Machu Picchu Extension Galapagos Cruise: Nov 04—11, 2017
Birds, Ruins, and History
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Machu Picchu— Photo: Steve Hilty
The enigmatic ruins at Machu Picchu are one of the world’s greatest wonders. They evoke a past clouded in mystery and a history we may never completely know, yet they continue to draw visitors the world over, visitors attracted to the beauty and the grandeur of the setting. Perhaps part of the beauty is in the mystery, but the stunning panorama of mountains, the Urubamba River far below, and the frequent mists and clouds that bathe this region in abundant water are truly almost beyond imagination.
This short trip provides an opportunity to visit this impressive Inca site, to wander among one of the most remarkable stone ruins in the world and, for birders, it offers something else—a spectacular diversity of elevations and habitats, from lakes, marshes, and cloud forests to high treeless puna grasslands. These habitats are home to many of Peru’s highland birds. In fact, it would be difficult to find a better combination of birds and ruins than this short trip.
Our tour begins outside Cuzco with a visit to a large lake where water and marsh birds are numerous and relatively easy to see. This is high country (almost 11,000 feet), so we’ll go slowly, but we won’t have to go far. This is an excellent location to look for marsh-dwelling species like Puna Ibis, Puna and Speckled teal, Andean Negrito, and Many-colored Rush-Tyrant. Nearby shrubs often shelter Andean Flickers, Greenish Yellow-Finches, and even the endemic Bearded Mountaineer, a hummingbird endemic to Peru. Black-tailed and Green-tailed trainbearers are seen here occasionally as well. With a picnic lunch in tow, we will continue down the Urubamba Valley, watching for Andean Gulls along the river, Andean Swifts overhead, and perhaps distant Spot-winged Pigeons.
Stripe-headed Antpitta— Photo: Steve Hilty
We will spend a day visiting some truly inspirational high country before continuing our journey on to Machu Picchu. A short distance from our hotel, we’ll make our way up a secluded valley, at first walled by high cliffs, and finally opening into puna grasslands that will take us far above treeline. En route we’ll pass a number of Inca and pre-Inca historical sites, including the impressively restored ruins in Ollantaytambo, pass some of the highest permanent villages in the Andes, and, with luck, enjoy a splendid palette of birds along our transect from bottom to top of the valley. A sampling of the birds today could include Andean Goose, Andean Condor, Black-faced Ibis, Giant Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, White-tufted Sunbeam (yes, that really is its name!), Stripe-headed Antpitta, Creamy-crested Spinetail, various ground-tyrants, and Black-throated Flowerpiercer.
Following some early morning birding around Urubamba, we’ll catch the late morning train to Machu Picchu. Located on a high ridge, this most famous and spectacular archaeological site is surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs that fall away to the river far below. The entire afternoon will be devoted to exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu under the careful tutelage of our local historian and guide, Doris Valencia, whose knowledge of the ruins, the history of the area, and the birdlife here is unrivaled. You’ll want to stay late for the evening light and the peacefulness of the ruins after most visitors have gone home. It’s a magical place then. Of course, there are bound to be a few birds here and there during the afternoon, but the real birding show is in the river valley tomorrow morning.
We will spend our last morning in the subtropical forests below the ruins, birding on forest trails around our charming hotel; however, if anyone wants to return early to the ruins this morning, that option will be available as well. Near our hotel we will have a chance to see almost a dozen kinds of hummingbirds, most of which come to feeders around the hotel, as well as Torrent Duck, Highland Motmot, Golden-headed Quetzal, a variety of flycatchers, tyrannulets, and warblers, and some of the most colorful tanagers imaginable. Best of all, Andean Cocks-of-the-rock occasionally come right into the hotel grounds to visit fruiting trees. You won’t want to leave, but by mid-afternoon we’ll be aboard the train returning to Cuzco for the start of a new adventure the following day.