Saturday, October 26, 2013
The Andean Condors of Colca Canyon – Peru.
Colca Canyon’s most famous attraction is the morning “show” put on by the resident Andean Condors and we had been told that no matter what else you do, this is a not-to-be-missed scene. We had asked at the lodge and been told that between eight and ten were the best times which sounded late to us, so we plan on being at the viewpoint “Cruz Del Condor” by 7:30 or so. Following an early morning breakfast, we loaded up Winston and drove the 8 miles back towards Chivay to the viewpoint. There were several groups of camera toting tourists’ already in place and we were told the condors had been flying since around 6:30. Darn! Right now there isn’t one in sight and we hoped we were not too late. In the space of the next hour or so, the people at the several viewing platforms swelled to more than one hundred which was not surprising to us, as we knew many buses come to the canyon everyday for this one event. The Andean Condor has been the focus of worldwide conservation efforts and the condor population of South America is unfortunately dwindling, but here the canyon has become a fertile breeding and nesting ground and their numbers are steadily on the increase. There are no railings and the floor of the canyon is 3,960 ft (1,200m) below the rim where we are standing. For someone who suffers from vertigo, it was quite an experience for me and I was hoping I would not have to get too close to the edge to see them. I didn’t need to worry. With a wing span of 10 and half feet (3.2 meters), these birds are huge and came oh so close to us. Around 8:15, the giant birds gradually starting emerging from crevices in the canyon and slowly began circling the canyon walls searching for the thermal updrafts. Soaring ever so gracefully above our heads searching for carrion on the canyon floor far below us they use the rising thermals which occur as the air warms. They hunt in the morning or late afternoon and watching them is an unforgettable experience. They were so close to us and flew both solitary and in groups, it was truly an awesome sight. At one point there were as many as eight of the Andean condors swooping and gliding majestically above the steep canyon walls using the thermal uplifts that rise from Colca’s depths. We saw the last group of condors fly around 9:20. Some people who came later where intensely disappointed and Tom and I decide tomorrow morning we were coming back for another “show” and we will be here no later than 6:15. While we watched for condors, we spotted another notable bird, the Giant Colibri. As the largest member of the hummingbird family it is relatively big for a hummingbird but we were looking at condors! There was the inevitable collection of small stalls set up selling all the traditional handicrafts available and other vendors selling drinks and snacks. A “tourist trap”, absolutely. The viewpoint is invariably packed with camera-clicking tourists between 8 and 10 in the morning when the condors are most active, but like Machu Picchu, this is an essential pilgrimage and worth every clumsily swung backpack, every jostle and push and yes, every vendor plying their wares. We will be back, same place tomorrow morning!