I've just arrived home in British Columbia after completing a month-long trip to the amazing country of Peru where I lead two nature photography workshops. Alongside me for the first trip was my good friend Glenn Bartley.
We started our journey in the beautiful city of Cusco. At 3,400m ASL, it's always nice to spend a little while getting acclimatized and checking out the beautiful city streets and shops.
Before long, we were off to start our adventure into Manu National Park. The amazing thing about this park is the massive elevational gradient - stretching from 4,200m ASL, high in the Andes, to 150m ASL, deep in the Amazon Rainforest. The product of this highly variable landscape is the greatest biodiversity on the planet. Not to mention the staggering number of plants, insects and mammals, 10% of the world's bird species can be found in an area not much larger than the state of New Jersey.
Our first stop is at 3,000m in a beautiful location just below tree line. At first glance, when compared to the lush, towering forests of the tropical rainforests below, this stunted, shrubby area doesn't seem very conducive to bird photography. However, once you explore further, that couldn't be further from the truth. Living in these elfin forests are some of the most beautiful species in Peru, the Mountain Tanagers.
After a brief but enjoyable stay at our little home in the cloud forest, we descended the world famous Manu road which is an adventure in itself. Switchbacking through the ever-changing forest, our bus squeezing through tunnels and under waterfall car washes, we eventually made our way to our next stop - one of the trip highlights!
As we walked down a short trail, we could hear the strange vocalizations of Peru's national bird. We were arriving at the "lek" of a bird with an appearance as weird as its name. These vibrant orange creatures are actually a type of Cotinga that lives throughout the low cloudforest of the Andes, from Venezuala to Bolivia. We spent the next few hours observing and photographing approximately 15 Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks. Males gather at leks each day to compete for mating rights - squawking and jostling in their attempt to impress any females which may be nearby.
Travelling further yet, we soon arrived at what would be our new home for a few days. We were greeted by higher temperatures, humidity and best of all, even greater bird diversity!
After enjoying an assortment of tanagers and hummingbirds, we packed up and headed for the lowlands. A few hours later we arrived in a small town on the shore of the Rio Madres de Dios. A short boat ride followed by a short walk and suddenly we were at our first of two stops in the amazing Amazon Rainforest.
After our time was up at our first Amazon lodge, we took another boat further yet into the rainforest - enjoying each meandering oxbow of the river and seeing many amazing sights along the way.
During the following days we would visit a macaw clay lick and several oxbow lakes, providing some of the best photo opportunities of the trip.
Soon, the long journey back to our home base was underway. In just a few hours we travelled from 250m ASL to a 4,700m ASL pass, cradled by glaciated peaks, and finally back into Cusco.
Peru is one undoubtedly incredible. It's amazingly diverse landscape, plethora of birds and other wildlife, and rich cultural history, all come together to create one of the most spectacular and unique countries in the world! I can't wait to go back for another adventure next year...
If you'd like to learn more about the trips offered by Glenn Bartley and I, click here.