January 19, 2015, Cerro Negro, Argentina — I had hoped to hike to lower elevations today to pick up some additional Yungas specialties, but during breakfast this morning, it was obvious that nobody else was in the mood after yesterday’s long haul. We decided to stay put and meander around the high cloud forest near camp. For my big year, this was nearly a write-off; after spending two days in this area, I’d already seen most of the possible birds, and I picked up only three new species today. I did manage to spotlight a Yungas Screech-Owl after dark, which was pretty cool.
Still, sitting on an Andean mountaintop with a group of friends, eating wild peaches and watching the clouds ain’t a bad way to spend a day. Andean Condors, Peregrine and Aplomado Falcons, and a King Vulture soared below eye level as we sat on a grassy spot near camp, nearly close enough to touch. Then, in a lull, I caught myself getting frustrated by inactivity, and realized that I’m already feeling the pressure of a 14-new-birds-a-day average. I’m ahead of that pace now, but will I be able to keep it up? Will I still be able to appreciate the birds I see a few months from now? To both questions: I think so!
I got to know my hiking buddies a bit better this afternoon. Jose and Fabri are students at a university in eastern Argentina who came a thousand kilometers by bus to be part of this camping trip, and who are each serious birders on an ornithology track. Claudia, Freddy’s girlfriend, is a botanist and bird appreciator, who is always ready for an adventure. And Freddy, the ringleader of this group…well, he’s a biologist in Jujuy, and quite a character to travel with! He’s squat, with black hair and an ever-ready smile, and takes an optimistic, straight-ahead, somewhat cavalier approach to expedition-ing. When I looked in the food bag at the beginning of this trip, he’d packed not much more than saltines, biscuits, candy, apples, peanuts, tinned sardines, and corned beef. Yesterday, none of us had brought a water bottle, so he showed us how to drink meltwater out of a plastic shopping bag without dumping it all over yourself. He likes to veer off the trail, pioneering new “shortcuts” with confidence, even if they turn out to be rough traverses. He chats up every person we meet with extreme charm. When it rains, he stares at the sky, spreads his arms, and yells, “Me gusta esta Cerro Negro” - I like Cerro Negro this way!
New birds today: 3
Year list: 406