Wednesday 17 April 2019

Bking Birder IV - Peru 2018 Part 2 - May

Article written detailing my Peruvian Biking Birder adventure of 2018 - part 2 May

Birding in Peru, could it be simpler? Well since the last time you heard from me, my choice of bicycle and packraft, kayak to you and me, as my means of travel, have made life anything but easy. I may choose to Go Green but it has definitely made the challenge harder and maybe more worthwhile!

May has been all downhill, literally with the daily elevation figures showing that descent outdid the ascent figures, unlike in April and the scenery has been spectacular and in many places unexpected. One incident I didn't report to you, that occurred in April, may be of note for any na├»ve traveller. One fine morning I was leaving the small, high altitude village of Huanza by pushing the laden bike along a small rocky track. 

I was hoping that this track, just about wide enough to allow passage for a donkey or a Biking Birder with bike, would lead the road deep down in the claustrophobic valley and save a round trip of a few kilometres. The fact that it eventually did may not make up for the fact that I was lucky to escape with my life because of a huge angry mound of beefsteak that attacked, luckily, the bike. A bull, an immense brown and horned bull, came out of close by dense bushes and hit the front of the bike, knocking both me and the bike backwards a couple of metres! The bike landed on me and as the bull continued his attack I was trapped underneath it. The next few seconds may be a blur but the fact that I survived was due to two things. The bull was fixated on destroying the back panniers, one of which got stuck on one of his horns. The other thing that saved me was the arrival of two Peruvian men, who could see the commotion and came running. Their distraction of the beast allowed me to crawl from beneath the bike and make my escape by jumping into the bushes. An hour later I was back to pushing the bike uphill on the dirt track, rocky road, watching birds once more and trying to forget that the bull's head had been inches from mine. My left arm, which had been hit by one of the bulls horns, was badly bruised and extremely sore. My coat had a huge rip from his other horn but at least I was back birding. Expect the unexpected!

May started with a long day of cycling and pushing as I made my way away from the wonderful lagoon at Marcapomacocha. Shallow lagoons with Chilean Flamingos and various species of duck distracted the birder in me and one small pool with a dozen or some of the former also had a surprise when a Solitary Sandpiper appeared within the poolside vegetation. Later trying to photograph flushed Puna Snipe proved a challenge beyond me, as did photographing a flying Ornate Tinamou. Two Aplomado Falcons proved easier as they perched on top of telegraph poles and eyed me as I passed. Camping that night was a cold experience, as was shaking off the ice from the tent in the morning!

Up and over once more, the landscape, with views of snow-capped mountains all around me, spread out before me with grasslands dominated by three Llama species. The two domestic varieties, Llama and Alpaca were in herds sometimes approaching a hundred in number. The size of Llamas, such large long-necked camel like creatures and the combination of colours with whites, browns and creams, made passing them an exciting pleasure. The smaller Alpacas were usually white. The third species were wild and on my approach an alert male would emit a strange warbling alarm call, Vicunias. Delicate, warm buff-coloured and small, Vicunias would be in groups of half a dozen or so and would watch me carefully as I would cycle past. The two days of cycling through their land gave me so many opportunities to stop and appreciate the beauty of these wonderful sensitive animals.

A road, a busy tarmac road appeared like a heaven sent apparition in front of me one day. After weeks of dirt track, after weeks of uncyclable rocky pathways a tarmac road and even better, it went downhill. Twenty two miles of fast cycling descent, through limestone gorges that in Europe would be a major tourist attraction but here was just another route, led me to the first city, La Oroya. The steep sided, stunningly beautiful scenery led me south to Juanza and and then Huancayo, large cities, noisy, dusty and busy.
The contrast of the next week's cycling was marked. White-collared Swifts, large impressive fast flying swifts, maybe my favourite family of birds, had made their way onto the Green Year list, bird number 185 but additions to that list would be irregular and few. I knew they would be. I had entered a phase where distance travelled was important. I needed to get across to the next area where large numbers of birds were to be seen. I need to get to Machu Picchu, another four hundred miles away.
South of Huancayo the road eventually followed a beautiful river, the Mortago River. The road had a thin veneer of tarmac that was potholed and in places the tarmac had completely disappeared, leaving a very dusty, bumpy rocky surface to negotiate. There were new birds to see and hear. Streaked Tit-spinetails, White-bellied Hummingbirds, White-winged Black Tyrants, Black-backed Grosbeaks and Blue-capped Tanagers made notebook writing expansive with such names but at least they expanded the Green Year list. The further south the road went the drier and dustier it became. Thunderstorms on one afternoon left their mark as I negotiated muddy slurries where flash floods had brought down masses of material covering the road. One coach driver had made the mistake of trying to drive over a large area of such stuff and paid with his life. I sadly passed the upside down wreck of the coach the day after the accident. It had fallen hundreds of feet to the river below and lay smashed in the turbulent water.
The valley in places had alluvial plains where avocado orchards dominated and here flocks of parakeets of two species were seen but more often heard. Scarlet-faced and Mitred Parakeets were listed and photographed. Flocks of up to fifty birds noisily flew overhead but trying to see them when they were feeding or preening in the thick foliage of tall trees was difficult. Passerines became fewer with each passing miles and so two Red-eyed Vireos and a single Bran-coloured Flycatcher were appreciated.

Thunderstorms one day meant that the road was difficult to pass along as numerous mudslides covered it. One mudslide claimed the life of a coach driver. I came across the wreck of a new looking yellow coach, upside down in a large, white water river. The day before, during the storms, the driver had come across a large mudslide and decided to try and get across it. He had told the passengers to get off and attempted to do so with fatal consequences.
At Mayocc the long, deep river valley stretched out into a cowboy film landscape of tall cacti covered hills and mudstone erosions that made the area look like a small version of Monument Valley! Birds became very sparse. Occasional American kestrels on telegraph wires, small compared to our own Common Kestrel, behaved similarly in watching for a meal. White-winged Black Tyrants used tall cacti plants for their lookout perches. A Cinereous Harrier used a cliff face.
The large and beautiful city of Ayacucho was visited over a festival weekend. Festivities were enjoyed and the small problem of buying a pair of new boots was sorted. My last boots had worn away so badly because of the nature of the Andean roads that the soles had worn right off and I had had to put a thick wadding of cardboard inside each boot to protect my feet! Getting boots of a large enough size proved a problem. Peruvians are small people and size 11 boots are not available. A hot shower, something unavailable in the village hostels, meant that a promise to my mother back in Worcestershire, to shave my growing beard was kept.

The shoes caused major problems over the next few days with blisters and a bad cut on the toe joint of my right foot. Antiseptic creams and plasters, cotton wool wadding and cutting away sections of the front of the shoe, just as fast bowling cricketers do, allowed me to walk a little. In Chincheros and Uripa I could only walk a few miles each day as my feet were so painful. That aside though I did manage to see some new birds for the Green Birding Year list. A slow walk up a very steep hillside, past a large white statue of the Virgin Mary and child, found me sitting on a log staring down into a beautiful valley covered with natural tree and bush species, unlike the usual forest of Australian Eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is everywhere in The Andes due to it being such good firewood! As I sat there a number of new birds passed through. Two hummingbird species came close; Black-tailed Trainbearer and Green Violetear. Red-crested Cotinga was new, as was the fabulous looking Crimson-mantled Woodpecker. Walking slowly down a flock came through the canopy containing a group of Rust & Yellow Tanagers.
Camping a few days later I sat against a rock admiring the spectacular views of snow-capped mountains and having Rufous-webbed Bush Tyrant and Rusty-fronted Canestero come close. The best though was the constant stream of raptors such as Variable Hawk and Black-breasted Buzzard Eagle go over. The final highlight of the camp was the pair of Aplomado Falcons that landed nearby and mated as the female perched on the top most branch of a nearby fir tree. The ice on the tent in the morning was a small price to pay for such avian delights.
May finished with a bird total of 204, only 24 birds this month but the priority was getting the distance towards Amazonia covered and the 598 miles cycled was crucial. Peak after peak was followed by plummeting cycle runs and the overall elevation chart for the month shows that I haven't been below six thousand feet all month and have been over thirteen thousand feet on five occasions and over fourteen thousand feet once. The average altitude at the end of each day of the month was eleven thousand, four hundred and twenty feet! A tough month of cycling, pushing and walking.
Four months to go, my route has taken along the Andean range so that I now approach the famous Machu Picchu and from there it will take me down the equally famous in birding terms, Manu Road. More adventures to come, more landscapes to take my breath away and best of all, more incredible birds to see.

If you would like to follow my cycling and birding adventures then please take a look at my blog at :-

If you would like to see the photographs of each day then please go to my Facebook page :

I would like to say that I am asking for donations to Birdlife International and I really would appreciate your support. Donations keeps my legs peddling and my arms lifting my Opticron binoculars. Links to Justgiving page can be found on the blog.
I am also supporting a wonderful project that enables indigenous children to get an education and therefore fight the destruction in their area. It is called Chaskwasi-Manu I would really appreciate it if you could donate something to help them. Once more the link can be found on my blog.

Thanks everybody. Isn't it wonderful where Brummie birders get to . . . and how?

Gary, The Biking Birder

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