Monday, December 10, 2012

Birding Rally Challenge Perú 2012 - Part 1

Elegant Terns with a Sandwich Tern and a Franklin's Gull
I have just returned from an amazing 8-day birding trip to Peru. I was incredibly fortunate to have been invited to cover the first Birding Rally Challenge, a birding competition in the Amazon Rainforest and high Andes between some of the world's top birders.

Sheer luck, produced by a series of unlikely coincidences, brought me to Peru, one of the world's dream birding destinations. Boasting an incredible 1836 species, Peru is second only to Colombia in terms of avian diversity. The event, organized by PromPerú and Inkaterra, aimed to promote Peru as a world-class birding destination. Six teams from various parts of the world competed in an intense 6-day birding rally trying to observe as many bird species as possible. My good friend Oliver Komar was invited by Cornell University to be a member of their team the eBirders; I was invited to be part of the press corps.

Oliver and I arrived the evening of the 27th of November, and were welcomed at the airport by the friendly and professional staff of Inkaterra, who took us to our hotel in Lima. The next day, we had our first birding outing scheduled, followed by a presentation of the teams and the opening of the event with a press conference at the Universidad Científica del Sur in Lima, Peru.

Check out this video from the first day (28 November 2012), when we birded a wetlands complex along the coast in Lima. The competition itself did not start until two days later in the Tambopata National Park in the Amazon rainforest; more about that in future blog posts. Here at Pantanos de Villa on the edge of Lima, everyone was getting to know each other and trying to find great birds.

I saw 70 species there, about a third of them 'lifers'. After all, this was my first trip to South America, so anything with the word "Peruvian" in it (Peruvian Booby, Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Thick-knee, Peruvian Tern, West Peruvian Dove, and Peruvian Meadowlark) was new for me. Other lifers for me included White-cheeked Pintail, White-tufted Grebe, Great Grebe, Red-legged Cormorant, Guanay Cormorant (pronounced "One-Eye Cormorant"), Puna Ibis, Plumbeous Rail, Slate-colored Coot, Gray-hooded Gull, Belcher's Gull, Kelp Gull, Eared Dove, Croaking Ground-Dove, Burrowing Owl (finally!), Wren-like Rushbird, Many-colored Rush Tyrant, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Scrub Blackbird, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird.

juvenile Many-colored Rush Tyrant
The adults of the Many-colored Rush Tyrant live up to their name, although the juveniles are considerably duller. Still a pretty bird. Coastal marshes (such as Pantanos de Villa) are a good place to look for them.

Elegant Terns
Franklin's Gull and Elegant Tern were the most numerous birds there, with an estimated 1,000 Elegant Terns, quite possibly a low estimate. The large, dark gulls in the background are mostly Belcher's and some Kelp Gulls. Other larids present here were Gray-hooded Gull, Peruvian Tern (on the ocean), Sandwich Tern and Black Skimmer.

Peruvian Tern
Peruvian Tern is a small tern similar to Least Tern. I spotted one cruising the shoreline in front of us and got the whole group on it. This species is uncommon at the site, and was a good find for us.

The Pantanos de Villa is also a good shorebird spot. With the exception of Peruvian Thick-knee, all shorebirds we saw were familiar species like American Golden Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, both Yellowlegs, Willet, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, and Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers.

American Oystercatcher chick
Not all shorebirds here were migrants from North America, though. Evidently is was breeding season for the local population of American Oystercatcher.

After the birding trip to Pantanos de Villa, we were welcomed by the Universidad Científica del Sur, where the teams of the Birding Rally were presented to the press, and the Peruvian Minister of Tourism expressed the hope that the event would attract the attention of birding tourists from around the world. From my perspective, I can only corroborate that Peru is definitely worthy of such attention. It's a truly amazing birding destination, with a rich cultural heritage and impressive scenery on offer as well.

Oliver Komar presenting eBird to a wider audience
As a member of Cornell's team the eBirders, Oliver took the opportunity to present Cornell's eBird to a wider audience. In the US, eBird is already widely used by birders, and in Latin America eBird is growing by leaps and bounds - in no small part due to efforts to promote eBird by Oliver and others. In other parts of the world, however, eBird is still relatively unknown. It was great to see members of the South African and Spanish teams express an interest in using eBird for their own record keeping.

I have many photos and stories from this incredible event, and will save them for future posts... Stay tuned.

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