October 24, 2018
We set the alarm for 6:45 am, and breakfast was at 7 am. It was buffet style so we had cereal, toast, and juice plus some really tasty almond cookies.
Ricardo picked us up at about 7:45 am and we went to the Reserva del Huaico, which is a cloud forest just at the top of the village of San Lorenzo. It’s a fairly large reserve which protects a section of yungas forest, and the plan was to walk some of the trails in the reserve.
We spent the morning slowly walking through the forest. There were a lot of birds calling but many of them were difficult and frustrating to see because of the dense undergrowth. However the big Cream-backed Woodpeckers were easy to see, as were the turkey-like Dusky-legged Guans. And with some hard work we even managed to see skulking little birds like the Buff-browed Spinetail. It was a good walk and the morning went by quickly.
We had lunch at a restaurant in Quebrada del Toro, which served us very good empanadas. While sitting outside we watched a pair of Black Phoebes collecting insects to feed their young. But Ricardo got a phone call and he had to dash home because he had forgotten his scope. That would have been a disaster!
Once finished our meal we started our journey north to Yala. We stopped at several places along the way to look for birds, such as the Andean Condor which was circling over the road. Highway 9 was the old road, a winding two-lane road through the mountains. And when we reached the pass Ricardo stopped and announced that he had heard a Giant Antshrike singing. So we walked in to the clearing behind the parking area (which was clearly the preferred toilet site) and he played a recording of the bird. And the singer responded! Eventually it flew right over us and then hopped up into a big tree right next to us. Rosemary got a really good picture of it.
We made our way up the Rio Yala to the place where you can find Rufous-throated Dippers. We searched the river for quite a while but didn’t find any, and the light was beginning to fade so we headed down to our hotel in Reyes. We were the only guests at the Pura Vida Hosteria and our room was large and clean. For dinner we had chicken empanadas for the starter, cheese ravioli with meat sauce for the main, and canned peaches with dulce de leche for dessert. With the exception of the peaches everything was homemade and very tasty.
October 25, 2018
The alarm went off at 6:30 am but it took us a while to realize we needed to turn it off. We definitely could have used more sleep. Breakfast was at 7 am again, a simple affair of scrambled eggs, toasted French bread, and a Danish, and we were soon on our way.
Today we were heading to Abra Pampa, but the first stop, of course, was back at the Rio Yala. Today we were lucky and Rosemary spotted the dipper pretty promptly. We watched it for a while and then realized that there were actually two dippers. The second one had been banded, with red and yellow bands on one leg and a silver band on the other.
We birded around Yala for another hour before heading north again on Highway 9. We stopped several times along the way, finding lots of birds which we hadn’t seen before. Then at Purmamarca we took a respite from birding and took a detour to see the famous Hill of Seven Colours. It was a nice diversion and even in the middle of the day the scenery was spectacular. We had noticed fancy geological strata elsewhere but Purmamarca is the place to go for that.
We continued north and stopped at a smart-looking restaurant in Tilcara. There was a tour group there, about 25 high school students from Buenos Aires (said Ricardo). But they were all well-behaved and no bother at all. The food at the restaurant was plentiful and very tasty.
A bit north of Tilcara we stopped at a place which Ricardo said was usually good for ground doves. We saw some very interesting birds, including the Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, a cute little bird which came to the bush right in front of us! But no ground doves.
The road went steadily up into the puna, which is grassland where the cardon cactuses and scrubby bushes can’t grow. The road didn’t look like it was climbing, but eventually we went over the pass near Tres Cruces at 3,780 meters before descending to Abra Pampa at 3,484 meters. We would be staying here for the next two nights.
Our hotel, Hotel Cesarito, was not very fancy but it seemed reasonably clean. For dinner we all had chicken, Andean potatoes, and salad. It was basic home cooking but very tasty. But just as we were finishing, all of the lights went out! There was a huge electrical storm on its way, with hail and heavy rain. Apparently our power was controlled by the substation in La Quiaca, up near Bolivia, so when the storm reached us the power had been turned back on. The lighting was amazing and at one point we could hear and feel the thunder; the whole storm lasted over two hours.
We finally went to bed at 10:15 pm, after getting all the sightings uploaded to eBird (Paul) and a few hundred photos edited (Rosemary).