Archive for Peru 2010
A thousand thanks to Gunnar for organizing my first visit to Peru. From the jungle to the mountaintops to the rocky coast, I saw well over 300 bird species over the week-and-a-little–more than I think I’ve seen in North America this entire calendar year!
I have no idea (and no time to figure out) how many of those birds were “lifers,” but it was a lot. And two of them represented life orders for me: the Sunbittern we found outside of Mankuzo and the natty little Humboldt Penguin, two of which Alejandro and I found swimming off the coast south of Lima on my last afternoon.
If you ever get a chance to go to Peru, all I can say is: Do it. Something tells me I’ll be following that advice myself again soon.
Now that the falcons and their friends have their very own order, the caracaras, odd birds of prey to start with, seem even odder. These tropical scavengers are delightfully diverse in Peru, where we ended up seeing four species on my September trip with Kolibri: Southern Crested, Mountain, Red-throated, and Black Caracaras adorned habitats from the jungles to the puna, each species as striking as the next.
The first of our carrion falcons were high up in the Andes, spectacularly marked Mountain Caracaras stalking the tundra-like flats among Andean Geese and llamas.
Their terrestrial habits, stark patterns, and bright soft parts always remind me of lapwings–and indeed, Andean Lapwing sometimes shares these high-elevation pastures with these crazy birds.
At the opposite habitat extreme, Red-throated Caracaras were very common and–at least vocally–conspicuous in the jungles of Amazonia, where their social habits and raucous croakings make them obvious replacements for the crows so sadly lacking in southern forests.
While the red-throats accompanied us through the jungles, Black Caracaras were a frequent roadside sight in more open areas. I grew especially fond of the weird-faced juveniles, with their vulture-like stare and boldly barred undertails.
Southern Crested–a close look-alike of its Northern Crested cousins in Mexico and the southern US–did not deign to sit for a portrait; in fact, this was the scarcest of the caracaras wherever we went, with fewer than ten individuals seen on our entire tour.
I’ve now been fortunate enough to see more than half of the world’s caracara species, and I’m looking forward to the rest. But one of this strange group is beyond reach: Mexico’s Guadalupe Caracara was last seen–over the barrel of a shotgun, in fact–more than a hundred years ago, and is among the creatures that are definitely, definitively extinct. Hard to imagine given how successful so many of its fellow caracaras are, but that’s what comes of living on an island, I suppose. Happily, Peru’s caracaras seem to be doing all right.
I still can’t believe it: I’ve actually seen that most extravagantly clad and most evocatively named of all sternids, the Inca Tern.
Alejandro and I found them roosting, flying, and feeding in goodly numbers on the precipitous cliffs south of Lima–true bird islands. This is a big, bulky tern, with surprisingly long and broad wings, almost skimmer-like sometimes in flight over the dark waters.
Not all of these striking creatures are fishing out to sea. At least one found the pickin’s easier inside a Lima fish market, where it scooped tiny fish bits from the counters while dodging the wrath of human competitors.
The bird would circle out over the parking lot, then sneak back in as soon as the fishmongers were otherwise occupied.
A pity the name Whiskered was already taken.
Already it was my last day in Peru. After a good night’s sleep and my second hot shower in ten hours–I would have had a third had I been able to stay up a bit later–I popped out of our Cusco hotel (the significantly named Bujos) and into a taxi, which had me to the airport in ten minutes. Less than two hours later, I was in Lima, where Gunnar and I had an excellent fish lunch in Miraflores. And then it was off to do some coastal birding.
I’d concentrated my preparations (meager as they were) on jungle birds, so it came as a happy shock to find myself sorting through gulls and shorebirds right on the Lima waterfront. The numbers of Andean Gulls were impressive and surprising, well upwards of a hundred loafing on the mud. A quick scan turned up three Franklin’s Gulls, too, first of the fall and the first I’d ever seen on that species’ distant wintering grounds.
But there were larids entirely new to me, too, including great hulking Kelp Gulls (the big black-backed birds in the lower right corner above).
The adults are comfortingly distinctive, but I’m afraid I’d overlook birds in other plumages as pale Western Gulls (or, in the East, as poorly marked Greater Black-backed Gulls).
The other birds in the photo above are Belcher’s Gulls, also known as Band-tailed Gull when considered conspecific with Olrog’s (you were dying to know, weren’t you?). Adults are natty black-backed gulls with neat black tail-bands and brightly marked bills, but it’s those first-cycle birds that really catch the eye and win the heart.
With those beautiful gray hoods and frosty bodies, they reminded me again and again of some kind of exotic southern petrel. Just as striking was the difference in perceived structure between the young birds and the adults; I still haven’t figured out whether it is optical illusion or physical reality (the difference?), but the adults were consistently sleeker and flatter backed to my eye, recalling Lesser Black-backed Gull rather than the Glaucous Gull bulk of the kids.
The most abundant gull of our beach afternoon was the simply named and demurely feathered Gray Gull, a desert-nesting species that winters up and down the Peruvian coast.
Both adults and immatures well deserve their scientific epithet modestus; adults are solid gray with a broad white secondary skirt, immatures snouty, mud-colored creatures reminding me of a bland Laughing Gull.
If Gray Gulls may be a bit on the utilitarian side, Gray-hooded Gulls are all ghostly grace and light.
At all ages, they look much like any other of the small “tern-like” gulls, and it might be easy to pass a young bird like this one off as just a Black-headed.
But there’s no mistaking the pearly-headed beauty of this adult, with its dove-gray head and coral bill. Now to find one in the ABA Area….
The point of travel to foreign lands is new birds, different birds, exotic birds; but there’s a certain special pleasure, too, in encountering familiar friends in unfamiliar places.
These Whimbrels and Sanderlings on a Lima mudflat may well have stopped off in British Columbia on their way south. Here and at higher elevations, too, we also got to see Pectoral, Semipalmated, and Stilt Sandpipers–that last a lifer for our guide, Alex–and small numbers of Wilson’s Phalaropes. It was great fun to watch Semipalmated Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones scampering around beneath Kelp Gulls, and at one point near Puerto Maldonado I had both Upland Sandpiper and (get this) Chestnut-eared Aracari in a single scope field.
There were more exotic shorebirds to be seen, too. Lovely Andean Lapwings were common on the high-elevation lakes, where we also got to see Puna Snipe feeding out in the open. Much rarer in Peru, but increasing there and just about everywhere else, a few Southern Lapwings fed on the pastures at Cachuela. And out on the coast on my last afternoon, Alejandro and I got to see a few American and Blackish Oystercatchers lurking on the surf-blasted rocks that all haematopodids everywhere seem to love.
Even apart from my fondness for shorebirds, I have to admit that looking at largish, slowish, relatively easily identified birds was a relief after days in the jungle with antbirds and ovenbirds–and good practice for my return to Vancouver.