Thursday, June 17, 2010

Peru, Day 18, May 19, 2010: Auggh! Will it Never End??

Yes, it does end with this post, at the least the Peru blog does. I know it seems like these posts have gone on forever. This was our longest trip, and one of the most productive.

We started our final day by sleeping in a bit. Henry picked us up at 7:30 AM, then we collected Alejandro and took off for the coast. Our first stop was at a reed lined small lake. Lots of ducks and herons were using this area. I got a much better look at White-cheeked Pintail. Cinnamon Teal were quite common. Ruddy Ducks were scattered around. The Andean Ruddy Ducks resemble Masked ducks somewhat, with a rusty body and a black head. The blue bill is really striking.

I spotted one of my target birds flying into the cat tails next to us, Wren-like Rush-bird. It really does resemble a Marsh Wren, but is actually not even a passerine, but a furnarid. It was a great looking bird, but not my main target for the area, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, or Siete Colores, (seven colors)  as its called locally. Very little of the lake edge is accessable, but we worked the area that we could get to, with no luck. Alejandro said it was usually very common there. (I have heard that story before!)

We drove down the road to another area where Alejandro had seen them in the past, as sure enough, he found one very quickly. It is one of those birds that is so much better looking in person than in the book. I got some really crummy photos, but as bad as they are I was happy to get them. We also saw a Plumbeous Rail working in the reeds. From where we were standing we could see the beach and several ponds that had shorebirds. There was no question where we would go next.

The ponds did hold a number of shorebirds that I would have expected to be long gone by May 19. We added a good number of trip birds. When we got to the beach I looked out and saw hundreds and hundreds of gulls. I thought "Oh shoot, we are never going to get Martin out of here!" There were many Belcher's Gulls, Grey Gulls and Kelp Gulls. A flock of Franklin's Gull flew by,  again surprising me that they had not migrated further north by now. Peruvian Boobies and Pelicans flew by in good numbers. Finally we dragged Martin to the car and departed, but not before checking even more shorebirds near the beach entrance.

We started driving North. The landscape was absolutely nothing like I had ever thought of when I heard the word Peru. The bare sand colored hills were covered in small shanties. The sky was lead gray and there was some light fog in the air. There was no natural color, though the people we saw more than made up for that. It was really sobering for me. These people had so little. The houses were no bigger than my kitchen, some of them made of woven mats hung on frames. I felt like I was living in total decadence, I don't mean that in the laughing way we sometime use that word.

Driving further, the landscape became even more desolate, as the houses ran out. This is true desert. We turned off the highway and headed to Lomas de Lachay,  a well known park. This was the driest looking place I have ever seen. As we drove in I could not see one living green thing. It was gray rock and sand, made even grayer by the light fog. This was such a weird contrast, the very dry desert and the constant fog. Alejandro told us in Spring you couldn't see 10 meters in front of you, the fog was so thick. The little moisture that the few plants get is from this fog. Hills that looked like piles of huge rocks lined the road.

I was wondering what birds could possibly live here. This was answered when we saw a pair of Burrowing Owls. We also saw the first plants since we turned into the park, tall thin cactus were scattered up the hill. We parked and started walking out, looking for Cactus Canestero, another furnerid that resembles a wren somewhat. Alejandro pointed out a nest, a big mass of sticks stuffed between several cactus branches. Unfortunately nobody was home, so we went further up. We heard one calling and started using the play back on the iPod. The bird flew right in, and put on a real show. True to his name, he sat in the cactus as he checked us out.

We returned to the car and left for another part of the park. We circled around on the highway, and took a different entrance road. Not far after the turn, we found a small group of Least Seed-snipe. Seed-snipe are actually shorebirds, but they look more like ptarmigan or grouse. They are very well camouflaged. As we scanned we could pick out more birds across the dry weedy fields. This park had a lot more vegetation, with brush and small twisted trees.

As we entered the park we started seeing Black-chested Buzzard Eagles. They seemed to be everywhere. A bird perched next to the road was very cooperative model for some photographs. We arrived at an area with some picnic tables and several trails up into the hills. We hiked up, looking for Raimondi's Yellow-finch. We got up to the top and scanned the rocks. Alejandro had seen the Yellow-finches here a number of times, but this day wasn't destined to be one. I was getting tired of scanning, so I started looking around where we were standing. Down the trail I saw what I initially thought was a large house cat trotting towards us in the distance. I put up my binoculars and saw that it was not a cat, but a fox, a Grey-coastal Fox and it kept coming down the trail. I held my breath expecting it to turn tail and run as soon as it spotted us, but it kept coming. It actually got quite close, before it turned off the path and made a wide circle around us through the brush. It was my "bird of the day!" even if it was a mammal.

We returned down to the picnic area, getting some great looks at more Buzzard Eagles, some flying by on eye level. We went back out to the highway, seeing a few Peruvian Thick-knees near the road. We were 100 km from Lima and had an evening flight home, so we went south back to the city. It seemed a long drive, and we felt a bit sad to be leaving, even though we had been in Peru for almost three weeks. Our flight was a bit delayed, but we got home the following day with a lot of memories and a lot of great birds.

I finished the trip with 533 species, and over 200 life birds. It was an experience I will never forget. Peru is a beautiful country with an amazing diversity of birds. I highly recommend it. Gunnar did a great job putting our trip together. Every single person I met who worked for him was exceptional. Alex and Alejandro were amazing guides. All of our drivers were very skilled and careful. I learned so much about Peru from Juan Jose. We laughed a lot and I will be able to tell stories about this trip for the rest of my life. I will end my narrative with a statement that I make all the time, "Go somewhere!" You can, its easier than you think and the benefits will last a lifetime. Travel changes you for the better in ways that can not be explained. Thanks for reading this and if you ever have any questions let me know!

Photos from this day:

Here are my birds from the day:
1 Cinnamon Teal

2 White-cheeked Pintail

3 White-tufted Grebe

4 Pied-billed Grebe

5 Peruvian Booby

6 Neotropic Cormorant

7 Great Egret

8 Snowy Egret

9 Little Blue Heron

10 Cattle Egret

11 Striated Heron

12 Puna Ibis

13 Black Vulture

14 Turkey Vulture

15 Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle

16 Harris's Hawk

17 Variable Hawk

18 American Kestrel

19 Plumbeous Rail

20 Common Moorhen

21 Slate-colored Coot

22 Peruvian Thick-knee

23 Black-bellied Plover

24 Killdeer

25 American Oystercatcher

26 Black-necked Stilt

27 Greater Yellowlegs

28 Lesser Yellowlegs

29 Ruddy Turnstone

30 Pectoral Sandpiper

31 Stilt Sandpiper

32 Wilson's Phalarope

33 Least Seedsnipe

34 Gray-hooded Gull

35 Gray Gull

36 Franklin's Gull

37 Belcher's Gull

38 Kelp Gull

39 Rock Pigeon

40 Eared Dove

41 Bare-faced Ground-Dove

42 Groove-billed Ani

43 Burrowing Owl

44 Amazilia Hummingbird

45 Coastal Miner

46 Wren-like Rushbird

47 Cactus Canastero

48 Many-colored Rush Tyrant

49 Vermilion Flycatcher

50 Blue-and-white Swallow

51 House Wren

52 Band-tailed Sierra-Finch

53 Drab Seedeater

54 Grassland Yellow-Finch

55 Rufous-collared Sparrow

56 Peruvian Meadowlark