Finding a Cloud Forest Screech Owl – June 8-10, 2015 – Villa Rica & Ulcumano Ecolodge

Villa Rica, an area dominated by shade-grown coffee plantations, makes for surprisingly good birding. Located in the central part of the Peruvian Selva, Villa Rica is a quaint area with comfortable weather and is home to many bird species, many which we had never seen before and were excited to find!

After leaving Satipo road, we headed to the Villa Rica area where we planned to spend the next two days. We arrived in Villa Rica about 30 minutes before dark on June 7th and headed directly to the nearby lake. As the sun was setting we saw a few new birds for the year including Limpkin and Blackish Rail. We also heard a Band-bellied Owl calling in the distance, but we were unable to lure it in any closer.

The next morning (June 8th) we hoped to get out before dawn and search for the Band-bellied Owl that we had heard the evening before and then spend the remainder of the morning in a nearby coffee plantation. Unfortunately, after departing our hostel at 5:00 AM, our initial plan came to a screeching halt as a group of plantation workers-turned-rioters had the road to our intended destination blocked.

iPhone photo of the rioters who refused to let us pass despite our pleading for them to do so.

iPhone photo of the rioters who refused to let us pass despite our pleading for them to do so.

Luckily there was another plantation nearby and after searching for the correct trail for about 30 minutes, we eventually found ourselves along a nice, yet muddy track that wound through a picturesque coffee plantation. The birding in the planation was fantastic and we saw tons of interesting species including Barred Antshrike, White-winged Becard, Oliveacous Greenlet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Plain-crowned Spinetail, and a pair of Rufous-capped Nunlets. Perhaps redirection from the riot worked out in our favor!

Me standing in the coffee plantation

Me standing in the coffee plantation

Nunlet

Rufous-capped Nunlet

After spending about five hours in the coffee plantation, we took a break for lunch and then headed in the direction of the nearby “Bosque Shollet.” En route we made a stop for the endemic Creamy-bellied Antwren and also saw a few Chestnut-backed Antshrikes. Once we made it to the top of the mountain within Bosque Shollet, I took a break while Ross took a walk on a nearby trail.  He saw a few new species including Grass-Green Tanager, Yellow-scarfed Tanager, and Black-throated Tody-Flycatcher. We then spent the rest of the afternoon walking the nearby road looking for antpittas. After hearing a few Bay Antpittas, we were finally able to get good looks at one as it popped up on a branch right in front of us! After dark we searched for owls, but hearing a few Rufous-banded Owls was the only highlight.

Cinnamon Flycatchers are common in Peru but they are still fun to watch as they perch up waiting to catch a bug.

Cinnamon Flycatchers are common in Peru but they are still fun to watch as they perch up waiting to catch a bug.

The following morning we decided to bird the Bosque Shollet area again as it had the potential for numerous new species. The morning produced Sickle-winged Guan, Long-tailed Antbird, White-backed Fire Eye, Rufous-tailed Tyrant, and Slaty-backed Chat Tyrant.

After a relatively productive morning, we headed to Hacienda Carmen for the afternoon. On the way down we had spectacular views of 15 Swallow-tailed Kites flying in the air and catching bugs off of the tops of trees.

Swallow-tailed Kites flying so close!

The Swallow-tailed Kites would come within feet of us! So nice to be on a little hill to have this awesome view!

The afternoon spent in Hacienda Carmen was equally as productive as our morning. This area within the shade-grown coffee plantation was where we had planned to go that morning that we got rerouted by some pesky rioters. In the plantation we had great views of Black Hawk-eagle, Stripe-chested Antwren, and White-winged Tanager. 

Stripe-chested Antwren

The pair of Stripe-chested Antwrens were very vocal and even I was recording them as they called!

Black Hawk-eagle

We had two Black Hawk-eagles being extremely vocal and Ross was able to get some great recordings!

That evening planned to meet up with a man named Eduardo who is running an Ecolodge in the Oxapampa area so we left Hacienda Carmen and started on our way. We were told that Eduardo has had Cloud Forest Screech Owls on his property, a very poorly known species of owl found in only a few locations in Peru and Bolivia, and we were hoping to get looks at one there. We arrived after dark, met Eduardo, and soon the three of us began our search for a Cloud Forest Screech Owl, an owl very few actually get to see. After a few hours of searching but not hearing any owls, we finally heard one calling in the distance. One quick playback of the owl’s call and we had an adorable Cloud Forest Screech Owl sitting only 6 feet away! Ross had a fantastic time photographing and recording the audio of the bird as it sat in the tree calling. Since we have so many good shots here are three of our favorites:

Cloud Forest Screech Owl

Cloud Forest Screech Owl

Cloud Forest Screech Owl

Cloud Forest Screech Owl up close!

Cloud Forest Screech Owl

Cloud Forest Screech Owl

That night we went to bed extremely happy that our main target was accounted for. We originally planned to head to Antenna Road the next morning to bird the cloud forest there, but realizing that Eduardo’s property would probably produce the same species, and that the conditions of Antenna road are bad even by Peruvian standards, we opted to stay the night and bird at Eduardo’s. The next morning we took a walk throughout Eduardo’s property and trails and he was so gracious to tag along and tell us of all of the work he has done or plans to do for eco conservation in Peru. He was very passionate about saving the forests and between him and a few friends, has amassed over 2,000 hectacres (the equivalent of nearly 5,000 acres) of Andean cloud forest land for conservation!! Unfortunately there is one property nearby that is being cut down at a cyclic rate. Eduardo attempted to buy the property but the man refused to sell to him unless he paid over double the cost of what anyone else could buy it for. Eduardo stated that a lot of people in the area won’t sell to individuals who want to conserve the land but rather to those who want to cut it down and destroy it, and in order to buy the land that he has now, Eduardo had to tell the person he planned to put in a pepper farm. Hearing him talk, Ross and I wished that land was available near Eduardo’s property so that we could contribute to the conservation and know that our land was being watched after by someone who truly cares about preserving it. But aside from the man who won’t sell, there was none available. We were 100% serious about it, but we laughed because we weren’t sure what people back home would think if we came home the proud new owners of $15,000 USD worth of Peruvian land.

That morning in the woods never did produce the Chestnut Antpitta that we were looking for but we did have great views of Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Rufous-vented Tapaculo, and Blackish Antbird just to name a few, not to mention a fantastic walk inside a gorgeous property along some well-maintained trails and stellar views along the way.

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Crimson-bellied Woodpecker

The entire property is stunning and the cabins are top notch for anyone interested in a comfortable stay during their time in central Peru, we highly recommend it! You can check out Eduardo’s website by visiting http://ulcumanoecolodge.com/.

The entrance to Ul

The entrance to Ulcumano Ecolodge

The road that we had the Screech Owl on!

The road that we had the Screech Owl on!

We wished we could have stayed longer at Eduardo’s and walk a few of his other trails but we had to leave by 10am to get started on the very long drive to Huanuco thus concluding our time in the Villa Rica/Oxapampa area. More updates to come soon!

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