Tuesday, 21 August 2012

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

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the interesting account, hope to get there someday too.