This morning, we left Moquegua and headed up into the Puna or Altiplano area of southern Peru.
Drying Peppers in the Lowlands
They Turn All These by Hand To Dry Them In The Sun
Our aim today was to find and document Felipes roosting site from the prior evening, We had heard that the run up was only about 2 hours so it looked pretty good. Once we located our turn-off, we would drive 20 miles out to his site and possibly camp under the stars.
Nice plan. No basis in reality.
It took us many, many hours of driving up through some of the most beautiful country we have seen so far until we hit the high altitude grasslands or Puna.
The Highway Up to 15,000 Feet
We saw literally thousands of Llamas scattered all across the grasslands. I had no idea there would be so many. Many were quite tame. Since they have been living with people up here since the Incas, that should be no surprise. I am also told that Pumas feed on them here.
Some Puna Shots
Perfect Peregrine Hunting Habitat
Vast Expanses Of Rolling Hills and Valleys
So far, so good. The special "herb tea", aspirin and herb leaves in our mouths were supposed to repress any symptoms of altitude sickness.
Absolutely true. At first.
After we hit 15,000' for awhile, the highest I have driven so far, I started to feel really sleepy. Deteriorated from there into lassitude, changed speech, and driving the old porcelain bus. Actually had to have Luis, our trusty guide, drive both me and Lula Belle down to Puno, two hours away at 10,000'. Not a fun day.
My Two Traveling Companions and Saviors, Shirley and Luis
Finally arrived in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca (first time here) in the evening, got another hotel room and I was down hard until about 9 PM. Feeling better now and we are likely going to head down in elevation to Arequipa tomorrow.
Chasing a falcon up here at 15,000 feet with all of the convolutions and ups and downs on this highway is pretty difficult and daunting. Definitely not easy. Especially when you do not have the time to acclimate from sea level to 15,000. I know, that was a really dumb idea.
However, all of the sickness was definitely worth it as I finally came to realize why peregrines like it up there so much.
First off, there is abundant birdlife. The Puna has alot of rain and many lakes, small ponds and rivulets all over the place. Small birds abound. Things like Sierra Finches, White-winged Cinclodes, Seedsnipes and miners are everywhere. We saw many instances of small ducks using these ponds. Perfet size for a male peregrine. Saw some shorebirds using them too. So the place is a really great location for hunting. Felipe seems to be "staging" up here right now and I like to think that he is "tanking up" after the desolation of the Atacama.
Also, since the predominant habitat is grassland, there is not a great deal of cover up here for prey. No trees, no bushes to hide in. Seems likely to me that they are more vulnerable than in a forest.
But most important I think, there is a continuous line of cumulus clouds over the Puna region extending from one end of this range to as far as the eye can see, going to the northwest. And under every cumulus there should be a thermal. In other words, there is a "cloud street" extending all the way up the Andes here. That means a migrant falcon can use this energy to circle up under a cloud, do a set wing glide to the bottom of the next, circle up again and repeat this method over and over to go north. A sort of free ride and a great energy saver.
So abundant food, great hunting habitat and an aerial expressway seem to me to be the most obvious reasons why they go up there.
Me? Tonight, I much prefer sea level.