Birding

Day 46: The Risks of International Birding

In traversing one of the world’s most dangerous roads, Noah earns his next 48 species.

February 15, 2015, Oxampampa, Peru — Last night Gunnar, Carlos, Glenn and I drove past midnight into a remote part of central Peru, parked the van, reclined in our seats, and caught a few hours of uncomfortable rest. Gunnar wanted to be in this particular spot at dawn to find a bird called the Black-spectacled Brush-Finch, a super-endemic species first described about 15 years ago, which is easiest to see around daybreak. I woke up this morning to gunmetal skies and rain on the van’s roof. Carlos, who had slept in the driver’s seat, woke up a couple minutes later and discovered the van had a dead battery. What to do? We decided to sort it out later and the four of us went looking for the brush-finch on foot.

The rain came down in a steady, cold, penetrating drizzle, and we got soaked. The birds were quiet. Glenn suggested that they were all inside somewhere drinking hot chocolate, which sounded pretty good to us. It took an hour to find the brush-finches, but we eventually had great looks at a pair cavorting around the bushes.

Meanwhile, the van was parked between a waterfall and a precipice, and we couldn’t budge it to try a push start. Things were looking uncertain until a little white car turned up with a family of eight(!) sardined inside. Its driver, a man about five feet tall, didn’t have jumper cables but did have a screwdriver, and he managed to extract the batteries from both our vehicles and switch them, to charge our dead battery in his own car. That worked, and he drove off with the batteries still switched (“It doesn’t matter, they’re the same size!” he said, cheerfully) while we continued with our birding itinerary, having lost only an hour.

Changing the van's dead battery in a cold drizzle. Photo: Noah Strycker

Today’s route took us across an eastern flank of the Andes on a series of massively exposed one-lane roads (one of which, Satipo Road, was recently featured on a BBC TV program as one of the world’s most dangerous). We tracked down some wonderful birds: Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Blue-banded Toucanet, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Flame-faced Tanager…most of them were new for my year, and I survived to tell the tale.

New birds today: 48

Year list: 1073

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