Aguas Calientes

Monday, June 27, 2011: We started the day on the hotel grounds. They have hummingbird feeders and bananas out for the fruit-eating birds. The hummingbird feeders were pretty subdued, possibly due to all the flowering plants (esp. Inga trees). The bananas got plenty of attention, including Dusky-green Oropendola, Blue-necked Tanager, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, and Golden-naped Tanager. A Sclater's Tyrannulet appeared in the trees and flocks of Plum-crowned (Speckle-faced) Parrots and Mitred Parakeets flew by. We got better looks at the Plum-crowned later. A Roadside Hawk perched nearby. We walked down to get a better look at a couple of Andean Motmots. After they flew off, a couple of Golden-olive Woodpeckers came in. We also heard Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, but did not see it yet.

We headed to the bus station (service to Machu Picchu) to ride as far as the bridge over the Urubamba. You could tell it was not the weekend any more by all of the kids in their school uniforms. While waiting to make arrangements for the pick-up, we found a Blue-capped Tanager.

The rest of the morning was spent walking near the train tracks. We started by birding where the bus dropped us off. We quickly picked up White-tipped Swift, Social Flycatcher, Common Tody-Flycatcher, and Gray-breasted Wood-Wren before heading out the trail. We soon ran into a flock that included Spectacled Whitestart, Streaked Xenops, Capped Conebill, Slaty Tanager, Smoke-colored Pewee, Barred Becard, Ashy-headed Tyrannulet, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, and Ocellated Piculet. Fortunately, the flock kept working the same trees for an extended period, allowing us to see all of its members.

Further down the tracks we managed to call in Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch and Azara's Spinetail. The latter had been pretty elusive earlier, but this time most of us got good looks. Our next new bird was Black-streaked Puffbird, soon followed by Oleaginous Hemispingus. Some water flowing down across the river attracted a small flock of Hooded Siskins, while a Torrent Tyrannulet worked along the river. A clearing on our side had Black-and-white Seedeater and Yellow-bellied Elaenia.

By this time we had covered a bit over two kilometers, and it was already time to head back. We found Sparkling Violetear near the same clearing. A bit further on, we noticed a lot of swifts overhead: Chestnut-collared Swifts. We were able to see Dull-colored Grassquit through the scope (it lives up to its name), and a striking Cinnamon Flycatcher appeared above the path. We also called in a Blue-banded Toucanet before returning to the road where it crosses the tracks and the Urubamba River. We showed the toucanet to a couple of groups of hikers.

When we got back to the road, we walked out on the footbridge to scan the river. We found a Fasciated Tiger-Heron from the bridge, another bird that we showed to hikers and the guard at the tollbooth. We sat down and waited for a bus to take us back. Before it arrived, a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle flew overhead.

The bus took us back to Aguas Calientes where we had a late lunch. After a break, we walked the trails from the lodge that go up the river (again along the train track). An Andean Cock-of-the-rock flew across and quickly disappeared. A White-capped Dipper was more cooperative.

We visited the Spectacled Bears the lodge has. They are hoping to be able to release one that has been there since it was a cub. The bears are vegetarians, and seem to have a fondness for heliconia leaves. After seeing them, and their short snouts, I wondered how the Spectacled Bears are related to the other bears. I found a paper by Krause et al. (BMC Evol. Biol., 2008) that investigates this. It turns out that Spectacled Bears are equally distantly related from all other bears except Panda (which is more distant). Their common ancestor with the ursine bears is estimated to have lived about 10-15 million years ago. They are the only surviving type of short-faced bear. Their common ancester of the American Giant Short-faced Bear (Arctodus simus) and the Spectacled Bear lived about 5 million years. The Spectacled Bear is thought to be an even closer relative of the Florida Short-faced Bear (Flordia Spectacled Bear). All of this is consistent with the idea that the Spectacled Bear came to South America as part of the Great American Interchange following the formation of the Isthmus of Panama about 3 million years ago.

Further along the trail, we found Russet-crowned Warbler in the woods. It was getting late when we heard Stripe-faced Wood-Quail across the river. It was dark when we spotted a Lyre-tailed Nightjar. Even though the scope I could only see the eyeshine. The bird did appear to respond to the nightjar call, but I will leave this one (and the wood-quail) off the life list.

My bird total for the day was 68 species, including 21 lifers. The trip total increased by 41 to 108 species, with 53 lifers.

Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Aguas Calientes