Saturday 12 May 2018

29th April, 2018 Birding Marcapomacocha

April 29th, 2018

A light rain in the morning, hardly a spot really, followed by sunny intervals for the rest of the day. Actually the best weather for days! Lovely if rather cool.

Where can one get breakfast consisting of two fried eggs, three bread rolls, a large mug of milky coffee and a glass jug full of warmed fruit juice, just squeezed from fresh fruit, and all for just six Soles, about £1.50? I slowly, carefully eat it all as this is the first meal I have had for three days. Since Huanza I have had fruit, water biscuits, crackers and yogurt, other than the little bit of cheese I was given by the kind Miguel and Germano at Milloc yesterday morning and when arrived here last night after darkness had fallen I was too exhausted to eat so, having found the hotel eventually, I went to sleep. A reason to be grateful for the big mug of hot coffee is precisely because it is just that, hot. There is no heating anywhere in the hotel and at 14,560 feet mornings are cold. Cupping gloved hands around the coffee mug is a wonderful way to warm up.
Four village boys come in for their breakfast so we give names and they use my binoculars, There is a wall just outside the back of the large restaurant and various birds come to land and sit and stare; Bright-rumped Yellow Finches are the most common as little parties of them of four or five come and go. Two Andean Flickers take up station as do two new birds for the Green List, Black-billed Shrike Tyrant and Plain-breasted Earthcreeper

Three new birds over breakfast, I have already looked over the beautiful lagoon and seen a small number of Masked Ducks. The boys finish using the bins, complete their breakfast and together we play a form of Pool on a large table at the back of the room. With the lads it is conversation as well as my limited Spanish can muster and fun.
Three security guards for the village arrive for their breakfast and immediately they sit down at a table and immediately shut themselves away with their smartphones. No conversation, they just eat. Once they have finished though they do come in and join in with our pool, which is a shame as one of them is a master and proceeds to knock spots off us.
Eight in the morning, breakfast is finished and Elizabeth and Hose are thanked gratefully, I have had the enjoyment of playing a couple of games of pool with wonderful men and seen three new birds for the Green Year list. Not a bad start to the day. Off outside it is cold but dry and I walk into the village, quiet as it is Sunday. I notice though that the two churches are locked though. A long street of mud-brick, corrugated iron houses has two large bushes, the only ones I can see in the area, and pishing brings two Rufous-collared Sparrows out to investigate. On the roof of a building next to a small alley that leads to a colourfully painted Primary School, two Andean Flickers sit and are unconcerned by my passing.
Walking to the village square, typical of Peruvian villages and indeed cities on a grander scale, for square it is with a large statue of a Puma dominating the centre, small bushes, paths and benches arranged in a criss cross, St George's flag style. The surrounding road has a permanent volleyball net set over it and a minibus and two space wagons negotiate around this fixture.
Out of the village the compacted dirt road leads the way I entered last night and in the daylight the view over the lake is tremendous. At each end of what I can see of the lagoon, I know from a map that I have that it extends much further south around a rocky corner, are high snow-capped peaks and between these are extensive grasslands. Where this road goes by the lagoon there are a number of ducks on the shore, a Lesser Yellowlegs and some Giant Coots, living up to their name, on the water. Beautiful, blue/black-billed, white-cheeked Puna Teal and Yellow-billed Pintails are on the shore and are new for the list and the other duck species are counted for the eBird record to be added once I have internet service. There are also a few Puna Ibis, short almost black plumaged birds. I love these eBird days when I can relax and bird with no time pressure to get somewhere. Here it really is apt to say, 'What is this world if full of care, one has no time and stop and stare.'
A turn to the left and there are two small, open buildings where three people are doing their laundry by battering it on planks held over longitudinal sinks. Using cold water and large soap bars they laugh as they work, rubbing the soap along their clothes before rinsing. Compare this, all done in freezing cold water straight from the lake, with laundry done elsewhere. No automatic washing machines here yet the friendship, laughter and conversation between the participants points to our having lost something.
Walking a,little further there is a small cage, locked, which has a sign over it which translates to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and within it there are five small plastic bins for each material type.
Behind some barbed wire fencing along the road there are tufts of Puna grass and a Canyon Canestero is feeding close by. 

A really obliging bird, at one point there is less than a few feet between us, well that and a small rock that it is behind. It isn't bothered by me though as it creeps between grass tufts and searches for food.
Over a small bridge the road splits and I take the one that leads uphill. There is a dark soiled ploughed field here that has seven superb looking Andean Lapwings on and over forty Bright-rumped Yellow Finches. These finches are very tame and allow one to walk right past them. The road leads to a mobile phone mast enclosure which has a building and high razor wire fence surround, all protected for by a barking wildly blonde coloured dog. A party of four Incan villagers pass with their three black & white sheepdogs. One of their dogs tries to attack the incarcerated dog through the wire, both baring their teeth at each other and snarling viciously. I pass cautiously and as with everyone one passes, greeting are given and received.
There are very few birds along this road. A couple of Mountain Caracaras fly over, as do some Variable Hawks. Ground birds are almost absent. There are just a couple of Ochre-naped Ground Tyrants. There are though lots of sheep and in the distance up a ridge there is a large herd of llamas. I start to realise that this landscape is not natural. The grassland is overgrazed and lacks the flowers and large grassy tussocks that would be here without the domesticated herds. This is a man-made habitat with spectacular eruptions of mountainous, snow-capped rocky peaks.
Down in the valley a shepherd is resting next to a haystack and his three dogs see me and start to bark and climb the hill towards me. Dogs, a problem when travelling on foot in Peru. Most are the loving pet animal that we all love. Some though are vicious, snarling, snapping animals who seem to want blood. I turn around and walk back towards the village. Luckily the three dogs, once they cannot see me due to the valley shape, stop their chase and by peaking over the edge I can see them go back to the shepherds small hut.
Back near the lagoon there is a small building made for sheltering sheep about five foot tall with a corrugated iron roof. I sit down against the stone and watch. An Andean Negrito comes close, as does a Dark-winged Miner and a Plain-breasted Earthcreeper. Out over the water a Chilean Flamingo flies.

Walking over some bog with a small stream, hoping for an ambition bird, the beautiful Diademed Plover but not seeing one, there is a Black-billed Shrike Tyrant, an Andean Swallow and a couple of noisy Andean Flickers, Down at the shoreline are coot and duck and a single White-tufted Grebe.

Back at the bridge my appearance startles a Cincloides species, which flies off downstream like a huge, chestnut-coloured Dipper and disappears around the corner. I am not sure which species it was and so I climb the barbed wire fence though and follow the stream
downhill. After a few hundred yards I don't find the Cincloides but do find the intriguingly named D'Orbigny Bush Tyrant, dark uppers and red below with strong white supercilia.

Back at the small bay by the village a close by Chilean Flamingo is preening, as are four Puna Teal. From here it is just a couple of hundred yards to the proud archway telling one that they have arrived at Marcopomacocha, with it's two statues; one of a large trout and the other of a Puma.
Into a shop in the village, the lady behind the counter greets me as an old friend, as does her large black and very friendly dog. She wants to know when I am leaving and whether I managed to walk around the lagoon. This last comment is due to the fact that when we met last night, when half a dozen villagers were trying to find the key to the old hostel in the square, unsuccessfully hence my being in the 'new' one, She joked that I should walk around the lagoon thinking that I didn't know of it's immense size. She is genuinely pleased that I am staying until Tuesday. Walking through the village there is a mass of red meat handing from a doorway and long lines of washing at the back of most houses. It must take some time to dry in these cool temperatures but this afternoon's sunshine must help. That reminds me . . . I must wash my socks! Cold water scrub in a sink.
After leaving my purchases at the hotel, I do walk some of the lagoon's perimeter road for about three miles. With me is another extremely friendly and very subservient and lovely dog, who I name Doug. He or she, I didn't look, comes with me the whole way, usually no more than a couple of feet from my feet. Occasionally I turn around thinking she has gone back to the hotel only to find that she is there right at my feet. The terrain is rougher here, more stony with intermittent small bushes. Birds are still few but they are interesting, especially the wonderful Black-breasted Hillstar, a smashing, medium-sized hummingbird. 

Six Speckled Teal are on the shore with a couple of Giant Coot. Otherwise there are a couple of Dark-winged Miners, a few Plain-coloured Seedeaters, some Ash-breasted Sierra Finches and Bright-rumped Yellow Finches.
Doug and I return to the hotel to find that the restaurant won't be open tonight. A tin of tuna, a few crackers and some Maracuya juice will have to suffice.

Green Year list : 178 birds average new birds to list per day : 6.14 birds

Distance walked : 3,95 miles

elevation : up 340 feet, down 354 feet

altitude : 14,521 feet

April 28th, 2018 Milloc to Marcapomaconcha. Highest altitude of trip so far.

April 28th, 2018

Snow! Sleet! Hail! Rain and then sunny intervals. Cold.

An invitation arrives at my tent doorway at 6:30 a.m. to have breakfast with Germano and Miguel in their Hydro-electric company building. Not feeling hungry I eat a little cheese with a few water crackers. 

What I want is strong coffee and two mugs of such are perfect. We sit and chat as best we can using paper and a whiteboard to talk about families, films, reasons for being 13,000 feet up in The Andes! On the whiteboard is written about Dorian Anderson's brilliant World Green Birding (BIGBY) year list record and how I am trying to beat it. Germano and Miguel proudly show me framed charts of diagrams showing the water movement down the mountains through tunnels and pipeways, river, stream and dammed lagoons to a number of hydro-electric stations. As for films Miguel enthusiastically describes his favourite as the ultra violent Mel Gibson film, Apocolypse. Both men have families. Miguel is from Ica in the Paracas and Germano has a wife and two small children in Huancayo. They use my binoculars on the terrace. There is a large herd of llamas on the ground on the other side of the road. I describe how an Alpaca spat in my face at Cusco, large green lumps of stinking stuff and we laugh when Germano said that it happened to Miguel only yesterday and shows me the remains of green horror on a plastic sheet.

Setting off up the mountain road, it zig zags, circumnavigates three large lakes and ascends a couple of thousand feet. For some of it it either rains, sleets, hails or snows! Then it all stops and the sun comes out to reveal stupendous snow-capped mountains on all sides. 

Looking down on the second of three lakes a pair of Silvery Grebes are swimming and diving. It is difficult to see them let alone photograph them through the sleet.
Three motorcyclists pass having a tour from Lima. One of them stops and chats, a Visa officer from Cerco, Jean Pierre Petit, a Peruvian (!) offers advice before heading down the valley to catch up with his friends and later find me on Facebook.
Three huge rock-filled lorries slowly pass me on their way uphill. Each one's drivers and passengers wave and pip their horns. Such friendly people, not one vehicle has passed over the last few days without saying hello and either waving or putting thumbs up. I watch them as they crawl uphill and see the route I will have to take up and over the summit, knowing that it will the highest point that I will have had to have climbed, well pushed more like, in the first three months. It's all downhill from there … I wish!

On reaching that summit, 15.821 high, my reward is that the skies clear and the sun comes out. There is a huge expanse of grassland to see and a momentous view of a snow-capped peak that must be close to 20,000 feet high. The bike can now be ridden and what a joy that is as I cycle to the nearest main road, still not tarmac but it does have a better surface. A few birds are on the short, well grazed grass here including Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants. On reaching the main road there are large herds of fifty or so each of Llamas! They are huge!

Miles downhill later I pass a small pueblo called Sangar and stop to look at the numerous birds gathered on the marshy area between the road and the small village. Mostly Puna Ibis, there are three Black-necked Ibis to the left of them and an Andean Negrito picking around some marshy vegetation. A passing motorist stops to say hello. He tells me that my aimed destination, Marcapomacocha, is twelve kilometres away. Will I make it before dark?
A shepherd, a couple of kilometres later, tells me that Marcapomacocha is fifteen kilometres away. I have gone backwards! A few miles later, sorry about this kilometres - miles stuff but I use miles, Peruvians use kilometres, the road to Marcapomacocha splits off to the left. Unfortunately it is all uphill and so it is a long push. Just the last few hundred yards are downhill and it is almost dark when I finally go under the village's welcoming archway, flashing red light that announces that they welcome you to their village. I welcome the sight.
I meet a small old lady, who is so friendly that I give her my squeezy dinosaur as a present. In the village square I find a shop and go inside to ask about whether there is a hostel. Elba, the proprietress, tells me that there is and she goes off to find the key. Elba returns with six other people who all say that they have no idea who has the key. Thinking I am going to be camping, two of the men say, “no problemas, autro place” and after taking me around a corner or two to show me a large hotel brightly lit about two hundred yards outside the village!

Green Year list : 165 birds average new birds to list per day : 5.89 birds

Distance walked and cycled : 24.01 miles

elevation : up 3.465 feet, down 3,230 feet

altitude : 14,503 feet

April 27th Onwards and Upwards. Mammals and Birds.

April 27th, 2018

Morning fog due to low cloud and raining, clears to sunny intervals. Rain again in the afternoon. Cool.

I awake and assess the damage. I don't feel too bad. My left arm is sore and had made me wince once or twice in the night when I turned onto it but otherwise life is fine and I am in an area of such outstanding beauty that little things like near death experiences are trivial.
The rain I hear outside on waking stops and I get ready to move. Packing away the tent I notice that there is a thin veneer of ice on it. I hadn't realised it was that cold in the night. Back on the road again, I pass a few basic, plastic sheet covered shelters and continue the long push up the valley.

A condor is flying high in the early morning blue sky and two black and white Mountain Caracaras fly over along a slope and carry on down. Great, new bird for the Green List, it keeps growing. A noisy Andean Flicker is down on the valley floor somewhere. I can hear it. I scan and find two poking around a muddy bank around a depression in the grass.

Just after passing a large dam I sit down beside the road and have a snack and a drink. The slope down to the lake created by the dam has a mesh fence at the bottom preventing man and beast from entering the water. As I sit there a Rusty Flowerpiercer and an Andean Spinetail take turns to search a small bush for food items. The Spinetail lands on the fence allowing me to get photographs. I am absolutely chuffed to get this one. A good bird to see.

Carrying on, small groups of yellow birds start to be seen, Bright-rumped Yellow Finches with the males have their diagnostic small grey patches on the ear coverts. Things are going well and I forget about my arm. Andean Lapwings in the valley below amongst a herd of . . . Llamas! My first Llamas of the trip, now I feel I am in The Andes proper. They may be domestic but I will take Llamas over cows any day, beautiful large and fluffy animals. They watch me carefully as I pass.
Looking up the slope of the road ahead of me I suddenly see a stag galloping at pace towards me. I quickly take the bike to the side of the road and stand by it as the speeding animal rushes past.

I pass a group of road workers and handshakes are proffered and questions answered. The road now enters a valley where there is an immense, colourful scree slope to the left. With the weather now having improved and with the sun shining on it, it reminds me of the photographs I have seen of an area south of Cusco called rainbow Mountain.

I have never seen a scree slope so large and it fascinates me to see scribbled line pathways along it's base and places where plants have tried and succeeded in growing in the rocky, steep sloped soil.

Around a few turns in the road and ahead of me is a large shallow lagoon with birds on it. Giant Coot and Crested Duck are new for the list but there are also Andean Geese and a lone Andean Gull. Seeing a pair of reasonably close Andean Geese I watch them through binoculars and notice a small wader by their feet, a grey breasted Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, in other words a male. I search around and find a superbly camouflaged female close to the left of the geese. Actually the male's head is grey also. An Andean Hillstar, yet another hummingbird species, flies nearby.
At the end of the lake near to the road there are a number of ramshackle huts that are dirty, decrepit and locked. They are placed on top of concrete platforms and I sit on the edge and watch as numerous mice scamper amongst the buildings walls and around dry stone walls nearby. There really are a prodigious number of the wee little fellows. My mother would have a fit if she saw them, phobic as she is concerning mice. Something to do with their skinny tails as she is not afraid of hamsters.

There are birds to be seen here and some are quite tame, unconcerned by my presence. Lots of Bright-rumped Yellow Finches, White-winged Duica Finches and White-fronted Ground Tyrants are feeding whilst hopping around the short grass in front of me.
I carry on back on the road and pass a small building surrounded by a tall security fence. Just a little further on there is a derelict building and opposite this is a rectangular dry stone animal pen. I decide, as rain has begun to fall, to pitch my tent against a wall, hoping to get some shelter from the wind descending the valley. The next section of road is winding up the mountain side and there doesn't look like there will be a better place to camp.
Two men from the first building walk up to carry out some assessment work on the water gauges next to a torrent of water appearing from a tunnel. The rushing cascade of water here is tremendously powerful as it falls from a concrete chute into the river. The two men ask the usual questions and, as the rain has stopped, I explore the derelict building. The first three rooms are dusty and full of manure from some animal. The last room is locked and through the window I can see a shelf with old food cans and equipment on it. The light is on, hanging from the ceiling and there is dusty, simple furniture in the room. Going to the other end of the building, I sit down and lean against the wall and watch as various birds come close. An Andean Hillstar lands almost right next to me on the edge of the concrete. A Spot-winged Pigeon flies by, almost the only dove species I have seen today.

Green Year list : 160 birds average new birds to list per day : 5.93 birds

Distance walked : 6.59 miles

elevation : up 1,870 feet, down 423 feet

altitude : 14,299 feet

April 26th Close Encounter of The Bovine Kind

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April 26th, 2018

Cloud builds during the day and light rain in the afternoon follows a sunny morning

Awake at 4:55 a.m. I type up some notes and head off to find out whether the small track that goes via the cemetery does lead down to the valley floor. This would save me having to descend down to the hydro-electric station and start from there the long push up the steep dirt road. The track seems fine, a little steep in places and a few rocky places to negotiate but good enough to drag a bike over. I decide to give it a go. I remember doing just this when, back on the first, 2010, Biking Birder adventure, I chose to push the bike for four miles along the clifftop above The Giant's Causeway in Antrim, Northern Ireland. The views from up there were spectacular, both looking down to the causeway and across the sea to the Mull of Kintyre and the island of Islay and the fact that I had to lift and carry the laden bike over many a fence and push for hours didn't detract from the pleasure gained from seeing such a wonderful view.
After walking it for an hour I can see that it does join the road I need to be on to go higher so I turn back to go and pack and have a little breakfast. A very small, old man stops me by the cemetery and asks me whether I would take his photograph. I of course say “of course”. He then goes through the cemetery gates and stands by graves stacked two high. “These are my Mama and my Papa,” he tells me. I am humbled and tell him that I will email the photograph to the son of the shopkeeper, Hose.

Packed and ready to set off, I am feeling extremely chipper that I have found a route that I can bird along and save me a couple of kilometres of pushing. I have breakfast at the cafe and am soon descending the donkey track, as I think of it and the world is great.
After half an hour of progress down I stop to look at a Cinereous Conebill and BANG! A huge bull has hit the front of the bike, throwing me backwards. The bike lands on top of me and the bull tries to hit me once more with it's head. I hit it and scream abuse! The bull carries on hitting the bike and I somehow scrabble out from underneath and jump off the track into the bushes. I then find a way along back to the path but about fifty yards away from where the bull is.

He by now has managed to get one of the back panniers stuck on his horns and is tossing his head about. I am obviously shaking and wondering what the hell happened, where did he appear from and how am I going to get the bike when it is a metre or so away from what is one angry bull?

A young man appears with two horses in tether. I tell him what happened. His name is Anderson and together we try to distract the bull enough so that we can drag the bike away from him. This we manage to do but there is still the ripped up pannier to retrieve. Another man, Pieres, and the three of us take everything off the bike and take it through the bushes as quietly as we can, piece by piece, beneath the path and out of sight of the nasty vicious animal. The bull by now has decided to take up station on the path and is standing there looking for his next victim. No amount of shouting, stick waving and abuse can shift him. Luckily this means that by having Anderson and Pieres distracting him from above the path, I can carefully retrieve my pannier and get it with the rest of my things further down the path from the bull, towards the road. Now out of sight of the bull but still very nervous that it may suddenly turn around and come along it, I quickly put everything together on the bike the best I can. The back panniers, a set of three, one that should rest on top of the back rack with two hanging bags,one on either side, has been torn in two and the other pannier is ripped along one edge. I manage to hang two from the rack and place the other, the one that contains my small laptop, on the top of the sleeping bag and tent as securely as possible. I wonder if it is OK? I wonder if I am.? My left arm seems pretty painful and my legs but at least I am alive!
Still shaking I carry on, after having crawled up a bank to look over and see where the bull is. A young lady is leading a donkey down the track and I notice that she takes the animal off the path and descends into the bushes as we did to bring the bike down. Obviously Anderson and Pieres have warned her of the bull. How long it will stand there I don't know and don't care to find out. I am off. I have given what Soles I have in my pocket to the two men and just want to get going.
I get to the road eventually and start to think of the other times I have been close to death. I count seven times as I push the bike up a rather steep section of rocky dirt road. Seven times, two to go, if I was a cat. Memories of a lorry crash on a wet, drizzly evening on the M6 at Walsall, West Midlands when I was twenty one years old. That should have got me harp playing. Another crash in a forward somersaulting car into a peat bog in Northern Scotland on January the first, 1991. Definitely a 'meet thy maker' moment once more survived. Just eight months later, the memory of a crumbly cliff in the Pyrenees that I should never have attempted to climb but did stupidly. When stuck I managed to crawl crab-like to the safety of the tree covered left side. Another miraculous survival.

Suddenly there is tarmac, beautiful smooth tarmac. There is a hydro-electric plant and they have put lovely, gorgeously grey tarmac down for their vehicles. Maybe my luck is changing. The road may be steep but at least there is a gorgeous surface to push the bike up.
It doesn't last. After yet another barking, snarling dog attack, rebuffed with flailing leg threats, the tarmac ends and it is back to the stony, gravelly, dusty, bumpy surface. Drat! At least there are some birds for me to stop and watch, identify and photograph. 

Mourning and Plumbeous Sierra Finches are common and with the Mourning birds, very vocal. Occasional small groups of siskins have two new birds amongst the commoner Hooded Siskins, Black Siskin and Yellow-rumped. Cincloides begin to be seen frequently two, both White-winged Cincloides and Bar-winged. Who cares about an attempt by a bull to gore you to pieces when there are birds to be seen, fantastic mountains to wonder at and a steep road to negotiate?

By mid-afternoon I have pushed only a few miles north of Huanza but feel tired and as rain begins to fall I find a spot to pitch my tent beside a dry stone wall, do so and relax listening to the sound of the falling drops on the canvas. It has been a very tough day. My left arm has been pretty useless in pushing, hence the lack of distance. I lie there though in my little blue tent and think about how supremely lucky I was that the bull didn't kill me. Undressing and climbing into my sleeping bag, I find that my upper left arm has an immense purplish bruise on it from where the horn must have hit me. My right leg is also cut and badly bruised in places from lower shin to upper thigh. I think that is from the bike landing on me. I even find a few cactus spines in me that I didn't know about!
The rain gets heavier and despite the early hour I fall asleep. Just another day of a Biking Birder completed.

Green Year list : 146 birds average new birds to list per day : 5.62 birds

Distance pushed : 7.74 miles

elevation : up 2,952 feet, down 1,280 feet

altitude : 12,874 feet

BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...