Abra Malaga

Wednesday, June 29, 2011: Our trip over Abra Malaga (elevation 4316m. = 14160 ft.) went very well. We did not bird at the pass, but made stops on the road to the pass, and after crossing the pass. Then we drove back over the pass again to Ollantaytambo.

Our first stop was in the Peñas area. We quickly picked up Red-crested Cotinga, and White-tufted Sunbeam. The Great Sapphirewing was a flyby, but not well seen. This contrasted with great views of Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch. We also added Creamy-crested Spinetail, Great Thrush, and Cream-winged Cinclodes. I spotted a Stripe-headed Antpitta. A field contained Peruvian Sierra-Finch and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch. We also found Golden-billed Saltator, Andean Parakeet, and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant. I puzzled over a hummingbird that turned out to be a Tyrian Metaltail.

My notes don't indicate whether the female Tit-like Dacnises were here or farther up the road. This is also true of Tufted Tit-Tyrant. As we drove up further, a couple of Andean Condors appeared on the left. They worked the mountainside for a while, allowing some distant photos.

Some tape playing in grassy areas brought both Junin Canastero and Streak-backed Canastero. Some Brown-bellied Swallows zipped by as we continued our canastero search. Athough we were able to see Streak-throated Canastero, we could only hear Line-fronted Canastero.

A field farther up contained White-winged Diuca-Finch and Puna Ground-Tyrant. We continued our ascent over Abra Malaga Pass. On the other side, we found Puna Tapaculo, Paramo Pipit, and White-collared Swift.

A bit further on, a lake contained Andean Goose. Futher downslope, we caught up with flock containing White-throated Tyrannulet, Masked Flower-piercer, Scaled Metaltail, and Puna Thistletail. We heard Diademed Tapaculo, and went into the woods unsuccessfully in search of it. A little further down, I caught a glimpse of one as it flashed across a hole in the vegetation. We also heard Rufous Antpitta here, a bird I had previously seen in Ecuador.

As we continued down, we noticed the clouds rolling up the valley on the north (Amazonian) side of the pass. By the time we returned to the pass, it was shrouded by clouds ('fog' if you prefer, but at 14,000 feet, I prefer 'clouds'). We soon found another flock. It included the lovely Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, White-browed Conebill, a pack of Unstreaked Tit-Tyrants, Marcapata Spinetail, and Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant.

We turned around and headed back toward the pass. Most of us had leftover food from our large picnic lunchs. We collected the unused food and gave portions of it to various highland families. Our local guide, Lucretia, has been giving food to some of these families for some time. Little did we realize our gifts would later be reciprocated.

As for birds, there was only one new one. White-rumped Swallow repeated fly near the lakes, but that was the only new bird on the way back to the Hotel Pakaritampu.

There's an unpaved segment of road before just outside of Ollantaytambo. At one point, the road is one lane because of a large stone left by the Incas that has been preserved. I'm told that this is part of why this segment remains unpaved. Today, the road was unusually crowded, and we could see traffic backed up ahead. The reason turned out to be a local event featuring Peruvian dancing (in costume).

Three more new birds awaited us at the hotel: White-bellied Hummingbird, Cinereous Conebill, Black-throated Flower-piercer. We put in some time looking for Bearded Mountaineer, but were unsuccessful.

My bird total for the day was 57 species, including 24 lifers. The trip total increased by 42 to 161 species, with 82 lifers.

Hotel Pakaritampu, Ollantaytambo