The Start of Birding Peru with a Driver – June 2-7, 2015 – Santa Eulalia Valley, Lake Junin & Satipo Road

While planning our six month long worldwide adventure, Ross and I made the decision to hire a driver for the majority of our Peru trip. Although it was expensive, we coordinated with Kolibri Expeditions (a birding tour company based in Lima) to have a vehicle and thus be able to maximize our birding time. Travelling exclusively by public transportation, while very doable, can involve long hours of waiting for buses, collectivos, and/or taxis to get to the desired locations; time we did not have as we wanted to cover the majority of the country in only 35 days. So for a hefty fee, we hired a driver and a vehicle. (Another option may have been to simply rent a car, but we decided driving in Peru wasn’t something we wanted to tackle on this trip, thus the need for a driver.)

After spending the previous week in remote Muyuna Lodge and the Allahuayo Mishana Reserve, we arrived in Lima airport and had wifi for the first time. We opted to save a few dollars and spend the night at the airport before meeting our driver in the early morning. Unfortunately for me, Ross didn’t have the aforementioned food poisoning but instead had something very contagious and had passed the virus on to me. I spent hours curled up in the airport throwing up into a plastic bag. Not a fun place to be so sick and definitely an experience I never want to relive!

We met our driver, Manuel, at 5AM and I opted to spend the day recuperating in a hotel instead of going birding, so that’s where I was dropped off. Ross on the other hand spent the entire morning birding Lomas De Lachay. I wasn’t there but he said he was able to track down a few target birds (i.e. Cactus Canestaro, Coastal Miner, Thick-billed Miner, Least Seedsnipe and Tawney-throated Dotterel.)

Least Seedsnipe

Least Seedsnipe

By late afternoon I was feeling better and met back up with Ross. We went to a spot known for Peruvian Thick-knee and had a group of 26 rather easily. We finished the day scanning the shore to tick some Peru shore birds.

The Peruvian Thick Knee is a strange looking bird if you ask me!

The Peruvian Thick Knee is a strange looking bird if you ask me!

The game plan for the next day was to start at the beginning of the Santa Eulalia Valley, spending the entire day along a dirt road eventually ending at Marcapomacocha Bog at over 16,000ft elevation. We began the day with a Peruvian Pygmy Owl and soon moved on to see Great Inca Finch and Black-necked Woodpecker. After spending an hour or so along a scrubby section of switchbacks we drove to a small patch of Polylepis forest about halfway to our destination. We climbed up the hillside and spent the next two hours walking around the Polylepis trees and picking up a few new birds such as Striated Earthcreeper, White-cheeked Cotinga, Baron’s Spinetail and Black-breasted Hillstar. 

Black-necked Woodpecker

Black-necked Woodpecker

After a roadside lunch we headed to our final destination in search of White-bellied Cinclodes, a critically endangered bird whose population sits at around 200 individuals. As we neared our destination we had a small group of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe along the road. Once we made it to Marcapomacocha we headed off into the nearby Bofedel Bog in search of the cinclodes. Normally the cinclodes can be very hard to find given the low numbers, but within 10 minutes of arriving we had a single White-bellied Cinclodes resting in our scope field. We attempted to get a bit closer but the bird disappeared and since we didn’t want to flush it we left content with our sighting. Even though it was only early afternoon we only had one target bird left for the day, Junin Canestaro. As we made our way to the site of this Peruvian endemic, it began to snow. Ross, determined not to miss a single endemic, set out despite the weather conditions and walked several miles but turned up not a single Junin Canestaro.

Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe sitting right in the open!

Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe sitting right in the open!

We went back into town, snagged a cheap hostel, and enjoyed a good night’s rest before going birding again the next day. The following day (June 3) we headed to Junin Lake, the home of the  Junin Grebe. This critically endangered flightless bird is endemic to this one Andean lake where it has undergone significant population declines, and only an extremely small number of adults remain (per Birdlife.org). Five years ago, when he was last in Peru, Ross attempted to see this grebe by simply finding a local with a boat but was surprised that not a single person in the town owned a boat. This time, not wanting to miss the bird again, he coordinated in advance and arranged a boat with a local guide.

Me standing with our 'hired vehicle' - spacious enough for us to use as a portable hotel!

Me standing with our ‘hired vehicle’ – spacious enough for us to use as a portable hotel!

Although it was ridiculously expensive and overpriced, we headed out on the boat in search of the Junin Grebe. After an hour and seeing only a few Silvery Grebes, we were worried that we might miss this bird. Thankfully not long after we came across three Junin Grebes doing a courtship dance!

The Junin Grebe with a population of roughly 200 adults remaining.

The Junin Grebe with a population of roughly 200 adults remaining.

Ross was able to get some audio recordings of the Grebes as well.

Ross was able to get some audio recordings of the Grebes as well.

The boat was SO SLOW that it took us about an hour to 2 miles. Thankfully the sights were gorgeous.

The boat was SO SLOW that it took us about an hour to 2 miles. Thankfully the sights were gorgeous.

After returning back to shore, we stopped near the lake edge where reeds were bountiful in search of the Junin Rail, currently a subspecies of Black Rail that some consider to be a separate species. According to our book, this bird is extremely difficult to find and very rare to see. Surprisingly, we had great luck with this bird as we saw at least two different Junin Rails and heard at least 4 other individuals calling.

Junin Rail

Junin Rail

Next we made a few small pit stops in search of the Junin Canastero that we had missed earlier due to bad weather, and after stopping and climbing up mountains into thick shrub grass that appeared to be good habitat, had great success as a Junin Canastero came flying in. That afternoon we concluded our time with our driver Manual and met our new driver, Julio, who would be with us for the remaining 33 days in Peru. We then headed off to Satipo Road, a recently popular birding location due to the discovery of a few new species within the area.

Junin Canestero

Junin Canastero

Although we had a driver, we still convinced him to camp with us along the road so that we could be there for first light, not to mention our goal for this time with a driver was to save as much money as possible and not get a hotel every night. The road is hardly travelled by any vehicles which makes it excellent to walk, not to mention the stunning views along the way of the tree-covered mountains. We spent the day walking the road which was very productive all day long thanks to some cloud cover keeping the birds active. Highlights from our first morning on Satipo Road included Eye-ringed Thistle-tail, Fire-throated Metaltail, Peruvian Wren, Barred Fruiteater, and “Milpo” Tapaculo, still undescribed to science even though the bird was discovered over 25 years ago.

This "Milpo" Tapaculo was extremely cooperative and sat out in the open calling his head off.

This “Milpo” Tapaculo was extremely cooperative and sat out in the open calling his head off.

Rufous Antpitta

Rufous Antpitta

That afternoon we went into the Adamaca Valley to look for four highly range-restricted species, found only in this particular gorge. Our first stop was along a brushy hillside where the undescribed Mantero Wren and Black-spectacled Brushfinch are known to occur. We started walking down the road in search of these species while Ross explained to me how Black-spectacled Brushfinch is notorious for being hard to come by and very secretive. He told me to keep an eye out for a gray finch with an orange-colored head and let him know if I see it. Not more than two minutes later I saw a gray finch with an orange-colored head sitting out in the open. We had great looks at two Black-spectacled Brushfinches (so much for being secretive) as we heard the unmistakable song of Mantero Wrens, our other main target, singing just up the road. Although they were a bit more difficult to get a good look at, eventually we had a small family group of Mantero Wrens coming within inches of us!

Mantero Wren

Mantero Wren singing at the top of his lungs!

Although we had great looks, we didn't have a camera ready in time and this is the best we could do for a photo of the Black-spectacled Brush-finch

Although we had great looks, we didn’t have a camera ready in time so this is the best we could do for a photo of the Black-spectacled Brushfinch

With only about two hours of daylight left, we continued further into the valley in hopes of finding yet another undescribed species, the Mantero Thornbird. With our first stop unsuccessful, we headed to a second location with less than an hour of daylight remaining. The pressure was on to find the bird before dark because returning to this location the next morning would involve hours of extra driving.  Luckily, we were successful and soon had a pair of Mantero Thornbirds within our sights. With our three main targets accounted for, we headed to a nearby stand of eucalyptus trees which often has a roosting Koepecke’s Screech Owl. Even though Kopecke’s Screech Owl is endemic, the subspecies found within the valley known as the “Apurimac Screech Owl” is probably its own unique species. We were unsuccessful in finding the roosting owl and decided to wait around for dark to see if we could hear it calling. Soon after the sun went down, we began to hear the distinct sound of an Apurimac Screech Owl calling a few hundred yards away. We came very close several times on finding the bird, having it in the tree right next to us multiple times, but the only look we ever got was of it flying away. We headed out of the valley and after a few hours of driving arrived at Apaya our base camp for the night.

Mantero Thornbird, a Peruvian endemic

Mantero Thornbird, a Peruvian endemic

The next morning Ross woke up early and saw a Swallow-tailed Nightjar sitting along the roadside. The rest of the morning was spent birding along another section of Satipo Road where we saw a few new species including Golden-headed Quetzal, Barred Forest-Falcon, Inca Flycatcher, and Flame-faced Tanager. By midday the birding had slowed substantially and we decided to start on the 4 hour drive to Villa Rica, a town in the Oxypampa area that is known for its shade-grown coffee plantations and excellent birding.

More to come soon! Hasta Luego!

Banded Fruiteater that we had on Satipo Road

Barred Fruiteater that we had on Satipo Road

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