Day 8 | 12 May 2019 | Ollantaytambo to Ollantaytambo

Today was the first day where our birding was impacted quite a bit by the weather. It rained on and off for most of the morning, but since we’re hardcore birders we pushed through most of it, except for a two-hour section where it was even too miserable for us. So, instead of birding, we stopped for a big bowl of chicken and potato soup at a local roadside restaurant. It was toasty warm inside and it was hard to drag me back out again.

It must be said that it was probably fortunate that we lost two hours because my head may have exploded if I’d had to deal with too many more lifers, such was the birding.

Our route took us up a monster pass to a crest called Abra Malaga, where we topped out at 4,200m (no vomiting in case you were worried about me) and then we descended all the way down to 1600m with frequent stops to work through the bamboo and cloud forests. This was special habitat and the five endemics we saw was evidence of that.

Before I go on, I have to say that the beauty of the Peru scenery continues to astound me. I would suggest it’s the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. Jeanie and I travelled through the valleys of the South Island of New Zealand to Milford Sound, which I’ve always thought of as unbeatable, but the cloud forests in the high Andes this morning was at such a larger scale that it was a winner for me.

Our stops in the cloud forests yielded handfuls (and sometimes bucketfuls) of lifers for both of us.

The birding methodology was to drive slowly down the pass and watch out for mixed species flocks.

Alex or Juan would shout at Daniel to stop the bus (Daniel is our new driver, who, sadly, doesn’t produce roadside picnics like Julio). The car would screech to a halt and we’d frantically tumble out of the car, trying to keep up as the birds were named one after another.

These mixed species flocks are head-spinning stuff and it has become pretty clear on this trip that every bird takes me about 4 seconds longer to lock onto than it does Garret, so my mini-FOMO levels are incrementally growing with each bird we see. It may be the fact that I’m also trying to photograph everything that moves but it’s far more likely that I’m just a bit slow. As a result, it’s high anxiety stuff, this birding.

Unstreaked Tit-tyrant (endemic)

Great Thrush

Streaked Tuftedcheek

Masked Flowerpiercer

Golden-collared Tanager

Cuzco Brush-finch (endemic)

Pearled Treerunner

Marcapata Spinetail (endemic)

Marcapata Spinetail (endemic)

Puna Thistletail

It took us the entire morning to work our way down to a little town where a friend of Juan’s has built a lodge for birders. A few years back Juan spent some time at his house and noticed there was a resident Swallow-tailed Hummingbird mooching around the flowers and so it became the first reliable site in Peru for it, attracting birders to the garden. We were headed there to see it. And see it we did. It was actually way too easy but we appreciated how special it was and it quickly moved to the top of the “Bird of the Day” contender list, despite the four endemics we’d already seen.

Blue-necked Tanager

Red-crested Finch

Swallow-tailed Hummingbird

Yellow-bellied Elaenia

White-bellied Humingbird

Masked Yellowthroat

After spending a very productive two hours in the garden we pointed the car back up the pass and began the long journey back home. One thing you have to steel yourself for on birding trips is a crap load of car time. Today we had plenty.

But, we had two very important stops on the way up the pass. We were looking for antpittas. It’s a family of super-elusive and shy birds that can literally drive you to drink. They hop around in the gloomiest forests and hate to be seen. Alex and Juan chose a four hour drive back to Ollantaytambo to try and find two of them.

The first was Red-and-white Antpitta which took a bit of hard work before giving itself up and immediately grabbed top spot in the BOD listing. I’m delighted to report that I actually saw it about 5 seconds before Garret and so I had seven seconds of viewing and he only had two before it vanished into thin air, never to be seen again. Red-and-white Antpitta is an endemic and so it was very important.

And then began the Rufous Antpitta malarkey.

If the Red-and-white Antpitta was shy, this little bastard took things to a whole new level. We visited three separate, and secret, sites and spent more time than you’d think was reasonable, staring into the gloom of bamboo forests looking for any movement to find the damn thing. That’s not the worst of it. At the second site Garret clapped eyes on it and as I moved to look in the direction he was pointing, the stupid thing hopped out of sight. I spent another 20 minutes staring at the same moss-covered log without any success.

There’s always that inevitability on these trips that there isn’t a perfect overlap of species seen by all participants and the non-overlapping ones are always the biggies. Emotions run from frustration and heartbreak to sheer hatred and jealousy. After we walked away from site two, I don’t think I hated Garret for seeing such a special bird but my incremental FOMO had reached its highest level yet on this trip.

You’ll all be pleased to know that I have returned to a state of emotional calm as I got the greatest views ever of a Rufous Antpitta at site number three and I even had a chance to describe my binocular-filling views to Garret, just to tilt some of the jealousy his way.  I chose to absorb the views through my binoculars rather than risk raising my camera for a photo so you’ll just have to imagine how amazing my views were.

And so that was the end of the day’s birding as it quickly got dark on the pass and we still had about a million switchbacks to get back to Ollantaytambo.

We’ve got another early start as we head back up the pass to work through the Polylepis Forest at 4200m to try and find one of the world’s rarest birds. I won’t utter its name as that will screw up any chance we might have to see it. I’ll tell you tomorrow when I most likely have to report that Garret saw it and I didn’t. I’ll probably board a plane straight back home (Jeanie’s hoping that is the case).

The weather prediction is pretty dire again. It’s scheduled to snow up there tonight and we’ve been warned by Juan to dress warmly. Yikes. Not exactly encouraging, but whoever said this birding thing was easy? Garret keeps referring to our trip as a holiday. I’m not quite sure what he’s talking about. I haven’t worked this hard since….well….forever.

Night night.

  • Total day birds: 73
  • Total trip birds: 287
  • Total trip endemics: 28
  • Mike day lifers: 43
  • Mike total lifers: 234
  • Garret day lifers: 25
  • Garret trip lifers: 172
  • Bird of the day: Red-and-white Antpitta

Click here for Day 9