Sunday, 4 November 2018

Avian Adventures in Peru - 4

Our flight from Lima to Cusco took just an hour.  There we were met by our new guide, José Antonio Padilla and driver Yosua.  On our way through the city we picked up Juan who was introduced as our cook but who also proved to be very good at finding birds.

Very soon we were birding!  Just a short way out of Cusco we had an hour looking for birds and also getting used to the altitude.  In Tarapoto we had been at 350 metres above sea level; Cusco is at 3,400 metres and we could feel the difference!  Also, it was probably a bit warmer than most of us had expected so it was quite a leisurely walk that we had.  Most of the birds seen, such as Andean Flicker, Cinereous Conebill, Chiguanco Thrush and Black-throated Flowerpiercer, were ones that would become familiar during the coming days but Rusty-fronted Canastero, White-browed Chat-Tyrant and Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant were seen on just this one occasion.

Chiguanco Thrush

We drove for another hour and then stopped by Lake Piuray, a wetland that was teeming with birds.  Among the many ducks were Yellow-billed Teal, Puna Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail and Andean Duck; there were Andean Coots and White-tufted Grebe, Andean Gulls, Andean Lapwings, Neotropic Cormorants and Puna Ibises.  Burrowing Owl and Many-colored Rush Tyrant were species we had seen before but were pleased to see again.

 Andean Gulls

Andean Lapwing

A little further on was Lake Huaypo where Juan had the first opportunity to display his culinary skills.  He provided a very adequate lunch, certainly sufficient to distract us from birding for at least a few minutes.  Andean Geese and Silvery Grebes were additions to our list here, there were more than 50 Puna Ibises and there was a nice selection of waders.  These included Baird’s & Spotted Sandpipers and more than 30 Wilson’s Phalaropes and later, after lunch, we also found three Stilt Sandpipers.  Two Black-faced Ibises here were the only ones seen during the tour.  We re-acquainted ourselves with Grassland Yellow Finches and as we had done when we saw them at the start of the tour we tried hard to imagine a Peruvian Pipit amongst them.

Wilson's Phalarope

 A short while later we stopped again briefly at another lake and saw much the same selection of birds although one species that we hadn’t seen before was a Cinereous Harrier.  That was our last birding of the day and now we headed to our overnight stay at the Hotel Munay Tika in Ollantaytambo. 
Next morning we met at 4:00 am for coffee and to collect our packed breakfasts.  It was then just a short walk from the hotel to the railway station.  We were booked on the 5:00 am PeruRail service to Aguas Calientes, gateway to Machu Picchu.

PeruRail

For much of the hour-and-a-half-long journey the railway line follows closely the Urubamba River and more than 20 Torrent Ducks were seen from the train.  At least one Black Phoebe was also identified.

At Aguas Calientes we walked through the town and then back along the river, sometimes actually walking on the railway line.  This provided some excellent birding with highlights that included Grey-fronted Dove, Green-and-white Hummingbird, Golden-headed Quetzal, Andean Motmot, Ocellated Piculet, Torrent & Sclater’s Tyrannulets, Streak-necked & Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireo, Andean Solitaire, Slate-throated Whitestart, Russet-crowned Warbler, Black-backed Grosbeak, Dusky-green Oropendola and some reasonably close Torrent Ducks with young. 

Torrent Duck

At 9:30 am it was time to take the shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes, a journey of half an hour or so up a steep mountain road.  And then, finally, we were able to enter Machu Picchu itself.  Voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a 2007 worldwide Internet poll and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, not surprisingly Machu Picchu is a major tourist attraction and although the number of visitors is restricted it can only be described as crowded.  Cameras and selfie sticks were the order of the day!

It is believed that Machu Picchu was constructed around 1450 but abandoned a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. It seems that it wasn’t discovered by the Spanish and it remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.

Machu Picchu

If such an impressive and sizeable Inca development was unknown for so many years, perhaps it is less surprising that Inca Wren wasn’t described as a species until 1985.  Of course we were interested in the Incas and their construction work but also we were still birding and Inca Wren was a particular target here at Machu Picchu.  It didn’t take long for José to find one once we had located the necessary bamboo habitat.  There were few other birds around but hardly surprising with so many people everywhere!

Inca Wren

At around midday we joined the very long queue for the bus back to Aguas Calientes where we had a very nice buffet lunch at Toto’s House Restaurant.  We caught the 2:55 pm train back to Ollantaytambo, which arrived at 5:00 pm.  Two White-capped Dippers were seen by those of us who were sitting on the right side of the train from which to see the river.

Our next day was devoted to birding in the Abra Malaga area.  Abra Malaga is actually the name of a mountain pass located at about 4,200 metres above sea level.  The road from Ollantaytambo climbs via numerous hairpin bends that each offers a spectacular view.  We would be birding at various different points along the road.  It was a cloudy morning with a hint of drizzle and we were warned that it might be cold higher up.

On the road to Abra Malaga

Our first stop was at Las Peñas, where White-tufted & Shining Sunbeams were yet two more additions to our list of hummingbirds seen.  Further on there were brief stops for a Red-crested Cotinga, then for Cream-winged Cinclodes and Plumbeous Sierra Finch and later for Ashy-breasted Sierra Finch and White-winged Diuca Finch - the bird names got longer and longer!

Cream-winged Cinclodes

Higher still we found a Paramo Pipit and a Streak-throated Canastero before stopping for tea/coffee at Thastayoc.  Here we stayed a little longer and found Rufous-breasted & Brown-backed Chat-Tyrants, Moustached Flowerpiercer, Puna Thistletail, Tyrian & Scaled Metaltails, White-throated Tyrannulet, White-browed Conebill, Pearled Treerunner, Three-striped Hemispingus and there was a brief glimpse of a Diademed Tapaculo.  Surprisingly, we saw three species of swallows during the morning: Andean, Brown-bellied & Pale-footed, although it’s fair to say that we would have struggled to sort them out without the help of José as the light was mostly very poor and the finer features of identification very difficult to discern.

At Carrizales we took a trail from the road that climbed gently up the hillside.  Here we were about 3,200 metres above sea level.  At last the rain cleared and for a while we even saw the sun!  It was here that we also saw one of the avian highlights of the day, a Rufous Antpitta that in the end was quite obliging and showed well.  Another star was the Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, such a bright, colourful bird in contrast to the many shades of grey, brown and olive that predominated.  Parodi’s Hemispingus and Marcapata Spinetail were two birds here more memorable for their names than their appearance.  Apparently, José Parodi Vargas was a Peruvian politician and landowner and Marcapata is one of the twelve districts in the Quispicanchi Province in Peru.

After two hours we returned to the minibus and headed off to lunch, which Juan was preparing by the roadside at San Luis.  We had a long wait before we had anything to eat but fortunately we were able to fill the time by searching for a Yungas Pygmy Owl, which called repeatedly in response to José’s recording but took a very long time before sitting out in the open to be admired and photographed.  Two Red-crested Cotingas and a Sierran Elaenia were also around at lunchtime.

Yungas Pygmy Owl

The following morning we left the hotel at 6:00 am and walked down the road to Hotel Pakaritampu where we spent an hour or more birding around the neatly laid out gardens.  Our targets here were mostly hummingbirds and we very quickly found the unmistakable Bearded Mountaineer, a bird of the tropical high-altitude shrubland with a particular fondness for the flowers of tree tobacco (Nicotiana).  A female Green-tailed Trainbearer soon followed and later we saw a White-bellied Hummingbird and Lesser Violetear.  Other garden birds included Black-throated & Rusty Flowerpiercers, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Bare-faced Ground Dove, Golden-billed Saltator and Black-backed Grosbeak.

Bearded Mountaineer

After breakfast back at Hotel Munay Tika we packed up and checked out and by 8:15 am we were heading once again up the mountain road that we had been on yesterday.  This time the plan was to concentrate mainly on sites at lower elevations although we did eventually reach 4,000 metres.  Mostly we were birding from the roadside.

At our first stop we saw the only Rust-and-yellow Tanager of the tour and a Shining Sunbeam; there was also a better view than most of us had had before of a Creamy-crested Spinetail.  Further on, there was a striking Chestnut-bellied Mountain Finch, another Peruvian endemic and a Tyrian Metaltail, yet another new hummingbird species for our list.

Chestnut-bellied Mountain Finch

A particularly rewarding stop was one where we saw Rufous-naped & Puna Ground Tyrants, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, Plain-colored Seedeater, Plumbeous & Peruvian Sierra Finches.  Why did the Chat-Tyrant have a hyphen while the Ground Tyrants and the Sierra Finches didn’t?  Should the Seedeater be Plain-coloured?  It was too cold to care!

A little further on, we saw more Rufous-naped & Puna Ground Tyrants, Hooded Siskins and two Andean Flickers and five Puna Ibises.  A tiny dark dot about 400 metres away up the hillside was identified by José from its song as a Puna Tapaculo and it was clearly responding to playback.
Soon it was time for lunch, which again was prepared in an unlikely setting by Juan with assistance from Yosua.  Juan had cooked both meat and potatoes using the most basic of equipment and a table and stools had been carried up the hillside for us!

Lunch on the hillside

At about 1:00 pm we set off to Cusco, a journey that took almost three hours.  Our hotel was the Antares Mystic Hotel, which was a good choice although its location in the historic centre of the city meant that to reach it we had to negotiate narrow streets and traffic.

Next day we headed out to the north-west of Cusco, beyond the Sacsayhuamán archaeological site to an unnamed area where we walked a trail that took us eventually to an elevation of around 4,100 metres.  Although not particularly steep it did prove something of a struggle.  We had been as high as this previously but this was probably the furthest we had had to walk or climb at this altitude.  In the event, it proved well worth the effort with several birds seen for the first time.  It was also a very pleasant morning, mostly sunny but with a comfortable temperature.

Birds seen on the way up included Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Common Miner, Spot-billed Ground Tyrant, Streak-fronted Thornbird and Junin Canastero.  Just at the point where we decided not to go further, we flushed three Puna Snipe from a wet area just below the trail and then a Streak-backed Canastero was found.  In the same area we saw a Stripe-headed Antpitta.

After lunch back in Cusco we had a couple of hours before we had to be at the airport, time enough to drive out to the east of Cusco to the Lucre - Huacarpay Wetland.  Situated at an altitude of 3,020 metres, this High-Andean wetland is part of the Pikillaqta Archaeological Park and was designated as a Ramsar Site in 2006.  The birds here included many wetland species that we had seen before including Puna Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Wilson’s Phalarope and the appropriately named Andean Gull, Andean Duck, Andean Lapwing and Andean Coot.  A Cocoi Heron was a surprise find, we had a closer view of Plumbeous Rail than we had before and we had two ‘new birds’, an Aplomado Falcon and a Black-tailed Trainbearer.

Lucre - Huacarpay Wetland

Our flight to Lima took about an hour and a half, arriving there at 8:15 pm.  We were met at the airport by Manuel Zamora and at just after 9:30 pm we were once again checking in at the Hotel San Agustin Exclusive, Miraflores.

Our last day in Peru was spent in the company of Alejandro Tello, another guide working for Kolibri Expeditions. He took us firstly to Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge, a protected area of coastal marshes and brackish water lagoons located in the district of Chorrillos in Lima.  This is another Ramsar Site and it provided an excellent morning’s birding including some species we hadn’t seen before.  We spent our time walking first along the sandy shore and then around the main lagoon.  It was an early start and so to begin with the light was quite poor but gradually it improved and there were excellent opportunities for photographing gulls and shorebirds.  Highlights were Harris’s Hawk, Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel and Killdeer, Kelp, Grey, Franklin’s & Belcher’s Gulls, American Oystercatcher, Barn Swallow, Black Skimmers, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Elegant Terns, Burrowing Owls, Peruvian Thick-knees, Many-colored Rush Tyrant, Scrub Blackbird, Shining Cowbird and Peruvian Meadowlark.  Looking out to sea there were two Great Grebes on the water, several groups of Guanay Cormorants passed by and there were Peruvian Pelicans and Peruvian Boobies.

 Hudsonian Whimbrel

 American Oystercatcher

 Black Skimmer

 Peruvian Thick-knees

Many-colored Rush Tyrant

We returned to the hotel to pack our bags for the last time and then spent an hour before lunch at the Larco Museum (Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera), a privately owned museum of pre-Columbian art, located in the Pueblo Libre District of Lima.

Later there was time for one last birding session before our flight home and for this we went to Arenilla, a coastal site close to Jorge Chávez International Airport.  Although there were quite a few species here that were very familiar, it was surprising at this late stage to find Western & Semipalmated Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plover that we hadn’t seen before and these brought the total number of species that we had seen during the tour to 434.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Avian Adventures in Peru - 3

After our unscheduled night in Moyobamba, we went for breakfast at Waqanki Lodge, just a 15-minute drive away to the south of the town.  We had planned a two-night stay here but now we made arrangements to extend that to three.  This would put us back in line with our original itinerary, which had been disrupted by the protesting rice growers.

Birding around the grounds of the lodge we soon found ourselves facing another set of hummingbirds to be identified.  On this occasion they were coming to flowers rather than feeders.  One of them at least was distinctive, the diminutive Rufous-crested Coquette, but also seen were Violet-headed Hummingbird, White-chinned Sapphire, Sapphire-spangled & Blue-tailed Emeralds and Amethyst Woodstar that, when all arriving together, provided more of a challenge.  Great Kiskadees were noisy as always, a Blue-headed Parrot and several Cobalt-winged Parakeets flew over, a Dull-colored Grassquit lived up to its name.  During breakfast, a Purple-throated Euphonia, a Black-bellied Tanager and a Palm Tanager came to a nearby feeder.

 Rufous-crested Coquette

Rufous-crested Coquette

Violet-headed Hummingbird

There followed a walk into the forest along a trail that was at times quite steep. We began by differentiating between Crested & Russet-backed Oropendolas, we had great close-up views of a Sooty-headed Tyrannulet and we saw what is said to be world’s smallest passerine bird species, a Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant. The last of these measures only 6.5 cm and on average weighs only 4.2 g.

Sooty-headed Tyrannulet

Further on there were Fiery-throated Fruiteaters, a White-flanked Antwren, Squirrel Cuckoo and Green-backed Trogon, we heard the loud song of Buff-rumped Warbler and the call of Broad-billed Motmot.  When we returned to the lodge, a Yellow-tufted Woodpecker was surprisingly approachable.

Yellow-tufted Woodpecker

Later, we set off to enjoy one of the lodge’s main attractions, the hummingbird feeders.  This involved quite a steep climb up the hillside but resulted in even more different species.  Black-throated, Green, Reddish, Long-tailed & Rufous-breasted Hermits, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Brown Violetear, Black-throated Mango, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Long-billed Starthroat and Little Woodstar brought the number of hummingbird species for the day to twenty!  It was a good job we had Carlos to help us sort them out!

White-necked Jacobin

On the way back down to the lodge there were lots more birds we hadn’t seen before including Lafresnaye’s Piculet and Gilded Barbet, which appeared almost simultaneously and in the same tree.  Others were Pale-breasted Thrush, Black-faced Tanager, Little Woodpecker, Social & Short-crested Flycatchers and Russet-crowned Crake.  The last of these was teased out of the vegetation with just a little ‘playback’ and showed itself only briefly.

We went into Moyobamba for dinner but only after a short walk in the dark to look for an owl.  At this point in the tour we had probably missed as many owls as we had seen but on this occasion we were successful and a Band-bellied Owl duly appeared at Carlos’s beckoning.

Band-bellied Owl

Dinner was interesting!  Chifa Central was a Chinese restaurant but, of course, the menu was in Spanish.  Chinese immigrants came to Peru in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and Chifa is a culinary tradition based on Cantonese elements fused with traditional Peruvian ingredients.
On the way back to the lodge, we looked for a Stygian Owl around the backstreets of Moyobamba but didn’t find one.

Next morning we once again headed along (and up) the forest trail we had been on yesterday.
One of the first birds we caught a glimpse of was a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl as it flew away from us and disappeared into the trees.  We continued to hear it for some time.  Inevitably, we saw quite a number of species we had seen yesterday but an Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and a Mouse-colored Tyrannulet were further additions to our list before we came upon what would have one of the star birds of the whole tour, a Golden-collared Toucanet, if only we could have had a closer view.  Further notable species included Wing-barred Piprites, Mishana Tyrannulet, Tschudi’s Woodcreeper, Peruvian Warbling Antbird, Plain-winged Antshrike, Olivaceous Flatbill, Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Thick-billed Euphonia and Slaty-capped Flycatcher.  This forest gave the impression that there would always be the chance to see something new no matter how many times we walked the same trail.

Back at the lodge we realised that the strange structure we had seen yesterday hanging from inside the roof of the substantially-built gazebo in the garden was the nest of a Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift.  We realised this because a Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift made several visits to the nest while we were standing underneath!  The nest, made from plant material, seed heads and the like, was barely recognisable as such and it was hard to imagine how the contents stayed in it, defying gravity.

Nest of Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift

After lunch we were given a short tour of the Waqanki Orchid Centre, an attraction that apparently brings in quite a number of visitors who pay 10 soles to look round the 150 or so species of orchids that grow here.  Carlos knew the orchids like he knew the birds.

After seeing Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch and Blue-winged Parrotlet in the garden, we boarded the minibus and went off to a site where the main target, Point-tailed Palmcreeper, could hardly have been easier to find.  Even before we were off the bus one was showing in a roadside tree and was well seen.  A short walk here also produced Chestnut-eared Araçari, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Sulphury Flycatcher and another Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, a bird that didn’t seem any more or less mouse-coloured than several other small flycatchers that we had seen.

Chestnut-eared Araçari

Next we drove to a pond where Carlos seemed confident we would see Masked Ducks.  We did see them but would not have done without the aid of a telescope and even then they were hard to make out as they slept among the waterside rushes.  Common & Purple Gallinules were also present and a Black-capped Donacobius made a brief appearance.  We walked along the road and found two more new species, Rusty-backed Antwren and Cinereous-breasted Spinetail, before heading back to the lodge.

For dinner we went to the Hospedaje Ecologico Rumipata where the food was Japanese-style and the tilapia in particular was very tasty.  It rained while we were there.  A few detours on the way back around Moyobamba looking for a Stygian Owl, or indeed any other sort of owl, brought the same result as last night.

By changing our schedule we had missed a planned visit to Reserva Arena Blanca.  This morning we put that right by making an early start and driving for more than an hour in order to get there by 6:30 am to see the main attractions at the feeders.  In fact, there are a number of species that come early in the day to take advantage of the seed put out for them.  We had really good views from the hide of two Little Tinamous, a female and a juvenile, and a Cinereous Tinamou but didn’t see the Grey-cowled Wood-Rail, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Orange-billed Sparrow or Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail which are also visitors here on some mornings.  However, there was no sense of disappointment; tinamous are notoriously shy and secretive birds and it was an unusual experience to watch these three birds for several minutes at a range that allowed us to take photographs.

 Cinereous Tinamou

Little Tinamou

Outside the hide there was a brief view of an Andean Cock-of-the-rock and a Pale-eyed Thrush before we moved on to breakfast by the hummingbird feeders.  The star turn here was Wire-crested Thorntail but the supporting cast of Many-spotted Hummingbird, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Brown Violetear, Grey-chinned Hermit and Violet-fronted Brilliant kept everyone on their toes.  It is reported that 28 species of hummingbirds have been recorded here.

 Many-spotted Hummingbird

Golden-tailed Sapphire

Later in the day we visited some ricefields where, resisting the temptation to debate with the farmers the rights and wrongs of Brazilian imports, we concentrated on the wealth of bird life.  It had been a week since we had seen a wader of any sort so Wattled Jacana, Spotted & Solitary Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts and Lesser Yellowlegs were welcome sights.  Little Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great & Snowy Egrets had also been absent from our list since we left the coast.  This was the only occasion during the tour that we saw Limpkins and it was no surprise a few minutes later to see a Snail Kite.  Both species feed particularly on apple snails (Ampullariidae).  It was very noticeable how much darker in colour the Limpkins were compared to those which most of us had seen previously in the USA and Central America.  Limpkin was in fact split into two species for many years but has been treated as one since 1934.

We spent our last morning at Waqanki Lodge walking the same steep trail we had been on twice before but it came as no surprise to find several bird species that we hadn’t previously seen.  Most prominent were the noisy Speckled Chachalacas and yet we failed to see them.  They were close and called loudly but still remained out of view.  Those species that we did manage to see included Yellow-browed Sparrow, Forest Elaenia, Yellow-crowned & White-lored Tyrannulets, Foothill Antwren, Bluish-fronted Jacamar (‘a hummingbird on steroids’), Stripe-chested Antwren (looking very much like a Black-and-white Warbler), Chestnut-throated Spinetail, Coraya Wren, Fiery-capped Manakin, Guira Tanager, Lemon-chested Greenlet, Slaty-capped Flycatcher and, somewhat unexpectedly, Cerulean Warbler.

After an early lunch we left Waqanki Lodge at about 1:00 pm. Just as we were about to leave Carlos’s mother appeared with an enormous yellow caterpillar. This we learned was a flannel moth caterpillar and she was keeping it well away from her skin as its long hairs are extremely venomous and can cause a painful sting. It seems it belongs in the genus Megalopyge and is known in the USA as a “Trumpapillar” because of its resemblance to the President’s hair!

Flannel moth caterpillar

It was a long drive to Tarapoto.  On the way we stopped for some birding and although it was a relief to break the hot, uncomfortable journey, we now spent an hour feeding the mosquitoes along a narrow trail.  However, it was worth any discomfort as we were rewarded with a succession of birds we hadn’t seen before including White-browed Antbird, White-lined Tanager, White-bellied Pygmy Tyrant, Stripe-chested Antwren, Black-fronted Nunbird, Plain-crowned Spinetail and Northern Slaty Antshrike.

Finally, we drove for another hour to the Hotel Cumbaza in Tarapoto where we had had lunch almost a week ago.  Now we had dinner and a bed for the night.

Next morning we left the hotel at 6:00 am taking the winding mountain road north from the city.  It was another bright, sunny morning and soon we were birding along the roadside.  During the first hour or so we found Cliff, Social & Streaked Flycatchers, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, three or four Andean Cock-of-the rocks, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Bay-headed, Masked & Swallow Tanager, Rufous-bellied Euphonia and low-flying Turkey Vultures.  One or two Swallow-tailed Kites also past over but mostly remained higher.

The main purpose of our excursion to this area was to visit the ACONABICKH Reserve, a well-known site where the endemic Koepcke’s Hermit is just one of several interesting hummingbirds seen regularly at the feeders.  It took some time at the feeders before we all had a satisfactory look at Koepcke’s Hermit but in the meantime we were entertained by several other species, notably Gould’s Jewelfront, Grey-breasted Sabrewing and White-necked Jacobin.  Koepcke’s Hermit is fairly new to science, first discovered as recently as 1977.  Unusually for a hermit, it has an almost straight rather than down-curved bill.

Koepcke’s Hermit

After lunch back in Tarapoto we headed to the airport for a LATAM flight to Lima.  All went smoothly and the evening saw us back at the familiar Hotel San Agustin Exclusive, Miraflores.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Avian Adventures in Peru - 2

After a second night in Lima we were up early next morning so as to take a LATAM flight to Tarapoto. The flight was a routine affair arriving in Tarapoto at around 11:00 am. Half an hour later, we were with new guide, Carlos Altamirano and heading for lunch at the nearby Hotel Cumbaza.

Tarapoto is in the north of Peru, the largest city in the San Martin region. From here we spent the rest of the day making our way along the main road (the 5N) to Owlet Lodge where we planned to spend three nights. On the way there we made a number of stops, the first at Cañón Quiscarrumi where from the roadside we looked down into a dark cave where there was a colony of Oilbirds. Carlos told us that there were as many as 300 of them but it was hard to estimate how many we actually saw, perhaps 25 at one time, some flying others resting on the rocky ledges. These birds are nocturnal and nightjar-like in appearance but unlike nightjars they are said to be fruit eaters. The common name "oilbird" derives from the fact that in the past chicks were captured and boiled down in order to make oil!

At about 3:00 pm we stopped to refuel in Moyobamba, the regional capital.  After that it was another long drive before we paused again to look for birds.  This time we were on a bridge high above a river.  A flock of Band-tailed Pigeons flew over as Carlos began playing the call of Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.  This had the desired effect and in just a short time the call had attracted a selection of birds, mostly tanagers, to come looking for the owl.  Species seen were Bay-headed, Golden, Paradise, Green-and-gold, Yellow-bellied, Yellow-crested and Blue-necked Tanagers, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Purple Honeycreeper and Fork-tailed Woodnymph.  Quite a collection!

At last, at around 7:00 pm we reached Owlet Lodge. By this time is was dark and climbing from the parking area to the lodge was a bit of a challenge but we soon settled into our rooms. Dinner quickly followed and it wasn't long before we were in bed anticipating another early start tomorrow.

Crimson-mantled Woodpecker

Part of our first full day at Owlet Lodge was spent quite close to the lodge itself.  Just outside the main building, we found Golden-olive Woodpecker, Variable Antshrike and Yellow-breasted Brushfinch, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Bluish Flowerpecker and Spectacled Whitestart.  When we explored nearby forest trails Peruvian Tyrannulet, Sierra Elaenia and Glossy-black Thrush were among the first to show but were soon eclipsed by the more colourful Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Grass-green, Flame-faced, Yellow-scarfed and Blue-and-black Tanagers and Lacrimose Mountain Tanager.

We also spent quite a while by the hummingbird feeders that are one of the main attractions here. On Thursday we had struggled to identify the three hummingbird species seen at Lomas de Asia, now we had eight species appearing almost simultaneously and before the end of the day we would see thirteen! It took a while to get to grips with them. Most numerous at this first session were the Chestnut-breasted Coronets; cutest were the White-bellied Woodstars, the latter hovering at the feeders without ever landing.

 Collared Inca

 White-bellied Woodstar

 Chestnut-breasted Coronet

 Sword-billed Hummingbird

Sparkling Violetear

Also on our agenda was to go and watch the feeding of the antpittas, another of the attractions at Owlet Lodge. Feeding individuals of this hard to see family of birds so that they are more easily seen seems to have started in Ecuador but now happens at quite a number of sites in South America. Here the species involved were Rusty-tinged & Chestnut Antpittas, both of them endemic to Peru. Despite the fear of some that worm-feeder tourism may have a negative impact on many species of threatened antpittas, it has also been suggested that it is not far from being natural behaviour. Commensal foraging relationships involving birds as “follower” species are common and wide-spread geographically and taxonomically (e.g. Cattle Egret and Yellow Wagtail) and perhaps surprisingly there are well documented cases of antpittas actually following humans through the rainforest in order to feed on prey items that are disturbed.

 Chestnut Antpitta

Rusty-tinged Antpitta

Our re-start after lunch was delayed by rain but by 3:00 pm it had stopped and we boarded the minibus to travel just a short distance and then do some birding along the main road. Notable here were Barred Becard, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Common Chlorospingus and Oleaginous Hemispingus (notable at least for its name if not for its appearance). On the way back to the lodge we saw two White-capped Dippers, a Hooded Mountain Tanager and, fittingly, close to the highway, a Roadside Hawk.

The whole day had been cloudy and dull with light rain (heavier around lunchtime) and most of us had had enough when we got back to the lodge at about 5:00 pm.  The weather conditions were such that the scheduled long trek to try and see the Long-whiskered Owlet (after which the lodge was named) was out of the question.

Breakfast next morning was at 6:00 am. There was a cloudy start to the day but at least there was only very light drizzle as we set off to walk a trail that would take us eventually down to and along the main road. We were out for about an hour and a half during which time the highlights were Azara’s & Rufous Spinetails, Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher, about half a dozen Sharpe’s Wrens, Russet-crowned Warbler, Inca Flycatcher, Geoffroy’s Wedgetail and a very brief glimpse of the sun.

Having failed to find any worthwhile flocks of tanagers or other birds close to the lodge, we set off in the bus to try our luck along the main road.  It took a while but eventually we found ourselves with a nice mixed flock, so many birds in fact that it was hard to see all of them. They included Ashy-browed Spinetail, Equatorial Greytail, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Grey-mantled Wren, Yellow-throated Chlorospingus and Green-backed Becard. They were quickly followed by White-winged Tanager, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Ornate Flycatcher, Orange-bellied & Bronze-green Euphonias and more. This was more like it!

A five-minute drive further along the road and again we found ourselves trying to cope with a bird flock. This time it was mostly tanagers: Golden, Golden-eared, Green-and-gold, Paradise, Blue-grey and Palm were quickly followed by Magpie Tanagers. Not far away an Andean Cock-of-the-rock could be heard but, unfortunately, remained unseen.

It was now a 45-minute drive back to Owlet Lodge; at last the sun was shining and most importantly, we had seen a good variety of birds; things were looking up! However, lunchtime brought news that would mean we had to change our plans for the next couple of days (and nights) and difficult decisions would have to be made.

Carlos had been warned that there was going to be a protest made by local rice growers about cheap imports of rice from neighbouring Brazil. These protests were going to involve blocking the main road between Owlet Lodge and Moyobamba, the road on which we were due to travel on in two days’ time, a road to which there was no real alternative. Road blocks would be in place from midnight, we were told. The rice farmers really were having a paddy! But it was no joking matter. Previous similar protests had seen roads blocked for days on end and we were threatened with the possibility of having to stay longer at Owlet Lodge and, in the worst case scenario, there could be the chance we might miss our flight back to Lima at the end of the week. There seemed to be three possibilities: we could take that chance and stick with our planned itinerary, we could take to the road but in the opposite direction, go to Chiclayo and fly to Lima from there or we could pack our bags now, cut short our stay at Owlet Lodge and make sure we reached Moyobamba tonight while the road was still open.

It didn’t take long to decide on the third option, but that meant having to sacrifice not only a night at Owlet Lodge but also our one planned night at Hotel Puerto Pumas. The main purpose of going to Puerto Pumas was to try and see the Marvelous Spatuletail, a hummingbird that has an extraordinarily long tail and is unique among birds in having just four feathers in its tail. It was little more than an hour away. We decided to go now!

Marvelous Spatuletail

The feeders at Puerto Pumas did not disappoint! Not only did we see a Marvelous Spatuletail but also Andean Emerald, Violet-fronted Brilliant and White-bellied Hummingbird that we hadn’t seen before. As we sat watching the hummingbirds, three Andean Guans were also seen coming to another feeder about 100 metres away.

 Andean Guan

Andean Emerald

The Marvelous Spatuletail came to the feeders just twice while we were there. On the first occasion it fed and then perched very conveniently for photographs. The second visit was much shorter and coincided with a lot of activity at the feeders – maybe it was intimidated by the many larger birds and not willing to compete. It was an individual with a fairly long tail but a tail that was still not fully grown. As soon as it was gone the second time, we also left.

We were back at Owlet Lodge for 6:00 pm, had dinner at 6:30 pm and left again at 7:00 pm. We were off to Moyobamba for the night where a stopgap booking had been made at the Gran Hotel Dorado. Our sole aim was to avoid the road blocks.  It was definitely the right decision to leave but, unfortunately, it did put an end to any chance we might have had of seeing the mysterious Long-whiskered Owlet.

More to follow…

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Avian Adventures in Peru - 1

Peter writes...
Last November I was fortunate enough to visit Peru at the invitation of PROMPERU, the country’s tourism authority.  The plan was that I might at some later date, as a result of that trip, take a group of birdwatchers to Peru for Avian Adventures.  Well, last month that plan came together and I led an Avian Adventures tour to the north of Peru and to the Andes and Machu Picchu.

The tour began with an early morning KLM flight from Birmingham to Amsterdam followed by a 12-hour flight to Lima.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds with comfortable seats, plenty of legroom and in-flight food and entertainment both of a good standard.  I managed to watch three movies!

We arrived at Jorge Chávez International Airport more or less on time at around 6:00 pm, passed quickly through immigration formalities and picked up our bags without fuss.  Unfortunately, traffic in Lima was dreadful and it then took about an hour to get to our hotel in Miraflores, which is described as “an exclusive residential and upscale shopping district south of downtown Lima”.  However, it had been a long day and by the time we had checked in there was no appetite for anything other than sleep!

To enable us to acclimatise and recover from the long flight we spent our first day in Peru birding in areas close to Lima.  Our local guide was Gunnar Engblom, owner of Kolibri Expeditions.  I had been birding with Gunnar on the last day of the November trip and had met him again recently at the Birdfair at Rutland Water.

We began by driving to a wetland area, Humedales Puerto Viejo.  This provided some easy birding to get us started – ducks, herons, cormorants, shorebirds and just a few passerines.  Highlights were the colourful Peruvian Meadowlark and Many-colored Rush Tyrant, a dozen or so Grassland Yellow Finches and numerous Black-necked Stilts and Wilson’s Phalaropes.

Many-colored Rush Tyrant

 Black-necked Stilts

Later we went to Lomas de Asia, a relatively new birding site that seems set to become a popular destination for visitors to Lima.  Lomas is the name given to fog-watered vegetation in the coastal desert, a region that experiences little or no rainfall and is otherwise devoid of plant life.  Lomas de Asia is essentially a fog oasis.  We spent a couple of hours here during which we saw Burrowing Owls, a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Vermilion Flycatchers and a number of species that weren’t seen again during the tour.  Several of these were attracted to a small reservoir and to various puddles around the parking area.  They included Band-tailed Sierra Finch, Raimondi’s Yellow Finch, Collared Warbling Finch and Chestnut-throated Seedeater.  Particularly notable were the Thick-billed Miners, a species that is endemic to Peru.  Several of them were very confiding and they were probably used to finding food around the picnic site where Gunnar and his driver, Renzo, prepared our second breakfast of the day!  While we waited for food we occupied ourselves trying to identify the various hummingbirds that came by.  Gunnar named them as Amazilia Hummingbird, Peruvian Sheartail and, appropriately, Oasis Hummingbird.  These were just the first three of more than 50 hummingbird species that we would see in the next two weeks.

 Band-tailed Sierra Finch

 Burrowing Owls

 Thick-billed Miner

 Vermilion Flycatcher

 Grassland Yellow Finch

Collared Warbling Finch

From Lomas de Asia we drove back north to Pucusana, a small fishing town where we saw hundreds of small boats anchored in the shelter of the harbour.  They were a colourful sight but thankfully, Gunnar recognised them as a sign that we probably shouldn’t go ahead with the boat trip he had planned – conditions out at sea were a bit rough!  In reality this was no big deal although it did mean that we would have to be content with seeing Humboldt Penguins from a distance, which after only a short while we did.  From the cliff top we also watched Inca Terns, Red-legged Cormorants, Peruvian Pelicans and Peruvian Boobies.  Along the sandy shore were Ruddy Turnstones, Belcher’s & Grey-headed Gulls and Blackish Oystercatcher.  Inca Terns were also hanging around the fish market, even perched on the market stalls in the manner of gulls rather than terns.  They really are unusual birds with their dashing curly white moustaches.  They are placed in the monotypic genus Larosterna, a name that seems to imply a combination of gull and tern.

 Belcher's Gull

 Blackish Oystercatcher

 Inca Tern

Peruvian Pelican

All in all it was an excellent start to our tour; during the day we visited several other sites and recorded about 70 bird species.

More to follow…