Friday, 31 August 2012

A Pelagic sea trip from Lima, Peru

At Tarapoto airport there was a group of foreign travellers in the queue ahead of us.  I wondered what they had been doing in the area, but decided from their walking boots and well dressed manner that they must have been visiting the Amazon or hiking.

Then as we were waiting to get off the plane, one of their group walked past with a Birds of Peru field guide.   I suddenly remembered that Gunnar had told us that there was a French speaking Belgium group on the Pelagic with us the next day and were on the same flight from Tarapoto.  That must be the group. In the baggage area I approached the man with the field guide and said “Bonjour, are you Belgium?”  My french accent must have been terrible; as he responded in Spanish saying he didn’t speak Spanish.  At this point we had a confused conversation until he realised that I was English and managed to understand that we were on the same pelagic together.  I then had to explain how I knew he was on the pelagic and that we had been on a tour with Gunnar.

We were then introduced to the rest of their group of six, of whom two were French, one from Luxemburg (the man I had first been talking to) and three from Belgium.  At this stage our bags arrived and we said goodbye until the next morning.  There was a car waiting for us at the airport that took us to our hotel, where we arrived at 12.30 am.  We were being picked up at 5.15am and so were going to be exhausted tomorrow, poor Birdgirl.

When we were picked up the next morning by Gunnar driving the “Hippy Van”, the other group were already onboard.  As we sat down in the back, I caught an awful smell.  “What is that smell?”.  Chris responded, “Where are you going and what do you think it is?  OMG, chum!  It is basically fish bits and leftovers, left for a day or two and mixed with fish oil to entice sea birds from miles away to come to the boat area, where we can see them.  We had another half an hour in the vehicle with the vomit inducing smell.  I felt sick and we hadn’t even got on the boat yet.  I think next time, I’ll get a taxi.

I get very, very seasick even in calm water and now have a prescription only anti-sickness drug on prescription from my GP to take for boat trips.  I have used it before for a couple of Isles of Scilly pelagic and so know they work, but they do cause drowsiness.

The sea has been very stormy recently with a pelagic three days earlier being cancelled.  We had only had confirmation the day before that our pelagic was still going out as it had looked as though it would have to be cancelled as well, due to high wave height and wind.  The proviso from the captain was that we could not go out very far, as he did not want to take any risks.  This meant that we had little chance of seeing any albatrosses, which was disappointing.  However, at least we were still going out at all.  Also this kind of weather is not optimal for pelagic, as the waves and the wind break up the slick caused by the chum and so attracts fewer birds.

As we left the harbour, our small boat started hitting the waves, making my stomach jump with each bump.  I held on and tried to move with the boat.  It was too rough to go out far yet, so we went around some nearby islands getting good views of Humboldt Penguins, surfbirds and the endemic Surf Cinclodes.

As we went out further, it was hard to stand as we were thrown around as the boat hit the waves.  I spent the first three hours feeling very drowsy from my tablet (and probably also lack of sleep), which was good for sea sickness but not so good for birding.  I somehow managed to be woken up to see each of the special birds.  Birdgirl was very excited for the first few hours of the trip before being flat out for the remainder, waking only briefly for any new birds.

Véronique was unfortunately unwell for most of the trip, unable to do or see anything.  I really felt for her, as when you suffer from bad sickness, all you want to do is get off the boat or die.

Despite the windy conditions, we had an excellent pelagic, the other highlights being Cape and White-Chinned Petrel, Peruvian Diving-Petrel, Elliot’s and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Chilean and South Polar Skuars, Swallow-Tailed, Gray and Belcher’s Gull and Peruvian Tern.

It was great to have David, from Sheffield, on board as he had been on a few pelagic before and was quick at calling things.  David is married to a Peruvian lady and so comes to Peru every summer with his family, hence making the regular pelagic possible.
With us on the pelagic were Gunnar Engblom (Kolibiri Expeditions running the trip), Guy Mirgain, Benoit Maire, Alain Nathurin, Jacques Franchimont, Hughes, Dufourney, Véronique Buchet and David Wood.


Photo taken by and copyright Benoit Maire


Photo taken by and copyright Benoit Maire
 We were on our way back when the Captain suddenly slowed down and told us that he had seen a large animal in the water.  We all jumped up and looked, waiting to see something.  Then we were rewarded with a whale breaching the surface not far away.  It looked like a hump back whale.  Birdgirl managed to lift her head up and see the whale as it was on its way down.   We then had two more views of the whale pretty close and Gunnar suggested that there was a chance that it might be Pygmy Blue.  It was a great finish to an enjoyable pelagic but being a person who is never happy, I can't but help think about the albatrosses that we didn't see...

On the way back to our hotels, we stopped for closer views of Surf Cinclodes along the coast and then a few of us went to look for two parrot species in local parks.  We were successful with Red-Masked Parrot but not with the Canary-Winged Parakeet, which will have to wait for our next Peru trip.  We said our goodbyes to Gunnar, who had organised our long trip for us and guided us for a section. 

After a quick Pizza, it was time for an early night (for  Birdgirl at least).

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Abra Patricia and the last of North Peru

Andy Marshall’s crew left the next morning after breakfast for Moyobamba and we spent the whole morning walking the trails with Roberto.  We got some not great views of Barred Antthrush after some perseverance but no White-Faced Nunbird, our other target bird.  We wanted to see the endemic Ochre-Fronted Antpitta but Roberto said that it was really difficult this time of year as they did not call much.  When the birding is this targeted, it is really tough and you need a lot of time and patience to see each bird.  Maybe a future north Peru cleanup tour!

Forest birding can be pretty difficult stuff

After lunch we drove back down the road towards Afluentes where we saw Vermillion Tanager but no endemic Ash-Throated Ant-Wren.  At one point a passing vehicle stopped and Roberto spoke to the people inside.  There was a foreign couple in the back and we wondered if they were birders.

When we returned to the lodge, the couple were staying with us.  They were an American couple from Washington DC, Chris and Barbara Leupold with their very friendly guide Eduardo Ormaeche.  They were here to photograph birds and Chris explained that he only had a birds photographed list.  That is a tough one.

We had run out of time to try for everything and most of the birds that were possible in the area were pretty difficult.  So we went for the ones that were most likely.  In the morning we started at the Royal Sunangel Trail where we saw a male very well, confirm to Chris and Birdgirl that the male birds they had seen were the Sunangel.  I was glad to see a male, as the one I had seen was female.  At the same time, we saw two Bar-Winged Wood-Wrens really well popping up without playback.  It is amazing what difference it can make for some birds trying in the morning.  We then went to the trail for Cinnamon-Breasted Tody-Tyrant.  This was hugely disappointing.  Loggers had cut a huge path about 10 meters wide through the bamboo forest leaving a muddy quagmire.  Roberto said that the birds used to come in to playback and cross the narrow trail without too much difficulty but since the damage they had become very difficult.  It is sad to see.

We then drove down the mountainside, birding along the road towards Afluentes (again).  We stopped near some buildings which was a good site for Golden-Collared Honeycreeper in the mornings and, sure enough, several were feeding on the red flowers.  This was another tick back for Birdgirl and myself as it was a bird Chris saw on the Manu Road, but which we missed.  Again we tried unsuccessfully for Ash-Throated Ant-Wren.

After returning to the lodge and a quick lunch we were on our way back towards Moyobamba to Waycuecha feeders and the close by Mishquiyacu Valley.  The aim was to try for Scarlet-Breasted Fruiteater and Ash-Throated Ant-Wren.  Half way there our vehicle stopped and we realised that Andy and his group’s vehicle was stationary on the other side of the road on their way back from Moyobamba back to the lodge.  We jumped out and had a chat with them.  They had seen the Ash-Throated Ant-Wren that morning but it was a very hard two hour walk up to where you can see it.  They all looked exhausted.  We clearly did not have enough time to do this but were pleased to hear that they saw the fruiteater ok.

We arrived at Waycuecha feeders at 3.30pm to find that our local guide Carlos was not there.  Gunnar had arranged for him to be guiding us and he was meant to be waiting for us at 2pm and so we were very late.  We could not work out if he was still coming or not but were taken to the feeders in the meantime.  Here we were greeted by the reserve caretaker who spoke no English at all but fortunately there was also a Dutch birder. Timo Langemeijer, who was married to a Peruvian and spoke good Spanish.  It turned out that Carlos had gone out with another group but had told the caretaker where to take us.

Between us we managed to find the site for the Scarlet-Breasted Fruiteater, near the start of the Mishquiyacu Valley (exactly where Eduardo had said) and see the bird.  

Then it was time for our 3 hour drive to Tarapoto to catch our 10.10 pm flight to Lima.  Here we said good bye to Horacio, who had driven tirelessly but also looked after so well, particularly since Gunnar had left us in his care.

The mythical Long-Whiskered Owlet

It was 4pm when we arrived at the Abra Patrica Lodge (or Long Whiskered Owet Lodge) run by ECOAN.

As we walked to the lodge building, we bumped into Aidan, one of Andy Marshall’s birding group.  He told us that the rest of his group had seen the Long-Whiskered Owlet well 2 nights earlier after trying for 2 hours, but that his torch had stopped working on the way down and so he had to give us and return to the lodge building.  He said that he was walking down to the spot for the first owlet at 900 meters on the owlet trail and that the lodge guide Roberto was meeting him there at 6pm.

I was glad that Andy’s group had seen the owlet, particularly as the Belgium group we met had spent hours looking for the second owlet and then only seeing it very briefly.

This is a tiny owl with (as the name suggests) long whiskers on its face.  It was only discovered in the 1970’s and for a long time very few people had seen it or knew where it could be seen.  Seeing it at this lodge has only been an option in recent years.

After a quick cup of tea, we were ready to go.  We had so many late nights on this Northern Peru trip, I was worried about Birdgirl’s capacity to be good and also how long she could last out owling tonight.  What if we didn’t see it tonight and had to go out again tomorrow night or pre-dawn the following morning?

Roberto, the lodge guide, came to check on us, looked at our feet, and asked if we wanted rubber boots?  When we asked how muddy it was, he said a little and so we decided against it as wellies are always uncomfortable to walk in.  However, when we went to meet Roberto ten minutes later, he asked again.  This time I did not hesitate.  When a local guide asks you if you want rubber boots twice, there is a reason for this.  The owlet trail turned out to be very muddy and steep.  Apparently, it is much worse in the rainy season!

During the hour long walk, we saw Rusty-Crowned Tanager which Birdgirl and I had missed during a loo stop on the Paty Trail, which always help the family “harmony index” as Gunnar described it.

Half way down, Roberto used his I-pod nano and realised that he was virtually out of charge.  We were too far down the trail to turn back and get it charged.  Chris said that he had a recording from Gunnar, which Roberto asked him to play.  He listened to it and then asked if we had any other recording as this was a contact call.  We didn’t have anything else but remembered that we could record on the I-phone.  So Roberto played his recording on loud and Chris recorded it, with the result of a pretty ok sound quality recording.  Disaster averted.

We reached the 900m sign just before 6pm, where there were some benches strategically placed.  Aidan was waiting for us and we were able to have a quiet chat whilst waiting for darkness.  He told me that he had read the blog before he came over and was so amused by my description of Andy that he had sent the link to Mike (another one of the group) with the heading “Andy makes an impression!”.  I said that he must have been on best behaviour for us then.

At 6.30pm it was dark enough to try for the owlet.  Roberto explained that we had to be very quiet and still.  Roberto played his recording and literally after one play, his i-pod went dead.  Chris stepped in with his I-phone.  He played it twice and then stopped.  Everyone pointed in the same direction down the trail, from where we could hear an owlet calling.

Roberto got us all off the benches and standing in a row on the raised bank opposite a broad tree.  It must be one that the bird favours.  We were standing in the dark, with the recording playing, staring at a tree for only a few minutes when heard it call close.  Roberto started searching the branches of the tree with his torch.  Surely he was looking far to low as the bird sounded like it was higher?  Birdgirl and Chris pointed higher just as Roberto located it just above where he was looking, sitting on a branch just in front of us, at head height.  Birdgirl was searching and I could see that she was blocked by a branch, so I grabbed both shoulders and move her 3 inches to the right, from where she could see the bird.  At the same time Aidan had moved to his right to try and get on the bird and had been intensely looking when he suddenly said that he could not see it.  Chris put his more powerful spotlight onto the owlet, after which it was more obvious where it was sitting.  Aidan had been looking higher, as he had thought like us that it was calling from higher.  After a few minutes watching the owlet in amazement and rejoicing in our god fortune, it flew away quietly.

The walk back to the lodge did not seem as far or as hard on the way back, even though more of it was uphill.  Birdgirl was buzzing, skipping ahead of us and singing as she went.  At the lodge it was good to catch up with Andy and the other two in his group, Mike, and David together with their tour guide Ramiro.

Pale-Billed Antpitta at Abra Patricia, Peru

We had stayed the night in Pomacochas and written down for our driver Horacio that we wanted to leave at 5.40am and we meeting Santos our local guide for the day at 5.50am.

At 5.45 am we were in the vehicle, but Horacio was outside on the phone.  What was he doing?  I then heard him say Santos and realised that he was phoning Santos.  I jumped out and said “Casa de Santos” and pointed up the road.  Horacio seemed to understand but then started getting directions from the owner of the hotel to presumably where Santos lived.  Chris tried to explain that we were picking Santos up from near the hummingbird feeders, as he lived close by, but the best we could do was keep saying “kolibiri”.  This at least got Horacio driving and we headed up the mountain.

After about ten minutes and about half way to the feeders, Horacio stopped, jumped out of the vehicle and knocked on a door.  Everyone looked asleep and I again pointed up the hill and said “Casa de Santos”.  The misunderstanding continued with Horacio pointing at the house and saying “Casa de Santos”.  Ok, maybe he knew that Santos lived here?  A girl came out of the house, who clearly wasn’t Santos’ wife (whom we had met with his very cute baby girl) and started pointing down the hill giving directions.  Horacio then hopped back into the vehicle and started driving down the hill again.  He stopped at some houses and asked if they knew Santos and was sent back up the hill.  At this stage he tried calling Santos again and this time got through.  After some extended discussion in Spanish, we dove the ten minutes to the feeders, where Santos was waiting outside.  Santos explained to us in his very basic English that the hotel owner had told Horacio that Santos was meeting us at the hotel at 6.00am and then gave him directions to the wrong place.  All very helpful.

After all this, it was 6.30am when we got to San Lorenzo village, at the bottom of the San Lorenzo trail.  After a quick breakfast we started walking up the steep and stony trail.  The close by Rio Chido trail was the old site for the endemic Pale-Billed Antpitta, our main target for the morning, which was only discovered in the 1970’s.  However, due to extensive logging the habitat was trashed and you had to walk to the top of the mountain to access any bamboo at all.  The San Lorenzo trail was bad enough, with forest cleared for fields all the way up.  We had to walk up for over an hour before there were a few small patches of bamboo.  I can not see how this bird is going to be able to hang on in there with such habitat destruction.

We walked down a steep trail off the track and sat down in a slight clearing.  Santos gestured that the bird might cross the trail from right to left and then started playing a recording.  This was a tough bird to see and had a reputation for being such a difficult bird to see that lots of people world birders did not bother even trying for it.

Within 3-4 minutes of the start of the recording, Santos pointed down to the right to indicate that the antpitta was there.  I couldn’t see anything at first, but then the antpitta walked across the trail, up the bank and opposite up before crossing the trail behind us doing a full circuit.  It was large with a light coloured bill and was amazing to see.  Having got brilliant views, we stopped playing the recording as we did not want to tape it out and started playing Plain-Tailed Wren, which was a different subspecies to the ones we had previously seen.  However the antpitta carried on calling behind us and after a few minutes of calling two Pale-Billed Antpittas came into view, crossing the trail and staying in view for some time before disappearing.  It really was unbelievable.

With no luck with the wren here, we tried a few other places before seeing it really well on the trail.  The last bird here to try and see was Rusty-Tinged Antpitta.  I had read a report saying that it had been really responsive and was expecting the Pale-Billed Antpitta to be difficult and the Rusty-Tinged to be relatively easy. Never assume anything when it comes to birds.  We had tried for the Rusty-Tinged Antpitta in a few small areas of bamboo but had no response.  In the third place we heard one calling, but it did not seem to want to come in.  When we walked further we realised why, the bamboo forest had been decimated and replaced with muddy clearings.  We climbed down the mud bank and into another section of bamboo and tried again.  The bird seemed to come close, but we could not see it.  Although Birdgirl said that she was sure she had seen the antpitta, though not the whole bird.  She said she would check the colour in the book but thought it was.

We then started climbing further down the muddy hillside and Birdgirl said she was not coming as she had seen it.  Chris told her that she had not seen it and a “discussion” ensued about whether she was “ticking” the bird on these views until Birdgirl decided to come with us.  This time we climbed virtually under a tree.  I remember seeing a log under some branches and thinking “wouldn’t it be great if it hopped onto that” but really thinking we had no chance of seeing it at all.  We played the recording and this time within a couple of minutes the antpitta rewarded us with a full view standing on the log for what seemed like a minute. ”That was what I saw” exclaimed Birdgirl, ”but at least I got a much better view”.  On our climb back up the bank, she commented on how it is always quicker walking back once you have seen a bird.

From San Lorenzo we drove back up the mountainside, past the hummingbird feeders at Huembo and Abra Patricia Lodge and stopped at the Royal Sunangel Trail where we had birded with Gunnar.  We didn’t see either Royal Sunangel or Bar-Winged Wood-Wren but Santos said that they were both easy in the morning.  We carried on birding along the road to Afluentes, but were hampered by heavy rain, so did not see anything much.  At 3.30pm we decided to head to up the Abra Patrica Lodge (or Long Whiskered Owlet Lodge) run by ECOAN in time for owling tonight.

Tarapoto, into the Northern Peru Amazon

In the afternoon of 21st August 2012 we drove south east to Tarapoto which is only at 350m and into the Amazon Basin, but the dry part.  It is actually not that far north from Tingo Maria where we visited with Alex in our Central Peru Trip, but the area between the two is not safe with Shining Path still active and Coca growing.

After a quick dinner in the hotel we were able to crash in our air conditioned room.  When it’s hot, I love sleeping in an ice box after a cold shower and letting me body recover.  If there’s a duvet all the better, it can be just like at home, cold in the room but cosy in bed.

It was 11.00 pm by the time Birdgirl got to bed and was far too late for her (again) but at least she got a few hours enforced sleep in the vehicle after her Kindle and laptop were confiscated.

As usual in the morning, I laid out Birdgirl’s clothes and Chris dressed her in her sleep (with the odd tickle if she needed it) including putting on her boots, so that once the vehicle was loaded up she could just get up, put on her cap and go to the vehicle to sleep until the first birding stop.  Today we had over an hour before reaching Juan Gerra on the main road south of Tarapoto, so this helped us all with getting some much needed extra sleep.

We managed to see Comb Duck along the Huallaga River (that we had birded further south near Huanuco, in our Central Peru trip.  The main target had been Ashy-Headed Greenlet, but we didn’t manage to see this.  We did see Sulpher-Rumped Tanager and Bluish-Fronted Jacamar.

We then drove back to bird in the Tarapoto Tunnel area.  There were a group of three Belgium birders doing a trip with Julio, Gunnar’s main driver and were going to be birding in the area as well.  As we arrived, we saw Julio and got an exact location for where they had seen Blackish Pewee, which we saw easily in exactly the same place.  It was a good point to stop and have breakfast, as there is only so long that Birdgirl can keep going on a Frosties Bar.

We had more mangoes, which were perfectly ripe and my last minute diet before we get home, to try and lose some of the weight I have put on during the trip.  We were then joined by the Belgium group, David Van den Schoor, Raf Drijvers and Chris Steeman.  David told me that before they came to Peru he had searched one of the endemics and found the blog.  He told Birdgirl that he was very pleased to meet her.

I told them that they were looking very well dressed and clean for birders at the end of their trip, but they told me that I obviously wasn’t looking closely enough.  We got some further gen from them and then headed off to the place where they taped in Dotted Tanager easily, where we were able to do the same.

We then had to move on and head back to Tarapoto.  I managed to squeeze in a refreshing cold shower when we picked up our bags and sorted out with Gunnar what we needed for the last days of our trip.  Gunnar had to fly back to Lima as he had a scheduled pelagic trip the next day.  The trip was being cancelled due to bad weather, but he was still taking the Belgium group out on a catamaran around some islands and taking them sea watching.  We were going to have some local guides instead, so Gunnar e-mailed us with calls for the birds we needed at each site.

It was 3pm by the time we left Tarapoto and so we decided to try for Buckley’s Forest Falcon, swifts and night birds at Morro de Calzana, near Moyabamba.  Horacio was also given directions to our restaurant for dinner.

We arrived at our site at 5.30pm to the calls of a forest falcon, but sadly not Buckley’s.  The forest was alive with calls, most of which we didn’t recognise but the birds we managed to organise were Spot-Tailed Nightjar, Common Potoo and two Mottled Owls.  The owls were sitting on the path then flew around very close, before coming to perch close by. 

From here we went back to Rioja for dinner at the Chinese Restaurant with the Chinese chef, where we were met by the staff like regulars.

By 8.30pm we had eaten our delicious meal and were all fast asleep on our way to Pomacochas for the night.  The only stop was the police close to Pomacochas, who decided to haul Horacio out the vehicle and give him a good telling off for 20 minutes about his paperwork, which seems normal here.

The hotel in Pomacochas was not fancy but was well fitted, clean and friendly with incredibly comfy beds.  We managed to get Birdgirl out of the vehicle at 11pm and into bed within a couple of minutes without too much disturbance.    Including the sleep in the vehicle, she had a pretty decent night’s sleep.

The song of Birdgirl – written in Peru

Inspired by Gunnar and his musical interludes, Birdgirl decided that she would have a go at song writing.  We had no input on the content and she assures us that no malice is intended and sang it to us as if accompanied by a guitar (think: her favourite band Green Day).

The song of Birdgirl
By Aymesor Giarc

It started at birth,
And her name is Mya.
To see a Harpy Eagle,
Is her greatest desire.
When she saw a Black Browed Albatross,
They called her a liar.
She's gonna set the birding world,
On fire!

She is Birdgirl,
She's seen the whole world.
She's been on TV!
And defied Lee!

Her parents are twitchers,
She is one too.
Though never has she seen,
A Rock-thrush blue.
And just to comfort her say,
Neither have you!
For she is fairly good at,
Kung Fu!

She is Birdgirl,
She's seen the whole world.
She’s been on TV,
And defied Lee!

One day in Colombia,
Her dad was in the shower.
But we called him out,
But the bird was a flower.
He tried to get angry,
But over her he has no power.
So he went back,
To his cold shower!

She is Birdgirl,
She's seen the whole world.
She's been on TV,
And defied Lee!

In Bolivia,
Popcorn she ate.
Till when eating,
For a bird she was late.
Then she discovered it,
Gave her a tummy ache.
The rest I suppose,
was just fate.

She is Birdgirl,
She's seen the whole world.
She's been on TV,
And defied Lee!

Then in Peru,
A nine week trip.
Her parents were kept in line,
With a lot of lip.
Well her dad anyway,
Mum was having a kip.
She only woke up,
When they had some chips.

She is Birdgirl,
She's seen the whole world.
She's been on TV,
And defied Lee!

She now is ten,
And although it's taken time.
Her list is now large,
So it's fine.
Because she's so young,
She thinks it divine.
To have a world list of;

She is Birdgirl,
She's seen the whole world.
She's been on TV,
And defied Lee!

She is Birdgirl,
She's seen the whole world.
She's been on TV,
And defied Lee!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Marvelous Spatuletail really was marvellous!

It was after 4pm by the time we left our hotel in Pedro Ruiz with our bags and headed east at speed towards Pomacochas.

We were visiting hummingbird feeders at the Interpretation Centre with the main target being the endemic Marvelous Spatuletail, a beautiful hummingbird with two long tail feathers each with a round feather on the end (as usual the male only).  Of all the birds in our Peru trip, this was the one we most wanted to see (excluding Harpy Eagle).  The tail uses up a huge amount of the birds energy when it flies and is only used to attract females.  Birdgirl had decided some time ago that she wanted to try and see all the hummingbirds of the world and this was one of the top ones and would be her 150th hummingbird, just under half way there.

We made a stop on the way on the roadside, which was good for Little Woodstar, but with no hummers we decided to move on quite quickly.

We reached the feeders at 4.40pm, with still plenty of light left and so I felt a little more relaxed.  Andy Marshall and his crew had overtaken us and were already at the site: it was amusing to keep bumping into them.  They had been there for 40 minutes and seen the Spatuletail easily and so I felt more confident that we had enough time.

I need not have worried.  We saw four Marvelous Spatuletails, zooming in and out of the feeders.  The first one was partially hidden behind a feeder and all that was visible were the tail feathers.  Birdgirl saw a round blob and called “What’s that small thing to the left of the feeder?  Is it a bird or bee?”.  Then she looked with her binoculars (now her old Avian Lites) and exclaimed “no, that’s it!”.

Birdgirl was really animated around the feeders, excitedly pointing out the different birds which were constantly flying in and out, seeing each other off and watching the general high level of activity after a rain shower that we had just had.

By 5.15 pm we had to be on our way, as we still had a three hour drive to Rioja, our stop for the night.

Rioja is at about 800m, as we were dropping down the Andean Foothills to the lowlands, so it was pretty warm in our hotel room.  Our coats were locked away in the suitcases (again) as we would not need them in the steaming heat for the next few days. We went for another Chinese, but this time the chef was Chinese and so the food authentic but it was 10pm by the time Birdgirl had her enforced shower and got to bed.  I think tomorrow I am going to have to force her to sleep!

The next day we birded close by near Moyobamba at Yacumama (savannah gallery forest) and Morro de Calzada (dry savannah forest where the soil is poor here so the trees are short).  The forest was absolutely beautiful covering the mountainside.  Here we were at 1,000m and could get a mixture of foothill and lowland species.  We heard quite a few Russet-Crowned Crake but as with the one we had earlier in the trip, none refused to come out.  The best we could do was an untickable view of grass movement.    

During the morning we saw Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Mishana Tyrannulet, Cinererous-Breasted Spinetail, Stripe-Necked Tody-Tyrant (also a lifer for Gunnar) and Olive-Chested Flycatcher (a Peru tick for Gunnar – the drinks are definitely on him tonight!).

We then decided to head back west towards Pomacochas to visit a couple of sites we had missed out.  It was better to fit them in now, rather than leave them until the end of the tour.  We birded above Abra Patricia Reserveand managed to see Royal Sunangel, our target hummingbird, before heading south east towards Tarapoto.

The Marañon Valley, Peru

Our Northern Peru trip continued on east towards Jaen, with a stop at Bosque Porculla where we saw the endemic Piura Chat-Tyrant and also Black-Cowled Saltator and Fasciated Wren.  Nearby we also saw the endemic Gray-Winged Inca-Finch.

Just above Jaen we birded in the grounds of a high security seminary, seeing the endemic Spot-Throated Hummingbird and also Scarlet-Fronted Parakeet, Northern Slaty-Antshrike, Marañon Crescentchest, Necklaced Spinetail and 3 Striped Owls roosting in a tree.

In the morning we made a successful stop for Little Inca Finch before continuing our journey.

We stopped for lunch in Chachapoyas, a tourist hub of the north, which happened to have a vegetarian restaurant – bliss to have such choice of soya dished.  We then carried on to Leimabamba.  Here we watched hummingbirds on feeders close to museum, seeing Purple-Throated Sunangel, Rainbow Starfrontlet and Chestnut-Breasted Coronet but unfortunately no endemic Marvelous Spatuletail which had not been seen since June.

Other highlights of the day were Speckle-Chested Piculet, Sclateri subspecies of Speckle-Breasted Wren, Marañon Thrush, Drab Seedeater, Tumbes Pewee, Buff-Bellied Tanager and a separate subspecies of Koepck’s Screech Owl.

Koepck's Screech Owl taken by and copyright Gunnar Engblom, Kolibri Expeditions

The following day we birded our way from Leimabamba to Celenden.

This is the southern dry Marañon Valley, an endemic hotspot.  The valley is dry with cactus and shrub, but then lush in the bottom along a narrow strip ext to the river where it is green and full of mango groves.  We stopped and tried to buy some mangoes from a farmer picking them, who just gave them to us without any payment.

We had a flat tyre on the top of a hill in the midday sun.  Fortunately Horacio was quick changing the tyre and we were on our way.

We then travelled from Celendin to Cajamarca, the biggest city in the area.  However, there were massive road works along the whole route, with road closures for long periods at a time.  Unfortunately, the road was closed with o stopping along sections where we wanted to stop for birding.  We spent the whole afternoon travelling this section of road (that should have taken an hour or two) and by the time we were able to stop at all it was 5.45 pm and quite cold.  The afternoon had been a washout, but there was no point getting too frustrated as there was nothing we could do.  The next day was a Saturday, so perhaps they would only be working half day.  We could only hope.

Highlights of the long travel day were Chestnut-Backed Thornbird, Jeiski’s Chat-Tyrant (a lifer for Gunnar), Buff-Bridled Inca-Finch and 20-25 of the rarely seen Peruvian Martin flying over.

In Cajamarca, we went for our first Chinese in a few weeks, which by this stage was a change.  Gunnar was celebrating his lifer with a beer.

In the morning, we headed to San Marcos to try for the endemic Great Spinetail.  We tried for over an hour with not even a call and contemplated whether they were not calling this time of year or taped out.  We started to head back, stopping on the way at suitable habitat.  At 10.30am we decided to cut our losses and go for the next bird.  Just as we were about to get into the vehicle, Gunnar tried the recording on last time right next to the road.  We got a response and all started searching.  Chris got the bird and we all got good views before it dropped out of sight forever. It was great to catch up with this endemic particularly at the last minute and after we had given up on it.

Next stop was the hotel to pick up our bags and then onto the Sangal Valley for   Comet.  It was a quiet time of day but Chris spotted one, which we all saw very well.  We were suddenly on a roll again, but it was pretty late and we needed to get to the next birding spot on the way to Celenden for the birds we missed the previous day.  We managed to find a place to have the tyre repaired on the way, having not found a suitable replacement in Cajamarca the evening before.

We arrived at our birding site at 5.30pm, just as the road had been opened, so were able to actually stop and make a dash up the valley.  We had little light left and I was convinced that we were going to dip.  Virtually in the same bushes we saw the endemic Plain-Tailed Warbling-Finch as well Tit-Like Dacnis and “Cloud-Forest” Brush-Finch.  We also heard a Rufous Antpitta, which is a different subspecies, “Cajamarca”, in this area and ripe for splitting.  We knew that they were really tough and Gunnar had told us that he had only ever managed to get two groups onto one.  We huddled next to a gap into the bushes trying to see in the dusk light, with the bird calling but not moving.  Suddenly Birdgirl whispered that she had it, perched on a branch.  Just as she gave directions the bird hopped off into the undergrowth, before Chris or I could catch a glimpse.  We carried on trying for another ten minutes, well beyond when we thought it would be visible, with no views.  Birdgirl was very mature in not gloating and consoled us with descriptions of her great views.  

As we walked back to the vehicle we heard shouts from a man across the valley.  When we approached him, he started talking loudly with Gunnar in Spanish.  It turned out that he was the local community leader was annoyed that we had visited the valley without his express permission, even though this has been a well visited site for years.  Gunnar took his number and placated him by telling him that next time he would call him.

The last part of the journey should have taken half an hour.  We had taken the previously closed section of road to Celenden, but found that huge number of lorries were carrying soil away along the muddy single track road.  We came around a bend and had a long line of lorries coming towards us, so Horacio had to reverse back down the road (hitting some large stone on the way).  The lorries started to come towards us and then stopped, to buy some food from a food stand.  Five minutes later the driver started walking around the lorry and after another five minutes we realised that he had a flat tyre.  At this point Horacio realised that he had another flat tyre, probably caused when he hit the stones whilst reversing.  As he changed the tyre in torchlight, we saw a Band-Winged Nightjar, a different subspecies to the one we previously seen in Ecuador.  We then broke out the chocolate chip biscuits whilst we waited for the road to clear.  An hour and a half after stopping, we were finally on our way, navigating the muddy and wet road.

The road improvements were so significant that they could only have been financed by the gold mining company planning to open the biggest gold mine in South America near Celenden.  The proposed open cast mine is predicted to cause huge pollution to water sources in the area and there have been mass protests/rioting in Cajamarca in recent months.  We had travelled in during a period of peace, in between planned strikes.  Before I came to South America, I had no idea about the environmental damage caused by gold mining.  Perhaps buying gold is something that we should all be thinking twice about.

Once into Celenden, Horacio tried to find someone to repair the tyre, as we were planning on leaving at 5.00am the next morning and it would be unwise to travel without a spare.  As it was late on a Saturday night, we were unable to find anyone. 

It was 10.00pm by the time we got to the hotel.  Horacio must have been tired as he managed to reverse park into a motorbike, despite out shouting to stop.  At this point he disappeared to carry on searching out a repairer.  Celenden is a small town and so the hotel was always going to be quite basic.  It was an enormous old hacienda with large internal courtyards inside two squares.  Gunnar asked for a room with a double bed and single bed for us, but he was shown a room with just a double bed by the young man on duty.  Gunnar pointed at us and repeated that there were three of us and we needed space for three people not two.  After some discussion, we were shown to a clean room with three beds but nothing else.  It looked fine but I was not looking forward to using the communal bathrooms.  On closer inspection I realised that each bed had only one bed sheet, so you could cover the mattress but could have no bed sheet between you and the blankets (as would the previously inhabitants more importantly).  So Gunnar asked for additional sheets which were promised after what turned out to be a surprisingly good vegetarian meal.  After dinner, we were told that we could not just have extra sheets but had to change rooms.  We were then shown a room with four new beds made up with two sheets each and new blankets, new furniture and a spotless en-suite bathroom.  Obviously we chose to upgrade but have no idea why he didn’t give us this room in the first place, except that he was not that bright and was used to people always wanting the cheapest room.  So the night turned out to be very comfortably, though a late one.

The next morning we travelled back into the valley and managed to catch up with Peruvian Ground-Dove, Yellow-Tailed Oriole and Yellow-Faced Parakeet.  Just before we saw a vehicle by the side of the road and stopped for Gunnar to chat to his friend.  We then saw a group off birders ahead and recognised one of them.  We jumped out to greet Andy Marshall, who we had birded with in Central Peru what seems a long time ago now.  It was great to see him and catch up.  We bumped into them again a few hours later, just after seeing the endemic Russet-Mantled Softtail and realised that we would have a night overlap with them at the Long-Whiskered Owlet Lodge, which would be lovely.

We stopped again to bird in a valley above Leimabamba but did not see Buff-Throated Treehunter.

Near Chachapoyas we finally found somewhere to repair the flat tyre and also had air pumped into the tyres.  We were on our way when we heard a pop, it was another of the tyres bursting.  Horacio had another tyre change with the newly repaired spare tyre and we cautiously made our way to the town of Pedro Ruiz, hoping for no further flat tyres. 

Here we found a recently renovated hotel which was really comfortable and a decent Chinese to eat.  It was 10pm again by the time poor Birdgirl got to bed, but at least we had a slightly later start tomorrow at 6.00 am.

In the morning, we travelled back towards Jaen trying for Marañon Spinetail, which we dipped again but did see the Marañon subspecies of Black-Capped Sparrow.  We carried on to a site for spotted Rail, but the paddy fields here were too dry for them this time of year.  However we did manage to get good views of Ecuadorian Ground-Dove, another new bird for us.

We then had to travel to Juan to get two tyres fitted and get some more supplies for lunch in the vehicle.   After a successful tyre mission, we just had to pick up our bags and head east.

Birdgirl reading her Kindle on another journey

Monday, 20 August 2012

After 6 weeks of birding in Peru - 64 endemics

We have now had 42 birding days in Peru, almost 7 weeks in total including travel days and a whole day off.

833 birds seen, another 49 heard, giving a total recorded as 882 bird species.

64 endemic species seen out of possible 103, plus another 4 undescribed yet to be recognised endemic species.

277 new birds for Birdgirl, 266 for Chris and 270 for myself, with a total number of birds from our target list of 285.

We still have two more weeks to go, including a pelagic sea boat trip, so am hopeful that we will all see more than 300 new birds each.  That would be fantastic.

Disaster strikes!

Birdgirl had just celebrated her 2,800 bird with a dance with her dad, seen an elegant Crescent–Chest and was walking back to the car when disaster struck.  She tripped and fell over.  She managed to break her fall with her hands and was not hurt or grazed at all, but knocked her binoculars.  She looked down and exclaimed “Oh my gosh!”, her Swarvoski Companions had broken into two.  She was inconsolable.  “I haven’t even had them a year”.  We had bought her binoculars in January before our Ghana trip.  They were 8x32 and at 500g very light and the perfect size.  She loved her binoculars and when we get home we will have to see if Swarvoski do the right thing and replace them.

How could this happen?


Maybe this works?

The postscript to this tale of misfortune is that the lovely customer focussed people at Swarovski immediately agreed to repair or replace Birdgirl’s Swarovski 8 x 32 Companions.  She is over the moon and has commented that she has really missed her Swarovski's.   

Cusco to Northwest Peru

It was only 11.00 am when we arrived back at our hotel in Cusco.  We were all exhausted from our Amazon trip and needed a couple of days of R & R.  Apart from going up to San Blas, the hippyish part of Cusco for lunch, we did nothing all day and went to bed early.

Our second day was also very lazy, except this time we went to the Cross Keys Pub (owned by the birder Barry Walker) for lunch and an afternoon watching the closing ceremony of the London Olympics with ex-pats.  We had been following the Team GB results and enjoyed getting some part of home after this long away.

Birdgirl watching closing ceremony of Olympics

Monday 13th August, our flight to Chiclayo (on the northern coats) was not until 11.40 am and so we managed to have a second late start. We were ready for the last two weeks of our birding trip to Peru.  Arriving in Chiclayo, we were picked up by a driver and taken to our hotel, close to the central Plaza.  We decided on Pizza near the Plaza followed by an early night.

The next day, we were picked up Gunnar in the Hyundai H1 and driver, Horacio.  First stop was Bosque de Pomac, where we also had breakfast.  This was dry forest.  Here we saw the endemic Tumbes Tyrant, Rufous Flycatcher, Peruvian Plantcutter and Cenereous Finch without too much trouble.  What a start.

Birdgirl in her new Kolibri Expeditions cap
Birdgirl at the 1,000 year old tree

Chris and Birdgirl at Bosque de Pomac


Rufous Flycatcher taken by and copyright Gunnar Engblom

Last was a site for the endemic and rare White-Winged Guan, at San Isidro.  We drove along the Querpon river bed, which was dry and pebbly but realised we missed a turning and that was why it had become impassable, with the vehicle getting stuck in the stones.  A little more manoeuvring and we were back on the right path.  We did not see the Guan here, probably because there had been a lot of illegal logging, but highlights of other birds seen were Harris’ Hawk, Peruvian Thick-knee, Tumbes Hummingbird, Tumbes Sparrow, Sulphur-Throated Finch, Chestnut-Throated and Parrot-Billed Seedeater and Lesser and Scrub Nightjar.

We stayed the night in Olmas in quite a nice hotel for such a small town.  An egg and chips later we were off to bed all feeling pretty tired.

In the morning we had a sucessful stop for Peruvian Screech Owl and then went onto Quebrada El Limon, the main Guan site where we did see a number of White-Winged Guan really well. We also saw Ochre-Bellied Dove, Elegant Cresentchest, White-Tailed Jay, Collared Warbling-Finch and Gray-and-Gold Warbler.

Birdgirl also managed to grip us off with a Sharp-Shinned Hawk for her Peru list.