Peru Manu: Machu Picchu Extension Aug 20—25, 2006

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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At Lago Huacarpay, near Cuzco, we added waterfowl and waders, and a new dimension in flycatcher ecology?flycatchers that live on the ground and another that lives in reeds. The hotel grounds at Yucay in the Sacred Valley provided much needed respite for rest and recuperation, and were an oasis of birds, flowers, and tranquility. Our day trip to Abra Malaga was especially productive for hummingbirds and ground-tyrants, and the trip is far easier than in the past, the result of a paved road which reaches the pass. And, as we discovered, work is continuing at a furious pace beyond the high pass (where birding is all but impossible at present because of road construction).

The ruins at Machu Picchu, as always, remain impressionable, mysterious, and evocative?the more so perhaps because the history of their origin is so sketchy, and because of the absolutely incomparable location. The ruins tour, now coupled with an overnight stay at the luxurious Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in the lush valley below, provides visitors with the best of both worlds?a world-class archaeological site and a fabulous birding location. The hotel grounds swarm with birds?hummingbirds of half a dozen species, flowerpiercers, multicolored tanagers dressed in gaudy patchwork-quilt patterns, warblers skulking in thickets, and parrots and parakeets on periodic forays up and down the valley.

This trip was a splendid contrast and conclusion to the steamy lowlands and overwhelming biological diversity of the lowland rain forest. Many threads bind our memories, among them those of high altitude giddiness; almost interminable, tortuous rocky roads; powerful rushing rivers; the trains (there always seemed to be one coming or going); colorful markets; high-pitched voices of vendors in braids and hats; bits of bright cloth; majestic ruins; ancient terrace-rimmed valleys; puna lakes shimmering beneath ultraviolet skies; swifts fluttering beside Usnea-draped, basaltic cliffs; sprightly tanagers in mossy woodland; and a morning dance of Shining and White-tufted sunbeams celebrating the retreat of cold shadows and frosty fingers clutching an Andean Valley. There were also children, with few words of Spanish, who posed stiffly for photographs and eagerly awaited gifts of apples, crackers, and other food items from our lunch boxes, all while cinclodes and llamas looked on from distant hillsides. This Inca land is a sensory experience?one to see, to smell, to touch, to feel, and to hear. Images of this distinctive land?its people, music, and wildlife?will be with us for years, and we hope you will return again to see more of this fascinating country.