We started at an ungodly hour, leaving our base well before dawn, so that we could return to the same patch of polylepis we had visited the day before. Our reason for the return was simple: White-cheeked Cotinga; which is usually more easily found in the morning. However, after sitting and waiting for its appearance for several hours with the sun having hit the trees much earlier, our hopes were waning. We had agreed to give it until 8:30am, and then head up higher for some other massive avian targets. The longer we waited, the more nervous we got that we were eating into the precious time we needed higher up the valley. With us remaining cotinga-less at 8:30am, and having had smashing looks at a Stripe-headed Antpitta while we waited, we began to push our time there later, in the hope the cotinga was having a lie in. Then, at 09:00am, with mere minutes left of our time there, a shape appeared on a low polylepis tree: WHITE-CHEEKED COTINGA! There was barely time for relief, before we headed downslope, got back in our vehicle and pointed ourselves upwards. On our way up we stopped for some obliging and photogenic Andean Geese, and a pair of Black Siskins, a handsome high Andean bird if ever there was one.
We worked our way up with the scenery taking ever more dramatic turns around each bend; a few large lumps in a lake proved to be Giant Coots, then, finally, we reached a high Andean grassland, where as we were pulling in, up sat our main target bird sitting proudly on top of a rock: White-bellied Cinclodes. This bird was my main motivation for adding these days, and the bird did not disappoint, giving us cracking looks as we watched it foraging in a bog that also held Andean Flickers and Cinereous Ground-Tyrants among others.
We then moved from one boggy area to another, at similarly lofty elevations. We had expected to suffer from the elevation, but the birds and the crisp air made it a joy to be there. The next bog stop was delayed when a pair of Vicunas walked into the road! Arriving at our next designated spot, we were sidetracked from our main quarry, by a showy Streak-throated Canastero.
As I moved in closer to snap a few shots of that bird, a pair of stout birds took off from my feet and landed in front of us: Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe (the main bird we were visiting this bog for). Shortly after the birds landed, another bird scythed through the air towards them, darting right at one of the pair, and only narrowly missing, an Aplomado Falcon, had clearly had them in its sights!
The next major stop was, you guessed it, another bog. Here we were hoping for the champion of South American shorebirds: Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. The bog was small, so we quickly swept it with no "DSP" to show for it. A loose group of 16 Andean Geese eyed us warily as we did so. Refusing to believe we could have missed it in our thorough sweep, I took a wider birth, and soon realised the bog had a more extensive reach than it originally to have. As I continued my search, I lost sight of Mark, and lost sight of almost everything as hale and snow fell around me. This might sound miserable, but I was loving it; this was extreme birding at its best. As I walked around, I did find a lifer, in the form of a very confiding Puna Snipe sitting among the hale. Then, a sound I heard made me start back the way I came: the sound of a car horn could only mean one thing...couldn't it?! I hurried back to the car to find Mark beaming; he had found not only a pair of DSPs, but also Olivaceous Thornbill walking around on the bunch grass, as this strange hummingbird is want to do. Soon after a shout went up from Mark as we searched for the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover (re-finding the thornbill soon after), as one of these oddball waders flew in and landed in front of us. We watched this smashing shorebird for some time, before we had to head back downhill, picking up a lifer Junin Canastero as we did so.
The next day we awoke early, added a final bird to the trip list, in the form of a Rusty Flowerpiercer frolicking around the hotel garden, and headed back to Lima for our flights out. It was sad to leave Peru, but I was glad to leave with some 70 or so new birds, more than I had expected by some way. Good fortune had come our way! I look forward to returning to the land of Incas again some day soon...