Huascaran National Park and the drive to Huanaco: Central Peru part 2.11th -12th November 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers a day out on the 11th from Caraz to the Huascaran NP and back and the journey from Caraz to Huanoco on the 12th.

 

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We left very early in the morning and were already climbing high into the Sierra Blanca by the time the sun had fully risen.

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We had a short stop at the pass of Abra Portuchela to admire the stunning scenery.

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Early morning light was giving our driver selfie problems.

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6500m peaks were all around us, five on one side of the road, three on the other.

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At 4750m it was hard to walk around without becoming breathless, it was very cold and few birds were around so we descended to the forest below ….

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…. by a series of hairpin bends.

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I was pleased that I managed to capture the reflection of the mountain in this high altitude lake as this photo was taken through the window of a moving bus.

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Our main birding was along the edge of this extensive polylepis forest on the far side of the pass. Sorry about this horizontal line. I added it by mistake and can’t find an easy way to remove it!


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Our main target was the rare White-cheeked Cotinga, endemic to Central Peru which in spite of searching for most of the day, we failed to find. The forest is extremely dry, after last year’s El Nino event, the Andes comes under the influence of ‘La Nina’ as the currents of the Pacific return to normal and this is associated with unusual dry conditions, which was nice in that we had good weather but had a profound effect on the local breeding birds.

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Polylepis trees are noted for their gnarled appearance and flaking paper-like bark. We may have missed the cotinga but we did find the delightful Rufous-eared Brushfinch.

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Polylepis forest is effectively impenetrable and we could only see the brushfinches when they strayed to the edge.

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Baron’s Spinetail, a split from Line-cheeked Spinetail performed well ….

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…. as did this female Ashy-breasted Sierra Finch.

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Although this Rufous-webbed Tyrant posed nicely I failed to photograph the rufous webs to the flight feathers that gives it it’s name.

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In the afternoon a stop by a lake gave us views of ….

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…. ‘northern’ Silvery Grebe (a bird that really should be split from the golden-eared, brown-headed population of Patagonia) but we only heard our main target, Ash-breasted Tit-spinetail, in the nearby forest.

 

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Heading back we only paused briefly at the top of Abra Portuchela, which was now in a less flattering light.

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We descended to the lake far below.

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Now in the shadow of the mountains the light was fading fast but I managed to see my lifer Jelski’s Chat-tyrant ….

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…. as well as this much commoner Chiguanco Thrush.

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The following day we made a dawn visit to an area of cactus scrub near our hotel in Caraz and saw my first and only Pale-tailed Canastero ….

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…. and the poorly spotted Spot-throated Hummingbird.

 

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The rest of the day was taken up in the 13 hour drive to the town of Huanaco.

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The early part of the trip took us back through the Huascara NP with its spectacular scenery ….

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…. and ice capped mountains.

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Along with other travellers we stopped to admire this stand of puya plants.

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Puya raimondii known also as the ‘the queen of the Andes’ is the largest of the puya species and is related to the bromeiliads. The flowering spikes can grow to 10m tall. The plant only flowers once after it is about 40 years old and then dies. The spike can contain 3,000 flowers and produce 3,000,000 seeds.

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Andean Hillstars were busy feeding on the flowers.

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Although looking quite like the Rufous-webbed Bush Tyrant I photographed in the polylepis, this Black-billed Shrike Tyrant can be easily distinguished by its all dark wings and the extensive white in the tail.

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Further on we saw a flock of the lovely Andean Ibis ….

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…. although it was difficult to get close for photos when they landed.

We eventually reached a pass at 4880m but the scenery wasn’t on a par with Abra Portuchela. It was already getting dark as we descended the enormous Magdelena canyon and we still had several hours to go. We arrived in a very noisy Huanaco to find that a soccer match between Peru and Brazil was being relayed on giant screen in a establishment immediately under our hotel room. Not the best night’s sleep!

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