LIMA, Peru - COMPETITIVE birdwatching might sound like an oxymoron. Try telling that to ornithologists from around the world racing around Peru on a six-day marathon vying to become best birder.
"I am covered in bug bites, my legs are killing me and I got sick and threw up from the altitude," Ryan Terrill, 26, a member of the winning American team, told AFP.
"Despite all that, I have been able to see all the birds I have always wanted to see," added Terrill, all smiles.
Twenty-four seasoned bird specialists from Britain, South Africa, Brazil, Spain, and the United States took part in Birding Rally Challenge Peru.
Decked out in shorts and caps, binoculars, and cameras around their necks, these guys could be mistaken for random outdoorsy tourists, maybe on their way to Macchu Picchu.
But they are super-specialists, indeed. Some competitors are among the world's best known and most respected authorities on bird life.
They are all up, before five in the morning, pushing through brush at the Tambopata nature reserve with the same goal: identifying the greatest number of birds possible, as the clock ticks down.
Off in the distance, a ball of scarlet feathers stands out against the verdant tropical jungle of the Amazon basin. It is the Andean cock-of-the-rock, or Rupicola Peruviana, a red, white and black mid-sized gem widely seen as Peru's national bird.
And the enthusiasm for seeing such rare and beautiful wildlife, for many of the experts, borders on obsession.
"Normally, the birdwatching competition was done in just one day. But we really wanted to highlight Peru's biodiversity. It has 1,800 registered bird species including 117" unique to Peru, said contest coordinator Dennis Osorio.