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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Peru, July 2005,
Peru has to be one of the most excting birding destinations on the planet. It has probably the first or second highest number of species for any country (1,850+) and encompasses the Andes, Amazon rainforest, dry west coast, Humbolt current, Cloud forest, etc. etc. Trying to see everything in three weeks was never going to be easy but we had a good go.
We chose to use Tanager Tours (http://www.tanagertours.com) to plan most of our holiday as we had heard birding the Manu road was logistically time consuming and we wanted to maximise birding in our short three week stay. This turned out to be an excellent company with probably the best all round bird guide (David Geale) we had ever used anywhere in the world, between us I think we have birded in about 30 countries so that should show just how highly we rated him. Wim the company owner was very helpful and friendly and planned our trip without a single hitch. Juve our driver for the Manu Road and Abra Malaga was excellent, he cooked a lot of our food for us when we were on the road and is a good birder to boot. The cost of the various trips per person was as follows, 11 days in the manu all inclusive Cuzco to Cuzco US$ 1,320. Then the shorter trips, 2 days to Abra Malaga US$ 260, 3 days to Santa Eulalia Valley US$ 360 and day trip to Lomas De Lachay & El Paraiso US$ 80.
Tanager tours co-ordinated this for us but Gunnar Engblom from Kolibri expeditions actually took us out. This was an exciting trip into the unknown, we ended up seeing no less than 6 species of storm petrel, 3 species of albatross, 2 petrels, 2 shearwaters, diving petrel, 2 boobies, terns and to top it all off 16 Swallow tailed gulls. Plenty of food and drink was provided, it can get quite rough and while floating out on the shelf the boat was bobbing around a lot. If you suffer at all from sea sickness, I recommend taking something before you go out. The cost was US$135 which may appear a little high but is well worth it.
We had heard about this legendary birding site for many years and it certainly lived up to all expectations. You have quite a long drive from Cuzco to get to the start of the road. Lake Huacarpay is a good starting point on route, we did our first land birding here, it provided a good introduction and included some excellent specialities. Huayllatambo closer to the manu was good for finches including Chestnut Breasted Mountain Finch also Creamy Crested Spinetail. Once you arrive at the start of the Manu road at 3,600m the real fun begins. You descend from grasslands to the top of the tree line through Elfin forest and then down into cloud forest. Tanager tours had planned our trip so we had time in all the different habitats along the road, obviously an important thing to do. Also when people say ‘road’ you might expect tarmac and traffic, there is very little of either. You can go most of the day without seeing another vehicle, there are rules as to which way the traffic goes on each day of the week, but if you are moving short distances it doesn’t seem to be a problem, due to the lack of traffic.
Cock of the rock lodge (1,600m) was very comfortable with good food and excellent birding in the garden and on the road outside. We stayed here for two nights on the way down and another on the way up, using it as a base to bird the different elevation above and below. We gave the infamous Bamboo tanager a go below C-O-T-R Lodge where David and Juve had seen it only 2 months before but unsurprisingly didn’t have a sniff of it. I believe they were only the 3rd group of people to see it. Pillahuata is another great area higher up the road around 2,600m the habitat around the buildings and rough agricultural gardens doesn’t look that great but held a good number of birds. This base gives you access to the higher altitude forest species plus one of the star birds of the area Red & White Antpitta. I think camping would be preferable with a good sleeping bag and mattress, the outbuildings where we stayed were very cold and the floor very hard, but when staying for free you can’t really complain. We managed to see Greater Scythebill below Pillahuata a very good bird and a tick for our guide David on his 12th trip into the Manu.
The need to go into the core Manu zone itself did not seem that great so we visited two lodges in the buffer zone, the first was Amazonia on the banks of the river (madre de dios) at an altitude of 500m. This used to be a plantation and the accommodation is in the old plantation house, again this is comfortable and the food was good. More importantly the garden and veranda provided some excellent birding, especially hummingbirds and even a quail dove and Long Tailed Potoo roosting. There is a good trail system here and a pool for crakes in the evening.
Further down the river by motorised canoe we arrived at the lesser visited Pantiacolla lodge and stayed for 4 night, this place was brilliant, very good for Bamboo specialists and huge feeding flocks with unbelieveable numbers of species. As we were here for a reasonable number of days we did the 10km hike out to the mirador. This would probably be less wise if you were here for fewer nights as it would eat into your biding time around the trails with good bamboo. The accommodation was quite basic but still very nice, especially the food which seemed to be very authentic. VK did unfortunately leave his trousers on the floor one night, while putting them on in the morning he gave an almighty scream as a large spider was attached to his thigh!
AGUAS CALIENTES / MACHU PICHU
The price of train tickets from Cuzco to AC is very steep US$ 70 and apparently another country (Chile or Bolivia) own the railway and none of the money goes to the local people. There are plenty of hotels to chose from here and lots of restaurants, its very touristy so may not be most peoples cup of tea but it serves a purpose. We birded the railway line past the town which was reasonably productive. The best birding was had walking down the track from the entrance of the ruins back to the town, this was excellent. Also keep your eye out at Machu Pichu as we managed to see a Hooded Tinamou there and obviously Inca Wren, which can be difficult to actually see.
This sight near Cuzco is very productive with quite a few species that you don’t get on the Manu road, it also encompasses a much higher pass so there are high altitude specialities to look for as well. The only problem I had was with the altitude and the fact you have to climb to get to the very important Polylepsis forest where the real gems are. We managed to see most of them but missed the Royal Cinclodes, we only had one crack at it as the cloud was very thick on the second morning. We had another amazing Antpitta experience with one of the rufous variety at our feet on a path out in the open. We had set up camp at San Luis on the wet side of Abra Malaga and I was walking from the car to the tent when I noticed this fat looking bird on the path, I couldn’t believe my eyes another antpitta in the open. I managed to shout quietly to MC who joined me and DP was at the other end of the path and saw it hop up to and in between our tents!
PUERTO VIEJO / PUCUSANA
Good wetland site and sea watching site south of Lima on the coast. The first is good for Peruvian Thick-knee, ducks, waders, finches and Burrowing Owl. The later is a good place to see Red Legged Cormorant and Humbolt Penguin at closer quarters than from the pelagic trip.
SANTA EULALIA VALLEY
We drove up from Lima to San Pedro de Casta during the evening. This gave us two full days in the valley and up at Marcamapocha. The accommodation in both San Pedro de Casta and Huanza was perfectly adequate in small clean modern hotels. We birded below San Pedro early on the first morning in the area mentioned in Thomas Valqui’s “Where to watch birds in Peru”. The road zig zags up from the bridge over the deep canyon (we had a brief view of a Horned Owl on the bridge when driving up the evening before). We saw the interesting hummingbirds here in the shrubs and bushes by the road. After a frustrating hour of chasing we managed to get good views of the Rufous breasted warbling finch. We then spent another hour or more looking for the great Inca finch, which turned out to be well worth it. The valley becomes rockier and dryer the further you head up and the birds change, with other interesting species to look for. Namely, white cheeked catinga in the polylepsis forest by the road. We saw these on the second morning and they were surprisingly easy and confiding, we saw at least five birds. This forest was also good for Earthcreepers and stripe headed antpitta. In the open flat grasslands we also saw 9 species of ground-tyrant in a single day. We stopped at various lakes and finally made it to the bogs around the pass. We found two white-bellied cinclodes on the first bog, one at the pass and two on the second bog. Also here were a family of four sand piper plovers and one of my favourite birds of the trip the olivaceous thornbill. This is a hummingbird that was feeding on the high altitude bogs bouncing from one tiny pink flower to the next on the ground, quite bizarre.
LOMAS DE LACHAY
We visited this site in conjunction with El Paraiso on a day trip from Lima. It holds a few endemics and some other interesting species. We managed to see cactus canastero and thick billed miner, both endemic. Also Aplomado Falcon, lots of lesser seed snipes and tawny throated dotterel.
An interesting wetland site north of Lachay on the coast, it is possible to drive up to the wetland and then walk around it. It gets a mention on a map in the Valqui book, but not in the text. We saw a lot of birds here and the site was particularly good for waders.
2nd July 2005
Caught 9am flight with Delta Airlines from Heathrow via Atlanta and arrived in Lima late the same day around 10.30pm. We met a driver from the Mami Panchita Hotel who drove us there for our first nights accommodation.
3rd July 2005
Picked up from the hotel, after an early breakfast by Gunnar from Kolibri expeditions, headed to the docks in his minibus. Met some other western birders and took boat out into the Humbolt current, headed out to the shelf stopping at various points only had an hour drifting along the continental shelf as some of the other birders had to catch a flight, in the end I think 8 hours was enough!. Great trip especially for storm petrels. Spent the night at Mami Panchita again.
4th July 2005
Caught an early taxi from the hotel to the airport and took the first flight up to Cuzco departed 5.45am arriving in Cuzco at 6.45am. We flew Tans airline not the more popular Lan Peru, the queue was much shorter and the plane left on time. We met David Geale from Tanager Tours and our driver, for the next 10 days, Juve. Headed straight to Lake Huarcapay where we birded for a couple of hours. After a hearty breakfast we drove across the fairly barren looking inter Andean valley with a few stops on route to Huayllatambo (3600m) where we birded for an hour then had one final stop for lunch at another site. Reached the top of the Manu road and went from clear blue sky to thick cloud and forest. This showed an amazing divide of habitat. We descended fairly quickly as the weather was not great birding some of the upper cloud forest on route. Before dark we stopped and walked to the regular Lyre Tailed Nightjar spot above Cock of the rock lodge, we bumped into a band winged nightjar which was nice to see in the daylight, as dusk approached the Lyre tailed did a couple of display flights out from the canopy over the road. Back in the van heading to the lodge we chanced upon a Band Bellied Owl. We arrived at the lodge (1,600m altitude) after dark and spent the night there.
5th July 2005
We had a failed pre-dawn attempt at nighthawks above the river valley just below the lodge. Headed back for breakfast and birded from the veranda quite successfully. Headed out onto the road again mainly above the lodge. After lunch watched a good tanager flock come through the lodge garden and again birded from the veranda. Had an afternoon walk on the trail from the road down to the river close to the lodge, this was less productive as it was inside the forest but did produce brief views of Yungas Manakin. We spent the night at C-O-T-R lodge.
6th July 2005
We birded from the veranda again during breakfast then headed down the road stopping at various places on route. The terrain flattened out and we headed into more open agricultural land and Pillcopata village. We made it to Atalaya on the bank of the river in time for lunch, and after picking up Wellington boots, we took a motorised canoe for the short trip across to Amazonia lodge. Walked through secondary forest up the main path to the lodge, birded around the gardens and then took a short walk on the trails followed by an evening vigil at the crake pool. We spent the night at Amazonia lodge.
7th July 2005
Up early for breakfast, looked at the hummingbird bushes for a while, no sign of the coquette one of the star birds of this lodge, but did however mange to see six other species of hummingbird. We spent the whole day around the lodge on various trails, the canopy tower and back down towards the river. We caught up with the coquette inside the forest which was quite an achievement as they are much easier to see in the lodge garden. Another vigil at the crake pool was had, followed by dinner beer and bed. Spent the night at the lodge.
8th July 2005
We were up before dawn and out looking for Wattled guan which David had heard, but failed to find it, on our way back VK found a roosting Long tailed Potoo which was just settling for the day. There were a few new birds in the garden plus the coquette showing off very well, posing for photographs. Had a morning walk along the main trail and some other tracks back down to the river where we picked up our boat for the down river trip. Three to four hours later we arrived at Pantiacolla where we had a rest then headed into the forest for our first taste of bamboo birding. Spent the night at Pantiacolla lodge.
9th July 2005
Spent all day at Pantiacolla walking various trails looking for bamboo specialists plus many more birds, we managed to have a break for lunch and a few beers in the evening.
10th July 2005
Did the same as yesterday, caught up with a huge canopy flock in the morning this involved mid canopy and upper canopy birds we saw 40-50 species. In the afternoon we had a great but brief view of a trumpeter on the path in front of us, and sampled some different habitat on the banks of the river.
11th July 2005
Decided to do the 10km walk to the mirador, followed one large flock for a good while along the way, had a flushed view of a possible black tinamou near the top of the trail. Saw the pair of orange breasted falcons and had amazing views over unbroken rainforest for about 60 miles, not something you see everyday. Also got a few really good birds on the long walk back.
12th July 2005
Early breakfast followed by a couple of hours looking for some of the specialities we had missed. Left Pantiacolla about 8am for the boat ride back up river, arrived at Atalaya around lunch time. Birded the rice paddies and open agricultural land then headed back up the road into the cloud forest. Stopped at a good open part of the road where you could view a large valley at around 800m this proved to be very productive, with Tiny Hawk, 12 Military Macaws & 4 blue headed macaws . Carried on up to Cock of the Rock Lodge, had success with Rufous Bellied Nighthawk over the bridge by the lodge, and spent the night at the lodge.
13th July 2005
Headed back down the road to the “tanager” site where David and Juve had seen the Bamboo tanager two months previously, didn’t have any luck. Headed back up the Manu road stopping for flocks, a good tactic was to ride on the roof of our vehicle and listen for the birds calling. We made it to Pillahuata at 2,600m an hour before dusk. There were an amazing number of birds about in the trees and bushes surrounding the rough gardens and wooden buildings. Tried for swallow tailed nightjar, had a very brief possible glimpse of the bird in fading light. The night was spent very uncomfortably on a wooden floor in an out house with lots of drafty cracks.
14th July 2005
Had another pre-dawn attempt at the nightjar, but unfortunately no sign. Breakfast consisted of granola and yoghurt, MC and VK finished first and wandered out of the hut to see what was happening. They saw what they presumed to be a baby chicken on the grass bank by the road but then realised it was a Red and White Antpitta! Myself and DP came hurtling out after we heard their shouts and I just managed a brief view of the bird as it moved into the vegetation. I assumed that would be that but then to our disbelief it appeared by an out building completely in the open hopping about on bear earth for several minutes! What an amazing start to the day. Birded around Pillahuata for an hour or so then headed up the road and birded the upper cloud forest to the tree line and the pass. We then had a long and boring drive back to Cuzco with a few limited birding sops on route. Checked into a hotel and went for a few beers at the cross keys pub.
15th July 2005
Vince left very early to catch a flight back to Lima and had a day out at Lomas de Lachay before catching an evening flight back home. We had a lie in until 7.15am, caught a minibus to Ollatayantambo in time for the 11am train to Aguas Calientes. Apparently for the first half of the journey the train was overbooked. Found a nice hotel on the main drag and after lunch walked further up the train tracks from Aguas Calientes which was reasonably productive bird wise.
16th July 2005
Up 5am caught the 5.45am bus up to Machu Pichu, walked down birding all the way back to Aguas Calientes. There were lots of good birds to be seen along the way. Had an early lunch back in Aguas then caught the bus back up to the ruins to look around, finally got good views of Inca wren. Caught the late train back to Ollytayantambo where we spent the night in a fairly basic cheap hotel.
17th July 2005
Picked up in the town square at 5.30am by David and Juve headed up to Abra Malaga, had our first stop at 3,000m as the sun came up. Very cold! Further up stopped at 4,000m for breakfast then walked up to 4,400m in Polylepsis forest, started to really suffer with altitude. Headed over to the wet side of Abra Malaga, stopping at 3,600m around the tree line then birded down to San Luis where we camped for the night. I had to go to bed for an hour due to a very nasty headache. When I got up I found a Rufous Antpitta on the path by our tents, which was nice!
18th July 2005
After a quick breakfast we had a morning stroll up the road from our camp and Juve caught us up with the van. Birded back up to the tree line on the wet side and had lunch at the pass. Luckily for me it was very cloudy, so no hiking above 4,000m! Drove down to Penas around 3,000m and birded there until late afternoon before driving back to Cuzco.
19th July 2005
Up 5.15am got taxi to airport, 5.45am flight with David to Lima. Picked up by Lucho our driver for this part of the trip and headed south to Puerto Viejo. We birded the wetlands and grassy areas here and also dropped into Pucusana. We headed back to Lima and out west, stopped on the outskirts of Lima at a chicken place for dinner. Made it up to San Pedro de Casta in the Santa Eulalia valley where we spent the night.
20th July 2005
We birded below San Pedro de Casta for most of the morning in dry habitat, which turned out to be very productive for hummingbirds and the target finches. Had lunch then spent an hour or so looking for Great Inca Finch, which was worth it. Headed up the valley birding on route and spent the night in Huanza around 3,300m.
21st July 2005
Got up at 6am drove up the valley stopping for breakfast at 3,800m and arrived at the famous spot for the cotingas. Didn’t have to wait long for the first of five White Cheeked Cotingas. Had a walk up the hillside which was quite tiring then carried on up the road stopping at various lakes. Got to Milloc lake 4,400m where we saw our first Giant Coots, also stopped at another lake around 4,500m. Headed up to the first bog at 4,700m where we saw white bellied cinclodes. The pass is at 4,835m or 15,960 feet, you certainly feel the thin air here! Carried onto the second bog which is a bit lower and quickly found the Sandpiper plover family. We then had a long drive back to Lima.
22nd July 2005
Got up at 5am had breakfast and were picked up by David and Lucho at 5.30am. Headed straight for Lomas de Lachay, saw the thick-knee and burrowing owl on the way in. Birding was quite slow in the morning fog but soon picked up as the fog lifted, we saw most of the good birds here then headed to El paraiso. This turned out to be a great site with tons of birds, the haze was not helpful in the mid afternoon, a morning visit could be better. David even got a tick, Hudsonian Godwit, we added 12 species even after 3 weeks of solid birding. Stopped at Ancon for Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes and then headed back to Lima for dinner in a Chinese restaurant! Caught the late flight to Atlanta where we had most of the day birding and then onto London.
Full Species List