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madder than a wet white morph adult female variable hawk

2013-01-23 - 7:22 a.m.

food begging young variable hawk
all photos this page © 2013 by elaine radford
food-begging variable hawk, perhaps out of the nest a week or two

Jan. 18, 20

It was raining cats and dogs, so our wine-inspired idea of the night before was the right one. We wouldn't have had any soaring raptors in this weather, and we'd seen the fast-flying Orange-breasted Falcon ranging over such a large area of forest that we could have never found it (except by blind luck) searching for a soaking wet perched bird. So we headed up to the Jujuy province, to our hotel in the highly atmospheric (and somewhat overrun by backpackers) town of Purmamarca. We had lunch in a place that served llama and live music. For that matter, we had dinner in the same place.

New birds of the day:

  • Collared Swifts
  • Golden-rumped Euphonia -- a beautiful male
  • Chiguanco Thrush
  • White-tipped Plantcutter
  • White-Banded Mockingbird
  • Brown-backed Mockingbird
  • Variable Hawk -- kiting at something of a distance
  • Mountain Caracara -- a truly fine full adult who spun right over me, hoping for a tourist with a hand- out

Rain, rain, rain, rain. When was the last time it rained in the high puna? I still don't know, but the guy at the hotel said it had been two years since it rained three days in a row. According to our friends at Google, it rains four inches a year at Purmamarca -- the same as Vegas. Since it manages to rain every time I visit Vegas, I don't know why I'm surprised by a little wet. In any event, let's cut to the chase. I am writing this after the fact in the Condor club, so I know that it did end up raining three days in a row, and probably four. Peachfront still gots it when it comes to the rain- making.

tres cruces, jujuy, detail

Jan. 19, 2013

Peachfront brought the rain not just to a few isolated mountain valleys but to the entire region of Jujuy, Salta, and beyond. We studied the weather reports with some perplexity and figured out that we had nowhere left to run that you could get to in a car. Therefore, we had nothing left to lose by following the original plan. We drove the road from Purmamarca to the Argentine town on the Bolivian border, stopping in the Bolivian restaurant for an authentic Aymara lunch from an authentic Bolivian -- with our table being set up in an authentic storage room since the actual lunch room was completely overrun. Despite the rain, though, the food could not take center stage. We have raptors, Houston. Wet, dis-spirited peeved- off raptors wondering about the meaning of it all...but they were still raptors.

We actually got two sightings of soaring Andean Condors between the raindrops. The first was a 4th year bird, which gave us wonderful long looks as it soared over the valley, flapping, soaring, and finally giving up to find a perch on the ridge. The second sighting was two beautiful full adult males flying together in all their splendor.

Variable Hawks of the Puna subspecies (possible species?) earned their name by showing off a variety of plumages -- adult white morph female, third year juvenile, second year dark morph female, dark morph adult female, adult male light morph -- the list goes on but I got tired of scribbling them down. Suffice it to say that "variable" is a very good name for this species. The very first adult bird, a splendid white morph full adult female, with the wet rain somehow matting down the gray tips to her feathers and letting the white show through, giving her a very white crown on her head, may well be my favorite.

The richly colored highland subspecies of the Aplomado Falcon put on a mind-boggling display of sheer physical beauty. The first bird (a male, if I remember correctly) was fine enough, but the female we found was truly splendid. What a beautiful creature.

New trip birds of the day:

  • Southern Martin -- feeding babies
  • Screaming Cowbird -- first seen on a cow
  • Golden-billed Saltator
  • Puna Tinamou

We all enjoyed the juvenile Mountain Caracara, who gave us the first look at the immature plumage. The herds (not flocks!) of llamas and vicuñas were also very attractive against the stunning Humahuasca scenery that reminded me somewhat of the American southwest, only with a lot more rain and a lot fewer crowds. We struggled in vain to find "wild" llamas, as opposed to those that appeared to have little red ribbons and bows to mark them as somebody's lovestock. Later, we were to learn that all llamas are domesticated, while vicuña are a true natural species. So it was pre-destined that our search for wild vicuña would be more successful than our search for wild llama.

We ate again at the live music place, a little early to avoid the band. (I'm pretty sure they were pretty authentic though, to judge from the tears in the eyes of the Argentines in yesterday's crowd, who knew all the words and how to clap to all the tunes...) However, we had finally fixed the fuse in the car, allowing us to use the halogen light to scan the night fields for the puma (cougar) the hotel owner had seen the month before. Alas...no cougar. Just a lot of mud.

However, an unexpected bonus from all the rain. The birds were unwilling to fly easily, so the big guns got plenty of great shots of multiple plumages. I have a sneak peak at the female Aplomado Falcon I mentioned above, and the photograph is indeed spectacular.

Peachfront's note: A truly obnoxious number of cute photos will be posted sometime in the near future. Stay tuned.

adult male, dark morph, variable hawk
adult male, dark morph, not as beautiful in my opinion as the truly splendid white morphs but a more cooperative subject when it came to photography with a small hobby camera

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