I felt like I had a hole in my blog timeline... and then I realized I hadn't even blogged about our Field Guides tour to Machu Picchu and Abra Malaga! I joined Jesse again in August of this year and we spent an amazing 1-2 weeks birding parts of the Peruvian Andes near Cusco.
Although we didn't really starting birding until Cusco, our tour began in Lima where we all arrived and met each other. We boarded a plane early one morning and off to Cusco we went. As the flight proceeded, we got higher and higher and we eventually broke through the marine layer that, at that time of year, keeps Lima enshrouded. Looking down on the cloud layer butting up to the mountains, it looked like water as it snaked up the valleys:
Once on the ground, we met our fantastic local guide Lucrecia and our trusty driver Carlos (these two are great, our tour went with them last August as well). They had some warm coca tea waiting for us which reminded me... we were all of a sudden at 11,000 feet elevation! Yes, Cusco is a fairly high city.
We spent the day birding our way towards our hotel in Ollantaytambo. En route we stopped at Huacarpay Lake to work some marsh species and to stretch our legs. Our birding got off to a great start with good looks at the MANY-COLORED RUSH TYRANT. Wow, talk about an amazing looking bird!
Not only did we hear PLUMBEOUS RAIL, we actually got to see this secretive species as well. It swam through a break in the reeds which was pretty wild. You can see the yellow bill with the red base of the lower mandible:
The above ovenbird, while not endemic to Peru, is the highland representative of the thornbirds.
This species, which is also in the ovenbird family, is actually rather poorly understood. It's always a treat to see this range-restricted species and this particular tour is great for it.
After our day at the ruins, we spent another couple of days birding the lush forests near Aguas Calientes. The birding there, at roughly 6700 feet in the Andes, can be excellent. In fact, the birding even on our lodge grounds is superb. You can look below and the rushing river will often host TORRENT TYRANNULETS and WHITE-CAPPED DIPPERS. Here's the latter:
Here's a picture of bird that is NOT that striking. Actually, it's hard to see the bird at all! Why include it? Well, the tail you see is of an AMERICAN REDSTART:
Sure, it's a common species in the US but it's actually quite rare there in Peru because they don't typically winter that far south. Add to that, it was August when this species should be hundreds of miles north and on a different continent! It's strange but this was probably the rarest sighting of our trip.
This little guy along one the trails at the lodge is a SCLATER'S TYRANNULET, a somewhat rare species overall:
This big-headed (but tiny) flycatcher is an ASHY-HEADED TYRANNULET that we also had good looks at:
One of our days there in Aguas Calientes we spent on a nice, day-long hike along the Mandor Valley and birded the whole way. This was some of the most premium birding on the tour and we enjoyed a myriad of crazy-cool sightings like this BLUE-BANDED TOUCANET:
The second part of the tour leads us up to Abra Malaga, a pass up at 14,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes. That elevation is the key and the many elevational zones and habitats that we pass through translate to a lot of endemic and specialty species. Here's a panorama of us birding at elevation:
One of the first specialties we saw on our climb up was the CREAMY-CRESTED SPINETAIL, a species only found in Peru:
We had a new variety of hummers down the east side too including GREAT SAPPHIREWING, VIOLET-THROATED STARFRONTLET, SAPPHIRE-VENTED PUFFLEG, and SCALED METALTAIL. We even caught up with one of the most distinctive hummers in the world... the SWORD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD... check out its bill!
So that bird has a bill that is longer than its body. And the Sword-billed Hummer is the ONLY bird in the world where that's the case.
In some ways a complete opposite of the Sword-billed Hummingbird, this hummer has a SHORT bill. How short? Well, it is the shortest bill of any hummingbird on the planet.
All in all, it was a really fun tour and I honestly hope I get to help with this tour again in the future. Of all the tours I've done in the last 1-2 years with Field Guides, I think I prefer the scenery on this tour the most! Can you really blame me???
As always, you can find more info about this tour online including our past triplists and our itineraries. Check it out here.