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Wild Peru - Rio de Las Piedras, Tambopata and the Andes,
11 July 2002 - August 30th 2002
This report details a trip to Peru made by myself and my partner Claire Stephenson. We were joined for four weeks by our friend Dave Edwards, who works part of the year in Tambopata, and his assistant Pedro, who was our very skillful boatman. Dave was instrumental in organising the trip up the Las Piedras river and blagging us very cheap accommodation in Tambopata and we owe him a great deal for this.
The whole trip was absolutely stunning and I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone. It's got to be up there as some of the best birding in the world - some people say it is the best. A trip that incorporates the high Andes and the lowlands will produce an excellent trip list and a stunning example of how bird distribution changes with altitude, often over very short distances. The birding is difficult, particularly in the lowlands and we were grateful to have Dave with us to help with the ID of lots of birds and teach us a few of the calls too. This is not a detailed report telling you which bird was in which tree and when etc. but is intended as an overview of the area.
The trip was broken down as follows:
July 11th - July 31st: Andes around Cusco and the Manu Road
August 1st - August 17th: A steady journey 250 km up the Piedras river
August 19th - August 27th: Tambopata Jungle Lodge area
Not many really. A snake bite extractor is essential. We saw a few snakes but no really nasty ones. However, a Bushmaster, a Coral snake and a Fer de Lance were seen during our stay on trails we walked but not by us. Wellingtons afford vital protection from snake bites an are indispensable. There is virtually no Malaria in Tambopata but we used Doxycycline in Las Piedras as we didn't know the situation there. Birds of Peru was a bit of a disappointment, Birds of Colombia was a godsend - an absolutely fantastic book. Travel is easy, hitching is possible, especially on Manu Road. Food and drink are cheap. Don't miss: Cusquena beer it's excellent; Ceviche is an excellent meal; Pirana fishing is good fun and they're tasty too. Garota nightclub in Puerto Maldonado is interesting - give it a visit.
We arrived in Cusco after a reasonably bearable 22-hour bus ride, checked into the Kuntor Wasi hostal on Calle Tandapata San Blas and had a walk around the Sacsyhuaman ruins just above the hostal. The next few days were spent around Cusco, visiting Lago Huacarpay, Machu Pichu, Ollantaytambo and the hills above Cusco etc. The travel here is all easy and well detailed in the standard travel guides. Note that you can't take the local train anymore and must use a tourist train ($27 min each way) Barry Walker is still running the Cross Keys and along with Huw Lloyd is a good source of current info. Barry's book - The Birds of Macchu Picchu would be very good for the Manu Road and Cusco areas.
The Upper Manu Road
We also spent just over a week on the famous Manu Road. You'll need a tent and food unless you stay in one of the two lodges at San Pedro. In any case you'll need to spend a day or two higher up at Pillhuata and also at the high pass of Abra Ajanaco. Take a Gallitos de las Rocas bus from a street one mile eastwards down Avenida de la Cultura in Cusco. You'll need to ask locals for accurate directions. Buses are currently leaving on Mon, Wed and Fri. Book a seat a day or two before as it does fill up quick. Beware if you are not keen on heights. The road to Abra Ajanaco from Cusco is a white-knuckle ride and the bus is fairly old and knackered - it kept shaking and pulling to the left when we set off, so much so, that the driver seemed to be contemplating abandoning the journey. After the high pass at Ajanaco the bus hits the Manu Road proper. There are stunning views into the Amazon in the distance. The road is steep and very bendy with alarming drop-offs into the valley below. Read a book or try to ignore it! Only two trucks have gone over so far this year.....
We stayed at the new park post at Ajanaco (3,500 m) with the two rangers there. They were very friendly and cooked the food we'd brought with us and also let us stay in the building and sleep on beds. It's freezing here at night so bring a good sleeping bag. The whole area can be explored either via the road or down the new Erikson trail that starts from the ranger station. This runs for 7 km and joins the road lower down.
A little further down at 2,200 m is Pillhuata. You can stay here in a big building by the road - you can't miss it. There's an old guy who opens up for you. It's only 5 soles for the night and this is a good spot for Red and White Antpitta too. The section of road around the two tunnels slightly lower is particularly productive, and a good spot for Black-throated Tody-Tyrant. We walked the next 28 km down to San Pedro and Union where the two bird lodges are (we did this in reverse though so it was a bit of a gruelling walk). We camped on some raised grass banks by the road just round the corner from the Cock of the Rock lodge and lek for few dollars. There are a couple of huts opposite and the workmen here will sort you out a camping spot. We didn't go any lower than this as we were visiting the lowlands later. The journey back was even scarier than the way there - we were in the cab with 21, I counted them, other people! I didn't dare count how many were in the main part of the bus
Rio de Las Piedras
We met Dave on the plane in Cusco and arrived in Puerto Maldonado shortly after. We spent a couple of days organising the boat and buying supplies, machetes and gasoline etc. The boat was $30 a day and $10 a day for Pedro, all split between us. It had a 65 hp engine which is more than enough. You also need a guy called a Tripulante, whose job it is to read the river and direct the driver. Hostal Royal is a nice place to stay and the Oasis bar on the plaza de armas is good for a Cusquena or two. We had a couple of good nights here with the staff from Tambopata Jungle Lodge, who Dave works with. There is a bit of a drinking culture in the town which is great when you want to let some steam off but it makes getting things organised a bit of a pain at times. The road to 'infierno' - 'hell' in English! leads out of town and is good birding if you have a morning to spare.
We set off up the Piedras river full of anticipation. It quickly became apparent that the area was exceptional for birds and wildlife. It is an almost totally undisturbed area. Selective logging finished here about 10-15 years ago and there is only a small amount of logging going on a lot further upstream. The numbers of birds on the river was surprising - Black Skimmers everywhere, flocks of Sand-coloured Nighthawks (inc. one of over 100), Large-billed Terns, Horned Screamers, Sunbitterns and macaws, vultures and caimans etc. The density of birds here was a great deal higher than the Tambopata area.
Our first stop was at a new lodge that is being built about 8 hours upriver. It isn't open but we knew the owners and they let us stay a few days with full board for $10 a night. There is a trail system here and good numbers of monkeys and peccaries etc. including Spider Monkeys - virtually unknown now in Tambopata. Interesting stuff here included Violaceous Quail-Dove, Purple-throated Cotinga, Tiny Hawk and Amazonian Parrotlet. There is a colpa here too, just a few mins upriver. Juan Julio, who owns the place, will give you a hide to take with you. There are not as many birds as at the famous La Colpa but you are much, much closer, and the number of species seems to be similar. There is also a hide at a clay-lick here that can be good for mammals.
After this we headed upriver further, had a night on a beach, and continued until we hit Lago Soledad, where a new lodge is also being built. This will be a $100 a night job but we managed to get it for $15 as it's not open yet. The lodge is built on an oxbow lake with a family of Giant Otters that are very obliging. There is a good trail network and canoes for you to take onto the lake. The birding here was excellent with Peruvian Recurvebill, Banded Antbird, Long-billed Antbird, Rufous-headed Woodpecker, Green and Rufous Kingfisher and Black-capped Parrot among the stars.
Following five days around Soledad we then decided to keep going until we had to turn back as the gasoline dwindled. We made it to a place called Curiaco, about 250 km from Puerto Maldonado. Pedro rigged us up a camp here at some old logging station. The old logging camps have several tracks, often wide, sometimes tractor-wide, and these can be used for birding. The whole are was excellent and good stuff included Paradise Jacamar, Rufous-vented Brush Cuckoo, Rufous-capped Nunlet, Peruvian Recurvebill and Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher. Star of the show though was a Tapir that crossed our path and stood on it in broad daylight for about three minutes. We explored numerous tracks in the area looking for Emperor Tamarins but too no avail. There had been some trouble here recently between loggers and natives resulting in a shot native, an arrowed logger and quite a few police being flown in. After three or four days around here we slowly headed back to Puerto Maldonado.
Our final eight days were spent in the area of Tambopata Jungle Lodge. We stayed in the chalets with Dave and Pedro and helped out a little with Dave's study of one of the ant species there. Using Dave's boat we were able to visit a few areas nearby including Picaflor lodge that has very good bamboo, Lago Condonado - Black-breasted Mango, Festive Coquette and Black Caimans and Dave's transects over the river. There is a Crested Eagle nest in the area but it's difficult to get to. Ask for Arturo, Dave's other helper, at the lodge. The best stuff here was mainly from the bamboo - Flammulated Bamboo Tyrant, Rufous-capped Nunlet, Peruvian Recurvebill, Goeldi's Antbird, White-lined Antbird, White-cheeked Tody-Tyrant and Rufous-headed Woodpecker. The beer here is expensive ($3 each) so if you can't go without, take a crate from Maldonado (only $1 each)
A few birds were seen around Lima. You can walk to the beach if you stay in Miraflores. Birds to be seen include Peruvian Booby and Pelican, Band-tailed and Kelp Gulls and the odd Inca Tern etc.
The following list details all of the birds seen. Only a few 'heards' are included such as nocturnal species and some tinamous etc. No tapes were used during the trip. Several species groups were tricky, particuarly woodcreepers, swifts and flycatchers. Tinamous, especially, were very confusing using the new Peru guide - we feel sure there are some errors there. Birds of Colombia was a much greater help a lot of the time.
Full Bird List