After the morning at Lake Titicaca and a short nap we were waiting in our hotel lobby for our guide to the Sillustani Ruins about 30 minutes from Puno. A few minutes late he entered the hotel and told us to follow him. We walked the 1/2 block to the town square where he was waiting at a combi bus/van that was packed to the brim with people. This was not what we expected. Realizing I had made a glaring mistake in not thinking to ask for a private guide and taxi, here we were squeezing into a van with 10 other tourists--most from a certain European country where deodorant isn't a popular item. This wasn't going to work for birding. The first cringe moment came when I spotted a CINEREOUS HARRIER just outside of town and there was no way to slow down and get a better look or take photos. This wouldn't be the last cringe moment either--I was already regretting getting in the van, wishing I had said never mind, we'll find our own way there... But there was no turning back and all I could do is live with the decision.
The drive out went fairly quick, and along with the harrier I saw numerous ANDEAN LAPWINGS, and a handful of PUNA TEAL. When we arrived at Sillustani I wanted to walk the edge of the lake where there were 100's of birds including ANDEAN GULLS, numerous gallinules and coots, CRESTED DUCKS, RUDDY DUCKS, more teal and who knows what else. The guide had a schedule and we were off hiking towards the ruins at too fast of a pace to look for birds--I was pissed. Finally I fell behind to check out the first CHIGUANCO THRUSHES I had actually seen of the trip. When I finally caught up to the group the guide was waiting for me to start talking. He thought I had fallen behind the group because I was a big guy and says, "It's okay, the elevation makes it harder to hike." I responded by saying I stopped to look at something. I wanted to tell him to eff off but kept my cool and let him go on the first of several long winded stories about the site. Don't get me wrong, I love history, I lover culture, and I think archeology is very interesting--but I hate being guided and given a textbook lesson on something. I tuned him out and turned my attention to several ANDEAN LAPWINGS that flew in and landed on the hill below me--this would be my best photo opportunity now, and it wasn't nearly as great as the chance I had earlier in the day...
On we went to the next stop, which was a really cool flat piece of ground with 12 stones parked at various points around the outer circle--it was a sun dial. Okay that's actually pretty cool, and judging by the looks of things it was sometime after 3pm--the coolness lasted about 2 minutes and then he droned on. This time it was over the top--he went on for about 20 minutes. It took every ounce of my good angel telling me its okay and to relax, to keep me from telling him enough already. Finally when he was ready to move up the hill, I moved to the front of the pack and walked up and right away from the group--I was done with his tour. While the rest of the tourists including my poor wide stood on as he went on to the next talking point, I made may way across the hill at the top of the ruins after a dove I had seen flush. I soon found my first BLACK-WINGED GROUND-DOVE which allowed me to walk almost right up to it for photos.
I spent 5 or so minutes on this bird when I saw the group moving on and Sam falling back. I headed towards her when I heard some chattering above and looked up to see a flock of about 50 parakeets flying over--they were MOUNTAIN PARAKEETS, a species I thought I probably wouldn't get. The field guide did however mention that they were fairly common in the Puna Grasslands near Lake Titicaca!
At the crest of the hill we finally got the full view of Lago Umayo--it was quite an impressive lake and absolutely an amazing place to take pictures.
The guide started up again and then promptly told us we had 10 minutes to explore before hiking back to the bottom. I was furious. Here we had wasted an hour making our way to the top of the ruins while you tell us innocuous bullshit. Meanwhile when we actually get to the area that is worth exploring you give us 10 minutes--this was absurd. I stormed off and immediately flushed a tiny drab gray bird. When it landed on a near by rock I knew it was a Ground-Tyrant, but was unsure of which species. I snapped a few pictures and tried to note any interesting features--the only thing that really stood out was the lower mandible had a pale base. Lucky for me that one field mark was all I needed to identify the SPOT-BILLED GROUND-TYRANT.
I wandered around the ruins admiring the funerary towers--that is what the ruins here consisted of--5 to 6 large towers where royalty were buried. There were several smaller "pots" and other landmarks, but the towers were what made Sillustani a tourist attraction. Some chattering above me caught my attention and several BLACK SISKIN made a pass over the hill and down one of the slopes. The guide started to gather everyone up for the trek down. What was I going to miss up here? What else could I find with an hour to explore? Why didn't we hire a private guide? I really blew it here.
We hiked back down to the small village where the locals were peddling hats, shirts, scarfs, and numerous other items made of alpaca fur. The stuff here was pretty high priced, but we managed to talk one person down to $6 in American for a nicer quality traditional hat than what you can find in most shops around the country. Back at the van I flushed a small flock of BLACK-WINGED GROUND-DOVES, and several ANDEAN SWALLOWS were now circling overhead.
As we headed back towards Puno the van made a stop at a small house on the side of the highway where they were going to show us how they raised guinea pigs, and mad ea number of local food staples. But as we approached I noticed a ditch on the side of the road with several birds in it. So as the rest of the group toured the house, I headed to the ditch to check out the birds. The first bird I located was a CREAM-WINGED CINCLODES that was working around in a puddle.
On the opposite side of the road were a handful of ASH-BREASTED SIERRA FINCHES that are one of the most drab plain looking birds I have ever seen. As I walked along the ditch I flushed 3 GOLDEN-SPOTTED GROUND-DOVES, and simultaneously spotted a WHITE-WINGED CINCLODES siting on the other bank. This stop was quickly turning into the best birding stop of the trip.
Out the corner of my eye I caught something flying and found myself staring at a BURROWING OWL landing on the top of a pole a few hundred feet away. After spending about ten minutes checking the finches for anything different and going back and forth between the ditches, I moved back towards the house figuring I would give it a quick look. Just as I was about to head in I heard a strange clicking and caught glimpse of a dove landing on a boulder on the opposite side of the road. As I found it in my binoculars I about jumped for joy as it was a BARE-FACED GROUND-DOVE. I snagged all 3 of the species found in Puna Grasslands within 30 minutes of one another.
After a quick walk through the house and meeting up with the group we were back in the van headed back towards Puno. Not once, but twice we passed pairs of MOUNTAIN CARACARA within 50 feet of the road. I could do nothing but scream on the inside as the van sped back to the city. I had seen a nice number of life birds today between the two lakes, but had missed opportunities for 20-30 other species that more time would have allowed. Originally in our plans I had thought we would hire a driver to drive us out around the lake and back to town--I had no idea we would end up on that bus with 10 other tourists like we did. You live and you learn though--we couldn't change our guide and tour situation for this trip, but any future trips would have much more careful planning in that arena! The day ended in Puno with another Pizza at Pizzeria Andina and us packing our bags for the 10 hour bus ride to Cuzco the next day.
12 life birds this afternoon / 61 total trip life birds / 96 total trip birds
Photos from Sillustani on TimAveryBirding.com