|North Peru 2000|
|February 13, 2004|
Northern and Central Peru: July 21st ? August 20th 2000
After a very successful trip last year, I was delighted to have the opportunity to return to northern Peru in the summer of 2000, to lead the same tour for Kolibri Expeditions www.kolibriexpeditions.com Gunnar Engblom?s Lima-based company, in addition to visiting a number of little-known areas in the centre of the country. This report is a detailed account of the month-long period during which I guided various clients for different lengths of time. One of the reasons that I have not included detailed accounts of distances and accommodation is that a number of the areas are very difficult to access on one?s own without local knowledge, a sturdy 4WD vehicle, camping equipment and a real pioneer spirit. Birding some of these sites on public transport would be very difficult and time-consuming, if not impossible. Contact Gunnar Engblom directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Tour Participants: Simon Allen (leader), Juvenal Ccahuana (driver and assistant), Fritz Muller, Heinz Remold, (both 21st ?31st July), Mike Catsis (23rd July ? 15th August), Phil Richardson (5th ? 17th August), Peter Coburn (17th ? 20th August).
Santa Eulalia Valley
Balsas and El Limon
Celendin to Cajamarca
El Molino and Chagual
Day 1 ? July 21st
By one we had arrived in the small dusty village of Ondores, and headed for the Panorama restaurant, home to some relatives of Francisco Tueros, the area?s most famous biologist, whose name is given to the Latin name of the endemic Junin Rail (Laterallus tuerosi). The closest birders ever seem to get to this elusive species is a stuffed bird on a shelf in the restaurant. Indeed, the premises further underlined its awareness of birds with murals of the lake?s more celebrated endemic, the elegant Junin Grebe, in addition to serving up a rather dark and chewy version of chicken that Goyo was convinced was coot.
Once Gunnar and Juvenal had arrived from Huánuco at about 2pm with Fritz and Heinz, we set about sorting out plans for locating the grebe. They are rather similar to Silvery Grebe and effectively impossible to tell apart at a distance of over a kilometre from the mirador. The only solution is therefore to go out on the lake in a boat. We managed to hire the services of the owner of the Panorama and proceeded down to the lakeshore carrying a very small and tippy metal canoe which was to be powered by means of a long pole. We said our goodbyes to Gunnar and Goyo who retunred to Lima, and he took Heinz out first. From the speed they were progressing it soon became clear that there would not be time for more than one of us to go out. They disappeared into the reeds heading towards the deeper water where the bird spends most of its time, whilst Fritz and I consoled ourselves by watching, and in his case photographing, the impressive waterbird spectacle in the beautiful afternoon light. Puna Plovers, migrant Lesser Yellowlegs and spritely Andean Negritos patrolled the muddy margins of the lake, whilst a flushed Puna Snipe settled to give excellent views in a small creek and two Short-billed Pipits inspected a pile of dry reeds. After almost two hours, and with a strong wind beginning to whip across the lake, Heinz and his guide returned reporting fairly close views of two Junin Grebes.
By now we needed to make fast progress so we said goodbye to our guide and headed off back towards Junin town in our new vehicle, a rather old-fashioned, but fully functioning, Dodge van. We worked our way back towards the unpleasant mining town of La Oroya where we had dinner at about 8pm before driving back towards Lima and turning off to the Marcapomacocha area. From there we dropped down the other side of the pass towards a small Polylepis woodland at about 4000m, where we arrived at about 11.30pm, and slept comfortably, apart from the cold, on the long seats of the van.
Day 2 ? July 22nd
Finally, at about 7.30, the sun began to reach the upper reaches of the valley sides and a wide variety of birds began to appear, including more endemics such as Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch and Striated Earthcreeper, plus Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Andean Swallow, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, D?Orbigny?s Chat-Tyrant, Giant and Oasis Hummingbirds, the near-endemic Black Metaltail, Yellow-rumped Siskin, Ash-breasted, Peruvian and Mourning Sierra-Finches, and a brief appearance from the delightful Stripe-headed Antpitta. By 8 or so we were back down at the vehicle, and enjoying a very welcome bowl of avena (porridge), which was to become a feature of the trip. Suddenly a pair of White-cheeked Cotingas alighted in a lone Polylepis tree some fifteen metres or so from the van and we enjoyed magnificent scope views of this sought-after species in the sunlight. These two were followed by another pair that flew across the road past us into an area of rather more sparse shrubbery next to the river, again giving good views. We worked the road for another half hour or so, and found at least another four individuals, perching anywhere from low shrubs to taller trees, and even once on a large boulder! This area seems to be very reliable for the species, and more so, as we were to discover later on, than Huascaran NP.
We climbed higher up the road enjoying increasingly spectacular views of the mountain scenery, and steadily gaining altitude and making occasional stops for birds such as Variable Hawk, Streak-throated Canastero, Cinereous Ground-Tyrant and White-capped Dipper, which we found along a fast-flowing stream. We were admiring a pair of Black Siskins on one side of the vehicle when Juvenal drew our attention to a pair of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe that we had disturbed right beside the road and which were walking away quietly down a small rocky slope. When stationary they were remarkably well camouflaged but they eventually betrayed their whereabouts and gave excellent views.
Higher still we came firstly to an area of wet boggy grassland and then to a couple of lakes surrounded by rocky crags. The latter held Silvery Grebe and some nesting Giant Coots. Crossing the pass, we entered the Marcapomacocha area, a beautiful mix of high puna grassland, cushion bogs and rocky outcrops, with high peaks towering above them. We soon located another target, the impressive Puna Tinamou, and then some smaller high altitude species such as White-fronted and Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrants, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch and White-winged Diuca-Finch. Descending into a small valley, we quickly found a pair of the rare and spectacular White-bellied Cinclodes adjacent to a cushion bog, and enjoyed great views of this endangered species. Back on the road, a pair of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe was encountered close to the road, and we proceeded to find good numbers throughout the area. Climbing another rise, the endemic Dark-winged Miner, looking for all the world like a female Wheatear when showing its white rump in flight, gave good views close to the van, and we descended off the road to another cushion bog tucked away at the base of a hill. Here we found two more rare high altitude specialities, the superb Diademed Sandpiper-Plover and the drab but fascinating Olivaceous Thornbill, which feeds on tiny red flowers that grow on the ground in these cushion bogs.
Our descent took us down towards the junction with the main Lima - La Oroya road, but not before we had successfully searched an area of white flowers for our seventh endemic of the morning, the striking Black-breasted Hillstar. By now it was approaching 1pm and the increasingly strong wind scuppered our chances of finding a Junin Canastero amongst the rather numerous Streak-throated Canasteros.
Nevertheless, we had enjoyed a wonderful morning and drove down to San Mateo for a well-earned lunch in a roadside restaurant, before returning to Lima by 6pm or so. Heinz and Fritz checked in to their hotel whilst Juvenal and I prepared ourselves for the night drive to Chiclayo that lay in store. We had ceviche with Gunnar and the clients before switching cars, packing the Landcruiser, buying supplies and going to pick up our passengers ? Victor Raul Diaz, a biologist specialising in the conservation of cracids, and a box containing two Pale-winged Trumpeters which he was transporting to his captive breeding centre for gamebirds near Olmos. He had showed us the White-winged Guan last year and would again be our guide for the following couple of days. After sorting out a brake problem we finally got underway at about 10.30pm on the long haul north.
Day 3 ? July 23rd
We located the woodland area quickly and were indeed soon tracking down the strange calls of the Peruvian Plantcutter, which led us to a nice male perched on a low bush. The species remains relatively numerous in this area and we saw upwards of six to eight individuals in a fairly short time. Although the quality of habitat is not particularly good, the area was little altered from last year despite the latent threat of an American sugar cane company wanting to purchase the land and develop it. Other species we found in the desert scrub and patches of acacia woodland included Croaking Ground-Dove, Amazilia Hummingbird, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, the endemic Coastal Miner, Pacific Hornero, Necklaced Spinetail, Mouse-coloued Tyrannulet, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant, Baird?s Flycatcher, the ubiquitous Long-tailed Mockingbird, Superciliated Wren and another endemic, the chunky Cinereous Finch. One bird we failed to find, although we were admittedly not there early in the morning, was the endemic Rufous Flycatcher, a bird that seems potentially as endangered as the plantcutter, as it relies on similar habitat yet seems to occur at much lower densities.
Back in Chiclayo, we picked up Victor for the planned afternoon excursion and then purchased some supplies for lunch. We had made a decision to head on to Olmos that evening rather than make for the new reserve at Laquipampa, which is another, albeit lesser-known, site for White-winged Guan. This gave us more time to explore another relatively new reserve near Batan Grande called Bosque Pomac. The habitat is similar to Rafan although it is much further inland and the Acacia woodland is much more extensive. After signing in at the rather impressive visitor centre and admiring a dainty Pearl Kite perched in a nearby tree, we began birding along the main track through the dry forest. In addition to some of the species recorded during the morning, we also found Collared Antshrike, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and White-edged Oriole. Most encouraging was our discovery of a population of Peruvian Plantcutter. Not previously known from this area, we saw four or five without tape rather easily in mid-afternoon, which would certainly suggest a healthy number in the area. After more fruitless searching for Rufous Flycatcher we drove on out of the woods towards an area of low barren hills skirted by much more sparse scrub. Vultures were circling overhead and a rather strange bird hopping about in a quarry turned out to be a Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant, unusually far from the Andes.
Suddenly a coarse bugling call forced our eyes up to the skies and we were surprised but delighted to see a flock of six of the rare coastal race of Black-faced Ibis flying overhead. Apparently they are known to nest on cliffs in coastal desert in this northern part of their range, and it seems the low barren hills of Bosque Pomac harbour a colony of the species. Continuing on towards the main road, we passed by a river where we stopped for a scan. We scoped a Peregrine perched in silhouette against a rather distant hill, a Ringed Kingfisher flew over, and then Mike located some hirundines with white rumps hawking insects, which turned out to be the localised Tumbes Swallow. After admiring these birds for a while, we reflected on the poorly known and potentially interesting avifauna present in the vegetation which lines these rivers that flow through the desert towards the Pacific Ocean along the length of the Peruvian coast.
As dusk fell, Lesser Nighthawks hawked over the Panamerican as we drove the short distance to Olmos where we headed for the Hotel Remanso. After some hard bargaining on the price which was much inflated from last year despite the lack of improvements in the rather basic rooms, we enjoyed a tasty dinner and arranged to meet Victor at 5 the next morning.
Day 4 - July 24th
We climbed further up into the canyon than the previous year in pursuit of the family of guans. One individual soared a huge distance down across the canyon, looking just like a Black Vulture, which was a very fascinating sight. In addition to more excellent views of these spectacular cracids, we encountered busy flocks of smaller birds that held Tropical Parula, Pacific Elaenia, Masked Yellowthroat, Hepatic Tanager, Black-capped Sparrow, Golden-bellied Grosbeak, White-winged and White-headed Brush-Finches and Cinereous Conebill. Scanning across one of these flocks to the other side of a small quebrada, I chanced upon a Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner seemingly appearing from a hole in a tree. Although we waited for a good length of time it did not return, to the frustration of Fritz and Heinz.
We returned to the car for more avena and then set about working our way back towards the Panamerican highway. Several stops along the largely dry riverbeds did not reveal many new species, but we did find Green Kingfisher, more Collared Antshrikes, Grey-and-white Tyrannulet, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant and a female Crimson-breasted Finch. Returning to the main road, we struck off once more into the desert scrub in search of the remainig Tumbesian species we needed. It turned out to be a rather disappointing afternoon in this respect, as we could not locate our principle target, the smart Tumbes Tyrant, despite much searching in an area where I had seen the bird the previous year. We drew a blank too on Tumbes Hummingbird, but did add a few other desert specialities such as Tumbes Sparrow, Parrot-billed Seedeater and Collared Warbling-Finch, plus large flocks of Saffron Finch.
On the way back to Olmos we stopped again at a small area of ponds which was rather altered from last year but still held surprising numbers of waterbirds. A large herony comprised largely of Black-crowned Night-Herons dominated the scene, but we also found Great, Snowy and Cattle Egret and Striated Heron, plus Neotropic Cormorant, Least Grebe and, best of all, two Spotted Rails which showed very nicely in a muddy ditch. Several local children took an interest in us and they delighted in looking through the telescope at some of the birds.
Day 5 ? July 25th
Higher up we searched a more extensive area of largely native vegetation where we found Chapman?s Antshrike, Ecuadorian Piculet, Rufous-chested Tanager and Collared Warbling-Finch, but by the time we had located the site for Piura Chat-Tyrant it was too windy and there was no sign of this rare endemic. We crossed the pass by 11am and stopped for lunch one of the few shady spots along the way, but the heat had brought a stop to all the bird activity.
Crossing the Maraņon and passing through the town of Chamaya, we arrived in the very pleasant town of Jaen at about 2pm and after checking into the Hostal Prims we headed out of town for a few kilometres to a track leading up into the hills through dry scrub with a few larger trees. We soon found our first Maraņon endemic, the drab Spot-throated Hummingbird, followed quite soon after by a pair of vocal Chinchipe Spinetails which gave good views in response to playback. More widespread species that we encountered were White-tipped Dove, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Western Long-tailed Hermit, Bran-coloued Flycatcher, Purple-throated Euphonia, Red-crested Finch, Dull-coloured Grassquit and the more localised Drab Seedeater, plus a Zone-tailed Hawk which glided down the valley with a long green snake hanging from its talons. After some frustrating searching, we eventually tracked down another of our target species, the Maraņon race of the endemic Peruvian Slaty-Antshrike, but there were no Maraņon Crescentchests either calling or responding to tape. Inhabitants of the monk school at the top of the hill were again not pleased to see us and their enormous guard dog dissuaded us from asking for permission to bird. We therefore returned to Jaen to enjoy a nice meal and a comfortable bed.
Day 6 ? July 26th
Cutting our losses we returned to Jaen and from there continued on towards Bagua Chica. A lunch stop in a rather birdless area of desert scrub did produce the endemic Little Inca-Finch, but not much else. We arrived quite early in Bagua and therefore returned to try for the crescentchest again in a variety of habitats close to town but again drew a blank, due in no small part, no doubt, to the wind. A fly-by flock of Scarlet-fronted Parakeets was of some consolation, but we returned to Bagua and the Hotel Wilson reflecting on what had been ultimately a rather frustrating day.
Day 7 ? July 27th
With the sun getting quite hot we proceeded on towards Chiriaco to get information about the current visiting arrangements as regards Peņa Blanca, which is sacred land for the Aguaruna Indians, a sensitive area and thus not a place one can really access without local contacts. On the way we added the uncommon Pale-rumped Swift, a soaring Short-tailed Hawk, Cobalt-winged Parakeet and Yellow-breasted Flycatcher. Once in Chiriaco we tried to track down our contact but could not be located either there or in Imazita, despite Juvenal going across the river in a launch to try and locate him or his right hand man while we had lunch. Encouraged by support from local police officers, we passed the military checkpoint at Mesones Muro despite some rather suspicious army officers whose checking of our passports became rather too bureaucratic for my liking. Anyway, we were allowed through and continued on the rough road towards the village of El Paraiso where I had stayed the previous year and which is on the edge of, but outside Aguaruna territory. Such was the distance we needed to travel that birding stops were rather few, but we did make one at the site where I had found Orange-throated Tanager the previous year but there was no sign of it this time. However, we did find White-winged Becard, Yellow-backed Tanager, Troupial and the sought-after Ecuadorian Cacique, which was to prove rather common throughout the area over the next couple of days.
As dusk approached we arrived at El Paraiso and I asked permission from the school teacher to camp out in the school. The children of the village were very curious and crowded around as we unloaded the Landcruiser. After making arrangements with some locals for attempting to visit Peņa Blanca the next morning, Juve cooked up a tasty spaghetti while we wrote up the bird list and then all retired for an early night.
Day 8 ? July 28th
It was rather difficult to bird thoroughly with such a lot of attention being fixed on us by the villagers, and we were also rushing to get up to the crest of the ridge, but we did see a number of interesting species including Brown Jacamar, Black-eared Fairy, Broad-billed Motmot, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Moriche Oriole, Red-stained Woodpecker, Slate-coloured Grosbeak, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher and Golden-headed Manakin.
We passed the car, which Juve had sensibly left this side of a particularly large area of mud, and by 8am had caught up with the rest of the party at the top of the hill, where there was indeed a white cliff face, the translation of the Spanish ?peņa blanca?. It was instantly obvious why it is considered a sacred spot by the indigenous people: breathtaking views over undulating and largely unbroken foothill forest were to be had on almost all sides. We began to bird near the highest point, and the locals quickly drew our attention to the soft calls of the Orange-throated Tanager. We were soon watching a flock of three of these spectacular birds as they fed in a fruiting tree below eye-level. There were more birds to be seen in the mixed flock, best of which was a very responsive male Fiery-throated Fruiteater which came in to the tape and briefly perched close-by, but unfortunately eluded Mike.
We were informed of the border between the Aguaruna lands and those of a neighbouring tribe, and warned not to enter, but then after enjoying the views through our binoculars for a few minutes the locals left us to our own devices and we slowly birded our way down towards the village. Despite the increasing heat birdlife was fairly prolific, and a Yellow-billed Nunbird perched in the open was followed by a magnificent Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle which allowed perched scope views before taking to the skies. A Golden-collared Toucanet flashed across the road, a Blackish Pewee and two Dusky-billed Parrotlets perched beside the road and we enjoyed good looks at both Double-banded Pygmy-Tyrant and the local Red-billed Tyrannulet, with good vocalisations of both species recorded. Other species we encountered on the way down included Swallow-tailed Kite, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Speckled Chachalaca, Ruddy Pigeon, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, White-tailed Trogon, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Plain Xenops, Lemon-throated Barbet, Grey-crowned Flycatcher, Green-and-gold, Paradise, Turquoise, Opal-rumped and Fulvous-crested Tanagers, Rufous-bellied and White-lored Euphonia, Blue, Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnis, and more Ecuadorian Caciques. We also found another single Orange-throated Tanager, seemingly away from a flock.
Once back at the village, we enjoyed good views of both White-browed Purpletuft and Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher high in a bare tree, and enjoyed a drink with the village leaders. Photos were taken of us with them and with the Ridgely and Tudor plates open at the appropriate page for the tanager, before we made our way back towards our base at El Paraiso. Occasional stops revealed further additions to the list in the form of Spangled Cotinga and Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, but in general activity was rather low in the heat of the early afternoon. Back at base we did some limited birding in the afternoon along the track back towards far-off Chiriaco but in general found very few species we had not already encountered that morning. The threat of rain forced us back to El Paraiso earlier than planned but we enjoyed a welcome rest after a tiring couple of days, before night fell and we headed for our sleeping bags.
Day 9 ? July 29th
After relating the details of our adventure to the police at Chiriaco, and enjoying a late lunch, we drove straight back towards Bagua Chica. Driving out of the forested area we once again passed through an open area where a Cinereous Harrier was quartering a paddyfield. Given that we had to get to Pomacochas the next morning, we continued on to Bagua Grande, where we checked into a hotel, made enquiries about Heinz and Fritz?s bus back to Chiclayo and then ventured out into the thronging streets of a busy Saturday night for chicken and chips and a cold beer.
Day 10 ? July 30th
We worked our way around towards the café at the top of the next bend, and made a brief sortie up the badly degraded Rio Chido trail. This yielded a few common Andean species such as Band-tailed Pigeon, Red-billed Parrot, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Cinnamon and Streak-necked Flycatchers, Brown-capped Vireo, White-crested Elaenia and Rufous-naped Brush-Finch, but I got brief views of the near-endemic Buff-bellied Tanager, and a Chestnut-breasted Coronet flashed by, pausing briefly to inspect us. We did find one fairly good flock that moved through in on of the few remaining areas of habitat near the river, which held Smoke-coloured Pewee, Rufous-crested, Beryl-spangled, Blue-and-black, Silver-backed and Flame-faced Tanagers, Capped Conebill and White-sided Flowerpiercer.
Up at the café, the owners confirmed that they did indeed know of the ?colibri con dos colas?, and allowed us to enter their property. We spent an hour or so in the increasingly warm sunshine sitting and waiting at a number of flowering trees for the male spatuletail to put in an appearance. Unfortunately we were to be disappointed, although did encounter a large number of other hummingbird species, including Green Violetear, Emerald-bellied Puffleg, Speckled Hummingbird, Amethyst-throated and Purple-throated Sunangels, White-bellied Woodstar and the flashy Collared Inca, in addition to Bluish Flowerpiercer and Pearled Treerunner.
At the eleventh hour we encountered Edilberto Bustamante, the young local who had shown us the male the previous year. Although it was rather late and the wind was getting up, we agreed that he should accompany us to a new spot where he had seen the bird recently, along a trail some two or three kilometres back down towards Pedro Ruiz that led to a treeless hillside covered in flowering bushes. Despite Edilberto?s enthusiastic efforts, we again failed to locate the species. It seems that being there in the early morning is important, and we were unlucky that we only encountered him too late, as enlisting Edilberto?s help is undoubtedly the best way to find an adult male. Note that he has now moved house, so it may be wise to ask for him at the café at the top of the bend above the bridge.
After lunch we continued on towards Abra Patricia, and the prospect of rather more continuous cloud forest. We made brief stops near the pass itself where we found several of the species we had seen that morning, in addition to Montane Woodcreeper, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Azara?s Spinetail and Three-striped Warbler. Our priority was to head for the Alto Nieve area, made famous by the discovery of the enigmatic Long-whiskered Owlet in the strange stunted ridgetop forests, characterised by an unusual flora which includes a profusion of palms. We quickly found one of the area?s specialities, the endemic Royal Sunangel, perched in exactly the same spot as it was a year ago before setting out along a precarious ridge. White-tipped, White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts whizzed by overhead and Cliff Flycatchers sallied out from their perches. Birding in this habitat is difficult at best due to the incredibly dense vegetation, and despite hearing both Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant and some probable Bar-winged Wood-Wrens, neither species showed any willingness to respond to the tape. Consolation came in the form of a flock of the sought-after White-capped Tanager, for which this area is very reliable, and a small bird party which included Metallic-green Tanager.
As darkness fell, we returned to look for a camping spot, which we found in a disused quarry next to the road, and despite the arrival of a police car at about 9.30pm to warn us of the supposed presence of bandits in the area, we settled down for a good night?s sleep.
Day 11 ? July 31st
An unexpected adult Slaty Finch interrupted our avena, as did a delicate Booted Racket-tail that fed close to the vehicle. We headed back up towards the pass, intially, also adding a group of White-collared Jays, plus Andean Guan, Long-tailed Sylph, Plushcap, Flavescent and Cinnamon Flycatchers, Spectacled Redstart, Sierran Elaenia, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Olivaceous Siskin, Mountain Cacique and Yellow-throated and Yellow-scarfed Tanagers. However, we could not locate the undescribed race of Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant in the extensive area of bamboo where it had been quite numerous the previous year.
With time rather limited we continued on to Afluentes and waited for the huge mixed flock that had been a regular fixture in the area. An Ash-throated Antwren responded to tape but frustratingly did not come in, although we did get excellent views of a pair of Blue-naped Chlorophonias. The flock never materialised in all its glory, but we did manage to find Grey-mantled Wren, Equatorial Greytail, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, plus the usual cast of colourful frugivores including Orange-eared, Blue-necked, Golden, Saffron-crowned and Flame-faced Tanagers.
Down at the tranquil Puente Aguas Verdes, the heat prevented much activity, although a Double-toothed Kite soared up on the thermals while we ate lunch at a simple restaurant. The next couple of hours were spent ferrying Heinz and Fritz to and fro trying to find them a bus to Chiclayo. We drove down to Rioja, finding Wattled Jacanas in the wet fields beside the road, before backtracking to Nueva Cajamarca and saying goodbyes to two of the party. Having continued on to Moyobamba, we decided against continuing to the Tarapoto area, thinking that we had less time than we did. Instead we backtracked again to Nueva Cajamarca for the night, planning another assault on Afluentes in the morning.
Day 12 ? August 1st
We continued down to Aguas Verdes where the weather had improved and the sun was out. A number of hummingbird species were added, including a delightful female Wire-crested Thorntail, Green and Grey-chinned Hermits, and a fruiting tree held Lemon-browed and Streaked Flycatchers plus a few of the regular tanagers. One of the highlights was the endemic Huallaga Tanager, and a large flock revealed Yellow-crested, Spotted and Golden-eared Tanagers, Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, Bronze-green Euphonia and Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, whilst a graceful Swallow-tailed Kite passed by overhead.
After lunch we gained altitude again, stopping once more in the Alto Nieve area and trying a long trail down into the valley below the owlet ridge. After a nice Long-tailed Sylph, the trail proved most disappointing, with a lot of dead bamboo and virtually no bird activity at all. A little down-hearted, we returned to the owlet ridge trail for a final go at the remaining specialities. I tried a different cut of Bar-winged Wood-Wren from the tape and after an exciting game of hide-and-seek finally got brief but excellent views of a pair of this little-known species in the dense tangled vegetation, much to our relief. Back up near the pass a small flock held Black-capped and Oleaginous Hemispinguses, and we retired to the restaurant at the pass for dinner and a night on their wooden floor with our mats and sleeping bags.
Day 13 ? August 2nd
Down at Afluentes, an Olivaceous Greenlet foraged quietly beside the road, whilst an indistinct trail led us into the forest a little way where we found a female White-bearded Manakin, Spotted Barbtail and a pair of Plain Antvireos. Generally, though, activity was disappointing and we made a midday departure back towards Pedro Ruiz.
After stocking up on supplies we followed the river through a dry valley towards Leimeibamba, adding Purple-collared Woodstar, Golden-rumped Euphonia and a pair of Torrent Duck in the rapids, although there was no sign of Fasciated Tiger-Heron. After discovering that we had somehow managed to get a day ahead of ourselves, we resolved to make the best of this disappointment, and to try and clean up the specialities on the way to Cajamarca, where we were due to rendezvous with another client in a few days time. We arrived in the rather run-down town of Leimeibamba after dark and after a basic dinner we all needed an early night.
Day 14 ? August 3rd
Although these forest patches are rather degraded, they still support some good birds and we also found Speckle-faced Parrot, White-chinned Thistletail (here of the peruviana race possibly a full species), Red-crested Cotinga, White-collared Jay, White-banded Tyrannulet, Mountain Cacique, Masked and White-sided Flowerpiercer and the unusual grey insignis form of Superciliaried Hemispingus.
Higher still the forest gives way to patches of humid shrubbery interspersed among areas of semi-natural high grassland close to the Abra Barro Negro, or Black Mud Pass. Here we stumbled across a large Curve-billed Tinamou in a field, raucous Andean Flickers, striking Andean Lapwings and a host of smaller birds among the bushes, including Moustached Flowerpiercer, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Peruvian Sierra-Finch and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, whilst Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Mountain Caracara and Brown-bellied Swallow passed by overhead.
Later we crossed the pass and began the hair-raising descent down into the spectacular Maraņon valley towards the tiny settlement of Balsas. Habitat is very sparse on this side of the canyon and we made one or two fruitless stops in the humid shrubbery before reaching more arid areas by early afternoon. Mike and I explored a dry quebrada whilst Juve prepared a late lunch, and we quickly found a small family party of the endemic Buff-bridled Inca-Finch, plus Maraņon Gnatcatcher, Spot-throated Hummingbird, Hepatic Tanager, Purple-throated Euphonia and Hooded Siskin. By 4pm we had arrived at the hot valley bottom and set about finding our remaining targets. The uncommon Peruvian Pigeon gave excellent views in a treetop and we were soon also admiring the localised Maraņon Thrush. There were no Yellow-faced Parrotlets around, but we knew we had a better chance of finding the species at Chagual later in the tour. As the sun beat a quick retreat up the canyon we drove up the west side of the canyon to the tiny village of El Limon, where we set up camp on the football pitch, and bought some rather unpalatable tamales from a local family, before writing up the list and retiring to the tents.
Day 15 ? August 4th
By 10am we were on our way up towards Celendin, and made a number of rather productive stops yielded specialities such as Jelski?s Chat-Tyrant and Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, in addition to other new birds for the trip, including Andean Emerald, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Andean Parakeet and the widespread Band-tailed Seedeater. Crossing the pass, we found a pair of Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrants and some Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches before we headed down into the attractive town of Celendin, complete with blue church in the Plaza de Armas, for lunch and a well-earned siesta as rain began to beat down on the roof of the hotel.
By 3pm the weather had improved sufficiently for us to explore an area of shrubbery some 10km from town where the rare Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch has been reported in the past. The habitat was quite poor and perhaps no longer supports the warbling-finch, although we did find Black-throated Flowerpiercer and White-browed Chat-Tyrant. Before dusk we returned to Celendin for dinner of pizza in the town square.
Day 16 ? August 5th
The first stop was at the shrubby area 11km from Celendin, where again we missed the warbling-finch, but did add Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Black-crested Warbler and the endemic Baron?s Spinetail. Further on, in higher and more open habitats, species such as Paramo Pipit, Bright-rumped Yellow-Finch, Mourning and Plumbeous Sierra-Finches and Rufous-webbed Tyrant were found, and in more areas of shrubbery, Golden-billed Saltator and another endemic, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail. We made a stop near the village of Cruz Conga in a small patch of woodland where I had seen White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant the previous year. Unfortunately there was no sign of this species or of the local race of Rufous Antpitta whose call is very different to other forms.
We continued on to Cajamarca, stopping to admire a field full of the austral migrant White-browed Ground-Tyrant, and a nearby Slender-billed Miner. After lunch in this attractive and historic city, we stocked up on some much needed supplies in preparation for our trip down towards Huamachuco and Tayabamba before heading out to nearby Baņos del Inca for our rendezvous with what we thought would be two new clients. As it was, only one turned up, English birder Phil Richardson, and after an unsuccessful attempt to locate the Grey-bellied Comet site near the airport in the limited time we had available, let alone the bird itself. As dusk fell we started the long drive to far-off El Molino, via Cajabamba. After dinner in one of the towns en route, we headed south on terrible roads before climbing up onto the cold puna in the early hours and descending once more onto the upper slopes of the Maraņon valley as it began to get light, with no-one really getting any sleep at all.
Day 17 ? August 6th
Down in the valley bottom at Chagual it was becoming almost unbearably hot, although we did manage to find a couple of Yellow-faced Parrotlets near the airport, and some Peruvian Pigeons during a baking walk through some orchards above the river after lunch. In the early afternoon we drove up the other side of canyon, getting good views of more Yellow-faced Parrotlets, plus a Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant. Our destination was the small mining town of Pataz, gateway to the ruins of Gran Pajaten, one of the few accessible areas of the remote Rio Abiseo NP. After finding a very basic hotel, we headed up onto the first section of the long trail up over a pass and down to the ruins, a hike of two to three days. Darkness was falling and birds were not numerous but we did find Giant Hummingbird, Bare-faced Ground-Dove and White-crested Elaenia. After such an exhausting journey the previous night everyone was asleep by 8pm.
Day 18 ? August 7th
Higher up the track passed through a denser area of humid shrubbery where I was fortunate to see a shy Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush cross the path, although it had retreated into cover before any of the others could get on to it. We reached the INRENA headquarters for Abiseo NP, which was little more than a small mud hut, by about 9, and despite the lack of inca-finches we decided we ought to get back to Pataz with a long drive in store in the afternoon to Buldibuyo. It seems that we would have needed to hike quite a bit higher to find this bird, in addition to the potentially new species of earthcreeper that Gunnar discovered during fieldwork in this area earlier in the year.
We made it back to the hotel by about 11am and retraced our steps once more down to Chagual and the Maraņon river, again finding Yellow-faced Parrotlet and Buff-bridled Inca-Finch on the way down. From there we followed the river for a while before climbing up a series of incredible hairpin bends, reflecting on the extraordinary feats of engineering evident in so many of the remarkably precarious roads we had travelled on. A couple of Peruvian Pigeons joined us at our lunch spot, before we continued on through the mining heartland of central Peru through some remarkably bustling towns nestled in deep barren valleys, and past a couple of emerald green lakes, hopelessly polluted by copper deposits. Climbing up over another high pass, after dark we passed the turn-off that we would take the following day and descended for a further half-hour or so to the quiet town of Buldibuyo for some dinner and to purchase supplies for our expedition to La Montaņita.
Day 19 ? August 8th
Once over the pass we entered a wonderful mosaic of elfin forest and adjacent boggy grassland, apparently similar to the Bosque Unchog area above the Carpish pass in Huanuco department further to the south. Mist and cloud were swirling around the area, but were gradually lifting to reveal great views down a long, rather wide valley towards lower elevations, whose sides were cloaked in almost unbroken temperate forest. This is the area known as La Montaņita by locals in Buldibuyo and neighbouring villages. We reached a good viewpoint over one of the elfin forest patches, and incredibly, almost as soon as we had got out of the car for a first scan of the area, I found a magnificent Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager perched out in the open in a tall tree, which stayed for several minutes, allowing for excellent scope views and for Phil to take a number of photos. When it flew it was followed by two other individuals which had been hiding in the vegetation below it. This rare and little-known species is normally retiring and elusive, and often take days to find even in the right habitat. It was one of the most electric experiences of my birding life. After we had finished celebrating it was time to explore the forest further.
We walked down through one of the forest patches, which was rather quiet, before arriving in a more open area, where we scanned the treetops and patches of grassland, finding a female Great Sapphirewing and some Red-crested Cotingas perched in the treetops, and a Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant in the puna. We were soon entering an area of temperate forest with a bamboo-dominated understorey, and for the next hour or so birds were remarkably numerous, and barely a moment went by when we were not looking at something new or interesting. Mixed flocks containing a wide variety of species were almost continuously being encountered, including rare specialities such as the striking Rufous-browed Hemispingus, the little-known Russet-mantled Softtail, which was positively numerous and the newly-split Peruvian Wren. Other bamboo specialists such as Striped Treehunter and Plushcap also showed well at close range. Away from the bamboo, flocks held Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Pearled Treerunner, Ochraceous-breasted Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Mountain Wren, Black-capped and Drab Hemispinguses, Barred Becard, Barred Fruiteater, Yellow-scarfed and Grass-green Tanagers, Grey-hooded Bush-Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, Scarlet-bellied and Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, Citrine Warbler and Masked Flowerpiercer.
Away from the flocks we found Collared Inca, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Andean Parakeet, Scaly-naped Parrot, Andean Guan, White-collared Jay and Masked Trogon, before continuing on to the picturesque spot where Juve had already prepared a very welcome lunch. At lower elevations we went down through more largely untouched forest to our campsite at about 2800m, which is where the road ended. The afternoon was not as productive as the morning, although this would have been extremely difficult, and the temperate forest seemed rather less species-rich than higher up, and the flocks in particular were not as diverse. However, walking along the final section of the now undriveable track we did add Slaty Brush-Finch and the pretty Rufous-capped Thornbill before retreating to for supper and an early night as the rain began to beat down.
Day 20 ? August 9th
Many of the species we found were the same as we located on the previous day, but new birds for the list included Rufous Spinetail, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Buff-breasted and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, a shy Yellow-billed Cacique and brief views of a White-throated Quail-Dove which crossed the road in front of us. A Golden-headed Quetzal called quite distantly, but we did find another Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan and Rufous-capped Thornbill. After lunch we continued up beyond the campsite towards the elfin forest but found little else that we had not already seen. By dusk we had all gathered back at camp to prepare dinner, with Juve filling us in on the details of our planned hike down to the river in the morning.
Day 21 ? August 10th
After a tough slog through the mud for the 300-400 metres elevation we had lost getting down to the river, we arrived up at camp by lunchtime where we thanked Mateo, struck camp and began the drive back up to the elfin forest where we planned to spend the night camping close to the wreck of the blue van which we had passed on the way down. Remarkably, a Rufous-browed Hemispingus flew across the road in front of us, surely the first time this species has been seen from a moving vehicle! The weather had not been particularly good all day, but when we reached the elfin forest, great swathes of cloud lifted up out of the valley to reveal a brief period of bright sunshine. A number of species made the most of this break in the weather to feed and dry themselves out, foremost of which was the reappearance of the three Golden-backed Mountain-Tanagers which again gave good views, and of a pair of the rare Bay-vented Cotinga sallying forth from their treetop perch like flycatchers, behaving in a far more active fashion than the scant literature on the species would suggest. Coppery Metaltails were very numerous, as were Moustached Flowerpiercer, but we could not locate the final, and normally easiest of the four principal localised endemics of these elfin forest patches, the drab Pardusco.
Taking advantage of the bright spell, we descended a little on foot into the bamboo-dominated forest where we found a similar range of species to before, with the added bonus of the endemic Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant, which turned out to be quite numerous, plus Green-and-black Fruiteater and White-browed Spinetail. Back up at camp as the daylight faded, the unmistakable hooting of the Undulated Antpitta started up close to our camp, which Juve had set up brilliantly on a wooden platform. A bit of playback quickly excited this bird and it flew out of its dense habitat to perch briefly some two metres up in a tree on the other side of the path. After hiding once more, it shot back to its original patch over our hides, gliding against the sky like an owl in the gathering dusk. After a tasty dinner prepared in the shelter of the cab of the lorry, we retired to our tents to rest our weary limbs.
Day 22 ? August 11th
Day 23 ? August 12th
We worked our way down slowly towards the lake, finding Black Metaltail, Shining Sunbeam, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Band-tailed Sierra-Finch, Striated and Plain-breasted Earthcreepers, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant and, rather incongruously, a Smoky-brown Woodpecker. The areas of grassland next to the lakes held Plain-capped and Puna Ground-Tyrants, and we had a brief sleep in the car before continuing on towards the first lake where we had a light lunch in a small Polylepis woodland and watched an Andean Condor soaring against the snow-covered lower slopes of Huascaran.
Down in Yungay again we had some decisions to make. The initial itinerary was that we should head north again for another night drive to the area in the far northwest of Ancash department where Gunnar had rediscovered Kalinowski?s Tinamou in April. Fortunately, there is always a lot of flexibility in the itineraries and we decided that it just was not feasible and opted instead to spend the night in Yungay before another attempt at finding the cotinga up at Llanganuco and then heading onto San Damian. The rest of the afternoon was spent failing to locate Pale-tailed Canastero at a nearby site, before returning to Yungay for an early night.
Day 24 ? August 13th
From Yungay we continued south down the Callejon de Huaylas, intending to cross up over the Cordillera Negra to San Damian. Unfortunately, the huge distances we had covered on often appalling roads had taken its toll on the Landcruiser and a temperature problem amongst other things forced us to rethink the route. Concerned that we might have to go back to Lima for repairs, we luckily managed to get hold of Gunnar and he arranged for Julio and Goyo to come and arrange a smooth change of cars somewhere along the road. Although it made for a pretty miserable night, we were all very thankful that these problems had happened on a major paved road through the centre of the country and not at La Montaņita. We coaxed the ailing vehicle down to the town of Pativilca, where the road meets the coastal Panamerican highway, and settled down to sleep and await the arrival of the Dodge van.
Day 25 ? August 14th
We returned towards the coast, planning to spend the night in a hotel in Huarmey after the trials of the previous night, and stopped for lunch in a dry river bed on the way back towards the coast where we were interrupted by a small flock of Mountain Parakeets which perched in the crown of a nearby tree. By 3.30 we had arrived in Huarmey and after finding a hotel with a little difficulty we ventured to Puerto Huarmey, a little south of the town. A marshy area on the way towards the sea warranted an extended stop and we added a large number of species to the trip list. The areas of open water held large numbers of Wilson?s Phalaropes, whilst Cinnamon Teals and a pair of White-cheeked Pintails grazed the grassy margins. The shallow muddy fringes harboured a number of species of migrant shorebird, including Semipalmated, Least and Pectoral Sandpipers, Ruff, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs and Dark-faced Ground-Tyrants and Short-tailed Field-Tyrants searched for insects in the grass.
Down at the beach we found even more new birds. Blackish Oystercatchers and Whimbrels patrolled the beach and the endemic Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes was quickly found on the rocky promontory. A small offshore island held possible breeding colonies of a number of species, and an hour?s seawatching produced a wide range of seabirds including Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Booby, Peruvian Pelican, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants, South American and Inca Terns, Band-tailed and Grey Gulls and the slender Great Grebe. On the way back to town we passed an area of grassland where we admired about 20 Peruvian Thick-knees, before a dinner of ceviche and a comfortable bed.
Day 26 ? August 15th
After breakfast we moved up to the main park HQ entrance, and the normally barren desert along the main entrance road was covered by a carpet of green plants dotted with white flowers which attracted a number of cute Least Seedsnipes which seemed to be feeding on the flowers themselves. There were also large numbers of the attractive Tawny-throated Dotterel present, and we enjoyed excellent views of this elegant wader. At park HQ we walked the trail leading up from the car park in search of the final endemic Thick-billed Miner, and we eventually had poor views of a rather distant pair on a rocky outcrop. Returning to the HQ we had a very civilised lunch in the picnic area, and remarkably an astonishingly tame miner hopped right up to our table and picked up some scraps we left for it at our feet.
On the way back towards Lima we detoured to the Ventanilla marshes north of the city near Callao and the airport where we found a number of species we had seen at Puerto Huarmey, with the exception of American Oystercatcher and Sanderling on the beach and Grey-headed and Kelp Gulls in the large marshy area inland from the sea. A group of Peruvian holidaymakers from Huanuco were very excited to enjoy scope views of some sedate Peruvian Thick-knees. As darkness fell we continued to Lima and dropped Mike off at the airport before driving back to Gunnar?s appartment in San Borja to discuss the plans for the next few days.
Day 27 ? August 16th
The forest itself was rather unusual botanically, and not really what I had expected. The main tree species was vaguely reminiscent of Mediterranean cork and not a place where I would expect to find White-cheeked Cotingas, despite the fact that this species? monotypic genus is named Zaratornis after this area of woodland. The cotinga is probably a seasonal visitor here and we certainly didn?t find any. The endemic Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch was very numerous, but in the heat of the day there were few birds present. One of these, however, was a strange sparrow-sized bird with a little rufous wash on the sides of the breast, which must have been a female or immature Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch, although the view was not conclusive. We climbed up out of the forest into an area of short grass next to an old deserted building where we pitched our tent and sat down to relax and enjoy some hard-earned lunch after a tough walk.
The afternoon was spent working up and down the path through the forest, which clings to the steep slopes. There was no further sign of the Poospiza but we did locate Shining Sunbeam, Andean Swift, Baron?s Spinetail and Rusty Flowerpiercer. As the sun got progressively lower in the sky we watched some hummingbirds come to the proliferation of flowering shrubs, which included good views of more Bronze-tailed Comets, their ruby gorgets and bronzy tail tips diagnostic. After dark Band-winged Nightjars circled around the camp as I cooked dinner before retiring to bed.
Day 28 ? August 17th
We returned to Chosica where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and a rest at the junction with the road up into the Santa Eulalia valley whilst awaiting the arrival of Julio, Goyo and new client Peter Coburn, who had been in Manu for three weeks. They finally made it at about 4pm and we loaded Peter and all the necessary supplies into the Dodge and continued up on the Santa Eulalia road, making an unsuccesful stop for Black-necked Flicker. Climbing up the arid mountain slopes on a rather precarious road, we turned off to the town of San Pedro de Casta, arriving after dark where we found a basic hotel and had a simple dinner before bed.
Day 29 ? August 18th
After stopping for lunch in a shady spot we followed the river higher up towards Marcapomacocha, pausing to admire a rather flighty pair of White-winged Cinclodes. We reached the Polylepis woodland in the mid-afternoon and had time for a little birding before dark, finding a number of species including Black Metaltail, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, D?Orbigny?s Chat-Tyrant, White-capped Dipper, Yellow-rumped Siskin, a Stripe-headed Antpitta perched on a rock, and Peter?s first Andean Condor. Dinner was followed by an early night bracing ourselves for the cold.
Day 30 ? August 19th
Climbing up once more to the Marcapomacocha area, we found the endemic Junin Canastero in an area of bunch grass above the first lake before the pass. Despite the presence of three truck-fulls of men plundering the plants of the cushion bogs, which threatens to destroy the ecology of the area completely, we still managed to find the majority of the specialities, including good views of White-bellied Cinclodes, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Dark-winged Miner, Olivaceous Thornbill, Giant Coot and Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, although Puna Tinamou and Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe were absent, presumably forced higher up into the hills to avoid being hunted out.
We stopped for lunch again in San Mateo before returning to Lima, stopping en route for Peter to tick off his hoped-for Long-tailed Mockingbird. After arranging to visit Pantanos de Villa the following day Juve, Goyo and I headed for the cinema and then to a bar to celebrate the end of an exhausting but very rewarding journey.
Day 31 ? August 20th
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