Thursday 10 May 2018

Day 25 Huanza Environs April 25th 2018

April 25th, 2018

Cloudy morning with brief sunshine followed by light and then heavy rain for the whole afternoon with thunder and lightning, cool.

Up at 5:30 a.m. Well I have set my alarm on my mobile to that time to give me the choice of up and bird or breakfast and write up a few notes. Today I choose the latter having been disturbed by two drinking men who decided that the door step outside my house is one where they want to have their boozy one o'clock in the morning chat!
6:00 a.m. is sounded across the village by a Big Ben-style bell, a recording played out over a loudspeaker that gives the phrase a soft digital tone. It is quiet outside and cool inside. I have breakfast and find out via the internet on my phone that Aston Villa won 4 – 0 away to Ipswich last Saturday. What day is it today? Oh, Wednesday. OK.

Breakfast is a round sort of biscuit come cake affair which is munchy, sweet and orange coloured inside. I have no idea what it is or what it is made of but it is tasty enough. A real bell tolls repeatedly at 7:15. Time to get out there. The faithful might be going to Mass, the children will be going to school but I will be heading out to the hills.
In fact I change my mind. The weather is rather cool and I decide I need a cup of coffee. The cafe down the road provides a large mug of very milky, not much coffee, very sweet liquid and two cheese rolls for six soles, around £1.50. A TV is on and I watch and laugh at a couple of Peruvian adverts. The first is one for the mobile phone and internet company Claro. It features a smiling Spanish-looking lady dancing with others in an airport departures area and their faces make me laugh as the routine develops. It seems that there is a flight offer available with Latam, a Peruvian airline company, if you use Claro. The other advert that makes me laugh is one where another young woman has a ventriloquists dummy that is the image of her. I have no idea what they are selling.
Being alone in the cafe I change channels. Most of them are news channels with a couple of football channels and one each for Animal Planet and Disney. A music channel features a huge concert somewhere played to an audience of tens of thousands. The singer is a male, around thirty I would say and his music is 'amor.' The first song starts with a gentle piano intro, intensely played and as the vocals begin an acoustic guitar playing sliding notes. There are two attractive woman accompanying the male vocalist and another man who adds electric guitar. There is a drummer somewhere on stage but I can't see him amongst the lights and dry ice smog. These performers, other than the pianist, are sitting together on steps centre stage. I wonder who he is? Obviously massively popular in the Latin world as the audience sing along with every song and cheer appreciatively at the intro of each. I wonder where this immense stadium is and worry that it may be a Spanish bullfighting one. Yesterday I saw a small bullfighting stadium in the village here but it looked unused and there was only a donkey in it and some green-coloured, manure-filled water collected in one corner. Shame on the lone donkey, others had company in a field nearby and were chasing each other in fun.
Out to bird, I walk through the village. Everyone I pass says “Hola!” or Buenas.” Everyone. A Tryrian Metaltail is very close as I come around a corner, Rufous-collared Sparrows seem to be everywhere and the tranquillity of the valley pervades. Everyone seems at peace and has a role in the village, be it farmer, mother, child. A tiny, hat bedecked Incan lady is carrying a large bunch of flowers; dahlias and the like. She asks me where am I going? I reply as best I can, “up the hills to look for birds.” “I am going to the cemetery.” She replies.

The dirt track that leads up sways one way and then the next and my walk is slow, not because I am two miles up but because at last there are a lot of birds. The extra moisture up here at this altitude, the afternoons of rain, has brought grassy enclosures and three-leafed clover masses. There are denser bushes and taller Eucalyptus trees. There is bird song and reasons to stop.
No body else is going my way. I have the track to myself. 

A Black-throated Flowerpecker has my attention. Today is an eBird counting day and my notebook is frequently used as bird names go down and tally marks add up. Rufous-collared Sparrows and Sparkling Violetears soon have gates of five tallies. Giant Hummingbirds and Mourning Sierra Finches, House Wrens and Cinereous Conebills, Rusty-bellied Bush Finches and Greenish Yellow Finches soon have tallies too. 

A new bird is on the track, a Plumbeous Sierra Finch, small and grey, is pecking and shuffling around. Another new bird for the Green list is sitting on a rock above me, announcing his availability to all who will hear. A 'dry accelerating, decelerating trill,' the Birds of Peru book tells me later. The plump bird is a fabulous looking Stripe-headed Antpitta. What a name!

A bush that seems no different to any other in this montane scrub has a number of birds in it and as some leave, others take up positions. Two Golden-billed Saltators had drawn my attention to this magic bush but as they leave a Creamy-breasted Canestero takes their place with a male Hooded Siskin and a Rusty-crowned Tit-spinetail!

The view over the village from this vantage point shows that the majority have roves made of corrugated iron. To the left there are terraced, small fields of clover and mustard; food for the livestock and nitrogen fixers for the soil. A small area of a strictly lined crop seems to be potatoes at this distance. From here I can see the cemetery with its concrete boxes of six and four. One block of boxes has a red tiled roof and a cross.

A Black Metaltail sits still as I admire it with it's pale blue throat and long, rounded metaltail with a tiny white spot of a few feathers behind it's beady, black eye.
The village across the valley to the west sends a couple of flares up that bang loudly, the sound echoing. A procession of fifteen men, some wearing hats bedecked with large, colourful flowers, one carrying a flag, are walking along one of the horizontal tracks. Two are carrying shovels. As with many things today, I wonder why? An hour later they have moved further up the valley and they let off two more exploding flares.

Turning a corner as the track goes higher and higher, a few small fields with their dry stone wall surroundings have a good number of male, female and juvenile Mourning Sierra Finches. 

These stocky birds look impressive. The females look like plump Lapland Buntings and the males have bright yellow bills and large black bibs. Occasionally a male will take up a station on top of a cactus and give a un-bird like bzzzz call. As for the walls, each is topped by a line of cactus acting as broken glass does to stop access. Some of these cacti are three foot or so high. I wonder whether one can tell the age of a wall by the size of the cacti, as with the age of a hedgerow in Britain being told by the number of flower species associated with it?

Two Black-winged Ground Doves allow me to get so close that I can see all their features well, including the tiny yellow spot of skin beneath the eye. 

As I look at them a Spot-billed Ground Tyrant hops around on the road. Following the doves carefully I walk along the edge of the road and an Andean Tinamou shows itself briefly. Working out which way it was walking I wait and get photographs. Onto the Green list it can now go properly, evidence is collected.
A Variable Hawk flies over and as I scan the hill tops I see five Andean Condors soaring. Nearby an Oasis Hummingbird lands.
Light rain starts to fall and from the look of the situation up the valley it will get heavier. I turn and start to descend. A Giant Thrush us doing what thrushes do, collecting worms, is the last bird to go on the day list.

Back in my little room, the rain starts to pour outside and develops into a thunderstorm. The storm doesn't last long but the rain continues until five.
The evening is spent shopping first. Gloves and bin liners for the coming weather in the High Andes and fruit, juices, water, biscuits and biscuit-cakes for sustenance. A large bag full of provisions for 43 soles. Into the next door cafe with the same proprietor, Elise. I sit alone and a dish full of delicious stew come soup arrives. I haven't asked for anything and it seems that a standard menu is provided. The stew contains potatoes, tubular pasta, chicken pieces and a piece of kidney. A separate dish of red chilli is declined. A number of men arrive for meals and one, Hose, speaks English. Hose tells me that he used to live in the US but has come home to Peru and Huanza. Hose is Elise's son and he sits with me for a while advising me on where a beautiful round trip of the area could be done by bus and taxi. One for the future, we exchange contact details. Another dish arrives with diced carrots, potatoes and meat. Another delicious meal to devour. The men put an over-dubbed CSI episode onto the TV.
Now I have seen snow-capped mountains in the last two days, albeit distantly but in the direction I am going. Now I beginning to think that, as I am two weeks behind my planned itinerary, I may miss out Junin and, once my peak of 15,000 feet is reached, head instead for Juaja. It would be a shame to miss out on the large Andean lake with it's endemic Junin Grebe but Winter is starting here and the lower Andean slopes will be warmer. Whatever the decision I take once I reach the peak, nothing can take away how challenging and exciting this adventure is.

Green Year list : 141 birds average new birds to list per day : 5.64 birds

Distance walked : 2.51 miles

elevation up : 849 feet, down : 849 feet

highest altitude today : 11,738 feet

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