Saturday 6 October 2018

Descent into Paradise! Into the Cloud Forest of The Manu.

Buenas Dias!

Good morning! It is another lovely day, so RISE and SHINE. Life is for living!

My penultimate day in Peru. Tomorrow, Sunday I will be on the way back to the UK.

A wonderful day yesterday at my favourite Peruvian Nature Reserve, Los Pantanos de Villa, south of Lima. Los Pantanos? Why?

OK, I know, there are the magnificent National Parks and yes, I love The Manu yet Los Pantanos de Villa is preferred because of it's brdlife and it's location. You see I love urban reserves and Los Pantanos de Villa with over ten million people within twenty miles of it is as urban as it can get. Mind you, despite this and if one ignores the constant sound of traffic, a birder can see around sixty superb species in a day and, at certain times of the year birds numbers exceed fifty thousand. To think of so many people, especially children engaging with nature on their doorstep is thrilling.

I well remember my first visit there on Boxing day of 2013 when the seemingly never-ending beach was literally covered with immense flocks of gulls, mostly Franklins and terns, mostly Elegant and Cabot's.

I have been there at least a dozen times. Indeed I started my Peruvian Biking Birder adventure there back in April. Each time is different. Each time different birds take precedence. Today it was Wilson's Phalaropes that were present in numbers that would astound a British birder. I counted 254 of the spinning waders!

Saltwater, ocea adjacent lagoons, reedbeds, large freshwater-ish lagoons and dry horse grazed areas; Los Pantanos de Villa has an interesting selection of habitats and the birds can be very confiding. Imaine Great and Pied-billed Grebes within yards of you.

Then there are the staff and volunteers, wonderful friendly people, mostly young but also older that add enjoyment to a visit with their sense of fun, their dedication to the reserve and with their desire to learn as much as possible, so to be able to share this with the thousands of Liman children that visit. Six coaches full of schoolchildren were there today!

Today I had the opportunity to promote the reserve and Peruvian birding by being interviewed and filmed by PromPeru. Three lovely people; Melanie, Ricardo and fernando drew the long straw and had to do the job. Two hours of their company, I look forward to seeing the results and sharing it all with you.

So before the July the 3rd details, here are a few photographs from today at Los Pantanos de Villa :-

Fabulous to see that schoolchildren had cleared a long section of the beach from washed up plastic!

OK . . . . . . . 

For those who may be new to my blog I know that today is October the sixth but due to a number of factors, mostly a lack of internet within The Manu national Park, I could not keep up the daily blog describing my adventures.

To those who read yesterday's blog and the blog from the day before, I once more humbly apologise for starting in the same vein!

You know I survived the six month Biking Birder Peruvian adventure over The Andes by bicycle and along the Madre de Dios river by packraft!

What follows over the next 73 days, well to Christmas anyway, will be a daily update as though we are back together in July of this year. Day by day I will post my diary as though it is still happening. Together we will share the thrills, the splendour of nature and the terrors. Oh yes, there were days of terror but those few moments were outshone by days of such magnificence that dark clouds were obliterated by nature's beauty.

So please read and imagine . . . .

Oh, and please, PLEASE if you could make a donation to Birdlife International as you read I would be more over the Moon than I already am! Neil, I am coming to see you.

Thank you and love to you all,

Be Green.

Gary xxx 

3rd July, 2018

Very sunny morning, cloud forest cloud develops during the day

I can hear a Creamy-crested Spinetail from my sleeping bag as I lie in my cold tent watching my breath. Ice on the tent for possibly the last time, I get up and find a superb Moustached Flowerpiercer on the topmost twig of a very close by bush. A Great Thrush is on the path nearby and the calling Creamy-crested Spinetail is seen moving amongst the foliage. As I get my inflatable mattress and sleeping bag out of the tent, I arrange them so that I can sit on the steps of the obelisk and watch the sunrise in one direction and the setting of a gibbous Moon in the other. White-throated Tyrannulets come into a small tree and make it a hat-trick of new birds for the early morning. Smashing little birds these are with the obvious white throat above a dull grey breast, long tail and wing bars and eye stripes, they move swiftly and noisily in the branches.
A short walk to the ridge edge nearby, a deer is looking at me intently from fifty yards away. Standing on my path, she has immense and pert round ears, a black nose and large eyes. All seemingly of one colour in this early morning sunlight she suddenly decides that watching the human may not be a good idea and slowly walks off into the scrub.
Wispy, nebulous cloud from the valley deep below starts to ascend and pass. Soon it covers the ridge and I walk back to the tent in a strange fog that seems to take the sounds away.
I take down the tent, it having thawed and dried in the early morning sunshine. Packed and ready, I start the long descent in the knowledge that it is all downhill for the next fifty miles, all the way to the Cadre de Bios River! Actually I don't sit on the saddle as I follow the dirt road down. I stand on a pedal and balance in order that, one I can stop immediately upon seeing a bird I would like to identify or, more hopefully, come across a flock and two, I can leap off the bike quickly and get to the side of the road if I hear an approaching vehicle. The second of these considerations is important as minibuses in particular can speed around a bend at any time and most of the time they do not warn one of their approach by sounding their horn. This road is so bumpy that cycling in the more conventional way seems to me to be practically impossible and dangerous.
The first birds that stop me are Red-crested Cotingas and both Rufous-breasted and Brown-backed Chat Tyrants. That all changes though when I come across my first flock. Rust & Yellow Tanagers are easy to see as forage amongst the bushes and grassy stems. The Rufous-paned Brush-finches have all black throats though and I will need to check their specie status. Golden-collared, Hooded Mountain and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers are all moving through and the pace in which they do so, appearing then disappearing in the dense vegetation, makes the experience exhilarating.
I continue down the bumpy road as cloud envelops the hill side and visibility is restricted. The valleys have gone and the way ahead is obscured. Luckily traffic is extremely sparse and when I suddenly come across the entrance to Weyqecha Biological Research Station I am excited. My next place of accommodation has been reached.
No one seems to be around as I enter the large reception – dining room. Hummingbird feeders beside it have Amethyst-throated Sunangel and Violet-throated Starfrontlet feeding. A Collared Inca joins them but is soon chased away. Brush-finches and Yellow-browed Sparrows come close as they search for food in the area next to the kitchen and main entrance. I am entranced by such beautiful birds, birds that can be watched from a seat and with a cup of coffee. Coffee and tea is available from a table next to a hatchway through to the large kitchen.
Whilst imbibing my coffee a man comes in and tells me that he a birder named Omar working for a company called Cotinga Travel. Good name! Omar talks birds and I try to persuade him to go back to the pools thirty or kilometres or so away to photograph the Least Grebe I saw there yesterday. This dastardly birder, myself that is, wants evidence of the bird.
I want to bird and after Omar leaves I meet John, the manager of the facility. He gives me a map of the trails and I set off for the nearest and shortest. The trail goes down diagonally into the valley and a few mist nets have been placed in strategic spots. I hear later that two scientists are carrying out a bird project. I don't see any evidence of any birds during my walk as unfortunately no flocks pass me during my two hour hike.
At dinner I meet three young girls from England; Abbey, Alice and Wanxin. The girls are part of a long study project into the effects of Climate Change on the cloud forest. They are studying at King's College. London together and part of their costs have been funded by the Geography Association. I remember that I supported The Geography Association during my first two Biking Birder adventures in 2010 and 2015 by carrying a glove puppet of Barnaby Bear on the bike. Barnaby is the Geography Association's Primary Education character for a major curriculum topic called “Where in the world is Barnaby Bear.” Wanxin is from Singapore, Abbey is from Ilford and Alice is from Southampton. They are chatty and fun, wonderful to meet such young and intrepid people.
Dinner is served by Blanco and Claudio and afterwards everybody goes to the back of the kitchen to wash and dry up. Time for the match! Birding can wait until later. It is time for England against Columbia in the 2018 World Cup taking place in Russia. The last sixteen match and the winner will meet Sweden in the last eight. A room beneath one of the bungalows is prepared with a large flat screen TV and a number of chairs. Factions enter and take opposing positions in the room, England supporters, that is the girls and I, to the right of the TV. The Peruvians are all supporting Columbia, something to do with South America solidarity and they all sit to the left, all nine of them. We are outnumbered but my vocal prowess makes up for our numerical shortfall.
The match kicks off. England dominate but don't score during their purple patch of play. Luckily neither do Columbia. Half time and honours even, England ahead on points, I go and fetch biscuits and cakes from my room. Shared all around with great fun and a game of pretending to give to about to give a biscuit or a cake to a Peruvian Columbia supporter and then passing the biscuit or cake to one of the England supporting girls instead. Eventually I relent and all get a fair share.
Second half, England get a penalty and the protesting Columbian defender gets booked. He has grabbed Harry Kane and pushed him to the ground. There can be no doubt about the decision and the video referee is not called for. Harry steps up and plants the ball down the centre of the goal above the despairing foot of the goalkeeper who has dived to his right. 1 – 0 to England. I quietly show my delight at the goal by clapping a couple of times. Do I thump! I am up screaming “goal!” and dance across the room. “Come on England!”
A few minutes of the match remain. Columbia have come into the match more and a long range shot is turned around the post by the diving Pickford, the England goalkeeper. From the corner the ball is headed downwards and with a vicious bounce it is in the back of the net. 1 – 1. The Peruvians take their cue to repeat my performance and celebrate vociferously.
Extra time, England come closest to deciding the game with a shot that just goes past the far post. Penalties. Columbia score, England score, repeated, Columbia score but the Columbian goalkeeper saves the next England spot kick. 3 – 2 to Columbia. Panic!
Columbia hit the bar and England score. 3 – 3.
Pickford saves with his upstretched hand.
Dyer steps up to win the game for England. England have never won a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup. Can Dyer score.
He does! He runs towards the team huddle as England players en masse create a human pile. Dyer wants a cuddle but is ignored. Meanwhile I am dancing once more around the room. England have beaten Columbia and will play Sweden in the last eight. Fabulous.
The TV is put away and the generator is turned off. Two men, Marcus and Felix, arrive and after I try to explain that I have been emailed and that it states that I will be staying in the dormitory, I am taken to a most luxurious room with ensuite facilities. A large semi-detached wooden bungalow built on tall stilts with a balcony that looks over the now cloud free valleys of the Manu Cloud Forest. I sit and watch as a Masked Flowerpiercer pierces a few of the numerous flowers. Incredible views with forest clad hills, one after the other descending down towards the promise of the lowlands thirty miles away. For anyone staying here this terrace with its chairs and proximity to such magnificence makes any expense and travel so worth while. Another paradise place for The Biking Birder to enjoy.

Green Year list : 287 birds

average new birds to list per day : 3.05 birds

altitude : 9,580 feet

Friday 5 October 2018

I've got More than my Share of Happiness!

Buenas Dias!

Well, this morning I will have great pleasure . . . .

but first I have to do the blog!

For those who may be new to my blog, I know that today is October the fifth but due to a number of factors, mostly a lack of internet within The Manu national Park, I could not keep up the daily blog describing my adventures.

To those who read yesterday's blog, I humbly apologise for starting in the same vein!

"You're so vane, you probably think this blog is about you!"

Sorry, I am in a wonderful mood today. Birds are flying high in the sky outside my bedroom here in Lima, Peru; Black Vultures {!}, Belcher's Gulls and Parakeets. Scrub Blackbirds are being as noisy as ever with their electric calls and West Peruvian Doves are saying “please be quiet” with their dove tones that would be familiar to doves around the world.

A sleepness night with Mary Poppins and Ken Dodd on Youtube, with a George Monbiot article on Plastic and Consumerism studied and the links read and collated for further perusal. I am buzzing!

Happiness, happiness is a clean beach, without the mess! I think we all should take a rest, from buying crap stuff. That would be the best!

Obviously, as I said yesterday, yet maybe you weren't here, you now know I survived the six month Biking Birder Peruvian adventure over The Andes by frog . . . I mean by bicycle and river by packraft!

What follows over the next 74 days, well to Christmas anyway, will be a daily update as though we are back together in July of this year. Day by day I will post my diary as though it is still happening. Together we will share the thrills, the splendour of nature and the terrors. Oh yes, there were days of terror but those few moments were outshone by days of such magnificence that dark clouds were obliterated by nature's beauty.

So please read and imagine . . . . 

Oh, and please, PLEASE if you could make a donation to Birdlife International as you read I would be more over the Moon than I already am! Neil, I am coming to see you.

Two wonderful, marvellous, beautiful, fabulous people, well three actually if one counts Lizzy and Jack, superb Mother and Son combination as two instead of one and a half, did so yesterday, taking my total raised for Birdlife International to near a thousand pounds!

A million thank yous to Val, Lizzy and five hundred thousand to Jack!

Thank you and love to you all,

Be Green.

Gary xxx 

Hi ho, Hi ho, It's a birding I will go . . . 

Off to the fabulous Los Pantanos de Villa nature reserve for the day to be filmed by PromPeru! Brilliant! 

I adore Los Pantanos de Villa!

2nd July, 2018

Very sunny, breezy PM

The day of the last big push, I am ready and the bike and rucksack are heavy with the food I will need for the days that I will be birding along the famous Manu Road, the day's when I am not staying at lodges. I have five days away from lodges that I need food for before I reach the next village, Chontachaka. So loaded up I set off along a dirt road that goes down the river valley.
At the five kilometre post the road divides. The road I need forks right and slopes upwards, the push begins. Tall Eucalyptus trees are with me for the first few kilometres and then, as the road gains height, the vegetation changes to bushes and flowering shrubs. There is a local pushing a bike just ahead of me and as his is unladen he goes faster and soon disappears.
A flock! Panic time as I try to see all the birds and they don't want me to see them. They flit from bushes and dive into the next one with rapid motion and I can see leaves and twigs moving from where they are hiding. Occasional glimpses, Rufous-collared Sparrows!
I continue and the road, with it's rocky, bumpy, dusty surface makes the push hard and laborious. The views though compensate and the occasional stop for a rest allows me to realise how incredibly beautiful this part of the world is. The hills are old grass green as the dry season has taken away the verdant colour of the Austral summer and replaced it with this yellowish carpet. Crops are dry too yet there are occasional rows of green, potatoes and red, quinoa. 
Looking ahead, as the road turns around a corner, I can see that there are a series of large valleys that have eaten into the hillside and each have a long section of road on the south before a turn, usually over a concrete ford with a small stream. Then there is the long push on the north side and the road continues gaining height to the next corner. With each valley I hope that the next corner will turn out to be the last and that I will see where the highest point of the road is. This last summit will be the last summit of my Andean adventure. I will have crossed The Andes and it will be downhill all the way to Amazonia from that point. Michael Palin and Terry Jones would tell me that I should have brought a large cuddly rainforest frog with me on the bike, like the one that came with me on all of my United Kingdom Biking Birder adventures named Sid. The Monty Python pair wrote a book called Ripping Yarns and made a TV series of the same, or vice versa. One of the tales was of an intrepid skit on Victorian adventurers called, Across The Andes by Frog. Well, I have crossed The Andes by bike. Actually I haven't seen a frog . . . yet!
I am amazed by how quiet the road has been vehicle-wise. I had imagined that there would be lorries and minibuses full of locals and tourists but no. I actually count and record what passes me. Eleven minibuses, two lorries, a single motorbike and a car. In five hours just fifteen vehicles, I should have recorded how many gave a friendly honk on the horn or a wave and how many had wound down the window to shut Hola, Buena dias or buenos tardes. The only car is on a serious mission. It has a large white coffin in the back, protruding from beneath the open hatchback door that is tied by rope to the bumper. I have no idea whether the coffin is occupied!
The river by now, after a number of these long valley stretches, is far below and the village of Challabamba can be seen with it's large number of small square houses. I reach a point where the river veers off along a valley to the left and the valley I am following is drier and has less trees. The road turns around one last corner and after one last push I am there, kilometre twenty, the top. I stop for a celebratory drink of pseudo coca cola and look around me. The habitat is one of dry puna grass and very few trees. Just to emphasis the point, a Mountain Caracara flies overhead with it's pattern of black and white plumage. The road now is horizontal to the hill and I can at last pedal. The views though are magnificent and for the first time ever I can actually see for miles all around me. Every other time I have been along this wonderful, famous Manu Road it has been shrouded by cloud, hidden from my eyes. Yet I know than in just a few miles I will enter the Manu National Park, the park's buffer zone and from there it will be a long descent into the cloud forest and with it lots of new birds.

The Manu, I am at the border with it's derelict buildings and large signs, with its pathways and large banner over the road announcing the start of the most biodiverse national park in the world! I am going to enjoy the next three months.
I look around each of the buildings. All of them are empty, some are old and some are new. One is a partially constructed large barn. The old ones are small, long rectangular wooden buildings with open doors. Looking inside each one it is clear that they haven't been occupied for a number of years yet there are still the signs of when people did live here. A stone fireplace is in the corner of one large room with metal cooking pots covered in dust and soot still there. Another dusty room still has a table and a broken chair. The new building is superb and has a few large photographs and information posters on the wall. Yet it is devoid of furniture and locked.
I follow a grassy pathway through some low bushes and find an obelisk. Upon it is a bust of a European man and a plaque dedicated to Dr Sven Errikson. Now the England football manager of an ill fated World Cup campaign had that name, maybe no the doctor bit, but this Sven is famed for having . . . . . .
The view from this vantage point really is awe inspiring, intersecting hills that are all covered with the dark green of cloud forest and a long valley leading to a cloud covered lowland in the far distance. A huge area that I know I will start to descend into tomorrow. I decide to camp here and erect the tent. Once that is done I go off and explore the area. Great Thrush and Cinnamon Flycatchers are along a dirt road that leads to a small roundabout with a tall flagpole. The Peruvian flag flutters and flaps noisily in the breeze.
I can see two small ponds in a depression near to some occupied wooden huts. I push through some scratchy bushes to see what birds might be on them and fabulously find an adult Least Grebe. In the fading light I watch as it dives and emerges just as any Little Grebe would do in Britain. The bird's neck seems longer though and the contrast of the blackish crown and the greyer face is pronounced. Now this really is a special bird to find at this altitude and the frustration of not having a working camera is compounded here. This is one bird that I would love to have photographic evidence for.

Green Year list : 276 birds

average new birds to list per day : 2.97 birds

altitude : 11,388 feet

Thursday 4 October 2018

Russia and Paucartambo, Coca and People.


I know that today is October the fourth but due to a number of factors, mostly a lack of internet within The Manu national Park, I could not keep up the daily blog describing my adventures. 

Obviously you now know I survived! 

What follows over the next 75 days, well to Christmas anyway, will be a daily update as though we are back together in July of this year. Day by day I will post my diary as though it is still happening. Together we will share the thrills, the splendour of nature and the terrors. Oh yes, there were days of terror but those few moments were outshone by days of such magnificence that dark clouds were obliterated by nature's beauty.

So please read and imagine . . . . 

Oh, and please, if you could make a donation to Birdlife International as you read i would be more over the Moon than I already am!

Thank you and love to you all, 

Gary xxx  

1st July, 2018

Warm again and very sunny, breezy PM

So the half way day is reached and the sun is shining. It is six in the morning and a small brass band crosses the bridge followed by a crowd of costumed men. It is Sunday and it is obviously a special day for the town of Paucartambo. I wonder what they are celebrating? Colour, noise and hundreds of small, Incans – Quetchuans marching, following and as always, laughing, smiling and sharing each moment; young and old, lovers and children.

The noise from them and the metal bridge with its noisy planks gets me up and out of bed. I go for a walk before going for breakfast in a small cafe, the same one as yesterday and watch the Russia vs Spain World Cup football match. At first it is just me and the sullen young girl waitress. She brings me a bowl for my breakfast that contains a large slice of a carrot, two sorts of potato, the yellow sort being delicious whilst the grey sort is horrible. Then there is a large slice of yuchy yucca, a huge breast of boiled chicken and what would the bowl be if there wasn't rice in it? All of this is in a watery, hot liquid with some cut up small pieces of something green. Actually overall I enjoy the meal.
The match continues. Spain get a goal via a Russian defender putting it into his own net and half way through the first half Russia get a penalty for handball, why did the Spanish player thrust his hand high above his head, and they make the score one apiece.
Half time, I head off for a shop and buy a large tin of condensed milk. The cafe doesn't have any and I want 'cafe con leche.' I get back to my seat with plenty of time before the second half. People arrive, some with a genuine desire for food, others with a desire to watch the game. A young couple from Columbia seem unable to detach themselves from each other in a corner. A Family from Cusco join me at my table. An older couple of local Peruvians come in and ask me where I am from and who I want to win the match. “Russia,” I say and explain that I think England would have a better chance against Russia than Spain if they met later on in the World Cup. My passionate support for Russia causes a lot of hilarity, especially as shot after shot rains down on the Russian goal with the Russians having no intention of trying to score themselves. They seem to be playing for penalties.

As the second half progresses I start to enjoy watching what is going on outside the large blue double doors in the street outside. There is a man who has a large upside down yellow dustbin upon which are some great looking bananas. His main source of income mind you is from coca leaves. Behind the dustbin he has a large blue bin liner full of coca leaves and he has regular customers arriving to buy a large green bag of leaves or a small pink bag of the same. One old man wants to try a few before making a purchase and chews a mouthful before parting with his cash. Nora Batty arrives, her stockings stopping at the knee. She is old, tiny and beautiful with cardigans amassed over the rounded torso. She buys a big bag and laughs whilst doing so.

Back to the game. Penalties! Russia win! The stadium erupts. I erupt! Possibly the best national team of the third millenium are knocked out of the World Cup. Vodka will be flowing tonight. I have a mug of milky hot chocolate with a thick, gelatinous skin to suck through.
How stupid is hatred? People are the same the world over. They laugh, they love, they smile and they share. Language is no barrier when such fun can be had by gesture, expression and intonation. Differences are to be celebrated, observed and enjoyed. Watching people is a constant delight.

Green Year list : 275 birds average new birds to list per day : 2.99 birds

altitude : 9,549 feet

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

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...