Sunday, 26 August 2012

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.

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