Friday 20 July 2018

NORTHERN PERU 2018: San Lorenzo and Aconabikh (14-20 July)

This is the final post recounting from my perspective a very enjoyable trip to Northern Peru with Mike Catsis, Chris Gooddie, Nick Preston and our excellent guide Juvenal CCahuana Mirano (Juve). With most of the trip behind us we had two sites left to visit, San Lorenzo where Juve had not been before and Aconabikh. Most of the photos are mine but I'm pleased to include some much better ones taken by Chris.

14 July. We left the hotel just before 07:00 for the five minute journey to the airfield at Yurimaguas. We waited 15 minutes for the office opposite to open and then we and our baggage were weighed. We crossed the road to the airport where we paid airport tax and after a short wait were led out to our charter, a twin-engined six seater Cessna. Two White-winged Swallows were on the tarmac to see us off. Mike sat next to the pilot, Chris, Nick, Juve and me behind and our bags were in the back. This definitely felt like a twitch and in many ways it was. We were after White-masked Antbird and it was the only reason for our visit. No pressure then although there were a few other new birds for us at San Lorenzo (and rather more than a few for Chris). We took off soon after 07:30 and headed north, flying low over good looking forest with the occasional small cleared patch for about 40 minutes before reaching the Maranon River. Here we touched down on San Lorenzo's gravel runway at 08:10 with small flocks of White-winged Parakeets flying over. It had been a really nice flight. We collected our bags and Juve’s contact Roger Bedoja (quickly to become known as Roger the Dodger) was waiting for us with his mototaxi and quickly found us another. We were taken to La Posada del Apu, one of only two hotels in town and dumped our bags. It had nice rooms but did not serve breakfast. We wandered around town rather aimlessly without finding anywhere suitable for breakfast before returning to the hotel to buy some cereal bars and watch football while waiting for Roger to reappear. When he did we hired another mototaxi and in convoy headed out of town on a dirt road heading northeast. After 8 kms we reached the start of a trail into the forest. It was already 10:30 and quite hot in the open, somewhat cooler in the forest but with more mosquitoes. We had birded along the trail for two hours, a female stipple-throated type antwren the best I had seen, when we encountered a small ant swarm. The few birds attending it were quite secretive but White-masked, Lunulated and White-cheeked Antbirds eventually showed to us all with varying degrees of briefness. Early success with White-masked took the pressure off and we returned to the road after 14:00. Roger had arranged for the mototaxi that had come out with us to return at 13:30 and fortunately it was still waiting. We returned to the hotel for a late lunch (I had chips) and a half hour rest before hiring two mototaxis to return to the same trail, this time without Roger who had a class to attend. We birded the same area without encountering any more ants but did see Great Jacamar, male Fasciated Antshrike, female Black-necked Red Cotinga and Greyish Mourner. We arrived back at the road at 18:15 and a Short-tailed Nighthawk showed briefly while we waited for the mototaxis we’d asked to return for us. They arrived at 18:30 and we set off for town but the one Nick, Chris and I were in, which was behind, died half way back. Our driver fiddled around for a few minutes and managed to start it again but a km further on it ran out of fuel. We flagged down the next vehicle which took us back to our hotel although I had an unfounded concern that I wouldn’t be able to find it in the dark. Chips again!
Yurimaguas Airport: me, Nick, Juve, Chris and Mike by our charter to San Lorenzo. After the mud at Plataforma we were taking no chances with out footwear.
Moises Benzaquen Rengifo Aeropuerto, Yurimaguas
Nick and Chris on board, Mike was in front next to the pilot
me and Juve in the back
leaving Yurimaguas

Huallaga River at Yurimaguas

Nick admiring the largely untouched forest below

it was the same on my side
Maranon River as we approached San Lorenzo

good looking forest near town
settlements and clearings too
Maranon River at San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo runway
Nick arriving at San Lorenzo, already looking anxious about White-masked Antbird!
our plane on the only concrete at San Lorenzo airport
Fasciated Antshrike (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Great Jacamar (photo: Chris Gooddie)
15 July. We were due to leave with Roger at 06:00 but when he had not appeared by 06:20 Juve phoned him to be told he wasn’t coming. We flagged down two mototaxis and started back to the km 8 trail when he appeared. One mototaxi was dismissed and we were taken to a different site down smaller and smaller tracks southeast of town to an area of more patchy secondary and primary forest. It was perhaps not quite so hot but there were still lots of mosquitoes biting through my shirt. We birded the area until 12:30 encountering another small ant swarm with attendant White-masked, Lunulated, White-cheeked and Scale-backed Antbirds. Most improved on their White-masked Antbird views but I only saw it in flight which was disappointing but had nice views of male Lunulated. We also encountered White-chinned Jacamar, Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper and Black-banded Crake, although only Nick saw the later. The earlier mototaxi we’d asked to come back for us hadn’t turned up and so some of us left with Roger. We soon saw another mototaxi and directed them back to the others. We were back at the hotel soon after 13:00 for lunch (more chips for me). It was too hot to go back out immediately so we relaxed to 15:30 before going just out of town to the pipeline road. We spent the last hour of the day along a trail leading off it. It was generally quiet but for me the day was saved by a superb Rufous-capped Nunlet. We also saw Green-tailed Goldenthroat and male White-shouldered Antbird and heard more Black-banded Crakes. We returned to town at dusk to find the restaurant was closed and Gunnar Engblom in residence with a small group. I still had some biscuits and couldn’t be bothered going out with the others to look for something more substantial.
An Afuaninga by the trail at San Lorenzo, apparently harmless
White-chinned Jacamar

Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Lunulated Antbird at San Lorenzo (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Lunulated Antbird, one of my favourites (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Fabricius Sabrewing. It didn't stay still for any longer than the antbirds
Buff-throated Woodcreeper (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Green & Gold and Paradise Tanagers
Green & Gold Tanager
Paradise Tanager
White-shouldered Antbird  (photo: Chris Gooddie)
our transport. Mike auditioning for a new job had the relaxed posture off to a tee
rainbow over the San Lorenzo 'pipeline' road

Golden-green Woodpecker at San Lorenzo

Scarlet-crowned Barbet (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Rufous-capped Nunlet
sunset along the 'pipeline' road

16 July. A boat trip had been organised apparently to some primary forest on the other side of the Maranon River. I had hoped to return to the km 8 trail, which we had never done first thing, as I felt it provided the best chance of better views of White-masked Antbird and male Black-necked Red Cotinga but had been outvoted in my absence. I chose to stick with the others and not return to km 8, even though that trail was easy to find and hard to get lost along, but it was a decision I soon came to regret. Roger was supposed to meet us at the hotel at 05:30 but he was late. I decided that if he hadn’t shown by 06:00 I would go to km 8 anyway but regrettably as it turned out he was only 15 minutes late. A few distant Band-tailed Nighthawks were hawking low over the river as we departed soon after dawn and the boat took us up river for 20 minutes to a settlement where we disembarked to obtain permission to use their trails. The chief was away but we were led to his house where another villager appeared and gave us the OK. Back on the boat there were no decent tall trees in sight so it was disappointing, to say the least, when five minutes upstream we disembarked. We headed inland along an indistinct muddy trail through poor riverside habitat. There were few birds in evidence although three White-eared Jacamars in a more open area were excellent. We again heard a Black-banded Crake but it wasn’t responsive and the trail soon petered out. On the promise of primary forest elsewhere we returned to the boat, crossed to the other side of the Maranon River and almost returned to San Lorenzo before taking a narrow creek for almost 45 minutes. We disembarked and followed a muddy track through a cleared area to a farm where, with no decent forest in sight, our frustration became the better of us. Roger told us it was at least another 25 minute walk to the forest but as it was already 11:20 and very hot we decided to return to San Lorenzo having wasted enough time already. We were back La Posada del Apu at 13:00, I had chips and salad for lunch and we relaxed until 15:30 when we returned to km 8. It was quiet along the trail until we had to turn back when we briefly heard a distant White-masked Antbird calling. Unfortunately it was unresponsive in the limited time we had left and after a brief search we quickly returned to the road, keen not to have to do so in the dark. We arrived soon after 18:00 and after a short wait one of the two mototaxis we had arrived in returned. Nick, Chris and I having had the worse return journey the first evening were taken back in it. Mike and Juve waited for the other but it did not show and they had to walk almost half way back before flagging down a ride, finally arriving at La Posada del Apu an hour after us. Not the greatest of days although as well as the jacamar we had seen Black-tailed Trogon, Black-fronted Nunbird, Scarlet-crowned Barbet and Great Antshrike.

sunrise over the Maranon River (photo: Chris Gooddie)
our boat being prepared
Juve at the helm
'permission' stop
White-eared Jacamar at San Lorenzo


Chestnut-eared Aracari (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Black-tailed Trogon at San Lorenzo (photo: Chris Gooddie)
17 July. We left the hotel soon after 06:00 and flagged down two mototaxis to take us to San Lorenzo airport where we arrived at 06:20. It was deserted with a padlocked gate and two Cesnas on the limited tarmac, the two-engined plane we had arrived in and a slightly smaller one with a single engine. Small flocks of White-winged Parakeets and one of Cobalt-winged flew over while we were waiting and at 06:45 the pilot arrived and let us in. He started pre-flight checks on the smaller plane, collected airport tax and loaded our baggage. We were soon on board, a similar seating arrangement to our outward flight. A steady stream of people were walking into town along the runway but soon moved off it when our engine started. We taxied to the end of the stony runway at 07:05 and really sped down it to quickly take off and fly low over the town. We were at low altitude (lower than coming in) for the whole flight with superb views of San Lorenzo and the Maranon River, including a large river island a short distance downstream of the town that might have been a more interesting destination for a boat trip. We crossed low over an area of flooded forest as we headed south towards Yurimaguas with distant Andean foothills to our west. We were soon over what appeared to be terra firma forest and closer to Yurimaguas we saw the first small clearings then a dirt road. We landed at 07:40, unloaded and took two mototaxis back to Hostal Akemi for breakfast. We loaded Juve’s vehicle and drove to Aconabikh with a brief stop or two on the way. Roadside birding near km 34 produced two Dotted Tanagers and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher. At Aconabikh we were taken by Hilder to the hummingbird feeders which were excellent. We saw 12 species including male Black-bellied Thorntail, Koepcke’s Hermit (for which the reserve is named) and Gould’s Jewelfront. Later Hilder led us around the trails where we saw Collared Puffbird, Golden-collared Toucanet, pairs of Spot-winged Antbirds and Musician Wrens, male Blue-crowned Manakin and Fulvous Shrike Tanager. A Crested Owl roost was unoccupied and a calling Russet-crowned Crake remained unseen by most of us although one did run across the track in front of Chris. We left at 17:00 and drove on to Tarapoto where we checked into Hotel Monte Azul. We had decent rooms and working wi-fi once I’d rebooted my phone (at Chris’s suggestion). We walked down to the town’s main square and had a decent meal in a reasonably posh restaurant beside it.
Mike, Juve, me and Nick waiting outside San Lorenzo Airport.
San Lorenzo Airport, our plane was the smaller one on the right
walking to School/work along the runway
loading our bags
the runway soon cleared when the engine started
over San Lorenzo
over the Maranon River
small river island
over swamp forest, note the fixed wheel which didn't retract
terra firma and Andean foothills
the first clearings appeared as we were still some distance from Yurimaguas

soon clearings intensified and the firsr road appeared

Huallaga River approaching Yurimaguas
over the outskirts of Yurimaguas
White-winged Swallow at Yurimaguas
near Aconabikh
Double-toothed Kite near Aconabikh
Black-bellied Thorntail at Aconabikh (photo: Chris Gooddie)

Blue-fronted Lancebill
Gould's Jewelfront
sparkling male Gould's Jewelfront
Gould's Jewelfront showing its jewel (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Koepcke's Hermit at Aconabikh
Koepcke's Hermit at Aconabikh (photo Chris Gooddie). The slightly decurved bill suggests a female?
White-necked Jacobin
Spot-winged Antbird (photo: Chris Gooddie)
we eventually found the calling Collared Puffbird that was hiding in the canopy
Collared Puffbird (photo: Chris Gooddie)
a male green bodied race of Blue-crowned Manakin (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Fulvous Shrike-Tanager
Golden-collared Toucanet

18 July. We left Tarapoto at 06:00 stopping to bird along the road on both sides of the Tarapoto Tunnel while Juve prepared breakfast. It was a dull morning but there was little activity with Rufous-bellied Euphonia and Blue-naped Chlorophonia best. We continued on to Aconabikh where we spent the morning on the trails with Hilder and Juve looking for ants, and more particularly Hairy-crested Antbird which Hilder thought our chance of finding was about 50:50. We had no success. Three male Golden-headed Manakins the best I saw although some had brief views of Cinereous Tinamou and Starred Wood-Quail as they scuttled off the trail. Nick and I walked different forest trails at lunchtime with the same result. When Chris and Mike returned we spent another two hours on the trails seeing three male Andean Cocks-of-the-Rock and Chris and Mike White-plumed Antbird but little else. We rejoined Juve at the hummingbird feeders where the usual species flitted in and out, but no thorntail. Juve had seen Cinereous Tinamou and Starred Wood-Quail at a feeder hide that Hilder was building. Hilder found stools for us to sit on although they were too low to comfortably look through the hide’s viewing holes – it was still very much a work in progress. He put some more corn down and we spent the last hour of light looking at it but nothing came in. The vocal Russet-crowned Crake failed to perform again too. The most frustrating day of the trip so far, we returned to Tarapoto and ate in the same restaurant.

Paradise Tanager near the Tarapoto Tunnel
Tarapoto Tunnel (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Golden-headed Manakin at Aconabikh
Golden-crowned Manakin (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Koepcke's Hermit (and Gould's Jewelfront) at Aconabikh
Pale-tailed Barbthroat at Aconabikh

superficially similar to Gould's Jewelfront
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (photo: Chris Gooddie)
 19 July. We left Tarapoto at 06:00 and drove to Aconabikh with a few brief stops along the way. Juve prepared breakfast at Aconabikh and we entered the hide at 08:00 to see a Cinereous Tinamou already eating the corn left over from last evening. Hilder replenished the corn and watched anxiously, and uncomfortably, hoping the Starred Wood-Quail would come in. We were told they came in every day and so were prepared to sit it out. Two Cinereous Tinamou came in fairly regularly although less frequently as the day progressed, one appeared aggressive towards the other and they usually appeared separately. Two White-tipped Doves came in and mid-late morning a Black Agouti appeared and over the course of the next few hours returned for increasing long periods until virtually all of the corn had been eaten. At one stage a second smaller agouti appeared but it was chased off. Chris had seen the wood-quail from the trail the previous day and left to walk the trails but didn’t see much. Mike had a short break for lunch but Nick and I sat it out for eight hours. Hilder replenished the corn to which I’d earlier added a few broken biscuits but it was all to no avail. We had a final five minutes at the hummingbird feeders, had another frustrating listen to Russet-crowned Crake and left Aconabikh. It was a nice reserve and Hilder had been very helpful but I’d found our visits increasingly frustrating. We left Aconabikh and spent the last hour of light birding the roadside on the Tarapoto side of the tunnel seeing a very distant White-throated Toucan. At last light an Olive Tanager flew across the road and landed very briefly before diving into cover. I missed it, not that it would have been a countable view, but still disappointing to finish the trip on a dip. It had been that sort of day.
Cliff Flycatcher near the Tarapoto Tunnel
Cinereous Tinamou at the unfinished feeder at Aconabikh

viewing portal

its visits provided a nice distraction until we realised it was relentlessly hoovering up all the corn

not much left now
this lizard briefly broke the monotony during our vigil
nice views of White-tipped Dove

our Northern Peru route, Trujillo to Tarapoto (photo: Chris Gooddie)
 20 July. Our last day. Juve was driving back to Cuzco, a three day journey, so we didn’t try any early morning birding and had a late breakfast. Juve dropped us at Tarapoto airport for our mid-day flight to Lima. He had been a brilliant guide and we were sad to say goodbye. Juve was slowly driving back to Cuzco and it would have been great to go with him birding along the way. Hopefully another time. Our flight to Lima was on time but we arrived there to find our final leg, British Airways to Gatwick, was showing as delayed. We had an eight hour wait anyway having decided not to risk booking a later flight from Tarapoto, and now it was likely to be nearer 12. We had been very fortunate that the trip had gone so smoothly, even the mud at Plataforma hadn’t caused real problems, but wouldn’t have bet on BA being the least reliable carrier (even Southern Rail had been on time). We were given a meal voucher and finally departed before midnight. The delay we were told very apologetically was the knock-on effect of bad weather in Chicago two days earlier. To make matters worse it was an old plane and its entertainment system had stopped working on the way in from Gatwick although some in-flight rebooting eventually allowed a handful of films to be seen on a loop. We made up some time and Nick returned to Shoreham with me where we arrived mid evening, Megan meeting us at the station.

Acknowledgements. I've copied the first part of this pretty much from Mike and I agree with him totally. Without the help of local people it is impossible for visiting birders to be successful in the limited time they usually have at their disposal, and we were no different. We would like to thank the following people for their help in accessing habitat or private reserves, in providing information on site, in guiding us around a particular reserve or in showing us particular species:

Lino Rico at Quebrada El Limon who has played a major role in monitoring and protecting the population of White-winged Guans there, Kenny Rodriguez and Wilmer Montenegro at Fundacion Alto Nieva, Norbil Becerra at the Reserva Arena Blanca, Darwin Vega who drove us fearlessly and expertly up to Plataforma and Eugenio and Olga and their family who guided us and looked after us there, Roger Bedoja at San Lorenzo and Hilder Delgado at Reserva Aconabikh. 

None of this would have been possible without Juvenal Ccahuana Mirano who arranged for all of the above to help us on top of him expertly guiding us throughout. His knowledge of the Northern Peru birding sights was excellent, more so as he lives in Cuzco so they are by no means local. He put on a brilliant trip for us with for example field breakfasts maximising our birding time. He was good humoured throughout (despite the occasional grumpiness from us and having his camping gas canister and breakfast table stolen from the roof of the vehicle while left unattended during separate short stops). He provided an excellent and well organised service which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone. The only slight caveat being it would help if someone on the trip had basic Spanish but you can't have everything.

Finally I would like to thank Mike for arranging the trip, at least from our end, and inviting me on it. At a time I should add when we'd never met. As it turned out it was our third trip together and I certainly hope its not the last. Nick tells me it was about the 30th trip we had done together so no issues there. Chris was an excellent companion too. He and particularly Mike's knowledge of vocalisations was impressive as was Chris being able to photograph a distant flycatcher or woodcreeper and analyse the images later to firm up an identification. Thanks too to Chris for allowing me to include his images which add much to the blog. Thanks guys, until next time ...