Southern Peru (Tambopata, Cuzco, Paracas), 9 - 30 April 1999
Birding trip report  -  John van der Woude 

  Part 4 - Coast of Paracas and Lima


On Tuesday 27 April 1999 we arrived early enough at Lima airport in order to catch the luxurious 13.30 h Ormeno bus that goes all the way down to the hotel Paracas (see part 1 for directions for this bus). The 3 hours bus ride showed us an unbelievably dry landscape, mostly bare sand and sandstone, vegetated only at oases and in the few river valleys that we crossed. Species that we saw from the bus were, in systematic order: Snowy Egret (a few), Turkey Vulture (locally), Groove-billed Ani, Baird's Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, and several gulls of course, to be ID'd later on. A first walk to the hotel pier in late p.m. showed some common coastal birds: Neotropical Cormorant, Peruvian Pelican, Ruddy Turnstone, Band-tailed Gull (nearly all in winter plumage). On the hotel grounds we saw White-winged Dove, Rufous-collared Sparrow, House Sparrow (later also the Amazilia Hummingbird).

On Wednesday 28 April we went out on excursion to the Ballestas Islands, from the hotel pier, with a boat of the hotel. The boat driver was eager to show us as many bird species as possible, without neglecting the need to show the mammals (sea lions) too, esp. for the other tourists. He really had to convince the people to have a look at the penguins too, in stead of only at the sea lions. On the way to the island we ticked Sooty Shearwater and Kelp Gull near to the boat. The first bird on the island was the Red-legged Cormorant, two nests on a dark ledge, and a generally uncommon species for the rest of our stay here. Then we went to see the large colonies of guano birds: Guanay Cormorant (largest colony about 200 birds), Peruvian Booby (1000s in total), Neotropic Cormorant. The plural form Ballestas Islands means that you cross several bays between small islands and the main island, with good and often close views on the colonies. A sort of colony was formed also by our first (lifer) penguin, the cute Humboldt Penguin, first a group of two on a boulder beach, later a group of 12 on the slope of a tiny island.

Competing with the penguin for attention was the Inca Tern (photo above). Several loose colonies of about 10 or 20 individuals of this splendid species were present on the steep slopes at eye level, often at only 10 m distance. But there were also some interesting non-colonial birds: a Cape Petrel on a ledge on the W side of the main island, and a Blackish Oystercatcher on an stony outcrop just above sea level.

The subsequent tour that only the two of us took to the Paracas Peninsula was very interesting, not only for the desert scenery (photo below) and the museum, but also for the birds. First we drove to the rim of the so-called Cathedral, a fine bay on the South side with steep rock cliffs (photo above) holding some more Red-legged Cormorant, Peruvian Booby, and another Blackish Oystercatcher. Hopping on the wet rocks in the depths below us was a Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes. Then we went on to the flat Lagunillas bay with some fishery present, and there we ticked American Oystercatcher, Black-bellied Plover, and a group of 15 Surfbirds. We crossed the peninsula to the North side in order to see the Chilean Flamingo, a lifer for us. We saw it there indeed, but even more impressive were two groups of a few hundred Black Skimmers resting on the beach. Grey Gulls were also present in good numbers. Not far from there, the last stop at the peninsula was the museum with a good permanent exhibition of how the native Paracas Indians have lived here in this desert long ago, and with a Coastal Miner at the bushes in front of the museum. From there we also discerned a much bigger group of Chilean Flamingo at the shoreline in the distance.

Thursday 29 April was our last full day in Peru, and yet not our last birding day. The morning appeared good for terns at the pier of the hotel. They were nearer now than yesterday afternoon, more species also, and in better light (sun from the back). So now we could find out more about them and came to the following list of species: Peruvian Tern (3, small and slim), South American Tern (2 in a sort of parallel display flight), Elegant Tern (wing tips, large orange-yellow bill), Royal Tern (wing tips), Sandwich Tern (bill tip). Franklin's Gull was another trip tick. We relaxed on the outer end of the pier, in the wind and the sun, and typically for the last day of the vacation I got sunburn. On the way back to Lima we sat on the upper deck of the same Ormeno bus, and when passing a large chicken farm we saw a group of about one thousand Peruvian Boobies diving all the time into the sea just behind the farm. Possibly the farm polluted the sea with nutrients that attracted fish. It virtually rained boobies!
On the morning of our departure day Friday 30 April we visited the Pantanos de Villa marsh reserve South of Lima, where we got a surprisingly large number of trip ticks. See part 1 of this report for more details how we got there. And please be careful here so close to the outskirts of Lima, it's best to take a taxi as we did (don't leave your rental car parked along the road; see part 1)
This is a lowland area directly behind the coastline, with shallow lakes and fields with rushes and other wet vegetation, and some palms. A trail leads from the visitor center along two observation towers. Here we got Peruvian Meadowlark on the fence, both vultures, many White-winged Dove, an Osprey, a Green Heron on the boardwalk, the impressive Great Grebe with young, several White-cheeked Pintail, a few Grey-hooded Gull, a large group of Andean Gull, a Plumbeous Rail below the first observation tower, a juvenile Black-crowned Heron. American Coot, Gallinule and Slate-colored Coot occurred together.

Lots of small doves flew around all the time, and finally we got some sitting quietly nearby: Croaking Ground-Dove (yellow base of bill). A Least Bittern flew up from the reed bed near the second observation tower. Pied-billed Grebe was another trip tick, as was even the Groove-billed Ani. A group of six Cinnamon Teal flew around a few times. Right behind the visitor center is another observation tower and here we saw Harris Hawk sitting on and flying between the low palm trees. A fourth observation tower is a bit further on along the road towards the beach (keep right at the fork). Here are some more trees but open water as well: Vermilion Flycatcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Blue-and-white Swallow, Kelp Gull, Band-tailed Gull, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, and Least Bittern again. Now we departed from the reserve, and at the same road fork we went to the left now, passing a gate of the golf course. The guard enthusiastically guided us to a spot 150 m further on along the road, where 21 Peruvian Thicknees were standing in the sparse vegetation at the left-hand side of the road (photo above). A bit further on, just behind the beach, we saw a Burrowing Owl on a low sand ridge, three Killdeer in front of it, and in a pool with floating vegetation 40 Snowy Egrets, some 15 Gallinule, a White-tufted Grebe on its nest, and six Stilt Sandpipers quietly stepping around, up to their bellies in the water. Back at the hotel in Lima/Miraflores at 11 a.m. we had three final trip ticks from the balcony, before the shopping and the flight back home: Bananaquit, Black Phoebe, Shiny Cowbird.