Our final 8 days in Peru were spent in the north and were certainly a race to the finish. It went a little something like this:
June 29 – The day of our 2nd anniversary started out at Quebrada Upaquihua walking a trail through a deciduous forest. The morning along this trail was actually super fun as the trail was easy walking, the weather was perfect and the birds were everywhere! While walking along the trail we had Band-tailed Manakin, Sulfur-bellied Manakin Tyrant, Chestnut-throated Spinetail, Northern Slaty Antshrike (Huallagae form), Tataupa Tinamou, Ashy-headed Greenlet, White-browed Antbird, Rufous Casiornis, and Mishana Tyrannulet, an endemic we had missed at a few other locations. Needless to say it was a productive morning!
As a gift to me, Ross agreed to take a few hours break from birding so we got a hotel to rest and relax for the afternoon and believe me, this was a nice treat because taking a break from birding was something we rarely did! It was a much-needed break but before long we were back at it heading to a birding location found in many site guides referred to as “The Tunnel.” This area sits at about 950m elevation and the road winds through some nice lower elevation forest. Our main target in this area was Koepcke’s Hermit, an endemic species of hummingbird. While walking, we kept our eyes up along the road in search of mixed species flocks in hopes we could pick up a few new Tanager species, specifically Dotted Tanager. The afternoon wasn’t nearly as productive as the morning, but before long we had a single Koepcke’s Hermit feeding on a bromeliad flower.
We cut the birding short and ended our anniversary celebrations sitting in our hotel room, sipping on a bottle of Chilean wine while watching Peru vs Chile in the Copa Cup! (2-1 Chile wins! YAY!)
June 30 – Today we left our hotel at 5:00AM and headed back to Tarapoto Tunnel and the extending road to search once again for the Dotted Tanager. We walked up and down the road but never really found any good flocks. The biggest highlight of the morning was having great looks at a Wattled Guan sitting in a tree. The bird perched in the open and showed off the long yellow wattle hanging from its neck. If only we had processed what it was sooner, we could have had a great photo of a really hard-to-see bird! And while we had fantastic looks at this bird, it was a bit frustrating that we missed taking a photo! Either way, we were happy to see it but never saw much else of interest that morning.
Further along that same road is a bird sanctuary with some hummingbird feeders that has Koepecke’s Hermits visiting so we decided to check it out. We were only planning to be at the feeders for a short period of time in hopes that we could get better looks at the hermit, but while sitting at the feeding station we had great views of White-necked Jacobin and Gould’s Jewelfront among several others, before the owner came up to us and started talking. He showed us several pictures of birds on his property that we had never seen before including two day-roosting owls! We decided to take a walk with him and before we knew it had a day roosting Band-bellied Owl sitting in a tree!
Unfortunately the other owl was not at its roost but we still had a great walk in the woods along some very well-maintained trails with highlights being Spix’s Guan, Black-faced Antbird, Yellow-crested Tanager, and hearing the distinct chirps of Firey-capped Manakins. We left the bird sanctuary and headed back out to the road to eat lunch in hopes that a flock of tanagers with a Dotted mixed in would come by, but unfortunately it never did. We left the Tunnel Road around 2pm and headed towards the town of Moyobamba. We planned to stop along the way and walk a trail but our afternoon turned out to be a complete wash as the trail we planned to spend the rest of our daylight hours walking was more of a mud path that we had no desire to trek across. So we went straight to Moyobamba instead.
July 1 – Can’t believe it’s already July! Only one more month of travel left for us! Today started off with a bit of frustration as we planned to bird Morro de Calzada, an isolated mountain peak just outside of the town of Moyobamba, but en route we were stopped by yet ANOTHER road blockade, our third blockade in Peru! These blockades/riots were really starting to get on our nerves. (Peru is a great country with spectacular landscapes and a large assortment of birds, but it is getting increasingly harder to recommend for people to go birding in Peru with the amount of trouble we’ve ran into with locals. We’ve been so disappointed with the people of Peru that if it weren’t for the hundreds of amazing bird species and natural beauty, we’d never tell people to go there. Other countries such as Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador were much friendlier.) Anyways, with the road blocked off for who knows how long, we headed back to Wakanki to walk the dirt road that borders their property. (Note: To get to the birding site, it is not necessary to enter into the Wakani Reserve. You can take the left before the entrance and bird along the public trail.) Before dawn Ross went out on the trail and had Rufous Nightjar and Spot-tailed Nightjar. The morning birds were plentiful but at this point we had seen many of the species already. Aside from the nightjars, the only other new bird was Broad-billed Motmot. By afternoon we decided to check to see if the blockade had finally been cleared. Thankfully it had and we started driving north towards Rioja. We stopped along the busy Highway 5N at km 476, a known hotspot for the rarely encountered elsewhere Pale-eyed Blackbird. After searching for over an hour, Ross finally spotted a single Pale-eyed Blackbird near the back end of the rice paddies. Sadly, by the time I made it to his location, the bird had disappeared into the reeds, never to be seen again. From here we continued driving north and spent the night near Agua Verdes.
July 2 – This particular day was a “flex day” that Ross had built into the schedule to pick up on birds we had missed earlier in the trip. However, we didn’t really have many targets left (a good thing!) and the whole day was more of a leisure day walking around with no real itinerary. We started the day at Agua Verdes, then went to Afluente and then finished at Abra Patricia. The morning was great fun and bird activity along the trail in Agua Verdes produced spectacular looks at several birds we had seen before such as Paradise Tanager, Black face Dacnis, Blue Dacnis and Scaled Pigeon but it was nice to see these stunning birds again! The only new bird for the morning was Yellow Tyrannulet.
We then passed Afluente and walked the road without sight of a single bird before catching sight of a Mountain Casique sitting in a tree. We ate lunch at the spot along the road where we saw the Royal Sunangel earlier in our travels and again had views of this endemic hummingbird coming to the flowers there. When we arrived in Abra Patricia it started raining and sadly the precipitation continued for the majority of the afternoon. Bird activity did pick up when it finished raining, and we had great looks at Andean Pygmy Owl, Silver-backed Tanagers, Black-capped Tyrannulet and the rare Chestnut-crested Cotinga, which was a new bird for the trip.
July 3 – We started off the morning back at San Lorenzo to try for the THIRD time for the endemic and skulky, Pale-billed Antpitta. The steep hike up the ridge at 5:30AM was an aggressive start to the day, as expected, but by now we were used to the arduous hike, and once we reached the top of the ridge, we had our day’s work out in before 6AM! We then climbed down several small foot paths to sit in the undergrowth to try to call in the endemic antpitta. The morning weather was cool but it soon started to mist and by 8AM the mist had turned into rain. Despite not seeing or hearing a single Antpitta, we decided to cut our losses and head out. The only antpitta we had for the day was a Rusty-tinged calling off in the distance. Three strikes for the Pale-billed Antpitta for us! When we reached the bottom, we got into our van and started on the 5+ hour drive to the city of Chiclayo.
On our way to Chiclayo, we decided we would stop at rural hotel in the Utcubamba Valley, a known day-roosting spot for Koepcke’s Screech Owl. Although about an hour out of the way, our goal was to find the owl at its day-roost and continue on to Chiclayo, but things did not go as planned. We searched high and low in the trees that the bird is usually found in for about an hour, without any luck. Eventually the owner of the lodge came out and told us that he hadn’t heard nor seen the owl in a while. He continued to tell us that the owl is nesting this time of year and that there was no way we would be able to find it. Julio, our driver, told us we should leave, but since this is an endemic bird Ross explained to him that we wanted to stay until dark to put in a proper amount of effort. Julio was clearly angry that we were going to sit around for five hours to wait for dark (which is understandable) and hardly spoke to us for the remainder of the afternoon. Just walking away from an endemic because one man said it wasn’t around just wasn’t going to work for us. Nesting owls can still be found and finding one was what we intended to do. Just as night was approaching, we took a drive up the road and Ross picked a spot to stop and play for the owl. Not sure how he knew where to stop, but not even 5 minutes later the Koepcke’s Screech Owl was spotted in a tree sitting right above our heads! So much for the owls not being around!
July 4 – After a long overnight drive west, we arrived at dawn at Abra Porculla. Our main target for the morning was Piura Chat-Tyrant, an endemic we had missed earlier in the trip. Abra Porculla is the best spot in the world for this bird, so our hopes were high that we’d be able to find it. We walked the road and a nearby mule trail for two hours finding several new species such as Black-cowled Saltator, Elegant Crescentchest, Rufous-necked Folilage-Gleaner, and Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, but our main target, Pirrua Chay-Tyrant, was nowhere to be found.
Luckily Julio, our driver, called one of the local birding guides who told him that Pirrua Chat-Tyrants respond extremely well to Peruvian Pygmy-Owl calls. We had been playing the Pirrua Chat-Tyrant tape all morning, but hadn’t yet tried a pygmy-owl call. The suggestion worked like a charm and after 15 minutes of trying, we were staring at a rather annoyed Pirrua Chat-Tyrant!
From here we headed north of Olmos to Quebrada Limon. This dry rocky canyon is home to a lot of range restricted Tumbesian endemics (birds only found in extreme north Peru and extreme south Ecaudor). We arrived midday and despite the heat we had a very productive afternoon in the canyon.
We picked up the vast majority of our targets including Tumbe Sparrow, Tumbes Hummingbird, Ecuadorian Trogan, Stripe-headed Woodcreeper, White-tailed Jay, Baird’s Flycatcher and Plumbeous-backed Thrush.
The biggest (and strangest) highlight of the afternoon though, was a strange bird that we saw sneaking on the ground which eventually jumped up on a branch. At first Ross was completely perplexed by what we were looking at until it hit him that it was a crake (!!!) of some sort. The problem was that we were NOWHERE near water. We were in the middle of a dry canyon! The bird sat motionless for a few minutes and as we watched it, we noticed it was missing an eye. Ross was able to get a few pictures and as far as we can tell, we believe it’s a young Paint-billed Crake! It was definitely one of those instances that makes birding so interesting. Sometimes you just have NO CLUE what you are going to run into. We didn’t however run into the very rare White-winged Guans that have made the area a famous birding site.
July 5 – We once again found ourselves at Quebrada Limon, this time with only one target in mind, White-winged Guan. This critically endangered gamebird, is only known from a few locations in northern Peru but is most reliable here, at Limon. There is a local guide, Lino, who is supposed to know exactly where to find the guans. Being on a tight budget, we debated whether we should hire him or not as we’ve seen conflicting info about how helpful he is. For s/100 ($30) Ross figured it was a good hedge, knowing the money helps the locals recognize the importance of protecting something people would pay to come see. (That, and we never know when we will be back in the area to try again in case we were to miss it!) We hired Lino and the three of us started walking into the canyon before first light and as we neared the “good area” for the guans, we heard one call a few times. After about 15 min of searching we found two White-winged Guans sitting in the top of a tree! We got some great looks and after about 10 minutes, they called a few more times and allowed Ross to record them. It was still early morning, but since we had other target endemics to find at other locations we decided to head back to the van. On the walk back to the van we ran into another group of guans, this time two adults with two juveniles, putting our total at 6 seen White-winged Guans for the morning!
On the drive out we stopped a few times to look for Tumbes Tyrant, our hardest remaining target bird. Luckily after a few stops, Ross found a single Tumbes Tyrant amongst a group of birds coming in to his pygmy-owl imitation.
Leaving Quebrada Limon we headed south to Bosque de Pomac, an area home to quite a few Peruvian endemics, all of which we still needed to see. The site has a few nice trails and as we wandered one called Ruta de Aves, we slowly, but surely, picked up all of our targets including Cinereous Finch, Peruvian Plantcutter, and Rufous Flycatcher!
From here we headed to a nearby overlook that sometimes holds Tumbes Swallow. As we searched through the large flock of Blue-and-White Swallow we were able to pick out at least two Tumbes Swallows. Also at this location we saw a few groups of Sulphur-throated Finches. It was still pretty early in the afternoon, but we didn’t want to call it quits for the day just yet as our plan for our last day in Peru was to once again return to Quebrada Limon, but this time in the middle of the night to look for owls.
July 6 – Our last day in Peru was off to an early start – a 2:30AM wake up and a 3AM departure so that we could get back to Quebrada Limon in time to search for owls. The light from the full moon was enough to illuminate the trails at night so we didn’t even need to use a flashlight. Truthfully wandering the canyon with the light of the full moon was an eerily wonderful experience. The morning owling was productive with eight(!) Peruvian Screech Owls, over a dozen Peruvian Pygmy-Owls, two Common Potoo, Scrub Nightjar, and the low call of a Stygian Owl that Ross had played for earlier off in the distance.
After owling our goal was to hike up the valley to an area of slightly more humid forest targeting the birds that we missed on our first visit. Prior to visiting Limon Ross had calculated our “Peru Trip List” to see just how many birds we had in Peru thus far. Our total was 955 (!!) and we weren’t sure we could tally much higher than that, but as soon as dawn arrived we had great looks at Henna-hooded Foliage Gleaner, Guayaquil Woodpecker and even a Pale-browed Tinamou perching out in the open, all of which were new for us!
We left Limon by mid-morning to head to Chiclayo, Peru’s 4th largest city situated in a central location in northern Peru. After sorting out bus tickets for later that evening, we headed to the coast in search of some seabirds and shorebirds to pad our “trip list.” At the mouth of the Rio Chancay near Eten we had Chestnut-collared Swallow, Tumbe’s Swallow, and our main target Peruvian Tern.
Our driver, who was in a hurry to get back to Lima, stated that our day was over at 6PM, something that was never communicated to us until now. Finishing up at 6PM was originally not our plan, as we had already paid for the entire day AND the following day, but lucky for him we picked up most of our targets and called it quits by 4PM. We didn’t want to fight with our poor driver who was spending so much time away from his family. Julio is excellent at his job and has mastered driving many routes in Peru, taking birders exactly where they want to go, keeping a clean van and cooking off of a propane stove, but the job requires him to be on the road more often than he is home and that is clearly very hard on both him and his family. At the end of the year he is finishing up working for Kolibri Expeditions and is going back to working as a mechanic in his home town of Lima. Julio told us his schedule with Kolibri puts him on the road for 8 months out of the year!
We concluded our trip with being dropped off at the Chiclayo bus station. We spent a few hours walking around the city before walking back to the station to catch our bus in to Ecuador.
Our trip to Peru was wildly successful, although it did have a few more downsides than the other countries we had visited thus far. The birding however exceeded our expectations and we ended our trip having seen 972 species! Our last day alone we picked up 11 new birds for the trip! Between his two trips Ross now has a Peru list totaling 1,101 birds! Although it will certainly be awhile before we return, we can be sure that we will be back! But the next time we will not be hiring a driver and will be doing Peru 100% independently. We look forward to our next trip to Peru but for now, it’s off to Ecuador!