I have often seen how the coastline of South America bends to the northwest here in Peru. I have seen it on maps, Google Earth and even my little globe at home. But I had never really expereinced it until yesterday.
As one drives north on Ruta 5 from Santiago in Chile, the Andes are always present on your right. Sometimes you can't see them but you know they are there in the distance. Both this highway and migant falcons travel north in this area of Chile for a thousand miles or more.
I have driven all over South America from Esmeraldas in NW Ecuador all the way to the end of the road in Ushuaia on Tierra Del Fuego in Argentina, but I had never driven this one stretch of road between Iquique and Arica before.
Desert Geoglyphs Along Ruta 5 in Chile
What I saw was enlightening.
As we went north yesterday towards the border with Peru, we could see the huge cumulus clouds building up over the Andes to our right for hours. As the day progressed, they got higher and higher, looking to me as though they went up to 30,000' or more.
We could see this chain of clouds marking the boundary of the highlands quite well.
As we approached Arica, the northernmost town in Chile, this wall of clouds suddenly bent to the left and extended all the way across our northern horizon like a huge white curtain, marking the turn of the continent. It was so completely dominant that I could understand why this is such a major decision point for migrant peregrines, as we have long suspected.
Looking North Into Peru, A Wall of Cumulus Clouds Following the Andes West
I mean to say that it is just such a massive, powerful and unmistakable geographic feature and I had never fully realized it would so apparent, so huge and so influential.
Sort of like a religious experience for a peregrine migration biologist I guess.
Looking up into the high Andes here, I gained a new and even deeper respect for those falcons that decide to follow the mountain route.
I have no idea if peregrines have or even experience something like courage, but for me, that is what it would take to leave the coastline and head up into those huge columns of air, those powerful winds and massive storm clouds above the Andean highlands to eventually make their way home.