February 14, 2015, Andamarca Valley, Peru — This Valentine’s Day I got higher than I’ve ever been in my life—just over 16,000 feet (4,900 meters)! Peru is very tall, and Manuel, Carlos, Glenn and I spent the morning ascending one switchbacked, cliff-carved road after another into the rugged center of the country, via the gigantic Santa Euralia Canyon.
At 7:10 a.m. I saw my 1,000th bird of the year, a Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant. I have been inching toward four digits for the past several days, and it was sweet to finally pass that milestone. It took 22 days to see the first 500 birds and 23 more days to add another 500, so that’s pretty steady progress (things will slow down at some point…).
By midday we were wearing down jackets and were surrounded by glaciers and snowfields—quite a change from yesterday afternoon when I was birding in a hot desert at sea level. The high Andes is a relatively un-diverse place, but the birds up here are good ones. We saw some endemics like Junin Canastero, White-cheeked Cotinga, and Great Inca-Finch, and more than half the birds we found today were new for my year.
Sixteen thousand feet is fairly high, about a third of a mile higher than the highest peaks in the Lower 48. The altitude had me feeling a bit shaky for a couple of hours (no time to acclimatize). My stomach evened out when we descended. I probably won’t reach that elevation again this year, and it was cool to have that top-of-the-world feeling for a while, even while feeling the thin air.
In the afternoon Manuel, our driver, switched out in a restaurant parking lot to catch a bus home, and, in his place, a man named Gunnar Engblom climbed into the van, wearing a hat that says “MORE BIRDS.” Gunnar, a bird-crazy Swedish guy who relocated to Peru decades ago, has planned an ambitious birding route all over the country and will accompany Carlos, Glenn and me on and off for the next couple of weeks.
New birds today: 32
Year list: 1025