Lost in Translocation!

Friday 26th October, hotel Eugenia, Quito, Ecuador. First internet for ages, so let me bring you up to date…

Left our hotel in Lima at 03.45 for an early flight to Quito, via Guayaquil. If you are expecting Mundo Albergue to be a hotel you’ll be disappointed but it’s a superior standard hostel, run by absolutely lovely people – Carlos and his mum could not have been more helpful or hospitable. Anyway, we arrive at Lima airport in plenty of time to catch our flight, check our bags in and go for a coffee. An announcement tells us that our flight is delayed and there becomes an increasing possibility that we’ll miss our connecting flight to Quito! We eventually persuade Lan to put us on a direct flight with another airline and get our boarding passes 40 minutes before our departure – having been categorically assured by both Lan and Taca that our bags would be on the flight with us. We get to Quito at about the same time as our original flight, where we are being met by a driver to take us two hours to our cloud forest destination, and guess what – no bags! The Taca duty manager is very friendly but completely ineffectual and we end up departing for Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge with no luggage. That was Saturday afternoon – we were eventually reunited with our possessions on Monday evening! Three days in the same clothes, no toiletries and the power drained from every piece of technical equipment we possess, proved a little wearing at times and tempers became slightly frayed, but we got by and the environment and birding were more than adequate compensation.

We’ve just finished five fantastic days enjoying the birding delights of this part of Ecuador and amassed close on two hundred species, courtesy of our very efficient guide, Andrea. Depending on the internet connection I might even be able to post some pictures!

Tomorrow we depart early for Santiago, Chile for three weeks and the ‘wedding of the year’!

Manu Road – gateway to the Amazon (now with photos)

Friday 19th October. I’m writing this blog in a small hotel, come hostal, in a Lima suburb. The circumstances of how we came to be here being another story! Anyway for now the internet is working so I’d better bring you up to date with our latest adventure – five days travelling the entire length of the Manu Road, from Cuzco to Antalya, and back. To call it a ‘road’ would be an insult to any highway engineer – in reality it’s a mud track, which clings to the side of the Andes, as it descends 3,ooo m. to the edge of the Amazon basin. We were in the capable hands of Rivelino our guide – very knowledgable and enthusiastic, and our highly competent driver, from Amazon Birding. We stayed two nights at the Cock of the Rock lodge followed by another two at the Amazonia lodge, reached by an exciting boat ride down the Madre de Dios river, a tributary of the Amazon. We saw 259 bird species, four monkey species and a snake, – and it was truly the adventure of a life time!

Male Cock of the Rock, a member of the birds of paradise family.

Green Jay

Cinnamon Flycatcher

an up close and personal encounter with the rare Solitary Eagle

a magnificent Golden-headed Quetzal

being watched at breakfast by a Brown Capuchin monkey

one of many spectacular hummingbirds…. (that’s code for ‘can’t remember the name!’)

Rufous-crested Coquette

Highland Motmot

the pre-historic looking Hoatzins

a Chestnut-eared Aricari

a mountain village, on the way over the high Andes, 4,600m

approaching the river port of Antalya

Machu Picchu – breathtaking (literally!)

Saturday 13th October. Arrived back to Cuzco late yesterday, after our two day expedition to Machu Picchu. We caught the train at Poroy – slightly dissappointed that you no longer do the zig-zagging through the Cuzco suburbs – all part of the smartening up and safety improvements to enhance the tourists experience. The main part of the three and half hour journey through the ‘sacred valley’ of the river Urubamba was every bit as exhilarating as I remember – it is, after all, one of the great railway journeys of the world!

Once in Aguas Callientes we walked the short distance to the Green Nature hotel – perfectly adequate and well located. We spent the afternoon securing our bus tickets and doing a little birding along the river out of town – we saw Highland Motmot and Torrent duck performing their under-water gymnastics. We ate and went to bed ready for our five o’clock start. The breakfast, which was served from 4.30am for those intent on getting into Machu Picchu in time for the sun-rise, was substantial and a good ‘base’ for the physical exertion that lay ahead. On arrival we headed towards the Sun Temple to enjoy crowd-free views across Machu Picchu towards our target, Wayna Picchu – that spike of a mountain that you see in the background of every photograph of the place. They allow 200 people to climb the peak in two shifts, allowing three hours for the return journey. If you make it to the top and the mist clears you can get fabulous veiws of the whole mountain landscape, with Machu Picchu below you. We did make it up and were lucky enough to have brief views through the vale of mist. The climb was pretty severe (as was the descent) but the effort was well worth it and truly breathtaking, in all senses of the word.

After a welcome lunch stop, during which it poured down, we re-entered the site and visited the places we’d missed in the morning. We joined the mid-afternoon queue for the return buses and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling in Aguas Callientes before catching the 5.30 train back to Poroy. During the journey we where entertained by Sue doing a bit of dancing with one of the ‘locals’!

Today we’re off to a local lake for a bit more ‘self-found’ birding and then tomorrow, up at the crack of dawn for our four day expedition in to the Amazon…!

A loco passing through the main street of Aguas Callientes

An early morning view across Machu Picchu towards Wayna Picchu

On the accent….only another 527 steps to go!

The view of Machu Picchu from the top..well almost

And now for the descent. These people seem to be having the colly-wobbles – can’t see why!

A couple of views of Machu Picchu

Sue’s dancing partner…

Cuzco – Inca ‘capital’ of Peru

Wednesday 10th October.  Arrived in Cuzco this morning on the ‘red eye’, having left Ushuaia at 10.00 yesterday. Checked into the very excellent Casona les Pleiades and had some coca tea to off-set the effects of the altitude (well that’s what they say – I just think they like it!). Went for a walk before lunch and managed to print off our Machu Picchu tickets at an internet cafe. Returned to the hotel to be met by the most almighty thunder and hail storm! In the afternoon we did touristy things like a tour of the Sun Temple – very impressive and the local market – not quite so! Just had a superb evening meal, mostly ‘veggie’ at Grandja Heidi’s.

Some random photos from around the city:

The inside our our lovely hotel.

Some gold geezer standing in a fountain in the main square, Cuzco

Sue having her picture taken by a police woman …she’s not wanted for questioning, not yet anyway!

An interesting roof..and an interesting pot!

Tomorrow we’re off on the train to Machu Picchu…not taking the lap top, so definitely no blogging until we get back. Thank you folks for your kind comments – do keep them coming!

Ushuaia ‘white out’

Woke early this morning, ready for our long day touring the central region of Tierra del Fuego. Looked out of the window to discover that the cabana was covered in snow, with a stiff south westerly wind blowing – bringing temperatures done to around zero. We had a leisurely breakfast and eventually set off to see what conditions were like outside the town. The road north to Rio Grande crosses a mountain range before descending to the patagonian steppe country, which was our intended destination. We got as far as the ski centre, about 30k from Ushuaia, before the build-up of slush in the road finally persuaded us to turn back! The chance of adding more steppe species gone, we focused our mind on a less ambitious day of ‘local’ birding. We decided to pay the rubbish tip our respects, before becoming distracted by the rough track which leaves Ushuaia east, along the coast. This afforded us good views of the Beagle Channel and added three species we’d pretty much written off, once we’d decided not to take the boat to Haberton – Chilean Skua, Brown Skua and Southern Fulmar. The tip failed to produce anything new and with heavy snow continuing to fall we headed for a hot drink and lunch at the cabana.

After lunch we headed to the local golf course and steam railway attraction – the only area of open pasture in the immediate area ( well it would have been pasture if it weren’t covered in thick snow!) – we still managed to add Grey-flanked Cinclodes for the trip. A trip out to the airport gave us close views of Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant but little else of note. The anxiety of seeing the airport being snow bound was palpable!

We retired to the warmth of the cabana and a bottle of the local Malbec, with an Argentinian bird list just short of the ton – what we lacked in quantity being amply compensated for by quality, not forgetting the spectacular scenery. Tomorrow, fingers and toes crossed, we depart for Peru – we have no plan B. Nor are we likely to have anything like the quality of internet connection, which has been better here at the ‘end of the world’ than it is at home!

A snowy landscape…

Two of six Andean Condors seen together, east of Ushuaia. Look at the tootsies on that gisker!

Black-crowned Night Heron – a bird with circumpolar distribution but still a surprise here in the deep south

Only one flight managed to land today…!

Patagonian Sierra Finch – a rare bit of colour in an otherwise ‘white out’  kind of a day

Train to ‘the end of the world’..

…and to finish with, the rather understated but delightful Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant

That’s all from Argentina, our second South American country . Next blog, internet permitting, from Cusco, Peru. I only hope it’s warmer there! Bye for now and thank you for following our Big World Birding Adventure.

Birding at the end of the world

Sunday 7th October. Today, after breakfast, we drove up to the ski resort above Ushuaia and climbed to the tree line for views of the Martial Glacier and with a vague hope of finding Grey-breasted Seedsnipe – which we didn’t. The scenery was however stunning, made all the better because the ski lift didn’t start running until we’d completed our walk and therefore there was no one else to spoil the atmosphere!

After coffee and cake (..this is beginning to sound more like a John O’Groats to Land’s End blog every day!) we set off for the historic estancia of Harberton and the penguin colony, situated at the entrance to the Beagle Channel and the ‘end of the world’. We found the former but, as the estacion was closed on Sundays, we didn’t find the later. We did however have a lovely picnic lunch whilst watching a host of birds including new for the list, Austral Parakeet, Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant, Rufous-breasted Plover and Baird’s Sandpiper. We made a brief stop on the way back to examine the handy work of a Beaver (an unwisely introduced species to this part of the world) including dams, den and demolished trees. We also made ‘before and after’ visits to the rubbish tip, in pursuit of the elusive Striated Caracara, but were unlucky for the second day running. Oh well, still another great days birding with spectacular scenery thrown in.

A distant view of the Martial Glacier

Thorn-tailed Rayadito

Distant view of Puerto Williams, on the Chile side of the Beagle Channel…there’s no place like home!

Harberton Estancia

One of a group of six Austral Parakeets seen as we stopped for lunch

Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle – frequently seen in the skies above Tierra del Fuego

..and finally, a Beaver’s handy work!

Tierra del Fuego…just the name of it!

Today was a slow start. After a latish breakfast we wandered around the cabanas looking for birds. Seeing very few, Bob and I set off to the town, to secure a hire car. An hour later we discovered all the hire car places were shut and, having been told that they were up at the ‘aeropuerto’ we grabbed a passing taxi and headed off in the direction of the airport. Once there we discovered that all the car hire booths were locked up and the place deserted. With no money for the return taxi ride, we’d just decided to walk back to the cabanas, when a man from Hertz showed up. ‘Have you a car we can hire?’ we ask, ‘No’ says the man, having explained that the car hire office was closed for the weekend. ‘Please, pretty please, por favor’ we pleaded (by this time it’s snowing quite heavily outside!). ‘Well I do have this one that’s waiting for a re-spray’ – ‘We’ll take it’! Two hours after we set off we arrive back at the cabana with a set of wheels!

We decide to make the best of the day by heading off in the direction of the national park of Tierra del Fuego. Just the name of it conjures up images of early explorers, whalers and rounding Cape Horn! We knew that the bird life could be good but difficult to find. After a long drive through the park and lunch by the side of a lake with a back-drop of snow-capped mountains, we set off in pursuit of our quarry – the near mythical Magellanic Woodpecker. After an hour of fruitless searching and me frequently performing the David Attenborough stone-tapping on a rotten tree-stump trick, we’d pretty much given up and I was back in the car park looking for a Caracara when Sue came running up breathlessly proclaiming that Jane had seen a woodpecker. A 200 yd sprint and there it was, a fabulous drumming female Magellanic Woodpecker and close-by, her mate! What a birding moment and another ‘must see’ safely in the bag!

We continued to enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery, in temperatures little above freezing, for the rest of the afternoon, adding a number of new species. The day concluded with us parked up at the side of the municipal rubbish tip, looking for two ‘hard to get’ Caracara species – one of which, the White-throated, falling before the finale of the day, the arrival of two gigantic Andean Condor!

View across the lake from the Visitors Centre, Tierra del Fuego National Park

..but to start the day off, circa 100 Flying Steamer Ducks in Ushuaia harbour

..and later, two exquisite Flightless Steamer Ducks, in the TDF national park

Black-faced Ibis – another ‘trip tick’

The star bird of the afternoon (and possibly Argentina!) – a magnificent male Magellanic Woodpecker!

..and his equally attractive mate

A great days birding was rounded off nicely by the arrival at the local rubbish dump of two Andean Condor…

What a great place this southern tip of South America is proving to be…

Viva Valdez!

Just realised that this earlier blog didn’t go, so here it is in a slightly modified version.

Well the Peninsular Valdez was an experience! On the map of Argentina it looks like a ‘bubble’ on the coastline, about half way down. In reality it is a hugh desert wilderness which took us two full days to explore and we only managed to see about half of it. On Wednesday we drove to Caleta Valdez, about 100k each way on dirt tracks, to visit the only mainland breeding colony of Elephant Seals in the world –  and boy are they big! We also stopped off at one of the Magellanic penguin colonies and saw a few good birds and animals en route.

On Thursday 4th, we travelled back to Puerto Madryn, birding en route, ready for our early flight down to Ushuaia at the extreme southern tip of Argentina. If the weather here is anything to go by I don’t expect it’s going to be too warm! We had a brisk walk down the pier tonight and were greatly entertained by a pair of Giant Southern Petrels which kept ‘buzzing’ us at close range.

Friday evening. We’ve now arrived safely in Ushuaia and are installed in our cozy Aldea Nevada cabanas, complete with roaring stove, overlooking the Beagle Channel. On a brief walk into town this afternoon we saw a number of Dolphin Gulls, the most exquisite larids in the world! (Martin, if you are reading this, observe and weep!)

If the weather holds tomorrow, currently forecasting sunny with a high of 9 deg c., we hope to get a car and go exploring further afield – may get to the local rubbish dump and sewage outflow, with any luck!

..and now for some of those long promised photos:

…Gosh, is that a Southern Right Whale off the starboard bow?

..sure was, and here I am again with my calf (just 1 ton at birth and only 5m long!)

A Kelp Gull in the company of a ‘must see’ Snowy Sheathbill!

Believe it or not this shot was taken from the shore!

This weeks ‘caption competition’ – Two Elephant seals in the act of love-making…suggestions on a post card please!

…’I’ll be glad when these bloody tourists have gone home’

An Argentinian ‘dog-rabbit’ – otherwise known as a Maras

A splendid male Sea lion

Jane and Trevor on the front at Puerto Madryn

A superb Southern Giant Petrel doing a ‘fly-past’ at Puerto Madryn pier.

..a lovely Dolphin Gull on the Ushuaia waterfront

..and here’s one for my boys, prior to their arrival in Rio..an ariel view with Sugarloaf mountain in the foreground, Copacabana beach and statue of Christ the Redeemer in the background.

Until next time…

Off to Ushuaia..

It’s Friday and we’re up early to drive to Trelew airport for our flight to Ushuaia ( the ‘h’ is silent!). We’ll be there for four nights and I’m not sure about the internet facilities, so the next time you hear from us may well be when we’re in Peru. In the meantime we’re hoping for more cold weather species – albatross, penguins and a very special woodpecker…

All for now, blog later.