Mark and I were now alone to explore a completely new area for the both of us; the spectacular Santa Eulalia Valley, east of Lima. We had two days in which to target numerous lifers for us both, using this first day to explore the lower reaches, and also dip into a remnant patch of polylepis woodland higher up too.
My reason for staying on for this was the chance to find the rare and beautiful White-bellied Cinclodes, while Mark was particularly focused on Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, as he had not previously seen that one. However, both those birds would not be looked for until the next day, when we were set to drive up to the lofty heights of 4,600m, where those birds can be found.
Unlike the main tour, where I was along to learn from the "master", Nick Athanas, who was our guide for the trip, we were on our own here. Although, that was not entirely true, as we were armed with a driver with ten years of experience of taking birders into this area. His experience was evident from the word go; he knew the spots, and knew the English names of the birds at them, we simply needed to find them! Luckily, we found nearly everything we wanted over the two days, missing very little indeed.
While the driver was clearly experienced, his car clearly was too, perhaps a little experienced, as a muffler dropped off the car before we had reached our first stop! The road into the valley is a true challenge for any car, and it quickly took its toll on ours. Never mind though; the car was a little louder, but bearable, and we survived the two days unscathed thereafter. Our first stop was for a fourth Inca-Finch to add to the three we had seen on the main tour. The driver knew the spot, and so did the bird, which responded well, and sung in the open in front of us: Great Inca-Finch. Driving just a little further we moved into the valley bottom, where Pied-crested Tit-Tyrants quickly showed themselves, as did the first of two Bronze-tailed Comets for the day, and the first of many Rusty-bellied Brush-Finches; all three lifebirds for us both. Working our way higher, we checked a spot for the rare Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch, and eventually dug out two of them, after getting cracking looks at several Canyon Canasteros in the same area. The supporting cast in the lower areas included Mourning Sierra-Finches, half a dozen Peruvian Sheartails, a number of Giant Hummingbirds too, and. finally, my first Andean Swift, (a group of 6 or so were seen really well later that day).
We rounded out a great day, by visiting a patch of polylepis woodland, a known hang out for the rare endemic White-cheeked Cotinga. As expected, we had not sign of that bird, as it known to be easier in the morning, but we did track down a super Stripe-headed Antpitta, (my 5th new antpitta on this Peru trip), a few Andean Condors, a perched Variable Hawk, a single d'Orbigny's Chat-Tyrant, both Plain-breasted and Striated Earthcreepers, and another pair of Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetails to add to the ones seen on the main tour.
It had been a whirlwind day, with 7 lifers for me, and numerous great birds, and generally plentiful birds around. However, the next day was to be the true landmark day of this short extension, which brought some classic birds at lofty elevations decorated with dramatic high Andean scenery too...