BIRDING ROUTES IN PERU
Southern Peru Route
Best April to October; 14 days travel; 800+ species occur but fewer endemics and threatened species than some other routes
This trip starts with an early flight to Cusco from Lima. When you arrive at the airport take it easy! The altitude affects almost everyone to some extent. You can leave directly for Machu Picchu and take the scenic drive through the Sacred Valley to Urubamba where you can stop for a good lunch and spend a few minutes learning to separate Great and Chiguanco Thrushes that can often be seen together around the restaurants there. From there you can head out to Ollantaytambo and look at the ruins or scan the cliffs for Peregrines. The train ride to Aguas Calientes can be both fun and frustrating for birders (since you are moving along rapidly through forest), but scan the mountainsides for condors, and look out for Highland Motmots around the tracks.
Once you arrive at Aguas Calientes get your tickets for the first early morning bus to the ruins. The road along the river is good for birding but most trains arrive too late to see much on the first evening. It is a good place to pick up an Andean Solitaire singing, and Torrent Ducks can be seen easily from the road though. The oropendolas nesting here are Dusky Green. Even the most hardened birders will want to look around the ruins. Not least because they are a good place to see the endemic Green and White Hummingbird! Blue-and-white Swallows are everywhere. For Inca Wren walk up to the Sungate and play tape near bamboo clumps, or do the same on the stone steps down hill from the bus turn around. Keep your eyes up for condors here too.
Returning to Ollantaytambo it is probably best to spend an additional night acclimatizing, then take the road to Abra Malaga the next morning. This place is high, so expect to be a little winded. Bird the far side of the pass first. When the sunlight first hits the forest there can be quite a bit of activity, and this is a good place to see Sword-billed Hummingbird and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, as well as many other cloud forest species such as Plushcap and Streaked Tuftedcheek.
On your way back up to the pass look for Black-faced Ibis and Gray-breasted Seedsnipe around the small pools in the tussock grass. The Polylepis forest here is hidden from the road, but the reserve sign is easy to see. There is now a small charge to visit which helps conservation in the local community. You can either walk up the ridge, down to the forest, and back; or down and out along the valley and have your vehicle meet you back further down the road. Ask your guide which is best according to time and how you feel with the altitude. Royal Cinclodes is not easy here but can be seen with persistence and a guide who knows where to look.
You can get back to Cusco the same day as you bird Abra Malaga, and it is a good idea to have a good night’s rest before heading downslope. As you leave the following day for the Manu Road, stop at Huarcarpay Lake and catch up with some waterbirds and possibly the endemic Bearded Mountaineer!
The Manu road is legendary, but make sure your driver knows the way, or that you have a very specific and accurate map, compass, and ideally GPS. There are a couple of places where you can go wrong. There will be interesting stops along the way, but don’t linger too long as it is a long drive. There are a few possible overnight stops on the way downslope so check the Google Earth file to see where you would like to stay over. Once you leave the cloud forest you can drive to Atalaya and take a motorized canoe from near there towards Puerto Maldanado, stopping overnight at one or two locations along the route. It is a long way by river, but fun birding. You will see Fasciated Tiger-herons close to your departure point where the river still runs rapidly. There are plovers, Sand-colored Nighthawks, Bat Falcons, Swallow-wing Puffbirds, and swallow, kingfisher, and tern species to be seen from the boat. The forest here is amazing and has several hundred species. Without a good guide it is hard work though.
From Puerto Maldanado you can take a boat back up the Tambopata to Posada Amazonas, and on the Tambopata Research Center. The Center has the world’s largest known parrot clay lick and is deep in the heart of Peru’s Amazonian forests. This is a remote site and among the best to see the full spectrum of Amazonian species. Return to Puerto Maldanado can take one day or you can stop over at one of the lodges on your way back to catch a flight to Lima and home. If you have an extra day or two in Lima, consider an overnight side trip to Paracas, or birding the Villa wetlands in the outskirts of the city itself. A pelagic out of Lima is also a fun trip and depending on the time of year can net some great species such as Ringed Storm-petrel and Waved Albatross.
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