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Conference Birding in Lima: desert city birding and a hilltop jewel heist 6-10 May 2

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Old Monday 13th May 2019, 10:12   #1
MKinHK
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Conference Birding in Lima: desert city birding and a hilltop jewel heist 6-10 May 2

The longest flight I’ve ever taken had me clearing the edge of the Andes and dropping over the desert that fringes the Pacific Ocean and surrounds Lima a mind-melting 29 hours after leaving Hong Kong. Apart from a couple of Jackdaws in Paris during my layover, and the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons, a handsomely dark-hooded Belcher’s Gull - a Humbolt Current endemic - flying across the highway just as I left the airport was a fine welcome to Peru.

On two mornings I spent a couple of hours in the lovely Bosque del Olivar, a city park built around a grove of wonderfully gnarled and weathered olives that have witnessed the march of Peruvian history for almost half a millennium. They were full of birds and I had a terrific couple of hours collecting a fine array of Pacific coast specialists that were completely new to me.

Almost the first tree I looked at held a gang of Southern Beardless Tyrannulets - a small, tuft-crested bundle of muted colours with couple of equally muted brown-tinged wingbars. I’ve always thought “Beardless”, is, while essentially accurate, the most stupidly redundant adjective of all time in that it tells you absolutely nothing useful about the bird whatsoever. I mean seriously, it’s as if Monty Python was put in charge of naming it! Rant over.

As I pished them in a couple of introduced Bananaquits and several Vermillion Flycatchers of the distinctive dusky local race that is only found around Lima came barreling in too as if they’d never been pished before. I saw a variation of plumages over my two visits here, ranging from the classic burning red nominate race to brown-tinged black birds the colour of wet coffee grounds. They had absolutely no fear of people, even feeding newly fledged chicks just a couple of metres off the main drag.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Monday 13th May 2019, 12:23   #2
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It took me a while to sort out the doves – The commonest were the West Peruvian Doves, which had a white wingbar and blue facial skin, followed by Eared Dove and the distinctly quirky Croaking Ground Dove, which was half the size with a yellow cere at the base of its oddly pointed bill. Long-tailed Mockingbird passed the accurate description test, and when on scuttling the ground, stopping to cock its tail and running on again, reminded me of my mental picture of Roadrunner (even though I am yet to that iconic bird).

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Old Monday 13th May 2019, 17:57   #3
Larry Sweetland
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Looking forward to the rest of this Mike, Peru being my most recent major destination.
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Old Monday 13th May 2019, 23:30   #4
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Thanks Larry - two more big days to come after this . . .

I enjoyed watching a couple of Amazilia Hummingbirds drinking from the surface of the pond. A medium-sized species with iridescent green head, breast and upperparts, and a rusty breast, belly rump and tail, and, as usual, far from simple to photograph. An immature Black-crowned Night Heron was roosting in a pondside tree and a moulting White-cheeked Pintail was hunched inconspicuously on a small island.

I had several each of the rather similar Scrub Blackbird and Shiny Cowbird. The female cowbird is helpfully brown and has a pale supercilium, while the blackbird sexes look identical. I did see one of the blackbirds singing, hunching down, puffing up its throat feathers and pointing its bill skywards as it bobbed and sang. The last of the endemics were a dozen Pacific Parrotlets – tiny tailless green blobs with a blue spot on the nape that I only saw briefly in flight on the first day but on my return a couple of small groups were feeding on the lawn and allowed close approach.

Other bits and pieces included an adult Harris’s Hawk and a streaky juvenile that looked very much like it was hatched in the park, six or seven Blue-grey Tanagers, Black Vultures overhead and right outside my hotel window, a couple of House Wrens and a rather vocal Tropical Kingbird.

Other introduced species included Saffron Finch and Red-fronted Parrot, and the excellent Guayaquil Squirrel – a large brindled grey squirrel with black paws and ears and a white patch on the nape of the neck.
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Old Tuesday 14th May 2019, 20:58   #5
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Dawn birding at Pantanos de Villa

On my third morning I went with a guide to the Pantanos de Villa wetlands on the coast in the south of the city. A 5am start got us there before dawn. It was certainly atmospheric, with the yellow glow of street lights on the hills silhouetting rows of palm trees, some with full crowns, and others dead, and with a Black Vulture perched spookily on each one. We crossed into a horse meadow cum reedy marsh where a Peruvian Pygmy Owl failed to respond, but the first Many-coloured Rush Tyrant – my top target for Lima – called before we even got to the right spot. With a bit of pishing they eventually emerged, giving brief and occasional views in the gloom.

When I first saw pictures of Many-coloured Rush Tyrant I could not quite believe it was real – and I was not disappointed by the real thing. A pristine male, it showed combination of dark green back, creamy-yellow underparts, and supercilium separating a narrow black and white streaked crown from the deepest blue face. A broad black line drops from each shoulder and dark russet undertail adds another flash of colour beneath the short white-edged black tail. The same colour is mirrored in the wings – black remiges and a clean white edge along the scapulars. Concentrate all this into one tiny tubby body and you get a shockingly beautiful and elegant bird that flashed different colours and contours every time it moved and different parts appeared between the reeds. As the light came up the colours on a good dozen of these tiny brilliant gems showed more and more clearly.

Also in the reeds were a few more west coast specialists, including Wren-like Rushbird, with the same super and striped back as the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers that are familiar reedbed skulkers I see in HK, small flocks of Grassland Yellow Finches and Chestnut-throated Seedeaters, a couple of slate-grey Plumbeous Rails, one of which came bouncing over to check out his artificial rival, and a Peruvian Pipit singing helpfully from a concrete block.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 08:32   #6
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Beautiful shot of the Rush Tyrant in the reeds.
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 09:40   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MKinHK View Post
but the first Many-coloured Rush Tyrant – my top target for Lima – called before we even got to the right spot. With a bit of pishing they eventually emerged, giving brief and occasional views in the gloom.

When I first saw pictures of Many-coloured Rush Tyrant I could not quite believe it was real – and I was not disappointed by the real thing. A pristine male, it showed combination of dark green back, creamy-yellow underparts, and supercilium separating a narrow black and white streaked crown from the deepest blue face. A broad black line drops from each shoulder and dark russet undertail adds another flash of colour beneath the short white-edged black tail. The same colour is mirrored in the wings – black remiges and a clean white edge along the scapulars. Concentrate all this into one tiny tubby body and you get a shockingly beautiful and elegant bird that flashed different colours and contours every time it moved and different parts appeared between the reeds. As the light came up the colours on a good dozen of these tiny brilliant gems showed more and more clearly.
Oooh! You gripper! Hoped to catch up with these in Argentina a few years ago but didn't. Don't know if I'll get another chance.

Sounds like a good trip, I look forward to reading more....
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 09:54   #8
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That Rush Tyrant is absolutely stunning!
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 12:45   #9
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Ah nice one, Peruvian Pipit, the shiny new split of Yellowish yes? One of the zillion birds we missed. Wasn't even on my radar as a potential split when we were there.
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 20:05   #10
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Good stuff, as usual Mike - I must get a job that involves invites to Conferences around the world!
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Old Friday 17th May 2019, 02:27   #11
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Many thanks Gents - it really was a great start to the session.

There was a constant stream of birds flying overhead - the first being a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons giving their familiar croak and just as there was enough light to offer any hint of colour, a Roseate Spoonbill headed over to the lagoon. Doves seemed to fly in all directions, and there were occasional Great Egrets, three or four Little Blue Herons and the odd gaggle of Neotropic Cormorants coming off the roost. Back on the ground a family party of Peruvian Meadowlarks had claimed ownership of a raddled looking clump of weeds, the adults red enough on the breast to provide some serious competition to the overexcited Siberian Rubythroat I filmed at home a few weeks ago.

Just over the drainage channel were some shallow pools being stalked by a couple of Little Blue Herons and a Snowy Egret onto which a flight of seven Greater Yellowlegs dropped. Further investigation found a mixed group of late to leave Nearctic waders comprising a shorter-billed and longer-legged Lesser Yellowlegs, four Pectoral Sandpipers, two Least Sandpipers, a Spotted Sandpiper and a Stilt Sandpiper, both pristine in their summer finery.

After a short detour for a pair of Peruvian Thick-knees that did not deign to appear, two Harris’s Hawks noisily demanding attention, and a pair of American Kestrels perched proprietorially in the crown of a palm tree the reed-fringed lagoon behind the beach was simply magnificent. The first birds to appear were a few Cinnamon Teals, black headed Andean Ducks and Moorhens were drifting around. A quartet of Black Skimmers patrolling the edges, gave me a fly-by just a few metres out as a Many-coloured Rush Tyrant flirted in the reeds without ever really showing itself.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Friday 17th May 2019, 12:23   #12
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A couple of hundred pink-breasted Franklin’s Gullswith black hoods and seductive white eye crescents on the beachward banks provided a fabulous backdrop to the activity on the water. Amongst them were several Kelp Gulls, two larger non-breeding adult Andean Gulls, a couple of dozen hefty black-hooded Belcher’s Gulls, and a single smoky brown juvenile Grey Gull that irritatingly flew off before I could get a picture. Four Black-necked Stilts were on the corner of the pond, and a look down its length showed a couple of sandbars with at least 200 more each of Franklin’s Gulls, Neotropical Cormorants and Black Skimmers.

Before having a closer look we wandered over the shingle to see what might be on the sea. Both Peruvian Pelicans and Peruvian Boobies were moving both ways above the rather dirty-looking breakers. A couple of prepubescent Inca Terns that were too young to grow moustaches also flew by and a Red-legged Cormorant – easily identifiable by the white lozenge running down the side of its neck - was fishing beyond the waves.

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Old Friday 17th May 2019, 12:25   #13
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As we walked along the length of the lagoon another “most wanted” bird - a pair of Great Grebes – impressively large and with a great bayonet of a bill showed off their deep red necks and grey faces. Jesus picked out a solitary and almost invisibly grey Pied-billed Grebe against the reeds out of which a pair of White-cheeked Pintails, more Cinnamon Teals and Slaty-backed Coot were swimming, while a quartet of Yellow-crowned Night Herons and the Roseate Spoonbill and two Little Blue Herons that had flown over in the dawn were showing nicely.

I was entranced by the Franklin’s Gulls on the sandbars, not having realized that they could get so pink on the breast, but just to show I was not having it all my own way I had trouble counting them . . . because of the flock of Black Skimmers that would occasionally lift off together and block my view!
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Old Saturday 18th May 2019, 03:36   #14
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I was also distracted by a smaller immature gull with very long primary projection on the edge of the water. It turned out to be a heavily moulting Swallow-tailed Gull – adding yet another to the great collection of Western Pacific gulls. With time fast running out we headed for the last corner, passing a loafing juvenile Belcher's Gull and a elegant pair of American Oystercatchers. Sadly we also saw a Common Tern lying on the beach and breathing heavily - and very much looking like it was not long for this world.

A White-tufted Grebe, with a silver face on an otherwise black head and neck was apparently an unusual visitor. The same spot also held some twenty five Ruddy Turnstones, four Willets and an immature gull that was still showing traces of the gingery juvenile hood. I would have sworn was it Black-headed except they don’t occur here. The choice therefore fell between the ultra rare Brown-hooded Gull and the more expected Grey-headed Gull. The feedback from BF members and local birders is that it is Grey-hooded Gull - principally because it lacks the prominent ear spot that would be expected of Brown-hooded and shows no white tips on the primaries. That wrapped up an excellent morning and I was back at the hotel in time to deliver my presentation (on accelerating the rate of airport carbon footprint reduction) in the first session of the day – the quintessential conference birding experience!

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Old Saturday 18th May 2019, 07:36   #15
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What a great day Mike, thanks for taking us all along with you! Love the 'crowd shots', and jamming in on Swallow-tailed Gull's pretty special too.
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Old Saturday 18th May 2019, 13:18   #16
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Thanks Larry - the big frustration was not being able to spend longer to enjoy it. Anyway here's a few more pix.

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Old Saturday 18th May 2019, 18:54   #17
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Green with envy ..some superb birds, love the gull collection. Don't need someone to carry your bags at the next conference?
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Old Sunday 19th May 2019, 14:30   #18
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Many thanks Jos - but in reality I was just scratching the surface compared to your trip to Chile a couple of years back!

Anyway here comes the last day . . .

The jewel heist took place on the day I was due to fly back to Hong Kong. As it was an 8pm flight I had most of the day and tried to make the best of it by checking out at 0330 and beginning the trip up into the high Andes for some very special endemics. Unfortunately I lost at least four hours to traffic jams caused by accidents further up the hill along a very winding road through the gorge. Frustrating as this was the thought of how much better life was for me than for the occupants of the ambulances heading down to Lima helped to deal with the disappointment. A sudden crash as an unseen rock smashed onto the roof of our stationary vehicle had all of us more than mindful that a larger rock falling from the cliff above us would have made the lost birding time seem like a very minor inconvenience - compared to being squashed flat!

I had a few opportunities to step out of the car, seeing and hearing Andean Swifts and Scrub Blackbirds plus my only Black-winged Ground Doves, a couple of Blue-and-yellow Tanagers, Rufous-collared Sparrows, a helpfully perched Spot-winged Pigeon, American Kestrel and Variable Hawk, and best of all a Sparkling Violetear- a largish iridescent blue and emerald hummingbird with an impressively long bill – flycatching decoratively above the surface of the roadside stream.

Eventually we passed the accident and around 11am turned off Route 22 onto Route 116, which headed up a side valley and onto the wider spaces of the high mountains. Almost unbelievably we were then held up for ten minutes by a couple of trains that could only pass each other exactly where the road crossed the tracks! By this stage we had already climbed tbeyond 4,000 metres and the short grassland began delivering some real high mountain quality. The first of these was a family party of four Grey-bellied Seedsnipe complete with two tiny chicks - my first of this extraordinary family of quail-shaped waders. We stopped on a sandy ridge next to a small boggy meadow and immediately began seeing White-winged Cinclodes and the very similar Creamy-winged Cinclodes. This is another family I’d never previously come across. I’m struggling to figure out how to describe this family to those who’ve never seen them. The closest I can get is a cross between a badly proportioned female Red-winged Blackbird and an Olive-backed pipit– streaked brown and white with a broad, pale supercilium and varying amounts of white in the wing, and a creeping belly-to-the-ground foraging posture.

Another new family were the ground tyrants – looking like a cross between a small grey fine-billed wheatear and Siberian Chiffchaff. We saw both the smaller grey and white Tackzanowski’s Ground Tyrant and the substantially larger White-fronted Ground Tyrant. More straightforward and generally magnificent was a female Andean Condor, which drifted along the face of the slope above us, showing the distinctive broad white patch on the secondaries.

Other birds included Bright-rumped Yellow Finch, the yellow face rump and underparts set off by exactly the right shade of pale grey on the back, wings and tail, the impressively large White-winged Diuca Finch, a pair of Andean Lapwings, half-a dozen AAndean Geese, and a couple of Puna Snipe.
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Old Sunday 19th May 2019, 15:10   #19
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Great Trip, birds I will most likely never see, so thanks for the pics.


Cheers
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Old Sunday 19th May 2019, 15:13   #20
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Originally Posted by MKinHK View Post
Frustrating as this was the thought of how much better life was for me than for the occupants of the ambulances heading down to Lima helped to deal with the disappointment.
I still shiver at the memory of the accident we encountered - someone had just gone off the edge and the car was visible a long long way down. Peopl were going down by ropes, but no survivors. Brings birding in the Andes into perspective.

Am I expecting a diademed jewel heist?
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Old Monday 20th May 2019, 00:18   #21
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You might indeed Jos!

Best of all, as we covered the final corner of the mossy bog, and the whole reason for this dash to the roof of Peru was a breathtakingly wonderful family party of four Diademed Sandpiper-Plovers. One of the birds I’ve wanted to see ever since I got the first edition of Shorebirds in the late 1980s, I was gutted to get within 50km of a site last year in northwest Argentina’s altiplano without having the chance to look for them. But there they were – calmly feeding about 25 metres away – similar in size to a Pectoral Sandpiper, with grey upperparts, a broad chestnut nuchal collar, a tattler’s finely-vermiculated underparts, yellow legs, a square steep-fronted head with a grey crown, black face, white throat and it’s diadem - an elegant white supercilium that angled down from the forecrown above the downcurved black bill.

The juveniles were less distinctive – with a chestnut and black-speckled back and upper breast, a grey rather than black face, no collar, a less clearly marked belly and a fainter diadem. They were also less wary, coming considerably closer as they fed amongst the pincushion moss. As amazing as the Many-coloured Rush Tyrant was it just couldn’t compete with the combination of thirty plus years of dreaming and the incredible setting of a 4,600m high marsh surrounded by peaks reaching 5,000 and beyond!

With the main mission resoundingly accomplished we headed on up and over the ridge and into another superb peak-ringed valley where more searching finally delivered the ultra range-restricted White-bellied Cinclodes sitting on a roadside rock. Looking twice the size of the other cinclodes the White billed had a different jizz again – being longer tailed and larger-bodied and distinctly pot-bellied, with chestnut wings, dark tail and an iron-grey cap. Unfortunately it did not hang around, and with more than three hours to get back to the airport neither could we, and stopping briefly to search fruitlessly for Andean Tinamou, we headed down along route 116 through the Santa Eulalia valley through a dramatic landscape of small blue lakes and increasingly arid slopes.

It was here where the lost time of the morning really hurt – as we drove by terrific looking habitats that hold a number of restricted range species. We did collect eight Silvery Grebes on one of the lakes and managed to pull Slate-breasted and Mourning Sierra Finches, plus Hooded Siskin and the truly spectacular Black Siskin out of the finch flocks around the upper reaches of the valley, and drive-by Golden Grosbeak, several Bare-faced Ground Doves, two White-capped Dippers, Spot-winged Pigeons and three Yellow-billed Teals a little further down. The road through the central third of the canyon was cut into a vertical sandstone cliff and it tool a real effort to fight off the sense that one false move would terminate the trip as swiftly as a bigger rock would have done earlier in the day. The driver Alejandro, even if he drove just a tad faster than I was comfortable with epitomised my “always go for the old dudes” motto for mountain birding trip – they’ve survived a long time!

I was delivered safely back to the airport with two hours to spare, adding a couple of Belcher’s Gulls feeding in a rubbish-strewn river , twenty or so Black Vultures and last bird of the trip – an Amazilia Hummingbird pillaging a very bedraggled roadside bush as we edged round a roundabout just short of the airport road. After 5 days of jet lag and the 3am start that morning I was sleep before we left the ground. As usual I'd be very happy to provide more details should anyone be interested.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Monday 20th May 2019, 19:04   #22
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Great report as ever Mike.

Pretty sure you must have visited the same high bogs as us, though our experience was quite different. I ended up failing to find either of the star birds, but still felt like it was an awesome half day's birding. I didn't do a report of our Peru trip, so hope you don't mind me posting that day on this thread.

It was mid October 2017. Nicky and I and Ronnie (then aged 4) ended up finding a guest house (Las Brisas) at San Mateo on the central highway. Here we found a taxi driver who was up for taking us to the site and back, setting off at 5am and returning to San Mateo at 1pm, for about 30 US dollars. From up the hill at km120 it's about 17km of rough road to the site, and it was light enough to bird by the time we hit this rough road.

Although I knew we should be pressing on to give us more time at the recommended bogs, the birding was just too exciting on the way, and I just couldn't help yelling "Stop!" time after time, and charging off after head-scratchingly puzzling ground tyrants, and trackside cripplers such as a male Black-breasted Hillstar and a confiding Stripe-headed Antpitta.

By the time we got to the junction by the bogs, my time was limited, and I ended up thrashing around in a fruitless solo search for the Sandpiper-Plover and White-bellied Cinclodes, at around 4700m altitude, until I was seriously warn out and struggling to breath. Getting back to the taxi to join the driver and Nicky and Ronnie ended up being a massive physical strain. One that really let me know that I'm not a kid any more! Nicky said that she could tell by my gait, through bins at more than a km away, as I slowly worked my way back, that I had dipped.

Even so, I was chuffed at what I did see that morning, and the scenery was truly breathtaking. Other birds I noted down in my notebook were Andean Ibis, Puna Snipe, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Dark-winged and Slender-billed Miners, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, Cordilleran and Streak-throated Canasteros, White-fronted, Taczanowski's, Puna and Cinereous Ground Tyrants, Cream-winged and White-winged Cinclodes, Mountain Caracara, Bright-rumped Yellowfinch, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, White-winged Diuca Finch, Crested Duck and Yellow-billed Teal. Ten of those were lifers, and half the others were new for the trip.

Be nice to have another go at the two star birds one day (though I doubt I'll get the chance). If I do I'll head straight to the bogs at the top!

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Old Monday 20th May 2019, 19:17   #23
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A heist indeed! This little trip, I do believe, takes the crown for the best of your regular conference birding jaunts. Good one!
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Old Tuesday 21st May 2019, 22:16   #24
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Many thanks Jos - it has certainly been a memorable trip - 102 species and 52 lifers with the some serious quality amongst them. My top conference birding score was 126 at Brisbane /Gold Coast, and Puerto Vallarta in December 2015 delivered 96 species and 50 lifers.

Always happy to hear more about places I've been Larry - and always enjoyed your writing. I had to drive past so many of the birds that you saw - I had no earth creepers, canasteros, or miners, and no Andean Ibis, ant pitta or Hillstar . . . and that the great frustration of most of my trips - the fact you get one shot and know you're leaving so many behind.

As a result I love reading reports like Paul's, where you get time to really learn a place and its birds - and I've long wanted to visit the Scottish Isles . . .

Cheers
Mike
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Old Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 07:56   #25
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I am glad you saw the DSP and went for it in the first place; the landscape up there is truly breath taking and for me a fascinating memory that will last.
The Santa Eulalia valley and the peat bogs at Marcopomacochas are so close to sea level and a capital city, while at the same time the villages are seemingly warped 100 years in time and the landscape at 5000 MASL seems to be a different world.
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