Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Oxapampa, Peru – a lovely climate at 1870m

From the Villa Rica road we reached a height of around 2,200m and then birded the forests on the slopes down to Oxapampa, where we had great views of Masked Fruiteater.  We also stayed late to try and see Cloud-Forest Screech Owl, which we did not hear or see, but did get great views of Rufous Banded Owl, a new bird for us all.

We heard a loud call around us which sounded like a weird duck but thought might be a frog.  When I whispered to Chris asking what the call was, his response was “all you need to know is that it’s not a bird”.  On further quizzing he revealed that the call was cane rats.  There was a lot of cloud cover and so the night was pitch black, which did not help me cope with my rat phobia.  I managed to persuade Birdgirl to hold my hand, which was somehow reassuring.  Not sure what Birdgirl was going to do if a cane rat ran across the road and accidentally bumped into us.   I want to be a “hard” birder, but do find it difficult with my wussiness!

Masked Fruiteater - Photograph taken by  and copyright Alex Durand

Oxapampa has a large German population who moved to the area at the beginning of last century.  There are lots of German influenced houses as well as having an impact on food and culture. We were staying in a very lovely guesthouse run by a lady of German descent, with lots of homemade German breads and jams.

The next morning, we were back up to the forests above Oxapampa.  New birds included the endemic Rufous-Vented Tapaculo and Trilling Tapaculo which was a catch up for Birdgirl and I, which we missed twice in Bolivia (and which I had got very annoyed about). 

We had seen our realistic target birds so headed back to town for lunch in a German Café (with lots of German Peruvians in it) and then back to the guesthouse for the afternoon off.  It was a good opportunity for Birdgirl to have a shower, which went down as well as ever.  It gave us time to catch up with e-mails and friends and for Birdgirl to do some home education – maths today.

It's a hard life having to do maths - even with some Minstrels to hand

Late afternoon, we headed back up the mountainside and tried for Cloud-Forest Screech Owl again, which we heard calling for several hours but which would not come in.  It had come quite close initially, but was moved off by our driver parking up near us with his hazards on and music audible.  By the time Alex had explained to him that owls have eyes and ears, it had moved off into a valley.  We left the bird still calling at 9pm, with a very tired Birdgirl.

The cane rats were calling loudly tonight, maybe because it was a clearer night.  Chris explained to me that they were sitting in trees calling in the same way that birds do.  I was glad not to be camping tonight as originally planned.

Standing on the edge of a narrow mountain road in the pitch dark with mad drivers going around bends is probably not the safest pastime, but Chris did blind a few with his torch just to get them back. 

The next morning, breakfast had been arranged for a late 6am with a 6.30am start.  As Birdgirl was tired, we left her in bed until 6.25am, so that she could just crash in the car for the hour long journey up to the forest above Oxapampa.

We spent the morning searching through flocks and managed to see Fawn-Breasted and Silver-Backed Tanager.  We also tried calling the localised subspecies of Chestnut Antpitta and Cloud-Forest Screech Owl to no avail.  The original plan was to bird along the Antenna Road for these two species, but this was not possible without a 4x4. I’m not sure it would have made much difference to our chances anyway.

We saw what I thought was a dead cane rat in the road and pointed it out.  It was the size of a medium rat at home and was sizable enough for me.  Alex however told us that this was in fact a mouse and that the cane rats were about a foot long just in body length.  I was very glad not to have seen one, with memories of the dead 2 foot long grasscutter rat that we saw in Ghana coming back to me.

Back in Oxapampa, we stopped and asked a local for directions to the best Chinese in town and were directed to one on a back road with an authentic Chinese chef.  The food here was great and made a change from the Peruvian versions we had mostly been having in our rural travels. It has great   The afternoon was spent travelling south to La Merced (down at a warm 750m), with some birding enroute, giving us a couple more new birds. 
Here we said goodbye to our driver for the last 4 days, Elisayo, who was heading back to Satipo.  Henri was arriving later that night, to drive us in a different vehicle for the rest of the Central Andes tour.

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