At the end of August I headed down toPeruto lead two photo workshops into Manu National Park. Manu is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet and is home to more than 1000 species of birds. There are some truly spectacular species in this park and we saw and photographed many of them. In between the two wildlife tours I led a cultural extension through the Sacred Valley of the Incas which culminated with a very memorable visit to the incredible site of Machu Picchu.
Red and Green Macaw at the clay lick in Manu.
Our trip started in the former Inca capital of Cuzco. The city makes for an ideal base to set out into the jungle and towards the sacred valley. There is so much to see and do around Cuzco that it is well worth spending a day or two roaming around and learning about the history and culture.
Once our group was assembled we travelled off in the direction of the Manu. A few hours later we arrived at the entrance to the park – eager and ready to start finding some birds.
Group #1 heading in to the park.
I designed this tour to take full advantage of theelevationgradient that the Manu road offers. The road works its way from around 3400 metres above sea level all the way down to 500m above sea level. As a result it offers access to numerous different habitat types and therefore a huge variety of different species.
The mystical cloud forests ofPeru.
Our first stop on the tour was in the high elevation cloud forests. We only spent one night at this elevation (approximately 3000m) so had to work quickly to try to make the most of our time up there and some of the very special cloud forest species. Diversity at this elevation is much lower than it is in sites further down. Nevertheless, there are some absolutely stunning species to be found in the cloud forests of Manu. Among my favourite include the Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Hooded Mountain Tanager, Grass Green Tanager and Golden-collared Tanager. These high elevation tanagers are such stunning birds and are well worth a solid effort to try to photograph them.
Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager
Grass Green Tanager
Hooded Mountain Tanager
Before long it was time to continue on down the road to our next site at a considerably lower elevation (1500m). It was here where we would experience what I am certain was the highlight of the trip for many of the participants – The Andean Cock of the Rock. On both tours we had fantastic success with this species having between 10-15 male birds flamboyantly displaying at their lek site. These incredible birds (the national bird ofPeru) group together to display for females in the hopes of finding a mate. It is an absolutely amazing spectacle and is not to be missed for any bird lover. We had lots of time to work and everyone came away with some fantastic images!
After photographing the Cock of the Rock’s we continued on to our next lodge for some celebratory drinks and a good nights sleep. We would spend two nights at this elevation to hunt for a variety of great birds including motmots, hummingbirds, and a huge variety of tanagers. We were fortunate enough to have a few fruiting shrubs on the grounds and these provided some great opportunities for a great selection of fruit eating birds.
Soon enough it was time to roll on down the hill again. We made our way to the end of the Manu road and crossed the river to our next lodge. At this fantastic site we really had our hands full! Between the hummingbirds at the flowering bushes, fruit eating birds at the fruit feeders, skulking birds on the trails, Hoatzins by the river and even a few attempts at nocturnal birds, it was hard to know how to prioritize what birds to chase. It was definitely a site well worth three days. One of my favourite encounters was with a fairly cooperative Gray-necked Wood-Rail that I was able to get up on to a set up perch by luring it in with some cooked rice. This was a real treat for me as this species is normally quite shy and hard to photograph.
Masked Crimson Tanager(at a setup)
Buff-throated Saltator (at a setup)
Southern Chestnut-tailed Antbird
Red-capped Cardinal (at a setup)
Gray-necked Wood-Rail(at a setup – I hid rice in the log)
We had one final stop of the main tour and to get there we would have to travel down river. It is always an interesting experience taking to the river and seeing how people of Amazonia truly live. Eventually we arrived at our final lodge in time for a short hike and paddle in one of the pristine oxbow lakes. Over the next three days we would visit several more of these oxbow lakes and photograph birds from catamaran style boats. After trekking around in the jungle at the previous site it is quite luxurious and relaxing to shoot from the boats!
Photography from the Catamaran…life is good!
Turtle and Butterfly
Giant River Otter
Group #2 in the jungle. What a massive tree!!
The highlight of our stay in the deep jungle was our visit to a clay lick where hundreds and hundreds of parrots, parakeets and macaws come down each day to eat the mineral rich clay. These birds must visit such sites on a daily basis to help neutralize the toxins in the fruits and seeds that they digest. It is such a fantastic way to spend a morning in the observation blind and watch as the different species come down to visit the clay.Usuallythe smaller species visit first and then depart as the macaws start to descend. Seeing 100 or more wild Red and Green Macaws all at once is a pretty amazing sight to behold (and a very fun photographic challenge). On the first visit I set my sights on trying to photograph the smaller species and was very happy to nail a Blue-headed Parrot in flight. On my second tour I decided to try something a little different and attempt to get a nice pan-blur of the Macaws. That is one of the best things about photography. Even at the same site you can always try something a bit different and see the world through a slightly different lens.
Red and Green Macaw – standard approach
Red and Green Macaw – Pan/Blur approach – slow shutter speed
Eventually our time in the jungle came to an end and we made the long journey back to Cuzco. We all had lots of great memories and fantastic images to show for our efforts!
After a rest day in Cuzco we started the cultural extension portion of the trip. This was a total change of pace and, in my opinion, an incredibly rewarding way to round out a photo vacation to this part of the world. Being in Cuzco and not visiting some of the cultural treasures of the region is like going to New York City and not visiting Times Square. It would be like going to Egypt and not visiting the pyramids. The cultural sites around Cuzco are an absolutely fascinating part of our collective human civilization.
For the Cultural extension we began in Cuzco itself and paid a visit to the nearby Sacsayhuaman ruins. This was a great way to start our immersion into the land and culture of the Incas. That afternoon we visited two other sites in Cuzco to get an even further appreciation of the history of this ancient city.
Inca ladies in traditional dress
Interesting details in Cuzco
I present to you the Sacsayhuaman ruins…
The next day we ventured off into the Sacred Valley and towards the city of Ollantaytambo. En route we made a stop at an animal rescue center and had a pretty spectacular and close up experience with an Andean Condor. Definitely a “WOW” moment!! We also stopped at a local pottery studio to learn about some of the techniques that they use and pick up some beautiful and unique souveneirs. In the afternoon we paid a visit to the stunning ruins at Ollantaytambo and learned all about their unique history.
Painting the pottery
Making the pottery
The next morning I took the group up to another set of ruins that are about an hour above Ollantaytambo. The scenery up there is stunning and it is really nice to get away from everything for a morning. The other key reason to visit this site was to try to get a look and a photo of the endemic White-tufted Sunbeam Hummingbird – a real stunner!
View from the countryside
In the afternoon we boarded our train and made our way to the town of Aguas Calientes in preparation of our visit to the breathtaking site of Machu Picchu. The next morning we boarded our bus up to the entrance gates of this great wonder of the world.
I would say that Machu Picchu is one of those places where no matter how many pictures you have seen of the site you can never be prepared for just how unbelievable the place truly is. Words, images or videos simply cannot do the site justice. Only by visiting this sacred site first hand and standing on the same ground as Inca royalty once did can you begin to appreciate its magnificence. Even then you are left with a sense of awe and wonder.
Arriving early at the site we had lots of time to take pictures and explore. Our private guide then took us all on a tour and explained the hidden meaning behind many of the features of the site. Once we had all had enough we took our bus back down to Aguas Calientes for one final night before traveling back to Cuzco.
Yoga at Machu Picchu…How does my tree pose look?
Machu Picchu Llama
I am very excited to have added thisPeruphoto workshop to my line up. The combination of fantastic birds, breathtaking scenery and fascinating cultural treasures makes it quite a tour!
I will certainly be leading this trip again in 2014. At this point I am planning to only lead one tour in 2014 and it is certain to sell out quickly. So if you are interested be sure to send me an email. I will be announcing the dates for this trip and taking deposits very soon.
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