Sunday, March 18, 2018

South America, Day 7 - 23 Feb 2018

23 Feb 2018 – Salaverry, Peru

We awoke at 6 am to dense fog. We would not be pulling into port until 11 am this morning, so I was hoping that the rising sun would burn off the fog. However, as we would soon learn, the skies would only clear while we were in port, and the fog would be waiting for us back out over the ocean and along the distant shoreline.

As we approached the Port of Salaverry, the first of several tugboats appeared from the fog. Soon, a few gulls appeared in the distance. They would later be identified as Gray Gulls with their dark bodies and whitish heads. A few Inca Terns also made an appearance, but not in the numbers I’d seen a few days ago in southern Peru. I’m assuming that their numbers are tailing off as we head farther north.

As we pulled into port I notices gulls starting to congregate at the back of the ship as the engines churned the waters while bringing the ship to a stop. So, I ran to the back of the ship and enjoyed shooting hundreds of gulls for the next hour or so. Among them were Inca Terns, hundreds of Franklin’s Gulls, more Belcher’s Gulls, Sandwich Terns, Royal Terns and Elegant Terns.

Royal Tern
Differentiating the Royal and Elegant Terns was difficult, since both appear very similar. The Royal Terns have bright red bills, and four outer primaries black, while the Elegant Terns have a slightly thinner orange-red bill that turns more yellow toward the tip. They have 2 black primaries.

Elegant Tern

The first Gray-hooded Gulls made appearances, as well. The adults are stunning with their white bodies, red bills and legs, pale gray hoods and yellow eyes. A few adults were in this alternate plumage while the majority were still in their basic plumage; they have lighter, orange legs and bills and their heads are white with the exception of a hint of gray hood forming on the back of the head.

What really makes them pop are their wings. The black-tipped wings have a white slash of white feathering that is bordered by black feathering. Adults have a few white windows at the tips of the primaries, while juveniles have all-dark primaries. They are reminiscent of the wings of Sabine’s Gulls, which are rare in these parts.

I was able to photograph several Common Terns in basic plumage. Around here they’re difficult to identify or differentiate from Arctic Terns, but adult Commons have blackish (hint of red) legs while Arctic Terns have red legs. Both have black bills and the black feathering along the back of the head.

I would later see some Yellow-billed Terns, but they would not come in close enough to photograph. Their bills are much thinner than the Large-billed Terns that have heavy yellow bills.

As I scoped the shoreline I counted hundreds of roosting Franklin’s Gulls and a few Gray Gulls among them.  Closer to the rocks were a half-dozen Sanderlings, and numerous red crabs on the rocks.  On the nearer piers were hundreds more Franklin’s Gulls, but with scattered Belcher’s Gulls and a few Black Skimmers.

Peruvian Pelicans were numerous, with most birds roosting out on the abandoned fishing boats. Sandwich and Common Terns also tended to roost on the fishing boats, as well. Fly-by Neotropic Cormorants rounded out the birds in port.

When we pulled out of port at 4:30 pm we were greeted by hundreds of Peruvian Boobies, more terns, and a few scattered pelagic seabirds, but they were too far to scope.  Hopefully, tomorrow.

We are at sea all day.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

South America, Day 6 - 22 Feb 2018

22 Feb 2018 - Cusco, Peru

Another rainy night brouht overcast skies and cool temps for our flight to Lima. At 4 am I woke to the sounds of Chiguanco Thrushes outside our window in the garden ruins. They were soon followed by the sweet calls of Rufous-collared Sparrows. Just before leaving for the airport I spotted a Peruvian Seed-finch feeding on the lawn. It reminds one of an Oregon Junco that has an orange back and breast, and pink feet. Its call is towhee-like with a “chureee!” 

22 Feb 2018 – Callao, Peru

We returned to the ship late in the afternoon and had time for a much-deserved Guinness before leaving the port. Robin and I were exhausted, but I wanted to do a quick survey of the birds in port before we left.

There was not much to the bird life that was possible to survey. We were inside a pair of breakwalls and sharing the port with several large cargo ships. The late afternoon sun produced a haze that made birds next to impossible to identify. I could see dozens of Franklin’s Gulls flying around, as well as a few Kelp Gulls and Peruvian Pelicans and Peruvian Boobies. I was pleasantly surprised to see a few Belcher’s Gulls (Band-tailed Gulls in Chile) that were identified by their brown backs, and brown heads that distinguished them from the Kelp Gulls. Their white tails also show a thick, black terminal band that is difficult to see in flight, but I lucky enough to get a few picks of the birds in air and on the breakwalls.

Belcher's Gull

Peruvian Pelican

Neotropic Cormorant

We had dinner reservations at La Cucina Restaurant at 6:30 pm, so I could not attempt to ID the hundreds of seabirds that were appearing as we continued on along the Peruvian shoreline and heading into Ecuador. Flocks of dark brown shearwaters make me believe that they are Sooty Shearwaters, but the rest of the birds would go unidentified as darkness set in.

South America, Day 5 - 21 Feb 2018

21 Feb 2018 - Machu Picchu, Peru

The alarm went off at 5:45 am, but I’d been up since 3 am, just listening to the rain come down, and down. We packed our gear, and went down to a buffet breakfast, then waited for Eyner and Hyme to pick us up at 7:50 am. This morning we would be driving by bus 2 hours to Urubamba, then another 1.5 hours by train to the foot of Machu Picchu Mountain, have lunch, then take a series of switchbacks by another bus for 45 minutes to the entrance to the ruins.

Skies were overcast this morning, with heavy clouds over the mountains, but it was not raining. At about 12,000 feet it was cool, but comfortable. My headache from yesterday was gone, and breathing was not difficult. Eyner informed us that we would drive to about 14,000 feet before beginning our descent to Machu Picchu at 10,000 feet. Sure enough, our drive out of Cusco was up a steep hillside road surrounded by simple concrete huts, shops, and locals. I was surprised by the numbers and varieties of stray dogs running around, but none were starving nor dangerous.

Eyner told us about the custom of Pucara bulls, where new homeowners would erect small statuettes of crosses, bulls, and bottles as a sign of thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and for protection. Since money is tight many homes take years to build, and families help with construction, so it also honors the help. Of course, he then showed us several homes missing some of their statuettes, because, as a young boy, he was very good with a slingshot...

Once out of town we were surrounded by mountains and rich, fertile countryside. Snow-capped mountains were typically above 16,000 feet, which was roughly the limit for cloud cover.  At 14,000 feet we stopped for a bathroom break and took the opportunity to photograph the mountains, countryside, and locals, who were there to sell their crafts. I was able to see several more Rufous-collared Sparrows, and a pair of Golden-billed Saltators with their bright orange beaks, black faces, and white facial stripe.

A bright green hummingbird appeared in the trees but was severely backlit, so I figured that identification might be impossible. A fellow traveler didn’t help when he decided that it must be an Anna’s Hummingbird, because "we have them in southern California." I told him it couldn't be an Anna’s because it was a male... The bird turned out to be a Sparkling Violetear, as evidenced by the bright blue belly patch and bright blue cheek patch. Lightroom for the save!

Once we arrived in the Sacred Valley and the town Urubamba we were greeted by the rushing brown waters of the Urubamba River. Feeder streams were clear and fresh, but the main river was an angry, roiling path of fury. I was lucky to have my seat on the left side of the train next to the river, so that I could spend the next 1.5 hours photographing the river and mountains, and to look for Torrent Ducks!

The Inca Trail

Despite the raging waters I was surprised to see many Neotropic Cormorants along the river’s edge, but couldnt find any of the white-headed, black-striped male Torrent Ducks. I did, however, spot several small, cinnamon-chested, grebe-like ducks that turned out to be the female Torrent Ducks!. I would also spot numerous Tropical Kingbirds hanging out on the wires stretched across the river.

After a terrific buffet lunch that included a musical performance we made our way through a maze of vendors to reach our bus for Machu Picchu. I spotted a typical green John Deere t-shirt, but it actually read, “John llama”. Priceless. The bus ride to the ruins gave us gorgeous views of the river below, and portions of the Wayna Picchu mountain ruins.

Once inside the site of Macchu Picchu we hiked the main path to the ruins while Eyner gave us the history of the location. I took the opportunity to photograph the ruins and the mountains, which changed with each passing step. We had lucked out in that the afternoon weather brought a mix of clouds and sun but no rain. The heavy clouds over the mountains were ever changing, so we couldnt resist taking yet another photo.

Machu Picchu is home to 500 species of birds. I saw 2. Blue-and- White Swallows were all over, as was the occasional American Kestrel. I did see several insects including a wasp dragging a freshly-captured spider, and several giant millipedes with bright red legs. 

A wild Chinchilla sunned itself on an overhead boulder and ignored the attention it was getting from below. 

As were the several wild Llamas that foraged along our paths. 

Fellow travelers checked their fit-bits and reported that they logged 14,000 steps and 60 flights of stairs. Sounded about right.

Exhausted, we headed back and waited for our bus. I took the opportunity to wander over to a giant trumpet flower tree and a bird. I would see a Slate-colored Redstart, with its dark back, head, and neck, yellow belly, and white outer tail feathers. It flashed an orange crest as it flew.

I then spotted an all-black bird with white markings on its wingbars. I was glad I was able to see the flycatcher-like black beak because there is probably a dozen black bird species that have have white wing markings. I'm guessing White-winged Becard, which is one of the most common birds at this altitude, but this bird could be any of a number of antbirds, ant wrens or antshrikes...

Just before we got on the bus a pair of Blue-Gray Tanagers flew in for a pose. The Amazonia subspecies I photographed has an extra white patch on the wing. 

I tried to explain to Eyner that we only had 495 more species to see before we could leave, but with 6 hours of bus/train/bus rides back to our hotel I was outvoted. As it was it would be 11 pm when we got back, and we’d have another 6 am wakeup to fly back to Lima and catch the ship before it leaves port tomorrow.

What a day.

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