Birding Machu Picchu and Abra Malaga for serious birders
This program gives you all the endemic birds in the Cuzco region that are hard or impossible to get on the Manu road, and at the same time offers a spectacular visit to one of the new Seven Wonders - Machu Picchu.
Day 1. Cusco-Sacsayhuaman-Ollantaytambo-Aguas Calientes.
You either get picked up at the airport at 6 am or at hotel at around 7 am. We’ll make a short drive around the Cusco main square with the cathedral and a short stop if time permits to birdwatch close to the impressive Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman above town (entrance not included, but non-birding partners may choose to do a visit while the others bird. Most birds will get second views later these days). Creamy-crested Spinetail, Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch, Peruvian Sierra-Finch, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Chiguanco Thrush, Red-backed Hawk, Black-backed Grosbeak, Sparkling Violetear and Golden-billed Saltator are all possible here. At 8 AM we leave for Ollantaytambo.
After leaving our main luggage at our hotels in Ollantaytambo, and some short birding in Ollantaytambo specifically looking for Bearded Mountaineer, if time permits, we shall board the 10.30 train to Aguas Calientes
. From the train we shall look out for Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper and Torrent Tyrannulet in the stream that runs along the railroad track. Usually, these are seen also in Aguas Calientes, but there since the river is regulated for hydroelectric purposes upstream sometimes there is not enough water for the duck in the Aguas Calientes.
After checking at our hotels and lunch we’ll board the bus to Machu Picchu citadel for an afternoon visit. A well kept secret is that the light for photography at Machu Picchu is much better in the afternoon than early morning and there is far less people. Close to the ruins one can find the endemic Inca Wren, Cuzco Brush-Finch, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Dull-colored Seedeater, Highland Elaenia, sometimes Peregrine or Orange-breasted Falcon and Green-and-White Hummingbird.
Back in Aguas Calientes at dusk, those who want shall look for Lyre-tailed Nightjar close to the Kolibri Pro Hotel.
Kolibri MST deluxe - Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel (the main reason the MST option is so expensive, but you get marvelous birding and bird photography on the premises of the hotel with feeders for tanagers and hummingbirds and a exquisite evening meal. Those who do not stay there, cannot bird the area.). Fantastic pre-dawn breakfast, Porters for luggage etc.
Kolibri Pro. Hotel Pachakutek or similar. Good service mid-range hotel which we have used for years now… and every time we go there the service has improved. Good predawn breakfast included. The drawback - it is a long uphill to get there. We can get help with luggage from the station though.
Kolibri Backbacker. Depending what is available at your time of booking, it may be a backpacker hostel dorm or an Airbnb type room. We always book the best option available in the backpacker price range. Safe and recommended places only.
Day 2. Birding Machu Picchu
Predawn breakfast. The area below the ruins is rich with birds and many good species can be seen such as Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper, Mitred Parakeet, Barred Parakeet, Andean Guan, Cock-of-the Rock, Ocellated Piculet, White-eared Solitaire, Highland Motmot, Variable Antshrike, Black-streaked Puffbird, White-crowned, Sierran and Highland Elaenias, the endemic Masked Fruiteater, Saffron-crowned, Flame-faced, Rust-and-Yellow and Beryl-spangled Tanagers, Mottled-cheeked and Sclater's Tyrannulet and many more.
Lunch together in Aguas Calientes.
The train back to Ollantaytambo leaves from 3pm, depending on the category chosen and takes two hours.
Hotels in Ollantaytambo
Kolibri MST. Hotel Pakaritampu (best place for Bearded Mountaineer in town)
Kolibri Pro. Hotel Munay Tika or Tunupa
Kolibri Backpacker. Backpacker hostel or airbnb type room.
Day 3. Birding Abra Malaga.
We will get up very early for the drive up beyond the Abra Malaga pass at 4200m and continue to the north side of the pass and the wet temperate forest at Canchayoc.
Here we may see Diademed Tapaculo, Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant, Golden-collared Tanager, Violet-throated Starfrontlet, Parodi´s Hemispingus, Marcapata Spinetail, Tit-like Dacnis, Cuzco Brush-Finch and Rufous-bellied Bush-Tyrant.
Rusty-breasted (Leimebamba), Red-and-White, Rufous (occubambae race) and Undulated Antpitta are often heard and with some luck we may be able to lure some of them into view with play-back of its song. Returning to the pass around mid morning we will do a short, but quite strenuous walk to the quite disturbed Polylepis woodland on the ridge beside us.
This is the most accessible high Polylepis woodland that holds the very rare Royal Cinclodes, Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant and White-browed Tit-Spinetail. Among other specialties are Giant Conebill, Line-fronted and Junin Canstero, Puna Tapaculo, Stripe-headed Antpitta, Thick-billed Siskin, Tawny Tit-Spinetail, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant and Puna Thistletail.
As we come out of the valley, we stand good chance of encountering Andean Parakeet and Tit-like Dacnis. Back on the main road in roadside scrub we often find Junin Canastero, Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch and Golden-billed Saltator.
Day 4. Morning Abra Malaga afternoon drive to Apurimac valley.
After additional morning at Abra Malaga to pick up species we may have missed the previous day, we shall continue to Laguna Huaypo for some marshland birding with Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Wren-like Rushbird, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Andean Lapwing, Puna Teal, Yellow-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean (Masked) Duck, Puna Ibis, Andean Gull and many more. It is a long drive through the dry Apurimac valley, and over to the other side where we shall particularly look for the yet undescribed “Apurimac Tapaculo” and Apurimac Spinetail. Some night birding may award us with the Apurimac forms of Peruvian Pygmy Owl and Koepcke's Screech-Owl, and with lots of luck perhaps Buff-fronted Owl.
MST. Countryside Yoga center.
Kolibri Pro and Backpack a small hostel in Mollepata village.
Day 5. Apurimac endemics.
We'll first look for Pale-tailed Canastero and Spot-eared Puffbird near Moyopata and then we shall spend the rest of the morning birding on Salcantay road. Apurimac Spinetail, Apurimac Brush-Finch, White-tufted Sundbeam, Chestnut-breasted Warbling-Finch, Undulated Antpitta and Vilcabamba Tapaculo are all here. Then we travel to Cusco and will be able to make late afternoon flights or perhaps stay in Cusco.