Sunday, 31 January 2010

Four Seasons in One Day

Firstly, 1,000 apologies for not making the deadline yesterday, but despite burning 3 cubes of 'midnight oil', at the witching hour some fool decided to disconnect the router!

and to clear up another small matter, this is the raptor, struggling with a plastic bag, that remained unidentified on 26/01/10. It is of course a juvenile Mountain Caracara, but have to say the brief look at its dad earlier was far more dramatic.

Well, I made it at what was thought to be 15-00 yesterday but in fact, and to my surprise, they are 2 hours ahead of Arequipa here, which is almost directly north, so must have something to do with daylight saving? The formalities at both sides of the border were very slick as all has changed since the last time. Now, a whole new complex, both stations (Peru & Chile) within 200 meters of each other and special lanes for coaches, buses, cars, pedestrians etc, most impressed. The only shortfall was the guy who was suppose to be meeting me with an onward ticket didn't show up, surprise, surprise but I'd opted for the collectivo so only lost a little under £2, a little 'shoplifting' will soon redress that!

With no tours to Lauca National Park on Monday, once again it was Hobson's and so I got the lady at the hotel desk to book me for today. I was outside at 07-20 with a potential pick up 10 minutes later and despite being right in the middle of town to pass the time I tried a little 'pishing'. Immediately, 6 Rufous-collared Sparrows and a Cinereous Conebill appeared from nowhere, and whether by skill or coincidence so did a Hummingbird, which had a nest on a bare branch right above my head. With no time to further that, identification will have to wait until later but once again I suspect it to be Andean Hillstar?

A dozen of us, all Chilean except for 2 Parisian lads and myself, was a comfortable number, while our guide, Benjamin Araya, and driver were among the best I've ever been with. I had taken this tour before, in 2003, and with very few exceptions it followed exactly the same route with more or less the same stops. First of these was to view the 1,000 year old 'sand dune carvings' which due to the constant weather have stood the test of time. It was also at this very spot that L first saw Peruvian Meadowlark, and almost as if to order another turned up right on time. A little further up the hill we stopped at the tiny church where all my fellow travelers headed while I looked around at a couple of dozen House Sparrows, a male Vermilion Flycatcher and an American Kestrel, although my main interest was in a caged Parrot that kept shouting Ola, Ola at the top of its voice.

Golden-billed Ground-Dove

Between here and the 3,000 meter level we stopped at a couple of view points, one of which is shown in the following 3 photographs.

The next port of call was to view Candelabra Cactus which, according to our host, only grows between 2 & 4,000 meters and is 'endemic' if you like to the few miles of this terrain either side of the Peru / Chile border. There were of course other kinds of cactus, but the one further down remained unnamed.

Candelabra Cactus

Another type of Cactus.

By now we were making noticeable altitude as part filled plastic water bottles started to compress and eardrums started to fill. Que for a stop at the local canteena where I among others enjoyed a couple of local chees rolls and a couple of cups of Coca Tea, said to help with the effects of altitude. It was also said that the tea is good for rheumatism, but I feel a little seen off as I suffered 3 cups in all but don't have any signs of rheumatism yet! Next on the agenda was an example of the earth's magnetic pull, where a large bottle of water was placed in the middle of the tarmaced road and started rolling uphill. If this was a 'trick', it was a bloody good un, but look as I may could see no 'trick of the eye', hidden strings or any sign of Paul Daniels, it really was quite amazing.

One of only 2 'lifers' today, Puna Miner

By 4,000 meters we had left the canyons, dunes and lush valleys behind, while ahead we were begining to see the Lake Lands surrounded by their volcanic sentinals. Coupled with an abundance of birdlife, plus a few mammals I have to admit to being quite overcome. A state that is all too infrequent, just sitting in total silence, at one with the natural surroundings, indescribable views and uncontrollable tears rolling down your face. The only other times I remember feeling like this before have been, Antarctica, Iguassu Falls, Mongolia's mountain Steppe, Angkor Wat and the Western Desert, Australia. Already from the moving bus I could see Flamingos and was desperately hoping for another stop.

Buena Vista

Stop we did, but out exit was blocked by an over enthusiastic Llama which was obviously more than used to 'tourists' and hell bent on getting into the bus for the tit-bits, payment for the upcoming photo call. Me, I was out and gone to the lakeside where the 'lanky pink jobs' all turned out to be Chilean but there was much better to view in the further distance. Unfortunately out of camera range, but eminently viewable where 3 Lesser Rhea, the South American and smaller cousin of the Sudan (African) Ostrich, the second of the day and one of the most exciting 'lifers' of the trip. No need to look for too much detail and size would only be relevant if 'Greater' were by its side, the larger of the 2 species of Rhea rarely, if ever, venture this far west.

Black-hooded Sierra-Finch

Climing to 4,880 meters, the highest altitude we would reach today, we came to Lago Chungara, for the present silently watched over by Vulcan Parinacota, which was teaming with birds. Most were the same as I have witnessed previously except no sign of the tens of thousands of Wilson's Phalarope, but on the credit side there was Giant Coot. This is a bird we (Mike Hughes and I) had eaten at Lake Titicaca on our last trip, with many split open, disemboweled and lying in the sun to dry, just what the doctor ordered. Today I was just happy to take a few photographs, but again no sign of either Andean or Puna (James's) Flamingos.

A 'near endemic' in front of the 6,330 meter high Parinacota Volcano

Giant Coot

Our final visit before dinner, and a diversion from the last tour, was a visit to the tiny Andean village of Do Leo, Parinacota. I doubt there have been many changes here since the small church was built in the 1790's and the friezes painted on completion. While flash photography was only allowed at the naive end there was sufficient light to capture most of the beauty of the wall paintings. At this point we were just 1Km from Bolivia, and 10K from Argentina.

We descended to the small town of Putre, inhabitants 3,000, half of which are Military Personnel stationed at the Army Base, in very slow time and surely at the cost of a set of brake linings? Being the main road from Arica to La Paz, Bolivia there was much in the way of heavy traffic, but for just once here in South America everyone had the sense to take speed easy. A table had already been prepared for our small party, withe a locally grown salad and fresh baked bread awaiting. This was followed by a choice of Chicken or Alpaca and I'm sure most regular readers will guess my option! While on the 'Clapometer' the worst day of this trip would score a resounding 'Very Good', I think today has been the best. All aspects of nature overwhelming, company as good as anyone could wish, and my personal repartee with Ben reached great heights. So much so, I have been invited to his house, in the main because we seem to be like minded people, but feel there is a small side issue. Ben tells me his 14 year old son is suffering an acute bout of Beatlemania and would welcome a visit by anyone from England, even though I have only been to Bootle and Liverpool once each. However, the stakes were raised even further when I told him of my acquaintance with my mate Robbie McIntosh, who played guitar on the McCartney's 'Wings' world tour. Unfortunately, with his work commitments and the fact I cannot stay here for ever it may not happen, but what a gesture?

As if to 'rubber stamp' the day, I walked out of the restaurant to find Spot-winged Pigeon on the roof opposite, and

Bare-eyed Ground-Dove just a little further up the road.

Don't know who that 'stone-faced' geezer in the middle is, but he's got a good looking lad either side of him!

So, What's all this about Crowded House? Well, when we left the arid coastal strip this morning the sun was already shining, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temperature gauge in the city square showed 22C. As we passed through the lush valley at lower elevation, the temprature dropped slightly, but all around us the maize, alfalfa, sugarcane etc was just sprouting in the fields and there was even a short April shower. Sipping coca tea a hundred meters os so higher, the few deciduous trees there were shedding leafs, maize had been harvested with the yellowing storks remaining in the ground. As will be noted from the picture of that beautiful little church, the sky was already looking angry and a few moments later there was a dramatic fall of hail, followed by some light snow. All of this was a phenomena I had not experienced before. In short - '4 Seasons in One Day' - long live the Finn Brothers.

and if you needed a Cherry on a metaphoric cake that would slake Billy Bunter's greed, try these 3 little beauties for size!

Andean Gulls close up!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Arequipa, Tacna then Arica, Chile

It's onward today, hopefully over the border into Chile. The 07-00 'luxury' coach for the 6 hours journey to Tacna, which is the Peruvian stepping stone into Chile, and again hopefully to Arica, via 'collectivo' taxi before the end of the day. As usual no plans made, but I may venture into the Lauca National Park before continuing south, so maybe a couple of days in Arica.

Just to finish off this leg of the journey here are a few photographs from in, and around, Arequipa.

My 'home' for 3 nights, a little better than I've been used to of late.

The east tower of City Hall.

The Library and Colonnade.

City Hall & Square.

Bet you remember this place Shaver, I can report the Alpaca just as good.

Just an Arch really.

Market Day on the outskirts, just a load of Bullocks.

Small Church, also on the city outskirts.

The Guardian of Arequipa, I've forgotten the name but reminds me a bit of Ben Nevis. You know what they say in Fort William, "if you can see the top of Ben Nevis it's sure to rain, if you can't it IS raining".

Yesterday's offering follows this Post

List Update (still a couple in abeyance)


Trip Total - 825
'World Lifers' - 542
'Endemics' - 57

Friday, 29 January 2010

Everyone's Allowed to Throw One Wobbler Per Trip?

Maybe it was I didn't sleep too well last night? Or maybe it was the driver taking the piss today and bringing both his children? Or maybe I was left unsure exactly where we were going? Whatever, I felt a little short tempered this morning, to say the least! I had my lap-top tuned into Google Earth, awaiting the arrival of the transport to make sure I wasn't paying good money to go back to the coast. His wife had mentioned the Pacific before we parted company yesterday and although I had stressed 'the mountains' don't you just know how these things can get lost in interpretation? Lagunilla is on the coast, but the misunderstanding came about because we were going to Lagunilla Laguna which is where I needed to go. That sorted we got into the mini-bus (yes, the comfort of a mini-bus today) where his daughter was running up and down the bus, and he started to do his paperwork, I was having none of it. I gestured that the children must be quiet and issued a terse 'vamoose' and we got underway. It was a 3 hour ride to our destination, fortunately on well made roads and on the way we picked up 2 ladies armed with their home made cakes, roasted maize etc to sell to stopped cars at the Toll Booth. It felt very good giving the locals a bit of help and as we had been travelling for over 2 hours now we made a stop at the next village. All I was after was a bottle of orange juice, but was distracted by bird song from a nearby house. The locals looked on in amasement as I found, studied, then photographed Bright-rumped Yellowfinch which I guess they see every day of their lives.

Bright-rumped Yellowfinch

Further down the road the breaks were slammed on, and in what had become common practice, Fernando shouted Mister and pointed to the opposite side of the road. There perched on the soil bank were 3 Andean Flickers, a bird I have encountered before but none the less value for that. My great concern in these circumstances is that I'll find my way under a lorry, due to the combination of sheer delight and the fact they are all driving on the wrong side of the road. Needless to say I survived. Further up the road the vegetation started to get a little more lush, and in a flooded field we found some more Andean Lapwing, which were far to distant to photograph. The image below is from yesterday.

Andea Flicker

Too good a bird for just one shot

Andean Lapwing

We reached the first of 3 lagoons right on the 3 hour mark and a quick scan was enough to determine there were no Andean Gulls close at hand, so Fernando suggested we went to the most distant and work our way back. This was by far the largest of the 3, and when the kids were let out the little girl went a bit ballistic, to her this must have been 'Nuts in May', but not good for birding. I had a quiet word, and have to say under different circumstances would agree that the girl was very well behaved, but I was on a mission so headed off in my own direction leaving them to make as much noise as they liked. I had already seen a couple of Gulls in the distance, and up here they could only be one flavour, so was feeling a little relieved at the prospect of getting some shots. There was a single adult on a sand bar one side of the bridge, and about 8 adults and juvs on the other, but none any nearer than those we encountered yesterday. The one big plus was that they were static, so got some shots. Obligingly a couple of adults also flew in to bathe and as the pictures below show I got them too.

Andean Gull

a few of the best photos

not brilliant, but better than what I had in the archive previously


So fortunately not returning

empty handed.

Arriving at the last of the lagoons, I was getting a little 'traffic weary' as I said this was on a main arterial road and every vehicle that passes sounds their horn, and if they see you camera poised they sound it even more. So once again setting off across the grassland with the kids in tow, I came across 2 passerines which I am sure I'd never seen before, and taking up stalking mode made after them. I had gotten rid of the youngsters, but then the 'final straw' as far as I was concerned. With the whole of Peru, 3 gigantic lakes, enough Flamingos for 2 each the Americans arrived. In what I consider typical British fashion there seems to be this compulsion of crowding your fellow man, and this was what they were about to do. Eight women in full cry decanted from there bus and headed my way. I turned and asked them if they could be quiet as I was trying to see some small birds in a ditch but they were having none of it. That's when I lost the plot, in language I have never used on the 'messdeck' let alone to a woman I let them have it, and for my trouble branded a Grumpy Old Man (wrong on all 3 counts there girls). By now they had flushed the Flamingos and all the Wildfowl, and what became of my 2 little dickie birds is anybodies guess, but that's when they got it 'both barrels', and I had had enough, time to return to Arequipa. Why I had to explain the situation to Fernando I have no idea, but firing a final salvo of obscenities out of the window we started for home. Raptors have been thin on the ground while at elevation, but on the way back mine host spotted no few than 3 species. Only good fortune brings the pair of American Kestrels to these pages as I just had enough time to loose off a couple of shots before being spotted by 2 lorries which let off their shots and flushed the birds. The second was the only 'lifer' of the day as a superb , adult Mountain Caracara flew just a matter of yards in fromt of us, being in no particular hurry to fly away. Finally, I have to do a little work on the third to identify it, fortunately with the aid of photographs of it tearing a plastic bag to pieces.

American Kestrel obviously on traffic duty.

Again, moments before the hooters went off.

And finally another photograph from yesterday - Plumbeous Sierra-Finch

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Up to the Alto Plano - Alpaca Country

I now believe you can judge the inhospitable nature of terrain from Google Earth images, it looked bad from the satellite, and in real life a darn sight worse, but what a place for a days 'birding'. Haven't even started sorting my own images out today so guess there will be some delay with this post, but OK for those in UK.

Unusual for this part of the world, the driver was 15 minutes early this morning and complete with his entire family. My first thought was that he intended taking them all along, so got myself fired up for 'their' bad news as we all greeted one another. Not so, it was simply that they all loved Dad so much that they wanted to wish him a good day. The daughter, who was probably only 3, burst into tears as we reved up to go, but that may have had something to do with the son (about 12) being allowed to come with us. I had no problem at all with that as, if I can, It's great to encourage the young into birding. However, the early start had a sting as firstly we stopped for bottled water, then it was petrol, then a newspaper and finally a few sticky buns.

The distance to Reserva National Salinas Aguada Blancas was said to be 22Km, but my guess was nearer 60. OK, after the first 10 'clicks' we hit the desperately bumpy dirt track, which slowed us no end, but still it took us 3 hours to get there. We were in Toyota's version of a Land Rover, whatever it may be called, and it was soon apparent both the height/bulk of the vehicle and the 4 wheel drive, would be the absolute minimum requirement to travel this road. Long before we got anywhere near the Reserve the birds started falling to us, and even though there are still quite a number to confirm identification, Mourning & Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, Golden-billed Saltator, Bare-eyed Dove and what must have been Planalto Hermit entered the log. There is still a little doubt about the latter, being a good way out of the range given in the book, so I'll have to give that another look. The foothills of the Andes really are an exceptional place to be as, while the vegetation is sparse there are many interesting plants, a few mammals and beautiful views of snow capped volcanoes.

Both driver and his son are named Fernando, and long before we reached the sign for the Reserve I was realising what a bonus Junior was. You cannot beat 'young eyes' and this lad, like most of his age, was already picking them off easily and seemed to be enjoying the new venture. Dad also had a keen eye and was first to pick up a pair of Andean Geese and a few Ducks , which appear to be well grown juveniles, I still have to get a grip of. Next he picked up a pair of Vicuna, which I seem to remember are the smallest of the Llama family, as we neared the Salt Lake. There we found just a few Flamingos, all distant but recognisable with half black bills, darker legs and pink knee joints as Chilean, no James' (Puna) unfortunately but at least they are on the World List. By now Junior was following me on my forays and while I did pick up both Pied & Andean Lapwing, it was he who spotted the first Andean Gull. I can tell you my heart was in my mouth as we watched it fly in the direction we had just come, towards the village. We made an effort to catch up with it, but 'effort' is the operative word in that sentence. Walking at sea level I can hold my own with most (perhaps Bomber is the exception there) but this is altitude and my lungs were fighting for the O2. We made it to withing 200 meters of the road when the darn thing took off and headed back from whence we had just arrived. I loosed off a few shots in manual focus, but there not the sort of images I want. Trouble is, with the Gulls in particular, I've been so lucky I think they are all going to be equally obliging. However, I have a plan B up my sleeve.

I had intended taking a shot of the road we had covered, from altitude, but as we started for home the cloud lowered and soon the valleys were filled with mist. Winding isn't the word, and it looked like common practice to cut the journey short by diverting down what are, or were, melt water channels. Can't say as I liked the idea of driving over these loose boulders and sand, and I'm sure some remember how it was put in The Hobbit - Shortcuts make for long delays Gandalf. Yes Mr Baggins, and Inn's make for longer ones. Anyway we negotiated 4 or 5 of these and were none the worse for the experience and in addition going this way I was able to see the terraced cultivation and the ingenious irrigation system. Not to mention the birds. There were hundreds of them, mostly flighty, but a key one that didn't escape us was Mountain Parakeet, a species I thought I had earlier in the trip, but properly identified for me by The Psittacine Kid himself, Dave Penney. You'll have to take my word for this one matey, too far south for Pacific, but unfortunately no photie. At the outskirts of Arequipa we picked Mum and Sister up and the youngster was full of it, despite me not having a clue what was said. Hiring 4x4 with drive isn't cheap but I have had such a fantastic day, seen so much stuff and in fine company, I've decided to go to a place Fernando Senior has suggested, where he has said there are Andean Gulls, so let's hope for an improvement in the photos tomorrow.

The Alpaca was delicious!

Mourning Sierra-Finch

Band-tailed Sierra-Finch

Golden-billed Saltator

Bar-winged Cinclodes

Probably the best capture of the day. A reaction shot as I saw this Greater Yellowfinch take off, another 'lifer' and didn't see another.

A couple of Andean Geese

and another, but honestly I didn't flush it!

Two views of

the Salt Laguna

A part of the village

and some of the Locals

We only saw 3 Andean Gulls all day,

and all were as flighty, and distant as each other.

Me, and the 2 Fernando's above the Salt Lake.

White-throated Sierra-Finch

Vicuna a truely wild animal out here.

and just to show there are no hard feelings, here's a bit of one of his cousins, the Alpaca, that I had for dinner this evening!