Sunday 24 June 2018

Day 73 Machu Picchu!

June 12th, 2018

Warm, Cloudy morning some light rain in the early morning clearing to give sunny intervals in the afternoon

In semi-darkness I leave the Bed & Breakfast and make my way past the queue for the coaches that take the tourists up to the fabulous World Heritage site of Machu Picchu. My aim is to walk up to the mountain top site birding all the way. Along the low water river I start to count the birds I see. Black Phoebes and Torrent Tyrannulets with occasional Blue & White Swallows are the first birds on the day list. Tropical kingbirds are by the Aguas Calientes plastic recycling area where a number of large posters try to persuade people to do just that, recycle. A male Torrent Drake sits on a rock.

Reaching the double bridges, one for the coaches, the other for pedestrians, I am asked for my passport and Machu Picchu ticket and once these are checked I cross the river. Finding the excellent stepped pathway I start my ascent. On reaching a dirt track road that bisects the path, I stop to watch birds in the canopy as rain steadily falls. A female Versicoloured Barbet shows herself, as does a Glossy-black Thrush. Two good birds to get, I feel chipper as I continue upwards.

Dusky Green Oropendulas, eight Andean Guans, a fair number of Slate-throated Redstarts, Chestnut-fronted Coronets and Sierran Eleanias keep me alert and even better than these, a White-throated Quail Dove walks slowly along the path in front of me. Getting photographs of these birds is very difficult in the gloom of the forest, especially as the cloud is so low and the rain quite heavy. In fact I have to put my camera, my canon SX50 bridge camera, onto its maximum ISO setting of 6400 in order to get a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. I just hope the image stabiliser does its job well.
My ascent is very slow as I search for birds. White-winged Becard, looking like an antbird in the bush tops and Tropical Parula get added to the list. A Yellow-bellied Seedeater is extremely tame as it searches for food amongst the rocks on the path. A Bright scarlet Hepatic Tanager shows itself atop a tree in a clearing as the rain finally stops. Green & White Hummingbirds become quite common and I count seventeen of them during my climb up the extremely well maintained steep pathway!
I meet a number of people during the four hours it takes me to get to the entrance. One young, ebullient man is from New Zealand. Named Nick, we chat about general travel things for half an hour! Nick's photograph of Rainbow Mountain, the famous wedge-shaped striped mountain of many colours is unusual in that it shows only white. The recent blizzards that covered the mountains along the Sacred Valley with snow have done their winter work there as well. I think that Nick is lucky to have seen Rainbow Mountain in this guise and tell him so. A couple descending have a drone with them which they fly high above the canopy in order to photograph the ruins high above them but not the drone. On talking with them the usual question is asked, especially as I think I recognise the World's best accent of the man. “I'm from Birmingham,” he says. It turns out that Aimee, a misspelling of my Grandmother's name on my Mother's side of the family and Scott live very near to the centre of the city of my birthplace, in Ladywood. It was there back in the early 1930s that my mother, Mary was born. Talking to these two lovely people it turns out that they have an excellent blog detailing their travels and characters called Birkenstocks and backpacks, The Good, The Bad and The Clumsy.

Reaching the entrance at last with its crowds and coaches, I search the bamboo around the complex of buildings for the famed Inca Wren.

A pair of Hepatic Tanagers show themselves nicely but after twenty minutes of searching with no luck on the wren I enter the sacred sanctuary. I go around the initial walkway and take route one to the left in order to go towards The Sun Gate. As I slowly negotiate the path I see White-winged Black Tyrant and the usual and very common Rufous-collared Sparrows before reaching an area of bamboo just after a long section of Inca terracing. A bird is singing and I sit down to watch as a large streaky-headed Inca Wren emerges from some tall bamboo. Brilliant! I don't know why but seeing this iconic bird on Machu Picchu itself really lifts my spirits and my fist thumping, Henman style, amuses a small group of people passing by.

With low cloud covering Machu Picchu itself, I carry on up the path towards The Sun Gate and stop at some walls about half way up to it for lunch. Clouds disperse and the glory that is Machu Picchu reveals itself once more. People arrive and stop to take selfies or pose for others to take photographs of them with the famous backdrop. I do the same self consciously. One lovely couple is from Chicago and on asking where I am from and why I am alone, I tell them that I am trying to beat an American, the amazing Dorian Anderson, and become the World Green Birding Champion. They and a couple of Peruvians who live in Florida standing nearby wish me luck and ask for my details so that they can see whether I manage to do so.

As The Sun Gate is in deep cloud I decide to explore Machu Picchu's ruins and spend the next two hours doing precisely that. At times I stand near to groups of people who have an English-speaking guide. One such guide talks of the Incas use of three and points out the recess and window numbers of a special building, three of each. Whilst sitting on the high terraces admiring the wonder of Machu Picchu a fabulous, happy Columbian couple stop for a chat.

At three o'clock I leave and have a splendid meal at the cafe of a superb, extremely deep leek quiche followed by a hot apple pie with a large mug of hot chocolate. I am surprised at the excellent quality of the food and have to tell the staff how fantastic I think it is once I have finished.

I start my descent by following the road. I have company. A dog decides to follow me and does so for about half of the way before following a group of people who are using the more direct way of the steps that I ascended in the morning. The switchbacks and long almost horizontal road gives plenty of opportunities of seeing birds that use the top most branches of the trees.

Smoke-coloured Pewee is soon seen as it perches from a prominent dead branch and makes forays out to catch a passing insect. Later back on the downward steps a thrush sized bird with a prominent white throat is my first ever Chestnut-capped Brush Finch and the photograph in the gathering gloom doesn't do the bird justice. I prefer to remember what I saw with my Opticron binoculars as it made its way along the path below me.
I reach the bridges with it almost dark and see two Blue & Gray Tanagers in a tree.

Green Year list : 260 birds average new birds to list per day : 3.56 birds

altitude : 6,807 feet (highest point on Machu Pichu – 8,450 feet)

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