Monday, 2 July 2018

NORTHERN PERU 2018: Arrival and the NW (27 June-02 July)

This is the first of several blog posts giving my take on a very enjoyable trip to Northern Peru. It is illustrated with some variable quality photos of mine, some heavily cropped, taken with a Canon SX60 Bridge Camera, supplemented by some better ones taken by Chris Gooddie using a Canon SLR & lens combination that I could hardly lift. The 5"x3" blog format (7"x5" at a push) hides the shortcomings of my images whereas most of Chris's would make good screen savers.

Introduction. I had visited Peru with Nick Preston and Michael Grunwell in 1984 (see We had a mainly enjoyable time, but an awful lot of hassle, and saw some amazing birds but for several reasons (Shining Path, falling out-of-love with Neotropical birding) I’d not seriously considered a return visit for many years. Going to Ecuador in 2015 with the late Jon Hornbuckle, Marc Brew and Rod Martins (see put South America back in the forefront of my mind and I’ve been fortunate to do several trips to the region since then. When, in summer 2017, Mike Catsis asked if I’d be interested in Northern Peru it took no time at all to say yes, very much. Particularly as Mike had a long term Peruvian birding friend, Juvenal CCahuana Mirano (Juve), who had agreed to drive us around in his 4WD. We needed a third to make the trip affordable and Nick Preston didn’t take much persuading even though he'd been before, as had Mike. Chris Gooddie was also interested and soon committed too. Mike confirmed dates and a provisional itinerary with Juve and we booked flights to Lima in December. We downloaded birdsongs and trip reports and Chris did some great work on site lists for everywhere we intended visiting. Before we knew it the trip was upon us and we were off ...

27 June. Megan dropped Nick and me at Shoreham Station where the train to Gatwick was on time. We checked in, my rucksack to oversize baggage as usual, not that it was very heavy. We met Mike on the way to security and before long Chris joined us in the departure lounge. The BA flight was on time, leaving just before 14:00. It looked to be an old Boeing 777. Decent food but not a great selection of films but I enjoyed Molly’s Game. It was a 12 hour flight and we landed in Lima about 20:00 local time, a few minutes early. We soon went through immigration (no visa required), collected our bags and exited the airport where a man was waiting outside with Mike’s name on a board. He signalled a taxi driver who took us to our hotel, the Tupac Hostel 15-20 minutes away. It was basic but all we needed for an overnight stay.

28 June. I didn’t sleep well - the hostel was noisy and I was wide awake at 02:00 with jetlag. I dozed to 04:40 then got up. We had arranged a taxi back to the airport at 05:15 and checked in for our Avianca A300 flight to Trujillo. It was a few minutes late departing but soon climbed above the clouds for the 50 minute flight. Nick and my bags were late being unloaded and we exited the airport to find Mike and Chris talking to Juve who had driven up from Cusco to meet us. Juve had very limited English, matching Nick & my Spanish, although Mike was pretty fluent in Spanish and Chris knew enough to get by. Language was never a problem but it would have been nice to converse more readily with Juve . We left the airport at 09:00 and drove the 2.5-3 hours to Sinsicap. The Trujillo area was very arid with lots of unpleasant smells and some major roadworks on the Pan American Highway that involved closing one carriageway for 20 minutes at a time. We soon started climbing inland and made a brief stop at a garage for those needing refreshments. Here we turned onto a dirt track that lead up to Sinsicap, birding dry scrubby hillsides and gulleys where we saw Purple-collared Woodstar, Black-necked Woodpecker, Unicoloured Tapaculo, Puira Chat Tyrant, Russet-bellied Spinetail and Bay-crowned Brush Finch. We headed down at about 15:00 birding along the road in a few places with our last stop producing 3 Great Inca Finches. It was 2.5 hours drive back to Trujillo where Juve with Nick and Chris’s help visited a supermarket to stock up on field breakfast items. We continued north up the Pan American Highway to the seaside town of Huanchaco where we drove around several times looking for somewhere to stay. We settled on the rather expensive Sombrero Hotel, cheaper options being full, and I stayed in writing up my notes while the others went out for a meal.
leaving a very dull Lima

hills above Sinsicap
Purple-collared Woodstar on nest
Peruvian Sheartail at Sinsicap
another male Peruvian Sheartail
female Black-necked Woodpecker, the nearby male had a red moustachial

White-crested Elaenia
looking back down the dry valley
Puira Chat-Tyrant
Unicoloured Tapaculo at Sinsicap (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Russet-bellied Spinetail, another target species seen well at Sinsicap
Great Inca Finch by the road below Sinsicap

29 June. We left soon after 05:00 after a very poor night. Our visit had coincided with a fiesta with loud music and fireworks all night. It sounded as if it was happening right outside our window but the main venue seemed to be a sports ground almost a km away. It took 3 hours to drive north to Rafan and Juve heard a Peruvian Plantcutter calling before he’d stopped the car. He set up breakfast while we birded the dune scrub. In two hours we at least 12 Peruvian Plantcutters, Rufous and Baird’s Flycatchers, Cinereous Finch, Tumbesian and Grey & White Tyrannulets and a Tschudi’s (Desert) Nightjar which Nick initially flushed. A brilliant start with the plantcutter a species I’d been a little concerned about seeing, and an excellent field breakfast to boot. We continued on to Bosque Pomac arriving in the heat of the day at about 12:00. It appeared completely dead but eventually birds showed themselves, the better species being Tumbes Swallow, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and Necklaced Spinetail. After a field lunch we tried a couple of nearby tracks without seeing much although two pairs of Burrowing Owls were great. We left mid-afternoon and drove to Olmos where we checked into the Hotel Portculis. We drove out past the edge of town and finished the day birding along a dry riverbed seeing Collared Plover and Short-tailed Field Tyrant, the latter a welcome reacquaintance after 34 years. Back at the hotel it took an hour for our meals to arrive, Nick and I having to wait the longest for omelet and chips.
Long-tailed Mockingbird at Rafan
Peruvian Plantcutters

Rufous Flycatcher at Rafan

Baird's Flycatcher at Rafan
Tumbesian Tyrannulet at Rafan (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Costal Miner at Bosque Pomac
Grey & White Tyrannulet, with a name like that I wasn't expecting anything special
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet

Streak-headed Woodcreeper at Bosque Pomac, a smart bird
male Collared Antshrike
Amazilia Hummingbird
Burrowing Owls at Bosque Pomac

Collared Plover near Olmos
Short-tailed Field-Tyrant near Olmos

30 June. We left Olmos at 05:00 and drove to Quebrada El Limon, arriving as it was getting light at 06:30. Disappointingly we saw no night birds on the drive, not even a Pauraque, but no insects either wouldn’t have helped. Juve started preparing a field breakfast while we birded in the immediate vicinity but there was little activity other than Red-masked Parakeets (small flocks flying around although it took a while before any perched in view) and Plumbeous-backed Thrush. After an excellent breakfast we slowly walked up the dry valley slowly finding most of the key species - White-winged Guan (a flock of 17, Chis then saw another further up the valley), Ecuadorian Trogon, Elegant Crescentchest, Tumbes Tyrant, Speckle-breasted Wren and Black-capped Sparrow. At about 13:00 we turned around and headed back. Our return was much quicker and we were back at the vehicle by 15:00. Juve prepared lunch and we birded along the road back towards Olmos, making a prolonged stop along a dry river bed near the edge of town seeing 15 Peruvian Thick-knees and Peruvian Pygmy Owl but failing to see a Spot-throated Humming bird Juve got onto a couple of times as it quickly flew past. We were back in Olmos at 18:30 for a second night at Hotel Portculis.
Field breakfast at Quebrada El Limon, Mike, me and Nick (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Rufous Hornero by our breakfast site

walking up the valley
White-winged Guan

much more impressive in flight  (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Red-masked Parakeet
eventually we had good views
Tumbes Tyrant, not obvious enough for the autofocus to notice
more obscured when it did

White-tailed Jay

Ecuadorian Trogon
Ecuadorian Trogon (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Guyaquil Woodpecker

Vermillion Flycatcher at Quebrada El Limon
Black-capped Sparrow
Tumbes Sparrow at Quebrada El Limon
dried river bed near Olmos
Peruvian Thick-knees near Olmos, 11 of the 15 seen

this one looked a bit startled

Saffron Finch near Olmos
 01 July. We left Olmos at 05:00 for the 90 minute drive to Abra Porculla, turning off the main road to take a reasonable track up around a scrubby hillside and past a few shallow gullies with taller vegetation. As was becoming the norm we birded along the track while Juve went on ahead to set up breakfast. We then birded along the track for 6 hours, remaining just below 1900m. At times the clouds came down reducing visibility but it remained cool and the birds active. We saw Line-cheeked Spinetail, Chapman’s Antshrike, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Black-cowled Saltator and Rufous-necked and Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaners. The latter was a revelation and stole the show even if it didn’t stay still for the camera. We returned to the main road, crossed the pass (2137m) and had a late lunch in a roadside restaurant. There were no immediate birding options but Croatia beating Poland provided a distraction. At Chamaya, 17km short of Jaen, we spent an hour on a hot scrubby hillside where we saw Little Inca Finch. In Jaen we stayed in the pleasant Hoteleria El Bosque.
Abra Porculla soon after dawn

male Chapman's Antshrike at Abra Porculla
Rufous-chested Tanagers at Abra Porculla (photo: Chris Gooddie)
female Silver-backed Tanager
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta at Abra Porculla
White-bellied Woodstar
male Tooth-billed Tanager

female Tooth-billed Tanager
Black-cowled Saltator (photo: Chris Gooddie)
a fast disappearing Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner at Abra Porculla
a more complete image of the surprisingly impressive Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Lesser Nighthawk at Chamaya
Little Inca Finch at Chamaya

Maranon race Tropical Gnatcatcher at Chamaya  (photo: Chris Gooddie)
leaving Chamaya
02 July. A long day. We left Jaen at 04:00 to drive to Tamborapa stopping for an hour’s very frustrating owling on the way. As we were driving I saw what looked like a Striped Owl sat on a low post by the road but when we turned round there was no sign of it. We heard another a little further on but it was set back from the road and moved quicker than we were able to follow. We also heard a couple of West Peruvian Screech Owls but failed to see either, one being very close at one stage. Although owls are often more responsive before dawn it is easier to get a feel for an area at dusk which on this occasion we would have benefited from. We continued on to Tamborapa and Juve pulled in beside the road to prepare breakfast as it was getting light. There was tall scrub along both sides of the road but turned out that Juve had parked in an excellent position when a Maranon Crescentchest started calling from right beside the vehicle. It was one of my most wanted birds and gave good views but didn’t stay still long enough for photos which was disappointing. We also saw Necklaced Spinetail and Buff-bellied Tanager. We walked along a narrow trail seeing Maranon Spinetail but little else until it became rather overgrown. We returned to the car and left at 09:00, were back in Jaen at 10:15, packed and left at 11:00. During the 45 minutes Juve’s car had been on the hotel forecourt someone had stolen the camping gas cylinder he kept strapped to the roof-rack. On this occasion he’d unfortunately not padlocked it. We set off for Pedro Ruiz and at a toll-booth half way there Juve was told of some roadworks which would close the road to all traffic from 13:00-18:00. The section was probably 90km and was now 12:00. Juve drove like an experienced rally driver and long straights and little traffic on the first section of the road helped us average 100kph. This soon fell in a couple of towns and as the road dropped into a river valley. It was now very much touch and go if we’d make it, not helped by not knowing exactly where the road was to be closed. 13:00 anxiously came and went and at 13:05 we turned a corner to see two cones in the middle of the road and a man walking out with a third to close the road. He waved us through and we’d made it, just! We continued to Pedro Ruiz for lunch and then on up a valley to the touristy village of Gocta. We tried a few hotels before finding one with free rooms then birded the road back down the valley. It was our only chance of Maranon Thrush and Pigeon but at least Juve's driving had given us a chance. We walked a couple of kms down the road, a Maranon Pigeon flew past and another appeared briefly in a tree but neither views were helpful to most. It was starting to look as if beating the roadworks was going to be in vain as far as Maranon Thrush went but Juve knew a lighlt wooded bend a little further on where he’d seen them previously. Mike played a tape and a pair appeared. Superb. We continued birding to dusk then drove down the valley to the main river and along the gorge beside it. We tried for owls but only succeeded in waking some noisy dogs in the only area wide enough for more than a couple of trees. We returned to Gocta where the others had a meal and I wrote up my diary. A final owling session produced amazing views of West Peruvian Screech Owl at 21:20. A great end to the day.

early morning at Tamborapa

Maranon Northern Slaty Antshrike at Tamborapa (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Roadside Hawk
Clearwing butterfly Hyalyris antea frater at Tamborapa
unidentified butterfly at Tamborapa
Blue Morpho
Passion Butterfly (Agraulis vanillae
also known as Gulf Fritillary
view from Gocta
Shumba Collared Antshrike at Tamborapa (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Mike birding the road at Gocta
Nick at Gocta
Andean Emerald at Gocta
Maranon Thrush at Gocta
Maranon Thrush at Gocta  (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Maranon Thrush at Gocta  (photo: Chris Gooddie)
West Peruvian Screech Owl at Gocta

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