Indeed, welcome to the wonderful world of Cusco and Machupicchu which is one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the world and also a great locations for watching birds in the south of Peru. In this blog, I will share reports of the birding here, descriptions of places and some information that may be useful to the visiting birder, photographs and naturalists.
The following blog covers a birding trip to the fantastic surroundings of cusco and Machupicchu, our basic itinerary was 3 days and we visited a number of sites , Huacarpay Lagoon, Abra Malaga , Machupicchu. I have been fortunate to be teamed with Cristian Junneman a Chilean Birder and explorer who recently visited Peru.
This is a short trip through high mountain valleys carved from powerful rushing rivers, a trip into high Andean grasslands and, most of all, a trip through history. It is, by all accounts, a region of colorful markets and of remarkable people dressed in distinctive but regionally varied clothing. Women carry babies, wrapped in bright blankets, on their backs. Men with broad sandal-clad feet, bent under heavy loads, move with a quick shuffling gait, all amidst majestic ruins, ancient terraces, rimmed valleys, and beside puna lakes shimmering beneath blueskies. Our route took us through cold valleys where dawn comes slowly to restless hummingbirds fleeing retreating shadows in endless pursuit of flowers.
The combination of birds, scenery, and history is incomparable on this trip. The ruins, as always, remain impressionable, mysterious, and evocative—the more so perhaps because so little is known of their origins, and because of the breathtaking location. The ruins of Machu Picchu are indeed one of the world’s great travel destinations, but they are, in themselves, just a brief chapter in a long and fascinating history of human occupation of the Urubamba river valley.
We picked up them from their hotels early and we drove to the south, Our morning birding walk took place at the Huacarpay Lake.
Day 1 Huacarpay
There is a collection of interesting species found in the area including most of the aquatic birds; Andean Coots, Common Moorhens, puna teals , yellow billed pintail, masked duck, cinnamon teal, among others, this lake is surrounded by reeds where some birds appears easy to see such as; yellow winged black bird, wren-like rushbird and the colorfull Many colored rushtyrant.
The wild Tobacco shrubs growing around the lake are very effective to attract the hummingbirds in the area as Giant Hummingbird and Sparkling Violetear , it was fascinating to watch our first endemic a couple of bearded mountaineers just at the edge of the road and having great chances for pictures.
A good-sized Black Chested Buzzard Eagle flew by while we were observing some eared doves and few minutes later the American Kestrel flew across, as the temperature was raising up we took a break going the nearby town called Lucre, this was just an unproductive visit, my favorite ice-cream shop have been closed for a while.
The second greatest avian highlight after the Hummingbird was our successful endemic rusty fronted canastero, some individuals were active by the cactus forest around Urpicancha, the Spanish names it sounded more familiar to Cristian, as few birds names can be used in both countries, obviously I have to remember most of the common names, as I could say; pitajos, churretes,bandurias, taguas, etc…. afterwards we did a walk around the other site of the lake looking for more birds in the mashes; black necked stilt, greater and lesser yellow legs, cormorans and andean gulls and looking for some “Colegiales” as the Andean negrito are locally called in Chile, not seen it any that morning, then we turned around to Cusco for lunch an giving end for our day trip.
Day 2 Abra Malaga;
Earlier that day, we awoke before dawn and driving along the sacred valley once at Ollantaytambo the road goes climbing the mountain to traipse the summit (Abra Malaga)
Observing the bird life at high elevations commonly seen; tyrants, sierra finches, Cinclodes and raptors, a menagerie of high elevation specialists such as Andean Gulls and yellow billed teal on the pound. The sunrise was impressive at that high, which made for good photo subjects of the glaciers and the landscapes below it.
Initially the weather was warming up, a sunny day!!, I said, obviously was still early to forecast the weather, anyway that was something unusual to me, as we were passing across theAbra Malaga, (4´350 masl) a blanket of clouds suddenly were covering our sights and having our first stop, where we got evidences of the Mountain Wren and sounds of the trilling tapaculo and our first glimpses of the Tyrian metaltail and rufous breasted chat-tyrant.
erhaps it was a good birding spot once the thick clouds came across, as we have been lucky to find a mixed species flock in the understory of bamboo forest, at the beginning a couple of Unstreaked tit-tyrant were perching on the bamboo stalks and followed by Marcapata Spinetails moving in the forest interior, we made some whistling which finally produced great result bringing out an Inca Wren, the bird attention was soon peaked and began loudly crying back, it´s still provided the best bird encounter of the morning.
I had a chance to be birding at this site before but I had not been lucky to spot at least 3 endemics species in such small patch, Other highlights included the Rufous Antpitta, the bird was really close to the road and camouflaged in a isolated bush and we were looking for the best angle to see it, afterwards we accomplished having seen the bird successfully without much effort and no using any device to call it, after this we were so happy, then we took a break having taste a local coffee while the antpittas and trilling Tapaculo were still calling nearby.
We were also in glorious bloom in the cloudforests up there, were very satisfied observing a mixed species flock despite the lower and abundant mist, some spotted birds were ; spectacled redstar, pearled treerunner, Scarlet bellied, blue capped, fawn breasted tanagers, drab, black capped and superciliared Heminpigus, citrine warblers, blue backed conebill, amethyst throated sunangel, violet throated starfrontlet, sapphire vented puffleg, and much more birds flying and accompanying the flocks by the upper level of the forest, making it kind of hard to spot accurately due the dense clouds, we moved lower near to San Luis, then turning around to the summit. Unluckily we could not accomplish to visit the polilepys forest, Cristian got a sore leg and we were unable to visit that section of the Mountains, which required at least a couple of hours walking little bit up and downhill’s, otherwise we could be fortunate to see the polilepys specialist and endemics there, surely next time.
While driving back to Ollamtaytambo we spotted red crested cotinga, perched on the tree along the road, we walked continuously to farmers plots where we have been on time to spot missing birds to our list; Chestnut breasted mountain finch, Peruvian sierra finch, yellow billed tit-tyrant, shining sunbeam, Andean flickers, band tailed seedeater, black throated flower piercer.
Continuously we stopped at “ Las Peñas” a number of others birds had also reported at this site (recently Orange breasted Falcon) our main target bird here was White tufted sunbeam, this was another active and vibrant area, having seen then the Great Sapphirewing, a small flock of Andean parakeets, rust and yellow tanager, plain colored seedeater, mustached flower piercer, as far as variety and abundance of birds was good, this was the last stop for the day trip and giving us excellent views and arriving to Ollantaytambo on time to board our train to Machupicchu.
Day 3 Machupicchu;
Today the sky looks clouded, just leaving Aguas Calientes at dawn we heard instantly tropical kingbird and few dusky green oropendolas flying across the village, We decided to walk along the railway line in Aguas Calientes . The walk started with some red eyed and brown capped Vireos and the endemic Green and White Hummingbirds as we were approaching to the tunnels we turned around looking for a path to connect to the main road and having seen our first Torrent duck just below the road , we have been walking above the brave and fast flowing “Urubamba river”, on the massive pieces of rock some Torrent Tyrannulets and Black phoebes were jumping, the temperature was comfortable and ideal to walk a few kilometers without feeling lethargic instead walking that early we could avoid much crowds and the bird activity was going way better seen; roadside hawk perched, ocellated piculet, streaked xenops, thick billed euphonia, dull colored grassquit, russet crowned warbler, blue and grey tanager among others.
As we looked to the other side of the river, we were able to see something moving on the canopy trees, we quickly adjusted the spotting scope confirming a spectacled bear with its cub feeding on fruits, unfortunately some dogs were barking from the other side of the river, for instance thebears were not disturbed so far, as were spotting them considerable time, we saw a lot of tourist going towards the ruins but no one could realize of the presence of the bears until we pointed out to a couple of tourist, that was amazing they said !! It must be one of our lucky days because, we focused on it and keeps trigger our camera shutter to our hearts contents as long the bear family pose for us.
Machupicchu is lush and relatively preserved sanctuary is also the stronghold for this kind of mammals which is highly protected and endangered species, I usually known from very few reported sites in Peru.
Afterward we were glad to be exploring a private garden where we have seen more hummingbirds, Chestnut breasted coronet, sparkling violetear, collared inca, some tanagers; silver backed, golden naped, blue necked, summer, golden olive woodpecker. This was an excellent mornings birding in any context.
By noon we packed up and we went to visit the archeologycal ruins of Machupicchu and returning to Cusco at Night.