Story and photographs by Mercedes Benavides
Peru is one of the top 20 mega-diverse countries in the world. Its capital city of Lima contributes to this through its beautiful landscapes, flora and fauna. To the west is the Pacific Ocean. On the east is the foot of the rising Andes Mountain Range, and on the north and south is desert. Millions of years ago when the Andes were created gorges formed on the western side of the Andes through which rivers flowed into the Pacific Ocean. Those gorges today are fertile valleys along the coastline of Peru, and it is in one of them, on the alluvial fan of the River Rimac, that the city of Lima is located.
Lima has many natural and man-made nature locations, but here are four of the best. The first is the Zona Reservada Pantanos de Villa, a Ramsar Site, which is designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty. Ramsar Sites are recognized as being of significant value not only for the country or the countries in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole. The Zona Reservada Pantanos de Villa is a coastal wetland and a location for feeding, nesting, rest and safe harbor for resident and migratory birds. Migrants fly in from Chile and Argentina to the south; from the United States and Canada to the north; and from over the Andes to the east. More than 200 bird species exist at this site, and one of them is the Many-Colored Rush-Tyrant (Tachuris rubrigastra), a favorite with nationals and foreign visitors.
A second location includes the cliffs of the Costa Verde which are a magnificent site that show the face of the desert and overlook the Pacific Ocean.
Third is the Playa La Chira, a unique place where the River Surco flows into the ocean rich in sediment, and also where there are cliff and rock formations in the ocean creating stunning views. Pre-Columbian civilizations, that is, those civilizations prior to the arrival of the European settlers, identified the River Rimac and all other waterways as critical to the city and built a system of canals along the rivers to make efficient use of the water. As Lima is in the desert, water management was and is still key. There is currently a project to propose the canal of the River Surco as a National Cultural Heritage Monument in Peru and this would include the Playa La Chira as the end point of the canal. Right now, the Playa La Chira is the location for a public water treatment plant. It is also where the Peruvian Thick-knee (Burhinus superciliaris,) a coastal desert bird, can be found as well as where Franklin’s Gulls (Leucophaeus pipixcan), which migrate from North America, can rest while they prepare for the journey back north.
Finally, there is “El Olivar,” a man-made olive grove that was founded in 1560 with olive plantings from Spain. Today “El Olivar” is a Peruvian National Monument due to its historical significance as well as its contribution as a green lung to the city. Due to the variety of trees of other species as well as the olive trees, “El Olivar” is a haven for local birds such as the Amazonian Hummingbird (Amazilia amazilia) and the Blue-Gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus.)
The rich biodiversity of Lima has made it possible for cultures to thrive in the area for over 4,000 years, including ours today.
Mercedes Benavides is a nature photographer with a focus on birds of Peru and their habitats and is based in Lima, Peru. She has travelled throughout Peru since she was little, taking her first trip to Arequipa and her second trip to Cusco before she was two years old. In 2009, Benavides made an unexpected trip to a high-altitude Andean Polylepis forest in Cusco. She fell in love with this magical habitat of gnarled trees inhabited by unique mosses, lichens, miniature plants and flowers, and the birds that rest, feed and nest there. Photographing one bird at a time in the highlands, the coast, and the jungle of Peru, Benavides learned about the birds and their conservation status and shares with the world the beauty of the birds of Peru and their habitats. From 2012-2015 Benavides was a volunteer photographer in the Department of Ornithology at the Museum of Natural History of the UNMSM (Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, the oldest university of the Americas). She participated in expeditions and projects in research, conservation, education and communication. Benavides returned to Peru in 2009 after a 15-year career in banking in New York and founded Pallay Partners, an advisory firm specializing in microfinance, rural development and tourism, which she currently leads. For the photos in this story she used a Nikon D7200 with Nikkor 200-500mm, 14-24mm, and 70-200mm lenses. For more of her work visit www.mercedesbenavides.com.