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Biggest Twitch
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Spectacular day for birds and scenery, 21 new species. At four thirty am we were having doubts about what we had let ourselves in for. On the way home from our gentle, if breathless, stroll around Huacarpay Lake we had planned a visit to the Abra Malaga pass with Fabrice. The pass is at 4230m and our plan was to hike up the ridge above, drop down the other side and walk down to the road. Madness! It all sounded so easy in the car but now we had to do it. Fabrice arrived with our trusty taxi driver, Marco, and there was no backing out. We set off into the dark and Marco made good time, as we neared the pass we began to pick up roadside birds, first Andean Flicker then Mountain Caracara. We drove past the start of the trail in the hope that a couple of dilapidated looking huts up ahead might do nice steaming mugs of tea – the taxi had no heater and it was well below freezing! To our great delight an elderly lady put the kettle on. As we shivered out side, we had on the same gear as yesterday, how stupid was that? More birds appeared; an Andean Ibis emerged from the mist pursued by two noisy Mountain Caracara! The brew was ready and we stepped inside the hut, dirt floor complete with a gang of Guinea pigs scurrying about the place! But the tea was hot and hit the spot.
We paid our entrance fee to the reserve, which goes to the local community and ensures the protection of this area, one of the very last remaining patches of Polylepis native woodland. Only two percent of this habitat remains! It is the home to the endangered Royal Cinclodes, only some two hundred pairs remain in the world and this forest holds one or two of them.
The sun was trying was to break through the mist and we began to get glimpses of the totally amazing high Andean scenery that surrounded us. We started up the trail, very slowly, and we were coping well with the thin air. We had not climbed far when a gang of five Grey-breasted Seedsnipe flew in and landed amongst the rocks, luckily one sat out in full view, lovely. The clouds had almost gone and the sun was really quite warm, but more importantly the views were just amazing! We gazed dumb struck at the sheer beauty of the Andes. Snow capped peaks all around, glaciers, rock walls and deep valleys, wow!
We made slow but steady progress and reached the ridge, and believe it or not the view got better, far below us was the valley which we were to descend into and make our way back to the road. We stood for a while just gazing in awe at the mountains. Slowly we picked our way down the rough trail. Suddenly Fabrice stopped, he had a bird, we caught up and found him watching a tiny Puna Tapaculo creeping through the grass. A squadron of Mitred Parakeets flew overhead looking very out of place in this mountain landscape.
A few stunted Polylepis trees held a handsome White-browed Tit-spinetail with a very jaunty crest and pied plumage. As we watched him a Canestero popped up on the grass right in front of us! A Streak-throated Canestero and it showed off in the sunshine, then Junin Canestero appeared on the same patch and we could compare plumage details of these rather similar species. Taczanowski’s Ground-tyrant was next up and stood proud on a boulder.
It was about now that the altitude really made itself felt, Alan had a splitting headache and began to feel dizzy, maybe too many good birds caused that? It got worse and nausea followed then slight blurring of vision! At first we thought his trusty Swarovski 8x32 bins had caught a knock but no it was the eyes that were not functioning! But altitude sickness wasn’t going to stop us and we had no alternative but to carry on, we certainly were not going back up!
Ash-breasted Tit-tyrant and Tawny-tit Spinetail quickly followed, Fabrice and Ruth saw one of each, Alan two! Three Stripe-headed Antpitta were running around in the open on a patch of short grass. A White-winged Diuca-Finch was our next new bird but still no sign of the Royal Cinclodes as we passed the last patch of moss laden Polylepis. Fabrice tried searching some other patches above the valley floor while we stayed as low as possible.
We slowly made our way down the valley with the altitude sickness now a little better. Around a couple of shacks, a farm inhabited by at least one family, what a tough life they have, we picked up more birds. First a Black-throated Flowerpiercer and then Andean Hillstar and Peruvian Sierra-finch.
We pushed on and eventually there was the car below us with driver Marco fast asleep in the driver’s seat, whew! We celebrated with a bottle of water and well earned sit down.
On the way back down to Ollantaytambo we picked up White-tufted Sunbeam, Golden-billed Saltator and Creamy-crested Spinetail, the last a very handsome bird indeed.
In Ollantaytambo we stopped for drink and a bit to eat and added our last new bird of the day, Andean Swifts over the café. What a fantastic days birding! Many thanks to our driver Marco for his driving and patience, he waited about six hours for us! Huge thanks to Fabrice again for his birding skills and local knowledge – a pleasure to bird with him a and we very much hope we will do so again. Fabrice guides not only in Peru but Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Europe. He speaks fluent English, French and Spanish and his birding knowledge is immense but perhaps above all that he is great company and a real pleasure to be in the field with. You can contact Fabrice on we know you will have a great trip.
Bird species total 2809
Posted 22 July, Cusco, Peru 


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