|North Peru 99|
|February 13, 2004|
Northern Peru: July 22nd ? August 10th 1999
addendum by Gunnar Engblom
Peru has always been considered as one of the great countries in which to go birding. The combination of the coast, the complex range of habitats in the Andes and the incredible biodiversity of the Amazon rainforests make Peru second only to Colombia in terms of the numbers of bird species recorded within its boundaries. Having previously spent several months at Explorer?s Inn and visiting the Cuzco, Lima and Arequipa areas, last summer I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to guide a trip to northern Peru, one of the least-known regions on the continent in terms of sustained ornithological study, for Gunnar Engblom?s Lima-based tour company Kolibri Expeditions. This geographically and ecologically diverse area, bisected by the mighty Marañon River, is home to some of the most localised and sought-after birds in South America, but until relatively recently birders and ornithologists alike have been largely deterred from venturing into northern Peru due to the threat of terrorist activity. Whilst it may remain dangerous to visit a few of Peru?s more remote sites, especially those that lie in the coca growing regions beyond Tingo Maria area in the centre of the country, many superb birding areas are safe to visit, allowing birders to search once again for such wonderful species as White-winged Guan, Marvellous Spatuletail and Peruvian Plantcutter. Although many of the roads are poor, and the concept of a tourist infrastructure remains virtually non-existent outside the larger towns, I found the people remarkably helpful and friendly, and was pleasantly surprised at the very adequate standard of much of the accommodation. Nevertheless, I must admit that it was with some trepidation that I agreed to take the trip on, my thoughts alternating between the fantastic birds and experiences that would doubtless lie ahead, and the potential pitfalls that might be waiting for a young guide on what was essentially his first full-scale trip as a leader.
Tour Participants: Simon Allen (leader), Teofilo Vega (driver), Luc Fazio, Lou Marsh, Dan Salisbury, Roberta McKenzie.
Kolibri Expeditions run a wide range of tours all over South America, taking birders to see more remote areas and more localised species than any other bird tour company. The director, Gunnar Engblom, can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com, or the website visited at www.www.kolibriexpeditions.com.
July 22nd: Lima ? Lomas de Lachay ? Huaraz
July 23rd: Huaraz- Llanganuco area ? Huallanca
July 24th: Huallanca ? Corongo ? Santa
July 25th: Santa ? Rafan ? Cajamarca
July 26th: Cajamaarca ? Celendin ? Balsas
July 27th: Balsas ? Leimeibamba ? Chachapoyas
July 28th: Chachapoyas ? Pomacochas ? Abra Patricia ? Pomacochas
July 29th: Pomacochas ? Abra Patricia ? Afluentes ? Moyobamba
July 30th: Moyobamba ? Jerillo ? Jesus del Monte
July 31st: Jesus del Monte ? Jerillo ? Moyobamba
August 1st: Moyobamba ? Afluentes ? Abra Patricia ? Pomacochas
August 2nd: Pomacochas ?Abra Patricia ? Bagua Chica
August 3rd: Bagua ? Urakusa area (El Paraiso)
August 4th: El Paraiso ? Bagua
August 5th: Bagua ? Jaen
August 6th: Jaen ? Abra Porculla ? Olmos
August 7th: Olmos ? Quebrada Limon ? El Tocto ? Olmos
August 8th: Olmos ? Abra Porculla ? Chiclayo ? Puerto Eten
August 9th: Chiclayo ? Trujillo ? Huarmey
August 10th: Huarmey ? Lomas de Lachay ? Ventanilla ? Lima
Day 1 ? July 22nd
I made my way to a hotel in downtown Miraflores at about 8am to rendezvous with Gunnar Engblom, Kolibri Expeditions? founder and owner, and Lou Marsh, one of the tour participants, who had arrived in Lima late the previous evening. From there we headed across Lima?s sprawling metropolis in the slightly creaking Land Cruiser that would be our means of transport for the next three weeks, towards the poor suburb of Callao, home to the Jorge Chavez International Airport. The plan was to pick up the other three Canadians and from there head north towards Lomas de Lachay. Dan, Luc and Roberta had already been in Peru for ten days or so, working their way down the Manu road to Amazonia Lodge and also visiting the Marcapomacocha area off the central highway high above Lima. The Canadians had brought Gunnar a number of items of equipment including speakers, a Mini-Disc player and a microphone, and an hour or so was spent sorting out the details and packing the car whilst I went to change some money. By 10.30 we were off on the Panamerican highway north towards Lomas de Lachay, an area of low coastal hills almost devoid of vegetation most of the year, where a number of plants cling to an existence thanks to the moisture provided by the dense fog that enshrouds the Peruvian coast for nine months or so of the year. In the barren coastal plain leading into the reserve, the endemic Coastal Miner was fairly numerous, and once we had driven up a short distance into one of the canyons and begun exploring the rocky slopes, another endemic furnariid, Greyish Miner, revealed itself. We initially spent some time searching the numerous small patches of cactus for Cactus Canastero, but despite the remarkably eerie silence that is a feature of this desolate landscape, there was no sign of its distinctive call note, and even Gunnar?s tape playback failed to produce a response. A few of us scrambled up higher into an area with large boulders and some low trees, where we had excellent views of yet another endemic furnariid, the striking Thick-billed Miner, as it stood rather confidingly on a rock. There were few signs of any life, but we did find a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers, and an immature Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle soared against the hills while we enjoyed a tasty lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches back at the car. We also walked along the road for a while, where we failed to turn a flock of Grassland Yellow-Finches into the endemic Raimondi?s Yellow-Finch. The original plan had been to leave Lomas de Lachay no later than noon, as a very long drive up to the Cordillera Blanca lay ahead, but it was decided to stay on for a while to try and locate the canastero in another canyon. However, despite splitting up and keeping in radio contact, there was no sign of the bird. By 4.30 the afternoon sun had burned through the fog and we headed back to the road, where we said goodbye to Gunnar who was heading back to Lima to link up with a British film crew a couple of days later. After having to retrace our steps for a couple of kilometres towards Lima to find a petrol station, we were finally on the road north at about 5pm. Although the road was in fairly good condition for most of the way, it was not until about 1.15am that we crawled into the Andean town of Huaraz, and managed to check in to seemingly the best hotel in town. With a 4.45am start on the cards for the morning to get us up into Huascaran NP, we wasted no time in heading for bed.
Day 2 ? July 23rd
After an all-too-brief three hours sleep, Teofilo retrieved the car from the nearby garage and by 5 we were off once more, heading towards Yungay, the gateway to the Llanganuco area of the breathtaking Huascaran NP. The imposing peak from which the park gets its name was visible once dawn had broken, and by 7 we were at the ranger station, set at the base of a spectacular valley, with vast snow-capped mountains towering over steep rock faces flanked at their base by one of the most extensive Polylepis woodlands remaining in the Andes. The main features of the valley bottom are the Llanganuco lakes, two bodies of water characterised by their different colours ? one a deep sapphire blue, the other a paler, more turquoise colour. We had the area almost to ourselves for most of the day, and birding in this truly spectacular setting was a delight. Our first stop produced a number of typical high-Andean species, as well as some less familiar birds. Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetails and a Canyon Canastero lurked in the low shrubbery, in mixed flocks that also contained Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch, Paramo Seedeater and Cinereous Conebill. A real feature of the day was remarkable diversity of flowering plants that attracted a wide variety of hummingbirds, including the endemics Black-breasted Hillstar (for some) and Black Metaltail, plus the impressive Giant Hummingbird, Shining Sunbeam and the diminutive Peruvian Sheartail, the latter at a much higher altitude than that at which it is normally encountered. At the edge of the first lake, a pair of Olive-backed Sierra-Finches foraged on the ground at the base of a Polylepis stand, whilst typical high-Andean waterfowl such as Crested and Andean Ducks, Puna Teal and Slate-coloured Coot floated on the shimmering waters of the lakes. In the muddy margins, pairs of Andean Geese and small groups of Puna Ibis fed, whilst noisy Andean Gulls circled overhead. The flat grassy areas adjacent to the lakes harboured Andean Lapwings and Rufous-naped, Ochre-naped, Plain-capped, White-fronted and White-browed Ground-Tyrants, and the occasional Puna Hawk drifted by against the blue sky. We drove higher up above the lakes into an impressive-looking stand of Polylepis where we were soon watching the nuthatch-like Giant Conebill and the smart Baron?s Spinetail, whilst in the adjacent Gynoxys shrubbery, Tit-like Dacnis was remarkably numerous, and Andean Hillstars showed well. A Many-striped Canastero in the grass added to our growing furnariid list and vocal Chiguanco Thrushes were frequently encountered.
The morning?s successes were somewhat soured by Teo?s announcement that we had a slow leak in one of the tyres, and given that we had unbelievably been allowed to leave Lima without a functional spare tyre, Teo felt that the only option was for him to return to Yungay to purchase a new tyre and have the old one fixed as a spare. Aware that this setback might jeopardise our chances of finding the day?s main quarry, the rare endemic White-cheeked Cotinga, which is more regular at higher elevations, I agreed that we could not risk the tyre and that he should indeed go back and ensure that the car was fully functional. So, he took us as high up as we thought might be necessary, and possible, and then left us to walk back down towards the ranger station (a hike of several kilometres), arranging to drive back and pick us up as soon as he could. We diligently searched the high Polylepis, particularly a dense patch that formed something of a natural tunnel over the road, but there was sadly no sign of the much hoped-for cotinga. We had to content ourselves initially with more widespread Andean species such as White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Rufous-webbed Tyrant and fleeting looks at Black-crested Warbler, whilst the recently-split endemic Ancash Tapaculo called regularly from the dense undergrowth.
Winding our way down the series of hairpin bends we came to a mirador with a stunning view back down the valley, with an extensive area of flowering shrubs below us. The area was alive with birds, and mixed flocks contained Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant and small groups of the endemic Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch. Hummingbirds such as Andean Hillstar and Black Metaltail were once again numerous, but the undoubted highlight was the fully-plumaged male of the rare and little-known Grey-bellied Comet that alighted on a bush with yellow flowers from which it proceeded to feed. This endangered hummer, with its longish, bronzy forked tail, pale grey underparts and blue-flecked throat, was previously known principally from Cajamarca department further north, and as far as I know this is the first time it has ever been recorded within a protected area. As such it ranks as probably the most significant observation of the whole trip. I suspect that its appearance was due in part to the remarkable proliferation of flowering plants all along the valley, and that this individual, along with the small number of Peruvian Sheartails, had ascended from its normal home in dry valleys at lower elevations to take advantage of the abundant food supply. Lou and Roberta had unfortunately missed the first bird, so we waited for some minutes to see if it would return to the same bush. After a while Luc, Dan and I scrambled down the slope towards the river that feeds the lakes to see if we could relocate it. Lou and Roberta remained up on the road and had more success than us, not only re-finding the first comet, but also reporting to have seen at least one other probable individual of the species.
Down by the river, meanwhile, our fruitless search for the White-cheeked Cotinga continued. There were still plenty of birds to look at, and the list were further augmented by D?Orbigny?s Chat-Tyrant and the endemic Rufous-eared Brush-Finch, whilst I caught a number of brief glimpses of a furtive Stripe-headed Antpitta by chasing it through an area of open shrubbery littered with boulders. Meanwhile a Blue-mantled Thornbill bathing in the river itself became the eighth hummingbird species of the day. Back on the valley floor, after a brief rest we walked slowly back towards the ranger station, waiting for news from Teofilo by radio. We played hide-and-seek with Plain-breasted and Striated Earthcreepers, and the sprightly Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant gave good views.
Finally, Teo returned at about 3pm, with a new tyre and a working spare, and we reluctantly decided to admit defeat with the cotinga and return to Yungay. The planned itinerary was to continue north through the Cañon del Pato towards the remote Mollepata area, the type locality of the enigmatic Kalinowski?s Tinamou, known only from two specimens taken about 100 years before. I admit that I was decidedly uneasy about the prospect of pioneering this area with a group, due to the uncertainty of road conditions, habitat condition and the time constraints that were already decidedly pressurised. Nevertheless, after consulting with the group over a late lunch and some cool drinks, the decision was taken to continue on as planned. This was partly as the trip over the puna at Mollepata was to lead us down into the Marañon Valley at Chagual, where we would look for Yellow-faced Parrotlet, and then up towards Cajamarca to join up with the regular circuit, via sites for Great Spinetail, Purple-backed Sunbeam and Rufous-backed Inca-Finch, species we would be very unlikely to find elsewhere. Unsurprisingly I failed to locate a speaker that would allow us to play the mini-disc I had prepared, after a misunderstanding had led to Gunnar having taken the only functioning one back to Lima. This left us with only a playback facility with microphone and basic tape recorder, and was more than a little frustrating for all concerned.
By 5pm we were continuing north, through the neighbouring town of Caraz, into the spectacular Cañon del Pato, where a remarkable series of tunnels cut out of the rock face guided us on a poor road through the sheer walls of the canyon with their imposing and unusual rock formations. As darkness fell we became more and more nervous of vehicles coming in the other direction, and it was with some relief that at about 7.30pm we emerged from the other side of the canyon and dropped down into the little town of Huallanca, nestled at the bottom of a steep-sided bowl which must see the sun for only a few brief hours per day. We found a very basic hostel and after a dinner of fried chicken and cold beer it was time for bed.
Day 3 - July 24th
Everyone was keen to leave our dingy lodgings in Huallanca as soon as possible, but as it happened, we didn?t manage to get underway until 7am or so. We drove north through a series of dramatic parched landscapes on narrow, windy mountain roads cut precariously into vertical rock faces. Birds were not particularly plentiful, and we didn?t really have time to stop for them, but we did pick up a few new birds for the trip at the brief stops we made. An Oasis Hummingbird entertained us at breakfast by diving pelican-like into a small stream that crossed the road, whilst after passing by the town of Yuracmarca we happened upon a small group of Great Inca-Finches, which we firstly hoped might have been the rarer Rufous-backed Inca-Finch until we got good looks at them. Dropping down into a relatively fertile valley, we came upon the town of La Pampa, which rather oddly seemed to have a fairly smart tourist hotel. Of more interest for us were the flowering Inga trees right next to the road that yielded a number of Purple-collared Woodstars and the endemic Spot-throated Hummingbird. Climbing up the northern slopes of the valley, a flock of Mountain Parakeets, brilliant green against the stark sand-coloured rocks, prompted another quick stop that also yielded Andean Swift and a Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant. Eventually we reached the Corongo turn-off and climbed further up to this normally sleepy Andean backwater, stopping once to admire a graceful Red-backed Hawk.
As it turned out, on this particular occasion Corongo was thronging with people: some kind of celebration was going on in the Plaza de Armas, and large numbers of schoolchildren in uniform were parading around in front of the town?s authorities. Luc got some video footage as I reflected that we were probably amongst the first group of gringos to have witnessed this fiesta. On a somewhat sourer note, it was at this point that we discovered that Corongo was, much to our dismay, the end of the road. The ?road? leading north from the town on the map of Ancash department that I had was nothing more than a mule track, and there was no way we could continue on to Mollepata by this route. After confirming this with several locals we reluctantly decided to retrace our steps back towards La Pampa and Yuracmarca, where the road to Mollepata began. There was an executive decision to be made, and whilst I recognised the desire of the group not to miss any of the possible species at Chagual and environs, in the end everyone had to agree with my assertion that to continue on with the Mollepata plan would not be a viable option, as it would leave us with insufficient time to complete the regular North Peru circuit. The added risk of not knowing where we were going or staying was an influential factor, and we decided to return to the coast and try and get up to Cajamarca via paved highways the following day in order to remain on schedule.
Having made this decision, we worked our way back to Yuramarca and then on to Chuquicara, where the road down to the coast and the one north towards Mollepata meet. In retrospect, the itinerary planned by Gunnar for this section of the trip was not at all realistic, and even had we tried to get up to Cajamarca via Chuquicara before mistakenly heading for Corongo, I feel sure that we would have lost a lot of time, and would have certainly spent far too long travelling, for the sake of only two or three species. Despite the disappointment (shared by everyone) at having to write off Great Spinetail and Purple-backed Sunbeam, I would be lying if I said that I didn?t feel a certain relief that we had abandoned the difficult itinerary and were getting back onto the main route.
We followed the Río Santa down towards the coast, stopping once or twice as the light faded in spots that looked like they might have some potential. In one such area, a small marsh adjacent to the river, we flushed an unidentified rail, and despite several comical attempts to put the bird up again, the constant barrage of bloodthirsty sand flies forced us to give up. After dark, we did flush several Pauraques and one or two Peruvian Thick-knees from the centre of the track, but neither species gave satisfactory views. After a very welcome dinner in Santa?s lively town square, we finally pulled into the Hotel Garza on the Panamerican highway, just after 9.30pm.
Day 4 ? July 25th
A misty dawn saw us heading north up the coast along the Panamerican. Our destination was the tiny settlement of Rafan, just south of Chiclayo, one of the few known sites for the critically endangered Peruvian Plantcutter, where the acacia woodland is being threatened by development by an American sugar cane company. According to the original itinerary, we were due to visit this site at the end of the trip on our way back towards Lima. However, after the gruelling and frustrating time we had had on the previous day, everyone was keen to do some proper birding again. It was a luxury to be on a paved road after the dusty dirt tracks of the previous day, and the three-hour drive north went by relatively quickly despite the monotony of the bleak desert scenery.
By 10 am we had located the turn-off to Rafan, along sandy track towards the coast, and began to make birding stops in the sparsely vegetated landscape. Birds were surprisingly plentiful, and in a small scrap of acacia woodland adjacent to a house we located our first Tumbesian endemics. Cinereous Finches, with their chunky yellow bills, were admired as they perched in the open, whilst a Baird?s Flycatcher, looking-like a washed-out kiskadee, was also obliging. A Pacific Hornero pecked at the ground in search of food, noisy Fasciated Wrens hopped through the branches, and Long-tailed Mockingbirds were everywhere. More widespread species included flocks of bright Saffron Finches that illuminated the stark desert, and a Golden-olive Woodpecker inspecting the trunk of a bare tree.
Using a GPS, we followed the sandy track down to a more extensive area of woodland and dense scrub where we had a coordinate reading for previous sightings of the bird we most wanted to see. We explored the area on foot and I soon located a female or immature Peruvian Plantcutter perched amongst the ubiquitous mockingbirds, its streaky breast, stubby bill and punk crest distinguishing it from the similarly coloured mockingbirds. Soon we heard the distinctive call of the male, and had good views of one in a low shrub. With the main target bird under our birds we split up somewhat to search for some other desert species. Amongst the other birds we found among the sparse bushes were Pacific Dove, the shy Necklaced Spinetail, garrulous Superciliated Wrens, White-faced Gnatcatcher, Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet and the coastal race of White-crested Elaenia, probably a distinct species.
In the dusty, run-down settlement of Rafan itself, an unexpected bonus was finding a single Peruvian Martin, perched on a TV antenna amongst the ubiquitous Blue-and-white Swallows. This species has recently been split from Southern Martin and rather little known. Continuing to the coast at Lagunas, a couple of Kelp Gulls passed by offshore but there was little else of note in the area. Another stop back in the acacia woodland failed to produce the endemic Rufous Flycatcher, but we did find a Peruvian Pygmy-Owl. We were all encouraged by our chance meeting with a man who claimed to be the mayor of the area, who demonstrated impressive knowledge of the plantuctter, its plight, and the significance of Rafan for its continued existence.
Backtracking south for 30 or so kilometres, we stopped for lunch at the Cajamarca turn-off before following another good tarmac road up into the mountains. Birds were few and far between but the drive was punctuated by interesting and unexpected scenery such as a huge, birdless artificial lake that we passed by. At 7 the bright lights of Cajamarca, site of Atahualpa?s surrender to the conquistadors, came into view and soon we were down amongst the busy streets. The town was packed with people who had congregated for a festival, and we had some trouble getting a hotel before finally finding one in the main plaza and settling down for dinner and an early night.
Day 5 ? July 26th
A pre-dawn start saw us leave the hotel shortly after 5am. We experienced some difficulty firstly in navigating our way out of the city, given that there was an impending ?paro? (roadblock), but mercifully we reached the nearby town of Baños del Inca unscathed, and with a bit of local guidance managed to locate the road to Celendin, just over 100 kilometres away, and our final port of call before descending the legendary Marañon valley. By the time it was light the rough road had levelled out at about 3000m and we found ourselves passing through a patchwork of rather degraded habitats ranging from shrubby areas to open pasture, where we encountered some typical Andean species such as Andean Lapwing and Bar-winged Cinclodes, in addition to the smart Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant.
Continuing on into a rather more vegetated area, we were rather surprised to encounter another group of birders. I was even more surprised to discover that one of them was Alfredo Begazo, whom I had met and become friends with almost two years earlier in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, but with whom I had not corresponded since. It turned out that he was on a two-month trip with the renowned Peruvian ornithologist Tomas Valqui, plus two American birders, Mark Sokol and his wife Elaine. We exchanged information on our respective journeys, and were delighted to discover that they had happened upon a White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant the previous day in that same area, which had been carrying food and therefore possibly feeding young in the area.
Whilst we were discussing this bird, and the cajamarcae race of Rufous Antpitta that they had also encountered in the small area of woodland, an attractive Black-crested Tit-Tyrant popped into view in a nearby shrub, before Alfredo and the others continued on towards Celendin and we waited to see if the Shrike-Tyrant, one of the most sought-after and mysterious species on the continent, would put in an appearance. Some of us ventured up a rather boggy slope and were soon rewarded with good views of an adult White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant as it perched high in an introduced pine. Lou meanwhile had stayed close to the road and had had an encounter with the Rufous Antpitta, but by the time the rest of us tried playback it was clearly fed up with it and we couldn?t locate it. Back at the road, we added Andean Flicker, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Rufous-webbed Tyrant, Chiguanco Thrush and Golden-billed Saltator, but the real treat was yet to come. In due course we saw the shrike-tyrant again, this time carrying food and plunging into a bush, before emerging and perching in full sunlight close to us, allowing for superb comparisons with a couple of Black-billed Shrike-Tyrants that were also present in the area. Firstly, the White-tailed was HUGE. It comfortably dwarfed the ubiquitous Chiguanco Thrushes, and its bill was much heavier, with a pale lower mandible (although this is apparently not always a safe field mark). The plumage of our bird was rather more uniform sandy brown, and interestingly, the tail is rather more cream-coloured than the bright white shown in flight by the Black-billed. Seeing the thin upper branches of a pine tree bending under the weight of this near-mythical creature was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.
Flushed with success, not even a fruitless search for the equally rare Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch in the increasing heat could dampen the spirits, and we did add a Red-crested Cotinga and a pair of Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers to the list. We continued on to the quiet town of Celendin, complete with its striking blue fountain and church in the plaza, where we enjoyed a spot of lunch before heading on towards the Marañon. We stopped in another area of sparse vegetation just after the pass to photograph the superb views down into the Marañon canyon, as well as to search once more for the warbling-finch. Alfredo, Tomas, Mark and Elaine were doing the same, and none of us were having much luck. However, we did encounter White-winged Black-Tyrant, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Cinereous Conebill, Golden-bellied Grosbeak, Streaked Saltator, Olive-backed Sierra-Finch, Black-and-white and Yellow-bellied Seedeaters, and the distinctive pale-naped race of Rufous-naped Brush-Finch. Only Dan was lucky enough to get looks at the shy Grey-winged Inca-Finch, a species we were later unable to find lower down around Hacienda Limon. Bidding farewell to Alfredo and the others, who were to return to Celendin and have another shot at the warbling-finch the next morning, we continued down towards our final destination of Balsas, making some other stops in the dry scrub adjacent to Hacienda Limon. Some judicious use of playback near a distinctive stick-nest allowed us to get good views of the skulking but striking endemic Chestnut-backed Thornbird, amongst other species such as White-tipped Dove, Croaking Ground-Dove, the recently split Marañon Gnatcatcher, and Lesser Goldfinch. The heat made for little activity, and we couldn?t find any more Inca-finches, or indeed any Buff-bellied Tanagers in the small orchard around the hacienda, a bird we were frustratingly to miss wherever we looked for it.
The shadows rapidly moved their way across the steep slopes and this transformation from heat to cool shade prompted an even quicker end to the bird activity. Further down towards the river we passed through an extensive area of Bombax forest, where the only birds we saw was a garrulous flock of Green Jays, a rather incongruous sight in this dry habitat. As dusk fell we crossed the Marañon river and entered the grubby little town of Balsas. We headed beyond the initial village, past the turn-off towards Leimeibamba, and left through some more orchards to Balsas. We shunned the opportunity to rent rooms from a woman in town, preferring instead to go for the option of sleeping out on the floor of the school yard on mattresses and with sleeping bags that was kindly offered to us by the staff. Luc, Teo and I went back to the main town for a rather unappetising meal and a slightly warm beer at a small and dingy eatery, whilst the others sensibly stayed behind and filled up with biscuits. Back at the school, I bedded down under the starry sky, and thanks in part to the pleasant temperature, fell into a rather more comfortable sleep than I might have expected.
Day 6 ? July 27th
For once we were on-site to start birding as soon as we got up, so no one was out of bed before about 5.45am. On the agenda for the morning was a walk along the Marañon to try and locate some more endemics, with the added excitement that Dan only needed another three species to reach 6000 for his life list. First up was Peruvian Pigeon, which gave brief fly-by views before we finally encountered a small group perched on some cacti. We were very fortunate, and somewhat surprised, to encounter a large flock (perhaps 50+) of the rare Yellow-faced Parrotlet, and we all enjoyed watching these beautiful little psittacids at close range. The 6000th species, when it came, completed the set of three specialities we were hoping for ? the strikingly patterned Marañon Thrush. Yellow-tailed Oriole and Blue-Grey Tanager provided further splashes of colour, but with the three key birds under the belt by 7.15am, we left the riverine woodland behind and headed back across the river in search of some of the specialities of the Bombax forest and dry scrub. I got brief views of a pair of Buff-bridled Inca-Finches, but no one else managed to get on them in time, and this would be a bird that would detain our progress later on that morning. Everybody got good looks at another endemic, Black-necked Woodpecker, and noisy Scarlet-fronted Parakeets passed by overhead. Excellent views of a couple more Yellow-faced Parrotlets lifted the morale, but it was a rather fruitless couple of hours bird-wise, and breakfast was a distinct highlight.
Crossing back over the river, we took the Leimeibamba road, and encountered both Great Black-Hawk and an immature Bicoloured Hawk in quick succession, followed by Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Andean Emerald, Spot-throated Hummingbird and Fasciated Wren. Soon afterwards the car refused to start, and Teo spent a couple of hours trying to resuscitate it, whilst also attempting to combat a strange problem with the back door that stopped us from being able to close it properly. Fortunately, this did give us enough time to locate a small group of attractive Buff-bridled Inca-Finches, whose appearance coincided with the car?s return to life. As it was, it was not far from midday when we eventually managed to get back on the road towards Leimeibamba and Chachapoyas. Much of the rest of the day was taken up with the need to get kilometres on the clock, but we did make a number of stops for certain species. Higher up the Marañon valley, White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts zoomed by, and a Striped Cuckoo revealed itself. We made several attempts with the tape recorder to get a response out of the enigmatic Great Spinetail, which was reputedly recorded by Parker in this area in the 1970s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we had no luck.
Higher still we climbed out of the Marañon valley, crossed the Black Mud Pass, which was mercifully pretty dry, and entered an area of very patchy temperate forest. The main goal here was Coppery Metaltail, but in the short time allowed us by the problems with the car and the Inca-finches, which meant it was by now about 1pm, we couldn?t locate one. There were other hummingbirds present, however, and we had a good look at Tyrian Metaltails and a Sapphire-vented Puffleg, plus a soaring Mountain Caracara. By 4 we had finally descended into Leimeibamba, where we had a meal before heading out along the Utcubamba River towards our base for the night at Chachapoyas. It was not until 7pm or so that we finally arrived, and once again, we experienced difficulty in finding lodging before getting lucky with the smartest place in town, seemingly the site of the only beds in Chachapoyas.
Day 7 ? July 28th
Another drive of an hour or two, this time largely on good paved roads, led us to the town of Pedro Ruiz and then through lush but depressingly degraded habitat towards Pomacochas. Initially, we went too far and had to retrace our steps to the Rio Chido bridge in order to look for our main goal, the spectacular and endangered Marvellous Spatuletail. Surprised to discover that the remaining patches of forest were restricted to higher up the slope, we decided to head up the Rio Chido trail before we were approached by a boy of about twelve called Edilberto Bustamente, whose family live in the small house on the other side of the small valley. I asked whether he knew of the ?colibri cola espatula? and he informed me that he knew where to find the bird, and had showed it to some gringos the previous week. He led us on a short but steep hike through some cattle pasture into a patch of forest. A Rusty-tinged Antpitta was calling from high up the slope, but bird activity was limited by the onset of rain, which lasted about half an hour and forced us to shelter in the forest. We were entertained briefly by a Long-tailed Sylph that fed on a red flower in the sub-canopy, before striking out on a muddy path that contoured the hillside through a patchwork of pastures and forest edge. Birds were not much in evidence, but we did add Cinnamon Flycatcher and a tiny White-bellied Woodstar before a cry of ?spatuletail? from Dan brought us all to a halt. Sure enough, before long we heard the distinctive faint buzzing of the Marvellous Spatuletail, and a full male worked some blue flowers before alighting on a branch too close for us to focus our binoculars on it. Seconds later this shy creature had retreated into its dark forest habitat and we were left congratulating each other and giving Edilberto a well-deserved pat on the back.
Back at the road, we began to explore the Rio Chido trail for a few hundred metres, and Lou, who had missed the first spatuletail, found an immature male by the river. Slightly further up we found White-rumped Hawk, Green Violetear, the uncommon Emerald-bellied Puffleg, White-tailed Tyrannulet and Smoke-coloured Pewee. After a while we decided that it was probably lunchtime and continued to the town of Pomacochas, situated next to a large lake, for some food. Later we continued for another hour to Abra Patricia. Once over the pass, we were astonished to see forest-clad mountain ridges far into the distance, but wondered how long the region would remain so untouched, given the quality of the road that leads through it. Stops near the top of the pass yielded a couple of flocks containing some relatively widespread Andean species such as Montane Woodcreeper, Common Bush-Tanager, Blue-capped, Saffron-crowned and Beryl-spangled Tanagers and Citrine and Russet-crowned Warblers. Further down an extended stop near the type-locality for the mythical Long-whiskered Owlet yielded a more exciting cast of species, including Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, White-tipped Swift, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Cliff Flycatcher, White-capped Dipper, Capped Conebill, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, and Rufous-crested, Metallic-green, Flame-faced and Silver-backed Tanagers. The best sightings were undoubtedly the large, noisy flock of White-capped Tanagers that entertained us for several minutes, and the elegant male Royal Sunangel that consistently returned to the same perch in a stunted ridge-top tree. We descended to about 2000m, and having decided against staying in a very uninviting shed/restaurant near the mirador down towards the lowlands, we worked our way back up looking for Bar-winged Wood-Wren amongst the numerous Grey-breasted Wood-Wrens we encountered, with no success. As dusk fell we drove for an hour or so back to Pomacochas where we stayed in a very basic pension on the main road.
Day 8 ? July 29th
We were up early in anticipation of what was to be an excellent day?s birding. The plan was to get from Pomacochas down through Rioja to Moyobamba, birding the forest at various elevations on the way. We made our first stops again in the lower temperate forests at about 2400m on the other side of the pass. Andean Guan, Bar-bellied Woodpecker and Pearled Treerunner were added to the list, but activity was once again higher slightly lower down. In a steep-sided forested canyon, at about 2200m, an impressive flock yielded the rare and little known Russet-mantled Softtail, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Barred Becard, Barred Fruiteater (heard only), Mountain Wren and Blue-and-black and Yellow-scarfed Tanagers. The area around the owlet type locality and back along the road once more proved to be particular productive, and birds encountered here included Greenish Puffleg, Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, the male Royal Sunangel on the same perch as the previous night, Sierran Elaenia, Rufous-tailed Tyrant, Pale-edged Flycatcher, Spectacled Redstart, Drab and Black-capped Hemispinguses, Yellow-throated Tanager, Blue-winged and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, and Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager.
Continuing down beyond where we had reached on the previous evening, we stopped in upper subtropical forest at about 1800m where we encountered another flock that included many of the species mentioned above, in addition to two sluggish Vermilion Tanagers and the dainty Grey-mantled Wren. Further still, we entered the Afluentes area and stopped at about 1300m at a place called ?Km 104? where an excellent flock held Versicolored Barbet, the endemic Speckle-chested Piculet, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Streaked Xenops, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Long-tailed Tyrant, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Ecuadorian and Golden-faced Tyrannulets, Golden-winged Manakin, Andean Slaty and Pale-eyed Thrushes, Slate-throated Redstart, and Orange-eared, Golden, Golden-eared, Blue-necked and Flame-faced Tanagers.
We stopped for lunch at the restaurant at the Aguas Verdes bridge, attractively positioned high above a beautiful clear green river. As we waited for the meal we found a pair of Torrent Ducks bombing down the river and a striking Masked Tityra in a nearby tree, whilst the presence of both Social Flycatcher and Great Kiskadee was evidence of how much elevation we had lost. Shortly after the restaurant, the forest gave way to more cleared areas before we reached the fairly large town of Rioja. Beyond there the quality of the road deteriorated markedly, but there were still birds to be seen, and once Dan had spotted a fly-by Huallaga Tanager, we were soon watching this attractive endemic in an area of dense bushes that also held the skulking Dark-breasted Spinetail and the localised Napo Sabrewing. In the afternoon heat, a stop in an area of seemingly productive tall secondary forest gave us nothing more than a White-fronted Nunbird. We pulled into the surprisingly large town of Moyobamba at about 4pm, adding a number of Amazonian species in the process, including Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Brown-chested Martin, Buff-throated Saltator, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Yellow-rumped Cacique and Giant Cowbird. After checking into a hotel we enjoyed an excellent Chinese meal before I went to do some shopping for our two-day camping trip to Jesus del Monte on the following day.
Day 9 ? July 30th
A relatively gentle start saw us off on the road to Jerillo well after sunrise, and we stopped off in some second growth with a few taller trees to add some open country species such as Squirrel Cuckoo, Little Woodpecker, Great Antshrike, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Black-billed and Pale-breasted Thrushes, and Swallow Tanager. We arrived in Jerillo at about 9 and set about locating someone with horses and/or mules who would take us up to Jesus del Monte. We were lucky enough to find don Lucho, who had taken Barry Walker and a group of ornithologists up there the previous September and we agreed a price for the two days. We had a simple breakfast and watched a Piratic Flycatcher and Blue and Yellow-bellied Dacnises in a tree behind his house while Lucho went to organise the horse and mules. By 11 we were had saddled everything up and were ready to go, leaving Teo and Lou, who had decided against the 15km hike, behind.
It was already very hot and there were few birds about, but a Black Caracara, plus Blue-headed Parrots, Cobalt-winged Parakeets and White-banded Swallows were much in evidence as we crossed the river and began to ascend the extremely muddy trail on the other side. We passed through areas of forest where we added White-chinned Sapphire, Blue-tailed Emerald, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Chestnut-tailed (heard only) and Warbling Antbirds, White-winged Becard, Yellow-crested Tanager, and Russet-backed and Crested Oropendolas, whilst more open areas held Plumbeous Kite, Blue Ground-Dove, White-eyed Parakeet, Streaked Flycatcher, Magpie Tanager and Yellow-browed Sparrow. The trail was very hard going, especially in the steep uphill sections, and birding stops were few. However, we enjoyed watching a pair of Black-spotted Barbets and Lettered and Brown-mandibled Aracaris in a fruiting Cecropia where we paused for a drinks break, and later a number of invisible Screaming Pihas entertained us with their loud calls.
After a somewhat gruelling slog through the mud, the track eventually became flatter and drier, and we arrived at Jesus del Monte at about 3pm, before setting up camp at the back of the tiny settlement on a small grassy hill on the way to the best forested area, and enjoying a bit of lunch. Around camp we had soon found Black-faced Tanager and Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, whilst a short walk up into a more forested area that we would be exploring further the next day revealed Swallow-wing, Golden-headed and Blue-rumped Manakins, and Paradise Tanager. Back at camp, Luc and I got soaked trying to work out how to turn off our water supply that consisted of a geyser-like jet coming up from the ground and kept in place by a stick. This was much to the amusement of Lucho and his young assistant. As dusk fell we sat out to watch the sunset and reflected on the remoteness of the place, as Rufous Nightjars and Common Potoos began to call around camp, and we all welcomed an early night following a basic dinner.
Day 10 ? July 31st
We were up shortly before dawn to the sound of the distinctive call of the Ash-throated Antwren in the shrubbery around camp. We decided to carry on towards the more forested area further up the trail, and had initial success in the form of a male Spangled Cotinga perched in a treetop. The habitat was somewhat fragmented, but very interesting, with areas of sandy soil and rather stunted forest growing up out of it. In the first forest patch, we had fleeting glimpses of a Bar-winged Wood-Wren, but only Lou got a satisfactory look. However, we all enjoyed good views of a responsive Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant, an uncommon foothill speciality, and White-tailed and Collared Trogons. In an extensive clearing with scattered trees we were very interested to find a stunning male Purple-breasted Cotinga. Barry Walker and his team had found this species for the first time in Peru in September 1998 in the same area, a record that at the time represented a range extension of over 1200 km! We worked up and down the trail for two or three hours before finally encountering our principal quarry, the rare Ash-throated Antwren, only known from the Jesus del Monte area. I heard one calling and with some playback managed to coax one into view. Returning to camp, we actually found several more in more degraded shrubbery, surprisingly away from the forest. Other species of interest we located included a female Napo Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Bronze-green Euphonia, and Spotted and Yellow-throated Tanagers. Golden-headed and Blue-rumped Manakins were once again sighted and the often-elusive Rufous-tailed Tyrant was common.
We returned to camp at about midday for some lunch and to strike camp, and by 1pm we had started the long hike back through the mud. Once again, heat and exhaustion prevented much effective birding, but we did manage to add a number of interesting species during stops to draw breath and recharge the batteries. These included Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Booted Racket-tail, Chestnut-tailed Antbird, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Blue-naped Chlorophonia and Black-faced Dacnis, whilst Dan found a Moriche Oriole by the river at the end of the hike.
We were happy to discover that Teo and Lou when we got back, and I was glad to hear that Teo had managed to fix the problem with one of the springs that the car had developed. With limbs aching from the trudge through the mud, we made a swift return to the same hotel in Moyobamba for a wonderful hot shower and some hot food before falling into a very satisfying sleep.
Day 11 ? August 1st
We drove for about an hour and a half back to Puntas Aguas Verdes with a view to spending the day working our way back up to Pomacochas, concentrating on some species we had missed. In the roadside stretch of forest before the bridge, Lou?s continued pygmy-owl imitation brought in a remarkable flurry of interesting species including Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Ash-browed Spinetail, Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer, Black-faced Dacnis, and Orange-eared, Guira, Paradise, Blue-necked, Spotted, Golden, White-winged and Yellow-crested Tanagers. A little further on a flowering tree produced a number of hummingbirds including Grey-chinned Hermit, Ecuadorian Piedtail and Rufous-crested Coquette, whilst a Chestnut-breasted Wren called from the undergrowth, although we couldn?t coax it into view. Walking further up we encountered a Violet-headed Hummingbird, some fly-by Red-billed Parrots, and a solitary Bat Falcon, before we continuing on to Km 104 where we found Andean Cock-of-the-rock and Amazonian Umbrellabird in quick succession before encountering a superb flock that we followed for about half an hour, and which included a similar cast of species that we had found on the way down, including Grey-mantled Wren and Speckle-chested Piculet. However, foremost amongst those that had not been present beforehand was the sought-after Equatorial Greytail, as well as Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant. Once the flock had passed, Dan finding a magnificent male Crimson-bellied Woodpecker caused much excitement, and we watched it for several minutes inspected a tree hole.
Back up at Abra Patricia, we bumped into Alfredo, Tomas, Mark and Elaine again, and after showing them the male Royal Sunangel that was still in its same tree, arranged to meet them for dinner in Pomacochas that evening. The cast of species in the area was similar to those that we had found beforehand, but we did add Grass-green Tanager near the owlet site, and, higher up, Speckled Hummingbird, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Green-and-black Fruiteater and Grey-headed Bush-Tanager. At the pass itself, later in the afternoon, we found Golden-headed Quetzal, Emerald Toucanet, Andean Solitaire and excellent eye-level views of Blue-naped Chlorophonia. By nightfall we were back in the same simple hotel in Pomacochas and enjoyed swapping stories with Mark and Elaine over some food before heading for bed.
Day 12 ? August 2nd
The plan for the day was to spend one last morning at Abra Patricia before going northwards to Bagua Chica. Species we added included Band-tailed Pigeon, Azara?s Spinetail, Flavescent Flycatcher, Black-and-white Becard, Bluish Flowerpiercer and Oleaginous Hemispingus, whilst we also found another Emerald-bellied Puffleg and some Yellow-scarfed Tanagers. A Rusty-breasted Antpitta called from up a slope but we opted not to spend time trying to tape it out, instead preferring to look for Chestnut-crested Cotinga that had been recorded with some frequency in the area in the past. Unfortunately, we dipped, and were further disappointed by not being able to tape in a calling Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan.
The highlight of the morning came when a flat tyre allowed us more time to work a promising patch of bamboo adjacent to an open area that eventually yielded excellent views of the diminutive undescribed race of Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant, which may represent a new species.
Once Teo had repaired the tyre we backtracked over the pass, through Pomacochas and back to the Rio Chido trail, which decided to work for an hour or so in search of the cotinga. Unfortunately we failed once again, but did find an Inca Flycatcher, as well as a depressing amount of degradation. From there we continued on towards Bagua Chica through a very contrasting landscape to that to which had become accustomed. Along the rushing Utcubamba river we found an adult Fasciated Tiger-Heron, and further on, extensive areas of rice paddies held four species of herons including Little Blue Heron, plus Pectoral Sandpiper, and Chestnut-throated Seedeater in the drier areas. In the adjacent scrub, Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Yellow-tailed Oriole were found, and as dusk fell, several Lesser Nighthawks hunted over the dry landscape. We pulled into Bagua Chica at about 8, and checked in to the nice Hotel Wilson, and enjoyed an excellent meal in the adjoining restaurant.
Day 13th ? August 3rd
This was essentially a driving day, with the plan to get from Bagua Chica to the Urakusa area. The journey took us initially through dry desert scrub where we added Pacific Parrotlet and found more flocks of Scarlet-fronted Parakeet. We followed the wide Marañon for the first part of the way where dainty Yellow-billed Terns were fishing, before continuing on an increasingly poor dirt road to the village of Aramango where we purchased bread and bananas for breakfast. By then the river had become somewhat more narrow and fast flowing, and on the other bank, dry scrub became replace with untouched forest. Unfortunately the habitat on the road side of the river had been somewhat more degraded, but we did pass through some areas of good habitat where we made occasional stops in the heat, and found species such as Plumbeous Kite, White Hawk, Black Caracara, Cuvier?s Toucan, Yellow-tufted and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Dacnis and Silver-beaked Tanager. We stopped for lunch in Chiriaco and enquired about the current situation with the Aguaruna Indians who inhabit the Urakusa area and who have been somewhat hostile in the past. We were assured that there would be no problem and continued on towards the military base at Mesones Muro.
After telling the very youthful soldier at the checkpoint that we were looking at birds, he let us through and we continued on towards far-off Urakusa, unsure of exactly where we were going to stay and how far we were likely to get given the atrocious condition of certain sections of the road. After taking a left turn where Urakusa was signposted, we came into an open area where we were almost on one side of a small, forested valley, and I spotted some bird activity. After stopping the Landcruiser and getting out, Dan and I simultaneously got our binoculars on the back of a large, dark tanager. After a moment or two it turned round and its underparts were clearly visible ? it was an Orange-throated Tanager! The flock also held two other individuals of this rare bird, all uttering the species? distinctive call. The birds swiftly moved on to the other side of the ravine, but remarkably the three Wetmorethraupis returned and we spent about fifteen minutes getting staggering scope views at close range of this beautiful bird in the afternoon sunlight as they perched in a roadside Cecropia. It seemed to be quite closely tied to these trees, and was certainly one of the birds of the trip.
Surprised and delighted to have located our main quarry well before we had expected, the pressure was very much off, and we concentrated on locating a place for the night, but not before finding more colourful species such as Spangled Cotinga, Green and Purple Honeycreepers, Paradise Tanager and Blue and Black-faced Dacnises. After passing through a number of small villages we eventually stopped in one called El Paraíso, where I spoke to the local schoolteacher about the possibility of us camping out on the floor of the school. He was very friendly and helpful, and we were soon established in the relatively new and clean school building, a much better outcome than we might have feared. There was even running water next to it, courtesy of a pipe with a tap, and we were permitted to use the old school building, which was effectively a mud hut with a table and some benches, to cook our dinner. We were keen to explore further that evening, and drove further on towards Peña Blanca. The road became even worse so we did as much walking as possible, through what was largely good forest. New birds added to the list included Yellow-billed Nunbird, Mouse-coloured Antshrike, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet and Thick-billed Euphonia. We were back at El Paraíso by dusk, and after dinner, lay down to sleep with a Spectacled Owl calling somewhere in the distance.
Day 14 ? August 4th
With the main target bird under the belt, we had all day to get back to Bagua Chica for the next stage of the trip, so decided to explore a little further up the road that we had begun to bird the previous afternoon. After just making it through a very muddy patch in the road and encountering another, we decided to leave the car and walk on through the forested area. Birding was generally excellent, and we encountered a wide variety of species, many of which were typical of lowland Amazon forests. These included King and Greater Yellow-headed Vultures, Zone-tailed Hawk, Ruddy Pigeon, Grey-rumped Swift, Pale-tailed Barbthroat, Gould?s Jewelfront, Great Jacamar, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, White-browed Purpletuft, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Dusky-capped Greenlet, Violaceous Jay and Green and Crested Oropendolas. At one point we found what seemed to be a fruiting tree that held a large variety of frugivorous species including Lemon-throated Barbet, White-lored and Rufous-bellied Euphonias and Turquoise and White-shouldered Tanagers amongst a host of species already listed.
We were back at the car by 11 or so, and no sooner had we turned around than we got stuck in a large muddy section that had been worsened by a large military truck that had passed by whilst we were birding. It was decided that I should go and ask at one of the few nearby farms if we could borrow a shovel, so I embarked on a fairly long walk back towards El Paraíso, hoping that no Aguarunas would show up. It turned up to be quite a fruitful walk bird-wise, and I added Black-eared Fairy, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Tody-Tyrant, Fulvous-crested Tanager and Yellow-bellied Tanager. I was almost back to the village and had had no luck when I was relieved to see the Landcruiser coming along the road, Teo having managed to haul the vehicle out of the mud. The others had also found a group of the uncommon Ecuadorian Cacique.
Deciding to cut our losses and leave, we stopped briefly in El Paraíso to stock up with drinks before heading for far-off Bagua Chica. We spent much of the day on the road and were fairly pleased with the relative speed with which we got back. We made very few stops and made it back by 8.30pm, where we once again ate in the excellent restaurant adjacent to our base for the night, the Hotel Wilson.
NOTE: I feel it is very important to stress the delicate issues that continue to exist with regards visiting this bird-rich region. Peña Blanca, the most reliable site for the Orange-throated Tanager, is a sacred area for the Aguarunas, and they do not take kindly to visitors turning up unannounced. I discovered after the trip that Alfredo and the others had arrived there and been asked to leave by the Aguarunas. They ended up missing the tanager as a result. In hindsight, we were very lucky to have found the bird when we did, and took something of a risk travelling there without prior permission and contacts. Land rights issues still complicate the situation there, and in line with the recent exchange of comments about this on the Worldtwitch Discussion Board, I do urge anyone to contact either Gunnar Engblom at Kolibri Expeditions or Barry Walker at Manu Expeditions for up-to-date information, and NOT to attempt a visit to the area on their own.
Day 15 ? August 5th
A day of mercifully little driving began at a civilised hour, and we set off from Bagua at about 7. We stopped in an area of desert scrub just outside the town where we encountered quite a few Little Inca-Finches that proved rather responsive to pishing, and perched obligingly. Also in the area we found Bran-coloured Flycatcher and Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant. We were in Jaen by midday and had the luxury of a leisurely lunch and a siesta after checking in to the excellent Hostal Pims, before setting off shortly after 2pm for a track that took us up into some nearby scrub. Birds were not particularly plentiful, and we were disappointed to miss out on the Marañon Crescentchest, but a Chinchipe Spinetail was glimpsed, and we also found Spot-throated Hummingbird, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Red-crested Finch and Purple-throated Euphonia. A few kilometres up the track we drove into the private grounds of a Spanish monastery, where the monks seemed rather unhappy to see us, and where the presence of a very large dog deterred us from a planned search for the crescentchest. Returning to the main road, we drove north for a few kilometres in search of Buff-bellied Tanager in some orchards, but were unsuccessful and so returned to Jaen for a dinner served at a snail?s pace, and eventually a comfortable bed.
Day 16 ? August 6th
We returned to the monastery track once more for a couple of hours or so, and did manage to find some different species to the previous day, including a mixed flock of Drab Seedeaters and Dull-coloured Grassquits, plus, for some, a calling Marañon Slaty Antshrike. Unfortunately the crescentchest was decidedly unvocal and we once more drew a blank. Further additions to the list included Pearl Kite, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove and Speckle-breasted Wren.
Later we left the Marañon valley for the last time as we reached the Porculla pass and began our descent into the Pacific lowlands. We made several stops in the extremely spares areas of vegetation on the far side of the pass, where we found Three-banded Warbler, Black-cowled Saltator, and Bay-crowned and White-winged Brush-Finches, but failed to locate the secretive endemic Piura Chat-Tyrant. By mid-afternoon we had arrived in the dusty town of Olmos, and checked in at the rather quaint but strange Hotel Remanso, which was nevertheless the best place in town. After confirming a meeting with Victor Raúl Diaz that evening, who was to be our guide to look for the White-winged Guan, we relaxed for the rest of the day. Dan and I went on a short walk in the hour or so before sunset and found a few species typical of the northwest lowlands, including Scarlet-backed Woodpecker and Streak-headed Woodcreeper. Victor arrived at about 8 and we were delighted to discover that the guans had been found recently in an area that could be reached in under two hours from the hotel, thus removing the need to camp out and thus giving us some more time to get back to Lima. We arranged a 5.30am departure the next morning and enjoyed an excellent dinner before retiring.
Day 17 ? August 7th
A very exciting morning began at 5.30am when we piled Victor and his assistant into the Landcruiser (that had been an uncomfortable squeeze for six of us at times throughout the trip) and we headed off northwards out of Olmos. After several kilometres we headed off into the bush and the outlines of the dry Andean foothills came into view as the sky lightened. We flushed a couple of Scrub Nightjars from the road, and shortly after dawn arrived at a small village at the base of the mountains. Having negotiated out way across a stream, and accompanied by a small boy and his even smaller puppy, we hiked along dry riverbeds into canyons cloaked in impressive stands of dry forest. A White-edged Oriole sang from a treetop, flocks of Red-masked Parakeets screeched by overhead and a smart Plumbeous-backed Thrush alighted in a tree next to the trail.
At about 7.45 there was suddenly a loud shout from Dan and we looked up to see five White-winged Guans moving through the trees less than a hundred metres away. They were very dark when at rest, but when they flew from tree to tree, the extensive white in their primaries showed beautifully. We all enjoyed good scope views of the birds for several minutes before they disappeared up into the canyon as quickly as they had materialised. Buoyed by this success, we began to make our way back down towards the Landcruiser, whilst looking out for more species. Amongst those we encountered were Short-tailed Woodstar, Black-tailed Trogon, Lineated Woodpecker, Necklaced Spinetail, Collared Antshrike, Elegant Crescentchest (heard only), Tropical Pewee, White-tailed Jay, White-headed Brush-Finch, and Hepatic Tanager.
Back at the car, we drove back onto the flat desert plain we had traversed to reach the guan canyon. A stop in an area of trees and scrub proved very productive, with Grey-and-white Tyrannulet, Tumbes Sparrow, Collared Warbling-Finch, Parrot-billed Seedeater and Crimson Finch-Tanager all showing well. With the heat of the midday sun forcing birds to seek shade, we did the same and returned to Olmos for lunch in the main square before once again allowing ourselves the luxury of a rest and deciding to go out at about 2.30pm.
First stop of the afternoon was at a productive body of water next to the road just a couple of kilometres north of town. It clearly acted as something of an oasis for water birds in the surrounding desert landscape, and attracted a wide variety of species including Least and Pied-billed Grebes, Olivaceous Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Masked Duck. The highlight was a superb Spotted Rail that briefly emerged from the reeds at the back of the pond and was much admired by all. Meanwhile a Snowy-throated Kingbird perched in an acacia overhanging the water and a Harris? Hawk passed by against the blue sky.
We took another track to the east that took us once more in the direction of the forested canyons, towards the settlement of El Tocto. We concentrated our efforts on the scrub and sparse acacias where we found a number of species that we had encountered that morning, plus Tumbes Hummingbird, the charming Tumbes Tyrant, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant and Peruvian Meadowlark. We returned to Olmos for a celebratory dinner and a game of table football on the ancient table that seemed to be a relic of more prosperous days for the Remanso.
Day 18 ? August 8th
Having virtually cleaned up on the northwestern specialities, we spent the morning back up in the forest fragments at Abra Porculla. We clambered up a steep stony path into an area of bamboo and denser forest, but mainly encountered species we had found two days beforehand, with no sign of Rufous-necked Foliage-Gleaner or the rare Grey-headed Antbird, both of which might still occur in the area. Nor was there any sign of Piura Chat-Tyrant despite much searching, but a single Rufous-chested Tanager made our long tanager list even longer.
Later we continued to Chiclayo and checked into a fairly smart hotel, before having some lunch and continuing towards the Eten marshes in the afternoon for some shorebird watching. The wind was quite strong and reduced passerine activity, although a few hardy Yellowish Pipits braved the conditions and could be seen in grassy areas. In some inland pools we found White-tufted Grebe, Black-necked Stilt, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, Baird?s, Least, Spotted and Pectoral Sandpipers and the dainty Wilson?s Phalarope, whilst Great Grebe, Grey Plover and Whimbrel frequented some coastal lagoons. The town of Puerto Eten itself was utterly forgettable, and it was a great surprise when we flushed a Least Bittern from some reed beds in the adjacent to the town rubbish dump, and found a Wren-like Rushbird in the reeds themselves. After some difficulty negotiating our way round some basic road works in town, we briefly dismantled them ourselves before continuing back to Chiclayo for a meal in the lively town centre and a look around the cathedral before bed.
Day 19 ? August 9th
With almost two full days to get from Chiclayo to Lima, we could take it fairly easy in terms of driving, and had enough time to look for some of the specialities we had missed on the way, as well as finding some seabirds. First port of call was Rafan, where Peruvian Plantcutters were again much in evidence, and where we soon found a pair of the endemic Rufous Flycatcher, undoubtedly the most attractive and distinctive member of the Myiarchus group.
We stopped for lunch in Trujillo before making more progress southwards through the bleak coastal desert, and looking for seabirds when we came near enough to the coast. Along the way we found a small colony of South American Terns, and one town where the waterfront revealed good views of Inca Tern, Peruvian Booby and Grey-headed, Kelp and Band-tailed Gulls. By mid-afternoon we had reached the coastal town of Huarmey, to discover that the Hotel de Turistas just off the Panamerican highway had closed down. Fortunately the Hotel Maria further back from the road proved an adequate alternative, and once we had checked in there, we made for a nearby headland for a spot of sea watching. A constant stream of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters passed by offshore, but we couldn?t string any Pink-footeds amongst them. Inshore, the occasional Peruvian Tern fished, whilst a couple of Red-legged Cormorants flew across the bay. Onshore, an American Oystercatcher braved the surf on a rocky headland and an obliging Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes hopped about on a rock outcrop next to the beach. We returned to the hotel for a meal in town and then a fairly early night.
Day 20 ? August 10th
With the whole day to complete a four-hour drive, we had time to return to the nearby headland, and were rewarded by Blackish Oystercatcher, Peruvian Pelican, Grey Gull, Guanay Cormorant and a Peruvian Diving-Petrel at rest on the sea. North of Lima a Peregrine circled against a hillside whilst we were filling up with petrol, and a couple of Least Seedsnipes provided brief fly-by views. We turned off to Lomas de Lachay and after hiking up a steep hillside into an extensive stand of cacti, we managed to locate Cactus Canastero without too much difficulty this time around. Luc and I stayed up there a little longer than the others and were treated to a young and incredibly inquisitive fox that came to within a few metres of us, a surreal experience amongst the eerie silence that pervades the stark desert hills. It was a lovely way to bring to an end an arduous but ultimately successful trip.
We still had time to pass via the Ventanilla marshes some 20kms north of Lima, where six Peruvian Thick-knees standing in a field were much appreciated, and Lesser Yellowlegs and Black Skimmer were found in the few remaining areas of water. We had reached Callao by about 5, and after an hour or so to clean up in a hotel, we headed to the airport where a light meal preceded the customary farewells, and Teo and I made our way back towards Miraflores through the bustling traffic and bright lights of a Lima evening.
Addendum by Gunnar Engblom
Peru is rapidly becoming the birding Mekka that it always had potential to be. Now most areas are safe to visit, but many areas where endemics can be found are yet poorly explored, and even within Peru it is obnoxiously difficult to retrieve information about road conditions and routes until you actually try them out yourself. Kolibri Expeditions are greatful to the Canadians who wanted to do some of this exploration into lesser known areas. It was clear on beforehand that all areas had not been sessed out. We regret that the Marañon could not be reached from Cordillera Blanca and support Simon in his decission to not venture into unknown territory. Looking at the end result, Simon and the Canadians managed to get a very impressive list of birds.
If anyone uses this report for reference to make a similar circuit to what was intended ,I would like to share some newly discovered routes and some tips for species missed by Simon´s group.
Firstly, the White-cheeked Cotinga, the only bird missed in Cordillerra Blanca, is never easy on a one-day visit to Llanganuco. To be sure to see this species two days are recommended. For most birding groups it is a time trade-off. Are you really willing to spend another day, when you have cleaned up on the all the other birds in just one morning? You should be at the top, above both the lakes in the zone where there are plenty Gynoxys trees intermingled with the Polylepis and there are plenty of red-flowered Mistletoes, very early in the morning . It will then be easier to scan the area for the cotingas that will sit peerched on top only during the early morning. If you get to the top around ten o´clock, birding your way up, you will be extremely lucky to find one.
If you have spare time, do a trekk to Laguna 47 above the Llanganuco lakes. It is a haven for Ground Tyrants, a nice hike and I saw a pair of the Cotingas here in April 1998.
The safest area for the White-cheeked Cotinga must be the Polylpeis woodland above Oyon in Lima department. Take a left turn passed Oyon towards the mines. Fjeldså describes this are as the best stronghold for the species. This site should be taken into account as a possibility if White-cheeeked Cotinga is missed at Llanganuco. If anyone goes there, please write me.
Regarding the connection over the Andes over Mollepata, this planned together with Simon. Clearly, the Corongo route was mistakedly taken, as on all maps the actual turnoff towards Mollepata is much lower down in the Santa Valley, at Chuquicara where Santa River meets the Tablachaca River.
I took this road in December 1999 and arrived eventually to Huamchuco. We wanted originally avoid Huamcuco and go straight for El Molino (the place for Purple-backed Sunbeam), but driving at night at in heavy rain, made us want to reach more civilised areas and more frequently driven roads. I would not advice anyone driving on unknown roads during December-March in the Peruvian Andes. Landslides are frequent during this time. Eventually we got to El Molino, Chagual and Abiseo National Park, which was the goal of our visit in during this trip.
In retrospect the connection was possible as planned, but time had already been lost at the wrong turn, and the decission to not go on over the Andes was the most sensible one at the time.
Abiseo National Park: Unfortunately this park with goodies such as Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager and Yellow-browed Toucanet, can not be visited by birding parties. One may apply for a permit through INRENA in Lima, but it is a rather burocratic process and your presence in the park need to have a some scientific recognition.
After our field work within the park we checked out a logging road going east just north of Buldibuyo. This is just south of the park and the habitat is virtually identical. This road is depicted on the departemental map of La Libertad. (Note that the road also depicted going to Chiclayo is not drivable and is within the park, and thus out of reach.). The road demands 4WD or high clearance. We only had a afternoon and morning to our disposal so what follows are some strategies for exploration. When you get to a dam high on the Puna take a left turn and soon enough you will have some elfin forest patches on both sides of the road. Especially the patches bordering a lake on your left looks interesting and could be checked for Bay-vented Cotinga. I found Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant with the park and this species could maybe occur here as well. A little further down the road becomes lined with low forest on both sides. It is good here for Drab Hemispingus and Large-footed Tapaculo, and Golden-backed Mountain Tanager, Pardusco and Rufous-browed Hemispingus could turn up here.
Continueing, you will eventually get to a road fork at ca 3050m. The road to the right willtake you to an abandoned logging camp. The road ends here. We camped here. Birding was excellent with Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Barred Fruiteater and three or four calling Pale-billed Antpittas - a very seldom encountered antpitta.
Back at the fork the left takes you down to a river cross, where the car will have to be left. The stream can be crossed and on the other side the old road now seemed to be an overgrown trail to lower areas. My interpretation is that it is in use during the dry season only, so any birder coming here in July may well encounter that the trail is open and can bring one down 800 meters to the narrow distribution belt of Yellow-browed Toucanet. Search for Clusia flowers, Miconia fruits and Cecropias in fruit. Play tape of closely related Blue-banded Toucanet.
Yellow-browed Toucanet have only been found previously within the park and on the Ongon trail. The first site is out of reach and the second is very time consuming, and potentially somewhat dangerous as Todd Mark was robbed here at gun point. This new site may be a good alternative. In any case visitors going here should be careful, and speak good Spanish and never leave the car unattended.. The logging seems to have stopped. Appearantly there is some conflcit as to whom the land belongs, and therefor extraction has been stopped.
New Bridge over the Marañon connects Cordillera Blanca:
If one continues south through Tayabamba and through Huancaspata, there is a new rad and a bridge crossing over the Marañon. Don´t take the first bridge, as this road leads to Huacraspata - end of the road. A road is being build from Huacraspata to Uchize. This road should also go through Toucanet territory. It may be worthwhile to go to Huacrapata and check how far the road has come. Uchize is in the upper Huallaga valley, a region feared for its coca industry. Lots of care should be taken here once the road is completed. Hopefully by then, law and order has been restored also in this part of Peru.
Avoiding the Huacraspata turnoff and continuing along the Marañon river, you will soon be northbound again, and shortly finds the new bridge crossing the might river and takes you to Sihuas, from where you will drop into the Santa Valley. The dirt road is in very good condition.
So returning to the original scoop of the trip that Simon made, the best bet would be to drive to Sihuas after Llanganuco. Take the same turnoff at Yuramarca, but keep right so you don´t end up in Corongo. Ask for directions to Sihuas. The driving down to the Marañon should be interesting. We drove this stretch at night. Keep an eye out for alder forest and search for Purple-backed Sunbeam. Look out for habitat for Greater Thornbird and Gray-bellied Comet. They could well occur. Other possibilities are Rufous-backed and Buff-bridled Inca-Finch .The area is virtually unexplored ornthologically. Once on the other side of the Marañon river you could easily connect with Cajamarca after checking out the Buldibuyo logging road, Chagual and El Molino on the way.
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