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PERU BIRDING TRIP REPORT
15 June – 1 July 2003
I co-led Naturetrek's first tour into a poorly-known region of the Andes of Central Peru where a number of scarce birds occur amongst a wide variety of more widespread species. We succeeded in seeing around 350 species including rarities such as Eye-ringed Thistletail, White-bellied Cinclodes, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Tschudi's and Large-footed Tapaculos, and Black-spectacled Brush-Finch. We also saw other highly sought birds such as Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, displaying Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, and a fine selection of 39 hummingbirds and 43 tanagers. Unlike the earlier Central Highway tour, there were no logistical problems and a good time was had by all.
Ashley Banwell (co-leader, Kolibri), Roy Goldsmith, Lee Mixon, Martin Smyth, Roger Ahlman, with agent Gunnar Engblom of Kolibri Expeditions present on a few days.
Afterwards, I flew to Iquitos with Ash, Lee and Roger. I visited Tahuayo Lodge for three full days, while the others spent a couple of days at Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve. Both visits were too short but I did see a good variety of Amazonian birds.
SUNDAY JUNE 15
Martin, Roy and I departed on the early morning Iberia flight to Madrid where, after watching distant Griffon Vultures, we boarded the non-stop service to the Peruvian capital of Lima, arriving at Jorge Chávez International Airport during the evening. We were met by Gunnar Engblom and transferred to Hostal de las Artes, opposite Lima's main police station. Here we met Lee, who had arrived a day earlier, and we all enjoyed beer and chips at a nearby café.
MONDAY JUNE 16
At 06.30 we headed south from Lima with Gunnar, Ash and Roger Ahlman, a Swedish client of Kolibri, to Pantanos de Villa, where we picked up local birder Alexandro. After a quick search for Peruvian Thick-knee, we continued down the Pan-American highway to the small seaside town of Pucusana. Here a climb up to the cliff-tops enabled us to see most of the Humboldt current specialties: Red-legged Cormorant, the beautiful Inca Tern, Blackish Oystercatcher, and Peruvian Booby and Pelican, along with Sooty Shearwaters and several species of gull, but alas no Humboldt Penguins. Down below, we had close views of the endemic Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes. Further south at Puerto Viejo we found grebes and ducks, a beautiful male Cinereous Harrier, the elusive Thick-knee and other waders, Burrowing Owl, Coastal Miner, Wren-like Rushbird, Yellowish Pipit, Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant, Dark-fronted Ground-Tyrant, and Chestnut-throated and Parrot-billed Seedeaters. We continued to Cañete, turned inland and stopped for a late lunch by the river, with a search for the difficult Slender-billed Finch The latter was nowhere to be found but eye-level Andean Swifts, Croaking Ground-Dove, Scrub Blackbird and Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant were a consolation. We drove along the arid Cañete Valley up to the village of Catahuasi, with D'Orbigny's Chat-Tyrant and White-capped Dipper on the way. We elected to stay at a basic hostelry, which provided good steak and chips, rather than to camp.
TUESDAY JUNE 17
We left at 05.45 but stopped after a few metres owing to a flat tyre. The jack would not lift the bus high enough to fit the spare wheel, so armed with a pick-axe, Julio the enterprising driver dug a hole in the road to enable the wheel to be fitted! After an hour's drive we stopped in a cactus-rich area at 1700m and saw the striking Peruvian Sheartail along with Giant Hummingbird, Black-and-white and Band-tailed Seedeaters, the only Great Inca-Finch of the trip, and our first Torrent Ducks on the river. Continuing ever higher, we picked up three more hummers – Oasis, White-bellied and Purple-collared Woodstar – along with White-capped Dipper on the river, then drove through a dramatic narrow gorge, with sheer cliffs 1000s of feet high on both sides. After a bread and cheese lunch at 3000m, we continued to a patch of Polylepis forest at 3900m where Black Metaltail, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail and Peruvian and Mourning Sierra-Finches were noted. All too soon we had to move on, up onto the puna where we found Dark-winged Canastero and White-bellied Cinclodes (a new site for the latter, a great rarity) near the pass at 4600m. Then it was down to the bustling city of Huancayo where we reached Hotel Kiya at 9.20 p.m., in time for a Chinese meal, after a long and dusty day.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 18
This morning we were joined by Gunnar and driver Adriano, Julio and Alexandro having taken the overnight bus back to Lima. We left at 06.30 but soon came to a halt as Adriano drove under a low bridge, knocking off some of the contents of the roof-rack. Fortunately, there was no serious damage but as yesterday's flat tyre had to be repaired, we were unable to leave until 08.00. We climbed up to Lago Pomococha at 4700m and found Cinereous and Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrants, a bathing Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Andean Negrito and a pair of scarce Andean Ibis. Later, a stop at 3700m gave the endemic Fire-throated Metaltail, Streak-throated Canastero and White-browed Ground-Tyrant and Chat-Tyrant. Then followed a slow drive through spectacular scenery, past another lake and via numerous tight hairpins to a pass at c.4500m, before dropping down to the end of the road at Punto, a village perched on a ridge at 3800m. Here we were granted the village meeting-house to stay in, and cook Lorenzo eventually produced an ample supply of chicken and rice.
THURSDAY JUNE 19
At 06.00 we walked down to Otuto forest , stopping for a stunning male Purple-backed Thornbill, Shining Sunbeam, Mountain Velvetbreast and more Fire-throated Metaltails, Stripe‑headed Antpitta, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Black-throated Flowerpiercer. The key bird to find was the recently described Black-spectacled Brush-Finch, soon spotted in the chusquea bamboo by Ash but uncooperative in terms of reappearance. On a previous visit Gunnar had found a new form of Thryothorus wren, like Plain-tailed but with unspotted underparts - possibly a new species – and we were able to lure this into view as it was highly vocal. Other birds here were Red-crested Cotinga, and Black-capped and Superciliaried Hemispingi. The walk back to the village was exhausting to those of us who were out-of-sorts; Blue-mantled Thornbill, another fine hummer, was a bonus for some. We left Punto at 11.30 and stopped on the tops to look for tapaculos, without success, but we did see Striated Earthcreeper. Dropping down to Canchapalca, we left Gunnar to return to Lima by public transport, then continued to the Satipo Road, reaching our campsite by the river at Punto Carizales at 5.30 p.m. We retired to bed under a fairly clear sky, but with no sounds of nightbirds.
FRIDAY JUNE 20
After a good night's sleep, despite some rain, we breakfasted at 06.00, then walked up the road, soon finding the star Eye-ringed Thistletail. More of this highly localised species were found below the camp, giving excellent views. Then came the first of a series of tapaculo sightings at different elevations, all seemingly sounding different but looking similar. We had some confidence that the first was Large-footed but have yet to resolve whether other species were involved lower down. We dropped down to 3000m and ran into low cloud but soon encountered a huge flock, with lots of tanagers – 18 species during the day! – such as Scarlet-bellied, Hooded, Lacrimose, Buff-breasted and Chestnut-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, Plushcap, 4 species of conebill, Ochraceous-breasted Flycatchers, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Slaty Brush-Finch and several hummingbirds including the beautiful Amethyst-throated Sunangel.
We drove down to 2700m and the birds kept coming: Andean Guan, Blue-banded Toucanet, Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Masked Trogon, stunning Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers, a pair of Maroon-chested Chat-Tyrant, Barred Fruiteater, White-eared Solitaire, White-collared Jay, Peruvian Wren, another tapaculo, and a magnificent Sword-billed Hummingbird perched atop a tall tree with its amazing bill pointing skywards with a pronounced up-turned profile. An incredibly productive morning! Then it started raining heavily and we had to walk quite a way to find the bus. After a quick lunch, we drove down to the village of Calavas at 2300m, where we were allocated a school building to sleep in. Our final walk of the day after the rain stopped was down to the river where we saw Inca Jay, Andean Solitaire and Green-fronted Lancebill fly-catching over the river. Lorenzo rustled up a beef and chip stew, with the customary rice.
SATURDAY JUNE 21
The morning was sunny, which dampened bird activity, but it clouded over later. We got off to good start with a pair of Golden-headed Quetzal feeding near to our school. We drove up to 2500m and walked back down to the village, seeing many of the species from the previous day but White-throated Hawk, White-bellied Woodstar, Speckled Hummingbird, Striped Treehunter and Grey-breasted Wood-Wren were new. At 11.00 we drove back up to 2650m and walked down to 2500m, finding a good flock including Grass-green and Flame-faced Tanagers, Barred Becard and Chestnut-breasted Coronet. Then Martin spotted what we took to be another thistletail species which we studied as it climbed up the nearby moss-covered cliff. As it was virtually all brown, we thought it must be a new taxon and were highly elated. However, subsequent research has indicated that it was more likely to have been a juvenile Azara's Spinetail, which appears to look quite different from an adult, although there is still some disagreement about this. A little further down, a fruiting tree attracted a pair of Band-tailed Fruiteaters and a Blue-and-black Tanager.
We drove beyond the village down to 1800m, stopping just beyond a huge land-slip. Here a fast-moving flock contained a suite of different species, including Blue-browed, Silver-backed, Yellow-throated, Orange-eared and Golden-naped Tanagers, Ocellated Piculet, Versicoloured Barbet and Lemon-browed Flycatcher. A little farther on the raucous cries of Andean Cock-of-the-Rock were heard and we espied 3 males displaying in trees by the road, a wonderful sight! Another great day's birding closed with a fine immature Fasciated Tiger-Heron on the river, a Buff-thighed Puffleg for some and a rare Golden-collared Honeycreeper, but only for Roger (to the frustration of both leaders for whom it would have been a new species). The tents were pitched beside the river at dusk and another tasty meal prepared by Lorenzo.
SUNDAY JUNE 22
After a bit of a lie-in, we set off down the road at 06.30 but birds were few, with Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Bronzy Inca, Blackish Antbird, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant and Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant the most notable. We reached a group of flowering Inga trees and spent some time checking out the many hummingbirds but only Reddish Hermit, Glittering-throated Emerald and Amethyst Woodstar were new. We drove to a village where there was a short trail to a waterfall, said to be a Cock-of-the-Rock lek-site. We tried it but saw nothing at this time of day. Adriano had been trying to buy fuel all morning and finally succeeded when we reached San Pedro. Here we had a chicken lunch while watching a local football match. We left at half-time and returned to 1250m where we took a trail from a bridge up the hillside along a water-pipe and stream. It looked good habitat but we only saw Red-throated Caracara, Coraya Wren and Golden-bellied Warbler. Returning to the road, a short walk brought a plethora of new birds including Violet-throated Brilliant, White-winged Becard and Paradise, Golden-eared, Masked and Swallow Tanagers, with the rare Peruvian Piedtail, alas, for me only. We departed before dusk and reached the busy town of Satipo at 7 p.m. Gunnar reappeared here and ushered us to a rather down-market but comfortable hotel, where after a welcome shower, we enjoyed good steak and chips followed by banana splits.
MONDAY JUNE 23
We had a good breakfast, after a noisy night on the streets outside. Satipo was in the thick of Shining Path deadly conflict ten years earlier: the sight of a severed head on a stick outside town meant stay away for at least 24 hours! We left at 06.20 on a good tarred road, for a change. A stop in secondary habitat near the river gave a nice selection of lowland birds, such as Black Caracara, Speckled Chachalaca, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Great Antshrike, White-banded Swallow and Epaulet Oriole. Then a walk onto a cane-covered river-island added species such as Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Black-fronted Nunbird, Little Ground-Tyrant and an adult Fasciated Tiger-Heron. We turned off the La Merced road at 10.50 for Oxapampa and had almost reached the latter by 1.30 p.m. when we took the rough road leading up to a communication site. Along here we found Torrent Tyrannulets, before reaching the campsite in beautiful moss-festooned cloud forest at 2.45. Gunnar promptly left us, for the last time, and we set out to explore the various trails. Bird activity was low, despite the apparently good, overcast conditions. One or two Rufous Antpittas called occasionally and a Tschudi's Tapaculo was responsive but it was not till dusk when flocks of Barred Parakeets zoomed over and birds such as Band-tailed Fruiteater, Pearled Treerunner and Yellow-scarfed Tanager appeared. Although only 2600m in elevation, it turned very cold at night, with a clear sky above alive with innumerable stars. We had been told the key bird here was the very local endemic Cloud-forest Screech-Owl, and so eagerly awaited the sound of owls calling, which began at about 8 p.m. We eventually taped in one of a pair but then discovered that, although a stunning view, it was actually the widespread White-throated Screech-Owl – a disappointing end to the day.
TUESDAY JUNE 24
The dawn chorus at 06.00 included highly vocal, gaudy Grass-green Tanagers but, surprisingly, no antpittas. We later heard both Bay and Rufous Antpittas but their locations were almost inaccessible. We birded till 09.00 with modest success: a good view of the scarce Chestnut-crested Cotinga, with Rufous-capped Thornbill and Golden-browed Chat-Tyrant for some. Walking down the road gave White-eared Solitaire and Barred Fruiteater, but our plan to go down another track while lunch was being prepared was thwarted by the track being blocked a little way down and the crew's view that they would have to drive further down the main road to find water for cooking. The latter point was a little hard to understand as the road followed a stream, and it was over an hour later before we found the bus, after a bird-less walk in the sunny heat of the day. As Lorenzo had not even started on the meal, and there was a long way to go, we decided to proceed directly to Oxapampa for lunch. This was achieved and we left for the mining town of La Oroya at 1.45 p.m., with assurances that we would arrive by 6 p.m. We hardly stopped, knowing that it would be a slow journey, and eventually reached Hostal San Juan at 9 p.m., but a hot shower, followed by trout and chips, revived our spirits sufficiently for investigation of the local night-life.
WEDNESDAY MARCH 25
After a late night, we had a good breakfast and left at 08.00, climbing up the Central Highway to the last pass before Lima until we reached Ticlio at 4,700 meters. As the weather was good, we were able to enjoy the dramatic scenery while looking for the beautiful Diademed Sandpiper-Plover (DSP). On arrival, we soon saw a veritable flock of the rare White-bellied Cinclodes, 7 in all, with another later on! Walking across the spongy bog, breathless due to the high altitude, a pair of DSP was duly spotted and we were treated to fine views of this enigmatic creature. Other birds encountered were Andean and Puna Ibises, Rufous-bellied and Grey-breasted Seedsnipes, Puna Snipe, White-winged Diuca-Finch, and White-fronted and Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrants. After reaching the bus lower down the hill, we proceeded at 11.00 down to Rio Blanco. An hour here gave White-winged Cinclodes, Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant and Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch. We arrived at the Kolibri office in Lima at 3 p.m., and were rewarded by the last hummer of a most successful trip, an Amazilia.
We continued to the airport where four of us caught the evening flight to Iquitos, while Martin and Roy took the overnight flight to Madrid, and home. We arrived at Iquitos at 07.45 and took the hotel bus to the 3 star Europa Hotel ($40/ double a night). [Note that there is now a hostal in the city centre: Caraval Hostal in Prospero, $6 a night for backpackers.] We booked an early taxi and tried to contact Juan Diaz, the researcher at Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve, without success, but his brother said he was staying at the reserve.
THURSDAY JUNE 26
The taxi driver Antonio Hidalgo S., tel. 9-672437, proved to be reliable and we left at 05.00 to the reserve 23 km southwest of Iquitos along the Iquitos-Nauta road. This is well-known for its white sand forest, or Varillal, which holds several highly localised species including 4 recently described to science. We were unable to find Juan and so lost valuable early morning time trying to find the best area to bird. The hostel-type accommodation is at the Km 27 Biological Station but the best trails are at Km 25 where I had to leave before seeing anything of note, to be back at the hotel for a 09.00 pick-up. The others carried on of course and Roger reported:-
"Soon after you left you we had good views of Allpahuayo Antbird and we heard 3-4 Ancient Antwrens. In the afternoon and the next morning we birded along the good trail near the Biological station and picked up some nice birds but birding was rather slow. We spot-lit Spectacled and Crested Owls. We also slept there and just when it was time to leave found a map indicating where the good birds are: they're all found along the trail at km 25, where we were in the morning with you!"
[They returned to Lima for a Kolibri Expeditions pelagic:
"The pelagic was good with some 50 Waved Albatrosses and Shy and Black-broweds as well; lots of Wilson's and White-vented Storm-petrels, some 50 Ringed and singles of Markham's and Wedge-tailed, and about 100 White-chinned petrels and one Cape. It was spectacular when we threw chum in the deep water, with loads of birds only a few metres from the boat."]
Along with some American tourists, I was taken up the Amazon and then its tributary the Tahuayo on a 3h 30min journey, including a stop at a native village for the boat crew to eat, to Amazonian Expeditions' Tahuayo Lodge. Tahuayo Lodge is located 145 km upriver from Iquitos near the Reserva Comunal de Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo on the Rio Tahuayo. Accommodation is in comfortable cabins and a wide range of excursions on offer, eg zipping through the canopy and canoeing. The lodge is associated with the Rainforest Conservation Fund. It has an interesting mix of várzea, igapo and terra firme forest together with riparian habitat. There are several large and interesting river islands on the way along the Amazon, but not on the Tahuayo River itself. It is one of the few accessible localities south and east of the Amazon in northern Peru, and is thus of major interest for several species scarce within Peru. The guides are quite good and the facilities and food excellent.
After lunch and a familiarisation tour, I birded the nearby várzea, very wet under foot, from 15.00-17.30, seeing Collared Puffbird (with a huge grasshopper), Várzea Schiffornis, Dot-backed, Sooty, Scale-backed and Slate-coloured Antbirds, Wire-tailed Manakin and Squirrel Monkey, Saddleback Tamarin and Pygmy Marmoset – a promising start!
FRIDAY JUNE 27
After an early breakfast, I departed upstream with guide Wenni to San Pedro where there were trails in mainly Terra Firme forest. Best birds from 06.20-14.00 were Pavonine Quetzal (at last!), Brown Nunlet, Spotted Puffbird, Plushcrown, Black-tailed and White-throated Antbirds, with flight views of Reddish-winged Bare-eye during a long tape duel. An afternoon trip down-stream was an anti-climax.
SATURDAY JUNE 28
A similar morning was spent in different terra firme forest with Yvonne as well as Wenni, the highlights being great views of Lined Forest-Falcon, taped in and Cinnamon Manakin. There were frustrating tape duels with Black-tailed and Yellow-browed Antbirds, but good views of male Spangled Cotinga and Slate-coloured Hawk on the way back to Lodge. Late afternoon was spent looking in vain for Blue-cheeked Jacamar in the várzea.
SUNDAY JUNE 29
Further upstream to Frog Valley this morning but it was quiet, then heavy rain started at 09.00 and continued till noon. After returning wet to the Lodge, we spent early afternoon in the várzea, eventually locating a lovely pair of Blue-cheeked Jacamar, as well as Várzea Mourner and a Bar-breasted or Lafresnaye's Piculet. Returning to San Pedro later, I saw my first ever perched King Vulture on way, but nothing else new was on show. Hence I had seen some good birds but of course missed others, such as Rufous-necked Puffbird.
MONDAY JUNE 30
I left for Iquitos in small open boat at 06.00 in light rain, with Juan Luis and Roberto. After a gripping view of a sting ray in the Rio Tahuayo, we stopped on a large river island in the Amazon: White-cheeked Jacamar, Plain-breasted Piculet, Lesser Hornero, River Tyrannulet, Cinnamon Attila, Masked Tanager and Pearly Conebill, but Black-and-white Antbird was only heard and several river island species not found. We reached Iquitos at 11.30, were met by Graciela of Amazonian Expeditions, and driven to the airport for the 2 p.m. flight to Lima, connecting with Iberia's evening flight to Madrid. Arrived Heathrow an hour late at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 1.
Birds recorded near Amazonia's Lodge, Tahuayo River, 26-30 June 2003. H: heard only.
Great Tinamou Tinamus major
Jon Hornbuckle - kagu.at.blueyonder.co.uk