from the point. In total we saw about 2 dozen penguins.

We ended the day birding in a riparian area. Here we found Tropical Kingbird, Hooded Siskin, Southern-beardless Tyrannulet, Croaking Ground Dove, Bran-colored Flycatcher (sub-species rufescens a potential split). We then called it a day as it was about 15:45, dropped Jean Paul back at his home before Juan returned us to the hotel around 17:15. We again stayed the night in Lima at the Ramada Costa del Sol Hotel.

July 14, 2012
We needed to be packed and checked out of our roomed by 6:30 today for our 8:30 flight to Cusco so we went to breakfast at 6:00. Once we landed in Cusco, we were met by our local agent and Lucretia (our local guide) for our visit to Machu Picchu and Agra Malaga. The flight from Lima to Cusco took about an hour.

When we arrived we took about an hour break at the Hotel Libertador for some coca tea to ease the effects of the altitude (11,000 feet) before heading south to bird the Huacarpay Lakes , en route to Ollantaytambo. We birded here from 11:30-13:45 before breaking for lunch.


Huacarpay Lake area
White-browed Chat-tyrant

There were a few ducks in the lake, Andean Coots, Common Moorhens, and Plumbeous Rails. In the fields we found Rufous-naped Ground-tyrants. After lunch we had a Rusty-fronted Canestero, a couple Cinereous Harriers and an American Kestrel.

It was approximately 16:00 when we had to stop birding and head straight on to Ollantaytambo which would be our home for the next night and then after our visit to Machu Picchu for the bulk of the trip.

We arrived at our hotel around 18:00 and after settling into our rooms met for dinner at 19:15. We stayed the night in Ollantaytambo at the Hotel Pakaritampu.

July 15, 2012
After breakfast at 5:30, we left for the train to Aguas Calientes at 6:15 with a small bag packed with enough clothes for 2 days for our Machu Picchu adventure. The bulk of our luggage would remain at the Hotel Pakaritampu in their safe keeping. We carried our small bags with us to the Ollantaytambo train station where we boarded the train for Machu Picchu. The train follows the Rio Urubamba along the Urubamba gorge to Aguas Calientes.

There our home for the next 2 nights will be the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. We took a Peru Rail Vistadome train, which affords a slightly nicer ride than the Inca Rail backpacker train but still nowhere near as posh as the Hiram Bingham Train that is always shown on the Travel Channel or PBS when they talk about taking the train to Machu Picchu. The ride from Ollantaytambo is 46 kilometers and this narrow-gauge train takes approximately 90 minutes.

Train Station at Ollantaytambo

We were met by representatives of the hotel who took our bags and made sure they were delivered to our rooms so we could go get in line for the bus to Machu Picchu. The buses run from the town to the ruins continually from pre-dawn till 17:30. You need a ticket but you just queue up and wait till there is room on the next bus for you. While waiting in line for our bus we had an adult Black and Chestnut Eagle soaring over the near-by hillside which was a very nice treat.

We arrived at the ruins at 9:40 and with Lucretia serving as our tour guide we spent the next 3+ hours touring Machu Picchu. We then went to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Hotel Buffet for lunch from 13:00-14:00. It felt great to sit down and get out of the sun. We then birded the road below the entrance area/bus terminal for about an hour ultimately finding a pair of Inca Wrens before catching a bus back into town.

MACHU PICCHU

Jesse and Rocio
Lucretia explains it all.
Northern Mountain Viscacha

It was a little before 16:00 when we finally arrived at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel for the first time and got to see our rooms. Well first we had to find them. The hotel has over 80 rooms spread out in clusters of lodges spread out amongst beautifully maintained gardens. Fortunately, we were given a map and everything is well marked, so we didn’t get lost.

At 16:30 we met back by the spa/pool area where there are feeders and a bar. We birded here and along the river until dark. The hotel maintains its own herb garden, small tea plantation, and has trails dedicated to ferns and orchids that guests can take tours. Dinner was at 19:00. We stayed the night at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

July 16, 2012
Today breakfast was at 5:30 and at 6:15 we left the grounds of the hotel to catch a bus to take us a short way out of town to the Mandor Road and trail. We would bird along this trail about 3Km out and then back for the morning. We were at the trail head by 7:00 and for most of the day we had a group of local dogs keeping us company. Clearly they were used to hikers and seemed happy for the distraction from their usual ennui.

Our birding highlights were a couple mixed flocks we encountered, Andean Guans, Masked Fruiteater, and Speckled-faced Parrots and while not exactly a stunner of a bird, how often does one get to put Oleaginous Hemispinous on one’s day list. Sure it doesn’t exactly live up to its name in looks like some other members of the tanager family but that’s quite a name to live up to, isn’t it? We also encountered a couple Saffron-crowned and Blue-necked Tanagers feeding on some flowers that were simply breathtaking.

Party time in Aguas Calientes.

Around 13:00 we caught a bus back into town and had lunch at Indio Feliz (world famous according to my Lonely Planet guide and it really was a great meal). After a little down time to rest our feet, we again met at the spa/pool at 16:30 and birded the trails around the lodge till 18:30.

The feeders at the spa were always jumping with Saffron-crowned, Blue-gray, Palm, Silvery, and Blue-necked Tanagers. Dinner was at Café Inkaterra the independent restaurant operated by the hotel, another Pisco Sour and another outstanding meal. We stayed the night at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

Thick-billed Euphonia
Dusky-Green Oropendola

July 17, 2012
This morning after breakfast at 5:30, we went birding along the trails within the grounds surrounding the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. We took a trail that lead us up the hillside behind the hotel leading us ultimately to a clearing where we found Speckled Hummingbird, Azara’s Spinetail, Sierran Elaenia and both Andean and White-eared Solitaires.

White-eared Solitaire is a striking bird, it was nice to see them again. Our walk along the trails revealed numerous flowers including many orchids, a Slaty Thrush and a White-tipped Dove before we needed to call it a morning as it neared 11:00.

Birding the grounds of the hotel

We needed to vacate our room by then as it was check-out time. We could leave our luggage at the reception area and then could either go in town to shop or continue to enjoy birding on the hotel grounds.

Blue-naped Chlorophonia

The hotel staff would take our luggage to the train station for us so we would be able to spend the rest of the morning watching the hummingbirds and tanagers at the feeders.

We hoped to find another Blue-naped Chlorophonia at the feeders. The day before Lynn took a wonderful picture of one but it wasn’t until she was reviewing her pictures that we realized it. Silly thing was Ted and I were both standing right next to her when she took the picture and neither of us realized the bird was there. DOH! It would have been a life bird for him, Double DOH!!

At noon we had lunch at the hotel and then relaxed some more at the feeders (still no chlorophonia) before walking to the train station and boarding the 15:48 train for Ollantaytambo. En route Peru Rail, tried to separate us from more of our money with a fashion show of fine fashions made from Alpaca wool. While many if not all were extremely nice, and our conductors made excellent runway models this was sort of like “Duty Free Shopping” on an airplane mid-Atlantic. All I could think was; Who really makes these purchases? After arriving at the train station, we walked back up the road and again settled in at the Hotel Pakaritampu for the next 3 nights.

Entertainment on the train to Ollantaytambo

July 18, 2012
Breakfast was at 5:00 and we departed at 5:30. Today we would bird the west slope of the Abra Malaga pass . The actual pass tops out at 4316 meters (14,242 feet). The north/west side is the wetter side and today started out a bit damp and chilly.

We made our first stop at the Penas Ruins. Mt. Veronica quietly dominates the cordillera in these parts and once the sun came out we were treated to wonderful views of this snow covered peak.

This first stop was highlighted by White-tufted Sunbeam, Great Sapphirewing, Chestnut-breasted Mountain-finch, Peruvian Sierra-finch, Stripe-headed Antpitta and a warm welcome from Maxima, the resident Quechua woman who brought out some freshly baked potatoes as a token of friendship for us. In return, Lucretia had brought along so bread and fruit from the hotel as a thank you for allowing us on her sheep farm.

Veronica through the clouds
Stripe-headed Antpitta
Maxima brings us some delicious roasted potatoes

We then continued to drive up the road and bird at various pull-offs along the way. At one stop we found Andean Parakeets, at another stop we had our first Andean Condors of the trip, Mountain Caracaras, and Variable Hawks. At the appropriate habitat we tried for and found Line-fronted, Streak-backed and. Streak-throated Canesteros. There were Andean Lapwings in the boggy areas and a few ducks as well. On the drive down we also spotted our first Black-faced or Andean Ibis (branikii, sub-species).

Each day as we drove back to our hotel we stopped en route so Lucretia could give some of our extra food from lunch to the Quechua children who lived along the road. Our box lunches were huge, so putting aside half of them were hardly a sacrifice. Lucretia also tried to get extra bread whenever possible from the hotel. The families living around Abra Malaga really have to eek out a living so giving up a couple pieces of fruit or part of a lunch was not a difficult decision to make.

When we got back to the hotel, we still had some daylight so after pre-ordering dinner, we found a beautiful male Bearded Mountaineer feeding on flowers in the garden, Black-throated Flowerpiercers, Black-backed Grosbeaks and Spot-winged Pigeons. This garden was also the best spot for White-bellied Hummingbird. We stayed the night in Ollantaytambo at the Hotel Pakaritampu.

July 19, 2012
Breakfast was at 5:00 and we departed at 5:30. Today we would bird the east slope of the Abra Malaga pass. The south/east side is the dry side. Today started out clear and cold. Icicles could be seen hanging from the hillside where the previous day’s runoff had been dripping. While yesterday started damp and raw, today was bright and cold until the sun rose over the mountains to warm us up along the road and hillside.

We finally started finding birds once the sun warmed things up. We found a group of endemic Parodi’s Hemispingus and then a group of tyrannulets that definitely included a couple White-banded and White-throated and may have also included a pair of White-tailed Tyrannulets but since this band of birds moved quickly along the roadside we could not be completely sure. The call sounded good for White-tailed Tyrannulets but we never got really clean looks at them. We found a few Pearled Treerunners and Marcapata Spinetails in this group too.

A bit lower on, we found a nice mixed flock of birds with Highland Elaenia, Streak-necked and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Streak-throated Bush-tyrant, Chestnut-breasted Mountain-tanager, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Blue-and-black Tanager, Masked Flowerpiercer, and Cusco Brush-finch. When we returned to this same spot after lunch we found a Swordbilled Hummingbird here and heard a Maroon-chested Ground-dove in the hillside nearby.

Yesterday and again today, Jesse would play “tape” of Yungas Pygmy-owl whenever we stopped at the appropriate habitat. Today he not only got a response but the bird appeared to actually come closer. Still with all the dense vegetation and a vast hillside for it to hide in the chances of us finding it while standing on a busy roadside appeared slim. We scanned a good 20-30 minutes before finally starting the walk back up to the bus for our lunch. Actually, we might not have even given it that long if it hadn’t taken the bus that long to find a spot further down the road to turn around but this was a narrow, twisty-mountain road with limited options for turning around. Anyway, the owl had quieted down when we thought we had finally given up except for Ted who had walked about 25 feet downhill to get a different perspective on a bamboo clump. Well, don’t you know it, he quietly goes, and “I think I have the owl”. Sure enough he had found it and with a little more effort we found some gaps to set up the scopes and everyone got life looks at this bird. At the end of the trip it ended up being voted the favorite bird of the trip, just beating out Saffron-crowned Tanagers and Many-colored Rush-tyrants.

This day we also found “white-browed” Brush-finch, Blue and White and Brown-bellied Swallows, Mountain Wren, Paramo Pipits, Black-capped (auricularis subspecies) and Superciliated Hemispingus, Blue-backed and White-browed Conebills. So it was a pretty good day on the East Slope. We stayed the night in Ollantaytambo at the Hotel Pakaritampu.

July 20, 2012
Breakfast was at 5:30 and we departed at 6:00 today for our last trip back to Abra Malaga. Today we would hike up to visit the Polylepis grove above the pass at Abra Malaga. The pass is 14,242 feet making this relatively short walk somewhat more strenuous than my normal trip around the block. Last year the trail was blocked by 4 feet of snow and the last two mornings were rather chilly so we all were rather pleased when we arrived at the pass to find it sunny without any wind. We hoped to find White-browed Tit-Spinetail, Tawny Tit-Spinetail, Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant, Stripe-headed Antpitta, Puna Tapaculo, and possibly even Giant Conebill here. All are inhabitants of Polylepis groves.

We started off with several ground-tyrants: Ochre-naped, Cinereous and Taczanowski’s. Once we reached the Polylepis we had to work for the White-browed Tit-Spinetail although the Tawny Tit-Spinetail was much more cooperative and eventually the Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant was very cooperative.

A group of Cinereous Conebills popped into view and as Jesse tried to coax them closer a pair of Giant Conebills was briefly observed at the base of a couple trees. We also had another Puna Tapaculo, Stripe-headed Antpitta and Line-Fronted Canastero before we had to start the hike back to the bus.

Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant

On the way back down we had a cinclodes at one of the pools that made us think for a short time that we might have had a Royal Cinclodes, but after examining some photos we were less convinced. Either that or it got away or we only were able to take pictures of the far more common Cream-winged Cinclodes. We may never know.

By now we really had to get back to the hotel for lunch and to check out. It was 12:30 (in fact we were due back now, so we were already late). We made one stop en route for Black Siskins.

After lunch we loaded the bus and headed back to Cusco at about 14:45. We made one stop at Laguna Huaypo, where we cleaned up on dabbling ducks of the Andes and had a pair of Andean Geese. We also stopped at a little wetland area near Chincero where we found Black-crowned Night-heron and an extremely cooperative Many-colored Rush-tyrant. We arrived in Cusco around 18:00 and went to a local restaurant for dinner around 20:00. We stayed the night in Cusco at the Sonesta Posada del Inca

July 21, 2012
We had to be checked out of our rooms by 9:00 which was ok since we had an 11:15 flight to Lima and would be heading to the airport at 9:15 to check in well in advance. We went to breakfast around 7:30 and then took a walk around Cusco for about an hour. Most of town was still waking up but we still got a little flavor of things.

Thanks to our great group

After arriving in Lima we checked into our day room at the Ramada Costa del Sol, had a late lunch and then relaxed in our room until we had another good-bye dinner with the group at 19:00. We then said our good-bye to everyone at 20:00 and went to check in for our flight home. When we checked-in everything was a-ok for an on-time departure at 22:38, by the time we had gotten through security and killed time “shopping” the flight was delayed. Eventually we started boarding the plane around 23:30 and took off around midnight. Otherwise it was a quiet flight and I got some sleep until we neared Newark.

July 22, 2012
Our flight landed a little after 9:00 in Newark and we proceeded to go through customs, gather our luggage, clear immigration, and claim my car and drive home arriving just before noon.

It was a great trip. Machu Picchu is an amazing place and everywhere we went in the Sacred Valley there were more ruins to see. There may be birdier places in Peru to visit and I will get there someday, but I am glad to have visited this wonder of the Inca World.

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