Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Amazon Adventure: Oscar Dewhurst in Peru -Part 1-

On 19th February I set off from London for Peru, to spent two and a half months here. The first 11 days were in the Cusco region, before travelling on to stay at a research station in the Amazon for two months. In this blog I'll be talking about those first 11 days.

This part of my trip was by no means for birding. I only spent one morning dedicated to birding, at Huacarpay lakes, just outside Cusco, but I always had my binoculars (and usually my camera) with me. My first full day was spent at some of the ruins in and around the city of Cusco. Although I didn't see that many birds I did hear a hummingbird in the gardens of a temple just 5 minutes walk from my hotel, so came back in the afternoon armed with a camera to try and find it. Luckily it was still calling so I was able to find it fairly quickly, and I spent the next couple of hours photographing it.

Sparkling Violetear
The following day, due to a change of plans caused by the approaching transport strike in Cusco, I travelled through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo, the town from which you take the train to Machu Picchu. The ruins here were magnificent, made all the better by a pair of American Kestrels which were hunting on the cliffs. One flew over my head with a snake in its talons! The hotel down in the town was a great spot for hummingbirds, but unfortunately I wasn't able to take advantage of it as I had done something to my camera causing the viewfinder to go very dark. I did manage to photograph this White-bellied Hummingbird feeding.

White-bellied Hummingbird
Next morning at 7.30 I was on a train bound for Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu. It's a slow journey (it takes nearly an hour and a half to travel 27 miles!), and a large portion of it is along the river Urubamba. I was very keen to see Torrent Ducks along here, and sure enough soon spotted  pair perched on the rocks as the water hurtled past them. I was up at Machu Picchu in the afternoon and although I didn't do much birding here, I did spend a bit of time photographing these Viscachas which were sitting on the rocks near the path. One of the guys I met while I was there happened to have worked as a mechanic, so when I told him about my camera asked to have a look. Within a minute he gave it back to me and said "your camera's fixed now." It was just a simple matter of bending something back into place! I was so relieved as I'd bought that camera specifically for this trip, and was gutted that it was broken no more than a week in.

I had been told that one of the hotels in Aguas Calientes had some gardens which were great for birding, so at 5am the next morning set off on a before breakfast visit. They had some hummingbird and fruit feeders set up which attracted various hummingbirds and tanagers, including this Blue-Grey Tanager. 

Blue-grey Tanager
I was also delighted when I caught sight of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. It's Peru's national bird, and here was the only place I would have a chance to see them as for the next two months I would be in the lowlands rather than the cloud forest. It really is unmistakable with its vivid colours and absurd head. I did go back up to Machu Picchu later that day but the rain was very heavy so came back to the town fairly soon and spent a couple of hours walking along the train tracks. Here I saw this Roadside Hawk perched in a tree as well as two White-capped Dippers and Highland Motmots.

On my last morning in Cusco I booked a taxi to take me to Huacarpay Lakes, about 30 minutes' drive southeast of Cusco. Here I added quite a few species including several Andean wildfowl and waders, but the best bird I saw here was the Giant Hummingbird. It really lives up to its name, and a couple of times I thought it was a swift as it came past me.

Giant Hummingbird
I was also able to photograph this Puna Teal as it flew past me.

Puna Teal
The next morning I was on a plane for Puerto Maldonado, and from there would be taking a 5-hour boat journey to my destination for the next 2 months. I'd seen 95 bird species, but had I spent more time looking (and had my trip to Lake Titicaca not been cancelled due to the strike) it could have been much higher). 
Check back here soon for a blog on the first part of my stay in the Amazon...

-Oscar Dewhurst
Oscar Dewhurst is an 19 year-old wildlife photographer and birder based in London. He is currently on a gap year, and after he's finished 3 months of unbelievably boring work, he hopes to spend it photographing wildlife as much as possible. When not photographing obscure brown herons in reedbeds he enjoys failing to find something decent on his patch. His other interests include running around on a cricket pitch during the summer.

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