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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.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Along the Inca Track

Many of you will have probably spent more time than I on the Inca Track, the ancient paved road across the face of the Andes that leads to Machu Picchu, near Cusco in the southern Peruvian Andes, but I've three times walked the last day's section, climbing up from Km104 on the railway line to the wonderful, though ruined, Inca town of Wiñay Wayna. I've previously talked a little of the wildlife of Machu Picchu itself, but this is in fulfilment of a promise I made then to say something of the track too. 

The climb up to Wiñay Wayna is not too steep, but is relentless for about three hours; thereafter it is more or less along the contours, though it dips into gullies, and there is one short but brutal staircase which is more like a ladder! 
Wiñay Wayna from above; there are two accesses, depending on the state of the track;
the one from directly below is the tougher one.
Wiñay Wayna is a Quechua word - Quechua was the language of the Incas (though not uniquely so) and they spread it throughout their vast empire. It means 'forever young', and is also the name given to the beautiful and ubiquitous orchid Epidendrum secundrum

Most of the route is through cloud forest, and orchids are a feature, including more Epidendrums.
Epidendrum funkii (it's true!)

Epidendrum syringothyrsus
Cyrtochilum minax
Sobralia dichotoma
unidentified - sorry, but it is too magnificent not to share, even without a name!
(And any suggestions welcomed.)
And of course there are many other plants to distract us too.
Bejaria aestuans (family Ericaceae - the heathers and lings)
The bromeliads crowd every surface above ground level; as well as providing important habitat for a huge number of small animals - including frogs that live nowhere else and even a crab! - they are key food for the endangered Andean (or Spectacled) Bear, of Paddington Bear fame. There are some 3,000 bromeliad species in tropical America, the best known of which is the pineapple.
Tillandsia fendleri, above and below.

Cliff face studded with bromeliads.
Animals, especially birds, are prominent too, but wildlife photography in the cloud forests is not easy.
Anole Lizard, pretending to be dead.
This magnificent creature is, I would venture to suggest, a stag beetle
in the Scarab group of beetles.
Amethyst-throated Sunangel; I never met a hummingbird I didn't like,
and this is certainly not an exception!
And after a day of such fabulous treats, we are rewarded with a stunning view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate, high above.

The journey should never be about the destination, but not many destinations are this fabulous.

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