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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Wildlife at Machu Picchu


When I first went to Machu Picchu, in the Andes near Cusco, Peru, I was blown away, to fall back on an overused phrase. (I hasten to say that I was equally blown away the other times I've been there too!) I'd long read about this best-known of all Inca sites, the 15th century city abandoned after the Spanish invasion, but was totally unprepared for what I saw. I'd vaguely expected a series of grassy mounds representing the sites of former buildings; what I found was a city of unimaginably exquisite stone work (perfectly fitting blocks of granite weighing several tonnes each, cut without metal tools), lacking only roofs. Quite rightly this is what people go for, but among the stones and terraces is quite a bit of wildlife too, a lot of it overlooked by the hordes of visitors, mostly in groups following their own language-guide. And of course that's the focus of this blog.

It is 2300 metres above sea level (my Peruvian amigo Juan was incredulous but polite when I mentioned that that's about the altitude of the highest point in Australia), and more than a kilometre above the valley floor. One of the things I get enjoyment from is seeing familiar domesticated plants growing in their original site, and here the walls are adorned with Begonias.
Wild Begonias
Passionfruit vines produce spectacular flowers too, and while this one isn't the species we eat, the flower is still familiar.
Passiflora ligulata
One of the most ubiquitous animals in western South America is the delightful little Rufous-collared Sparrow, whose lovely song is one of the sounds of South America for me. (The American sparrows are not at all related to the Old World sparrows more familiar to us in Australia; their ancestors moved south from North America when the two continents were joined by the Isthmus of Panama just a few million years ago.) I've seen them from the northern Andes to the Strait of Magellan, in towns and in remote wind-racked Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. And they are all over Machu Picchu.
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Blue-and-white Swallows Notiochelidon cyanoleuca are found throughout South America, and Machu Picchu is certainly no different. They even nest in crevices in the magnificent granite block walls.
Blue-and-white Swallow nestling, awaiting the next meal.
Roadside Hawks Rupornis magnirostris hunt in many habitats, also throughout much of South America. They come into the Machu Picchu complex to hunt, especially insects and lizards.

Roadside Hawk prowling the ground below the terraces.
Also ubiquitous are the quick and acrobatic Spiny Whorltail Lizards, for whom the walls are just another rock face full of convenient escape niches. Doubtless they are on of the main attractants for the Roadside Hawk.
One of the great delights for me are the languid somewhat supercilious Viscachas, large bushy-tailed rodents which also live among the boulders, and which are often overlooked by unobservant visitors. These are 'caviomorph' rodents, like guinea pigs and capybaras, which mysteriously arrived in South America some 45 million years ago, while the continent was still totally isolated, so must have arrived by sea from Africa. 
Southern Viscacha
And wherever we go the smaller, more ancient and thus more familiar, life forms are everywhere.
Spider Wasp

Millipede
unidentified Hemipteran - ie a true bug!
If you are lucky enough to walk into Machu Picchu from above, through the cloud forest along the famous Inca Track, via the Sun Gate, that brings you through another whole rich realm of nature, but that's for another posting. Hasta luego.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So true! I walked the Inca trail last year. Often when there is so much hype about a place, the actual experience of being there is a bit of a let down. not with Machu Pichu or the Inca Trail. It is the real biz!