Cusco, Peru

Plaza San Francisco, Cusco, Peru
Looking up to Sacsayhuaman

Aware that the altitude of over 11,000 feet could be a crippler, I took a slow, slow stroll round the local squares. The centre of Cusco is compact with narrow streets connecting these plazas. Traffic was necessarily less manic than Lima‘s but still didn’t observe many of the niceties of road discipline. Traffic cops at many intersections gave pedestrians some chance of crossing the road. Or maybe the sheer weight of tourists having to walk the town overwhelmed the vehicles. Native Peruvians were less numerous as they ran the shops and otherwise hawked their wares wherever they could.

Most obvious of the few city centre birds were Chiguanco thrushes, easy to recognise by being a dead ringer for our blackbird. My old friends, the rufous-collared sparrows, also made themselves known but one similar-sized bird flitting into a bush was a puzzler. All I could pick up was a hood with an olive green back and hints of rufous but not at all in the sparrows’ configuration. I had to wait for the following day before more sightings put me on to Peruvian sierra finch.

Less problematic was a giant hummingbird perching above the cathedral. That’s the description of the bird and the name of the species. It is big too – the size of a small thrush – and yet still able to hover.

Then I slept, which is apparently the best way to pass through altitude adjustment and next morning I felt up to tackling at least a slight climb away from the cathedral. My ultimate goal was the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, not for any archaeological interest but its scrubby hillsides looked good for some non-city birds. On the way a bridge crossed a small stream that then dived under the city; Cusco was full of that.

This pathetic little trickle though did support vegetation and, apart from holding my sierra finch, it also added hooded siskin and golden-billed saltator to the life list. The saltator is a member of the grosbeak family; in other words it’s a finch with a very big bill, not surprisingly yellow in its case and so quite easy to identify.

I kept going up and actually made it to the entrance to Sexy Woman – at least that’s how the name sounded to me. The fee to get in was as steep as the climb so I mentally scratched it from my bucket list and worked the nearby little patch of scrub. The day was moving on and birds had grown few, so all I managed was a ground dove, later nailed as bare-faced. Nothing flew above the town, not a swallow, swift or even a raptor so I figured I’d about exhausted it.

I suppose it was three lifers for what was expected to be a quiet day, so it wasn’t all bad. ⇐ ⇒

Miraflores, Lima

Paddington Bear, Larco Mar, Lima
Paddington Bear

Thanks to the six-hour time difference it didn’t take much to wake me at sunrise, i.e. well before six. As it happened the toodle-ooh of west Peruvian doves pulled me out of bed and became my first lifer of the trip. These are the size and build of our collared doves with a prominent white wing patch; they are the dove of the coastal strip. They started a 20-lifer day, which is good for a mega-city but bad for a birding trip. I was caught between two stools. Contrary to expectations though I didn’t miss a single species.

Not far from the hotel a raucous, explosive series of notes alerted me to scrub blackbirds flitting between the urban trees. Then even without following a map, I found the only green space in Miraflores and house wrens soon followed on to the year list. A long-tailed mockingbird heralded a flood of the rest of the lifers; southern beardless tyrannulet, amazilia hummingbird, Harris hawk, bananaquit – in its own odd family between orioles and buntings – and saffron finch were among them. All this despite Continue reading

Flight to Lima

On Monday the hotel shuttle – ha! that fucked the taxi drivers – took me to Madrid‘s Terminal 4 and a wee train under the runway on to 4S, where the S stands for satellite but could also stand for non-Schengen. There’s a term much in the news in these refugee days. In this case you definitely needed your passport to get out of the Euro zone, although the way things are shaping up Schengen will disappear the way the space programme did.

A 12-hour Iberia flight then landed at Lima more or less on time. Having given up my window seat to a couple who wanted to sit together, I had nothing more to look at than the seat-back entertainment… oh, and Continue reading

Madrid Redux

Justine and Sylvia
Justine and Sylvia

First stop on my way to Lima. It has to be there or Amsterdam and the Spanish capital has birding form (hawfinches, spotless starlings, Casa de Campo and El Pardo). This time I elected for a hotel near the airport on the grounds that it was a short taxi hop after a late flight.

Big logical flaw. Every cab away from Barajas carries a surcharge of 30 euros.

30 euros. That’s over £20.

Savour that thought and wonder Continue reading

Whinchats, Chipping Sodbury

Having walked half the perimeter of this Common in South Gloucestershire, I was getting a bit desperate. Reports lately have included whinchat, redstart and tree pipit, all of which my 2015 list is missing. It’s been a busy year at work!

So, I was nearing the site of 2011’s woodchat shrike and realised that’s where I should have begun. It’s rough grass dotted with shrubs and bordered by trees. Indeed a bird confirmed this by perching on a sapling; although I didn’t get on to it quickly enough, I followed its flight away and found the year’s first Continue reading