Peru (Lima, Lake Huacarpay, Sacsayhuaman Ruins, Aguas Calientes) - 2nd - 14th August, 2018,

Published by Brent Steury (bsteury AT

Participants: Brent Steury


We repeated a trip we did 17 years ago (this time with two kids) leaving D.C. on 2 August and landing in Lima, Peru around 11:30 pm. We caught the one hour flight to Cusco on 4 August and arrived around 5:30 pm. I didn’t bother taking out my binoculars in Lima but still managed to see a few species around town that were not observed at other locations during the journey. In Cusco I did most of my birding on 6 August at Lake Huacarpay and at Sacsayhuaman Ruins on 8 August. On 9 August we took the train from Poroy to the boom town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu. I birded along the train tracks leading into Aguas Calientes on the evenings of 9-11 August and during the mornings of 10-13 August.

Lima – We stayed at the Holiday Inn five minutes from the airport. After sleeping in on August 3 we took a 45 minute taxi ride to Mira Flores to see the coast and have dinner. The distance is short but the traffic is bad. We had a delicious dinner at a restaurant serving typical Peruvian style food located on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. Near the Holiday Inn and in Mira Flores I noted the following species:

1) Black Vulture – common, soaring along the coast
2) Belcher’s (Band-tailed) Gull – 1 in Mira Flores
3) Rock Pigeon – common
4) Pacific Dove – 2, near Holiday Inn
5) Great-tailed Grackle – 1 male, attending puddle in back yard of Holiday Inn (This species is typically restricted to northern Peru. It may have been a stray or perhaps a local population is recently established in Lima)
6) Shiny Cowbird – one flock of males and females on plaza with street trees in colonial district of Mira Flores.

Cusco – We stayed at Rumi Wasi, a very comfortable B&B about 15 minutes’ uphill walk from the lower eastern entrance to Sacsayhuaman Ruins. Cusco is a gem of the Andes. The markets, exotic fruits, restaurants, museums, indigenous dress, artisans of every kind, and seemingly daily parades, bands, and fireworks make Cusco one of the liveliest towns we have ever visited. I noted only one species in Cusco that was not seen elsewhere; a plain-breasted ground dove walking around the edge of the fountain in the center of Plaza de Armas.

7) Plain-breasted Ground Dove - 1

Lake Huacarpay – I hired a bird guide and driver (Jose Luise Avendano and Guido) through BirdingPals and we drove to Laguna Huacaarpay (a reedy marsh) 40 minutes east of Cusco. The driver picked me up at Rumi Wasi at 6:30 am and we returned by noon. It was my first visit to this high elevation marsh and it is a must see for birders visiting Cusco. We started at the observation tower on the west side of the lake and walked the southern edge to the Pikillaqta Ruins on the east side.

8) Andean Tinamou – 1, at Pikillaqta Ruins
9) Puna Teal – 7, scattered throughout marsh
10) Cinnamon Teal – 4, two on west side of marsh and two on east side
11) Yellow-billed Teal – the most common duck in the marsh, one with 6 chicks
12) Yellow-billed Pintail – several, throughout
13) Ruddy Duck – 4, on pond near observation tower
14) White-tufted Grebe – 1, on pond near observation tower
15) Great Egret – 1
16) Cattle Egret - 1
17) Little Blue Heron – 1
18) Puna Ibis – 9, scattered throughout marsh
19) Variable Hawk – 3, one perched with white breast, one soring with black breast
20) Plumbeous Rail – 7, best views near observation tower
21) Common Gallinule – several, throughout marsh
22) Slate-colored Coot – common throughout marsh
23) Andean Lapwing – 6, in pairs, throughout marsh
24) Andean Gull – common
25) Eared Dove – roadsides, fairly common
Rock Pigeon – common
26) American Kestrel – common
27) Wren-like Rushbird – by voice obviously abundant in marsh, only one well seen in good light near observation tower.
28) Streak-fronted Thornbird – 3, best views near Pikillaqta Ruins (A difficult bird to see well, tends to sulk inside shrubs). One observed flying across road.
29) Rusty-fronted Canastero – 2, best views near Pikillaqta Ruins (Behavior as in preceding species.) A southern Peruvian endemic.
30) Many-colored Rush-Tyrant – flock of 4 well seen near observation tower, glimpses of others.
31) Andean Negrito – 1, running on mudflats of pond just north of observation tower.
32) Spot-billed Ground-tyrant – 3 at Pikillaqta Ruins.
33) Southern Martin – 1, on wire along roadside. The seemingly exhausted bird allowed close approach and never flew. We obtained point-blank photographs through a spotting scope that are posted to ebird. This is the first record of this Austral migrant for Lake Huacarpay.
34) House Wren – 1, at Pikillaqta Ruins.
35) Chiguanco Thrush – fairly common along roadside scrub.
36) Blue and Yellow Tanager – fairly common in small trees on southwestern side of marsh.
37) Rusty Flowerpiercer – 1, just before Pikillaqta Ruins.
38) Mourning Sierra-finch – 5, on southwestern side of marsh.
39) Band-tailed Seedeater – Large flocks along roadside on southern edge of marsh.
40) Golden-billed Saltator – 1, just before Pikillaqta Ruins.
41) Rufous-colored Sparrow – abundant throughout on roadsides.
42) Yellow-winged Blackbird – 4, two females near observation tower and a pair on the eastern side of the marsh.

Canyon Road along Urubamba River - Because we saw no hummingbirds near the marsh we drove an additional 5 minutes to the Urubamba River, stopped for a cup of roadside-served impeccable coffee ($0.33), crossed the bridge, turned left, and parked on the side of the road about 100 m from the bridge. A dirt road followed a canyon opposite the river. A short walk up this road lead to an abundance of two species of flowering plants, one yellow, in the tobacco family, and one orange, teasel-like flower. At this site we recorded four species of hummingbird not seen at the marsh, including my target bird for the trip, the southern Peruvian endemic, bearded mountaineer.

43) Spot-winged Pigeon – 2
44) Sparkling-violetear – 3
45) Black-tailed Trainbearer – 1
46) Green-tailed Trainbearer – 1
47) Bearded Mountaineer – 1
48) Black-throated Flowerpiercer - 2
49) Greenish-yellow Finch – flock of 8 on the ground.

Sacsayhuaman Ruins – We entered through the upper eastern gate around 7:30 am. It was our first visit to this ruins despite it being only 15 minutes by cab from Plaza de Armas. The entrance fee ($25 per person – child or adult – must be paid in Soles; Machu Picchu is half price for kids under 17). We hired a guide at the gate (price is highly negotiable) but we ending up paying him twice the negotiated price because his tour was so exceptional. These ruins are not to be missed by anyone visiting Cusco. They are equally fascinating for their bird life and history. The tour lasted two hours and ended at the western gate. I stayed until noon traversing the ruins four times, eventually finding my target bird, the southern Peruvian endemic, Creamy-crested Spinetail. The park has done any excellent job restoring the quenua (Polylepis cf. rugulosa) forest between Cusco and the ruins. During our tour few other people were around, but by noon it was getting crowded.

Andean Lapwing – 2, on ruins.
Andean Gull – 12, on ruins.
Rock Pigeon – common.
50) Bare-faced Ground-dove – 2, at lower eastern entrance.
Eared Dove – 3, western entrance.
Sparkling Violetear – 1, along stream at eastern entrance.
Greentailed Trainbearer– 1, along stream at eastern entrance.
51) Giant Hummingbird – 1, feeding on Kantu flowers (Cantua buxifolia) above lower eastern entrance.
52) Andean Flicker – 3, on ruins.
53) Aplomado Falcon – 1, soaring over ruins.
American Kestrel – 1, perched at lower eastern entrance.
54) Creamy-crested Spinetail – 2, in Polylepis trees at western entrance. The behavior of this bird is more akin to a treecreeper than to other spinetails that I have seen.
Spot-billed Ground-tyrant – 6, on ruins.
House Wren – 1, at lower eastern entrance.
Chiguanco Thrush – 6, at eastern and western entrances.
Blue and Yellow Tanager – 1, at western entrance.
55) Cinerous Conebill – abundant in Polylepis forest. The most common bird at Sacsayhuaman.
Black-throated Flowerpiercer – 2, at western entrance.
Band-tailed seedeater – 1, at lower eastern entrance.
56) Plain-colored Seedeater – 3, along stream at eastern entrance.
57) Hooded Siskin – 8, along stream at eastern entrance.
Goldenbilled Saltator – 1, at western entrance.
Rufous Collared Sparrow – throughout
58) Golden Grosbeak – 2, at western entrance.

Train to Aguas Calientes – We took a cab from Cusco to Poroy to catch a 10:00 train to Aguas Calientes (at the foot of Machu Picchu) and arrived four hours latter. The train was very comfortable and the service was excellent. The kids said they would rather travel by train than by plane. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful as the train follows the rapidly flowing Urubamba River through agricultural fields, then dry, high Andean foothills with snowcapped mountains behind, and finally enters cloud forest just before Aguas Calientes Station. A few larger birds could be identified through the train windows, including a few not observed elsewhere on the journey.

59) Torrent Duck – 4 males and 2 females, usually in pairs, on boulders in fast flowing section of the Urubamba about 2-3 hours from Poroy.
60) Muscovy Duck – 1, domestic escape, on rock in river about 2 hours from Poroy (mostly white plumage).
Yellow-billed Teal – 3 groups on gravel bars about an hour from Poroy.
61) Neotropic Cormorant – one flock on gravel bar about one hour from Poroy.
Puna Ibis – 4 in wet agricultural fields near Poroy.
Andean Lapwing – in agricultural fields near Poroy.
Andean Gull – in agricultural fields near Poroy.
62) Andean Swallow – good numbers flying around train stations in dry foothills.

Aguas Calientes – The boom town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu has at least tripled in size since I last visited 17 years ago. Two streams (Aguas Calientes to the west and Rio Alcama to the east) enter the Urubamba at the town of Aguas Calientes. We stayed at the Terrazas del Inca B&B which could not have been more accommodating. It is a 5 minutes’ walk to the banos (or hot springs, which we enjoyed one morning) and on the edge of Aguas Calientes stream, so you are serenaded all night by the sounds of rushing water. The cloud forest near the hot springs is pristine and probably very good for spotting birds, but it can’t be entered without paying the entrance fee for the banos and the trail is short. The road heading west out of town leads to Machu Picchu and the bus traffic is constant. The best birding option in town is to retrace the train route to the east, walking along the tracks where the trains enter Aguas Calientes. I walked this route on three evenings and four mornings. Typically only 2 to 4 trains would pass by and there is plenty of room to step aside as they pass (remember to leave extra space for the iron steps which jut out two feet from the side of the train). It was quite productive for a number of species including my target bird, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.

Torrent Duck – 3, observed on 2 mornings.
63) Andean Guan – 1, flew in from far side of river and landed in tree along RR tracks.
64) Fasciated Tiger Heron – 1, on rocks in Urubamba.
65) Roadside Hawk – 1, along RR tracks near town.
Andean Gull – fairly common over river.
Rock Pigeon - common
66) White-tipped Dove – 2 along RR tracks.
67) Collared Inca – 1, along stream across from Terrazas del Inca.
68) Green and White Hummingbird – 1, perched on low shrub along RR tracks.
69) Andean Motmot – seen on every walk, very tame and approachable, often landing on ground to catch insects.
70) Ocellated Piculet – 2, one along stream opposite Terrazas del Inca and one in mixed flock along RR tracks.
71) Golden-plumed Parakeet – one large flock flying down river.
72) Variable Antshrike – 2, seen on two mornings.
73) Montane Woodcreeper – 1, climbing tree branch along RR tracks.
74) Azara’s Spinetail – seen 3 times, in shrubby areas with tall grass along RR tracks.
75) White-banded Tyrannulet – 2, along RR tracks.
76) White-crested Elaenia – 1, lower branches of tree along steam opposite Terrazas del Inca.
77) Torrent Tyrannulet – seen every day on rocks in stream opposite Terrazas del Inca and in Urubamba River.
78) Streak-necked Flycatcher – 1, in mixed flock along RR tracks.
79) Ashy-headed Tyrannulet – 1, in tree along RR tracks.
80) Mottle-checked Tyrannulet – 1, along RR tracks.
81) Common Tody Flycatcher – 4, seen on two days.
82) Fulvous-breasted Flatbill – 1, large rounded head, bold white eye-ring, strong yellow edging on primaries, otherwise all dingy greenish plumage.
83) Cinnamon Flycatcher – 2, along stream opposite Terrazas del Inca.
84) Great Kiskadee – 1, on wire along RR tracks.
85) Golden-crowned Flycatcher – at least 2 seen every day along RR tracks.
86) Tropical Kingbird – Seen every day along RR tracks and in town.
87) Andean Cock-of-the-rock – 2 males, on the same morning. A light rain fell all morning and it seemed to increase activity for this species. One was observed flying over the river and disappeared in the forests by the RR tracks. A second came from the same direction and landed on a bare tree branch near the RR tracks. It seemed as interested in me as I was in it and we stared at each other for about 5 minutes - maybe he wondered what sort of human wore such a bright yellow coat.
88) Barred Becard – 1, in mixed flock along RR tracks.
89) Brown-capped Vireo – 2, seen on different days along RR tracks.
90) Blue and white swallow – very common, one of the most conspicuous birds.
91) House Wren – a least one seen every day, highly vocal at dawn at RR track entrance.
92) Grey-breasted Wood-wren – 1, along RR tracks in low shrubs.
93) White-capped Dipper – 3, in Aguas Calientes and Rio Alcama streams.
Chiguanco Thrush – 3, along RR tracks.
94) Russet-crowned Warbler – 3, on two days, in trees along RR tracks.
95) Slate-throated Redstart – common, seem every walk, very conspicuous.
96) Spectacled Redstart – 1, in tree along RR tracks.
97) Slaty Tanager – 1 male, in tree along RR tracks.
98) Oleaginous Hemispingus – one of the most common birds in mixed flocks, seen on 4 walks.
99) Silver-beaked Tanager – 1, male along RR tracks.
100) Fawn-breasted Tanager – 4, on same walk along RR tracks.
101) Blue-gray Tanager – 3, along stream opposite Terrazas del Inca.
102) Blue capped Tanager – 4, seen on two walks.
103) Blue necked Tanager – 8, seen on four walks.
104) Flame-faced Tanager – 4, on two walks, bright orange face, black back – reportedly more common saffron crowned tanager was never seen.
105) Blue Dacnis – 2, on separate walks along RR tracks.
106) Capped Conebill- 4, on same day along RR tracks in crowns of low trees.
107) Dull-colored Grassquit – small flocks seen every day but one in areas along RR tracks with tall grass.
108) Dusky Green Oropendola – 1, in tree opposite Terrazas del Inca.

Machu Picchu – Tickets for Machu Picchu must be purchased for morning or afternoon arrivals but cost the same price. Tickets do sell out so they should be purchased in advance. Bus tickets also sell out and are good for one trip within three days of the purchase. Train tickets, bus tickets, and park entrance tickets are bought at different locations. The Machu Picchu experience has changed significantly in 17 years. The bus (full size) lines are long, sometimes very long, and once arriving, the park entrances lines are equally long. Visitors form a single file line that is directed one way through the ruins toward an exit. The route takes about 1.5 hours. 17 years ago, when we first visited, you walked right up to a van that took you to the ruins and you could roam the ruins in any direction. My bird list from 17 years ago at Machu Picchu ruins contained many species not seen on this trip, such as booted racket-tail and bluish and masked flowerpiercers. We arrived around 9:00 and the only birds seen while at the ruins were:

Blue and White Swallow
Rufous-collared sparrow