Day 7 | 11 May 2019 | Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo

I’ll try make this a little shorter but no guarantees. Once I’m on a roll I tend to ramble.

Juan opted for us to spend the early morning birding and a midday trip to Machu Picchu. It was a great decision as the birding was very productive in the early morning and it has been raining since about 11:30 so we would have missed a lot if we’d deferred birding to the afternoon in favour of a morning Machu Picchu visit. The queues for the bus were also a lot shorter mid-morning.

The morning’s birding was once again along the railway line, but on a different side of town. There were a lot of repeat birds, which was useful for reinforcement purposes, but there were plenty of new ones too. I also got my pic of Torrent Duck so you can judge for yourselves if it’s a duck worth talking about.

Torrent Duck

Torrent Duck

Torrent Duck

The feature of the birding for me in these cloud forests has been the tanagers. The non-birders (and possibly some birders) may not be familiar with this New World bird family. Garret and I were chatting about the fact that they don’t quite get the attention they deserve. Everyone has heard about hummingbirds but few non-birders would have heard of tanagers.

They’re mostly sparrow sized, or a little bigger, and they feed on fruits. They also tend to occur in mixed flocks (a few different species all together), which makes it enjoyable to pick them apart. But the most notable thing about them is their range and combination of colours. Garret describes it well. Imagine taking an outlined drawing of a Tanager silhouette and sitting with a palette of every colour known and you’d still struggle to produce the garish combinations that actually exist.

Because of all these colours the ornithologists have had to use some creative words to describe the colours.

I can give some examples just naming the tanagers we’ve seen in the last two days:

  • Saffron-crowned
  • Beryl-spangled
  • Rust-and-yellow
  • Blue-necked
  • Fawn-breasted
  • Golden-naped
  • Silver-beaked
  • Silver-backed
  • Blue-grey

Here are a few pics so you can see what I mean:

Fawn-breasted Tanager

Rust and Yellow Tanager

And then there were plenty of other birds aside from the tanagers. It really was a sensory overload spending the morning along the railway line:

Black Phoebe

Torrent Tyrannulet

Golden-crowned Flycatcher

Russet-crowned Warbler

Streak-necked Flycatcher

Slate-throated Whitestart

Andean Motmot

Chestnut-capped Brush-finch

Speckle-faced Parrot

Black-streaked Puffbird

Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet

Ocellated Piculet

Rufous-booted Rackettail

Andean Guan

Fasciated Tiger-heron

After our long morning walk, we returned to Aguas Calientes and boarded the bus for the drive up to Machu Picchu at about 11. There were some ominous spots of rain on the bus windscreen as we climbed the switchbacks up the mountain and, by the time we arrived at the site, we were in a slight panic that we’d arrived just too late as the clouds covered the ruins and destroyed all hope of the iconic pics of the ancient city and the two obelisk-shaped mountains in the backdrop.

We raced up the stairs pushing old women and children out of the way to give ourselves the best hope in a rapidly deteriorating weather pattern.

Phew. We made it just in time to get our pics and then the rain came down.

So, what does one do when rained out at Machu Picchu? You go birding, of course.

There aren’t too many birds up there, mostly because the place is chock full of tourists and I suspect the birds have found somewhere a little more peaceful to go about their business. There is, however, one very important endemic – Inca Wren.

Fortunately, the wren lives in the thickest vegetation so we were able to stay dry under tangled bushes, while trying to find it as the rain teemed down. And find it we did. Well, Alex and Juan did but that’s what they do. They hardly miss a thing.

Inca Wren

Once we’d grabbed our views and taken some snaps, whilst causing a traffic jam for the hikers to the Sun Gate, we decided to don our ponchos and enjoy the ruins just like the 10,000 other people had decided to do today. And then, miraculously, the clouds parted for a few moments so that Alex could give us the whirlwind tour of the ruins before the rain really set in. I won’t try describe the beauty of the place. It’s easier to look at the pics above. It really is quite magical. Jeanie, I promise my binoculars were packed away while we wandered the paths amongst the rugged stone buildings.

So, after the quick tour we queued for the bus and headed back down the mountain for lunch. We’re heading back to Ollantaytambo on the train at 4:22 and we’ll arrive well after dark so not much more to tell.

Tomorrow I’m sure Juan will have us up at 4am again as we’re off to the mist forests and high altitude of a place called Abra Malaga, which should deliver its fair share of special birds.

  • Total day birds: 54
  • Total trip birds: 238
  • Total trip endemics: 22
  • Mike day lifers: 20
  • Mike total lifers: 192
  • Garret day lifers: 6 (slouch)
  • Garret trip lifers: 146
  • Bird of the day: Black-streaked Puffbird (it’s not an endemic but a very cool looking bird and a really toughie. Inca Wren was an unlucky second)

Click here for Day 8