(Point & Counterpoint)
Note #1 (Point):
I recently visited Machu Picchu (near Cuzco, Peru) and thought I would post a very brief trip report:
The purpose of the trip was to see the famed Inca ruins and birding was secondary. But as Machu Picchu and the surrounding valleys are the only home for the endemic Inca Wren, I did have a target bird.
The Ururbamba valley near Cuzco and Machu Picchu is not, to my mind, a great birding area. The whole area has been inhabited and farmed for hundreds of years, giving people plenty of time to remove most indigenous vegetation. I do understand that there are some interesting Polylepis woodlands and a few highland wetlands that can be very interesting, but I did not have any site directions.
The ruins themselves are also of fairly limited interest to birders, although siskins and tanagers (Fawn-breasted, Rust and Yellow) are common is the scrub surrounding the ruins, the day visitor would be hard pressed to see more than 20 species. However, nearby (i.e. down river) there some areas that look virtually undisturbed and certainly worth exploring. But you would need a couple days or at least some good directions. Torrent Ducks are easily seen in the river from the Cuzco-Machu Picchu train.
THE ENDEMIC INCA WREN:
The Inca Wren is fairly easy to see in the second growth that surrounds the ruins site. The Inca Wren is much more spotted below with black than the PLain-tailed Wren and has a white throat and breast. I found a pair just below the agricultural terraces right near the original wall of the city. A scrubby woodland begins there and the wrens seem to be quite active in the morning.
URUBAMBA VALLEY AND CAR RENTAL HORROR STORY
We also had a day to drive around the Urubamba Valley, visiting ruins and looking for the endemic Green and White Hummingbird. We saw lots of incredile ruins, landscapes, but no hummer. We rented a car from Mitsui Rent-a-Car in Cuzco which certainly ranks as my WORST car rental experience ever. We signed the contract at $70 for a day's rental for a Toyota HiLux. Upon returning it at 6 PM, the representative said that we had had the car for LESS than 24 hours, and thus would be charged the HOURLY rate. As we had a flight the next morning at 7AM, we could not return the car at 8AM for an exact 24 hour rental. The hourly rate total came to $212! Quite a difference. As we argued with the representative and then the manager, they became physically abusive and even locked the metal exit door to the office. Finally after forcing me to sign a statement saying that I would not complain against Mitsui Car Rental, that I had had "good service," and that I would not contest the amount charged on my credit card slip, they "released" us. Not a pleasant experience. We went directly to the Tourist police who filled out a complaint report. I have not heard anything regarding my complaint as of yet (and do not expect to). But my signed "confession" notwithstanding, the credit card company will hear about my experience. As you might expect, I CANNOT under any circumstances recommend Mitsui Car Rental in Cuzco, Peru.
I have had several bad experiences renting car in Latin America (hidden charges etc.), but this was undoubtedly the worst. If anyone has recommendations for reliable car rental companies in various birding destinations in Latin America (or strategies for minimizing bad car rental experiences), please let me know. IF I get enough responses, I'll post a summary.
At Machu Picchu, we stayed in the nearby (2 km.) town of Aguas Calientes where they are a variety of cheap hostals. I highly recommend staying overnight. The tourists arrive at 10AM and leave at 3 PM, so the ruins are quite peaceful in the early morning and late afternoon, even if the birds are rather ordinary (expect the Inca Wren). There is a VERY expensive hotel ($200\double) at the ruins themselves. In Cuzco we stayed at the Hotel Cuzco, a somewhat run-down hotel in the center of town, two blocks from the plaza.
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Note #2 (Counterpoint):
With all due respect, I think Lawrence rather underestimates the birding potential in this overall rich (and accessible) region of world-class touristic importance. Do not let his sour tone deter you from a truly great birding experience. Though there are certainly better birding areas in southern Peru and elsewhere in the central Andes, few are so accessible and so visited as Cuzco, Machu Picchu and environs. A huge additional advantage of the Cuzco area is that you're within easy reach of the Manu NP (and general Madre de Dios) area, arguably the richest and one of the least-disturbed portions of Amazonia and certainly among the most accessible.
I'm sorry Lawrence had such a bad experience with the car rental agency. Of course staying longer and going farther would yield *many* more species than a brief weekend could afford. See Alden and Gooders' Birding Around the World (sorry I don't have complete citation right in front of me), also Ted Parker's short writeup in back of the annotated list of Peruvian birds (also don't have complete citation handy). There's also the "new" book out by Nigel Wheatley.
I've had the good fortune to visit this area many times. Comments follow:
On Fri, 20 Mar 1998, Lawrence Rubey wrote:
> The Ururbamba valley near Cuzco and Machu Picchu is not, to my mind,
> great birding area. The whole area has been inhabited and farmed for
> hundreds of years, giving people plenty of time to remove most indigenous
> vegetation. I do understand that there are some interesting Polylepis
> woodlands and a few highland wetlands that can be very interesting, but I
> did not have any site directions.
Fair enough, but it *is* very accessible, and for a number of people this may be their only/best chance at these birds. There are good birds to be seen right around a number of the Inka sites even in the Cuzco area: several hummers, including Bearded Mountaineer at Pisaq; I've often seen Green-tailed Trainbearers at Sacsayhuaman; Giant Hummingbird can often be seen at Tambomachay (these are all sites typically visited). I've even seen Chestnut-breasted Mountain Finch just above Sacsayhuaman, but this is unusual. Several sierra-finches can be found at any of these sites (esp. the streambed on the entrance road to Tambomachay), also a spinetail, a Tit-Spinetail, etc.
> The ruins themselves are also of fairly limited interest to birders,
> although siskins and tanagers (Fawn-breasted, Rust and Yellow) are common
> is the scrub surrounding the ruins, the day visitor would be hard pressed
> to see more than 20 species. However, nearby (i.e. down river) there some
> areas that look virtually undisturbed and certainly worth exploring. But
> you would need a couple days or at least some good directions. Torrent
> Ducks are easily seen in the river from the Cuzco-Machu Picchu train.
Well...it's true that the birding right around the site isn't prime cloud forest/montane forest birding, nevertheless there are two good areas right at hand, though trying either of these *and* seeing the ruins on a day trip would be extremely tight. Directions are straightforward: the better of the two options is to walk two-three km. *down* the tracks from the Machu Picchu train station (down below the site itself along the river) into pretty nice montane forest (e.g., Cock-of-the-Rock).
The second option is also good - the upper montane forest back up "the" Inka trail toward Intipunku - the notch in the ridge high up to the left if you're standing in front looking at the hotel on site. It's a relatively easy 30-45 min. walk out of the upper end of the ruins, and even right at Intipunku itself (i.e., right in the notch) is nice cloud forest with flocks of tanagers, flower-piercers, dacnis, flycatchers, warblers, etc. Walking down the trail just the other side of Intipunku takes you deeper into this extensive patch of upper montane forest (I saw Plushcap on this stretch in May, 1997). Inca Wrens can be readily found along this trail up to Intipunku. Mountain Wren can be found just beyond Intipunku. For some reason (fortunately!) the very start of this forest (right at Intipunku and the first hundred yards) has consistently been the most active, in my experience (maybe 6 visits).
> At Machu Picchu, we stayed in the nearby (2 km.) town of Aguas Calientes
> where they are a variety of cheap hostals. I highly recommend staying
> overnight. The tourists arrive at 10AM and leave at 3 PM, so the ruins
> are quite peaceful in the early morning and late afternoon, even if the
> birds are rather ordinary (expect the Inca Wren). There is a VERY
> expensive hotel ($200\double) at the ruins themselves. In Cuzco we stayed
> at the Hotel Cuzco, a somewhat run-down hotel in the center of town, two
> blocks from the plaza.
Staying overnight is a great idea, esp. to get in a morning walk down the tracks (see above). Green-and-White Hummingbird is *everywhere* up around the ruins - I've never failed to miss it on 10 +/- visits. With tact, you could probably walk around the very birdy grounds of the expensive hotel (Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel) upriver about 1/2 km. from Aguas Calientes. Cock of the Rock (the logo of the hotel) is a definite possibility, esp. in winter (June-Sep. = main tourist months).
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