Archive for the ‘polylepis’ Tag

Central Peru part 4: Huariaca area and Lake Junin – 17th – 19th November 2016.   Leave a comment



After leaving the Huanaco  we explored areas near Huariaca, notably this steep-sided canyon.



It was a bit of a slog climbing up the steep sides but we were getting used to the altitude.



Meanwhile our ever helpful drivers prepared lunch. Note how the use of a telephoto lens has altered perspective, the front of the bus appearing wider than the back. This ‘size illusion’ can be critical if you are comparing the size of one bird in a photo (say a peep) with another species (say a Dunlin) that is a little way behind it.



Some of the species we encountered well familiar to us like Band-tailed Pigeon ….



…. but eventually we found our target, the rare Rufous-backed Inca-finch.



The following morning we stopped at an area of polylepis forest in the upper Huariaca valley.



We encountered a number of localised species such as this Giant Conebill ….



…. as well as widespread ones like Cream-winged Cinclodes.



One of our main targets was Stripe-headed Antpitta which had eluded us up to now. We eventually caught up with it in this grove of gnarled polylepis trees.



Much of the polylepis forest has been felled, either for firewood or to replace it with alien and wildlife unfriendly eucalyptus which is preferred as its fast growing straight trunks can be used in construction and as windbreaks. However as this photo shows if coppiced polylepis can grow straight and quite quickly.



By the afternoon we arrived in rocky basin that holds the enormous Lake Junin, the second largest lake in Peru (after Lake Titicaca)



Surrounding areas held a good range of species including Burrowing Owl ….



…. Puna Ibis ….



…. this lovely pair of Aplomado Falcons ….



…. the now familiar Black-billed Shrike Tyrant ….


ornate-tinamou SL

…. Ornate Tinamou (photo by my friend and trip participant Steve Lowe)



Buff-breasted Earthcreepers showed nicely.



In general there is less variation in English from one field guide/checklist to  another the Neotropics than in any faunal region yet the field guide confusingly calls this Plain-breasted Earthcreeper.



This rodent was eventually identified as an Ashy Chinchilla Rat



We could look out on the expansive waters of Lake Junin ….



…. and the many lagoons that fringed its shores.



Photography (for example of this Andean Avocet) was difficult as we would have flushed the birds if we had disembarked, so it had to be done through the single opening window which resulted in several of the group performing strange contortions.



One of the stars of the show were these Chilean Flamingos ….



…. but although Chileans were common we didn’t see James’ or Andean Flamingos, species that mainly occur on the salt flats further south.



One of the highlight of this trip was seeing the normally invisible Black Rail. Although I have heard this species in the USA it is very rarely seen. Patiently waiting with our eyes fixed on this gap in the reeds we waited for one to respond to a tape, in the end we saw a pair but they was too quick for photos. The Lake Junin form differs vocally from other populations and probably should be split as Junin Rail.



With storm clouds gathering ….



…. it was time to head to the town of Junin for our overnight stop



There was time for some birding on the outskirts of the town …,



…. avoiding the gaze of a local knitter ….



…. we searched for species like D’Orbigny’s Chat-tyrant and ….



…. Andean Flicker



The following morning we met up with a boatman who took us along a channel and out into the middle of the lake.



The boat was at its mooring but the outboard was safely stowed elsewhere. The boatman slung the 80kg engine over his shoulder and ran towards us; all this at an altitude of 4100m !



Many birds were seen on our way out such as this Great Egret



Andean Gulls were breeding on the margins of the lake ….



…. and were are constant companions until we were far from shore.



The many ducks included Yellow-billed Teal ….



…. Puna Teal ….



…. and Andean Duck, a species that is sometimes lumped with the North American Ruddy Duck



White-tufted Grebes were easy to find but they were not our main target ….



Far out in the middle of the lake we came across four Junin Grebes, a flightless species endemic to this one lake. Official estimates give a population size of over 400, but our boatman, a local warden and others who know the area well think it could be as low as 40. The species is threatened by pollution from local mines and the introduction of Rainbow Trout.



Until the 70s there were 23 species of grebe in the world but in a short space of time three went extinct, one each in Madagascar, Guatamala and Colombia. In each case it was due to a change in water use, usually the introduction of predatory fish which ate all their food or the pollution from agriculture. It now looks like two more species will join them in the near future, Junin Grebe and the Hooded Grebe of Patagonia. Junin Grebe was the last of the 20 extant grebes for my world list but my joy in seeing it was tempered by the thought that we could be some of the last birders to do so.



Whilst the outboard and boatman were delivered to their rightful destinations we birded around the nearby buildings seeing many Bright-rumped Yellow-finches



…. some living up to their name.



Also there were good numbers of the beautiful Black Siskin.



The male Black Siskin in particular is quite a stunner.



We had good views of this Andean Cavy, the wild ancestor of the Guinea Pig.



Our time at Lake Junin ended with a search for a hummer called Black-breasted Hillstar, whilst we did see it well, it was nesting inside a barn and the photos were poor. However this Magellanic Horned Owl that was found nearby posed nicely.

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.



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


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


Early morning light was giving our driver selfie problems.


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


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 ….


…. by a series of hairpin bends.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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


…. ‘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.



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


We descended to the lake far below.


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


…. as well as this much commoner Chiguanco Thrush.


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 ….


…. and the poorly spotted Spot-throated Hummingbird.



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


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


…. and ice capped mountains.


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


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.


Andean Hillstars were busy feeding on the flowers.


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.


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


…. 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!