Coastal areas and the ascent into the Andes: Central Peru part 1, 9th-10th November 2016   Leave a comment

From the 8th – 26th November 2016 I took part in a very enjoyable Birdquest tour of Central Peru with Eustace Barnes as the leader. I knew most of the other participants from previous trips, the tour ran smoothly and we saw more birds and had more lifers than we ever expected. As the photos will show the scenery was out of this world and the birding wasn’t bad either!

 

central-peru-map

Map of Peru showing (approximately) the route we took. It might not look that we covered any real distance at this scale, but progress was slow as we were often driving on mountainous dirt roads and had very slow lorry traffic on the better roads.

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Early in the morning of the 9th we left a dreary fog-bound Lima and headed along the coast and then climbed up to the scenic Lomas des Chey just as the sun was breaking through the coastal gloom.

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Here in the Atacama Desert it hardly ever rains but the fog, visible here on the upper left of the photo, persists at sea level for 10 months of the year.

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One of the first birds we saw was the delightful Vermillion Flycatcher. With a range from the southern USA to Argentina this is a bird I have come across many times. Since my return I have learned that southernmost populations have been split as a separate species, Scarlet Flycatcher, but I don’t know if these birds are the southernmost breeding Vermillion Flycatchers, or wintering Scarlets from the south. At this time of year the former seems more likely.

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Nice as the flycatchers were it was a species of furnarid that was our main target, the perky little Cactus Canastero.

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I was delighted to see a flock of this rare finch, Raimondi’s Yellow-finch, although the views were quiet distant and the image quality poor.

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Later we headed back to the fog-bound coat and to another area of lomas (woodland where the only moisture comes from fog).

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There are four species of seedsnipe, aberrant waders adapted mainly to barren areas. Three occur only at high altitudes but Least Seedsnipe is found in the coastal desert. The male is on the left, the female on the right.

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Although I know they have a cosmopolitan distribution, it was still a surprise to see the familiar Peregrine posing for photos in this barren habitat.

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Another widespread species in dry habitats throughout the Americas is the Burrowing Owl.

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Oasis Hummingbirds occurs in the dry woodland and scrub to the west of the Andes.

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Another bird of the dry coastal deserts is this Coastal Miner.

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A bird of similar distribution to the last two is the little Collared Warbling-finch,

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In the afternoon we moved to the coast to Bahia Paradiso, fortunately the mist had cleared.

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This tour used to be run in reverse, this meant that there was very little time to spend along the coast as it was necessary to get to Lima that evening. That was a shame as there was plenty to see on route as this mixture of Black Skimmer, Slate-coloured Coots, Common Gallinules, White-cheeked Pintails and Kelp, Grey-headed and Franklin’s Gulls shows.

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There were more gulls on the beach where Kelp, Grey-hooded and Franklin’s were joined by the inappropriately named Blecher’s Gulls. They were all first years and were easily recognised by their long bill, brown plumage and dark hoods.

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Here two 1st year Belcher’s Gulls say goodbye to the three Snowy Egrets

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Nearby on the rocks this Hudsonian Whimbrel stood sentinel. The UK and Holland seem to be the only countries recognising the New World form of Whimbrel as a separate species, based on its dark rump and more strongly marked underwing pattern. I think the head pattern is more striking as well. However the vocalisations of the two forms are identical and no other Old World/New World wader species pair fails to show distinct vocal differences.

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An interesting comparison between Blackish Oystercatchers (L) and American Oystercatchers (R).

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An elegant Great Grebe sailed by offshore.

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We stayed overnight in the town of Barranca. The following morning we explored an area of cultivation and scrub where we saw many species such as these Chalk-browed Mockingbirds ….

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…. a moulting Blue-black Grassquit ….

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…. Black-necked Woodpecker ….

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…. this charming pair of Croaking Ground Doves ….

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…. the diminutive Pacific Pygmy-owl ….

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…. a Green Kingfisher posed for photos along the river ….

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…. and Black Vultures roosted on nearby rocks

img_6655-fortaleza-valley-spinetail-site

We started to climb up into the Andes and took a side road up the Fortaleza Valley.

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The best birds in this side valley were Great Inca Finch (which I managed to photograph) and the rare Russet-bellied Spinetail (which I only managed rubbish shots of).

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We continued to ascend the west flank of the Andes eventually coming out the puna grasslands at an altitude of over 4000m.

 

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We made a stop at Lake Conocha. Even walking slowly along the road was exhausting, my head throbbed, my chest ached and my legs felt as weak as jelly. On the original itinerary today we would have birded at a site even higher than this and would have needed to scramble around high altitude bogs for several hours to get our targets. Fortunately the reversed itinerary meant we would be acclimatised well before then.

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We took a few minutes to take in this awesome panorama (and get our breath back). This mountain range is known as the Cordillera Negra, as being on the dry side of the Andes it seldom snows.

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In the distance flocks of Chilean Flamingos and Crested Duck could be seen.

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The most wanted species on this lake was the shelduck-sized Giant Coot.

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Giant Coots are known only from a few high altitude lakes of the Andes. Here a pair are constructing their floating nest.

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Cream-winged Cinclodes (formerly known as Bar-winged Cinclodes prior to a three way split) were common in these high altitude areas.

We continued on to the town of Caraz where we stopped for the night. Fortunately this was at a much lower altitude in an inter-montane valley, so we had no difficulty sleeping.

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