Friday 30 September 2022

High Alpine Birding Above The Colca Canyon

With several days remaining until the car needed to be returned to Arequipa, Laura and I detoured to the Colca Canyon area. This is a popular tourist site reachable from Arequipa, and as such, is the type of place that we would normally avoid. The main draw here is the opportunity to see Andean Condors at close range as they fly past a certain viewpoint along the canyon's rim. We had already seen Andean Condors on a few occasions during this trip. Some of the encounters had been amazing, such as a jaw-dropping encounter with two individuals in the Santa Eulalia Valley. 

Andean Condor - Valle de Santa Eulalia, Lima, Peru

My interest in the Colca Canyon was mainly due to the presence of several high-Andean bogs situated close to the paved road that connects Arequipa with the canyon. These wetlands hold populations of the White-throated Sierra Finch (which we had dipped on in Moquegua), while Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes are also commonly reported. We had seen the seedsnipes previously in Ecuador but they are a pretty amazing species, one that we would love to see again. Laura and I booked two nights at a cheap hotel in the town of Chivay with a plan to explore the bogs as well as a few other nearby sites.

August 20, 2022

We drove across the puna grasslands, passing by the same landscape that we had viewed a few days earlier. Again, we briefly checked out Laguna Lagunillas to see if the three species of flamingos were still present. I also hoped to obtain slightly better views (and photos) of Andean Avocets. 

Cream-winged Cinclodes - Laguna Lagunillas, Puno, Peru

The wind had been howling on our previous visit here, but today, the conditions were wonderfully calm. As a bonus, the Andean Avocets cooperated for better photos even though they were still a little skittish. 

Andean Avocet - Laguna Lagunillas, Puno, Peru

Andean Avocet and Chilean Flamingo - Laguna Lagunillas, Puno, Peru

We turned onto the road leading to the Colca Canyon. White Toyota Hiaces full of tourists littered the highway, while some others congregated at several roadside pens full of domesticated llamas and alpacas so that everyone could take some photos for their Instagram accounts. Yep, we were back on the tourist route. Strangely, none of the buses had stopped near the herds of wild Vicuñas, a much more interesting animal, in my opinion. 

The road slowly climbed into the mountains, passing beautiful scenery. Laura and I made a few stops to stretch our legs. 

Bofedal de Chucura, Arequipa, Peru

We explored one of the roadside bogs for an hour or two. Bofedal de Chucura had records of our target species, but we were unsuccessful. A Diademed Sandpiper-Plover was a nice find, though. This peculiar shorebird is only found in high-Andean bogs, most of which are inaccessible. In the right habitat, however, the species is not too uncommon. 

Diademed Sandpiper-Plover - Bofedal de Chucura, Arequipa, Peru

We discovered a nice variety of perching birds including ground-tyrants, siskins and sierra finches. Unfortunately, we couldn't turn any Glacier Finches or Plumbeous Sierra Finches into our target, the White-throated Sierra Finch. 

Yellow-rumped Siskin - Bofedal de Chucura, Arequipa, Peru

That evening, Laura and I went for a stroll towards the downtown square in Chivay, passing the ladies who had garnished their pet alpacas with colourful ribbons and bobbles, hoping to extract money from tourists for photo opportunities. Though the restaurants were a little overpriced in this touristy town, we were happy to find a place selling excellent pizza (a rare find in Peru). Between the 'za and a cold beer, it was a great way to end the day.

August 21, 2022

The woman running the hotel we stayed at in Chivay provided us with an excellent recommendation for a trail in nearby Yanque. Leading to the Uyo Uyo ruins, the trail passed alongside a scrubby creek bed that was full of birds. It was a great way to spend the morning. 

Hooded Siskin - Uyo Uyo, Arequipa, Peru

I even had to take a picture of our old friend, the Rufous-collared Sparrow. He is a constant companion in the Andes.

Rufous-collared Sparrow - Uyo Uyo, Arequipa, Peru

The Creamy-breasted Canasteros were common in this environment, often perching prominently on columnar cacti. 

Creamy-breasted Canastero - Uyo Uyo, Arequipa, Peru

We had the ruins basically to ourselves as well. The birds and butterflies were active and we enjoyed our short visit here. 

Uyo Uyo, Arequipa, Peru

Andean Buckeye (Junonia vestina) - Uyo Uyo, Arequipa, Peru

Chiguanco Thrush - Uyo Uyo, Arequipa, Peru

Black-winged Ground Dove - Uyo Uyo, Arequipa, Peru

Late in the morning we drove back up the paved road towards Arequipa, though we only traveled as far as one of the bogs called Quebrada Japo. We had run out of time to visit here during the previous afternoon, but it seemed like a promising site for our target birds. 

Quebrada Jaco, Arequipa, Peru

Again, our main targets refused to show themselves. One of the local herds of llamas was grazing on this wetland with their disturbance possibly contributing to the reduced numbers of birds. 

Llamas - Quebrada Jaco, Arequipa, Peru

The plant diversity above 4000m is surprisingly high and I photographed a number of flowers. 

Dwarf Gentian (Gentianella sp.) - Quebrada Jaco, Arequipa, Peru

Ourisia muscosa - Quebrada Jaco, Arequipa, Peru

Werneria pygmyaea - Quebrada Jaco, Arequipa, Peru

To the untrained eye, this plant looks like a big piece of moss. I took a few photos and didn't think much of it, as my eye is rather untrained when it comes to botany. Later, while doing some research, I discovered that the age of this plant may be 3,000 years or more! It is called the Yareta and is in the carrot or umbellifer family (Apiaceae). The Yareta is highly adapted to live in cold alpine environments and it can grow at an elevation of 5200m, heights where most other plants simply can't survive. Its dense, mat-like structure helps to prevent water and heat loss. Given the tough growing conditions in the high Andes, it is no surprise that the Yareta only grows a centimeter or two each year. 

Yareta (Azorella compacta) - Quebrada Jaco, Arequipa, Peru

This absolutely minuscule hairstreak was a fun discovery. 

Itylos titicaca - Quebrada Jaco, Arequipa, Peru

We tromped around for a while and flushed a few Puna Snipes. A single Diademed Sandpiper-Plover also appeared at the edge of the bog. 

Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant - Quebrada Jaco, Arequipa, Peru

Puna Snipe - Quebrada Jaco, Arequipa, Peru

We spent a brief period of time sloshing around another wetland that was a few hundred meters lower in elevation back towards Chivay. We turned up a nice variety of birds including a very photogenic Variable Hawk. 

Variable Hawk - Chivay area, Arequipa, Peru

Variable Hawk - Chivay area, Arequipa, Peru

Even though we did not find our main target birds, exploring a high Andean bog is a good use of time as they are always full of interesting species. 

Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant - Chivay area, Arequipa, Peru

August 22, 2022

Laura and I had to return the car to the rental agency in Arequipa that afternoon. Not wanting to dip on the White-throated Sierra Finch and Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe for a third time, we left relatively early and planned for several hours at Quebrada Patapampa, a series of wetlands that we not yet visited. I had high hopes as Quebrada Patapampa seems to be reasonably reliable for both the sierra finch and the seedsnipe. 

A flash of a hummingbird with white tail feathers caught my eye as we ascended the mountain leaving Chivay. I pulled over and a few seconds later, Laura and I were looking at our first Andean Hillstar. It is a gorgeous species, though the harsh light made photography a little tricky. 

Andean Hillstar - Chivay area, Arequipa, Peru

 An Andean Condor cruised by overhead as well. 

Andean Condor - Chivay area, Arequipa, Peru

Quebrada Patapampa is set off the road by a good distance, but the dirt road leading to it is easily navigable in a small car. The morning was cool, calm and brilliantly sunny. 

Quebrada Patapampa, Arequipa, Peru

We were in the process of putting on our rubber boots when the distinctive calls of White-throated Sierra Finches caught my ear from across the bog. A second later, a Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe blasted across the wetland, disappearing down a small hill towards a second wetland. That was easy! 

White-throated Sierra Finch - Quebrada Patapampa, Arequipa, Peru

The White-throated Sierra Finches remained a little skittish, always staying between us and the sun to ensure that they remained backlit to us. 

White-throated Sierra Finch - Quebrada Patapampa, Arequipa, Peru

The White-throated Sierra Finch has a much more restricted global range compared with most of the other sierra finches, and it can be rather local and erratic. Laura and I felt fortunate to finally encounter some after striking out in a bunch of places. 

White-throated Sierra Finch - Quebrada Patapampa, Arequipa, Peru

Quebrada Patapampa, Arequipa, Peru

We explored the second wetland where the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe had flown towards. And we hit the jackpot! Flocks of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes, completely hidden in the stony landscape, exploded from the hillside above us as we walked past. Several other groups were feeding a little more conspicuously at the bog edge. When it was all said and done, we counted at least 54 individuals!

Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe - Quebrada Patapampa, Arequipa, Peru

Given the time of year, I wonder if this is a winter congregation site for Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes. 

Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe - Quebrada Patapampa, Arequipa, Peru

From a distance, the seedsnipes look rather similar to a lumpy, beige rock. But up close, the feather detail is exquisite. 

Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe - Quebrada Patapampa, Arequipa, Peru

Laura and I hit the road, thrilled with the morning's success, and completed the long drive to Arequipa. We only made one stop along the way after spotting some deer up on a rocky hillside. Luckily, they remained in place while I turned the car around and backtracked. They looked quite different from the White-tailed Deer that we had seen in the Colca Canyon. These were Taruca, a species of high-Andean deer that finds habitat between 3500m and 5000m. This species lives in low densities in southern Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile and Argentina. 

Taruca (Hippocamelus antisensis) - Caylloma province, Arequipa, Peru

Taruca (Hippocamelus antisensis) - Caylloma province, Arequipa, Peru

Taruca (Hippocamelus antisensis) - Caylloma province, Arequipa, Peru

We returned the car without issue, swapping it out for a Toyota Hilux for our final two days in Arequipa. 

Wednesday 28 September 2022

Lago Titicaca, And A Search For Rheas And More In Moquegua

In an attempt to keep my Peru blogging in sequence, I will go back in time to mid August and continue writing in chronological order from there. You may recall, in my last post we had driven from Arequipa to Puno in the deep south of Peru, stopping along the way to see three species of flamingos and other highland puna birds.  

August 18, 2022

Laura and I had been on the go for a while and the errands were beginning to pile up. We took the morning of August 18 to sleep-in, make a leisurely breakfast in the apartment that we had rented, do the laundry and catch up on journaling/photo editing. By the early afternoon we were feeling a little restless and so we headed out to the shores of Lago Titicaca in downtown Puno. 

Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

The Titicaca Grebe is a flightless species with a limited range in southern Peru and adjacent Bolivia. This endangered species lives mainly on massive Lago Titicaca, though it can be found on a few neighbouring waterbodies as well. Unlike the rare Junín Grebe which we had seen a few weeks earlier, finding the Titicaca Grebe does not typically require a boat trip. Several vantage points along the lakeshore provide excellent chances of spotting some. 

Laura and I spent a few hours walking along a pier that had been constructed in one corner of the lake by downtown Puno. This is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to stroll, hang out, and enjoy the sunshine and beautiful scenery. It also happens to be an excellent birding location. Ducks, ibises, gulls and shorebirds litter the mudflats and shallows, while Plumbeous Rails walk along the reed edges, seemingly oblivious to the people passing by. 

Plumbeous Rail - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

 Sometimes, Titicaca Grebes can be seen from the pier and so we kept watch for one. This was unsuccessful but we enjoyed the walk, anyways. Photographic opportunities were abundant, while Laura added a lifer in Yellow-winged Blackbird. 

Spot-winged Pigeon - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

Common Gallinule baby - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

Yellow-winged Blackbird - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

I made an effort to improve my photos of various duck species. 

Yellow-billed Teal - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

Yellow-billed Pintail - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

Puna Teal - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

Cinnamon Teal - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

A healthy population of Mountain Guinea Pigs resides in the marshes fringing Lago Titicaca. 

Mountain Guinea Pig (Cavia tschudii) - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

Mountain Guinea Pig (Cavia tschudii) - Malecón Puno, Puno, Peru

Still grebe-less after an hour and a half on the pier, Laura and I backtracked to the car and drove southeastwards along the coast, leaving the city behind us. My chosen destination was a high viewpoint where Titicaca Grebes can sometimes be observed from. 

It took us all of ten seconds of scoping before the first Titicaca Grebes swam into view!

Titicaca Grebes - Humedales Chucuito, Puno, Peru

We spent around twenty minutes here, enjoying the distant scope views of the grebes. This was another example where I was glad that I had decided to pack the scope for our trip. Without it, the views would have been barely adequate for identification as they were rather far from our location. 

Titicaca Grebes - Humedales Chucuito, Puno, Peru

While scoping the lake, we enjoyed a close flyby of a Mountain Caracara carrying nesting material, as well as a couple of attractive Black Siskins. 

Mountain Caracara - Humedales Chucuito, Puno, Peru

Mountain Caracara - Humedales Chucuito, Puno, Peru

August 19, 2022

Laura and I had booked three nights at the apartment in Puno, meaning that we still had another full day to explore the area. We made the decision to travel a little further afield and visit the Moquegua area. This is a region that receives very little birder traffic other than a couple of locals: it is way off the beaten birding track. That being said, a handful of species can be found in Moquegua that are otherwise difficult in Peru, including the Lesser Rhea and Puna Miner. 

We left early and watched the sun rise as we navigated southwards past frosty puna grasslands and rugged mountains.

Aguas termales - Moquegua, Peru 

Our first stop was a dirt track running parallel to a small creek, still partially frozen. The air was perfectly calm, making for great listening conditions. I was hoping to find Puna Tinamous here, but they were strangely silent. It must be the time of year. 

Moquegua, Peru

We found a few birds on our short walk including several Gray-breasted Seedsnipes and Common Miners, and a pair of Puna Yellow-Finches. Upon returning to the car we noticed a ground tyrant. We repositioned ourselves to obtain a less-backlit view and determined that it was a Black-fronted Ground-Tyrant. This is an austral migrant that appears in small numbers each year in the mountains of far southern Peru. 

Black-fronted Ground-Tyrant - Moquegua, Peru

Mountain Viscachas are a common sight on rocky slopes at this elevation. This one seemed to be enjoying the sun's rays that were slowly warming the landscape. 

Mountain Viscacha - Moquegua, Peru

We stopped at another area where a bridge crossed a small, frozen creek through puna grasslands. 

Moquegua, Peru

Moquegua, Peru

Again, we struck out with the tinamous. But we easily found another target of ours, the Puna Miner. This species has a very limited range in Peru, but here in Moquegua they are reasonably common. 

Puna Miner - Moquegua, Peru

Somehow, a nice diversity of butterflies can thrive well above 4000m in elevation. We observed quite a few individuals of this species which I have tentatively identified as Infraphulia madeleinea

Infraphulia madeleinea - Moquegua, Peru

A pair of White-winged Cinclodes bathed in an open section of creek alongside a Puna Ground-Tyrant. 

White-winged Cinclodes - Moquegua, Peru

Puna Ground-Tyrant - Moquegua, Peru

The sun had been out long enough that it slowly began to melt the frozen layer on top of the creek. It was also powerful enough to draw several lizards out of the woodwork. This is a species of Liolaemus, a highly diverse South American genus totalling well over 200 species with many more likely to be described in the future. Most species are resident in the southern Andes. 

Liolaemus sp. - Moquegua, Peru

Liolaemus sp. - Moquegua, Peru

As we climbed the bank back to the car, we caught sight of an owl flying under the bridge and disappearing down the creek. A Great Horned Owl! We grabbed the scope and hiked back through the bunchgrass until Laura spotted the gorgeous bird perched alongside the crest of the creekbed. 

Great Horned Owl - Moquegua, Peru

Great Horned Owls have a surprisingly large range, being found throughout much of the Americas, mainly avoiding the high Arctic, parts of Central America and Amazonia. These southern Andean individuals are absolutely gorgeous. They blend in quite well with the browns and grays of their arid environment. 

Still without some of our main bird targets for the day, Laura and I continued on to an area where Lesser Rheas are often reported. These huge birds should be quite easy to spot on the open landscape, but they are quite rare in the northern part of their range here in Moquegua. 

Moquegua, Peru

Laura and I stopped at the site of a former wetland which appeared to have mostly dried up. White-throated Sierra Finches had been reported from here in the past. Though our walk was largely birdless as the relentless puna wind had fired up, we finally spotted our first Puna Tinamous. They quickly ran away from us up and over a gravel slope. Luckily, we would obtain better views a little while later at a different site. This time, the tinamous were right beside the road!

Puna Tinamou - Moquegua, Peru

Puna Tinamous are kind of ridiculous looking. It is almost as if they were created out of three or four different bird species spliced together poorly with Photoshop. 

Puna Tinamou - Moquequa, Peru

Laura and I enjoyed hiking in this area, even if it left us a little breathless since the elevation was around 4700m. Once we left the roadside and climbed over a small rise it was just us and the mountains. 

Moquegua, Peru

We still had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us back to Puno, so after consuming our lunch of sandwiches and fruit we began the journey back. All the while we scanned for rheas, though we did not find much other than herds of Vicuñas. 

One nice surprise was still in store for us. While checking an area of puna grassland and wetland where the rheas are sometimes reported, an interesting shrike-tyrant perched up on some of the bunchgrass. This was a Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, a species which I was prepared for but did not at all expect! This is another austral migrant, though some think it may reside year-round in Moquegua. There are only a handful of records of this species in Peru on eBird, so we felt fortunate to encounter this one. 

Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant - Moquegua, Peru

Despite dipping on the Lesser Rheas and White-throated Sierra Finches, Laura and I had a fantastic visit to Moquegua. There were hardly any other people. The vast, mountainous scenery was just incredible, and while diversity is not high, we found quite a few interesting birds, as well as a several herps, butterflies and mammals.