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Open Mic: Wader Quest hits the Bird Continent

At the Mic: Rick Simpson

Rick Simpson of Newport Pagnell, UK, is a bird guide, illustrator, author of Confessions of a Bird Guide, and a Birdlife Species Champion. 

He previously wrote about Wader Quest at the ABA Blog in Thailand, the UAEFlorida, Washington, California, and  the UK

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Touching down in the familiar surroundings of São Paulo airport, Wader Quest was visiting the South American continent for the first time although we had lived there for five years prior to starting the project. Our list was now at 96 and we thought it highly likely that we’d hit 100 while still in Brazil. It was, we felt, inevitable that we would start our list off with Southern Lapwing, which we would almost certainly see from the airplane. But we had overlooked the fact that our arrival time was so early it was still dark, so we had to wait until we had left the airport before we saw these ubiquitous birds.

Southern Lapwing, photo by Elis Simpson

Southern Lapwing, photo by Elis Simpson

We were heading down to our old home town of Ubatuba, not so much for the waders but more to see the kids from the project we used to run and the school where we had also started a project which was ongoing we were delighted to discover. On the way down from São Paulo there are a couple of good places to stop for birds and one that includes a place where you can find Wattled Jacana.

The only other wader we managed to add to the list though was Collared Plover on the beach at Ubatumirim. We really had expected to see either South American Snipe, or White-backed Stilt, or both, either of which would have moved our tally on to triple figures. But it wasn’t to be and so we headed for Peru with the knowledge that we would reach this milestone there.

Collared Plover, photo by Elis Simpson

Collared Plover, photo by Elis Simpson

In Peru we were met by our friend and host Renzo Zeppilli, he had volunteered to find us as many of the waders Peru had to offer as he could.

A visit to Villa Marshes didn’t get us our hoped for new bird. Indeed there were few waders in evidence, just American Oystercatcher, Killdeer and a small group of Hudsonian Whimbrels.

Our first proper trip in search of waders was to the south of Lima to a place called Pucusana. On the way we had a brief stop at Lurin where number 100 was encountered, Peruvian Thick-knee. There was a group of seven together which proved very much more co-operative than its cousins back in the UK.

Peruvian Thick-Knee, photo by Elis Simpson

Peruvian Thick-Knee, photo by Elis Simpson

At Pucusana we had to get into a small boat and chug out of the harbor and around to the rocks, surrounded by the spectacular Inca Terns as we did so. Here we were in search of the Blackish Oystercatcher. It was rather nerve wracking to be in such a small boat so close to the jagged rocks and a large swell that shot us up and down faster than an express elevator, but Renzo informed us, this was the only way we were going to see these birds, and see them we did, Elis somehow managing to get a couple of photos too.

Blackish Oystercatcher, photo by Elis Simpson

Blackish Oystercatcher, photo by Elis Simpson

At this same site there were a couple of non-wader highlights for us, the incredibly rare and endemic Surf Cinclodes and the Humboldt Penguin. We climbed a hill beside the town to look down upon the sea to watch for penguins and the cinclodes came and performed well for us there, as did, to my chagrin, having been assured that being in that boat was the only way to see them, a pair of Blackish Oystercatchers! The penguins too put in an appearance and we left thoroughly satisfied.

Humboldt Penguin, photo by Elis Simpson

Humboldt Penguin, photo by Elis Simpson

Our last day in the lowlands was to take us north of Lima to Lachay and the Lomos clad hills there. There were two species we hoped to come across, Tawny-throated Dotterel and Least Seedsnipe.

We started scanning the hills as soon as we arrived and soon enough several seedsnipe had been seen, one coming close to the road in front of the car, but the dotterels remained out of sight and although we had seen a completely new family of wader on our quest, missing the dotterels was disappointing, they are such amazing looking birds.

Least Seedsnipe, photo by Elis Simpson

Least Seedsnipe, photo by Elis Simpson

We prepared ourselves for the next few days which were to take us up into the high Andes and there we were to look for some very special waders indeed.

 

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