Friday, 13 July 2018

NORTHERN PERU 2018: Waqanki and Plataforma (08-13 July)

This is the third of four posts 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). Most of the photos are mine but I'm pleased to include some much better ones taken by Chris.

08 July. We were out before dawn looking for nightbirds around the Casa de Seiso but poor flight views of a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl as it was getting light was all we managed. After breakfast we had a brief look in a nearby fruiting tree where Nick picked out a Hauxwell’s Thrush that didn’t linger long amongst the many Black-billed Thrushes. We drove the short distance to Waqanki where we spent most of the day on a couple of trails up into the forest behind. The first trail climbed gently following a shallow valley, the best birds along it being a stunning Fiery-throated Fruiteater found by Mike and a very brief female Painted Manakin. We also saw Foothill Antwren, Northern White-crowned Tapaculo, Mishuana Tyrannulet, Golden-headed Manakin and Yellow-cheeked Becard while I flushed a nightjar, most likely a Pauraque, while taking a short cut. Late morning we returned to a junction and started climbing up a steeper valley. Juve and Mike briefly saw a Scale-backed Antbird and while looking for it I wasn’t aware that the focus of attention had changed. After a couple of frustratingly awful views I eventually saw the bird well through binoculars and was quite surprised to see it was a male Painted Manakin! I had not realised that the antbird had slipped away immediately when attention switched to the manakin. We considered climbing up onto a ridge high above us to look for a couple of species but talked ourselves out of it – it was now early afternoon and was still a solid two hour climb. I would have gone as we had already climbed half-way there but it was a bit late in the day and there were no other takers. Coming down Chris & Juve were a little behind us and saw a flock which included a Yellow-crested Tanager. We heard their shout and hurried back to join them but the flock had moved on. We returned to the grounds of Waqanki Lodge, paid a rather steep entrance fee (not even a cup of tea offered) and headed up to some hummingbird feeders. Here another male Rufous-crested Coquette and a Black-throated Hermit finished the day nicely. We returned to Casa de Seiso for another excellent meal seeing, first seeing a Short-tailed Nighthawk at dusk.
Fiery-throated Fruiteater at Waqanki
a major target for us all

it made my top five birds of the trip
Mishana Tyrannulets (photo: Chris Gooddie)
male Painted Manakin (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Saddle-backed Tamarin at Waqanki (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Mike recording at Waqanki (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Rufous-crested Coquette around the hummingbird feeders at Waqanki
Rufous-crested Coquette (photo: Chris Gooddie)
White-necked Jacobin (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Casa de Seiso
09 July. I was out at 05:30 looking for nightjars along the edge of the woodland behind the casa. Nothing was calling but a brief view of a Short-tailed Nighthawk as I was walking back just about made it worthwhile. After breakfast we had a quick look at the fruiting tree but fewer thrushes were visiting and there was no sign of yesterday’s Hauxwell’s. We decided not to revisit Waqanki as we had a long way to drive and the entrance fee seemed excessive when could only spend a couple of hours there. Instead we drove to a forest patch near Morro de Calzado where Juve had previously seen Varzea Thrush. It proved a good choice as we soon found a Varzea Thrush which performed reasonably well and also saw Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Rufous-fronted Tody-Tyrant and perhaps best of all a superb pair of Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrants building a nest. It was then a six hour drive to Bellavista which was considerably enlivened by a roadside stop at Quiscarumi. A very narrow but deep cut that could very easily be driven past without noticing. From the short bridge crossing it one could look down into the shadows where at least 50 Oilbirds were roosting. Amazing to be watching them as big trucks rumbled past making the bridge shake. We stopped for a late lunch and coconuts at a wooden shack on the approach to Bellavista and while there the wind really got up and the heavens opened. The rain was torrential for about 15 minutes and the gusts of wind so strong we feared the hut’s corrugated iron roof might fly away. Fortunately the bad weather soon passed over and we continued on to Bellavista where we dropped our bags at the Hotel Mondeverde and headed back out to check some nearby paddyfields. The rain had made walking around the edges very muddy but no rails or crakes were taking advantage of it, just Black-necked Stilts and a few Limpkins. We finished by the Huallaga River south of town seeing two Large-billed Terns and as dusk was approaching, and initially quite distantly, Sand-coloured Nighthawks. We spent the last 20 minutes of light watching the nighthawks, with at least 60 present hunting low over the water including several that flew quite close. With a superb sunset it was a brilliant end to what was mainly a travel day.
Morro de Calzado
Collared Trogon near Morro de Calzado
Varzea Thrush - best views were against the light

Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant nest building

Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant (photo: Chris Gooddie)
One of two Lettered Aracaris near Morro de Calzado (photo: Chris Gooddie), I only saw them in flight.
one of two Ferruginous Pygmy Owls near Morro de Calzado

Oilbirds from the road at Quiscarumi

Juve at Quiscarumi Gorge (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Black-necked Stilt near Bellavista
Limpkin near Bellavista
sunset at the Huallaga River near Bellavista (photo: Chris Gooddie)
the sunset at its best (photo: Chris Gooddie)

10 July. We left Bellavista at 05:30 and drove for 30 minutes to an area of paddies on the way to La Cuarenta. They looked slightly wilder and less sterile than those visited previously which was encouraging. While Juve prepared breakfast we saw several Spotted Rails including one with chicks and Paint-billed and Grey-breasted Crakes although Russet-crowned Crake remained heard only. Several groups of Comb Duck flew over and ignoring obvious duplication I counted 115. We continued on to La Cuarenta encountering some rain on the way. Juve had been keeping in touch with drivers there as we needed to hire a high clearance vehicle to take us in to the Plataforma area. After five months of drought there had been five days of continual rain and the road was very bad. So bad that Juve’s go to driver had backed out but fortunately he knew another, Darwin, who was prepared to take us but for an increased fee. A new college was being built in La Cuarenta and the road there had recently been paved reducing our journey time. It was 40 kms from Bellavista and we arrived soon after 09:00. Reassuringly our high clearance vehicle was waiting for us, a  Toyota pickup with 175km on the clock. We squeezed inside although being packed in gave less opportunity to bounce around. Juve and a local who was hitching home climbed in the back, amongst our bags but under a tarpaulin. We’d hardly left the main square when the road became a sea of mud and we started slipping all over the place. The road was absolutely diabolical for pretty much its whole length. For much of the way there were two deep ruts in which we drove, like on an inverted railway track. Often we had to reverse and try a slightly different angle of attack, particularly on uphill sections, which most were. We had to stop seven or eight times for Darwin to dig the vehicle out as the ruts were too deep and a couple of times we all had to help, not that we could gain much purchase in the slippery mud with Darwin resorting to further digging to get us through. I was nursing a split in the side of one of my wellingtons that I’d hoped to get one last trip out of. The error of not taking a newer pair became apparent when the patch I had stuck on it failed and mud found its way in. Mud beats superglue. About half way to Plataforma we stopped for two hours while a vehicle coming the other way was dug out, the road being too narrow for us to pass it. The weather was dull with periods of rain which didn’t help and had the footing been firmer it might have been quicker to walk. The mud was worst in the villages we passed through but bad or very bad everywhere else. At about 15:30, almost six hours after leaving La Cuarenta, we breasted the brow of a hill and slipped and skidded down into Flor del Café, our destination. We later learnt we had travelled no more than 15km, an average speed of just 2.5km/hour! Flor del Cafe followed the ridge down for almost a km ending at a football pitch next to which our accommodation was situated. It was a new building with accommodation for six guests, but only one outside toilet and shower. We unloaded and were given a decent meal by Eugenio and Olga our very welcoming hosts. We headed out with Eugenio for the last two hours of daylight to look for an undescribed woodcreeper which often moved through on its way to roost. We were at about 2000m and it was cold and windy but more importantly was not raining. The habitat around the village was very scrappy, better forest patches were apparently further away, and the only birds seen were Pale-vented Pigeons, the woodcreeper not performing. At dusk a Foothill Screech Owl started calling from below the village and after three poor, or in my case pretty non-existent, flight views those of us who’d been to Wild Sumaco earlier in the year were having sinking feelings of déjà vu. Fortunately when it next called Juve had worked out exactly where it was and successfully lamped it. Brilliant. We returned for another excellent meal at our rather basic accommodation.
Spotted Rail between Bellavista and La Quarenta in early morning light that was really too poor for my camera
no such problems for Chris - Spotted Rail (photo: Chris Gooddie)
auto-focus was added to poor light for this Paint-billed Crake between Bellavista and La Quarenta 

again no such problems for Chris. Paint-billed Crake (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Paint-billed Crake (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Grey-breasted Crake (photo Chris Gooddie), I only saw it in flight.
transferring vehicles at La Cuarenta

Chris, Nick and me about to leave for Plataforma. Wellingtons were soon to prove essential
Chris, Juve and Darwin while we waited for a vehicle coming down
it took two hours for it to be dug out
we were not without our own problems

Mike was going nowhere

we finally made it to Flor del Cafe and our accommodation for the next three nights

superb views of distant mainly forest covered mountains from the village

11 July. A brilliant day, apart from the mud and the football. We had breakfast at 06:00 and birded around the village catching up with the ‘new’ woodcreeper and seeing two Little Ground Tyrants on nearby roofs. We continued through the village and southeast along the Capito Trail which led up onto the ridge above. It was very muddy, often several inches deep, making it very slippery and hard work. It also made birding difficult when having to constantly look where to put one’s feet. We climbed (slipped) up to the highest point of the ridge and encountered a small flock including some smart Straw-backed Tanagers as the cloud came down. It was a little easier following the ridge down although no less slippery. We saw a rather distant Chestnut-tipped Toucanet then Eugenio found a superb male Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater which sat deep in a tree for several minutes giving good views. I saw a female nearby after the others had walked on but then had to hurry to catch up with them when Juve found four Scarlet-banded Barbets. They soon gave excellent views - two of our main targets for Plataforma seen (and seen really well) in half an hour! We continued on to a decent forest patch of the side of the ridge and looking down into it, with the help of tapes, saw male Yellow-throated Spadebill and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater. Good views of two more stunning species, they had been amongst my highlights in Ecuador earlier in the year. Male Blue-rumped and female Jet Manakins were seen in another forest patch and we reluctantly headed back. On our return we saw two more Scarlet-banded Barbets, 2 more Scarlet-breasted Fruiteaters and 3 Scaled Fruiteaters. Really classy birds. We returned slowly for lunch hearing the start of the England v Croatia semi-final on a radio from next door, except it was hard to understand what was going on, the commentator in true South American fashion was rather excitable. We were taken to a shop in the middle of the village where the owner put on a TV for us to watch. It was just before half-time, England were 1-0 up but not looking comfortable and ended up losing 2-1 in extra time. Disappointing but Croatia had looked the better side from what we’d seen. Keen to forget about football we returned to the house and set out on another very muddy trail below the village. We went down a gully to a patch of primary forest where we were taken along a narrow trail to a dark area with areas of understory and open forest floor. This we were told was a good area to see the recently described Cordillera Azul or Plataforma Antbird. And so it proved after a tense wait when a male and then a female pretty much walked in and called at us. A superb end to a hard day. 
Little Ground Tyrant on a roof at Flor del Cafe
looking over Flor del Cafe

Capito Trail, Plataforma
abandoned wellington on the Capito Trail (photo: Chris Gooddie). It was too small to serve as a replacement for my split one, wrong foot too.
Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater on the Capito Trail

Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Scarlet-banded Barbet on the Capito Trail



Yellow-throated Spadebill (photo: Chris Gooddie)
it was absolutely stunning (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Yellow-throated Spadebill (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Chestnut-crowned Gnateater (photo: Chris Gooddie)
another total stunner (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Striped Treehunter at Plataforma (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Chestnut-tipped Toucanet
Blue-rumped Manakin at Plataforma (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Peruvian Tyrannulet (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Scaled Fruiteater at Plataforma

Flor del Cafe

12 July. Today was always going to be an anti-climax and so it proved. We had breakfast at 06:00 and took the equally muddy Oso Trail northeast along another ridge. We walked/slipped for four hours before turning back. We returned for a late lunch then set out along the original Capito Trail. It was slightly less muddy in places, as it had been sunny for most of the day, but was still very bad in others. We returned at dusk feeling very tired. We has seen very little, at least compared to the previous day. Highlights were a King Vulture, Black Hawk-Eagle, a single Scarlet-banded Barbet, Variable Antshrike, male Jet and 2 Blue-rumped Manakins and a pair of Straw-backed Tanagers. Back at our accommodation I found a hose to wash out my leaking wellington. Enough strong tea-coloured water came out to satisfy a herd of elephants before it eventually was close to being clean.
Plataforma sunrise  (photo: Chris Gooddie)
spectacular views from the Oso Trail

Versicoloured Barbet at Plataforma (photo: Chris Gooddie)
looking back towards Flor del Cafe
Nick finding a less muddy route

small-holdings were starting to outnumber forest patches along some parts of the trail
Crested Oropendola at Plataforma
Peruvian Tyrannulet
Plumbeous Pigeon at Plataforma

one of the muddier sections of the Oso Trail
hard to imagine it could be so muddy when the sun was burning down

Straw-backed Tanager at Plataforma (photo: Chris Gooddie)

13 July. It had been dry overnight and we left Flor del Café at 06:15 hopeful of a reasonable journey back. A distant Foothill Screech Owl had been calling before dawn but with clean wellingtons I was reluctant to try and follow it up. Darwin had on some clean trainers rather than wellingtons which was a good sign but hopes of a smooth return soon evaporated as we became bogged down in the middle of the town requiring some shovelling. Not the best start but we were soon clear of the village and sections of the road that had been in the sun seemed much improved. Those that had been in shade all day were still slippery but we only needed the shovel once more. We stopped and birded along the road on a couple of occasions. Views across the lower forest to distant mountain ranges were spectacular but there had been a lot of forest clearance near the road and one could imagine it would only increase as the population grew.  We saw Red-necked Woodpecker, Rose-fronted Parakeet, Lined Antshrike, Nick and I a good contender for Inambari Woodcreeper, Blackish Pewee and me a Fiery-throated Fruiteater. Frustratingly we heard but could not bring in a Subtropical Pygmy Owl. We arrived at La Cuarenta at 10:25 to find a festival atmosphere of a local school football competition complete with band and teen queens. Juve collected his vehicle and we quickly transferred our bags. Plataforma had been excellent, despite the mud, but we were keen to move on. We drove to Bellavista, Tarapoto and Yurimaguas. On the last section we had two 20 minute delays at roadworks as we dropped down into the Amazon basin on a series of hairpins. In Yurimaguas Juve contacted a friend of his who took us to Hostel Akemi near the airport. We dumped our bags then drove to the airline office where Mike and Juve found out about flights to San Lorenzo. There were no scheduled flights the next day but we could charter. We arranged to do so, departing at 07:30 the next morning and to return on a scheduled flight on the morning of 17 July (there was some uncertainty as to precisely when in the morning that would be). We returned to the hotel and as we were leaving for a meal Nick and I couldn’t lock our door. I decided to stay in and eat some biscuits instead and had taken a malaria tablet when Nick returned with one of the hotel staff to check the door. It did lock but required a certain knack that we'd not had, not the first time I’ve encountered such problems. At the restaurant I ordered fish but it took an hour to arrive during which time my malaria tablet was kicking in on an empty stomach. I came over feeling very queasy and faint and could only manage a few bites of the fish. What a waste, I should have stuck to biscuits.

leaving Plataforma

Tschudi's Woodcreeper on the road out from Plataforma (photo: Chris Gooddie)
Red-necked Woodpecker from the road

Red-necked Woodpecker (photo: Chris Gooddie)

while Darwin dug us out we birded the road, although calling it a road was generous
ours wasn't the only vehicle encountering difficulties
habitat clearance by the road to Plataforma, one fears that it will all look like this before too long
La Cuarenta football tournament

we were more interested in the refreshment stalls
roadside Roadside Hawk on the Yurimaguas Road (photo: Chris Gooddie)

Banded Orange Heliconian by the Yurimaguas Road

Plain Longtail
distant hummingbird by the Yurimaguas Road

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