Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My first post from Peru


Well it is day 6 in the forest and we’ve had a lot of rain- this means not many photos. These photos I am posting are from the ‘vacation’ period of my trip with Ann and Sean (one of the other techs on the hummingbird project). The span is from July 7- July 15.
I’ll start in chronological order. We first arrived in Lima on July 7. We got in late and all we did on the next day was jump on a bus to Paracas. Paracas is along the central coast of Peru and in the desert. Yes- Peru has a desert! Right as we were arriving, the sun was making a beautiful exit over the Pacific. I snapped a few quick photos of the bright colors in contrast to our thatched roof hostel. It was an incredible sunset and a great way to start our stay in Paracas. (This photo used flash to brighten the thatch and a long exposure/ open apature to catch the ambient light in the background)

On July 9 we set out on a boat to the Islas Ballestas. The islands are just off the tip of the Paracas National Park and host a wide range of sea life. In the winter months (remember, Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere, so it is the beginning of winter right now), there are less sea lions and migratory birds. It still seemed like a lot of birds to us though! The highlight of the boat ride for me was getting to see wild penguins. Humboldt Penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) to be exact.

We also got to see Peruvian boobies, inca terns, guanay cormorants, red-legged cormorants, and an array of gulls and other sea birds not common in the US.
Red-legged cormorant (Phalacrocorax gaimardi)
Inca tern (Larosterna inca)
Peruvian booby (Sula variegata)
Peruvian boobies (Sula variegata)
Guanay cormorant (Leucocarbo bougainvillii)

After we got back to shore, we took a guided tour through the Paracas National Park. There we got to see a lot of desert sand, interesting fossils, and more birds! We ate lunch at the small fishing town in the park and if you know me personally, you know I don’t eat a lot of seafood. The seafood in Paracas was fantastic! It was so fresh and prepared very well.  We ended the day with a distant view of Chilean flamingos (another highlight) and about 2000 black skimmers. Black skimmers are one of those birds that just really make me smile- they are so funky looking and watching them skim the water is so fun, even if we had to watch their antics from 200 meters away. That’s what binos are for! 
Peru's desert-scape
Chilean Flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis) and black skimmers (Rynchops niger)
On the night of the 9th we headed off to Cusco by bus. The buses in Peru are quite nice, reclining seats, sometimes decent movies, and sometimes food. We traveled from Paracas to Ica and then switched companies and went from Ica to Cusco (took about 17 hours). The altitude adjustment was a bit difficult, but not quite as bad as I thought it would be. For reference, Paracas is at sea level and Cusco is at 3500 meters. That’s over 11,000 feet. We arrived in Cusco on the 10th and took it easy that day to get used to the elevation change. We got a hostel, wandered around a bit, got a little lost (the maps that are free in Cusco are not too reliable) and had Chifa for dinner. Chifa is Peruvian Chinese food. On Friday, the 11th, we went to check out Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary which is a rehab place for native species. They had 5 Andean condors, 3 pumas, llamas, vicunas, alpacas, a variety of hawks, coati, wildcats, foxes and parrots. Many of their animals come from illegal smuggling- for instance the parrots are smuggled into the US as potential pets in small cardboard tubes. They will stuff 10 birds in a tube and several die in the process. The three pumas they have came from a Discotec. They were declawed and kept in tiny cages for people to dance near. It was a really small place, but it was actually better than I thought it would be! Better than some US rehab places I have been to. I took a lot of photos here, but decided since this post is long, to only post a few.
Vicuna at Ccohahuasi
One of Ccochahuasi's resident parrots
Saturday, the 12th, we took a bus to Olltanytambo (pronounced Oy-gento-y-tambo) and then from there a beautiful train ride to Machu Picchu. The town of Aguas Calientes is small and hilly and completely geared towards tourists. Food and knick-knacks are much more than Cusco.
Sunday we went to Machu Picchu. I had several people give me advice about MP. Let me tell you- if you plan to go… If you want the “first bus up the mountain” which leaves at 5:30, don’t arrive at 5:30! Also, buy your bus ticket in advance. You can purchase them the afternoon before you go. Arrive more like 4 am. And plan to wait with several hundred other people in line. Also, best advice I can give a photographer: if you bring a tripod- make sure it fits in a bag. They have these really dumb rules that if you have walking sticks or tripods or anything that isn’t in a bag, you have to check it. And you have to PAY them to check it! I am guessing that you can tell by now that they took my tripod… I was very unhappy. I was planning on doing a lot of landscape shots and a tripod really makes a difference. Last piece of advice: bring way more water than you think you’ll need. Water was really over priced, and also be warned that you also have to pay to use the restrooms. We decided to climb Machu Picchu Mountain, which much higher than Hyuana Picchu and a little less crowded. It was steep. And there were more stairs than I have ever climbed in my life. It took me much longer than they said it would to get up, but I somehow made it and was rewarded with this view.
The sun coming over the mountain and shining on Huayna Picchu Mountain

Machu Picchu from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain
Snow capped mountains in the distance

Monday was a lazy day. We got to sleep in and took the train/bus back to Cusco in the afternoon. Ann left early Tuesday morning and I started working with my new hummingbird crew. We had lots of shopping to do to set up the field station.
Stay tuned for more when I have had some sunny days to photograph some of the amazing birds I have been seeing here. We have captured 3 different hummingbird species, 3 diglossa (nectar robber) species, a flycatcher and a spine tail.