Monday, 30 November 2009

Up On the High Lonesome

I thought it might be a good idea to introduce you to my new found traveling companions and fellow 'birders', so this is first of a few.

This is Gina Nichol and Steve Bird, 'in life partners' and the management team behind Birdfinders base in Devon (01752-342001). Gina, from the US of A is a former school teacher and in short my description of her would be "if you think girls can't 'bird', you ain't seen nothing yet. The best way to describe 'his nibs' is an out and out 'birder', and I have NEVER sen anyone faster on a 'scope!

With best laid plans for seeking higher altitude today and really no rush to catch early birds, we had arranged breakfast for 07-00. That was before we ran into the stumbling block of the Colombian Coffee Perkers, who were in the galley on time but refused us entry to the restaurant or to even get the kettle on. This was not a problem in itself, but coupled with the snags on the mini-bus yesterday there were some frustrations. However, once it was ready the breakfast was one of the best we had experienced, and as usual the coffe was excellent.

By 08-30 we were heading for the Los Nevados National Park perch on the ridge that separates the East and West Andes slopes. Here the habitat is unspoiled Paramo, a combination of tall grasses, bushes and a liberal sprinkling of cactus like plants which I would describe as pineapple bush atop a palm trunk. The birds were never going to be thick on the ground in this cold evvironment at 4,100 meters, but what we hoped to see were of best quality. at about half altitude we stopped at a small wayside hut serving cinnamon tea, which was gratis, and cocca tea mixed with it for 1000 pesos, about 30 pence. The cinnamon was delicious on its own, but later I tried some of the later particularly as it might help at our destination height.

Three wheels on my wagon, and I'm still rollin' along!

Across the way was a small lake, not unlike the tarns in Scotland, where we found Andean Teal and a species not even considered here, Andean Lapwing both 'lifers' for me. A good start you might think, but only until we got back to the bus which for the third time was seen to have a flat tyre. In true backwoods style it was all hands in, many of the passing locals stopping to lend a hand. This 'reap what you sow' attitude used to be the norm in UK, but unfortunately days long gone. In record time we were on our way again, and made the top at about 10-30.

The Lake (Andean Duck center left)

Grass Wren

We started on a high with Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Tawny Antpitta, Grass Wren, Andean Tit-Spinetail and Stout-billed Cinclodes entering the log in quick succession, after which there was a lull making time for coffee. Another little shed was just the place for this, receiving there the same warm welcome we had enjoyed at every stop. We continued our downhill walk until we happened on a few Hummers including the much sort after Bearded Helmetcrest, Black-thighed & Golden-breasted Pufflegs and a jammy sighting of Rainbow-bearded Thornbird for just 3 of us. By now the day was warming but there was a threat of rain, which thankfully never materialised, so we stopped on a crest to enjoy a light lunch.

Los Nevados National Park

By now the coca tea seemed to be setting in and I'm sure it wasn't my imagination that I thought I was heading for Woodstock. Looking down over these beautiful cloud crowned hills and the flora below I was heading for a serious Rock & Roll moment. I let the others carry on, knowing full well I could catch up later, and totally forgot the birds. A few thought ran through my head, one of them being the tragic secret this vista before me held. At the bottom of this deep ravine was an area of bare earth where in November 1985 the melt waters from the snow covered peaks decended at such great force as to cause massive land slip.

The scar left by the landslip.

The result of this build up of water, rocks and mud caused the end of the village of Armero, snuggled at the bottom of the valley, resulting in the death of 20,000 of its 25,000 inhabitants. In turn this led to thinking of the Argent classic God Gave Rock & Roll To You which I began singing at the top of my voice. The words really struck home as I realised these moments in time manifest themselves all too infrequently, and how damned lucky I am. I make no apologies for sharing part of the lyric with the readership - while my thanks go to the might Russ Ballard and Rod Argent.

Don't tread on snails, don't climb in trees
Love Cliff Richard but 'Please Don't Tease'
Cus' it's never too late to change your mind
And if you think young, you'll never grow old
The music gets inside your soul
How good it feels to be alive
Cus' God gave Rock 'n' Roll to you
She gave Rock 'n' Roll to you
She put it in the soul of everyone

It was my own idea to put SHE, my God is ME which led me think that there's no God's in Rock 'n' Roll, it's PURE evolution.

I soon caught the others up, the weather stayed fine, despite overcast sky, and the list below is indicative of the birds we saw during the rest of another great day. However, there was to be one final blow before we settled down for the night, can you believe it, the restaurant had run out of beer! That was que enough for me to burst into song again.

Well its a lonesome away from your kindred and all
By the campfire at night where the wild Dingo's call
But there's nothing more lonesome or more sad and drear
Than to stand in the bar of a pub with NO BEER!

Black-backed Bush Tanager

Golden-fronted Redstart (Whitestart)

Andean Tit-Spinetail

While not the best of shots, this image is thought to be unique as possibly the first to show both Pale-naped Brush-Finch and Golden-crowned Tanager in the same photograph.

Pale-naped Brush-Finch

Golden-crowned Tanager

Trip List Additions


Finally, it may be interesting to know that the literal interpretation from the Spanish into English of the word Tapaculo is 'Cover Your Arse'.