Peru Manu: Machu Picchu Extension Sep 22—27, 2014

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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The combination of birds, scenery, and history is incomparable on this trip. The Machu Picchu 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 one chapter in a long and fascinating history of human occupation of the Urubamba River Valley.

This trip is a splendid contrast to pre- and post-trips—high altitude giddiness, mountain roads, powerful rushing rivers, an abundance of trains (at Aguas Calientes where there always seemed to be an engine coming or going), colorful markets, the high-pitched voices of vendors, bits of bright cloth, majestic ruins, ancient terrace-rimmed valleys, puna lakes shimmering beneath ultraviolet skies, sprightly tanagers in mossy forest at the Inkaterra (Machu Picchu Pueblo) Hotel, and the morning dance of hummingbirds visiting flowers and celebrating the retreat of cold shadows in high valleys.

We began our birding on this trip with a visit to the high Andes above Ollantaytambo where we drove to the Abra Malaga pass at 4316 m. From there we walked up another 50–75 meters to the ridgeline and descended into the dwarf Polylepis woodland on the opposite side where the weather (in typical Andean fashion) was alternately foggy, then clearing, or with light rain or light rain mixed with sleet, and with a brisk wind from time to time. But during this adventurous little hike we were able to see several of the Polylepis specialties including White-browed Tit-Spinetail, Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant, Stripe-headed Antpitta, and Puna Tapaculo (but no Royal Cinclodes in sight). In all, it was a lovely day with a parade of interesting birds at almost every stop and all amidst some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable. A day later, at the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, we added several tanagers wearing gaudy, patchwork-quilt-color patterns before our midday journey up to the Machu Picchu ruins. The ruins were spectacular, as always, and we also added two pairs of Inca Wrens, a species first observed around Machu Picchu in 1965, but not collected until 1974 and not described formally until 1985. Other bird highlights at the ruins included a surprising number of White-tipped Swifts and a swarm of Blue-and-white Swallows.

This land of the Incas 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 you for years to come. And, we hope you will return to see more of Peru and its fascinating wildlife.