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Colca Canyon, in southern Peru, is the deepest canyon in the world, so the drive to see its world-famous birds is heart-in-the-mouth stuff, but the heebie-jeebies, and having to get up in the freezing hour before dawn, are well worth it.

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We reached Cruz del Condor, 1000 metres above the canyon floor, at about 8.30 am and scrambled over the rocks of the viewpoint to find a good spot to wait. Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus) are big birds, weighing up to 15 kgs and with a wingspan of around 3 metres, so they need the thermals to glide up the canyon each morning, before flying off for up to 250 kms in search of their day’s food – dead animals! Patience is required – how quickly they come depends on what the weather’s like, when the sun hits the bottom of the canyon, how quickly the air warms up … But, eventually, we saw some small birds a long way below and kept watching until, by 10.30am, they had reached our level and were gliding past us just metres away.

There were several adult birds and two brown-feathered juveniles. The young birds seemed to tire and settled for a while on a rock very close to the canyon edge – a rare treat to have them so close to us. And the whole spectacle was marvellous to watch – I filled up a memory card with photos but eventually stopped clicking and stood enthralled by the condors’ seemingly effortless flight. One of nature’s miracles!

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