Archive for the ‘Diademed Sadpiper-plover’ Tag

Central Peru part 6: Apaylla to San Mateo, Marcapomacocha and the Santa Eulania valley – 23rd-25th November 2016   3 comments

This post covers our final leg of the trip, back westwards to the continental divide and the descent to San Mateo with birding over the following two days at Marcapomacocha and the Santa Eulania Valley.


Following on from the last post we climbed out of the humid subtropics and headed westwards towards the high Andes.



Soon we were out of the cloud and back in puna grassland.



Domesticated llamas replace sheep at these altitudes.



Llamas were almost certainly domesticated from the Guanaco, whilst the wool bearing Alpaca originated from the Vicuña.



A Variable Hawk watched us from a nearby ridge. Formerly treated as two species the lower elevation Red-backed Hawk and high elevation Puna Hawk; it was shown a decade or so ago that there were no consistent differences between the two and they were lumped under the name Variable Hawk. Back in 1989 as we climbed the Andes on my first visit to Peru, I asked the leader how you separated the two. ‘Easy’ was his reply, they are Red-backed before the lunch stop and Puna afterwards!



It was a long, but scenic drive punctuated with birding stops but became easier as the latter part was on tarmac. However we did meet some serious congestion when we reached the Central Highway.



We were running short of daylight when we reached the continental divide at Ticlio Pass at an altitude of 4828m but we did have a short stop at Ticlio Bog.



In spite of the late hour we had good views of White-bellied Cinclodes, a critically endangered species restricted to a few high altitude bogs in Central Peru. (Photo taken the following day in good light). The world population may be as low as 50 pairs as the bogs are suffering from overgrazing, drying out – in the long term due to climate change (all are fed from glacial meltwater from glaciers that will eventually disappear) and in the short term, the effects of La Niña.



We had to descend for about an hour to San Mateo for the night. The next morning we retraced our steps back up to the pass and along a side road. At least we didn’t have to be there for dawn as there is virtually no bird activity that early on at these altitudes.



We soon started seeing cracking new birds like this Junin Canastero …



… Dark-winged Miner …



… and at the highest of the bogs – Andean Snipe …



… and another couple of pairs of White-bellied Cinclodes. For a critically endangered bird they were remarkably easy to see.



Dave, one of the participants, using a GPS to track our journey, declared that we were at 4898m asl. This was the highest I have ever been. However I realised that if I climbed two metres up this rock I could reach a nice round 4900m. I have often wished I could reach 5000m but there is no way I could climb a further 100m vertically. That said I had acclimatised and could walk about without the extreme shortage of breath and headaches that occurred at the start of the trip.



The acclimatisation was to be put to good use as our next stop was the bog at Marcapomacocha.



Whilst it was a couple of hundred metres lower than the Andean Snipe site we were to spend several hours jumping from one tussock to the next as we searched for our target species.



The meltwater from the glacier spreads out forming this hillside of shallow puddles interspersed with tussocks and cushion plants.



Of course there were common Andean wetland species like Andean Goose ….



… and Puna Ibis …



… whilst a Variable Hawk soared overhead.



With all dark underparts this was a very different bird than the one we saw the yesterday (hence the name). With so much variation in all populations it is understandable that the two former species were lumped, but on altitude alone this one would certainly qualify as a ‘puna’ hawk.



White-winged Duica Finches were common.



Although the epithets ‘white-winged’ and ‘finch’ are self-explanatory, no-one seems to know the origin of the world ‘duica’.



In the drier areas around the bog we saw several small groups of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, the third sneedsnipe species of the trip (the only other one White-bellied, is only found in the far south of South America).



There were several species of ground-tyrant on the bog, the neotropical equivalent of the wheatears, this is a Cinereous Ground-tyrant. Had we come in the austral winter then the place would have been stacked with various ground-tyrant species as many migrate north from Patagonia seeking the comparatively mild conditions of the central Andes.



After some searching we eventually found the main prize …



… the exquisite Diademed Sandpiper Plover …



… one of the most beautiful waders in the world. It has a wide range from Peru to Chile but occurs only sparsely in high altitude bogs. For me it tied with Junin Grebe as ‘bird of the trip’ but it only came fourth in the group-wide poll.



With this gem securely under the belt we slowly descended to the Santa Eulania valley. On this dirt road it took several hours before we reached our next destination …



…. there were many distractions both avian and scenic.



Our driver Julio (L) and tour guide Eustace.



In the late afternoon we slogged up this gully at an altitude of about 4000m into the dwarf scrub (we are now of course on the dry side of the Andes so there is no  temperate forest here).



As well as common and familiar species like this House Wren ….



…. we found the beautiful Pied-crested Tit-tyrant …



… surely one of the cutest of the 436 strong tyrant-flycatcher family.



A small flock of Spot-winged Pigeons was a surprise as they are mainly confined to the east slope of the Andes.



Our main target was this Rusty-bellied Brushfinch which was a life bird for me.



With the day drawing on it was time to head down to the town of Santa Eulania which at an altitude of a mere 1000m was a long way below.



Driving down these narrow dirt roads in the dark was quite scary (these photos were taken of the same area the following day).



I was at the back of the minibus and on the left so I could see directly down a 1000m or so to the river glinting in the moonlight.



We also had a puncture but fortunately not on of the perilous hairpin bends. All of the staff seemed to have left the hotel leaving only a night-watchman so it was a bit of a Fawlty Towers situation. We ordered in pizza for our evening meal and ate it out on the lawn.



The following morning we returned up the Santa Eulania road and took a side road to reach the other side of the valley.



We spent a few hours birding an altitude of about 3000m.



This Bronze-tailed Comet was a new bird for me as was the pretty, yet elusive Rufous-breasted Warbling Finch (but I didn’t get any photos of that one).



Again there were plenty of common species around such as this Chiguanco Thrush.



Lower down see saw this Pacific (aka Peruvian) Screech Owl.



We descended still further and crossed the valley via this bridge.



Views from the bridge in both directions were quite spectacular.



From here we joined up with the road that we used last night and returned to the hotel. We packed up and had a leisurely lunch before heading off to Lima for our final night in Peru.



….. but just before we left we had views of this female Peruvian Sheartail in the hotel garden – our last ‘quality’ land bird of the trip. Photo by tour participant Steve Lowe.



The drive back into Lima was, as expected slow and tedious but we arrived at the hotel with plenty of time for a clean up and a repack.


The trip wasn’t quite over, as although our land birding was over we had another day before our evening flight home and that would involve a pelagic out on the Pacific Ocean. The subject (of course) of the next post.

2016 – that was another year that was.   2 comments

2016 earned the reputation as the year when everything went wrong – the awful Brexit result which will have adverse consequences for the rest of my life, the shock American presidential election which may have ramifications far beyond the borders of the USA, the ongoing slaughter in Syria and the threat of terrorism and the death of many much-loved celebrities; but on a personal level 2016 has been both a great success and very enjoyable with much travel at home and abroad and lots of quality birding and bird ringing.

This post summarises what we have been up to this year, most of the photos have been uploaded before and more details can be found by reading the original posts.


IMG_2326 Golden Temple Amritsa

In January I spent three weeks in western India, mainly visiting the states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The tour started with a visit to the wonderful Golden Temple at Amritsar.

IMG_3818 Forest Owlet

The final few days of the trip were spent in the state of Maharashtra where we searched for the recently rediscovered Forest Owlet. The bizarre story of the discovery, loss, presumed extinction and rediscovery of this enigmatic species is explained in an entry posted on the 18th March. The tour was well covered on this blog with seven separate posts uploaded in February and March.

IMG_3910 Millenium bridge

A post in March tells of our trip to Essex and from there to London. As well as sorting out my Russian visa for a subsequent trip we also visited St Paul’s cathedral from where I took this shot of the Millennium Bridge.

IMG_4019 Jennie & Margaret

From Essex we moved on to Cambridge to stay with my old University friend Jenny.

7F1A7748 rough seas

The longest and most remarkable trip of the year was the Atlantic Odyssey which ran from late March to early May. Starting at Ushuaia in southernmost Argentina we sailed on the Plancius to South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension and Cabo Verde.

IMG_5203 KPs

South Georgia was a delight with stunning views of King Penguins ….

IMG_5227 Fur Seal

….cute Fur Seal pups plus several species of albatross and many other seabirds.

7F1A1180 Ascension cliffs

In complete contrast we encountered desert like conditions on the island of Ascension and a range of tropical seabirds ….

7F1A1389 Clymene Dolphin

…. and tropical cetaceans like this Clymene Dolphin.

7F1A1086 Ascension Frigatebird imm

But the star of the show was the breeding endemic Ascension Frigatebird that only breeds on a single half hectare offshore rock stack. Although the trip was over five weeks long and we sailed from the subantarctic to borders of the Western Palearctic I only had 13 life birds – but most of them were very sought after indeed.


After landing at Cabo Verde we flew to Mallorca to join Birdquest’s 35th anniversary reunion. We had a very enjoyable time meeting up with old friends and making new ones amongst great scenery and great birds.

7F1A2048 Scopoli's Shearwater

Birding highlights were my first views of Moltoni’s Warbler, and first proper views of the endemic Balearic Warbler and the newly split Mediterranean Flycatcher. On a boat crossing to the island of Cabrera we had the best ever views of Scopoli’s and Balearic Shearwaters. Unfortunately these two wonderful trips have not been covered well on the blog with just a single extended post uploaded on 18th May covering the entire six weeks. It has always been my intention to give a more detailed coverage but other things have got in the way!


I was only home for a couple of weeks before it time to join another cruise, the so-called ‘Russian Ring of Fire’ to the Russian Far East. Cancelled at short notice in 2015 due to the Russia authorities intransigence, the cruise from Kamchatka to the Commander and Kuril Islands and on to Sakhalin was absolutely outstanding, even if we did get snow at sea level in early June.


I saw something like 17 life birds on the trip, perhaps the most beautiful and most desired was the wonderful Whiskered Auklet. As with the previous cruise, other commitments prevented me from doing it justice on this blog, but a summary was posted on 25th June.

IMG_5975 Caernarfon Castle

In late June and early July Margaret and I had a two week trip around Wales, parts of northern England and ended with a visit to Essex. As well as visiting friends and family we enjoyed many sights from castles in north Wales ….

IMG_6234 Blackpool Tower

…. to a wet and dreary Blackpool. I uploaded two posts on this trip in late July/early August.


From mid July to early November my time was taken up with ringing. Covering the entire autumn migration I paid 60 visits to Durlston Country Park as well as ringing at several other sites. We ringed over 4700 birds adding greatly to our knowledge of bird migration at Durlston. Autumn 2016 will be long remembered for the remarkable influx of birds from Siberia, caused by a strong easterly airflow that persisted for weeks. Although we didn’t catch any real rarities, there was much larger than usual number of Ring Ouzels passing though ….


…. and as a group we ringed at least 16 Yellow-browed Warblers, a species that breeds no nearer than the Urals. The only ringing I did away from Dorset was when my friend Chris and I spent several days at Spurn Bird Observatory in early September. I have uploaded a number of posts on my ringing and UK birding activities throughout the year.


In November I went on an excellent three-week trip to central Peru. The scenery on almost every day was outstanding ….


…. as was the birding, with much wanted gems such as the flightless Junin Grebe (my last grebe) ….


…. and the enigmatic Diademed Sandpiper-plover, a rare inhabitant of high altitude bogs, which took a lot of stomping around at a breath-taking 4500m to find. This was by far the most productive trip of the year for both species and lifers and I accumulated some 57 new birds and bringing my life list (with the help of a few armchair ticks) to 8122. I am still editing the many photos from this tour but hope to upload some to the blog in a week or so.

DCINY presents UK composer Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light: A Requiem led by Maestro Jonathan Griffith. Solo singers: Sarah Joy Miller - soprano, Scott Joiner - tenor, Steven Fddy - Baritone

Whilst I was in Peru Margaret had the opportunity to travel to New York with members of her choir to join a massed choir of over 200 singing Howard Goodall’s composition ‘Eternal Light’. There is more on her adventure in a blog post uploaded on 4th December.


2016 has become infamous as the year when many much loved celebrities passed away. Whilst not unexpected, he was 82 and in poor health, the death of singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen saddened me the most. A fan since I first heard ‘The Sisters of Mercy’ back in 1968 I have all of his CDs and love his deep, poignant and moving lyrics. I am pleased to have had the privilege of seeing him in concert three times, once when I was a student and twice in recent years. I bought his 14th and final studio album ‘You Want It Darker’ just days before his death on 7th November.


We have only been to a few music events this year, a fantastic gig by the Afro Celt Sound System and a visit to the opera to see Don Giovanni. I even missed both of Margaret’s UK choral concerts, one by being in Russia, the other through ill health. However, although not a musical event, a trip to the BIC to see the funniest man in the world, Billy Connolly in late November, was a hilarious night out.

IMG_4946 Caspian Stonechat

Although UK birding has taken a bit of a back seat with a large amount of time being devoted to ringing and the subsequent paper work, but I have mamaged to see a number of great species this year. In the spring my friend Roger and I twitched a ‘Caspian’ Stonechat in Hampshire. Although currently considered a race of Siberian Stonechat this white-rumped form from the southern borders of the Caspian Sea could well warrant specific status.

Great Spotted Cuckoo1 Chris Minvalla

Although I have seen two in the UK before, this beautiful Great Spotted Cuckoo at Portland was a much appreciated addition to my Dorset List. Other local goodies in May included Red-footed Falcon, Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Stilt and Honey Buzzard. Photo by my friend Chris Minvalla.


In recent years I have shied away from long distance twitches due to the effort and cost involved and because I am often familiar with the species concerned from birding abroad. However in mid October, as the remarkable influx of Siberian and Central Asian goodies continued I was tempted back to Spurn once more. This Isabelline Wheatear in a muddy field by the coast (here with a head stained from the dark soil) was reason enough for the long journey ….


…. but the real prize was this superb Siberian Accentor just a few hundred yards away in the grounds of the gas terminal. This species had never been seen in the UK before 2016 but this autumn there were 12, with close to 300 found in western Europe. As far as my UK birding is concerned this was ‘bird of the year’. Photo by Chris Minvalla.


There was another Siberian mega to twitch before the year was out. Just north of where my brother lives in Derbyshire a Dusky Thrush was found in early December. With only a dozen UK records (and most of those from antiquity) this was a much wanted UK tick. I was prevented from going for a Dusky Thrush in Kent a few years ago by earlier commitment, so a trip to the Derbyshire Peak District became essential. I needn’t have fretted as it was still these when I visited my brother over the Christmas period and we went to see it again. Photo by my friend Roger Howell.

Another mega-rare thrush, a Blue Rock Thrush was seen towards the end of the year on my way home from Derbyshire (giving me 4 new birds for my British List in 2016 and bringing it to 493 by the BOU list). I will upload photos of this plus an account of our activities over Christmas and New Year will be in the next post.

Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.