Day 5 | 9 May 2019 | Lima to Cusco

Today was the tale of two endemics.

I’m not even sure the non-birders reading this know what an endemic is and I have been using the term pretty freely.

Very simply, an endemic is a bird species (or any other animal or plant) that is found exclusively in only one country (when referring to country endemics). So, for example, a Cape Rockjumper is a South African endemic, whilst a White-cheeked Cotinga is a Peruvian endemic. Some endemics are really easy to find whilst others take a lot of very hard work. We were looking for one of each today.

For the tough one, we travelled 2 hours south of Lima (4am start) to a place called Lomas de Asia (not pronounced like the continent but like u-see-u) which is a low range of hills in the desert, much like Lomas de Lachay, where we went the other day. Incidentally, Lomas means “hills”.

We were at the Asia hills before the sun rose and before the entrance gate to the reserve opened.

We weren’t to be denied our opportunity for good birds so we climbed over the gate with a blessing from Alex and Juan.  It felt a little naughty but the road stretched on the flat plains for miles in each direction through the desert and there was no one else within a 20 minute drive to catch us out as we clambered clumsily over the gate.

Raimondi’s Yellow Finch is an unpredictable nomadic bird of the dry hills and we’d missed it in Lomas de Lachay. We weren’t the first birders to miss a Raimondi’s.

Once we’d climbed over the gate, we hiked a bloody mile up a winding path into the upper hills. Thank god we were a fraction above sea level and not at altitude. We were, however, on a tight schedule as we had a lot to do before the flight to Cusco.  We were a little blasé about the endemic Thick-billed Miners that we were so excited about just two days ago but that is the way of birding.  Once seen, a bird falls down a few notches on the excitement scale.

Thick-billed Miner (endemic)

Eventually after an hour we gave up and walked all the way back down the hill only to find a flock of them drinking from a small pool near the car. It was a delight to see them as we were convinced we’d missed this one.

Raimondi’s Yellow Finch (endemic, best I could do was a crappy female)

Vermillion Flycatcher

The vigorous exercise was just as well as Julio had outdone all expectations once again with breakfast. Another post-lifer breakfast in the middle of nowhere. Life was good. 

It would be our last breakfast with Julio and I certainly shed a silent tear at that depressing thought.  He would be staying behind in Lima as we headed inland to Cusco.

On the way back to Lima for our flight later in the day, we had two stops to make. The first one was in a cove of trees in a small agricultural holding. The birding was surprisingly good but it was a fleeting affair, not only because we were on a tight time schedule but also because we were eaten alive by swarms of small biting insects.

Collared Warbling Finch

Drab Seedeater

Our next stop was at the small fishing village of Pucusana on a headland and small natural rocky bay about 80kms south of Lima. Our next target was a very cool endemic furnariid that has adapted to life at the seaside. It’s, unsurprisingly, called a Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes (although the list people have renamed it Surf Cinclodes). Alex and Juan had effectively guaranteed us this one. This was the easy one for the day. They said it was virtually in amongst the town people at a small cove next door to the harbour. We warned them of the evil birding gods that take umbrage at “guarantees”. When you have time one day, I can tell you few sad tales of woe of birds I was guaranteed but never saw.

Anyway, we arrived at the small cove and all raced out of the car, pushing one another out of the way, as we had a competition to see who could spot it first. 40 minutes later we still couldn’t find it and it certainly wasn’t a big area. This was shortly followed by a lot of head-scratching from Juan and Alex. We didn’t say “I told you so” just yet but it was on our minds.

We left the Cinclodes-less cove and clambered onto our little boat in the chaotic port for our trip along the rocky cliffs just outside the natural harbour. There were about a million people on the quay shouting at us in Spanish but we had no time for retail – we had a few targets on the boat trip and we still hoped we’d have time to return to the cove for the Cinclodes.

I hadn’t expected heavy seas but there were a few moments on the boat where I thought I may need to ask for the brown paper bag again. It was a little lumpy for a landlubber like me. I’m delighted to report, though, that the fistful of lifers kept my mind off the lumps and I kept my breakfast inside.

We got every one of our targets with relative ease.

Red-legged Cormorant

Red-legged Cormorant

Humboldt Penguin

Humboldt Penguin

Humboldt Penguin

Blackish Oystercatcher

Peruvian Booby

Peruvian Pelican

Peruvian Pelican

There were also about a million Inca Terns.

We returned to the port and headed straight back to the cove. You guessed it – still no Cinclodes. Now we were grumpy. Well, about as grumpy as you can get on a splendid day of birding, which is probably not that grumpy.

Juan and Alex didn’t even have a plan B. I asked them if there was anywhere else where we could find it and there really wasn’t. So, they improvised. Their improvising meant more hill climbing to the top of a cliff above the cove for a better view of more suitable habitat, looking down onto the rocky coastline where the cold Humboldt current crashed against the jagged rocks.

And there we stood and scanned and, finally, at the moment before we were about to head for lunch, it flew and landed on the rocks below us and bounded around, much to our considerable relief. Juan and Alex’s relief were probably a notch above ours.

Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes (endemic)

Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes (endemic)

Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes (endemic)

We returned to the little restaurant next to the cove where Julio finally had a break from meal preparation as we just had to try the local delicacy of fresh ceviche with fresh onions and a dash of chili. It couldn’t have tasted better, especially in the afterglow of another new endemic.

And so that was the last lifer of the five day Lima loop. We finished with 171 species, which is a low absolute number but a very high number of great birds. We saw 16 of the 17 possible endemics and plenty of other really good stuff.

We’re now on a plane to Cusco where the lifers will again come thick and fast tomorrow. We are also scheduled to head up to Machu Picchu, just to prove that we’re rounded, multi-faceted travellers. Have I mentioned there are good birds there?

  • Total day birds: 44
  • Total trip birds: 171
  • Total trip endemics: 16
  • Mike day lifers: 10
  • Mike total lifers: 133
  • Garret day lifers: 10
  • Garret trip lifers: 111 (just to confirm to the non-birders that this lower number for Garret is not an indication that he is an inferior birder, but rather the opposite – he’s more widely travelled and has therefore seen quite a few of the birds that are new to me)
  • Bird of the day: Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes

Click here for Day 6