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Trip Reports
North Peru 2000
February 13, 2004
Simon Allen

Northern and Central Peru: July 21st – August 20th 2000

After a very successful trip last year, I was delighted to have the opportunity to return to northern Peru in the summer of 2000, to lead the same tour for Kolibri Expeditions www.kolibriexpeditions.com Gunnar Engblom’s Lima-based company, in addition to visiting a number of little-known areas in the centre of the country. This report is a detailed account of the month-long period during which I guided various clients for different lengths of time. One of the reasons that I have not included detailed accounts of distances and accommodation is that a number of the areas are very difficult to access on one’s own without local knowledge, a sturdy 4WD vehicle, camping equipment and a real pioneer spirit. Birding some of these sites on public transport would be very difficult and time-consuming, if not impossible. Contact Gunnar Engblom directly at kolibriexp@telefonica.net.pe  for further information.

Tour Participants: Simon Allen (leader), Juvenal Ccahuana (driver and assistant), Fritz Muller, Heinz Remold, (both 21st –31st July), Mike Catsis (23rd July – 15th August), Phil Richardson (5th – 17th August), Peter Coburn (17th – 20th August).

July 21st : Lima – Lake Junin – Santa Eulalia valley
July 22nd : Santa Eulalia – Marcapomacocha – Lima – night drive
July 23rd : Rafan – Bosque Pomac – Olmos
July 24th : Quebrada Limon – El Tocto – Olmos
July 25th : Olmos – Abra Porculla – Jaen
July 26th : Jaen – Rio Tabaconas – Bagua Chica
July 27th : Bagua – El Paraiso
July 28th : Peña Blanca
July 29th : El Paraiso – Bagua Grande
July 30th : Bagua Grande – Pomacochas – Abra Patricia
July 31st : Abra Patricia – Afluentes – Nueva Cajamarca
August 1st : Nueva Cajamarca – Abra Patricia
August 2nd : Abra Patricia – Leimeibamba
August 3rd : Leimeibamba – El Limon
August 4th : El Limon – Celendin
August 5th : Celendin – Cajamarca – night drive
August 6th : El Molino – Chagual – Pataz
August 7th : Pataz – Buldibuyo
August 8th : Buldibuyo – La Montañita
August 9th : La Montañita
August 10th : La Montañita
August 11th : La Montañita – Huancaspata – night drive
August 12th : Yungay – Llanganuco
August 13th : Llanganuco – Pativilca
August 14th : Pativilca – San Damian – Puerto Huarmey
August 15th : Huarmey – Lomas de Lachay – Lima
August 16th : Lima – Bosque Zarate
August 17th: Bosque Zarate – Chosica – San Pedro de Casta
August 18th : San Pedro – upper Santa Eulalia valley
August 19th : Santa Eulalia – Marcopomacocha – Lima
August 20th : (pm) Pantanos de Villa


Lake Junin
About 5-6 hours drive from Lima via Chosica and La Oroya; this is the only site for the endemic Junin Grebe. All the regular high Andean waterfowl are also present, although Andean Avocet can be difficult. You need to arrive early in the morning and arrange boat hire, plus pay for a permit at the INRENA office in Ondores. The grebe is readily located if you manage to get out to the reed island which borders the deeper water, but cannot be securely identified from shore, even with a telescope. It is probably worth staying the night in Junin (or even Ondores) where there are some basic hotels.

Santa Eulalia Valley
This is accessible from the town of Chosica, about an hour east of Lima. There is a clearly signposted left turn in the town towards the village of Santa Eulalia. A rough and windy road climbs up through dry scrub and then slightly more humid shrubbery to a Polylepis woodland at about 4000m, before reaching the Marcapomacocha area.
Lower section
: beyond Huinco, good scrub above the bridge along the turn off to San Pedro de Casta holds species typical of the dry Pacific slope, including Black-necked Woodpecker, Canyon Canastero, Peruvian Sheartail, Oasis Hummingbird, Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant, plus endemics such as Great Inca-Finch, Bronze-tailed Comet, and even the rare Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch. An overnight stay in San Pedro probably increases the chance of finding this last species.
Middle and upper sections
: the Polylepis woodland below Marcapomacocha at 4000m is a good site for White-cheeked Cotinga, although camping at the site is important as the birds are inconspicuous after about 9am. Other possibilities include Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch, Striated Earthcreeper, Stripe-headed Antpitta and Black Metaltail.

This is accessible both from the Lima – La Oroya road and also from the Polylepis woodland. The area is currently being destroyed by locals who are collecting the cushion plants, on which a number of bird species depend, for mushroom growing. This could seriously threaten the continued existence of many species in the area. Possibilities in a number of different areas include White-bellied Cinclodes, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Olivaceous Thornbill (all in or near cushion bogs), Dark-winged Miner, Grey-breasted and Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Giant Coot, Junin (bunch grass) and Streak-throated Canasteros, Black-breasted Hillstar (on hillsides close to the junction with the main road), Silvery Grebe, Puna Snipe and Puna Tinamou. Accessible in a day from Lima with an early start but better birded on the way back from Lima after spending the night at the Polylepis woodland. It is very difficult, to bird this site or the Santa Eulalia valley on public transport.

There are a number of sites in the area. Rafan is the most reliable site for the key species, Peruvian Plantcutter. Rufous Flycatcher and other species also occur. Turn right in the village of Mocupe, about a half hour drive south of the city. Bosque Pomac also holds these two species plus a range of other Tumbesian endemics. Black-faced Ibis may nest on the cliffs around the mirador and Tumbes Swallow occurs along the river. The reserve is accessible from Batan Grande, to the north-east of the city via Ferreñafe. The marshes at Puerto Eten hold migrant shorebirds, plus potential Peruvian Thick-knee and Least Seedsnipe, and some Humboldt Current seabirds are visible from the beach. There is a wide variety of accommodation in the city.

This is the best base to use to look for the White-winged Guan. Quebrada Limon remains probably the most reliable site, although should be visited with a guide. One may be able to be arranged from the Barbara d’Achille Guan centre, or ask for Lino at El Limon. In the canyons themselves, other possibilities include Red-masked Parakeet, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, Short-tailed Woodstar, Guayaquil Woodpecker, White-tailed Jay and a number of other Tumbesian species. Less likely are Pale-browed Tinamou, Ochre-bellied Dove (rare) and Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner. Lower down in the flatter areas desert scrub, especially along the track towards El Tocto, Tumbes Tyrant, Tumbes Hummingbrid and Tumbes Sparrow are possible amongst others. The forest reserve at Laquipampa a couple of hours from Chiclayo could become a good site: the guan has been recorded there, and the area is likely to represent the southerly limits of ranges of a number of Tumbesian species. Near Olmos itself a small marshy area about three kilometres north of town is a regular site for Spotted Rail, and Masked Duck has been recorded there in the past.

Abra Porculla
This is the rather low pass in the western Andes on the way to Jaen from the coast. It is a traditional collecting site where a number of rare species have been recorded in the past, such as Grey-headed Antbird and Ochre-bellied Dove, although the habitat is very degraded and difficult to access. Possibilities in the scraps of woodland left are Black-cowled Saltator, Chapman’s Antshrike, Elegant Crescentchest, Piura Chat-Tyrant (scarce) and Three-banded Warbler.

This is one of the nicest towns in northern Peru and is a convenient stopping off point on the way to the forests of the east slope. Hostal Prims is a good place to stay and is about $30 US for a double. The dry scrub and woodland along a track north of town holds Chinchipe Spinetail, Peruvian Slaty-Antshrike and Spot-throated Hummingbird, and Marañon Crescentchest is possible. Patches of woodland further north towards the Ecuadorian border may yield Marañon Spinetail and there are old reports of Slaty Becard. The Rio Tabaconas drainage is a possible area for the former.

Bagua Chica
This is a small town not far from the Marañon, a little way off the main highway from Jaen to Pedro Ruiz. It is the best place to stay for those planning to visit the Urakusa area, before heading off on the very long drive north. Hotel Wilson is recommended. The town itself lies close to some desert scrub habitat where Little Inca-Finch is readily found, in addition to Marañon Crescentchest (sometimes elusive) and some more widespread species.

Peña Blanca
This is the site for Orange-throated Tanager. However, getting to the area involves a long, long drive on very poor roads (4WD necessary) and access once there is also difficult due to the presence of an indigenous population for whom the area is a sacred site. A number of people who have tried to go independently have been forced to leave by the local tribes, despite the fact that the road is a public highway. Efforts are being made to develop ecotourism in the area on a more permanent basis but currently it is not recommended to try and visit the area alone. Those interested should contact Gunnar Engblom at Kolibri Expeditions or Barry Walker at Manu Expeditions. It is hoped that some kind of arrangement can be reached as the foothill forests in this area are very species rich and are an excellent birding area that warrants more exploration than it has so far received. There are some quite large patches of decent forest all the way along the road from the village of Aramango onwards but the Peña Blanca area holds the most untouched forest as the native population give it some degree of protection. It would still be possible to bird all the way along the road to El Paraiso without entering a disputed area, and the tanager has been recorded well before arriving at Peña Blanca. Although large species are essentially absent due to hunting pressure, a wide variety of west Amazonian species are present, including a number of rare and little-known specialities. Species already recorded in the area include Black Bushbird, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Red-billed Tyrannulet, Blackish Pewee, Ecuadorian Cacique, Purple-throated Cotinga, Gould’s Jewelfront, Golden-collared Toucanet and White-browed Purpletuft, plus a wide variety of tanagers, flycatchers, furnariids and antbirds. The whole length of the road really merits a week-long camping trip but tour groups tend to go for two or three nights only.

This town, next to a large lake on the eastern spur of the Andes, is best known as the site for Marvellous Spatuletail, which can be found in the area of the Rio Chido trail (although very rarely along the trail itself) about 4 kilometres back towards Pedro Ruiz. The habitat is very degraded, and it may take a little exploration to find good patches, but still holds some good birds. The spatuletail males can be very elusive, but the best spot traditionally has been behind the café at the top of the bend above the bridge. The best thing to do is to ask for Edilberto Bustamante, a boy who lives near the café close to the Rio Chido trail, and who should be able to show you one if you arrive early in the morning (and find him of course). Other possibilities in the area include White-rumped Hawk, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Emerald-bellied Puffleg, Buff-bellied Tanager, whilst less likely species, which you may need to walk a fair distance up the Rio Chido trail to find, include Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Rusty-tinged Antpitta and Inca Flycatcher.

Abra Patricia
This is the birder’s name for the low pass (c.2400m) over the eastern Andes which represents the highest point on the now fully paved road between Pomacochas and Rioja. It takes about an hour to reach the top from Pomacochas, which some people use as a base to bird the upper sections. There is no accommodation close to the area, although there are a few potential camping spots and it is also possible to spend the night on the wooden floor of the restaurant at the pass itself. The habitat is currently largely untouched, although areas are being steadily cleared close to the road and trails into good forest are few and far between. Birding is good from the road, but some species can only be seen by venturing into good habitat. The area around the pass, where there is an indistinct trail, and down to about 2100m holds a wide variety of Andean species, in addition to a number of endemics and specialities. Amongst a wide range of possibilities, the more sought-after species include Rusty-tinged, Rusty-breasted and Chestnut Antpittas, Yellow-scarfed Tanager, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Emerald-bellied Puffleg, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, and an undescribed race of Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant, whilst more regular fare is provided by Andean Guan, White-collared Jay, Golden-headed Quetzal and Crimson-mantled Woodpecker. The area from 2200m down to 1200m above Afluentes is fairly reliable for Orange-breasted Falcon.
Further down the road passes by two or three ridges cloaked in stunted forest with palms predominant. This is the Alto Nieve area, famous as the type locality for such ornithological enigmas as Long-whiskered Owlet and Ochre-fronted Antpitta, although no-one has ever seen these birds without using mist-nets. There is one trail which follows the second ridge, and another very muddy one that goes into the valley bottom, but through rather disappointing habitat. More realistic specialities include Royal Sunangel, Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant and Bar-winged Wood-Wren, whilst other exciting species in the area are White-capped Tanager and Rufous-tailed Tyrant.

Further down the slope from Alto Nieve the forest changes and a different set of lower subtropical and upper tropical birds can be found. The best area is around a sharp bend in the road, where a large mixed flock can often be found, which could contain the endemic Speckle-chested Piculet, Versicoloured Barbet, Ecuadorian and Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulets, Grey-mantled Wren, Equatorial Greytail and a host of tanagers including possibly Vermilion Tanager. The little-known Ash-throated Antwren, previously known only from the Jesus del Monte area, has now been discovered near Afluentes but can be difficult to track down. Andean Cock-of-the-rock and Amazonian Umbrellabird are both regularly encountered and other possibilities include Ecuadorian Piedtail, Blackish Antbird, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Black-and-white Tody-Tyrant (rare), Olivaceous Greenlet, Black-mandibled Toucan and Blue-naped Chlorophonia.
A few kilometres further down the road passes through a gorge and crosses a beautiful river. This is Puente Aguas Verdes, where there is a restaurant to have lunch and where one could conceivably stay the night. The forest alongside the road for the next couple of kilometres is worth exploring. Possibilities include Grey-chinned Hermit, Wire-crested Thorntail, Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater (scarce), Yellow-crested and Huallaga Tanagers, and Olive-chested Flycatcher, whilst Torrent Duck occurs on the river. Beyond here the forest quickly gives way to large areas cleared for agriculture.

Moyobamba area
Those visiting the Tarapoto or Afluentes areas might use this lowland town for an overnight stay. The open country and patches of woodland around the town support a number of species rare in Peru, including Pale-breasted Thrush and Burnished-buff Tanager, which can be seen with luck along the road to Jerillo. Jerillo itself is the gateway for the distant Jesus del Monte area, type-locality for the rare Ash-throated Antwren. This village is a tough 15km hike into the foothills from Jerillo, but adventurous birders may wish to undertake this with the help of a local guide with mule - ask around in the village. The forest is becoming degraded but it is a very interesting area ornithologically and a number of poor soil specialists have been recorded here, including Napo Sabrewing and an isolated population of Purple-breasted Cotinga. Other possibilities include Sharpbill, Blue-rumped Manakin, and the rare Spot-winged Parrotlet.

This large town is situated about 3-4 hours beyond Moyobamba, in the Amazon lowlands. We did not visit the area this time but it has a lot of potential, and species recorded near the pass about 20km from town along the road to Yurimaguas, include the endemic Koepcke’s Hermit, Blackish Pewee, Pavonine Quetzal, Band-bellied Owl, Scaled Fruiteater and an isolated population of Plumbeous Euphonia (rare).

The increasingly fragmented temperate forest patches some 45 minutes above this town on the way towards Balsas and the Marañon valley are the most accessible site for the rare endemic Russet-mantled Softtail, which can be found in the larger areas of forest, and is very responsive to tape. Other specialities include Coppery-naped Puffleg (split from Sapphire-vented), Coppery Metaltail (scarce), the peruviana race of White-chinned Thistletail, and the grey insignis race of Superciliaried Hemispingus. A number of typical Andean species can also be found, the most interesting of which include Curve-billed Tinamou, Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Moustached Flowerpiercer and Sword-billed Hummingbird, one of several species of hummer present.

Balsas and El Limon
These two tiny settlements in a spectacular arid canyon of the Marañon valley are home to a number of restricted-range species of the Marañon Endemic Bird Area. The orchards and riverine woodland near Balsas in the valley bottom support Peruvian Pigeon and Marañon Thrush, whilst the xerophytic, cactus scrub and Bombax forest on the lower slopes of the valley hold Buff-bridled Inca-Finch, Marañon Gnatcatcher, Black-necked Flicker and possibly the rare Yellow-faced Parrotlet (scarce). On the Celendin side of the wide canyon, higher up the slope brushy hedgerows and scrubby hillsides around Hacienda El Limon support Grey-winged Inca-Finch, Chestnut-backed Thornbird and Buff-bellied Tanager, whilst higher still humid shrubbery hold Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant and Black-crested Tit-Tyrant.

Celendin to Cajamarca
Much of the natural vegetation along this road has been removed, although an area of shrubbery 11km from Celendin has a record of Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch. The semi-natural wooded area just beyond the village of Cruz Conga holds the cajamarcae race of Rufous Antpitta, and there are records of the sought-after White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, for which the Cajamarca area could be a stronghold. Open areas hold a variety of Andean species, including Shining Sunbeam, Rufous-webbed Tyrant, Paramo Pipit and Slender-billed Miner. The rare Grey-bellied Comet has recently been found near Cajamarca airport, while a population of the little-known Great Spinetail has been discovered along the road south towards Cajabamba.

El Molino and Chagual
This is an even more remote area than Balsas, and only accessible by road via Huamachuco, although Chagual can be reached by weekly flights from Trujillo. This is a very rough road and a sturdy 4WD (preferably not your own!) is an absolute must. There is very basic accommodation at El Molino, where Purple-backed Sunbeam is fairly readily found in shrubby gullies 300m or so below town, and also in the valley bottom at Chagual, although this is not recommended due to the heat and mosquitos. 11km below the town of Aricapampa, below El Molino, the dry scrub holds Great Spinetail and Buff-bridled and possibly Rufous-backed Inca-Finches, whilst Yellow-faced Parrotlet and Peruvian Pigeon occur in the cactus scrub and woodland by the river. The town of Pataz, an hour above Chagual, is the gateway to the ruins at Gran Pajaten in Rio Abiseo NP. The montane scrub 5km or so along the track towards the park holds the rare Rufous-backed Inca-Finch and a possible new species of earthcreeper.

La Montañita
This new site is a remote area adjacent to Abiseo NP which harbours many of the rare Carpish endemics. It is accessed via a terrible road that leaves the Buldibuyo to Pataz road about 30-45 minutes north of the former, near the top of the pass. About an hour from the turn-off the track passes a lake and then reaches another pass before crossing the east slope and entering an area of elfin forest patches and boggy grassland at about 3300m. This habitat is similar to the Bosque Unchog area in the Carpish mountains, and a section of the Tayabamba-Ongon trail just to the south. Birds in the elfin forest include endemics such as Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager, Bay-vented Cotinga, Coppery Metaltail and Neblina Tapaculo. Pardusco has not yet been recorded but proabably occurs. Other species include Undulated Antpitta, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant and Great Sapphirewing amongst others. Following the road down, past the ruins of a blue truck, the habitat changes to temperate forest with bamboo prolific in the understorey. Possibilities in this area include Rufous-browed Hemispingus, Russet-mantled Softtail, Striped Treehunter, Large-footed Tapaculo, Plushcap and Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant. In the temperate forest from here down to 2700m or so where the track ceases to become driveable the large cast of possible species includes Pale-billed and Rusty-tinged Antpittas, Swallow-tailed Nightjar, Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Drab Hemispingus, Yellow-scarfed Tanager, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Rufous-capped Thornbill and Ochraceous-breasted Flycatcher, whilst rarities such as Greater Scythebill might conceivably occur. Further down the valley there is still forest, and it reaches the altitudinal range of Yellow-browed Toucanet, although the area is currently inaccessible to all but an extremely adventurous expedition, and this little-known species has not been seen for many years. There is obviously no accommodation in the area and full scale camping gear is obligatory. There are a couple of basic hotels in Buldibuyo and shops to stock up with supplies. Two hours south of Buldibuyo the trail from Tayabamba to Ongon holds similar species including old records of the toucanet but the habitat is apparently becoming fragmented and the route is not currently recommended due to the presence of bandits. Tayabamba itself has a rather unfriendly feel to it, which is thankfully unusual in Peru in general.

Huascaran NP
This large protected area in the Cordillera Blanca is centred around the towering peak of Huascaran, the highest peak in the world which lies within the tropics. The Llanganuco lakes are a popular tourist area above from the town of Yungay, where there is accommodation, and the most accessible sector of the park. This is a beautiful area which houses the most extensive area of Polylepis woodland anywhere in the Andes. The second lake holds a variety of Andean wildfowl and the adjacent grassy areas hold a number of ground-tyrants. Above the second lake the road climbs up to a high pass via a large number of hairpin bends, through scrub and Polylepis patches. Specialities of the area include White-cheeked Cotinga (elusive and probably seasonal), Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant (rare, high areas), Rufous-eared Brush-Finch, Giant Conebill, Tit-like Dacnis (common), Baron’s Spinetail and Ancash Tapaculo. The more open areas around the river valley hold Striated and Plain-breasted Earthcreepers, Stripe-headed Antpitta, Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant and a variety of sierra-finches. The very localised endemic Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch also occurs just above the second lake but is also possible along the Maria Josefa trail which leads down to the ranger station from the first lake through scrub and woodland. Rarities such as Grey-bellied Comet, Purple-backed Sunbeam and Rufous-backed Inca-Finch have all been reported but there are currently no known regular sites for these species in the area. Several kilometres north of Yungay towards Caraz there is an area of cactus scrub on the west side of the highway where the endemic Pale-tailed Canastero has been seen, but this species may be better sought further to the north on the road towards Sihuas through the spectacular Cañon del Pato.

San Damian
This tiny village in the Cordillera Negra some three hours inland from Huarmey is the point of access for Bosque San Damian, a remnant area of scrub and woodland that used to cover the length of the Pacific slope. It is one of the very few known areas for the endangered Russet-bellied Spinetail, which can be elusive even here. Other specialities include Piura Chat-Tyrant (although the far more widespread White-browed Chat-Tyrant also occurs), Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant, Great Inca-Finch, Bay-crowned Brush-Finch and the nomadic Raimondi’s Yellow-Finch, whilst there are old records of Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch, which might still occur. The forest is reached by a two hour walk up a steep slope: ask the locals to show you the start of the trail, which is quite easy to follow once you are in the right place. There is no accommodation but you might be able to camp somewhere close to the village. Be sure to ask permission.

This coastal town some three hours north of Lima on the Panamerican highway is the turn-off point for San Damian. It lies adjacent to Puerto Huarmey, signposted about two kilometres south of town, where a wide variety of migrant shorebirds can be found during much of the year in the coastal marshes, plus Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant during the austral winter (March - September). The rocky area around the port itself is good for Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes while in the bay seabirds typical of the Humboldt current such as Inca Tern, Humboldt Penguin and Red-legged Cormorant can be found alongside the regular cast of species. Great Grebe and Blackish Oystercatcher are other possibilities whilst Peruvian Thick-knee occurs in fields back towards the main highway.

Bosque Zarate
This is an area of woodland high on the Pacific slope above Lima, accessible via a town east of Chosica on the central highway towards La Oroya. It is a tough 4 hour hike up to the forest and there is no accommodation although there is plenty of camping spots at the top above the treeline. Specialities include Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch, hard to find at times but probably more reliable here than anywhere, and Bronze-tailed Comet, whilst Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch is common and Andean Tinamou and Band-winged Nightjar also occur.

Lima area
The best birding site in the city limits is Pantanos de Villa south of town, where there are large numbers of waterbirds, including good numbers of Great Grebe, plus Least Bittern, Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant and a small established population of Yellow-hooded Blackbird. Peruvian Thick-knee is regular in the open area towards the beach, where seabirds can be seen. Alternatively, Ventanillas north of the airport supports shorebirds and the thick-knee. A better option for seabirds is Callao harbour, although it is not altogether safe, or alternatively taking a pelagic trip from Lima itself, which might reveal specialities such as Peruvian Diving-Petrel and Markham’s Storm-Petrel that are increasingly irregular in their appearance in the Paracas area. Check with Gunnar as to the latest information on these trips.


Day 1 – July 21st
Before dawn broke I took a taxi from Miraflores to nearby San Borja to meet up with Goyo and Julio, and by 5.30 we were on our way up towards Chosica and the paved central highway towards far-off Lake Junin and a projected midday rendezvous with Gunnar and the first two clients. The road wound its way up through the stark mountains that are a feature of Peru’s entire west slope, with only the occasional area of fields irrigated by seasonal rivers. We made virtually no birding stops during the morning, but made good progress and had arrived in Junin at about midday. From there we turned off onto the rough track around the western shore of Lake Junin towards the village of Ondores. We began to pass through extensive areas of wet puna grassland and birds were plentiful. Waterbirds were particularly prominent, and included such widespread Andean species as White-tufted Grebe, Puna Ibis, Andean Goose, Speckled and Puna Teals, Crested and Andean Ducks, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Lapwing, Andean Gull and huge numbers of Slate-coloured Coots, whilst the extensive areas of reeds held beautiful Many-coloured Rush-Tyrants. In drier areas we found Black-winged Ground-Dove, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Common Miner, Andean Flicker, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant and flocks of Bright-rumped Yellow-Finches, whilst striking Mountain Caracaras passed by overhead.

By one we had arrived in the small dusty village of Ondores, and headed for the Panorama restaurant, home to some relatives of Francisco Tueros, the area’s most famous biologist, whose name is given to the Latin name of the endemic Junin Rail (Laterallus tuerosi). The closest birders ever seem to get to this elusive species is a stuffed bird on a shelf in the restaurant. Indeed, the premises further underlined its awareness of birds with murals of the lake’s more celebrated endemic, the elegant Junin Grebe, in addition to serving up a rather dark and chewy version of chicken that Goyo was convinced was coot.

Once Gunnar and Juvenal had arrived from Huánuco at about 2pm with Fritz and Heinz, we set about sorting out plans for locating the grebe. They are rather similar to Silvery Grebe and effectively impossible to tell apart at a distance of over a kilometre from the mirador. The only solution is therefore to go out on the lake in a boat. We managed to hire the services of the owner of the Panorama and proceeded down to the lakeshore carrying a very small and tippy metal canoe which was to be powered by means of a long pole. We said our goodbyes to Gunnar and Goyo who retunred to Lima, and he took Heinz out first. From the speed they were progressing it soon became clear that there would not be time for more than one of us to go out. They disappeared into the reeds heading towards the deeper water where the bird spends most of its time, whilst Fritz and I consoled ourselves by watching, and in his case photographing, the impressive waterbird spectacle in the beautiful afternoon light. Puna Plovers, migrant Lesser Yellowlegs and spritely Andean Negritos patrolled the muddy margins of the lake, whilst a flushed Puna Snipe settled to give excellent views in a small creek and two Short-billed Pipits inspected a pile of dry reeds. After almost two hours, and with a strong wind beginning to whip across the lake, Heinz and his guide returned reporting fairly close views of two Junin Grebes.

By now we needed to make fast progress so we said goodbye to our guide and headed off back towards Junin town in our new vehicle, a rather old-fashioned, but fully functioning, Dodge van. We worked our way back towards the unpleasant mining town of La Oroya where we had dinner at about 8pm before driving back towards Lima and turning off to the Marcapomacocha area. From there we dropped down the other side of the pass towards a small Polylepis woodland at about 4000m, where we arrived at about 11.30pm, and slept comfortably, apart from the cold, on the long seats of the van.

Day 2 – July 22nd
A combination of the cold and a sense of anticipation of the exciting day that lay ahead drove all of us except Juvenal out of the van by 6am, although the temperature remained very low and it took a long time for the sun to emerge. We scrambled up a steep slope to a plateau covered in shrubbery and Polylepis trees, and waited for the birds to appear and our toes to defrost. Our main quarry, the uncommon endemic White-cheeked Cotinga, eventually revealed itself at some distance, as a bird perched briefly high in a tree and then fed lower down at some berries, although views were not quite what we had hoped.

Finally, at about 7.30, the sun began to reach the upper reaches of the valley sides and a wide variety of birds began to appear, including more endemics such as Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch and Striated Earthcreeper, plus Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Andean Swallow, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, Giant and Oasis Hummingbirds, the near-endemic Black Metaltail, Yellow-rumped Siskin, Ash-breasted, Peruvian and Mourning Sierra-Finches, and a brief appearance from the delightful Stripe-headed Antpitta. By 8 or so we were back down at the vehicle, and enjoying a very welcome bowl of avena (porridge), which was to become a feature of the trip. Suddenly a pair of White-cheeked Cotingas alighted in a lone Polylepis tree some fifteen metres or so from the van and we enjoyed magnificent scope views of this sought-after species in the sunlight. These two were followed by another pair that flew across the road past us into an area of rather more sparse shrubbery next to the river, again giving good views. We worked the road for another half hour or so, and found at least another four individuals, perching anywhere from low shrubs to taller trees, and even once on a large boulder! This area seems to be very reliable for the species, and more so, as we were to discover later on, than Huascaran NP.

We climbed higher up the road enjoying increasingly spectacular views of the mountain scenery, and steadily gaining altitude and making occasional stops for birds such as Variable Hawk, Streak-throated Canastero, Cinereous Ground-Tyrant and White-capped Dipper, which we found along a fast-flowing stream. We were admiring a pair of Black Siskins on one side of the vehicle when Juvenal drew our attention to a pair of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe that we had disturbed right beside the road and which were walking away quietly down a small rocky slope. When stationary they were remarkably well camouflaged but they eventually betrayed their whereabouts and gave excellent views.

Higher still we came firstly to an area of wet boggy grassland and then to a couple of lakes surrounded by rocky crags. The latter held Silvery Grebe and some nesting Giant Coots. Crossing the pass, we entered the Marcapomacocha area, a beautiful mix of high puna grassland, cushion bogs and rocky outcrops, with high peaks towering above them. We soon located another target, the impressive Puna Tinamou, and then some smaller high altitude species such as White-fronted and Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrants, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch and White-winged Diuca-Finch. Descending into a small valley, we quickly found a pair of the rare and spectacular White-bellied Cinclodes adjacent to a cushion bog, and enjoyed great views of this endangered species. Back on the road, a pair of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe was encountered close to the road, and we proceeded to find good numbers throughout the area. Climbing another rise, the endemic Dark-winged Miner, looking for all the world like a female Wheatear when showing its white rump in flight, gave good views close to the van, and we descended off the road to another cushion bog tucked away at the base of a hill. Here we found two more rare high altitude specialities, the superb Diademed Sandpiper-Plover and the drab but fascinating Olivaceous Thornbill, which feeds on tiny red flowers that grow on the ground in these cushion bogs.

Our descent took us down towards the junction with the main Lima - La Oroya road, but not before we had successfully searched an area of white flowers for our seventh endemic of the morning, the striking Black-breasted Hillstar. By now it was approaching 1pm and the increasingly strong wind scuppered our chances of finding a Junin Canastero amongst the rather numerous Streak-throated Canasteros.

Nevertheless, we had enjoyed a wonderful morning and drove down to San Mateo for a well-earned lunch in a roadside restaurant, before returning to Lima by 6pm or so. Heinz and Fritz checked in to their hotel whilst Juvenal and I prepared ourselves for the night drive to Chiclayo that lay in store. We had ceviche with Gunnar and the clients before switching cars, packing the Landcruiser, buying supplies and going to pick up our passengers – Victor Raul Diaz, a biologist specialising in the conservation of cracids, and a box containing two Pale-winged Trumpeters which he was transporting to his captive breeding centre for gamebirds near Olmos. He had showed us the White-winged Guan last year and would again be our guide for the following couple of days. After sorting out a brake problem we finally got underway at about 10.30pm on the long haul north.

Day 3 – July 23rd
After a long night’s driving, we finally arrived at Chiclayo airport about two hours late to meet Heinz, Fritz and Mike Catsis, a British birder who had arrived in Lima early that morning and had flown up with the others. After changing some money in the town we headed out on the trail of our first Tumbesian species. Foremost amongst our targets was the rare Peruvian Plantcutter, and initially we started out on the road towards Reque to a new site, but I decided to play safe and drive south along the Panamerican highway to Mocupe and then on to the traditional site at Rafan.

We located the woodland area quickly and were indeed soon tracking down the strange calls of the Peruvian Plantcutter, which led us to a nice male perched on a low bush. The species remains relatively numerous in this area and we saw upwards of six to eight individuals in a fairly short time. Although the quality of habitat is not particularly good, the area was little altered from last year despite the latent threat of an American sugar cane company wanting to purchase the land and develop it. Other species we found in the desert scrub and patches of acacia woodland included Croaking Ground-Dove, Amazilia Hummingbird, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, the endemic Coastal Miner, Pacific Hornero, Necklaced Spinetail, Mouse-coloued Tyrannulet, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant, Baird’s Flycatcher, the ubiquitous Long-tailed Mockingbird, Superciliated Wren and another endemic, the chunky Cinereous Finch. One bird we failed to find, although we were admittedly not there early in the morning, was the endemic Rufous Flycatcher, a bird that seems potentially as endangered as the plantcutter, as it relies on similar habitat yet seems to occur at much lower densities.

Back in Chiclayo, we picked up Victor for the planned afternoon excursion and then purchased some supplies for lunch. We had made a decision to head on to Olmos that evening rather than make for the new reserve at Laquipampa, which is another, albeit lesser-known, site for White-winged Guan. This gave us more time to explore another relatively new reserve near Batan Grande called Bosque Pomac. The habitat is similar to Rafan although it is much further inland and the Acacia woodland is much more extensive. After signing in at the rather impressive visitor centre and admiring a dainty Pearl Kite perched in a nearby tree, we began birding along the main track through the dry forest. In addition to some of the species recorded during the morning, we also found Collared Antshrike, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and White-edged Oriole. Most encouraging was our discovery of a population of Peruvian Plantcutter. Not previously known from this area, we saw four or five without tape rather easily in mid-afternoon, which would certainly suggest a healthy number in the area. After more fruitless searching for Rufous Flycatcher we drove on out of the woods towards an area of low barren hills skirted by much more sparse scrub. Vultures were circling overhead and a rather strange bird hopping about in a quarry turned out to be a Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant, unusually far from the Andes.

Suddenly a coarse bugling call forced our eyes up to the skies and we were surprised but delighted to see a flock of six of the rare coastal race of Black-faced Ibis flying overhead. Apparently they are known to nest on cliffs in coastal desert in this northern part of their range, and it seems the low barren hills of Bosque Pomac harbour a colony of the species. Continuing on towards the main road, we passed by a river where we stopped for a scan. We scoped a Peregrine perched in silhouette against a rather distant hill, a Ringed Kingfisher flew over, and then Mike located some hirundines with white rumps hawking insects, which turned out to be the localised Tumbes Swallow. After admiring these birds for a while, we reflected on the poorly known and potentially interesting avifauna present in the vegetation which lines these rivers that flow through the desert towards the Pacific Ocean along the length of the Peruvian coast.

As dusk fell, Lesser Nighthawks hawked over the Panamerican as we drove the short distance to Olmos where we headed for the Hotel Remanso. After some hard bargaining on the price which was much inflated from last year despite the lack of improvements in the rather basic rooms, we enjoyed a tasty dinner and arranged to meet Victor at 5 the next morning.

Day 4 - July 24th
Victor was a little late, but he arrived at about 5.20am and we were off soon after, driving north towards Piura for a few kilometres before striking off into the desert, crossing a couple of wide stony river beds and finally arriving at the tiny settlement of Limon at the head of Quebrada Limon. From there we followed a track up into the hills whose sides were covered in largely untouched dry forest. Tumbesian endemics were numerous and included large flocks of Red-masked Parakeets, which perched in trees around the settlement allowing excellent views, the diminutive Pacific Parrotlet, Short-tailed Woodstar, Long-billed Starthroat, the local races of Black-tailed Trogon and Tropical Pewee, both sometimes considered separate species, Plumbeous-backed Thrush and the striking White-tailed Jay. The characteristic drumming of the huge Guayaquil Woodpecker reverberated round the canyons although we couldn’t locate one. Suddenly one of Victor’s assistants had located a White-winged Guan and we were soon watching a pair disappear quickly up through the tall trees of the canyon. Soon, we had found two more birds, and then another three younger ones. The birds are doing very well in this area and were more numerous than the previous year. We estimated we found almost ten individuals in the few hours we were exploring the area.

We climbed further up into the canyon than the previous year in pursuit of the family of guans. One individual soared a huge distance down across the canyon, looking just like a Black Vulture, which was a very fascinating sight. In addition to more excellent views of these spectacular cracids, we encountered busy flocks of smaller birds that held Tropical Parula, Pacific Elaenia, Masked Yellowthroat, Hepatic Tanager, Black-capped Sparrow, Golden-bellied Grosbeak, White-winged and White-headed Brush-Finches and Cinereous Conebill. Scanning across one of these flocks to the other side of a small quebrada, I chanced upon a Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner seemingly appearing from a hole in a tree. Although we waited for a good length of time it did not return, to the frustration of Fritz and Heinz.

We returned to the car for more avena and then set about working our way back towards the Panamerican highway. Several stops along the largely dry riverbeds did not reveal many new species, but we did find Green Kingfisher, more Collared Antshrikes, Grey-and-white Tyrannulet, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant and a female Crimson-breasted Finch. Returning to the main road, we struck off once more into the desert scrub in search of the remainig Tumbesian species we needed. It turned out to be a rather disappointing afternoon in this respect, as we could not locate our principle target, the smart Tumbes Tyrant, despite much searching in an area where I had seen the bird the previous year. We drew a blank too on Tumbes Hummingbird, but did add a few other desert specialities such as Tumbes Sparrow, Parrot-billed Seedeater and Collared Warbling-Finch, plus large flocks of Saffron Finch.

On the way back to Olmos we stopped again at a small area of ponds which was rather altered from last year but still held surprising numbers of waterbirds. A large herony comprised largely of Black-crowned Night-Herons dominated the scene, but we also found Great, Snowy and Cattle Egret and Striated Heron, plus Neotropic Cormorant, Least Grebe and, best of all, two Spotted Rails which showed very nicely in a muddy ditch. Several local children took an interest in us and they delighted in looking through the telescope at some of the birds.


Day 5 – July 25th
We left at about 6am on our way towards Jaen and the Marañon valley. We stopped a number of times on the lower slopes of Abra Porculla, trying to find some habitat which might still hold some of the specialities of the area. In one of the few remaining areas of woodland near the road, a flock of small birds held Three-banded and Grey-and-gold Warblers, Slate-throated Redstart and White-winged Brush-Finch, but our interest soon turned to a calling Elegant Crescentchest. After a few minutes we were enjoying good views of this beautiful tapaculo, and a trail into a small shrubby gully yielded two more chasing each other out in the open, plus Black-capped Sparrow and Rufous-browed Peppershrike.

Higher up we searched a more extensive area of largely native vegetation where we found Chapman’s Antshrike, Ecuadorian Piculet, Rufous-chested Tanager and Collared Warbling-Finch, but by the time we had located the site for Piura Chat-Tyrant it was too windy and there was no sign of this rare endemic. We crossed the pass by 11am and stopped for lunch one of the few shady spots along the way, but the heat had brought a stop to all the bird activity.

Crossing the Marañon and passing through the town of Chamaya, we arrived in the very pleasant town of Jaen at about 2pm and after checking into the Hostal Prims we headed out of town for a few kilometres to a track leading up into the hills through dry scrub with a few larger trees. We soon found our first Marañon endemic, the drab Spot-throated Hummingbird, followed quite soon after by a pair of vocal Chinchipe Spinetails which gave good views in response to playback. More widespread species that we encountered were White-tipped Dove, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Western Long-tailed Hermit, Bran-coloued Flycatcher, Purple-throated Euphonia, Red-crested Finch, Dull-coloured Grassquit and the more localised Drab Seedeater, plus a Zone-tailed Hawk which glided down the valley with a long green snake hanging from its talons. After some frustrating searching, we eventually tracked down another of our target species, the Marañon race of the endemic Peruvian Slaty-Antshrike, but there were no Marañon Crescentchests either calling or responding to tape. Inhabitants of the monk school at the top of the hill were again not pleased to see us and their enormous guard dog dissuaded us from asking for permission to bird. We therefore returned to Jaen to enjoy a nice meal and a comfortable bed.

Day 6 – July 26th
Following up-to-date information regarding the whereabouts of the elusive Marañon Spinetail, we decided against a return visit to the monk school area and instead drove north for an hour or so to where the road met the Rio Tabaconas. We searched a variety of habitats at some length, including river island vegetation, low woodland, and scrub, but despite much trawling with the tape we could find no evidence whatsoever of its existence in the area, which was rather disappointing. Birds were not particularly numerous but we did find Ruddy Ground-Dove, Andean Emerald, Amazon Kingfisher, Little Woodpecker, Brown-crested Flycatcher, another Peruvian Slaty-Antshrike and some noisy Green Jays.

Cutting our losses we returned to Jaen and from there continued on towards Bagua Chica. A lunch stop in a rather birdless area of desert scrub did produce the endemic Little Inca-Finch, but not much else. We arrived quite early in Bagua and therefore returned to try for the crescentchest again in a variety of habitats close to town but again drew a blank, due in no small part, no doubt, to the wind. A fly-by flock of Scarlet-fronted Parakeets was of some consolation, but we returned to Bagua and the Hotel Wilson reflecting on what had been ultimately a rather frustrating day.

Day 7 – July 27th
An early start saw us on the road towards the foothill forests of the distant Urakusa area before dawn. We followed the wide Marañon river for many kilometres, and the landscape shifted significantly from desert scrub to low forested hills. After passing through Aramango we entered a promising patch of forest on our side of the river, and made an extended breakfast stop in order to sample our first Amazonian birding of the trip. Amongst the more interesting species we recorded were Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Black-spotted Barbet, Pygmy Antwren, Spot-winged and Warbling Antbirds, White-banded Swallow, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Black-billed Thrush, a female Striped Manakin and Yellow-bellied Dacnis.

With the sun getting quite hot we proceeded on towards Chiriaco to get information about the current visiting arrangements as regards Peña Blanca, which is sacred land for the Aguaruna Indians, a sensitive area and thus not a place one can really access without local contacts. On the way we added the uncommon Pale-rumped Swift, a soaring Short-tailed Hawk, Cobalt-winged Parakeet and Yellow-breasted Flycatcher. Once in Chiriaco we tried to track down our contact but could not be located either there or in Imazita, despite Juvenal going across the river in a launch to try and locate him or his right hand man while we had lunch. Encouraged by support from local police officers, we passed the military checkpoint at Mesones Muro despite some rather suspicious army officers whose checking of our passports became rather too bureaucratic for my liking. Anyway, we were allowed through and continued on the rough road towards the village of El Paraiso where I had stayed the previous year and which is on the edge of, but outside Aguaruna territory. Such was the distance we needed to travel that birding stops were rather few, but we did make one at the site where I had found Orange-throated Tanager the previous year but there was no sign of it this time. However, we did find White-winged Becard, Yellow-backed Tanager, Troupial and the sought-after Ecuadorian Cacique, which was to prove rather common throughout the area over the next couple of days.

As dusk approached we arrived at El Paraiso and I asked permission from the school teacher to camp out in the school. The children of the village were very curious and crowded around as we unloaded the Landcruiser. After making arrangements with some locals for attempting to visit Peña Blanca the next morning, Juve cooked up a tasty spaghetti while we wrote up the bird list and then all retired for an early night.

Day 8 – July 28th
We picked up our two local contacts before dawn and tentatively continued on towards the village of Sargento Leon, the headquarters of the Aguaruna community. We picked up a few more passengers on the way, many of whom were crammed onto the roof. This caused us some delay as we got stuck in one of the increasing number of large muddy sections of the track. Nevertheless, we arrived by 7 or so in the village and after some slightly awkward negotiation, we payed the community a fee and a number of them accompanied us up towards Peña Blanca. I walked with Mike, Fritz and Heinz, plus a large number of both adults and children from the village who were both curious and keen to show us the ‘inchituch’, the local name for the tanager, which they knew of well before it was discovered and described by science. Juve meanwhile drove the chief’s brother and several other luminaries up the hill towards the ridge top.

It was rather difficult to bird thoroughly with such a lot of attention being fixed on us by the villagers, and we were also rushing to get up to the crest of the ridge, but we did see a number of interesting species including Brown Jacamar, Black-eared Fairy, Broad-billed Motmot, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Moriche Oriole, Red-stained Woodpecker, Slate-coloured Grosbeak, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher and Golden-headed Manakin.

We passed the car, which Juve had sensibly left this side of a particularly large area of mud, and by 8am had caught up with the rest of the party at the top of the hill, where there was indeed a white cliff face, the translation of the Spanish ‘peña blanca’. It was instantly obvious why it is considered a sacred spot by the indigenous people: breathtaking views over undulating and largely unbroken foothill forest were to be had on almost all sides. We began to bird near the highest point, and the locals quickly drew our attention to the soft calls of the Orange-throated Tanager. We were soon watching a flock of three of these spectacular birds as they fed in a fruiting tree below eye-level. There were more birds to be seen in the mixed flock, best of which was a very responsive male Fiery-throated Fruiteater which came in to the tape and briefly perched close-by, but unfortunately eluded Mike.

We were informed of the border between the Aguaruna lands and those of a neighbouring tribe, and warned not to enter, but then after enjoying the views through our binoculars for a few minutes the locals left us to our own devices and we slowly birded our way down towards the village. Despite the increasing heat birdlife was fairly prolific, and a Yellow-billed Nunbird perched in the open was followed by a magnificent Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle which allowed perched scope views before taking to the skies. A Golden-collared Toucanet flashed across the road, a Blackish Pewee and two Dusky-billed Parrotlets perched beside the road and we enjoyed good looks at both Double-banded Pygmy-Tyrant and the local Red-billed Tyrannulet, with good vocalisations of both species recorded. Other species we encountered on the way down included Swallow-tailed Kite, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Speckled Chachalaca, Ruddy Pigeon, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, White-tailed Trogon, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Plain Xenops, Lemon-throated Barbet, Grey-crowned Flycatcher, Green-and-gold, Paradise, Turquoise, Opal-rumped and Fulvous-crested Tanagers, Rufous-bellied and White-lored Euphonia, Blue, Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnis, and more Ecuadorian Caciques. We also found another single Orange-throated Tanager, seemingly away from a flock.

Once back at the village, we enjoyed good views of both White-browed Purpletuft and Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher high in a bare tree, and enjoyed a drink with the village leaders. Photos were taken of us with them and with the Ridgely and Tudor plates open at the appropriate page for the tanager, before we made our way back towards our base at El Paraiso. Occasional stops revealed further additions to the list in the form of Spangled Cotinga and Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, but in general activity was rather low in the heat of the early afternoon. Back at base we did some limited birding in the afternoon along the track back towards far-off Chiriaco but in general found very few species we had not already encountered that morning. The threat of rain forced us back to El Paraiso earlier than planned but we enjoyed a welcome rest after a tiring couple of days, before night fell and we headed for our sleeping bags.

Day 9 – July 29th
A relatively gentle start saw us begin to bird our way back towards Bagua, stopping in areas of good habitat. Activity was a little subdued, and we had one eye on the clock for much of the morning, but there were nevertheless some interesting sightings. Firstly, we stopped to admire at some length the fascinating feeding technique of an acrobatic Green-fronted Lancebill as it hovered low over a river, occasionally plunging down onto the surface of the water to snare an insect. A stop at last year’s tanager site again failed to produce any Wetmorethraupis but we did find Blue-headed Parrot, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Yellow-ridged Toucan, Crested Oropendola, and Yellow-rumped and yet more Ecuadorian Caciques. This area seems to be a real stronghold for the latter species, which is much harder to see where it occurs in Ecuador. More open areas produced Dark-breasted Spinetail, Glittering-throated Emerald, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet and both Purple and Green Honeycreepers. Our last stop just beyond the bridge over the Marañon proved most productive, with a patch of cecropias and adjacent river island vegetation yielding Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Chestnut-crowned Becard, Solitary Black Cacique, Greyish Saltator, Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch, Long-tailed Tyrant, Black-capped Donacobius and a canopy flock which included Opal-crowned Tanager.

After relating the details of our adventure to the police at Chiriaco, and enjoying a late lunch, we drove straight back towards Bagua Chica. Driving out of the forested area we once again passed through an open area where a Cinereous Harrier was quartering a paddyfield. Given that we had to get to Pomacochas the next morning, we continued on to Bagua Grande, where we checked into a hotel, made enquiries about Heinz and Fritz’s bus back to Chiclayo and then ventured out into the thronging streets of a busy Saturday night for chicken and chips and a cold beer.

Day 10 – July 30th
We reached Pomacochas by about 7.30, and immediately set about trying to find a spatuletail. Our first stop in a little gully full of flowering bushes revealed firstly a very cooperative female Green-tailed Trainbearer, and then rather unsatisfactory looks at a couple of female or immature Marvellous Spatuletails that were feeding quietly very close to some dense bushes, into which they would frequently disappear. We also encountered a pair of the local race of the Rufous-capped Antshrike, a possible split in the future, as well as Blue-capped Tanager.

We worked our way around towards the café at the top of the next bend, and made a brief sortie up the badly degraded Rio Chido trail. This yielded a few common Andean species such as Band-tailed Pigeon, Red-billed Parrot, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Cinnamon and Streak-necked Flycatchers, Brown-capped Vireo, White-crested Elaenia and Rufous-naped Brush-Finch, but I got brief views of the near-endemic Buff-bellied Tanager, and a Chestnut-breasted Coronet flashed by, pausing briefly to inspect us. We did find one fairly good flock that moved through in on of the few remaining areas of habitat near the river, which held Smoke-coloured Pewee, Rufous-crested, Beryl-spangled, Blue-and-black, Silver-backed and Flame-faced Tanagers, Capped Conebill and White-sided Flowerpiercer.

Up at the café, the owners confirmed that they did indeed know of the ‘colibri con dos colas’, and allowed us to enter their property. We spent an hour or so in the increasingly warm sunshine sitting and waiting at a number of flowering trees for the male spatuletail to put in an appearance. Unfortunately we were to be disappointed, although did encounter a large number of other hummingbird species, including Green Violetear, Emerald-bellied Puffleg, Speckled Hummingbird, Amethyst-throated and Purple-throated Sunangels, White-bellied Woodstar and the flashy Collared Inca, in addition to Bluish Flowerpiercer and Pearled Treerunner.

At the eleventh hour we encountered Edilberto Bustamante, the young local who had shown us the male the previous year. Although it was rather late and the wind was getting up, we agreed that he should accompany us to a new spot where he had seen the bird recently, along a trail some two or three kilometres back down towards Pedro Ruiz that led to a treeless hillside covered in flowering bushes. Despite Edilberto’s enthusiastic efforts, we again failed to locate the species. It seems that being there in the early morning is important, and we were unlucky that we only encountered him too late, as enlisting Edilberto’s help is undoubtedly the best way to find an adult male. Note that he has now moved house, so it may be wise to ask for him at the café at the top of the bend above the bridge.

After lunch we continued on towards Abra Patricia, and the prospect of rather more continuous cloud forest. We made brief stops near the pass itself where we found several of the species we had seen that morning, in addition to Montane Woodcreeper, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Azara’s Spinetail and Three-striped Warbler. Our priority was to head for the Alto Nieve area, made famous by the discovery of the enigmatic Long-whiskered Owlet in the strange stunted ridgetop forests, characterised by an unusual flora which includes a profusion of palms. We quickly found one of the area’s specialities, the endemic Royal Sunangel, perched in exactly the same spot as it was a year ago before setting out along a precarious ridge. White-tipped, White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts whizzed by overhead and Cliff Flycatchers sallied out from their perches. Birding in this habitat is difficult at best due to the incredibly dense vegetation, and despite hearing both Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant and some probable Bar-winged Wood-Wrens, neither species showed any willingness to respond to the tape. Consolation came in the form of a flock of the sought-after White-capped Tanager, for which this area is very reliable, and a small bird party which included Metallic-green Tanager.

As darkness fell, we returned to look for a camping spot, which we found in a disused quarry next to the road, and despite the arrival of a police car at about 9.30pm to warn us of the supposed presence of bandits in the area, we settled down for a good night’s sleep.

Day 11 – July 31st
We returned to Alto Nieve for the early morning birding session, and were once again frustrated in our efforts to locate the main specialities, with Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant again calling but not responding. It turned into rather a frustrating morning, as it got hot rather early and activity consequently died rather quickly, but we still managed to record a number of new species for the trip list on our way back up to the pass before heading down towards Afluentes.

An unexpected adult Slaty Finch interrupted our avena, as did a delicate Booted Racket-tail that fed close to the vehicle. We headed back up towards the pass, intially, also adding a group of White-collared Jays, plus Andean Guan, Long-tailed Sylph, Plushcap, Flavescent and Cinnamon Flycatchers, Spectacled Redstart, Sierran Elaenia, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Olivaceous Siskin, Mountain Cacique and Yellow-throated and Yellow-scarfed Tanagers. However, we could not locate the undescribed race of Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant in the extensive area of bamboo where it had been quite numerous the previous year.

With time rather limited we continued on to Afluentes and waited for the huge mixed flock that had been a regular fixture in the area. An Ash-throated Antwren responded to tape but frustratingly did not come in, although we did get excellent views of a pair of Blue-naped Chlorophonias. The flock never materialised in all its glory, but we did manage to find Grey-mantled Wren, Equatorial Greytail, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, plus the usual cast of colourful frugivores including Orange-eared, Blue-necked, Golden, Saffron-crowned and Flame-faced Tanagers.

Down at the tranquil Puente Aguas Verdes, the heat prevented much activity, although a Double-toothed Kite soared up on the thermals while we ate lunch at a simple restaurant. The next couple of hours were spent ferrying Heinz and Fritz to and fro trying to find them a bus to Chiclayo. We drove down to Rioja, finding Wattled Jacanas in the wet fields beside the road, before backtracking to Nueva Cajamarca and saying goodbyes to two of the party. Having continued on to Moyobamba, we decided against continuing to the Tarapoto area, thinking that we had less time than we did. Instead we backtracked again to Nueva Cajamarca for the night, planning another assault on Afluentes in the morning.

Day 12 – August 1st
We were back up at Afluentes by 6.30 or so but our morning was somewhat interrupted by rain and the hoped-for flock again did not materialise fully. However, there were some good birds to be found in amongst the raindrops, including a small flock containing Versicoloured Barbet, Speckle-chested Piculet, Olive-backed Woodcreeper and Rufous-rumped Antwren. An Ecuadorian Piedtail gave excellent views as it fed low down on some flowers next to the road, and noisy Blackish Antbirds gave brief but eventually good views in the understorey, whilst further additions to the list appeared in the form of Subtropical Cacique, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Montane and Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaners, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Plain Antvireo, Olivaceous Woodcreeper and White-winged Tanager. An additional bonus was the sighting of both Amazonian Umbrellabird and Andean Cock-of-the-rock in quick succession.

We continued down to Aguas Verdes where the weather had improved and the sun was out. A number of hummingbird species were added, including a delightful female Wire-crested Thorntail, Green and Grey-chinned Hermits, and a fruiting tree held Lemon-browed and Streaked Flycatchers plus a few of the regular tanagers. One of the highlights was the endemic Huallaga Tanager, and a large flock revealed Yellow-crested, Spotted and Golden-eared Tanagers, Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, Bronze-green Euphonia and Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, whilst a graceful Swallow-tailed Kite passed by overhead.

After lunch we gained altitude again, stopping once more in the Alto Nieve area and trying a long trail down into the valley below the owlet ridge. After a nice Long-tailed Sylph, the trail proved most disappointing, with a lot of dead bamboo and virtually no bird activity at all. A little down-hearted, we returned to the owlet ridge trail for a final go at the remaining specialities. I tried a different cut of Bar-winged Wood-Wren from the tape and after an exciting game of hide-and-seek finally got brief but excellent views of a pair of this little-known species in the dense tangled vegetation, much to our relief. Back up near the pass a small flock held Black-capped and Oleaginous Hemispinguses, and we retired to the restaurant at the pass for dinner and a night on their wooden floor with our mats and sleeping bags.

Day 13 – August 2nd
Our last morning birding these east slope forests of Abra Patricia found us working our way down from the pass to Afluentes one more time. We got off to a good start, scoping an Orange-breasted Falcon in a treetop, finding a beautiful Crimson-mantled Woodpecker inspecting a tree trunk and watching some Scaly-naped Parrots fly by overhead. Yet again, however, the presence of too much sun brought an early end to activity, although the Royal Sunangel was still in his same perch on our way past Alto Nieve.

Down at Afluentes, an Olivaceous Greenlet foraged quietly beside the road, whilst an indistinct trail led us into the forest a little way where we found a female White-bearded Manakin, Spotted Barbtail and a pair of Plain Antvireos. Generally, though, activity was disappointing and we made a midday departure back towards Pedro Ruiz.

After stocking up on supplies we followed the river through a dry valley towards Leimeibamba, adding Purple-collared Woodstar, Golden-rumped Euphonia and a pair of Torrent Duck in the rapids, although there was no sign of Fasciated Tiger-Heron. After discovering that we had somehow managed to get a day ahead of ourselves, we resolved to make the best of this disappointment, and to try and clean up the specialities on the way to Cajamarca, where we were due to rendezvous with another client in a few days time. We arrived in the rather run-down town of Leimeibamba after dark and after a basic dinner we all needed an early night.

Day 14 – August 3rd
By sunrise we were up at the forest patches above Leimeibamba on the way to the Marañon. One of the first birds we found was a beautiful Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan perched quietly in a tree crown enjoying the first rays of sun, followed soon after by our main target, the rare Russet-mantled Softtail, which responded instantly to the tape and came in to give good views. Hummingbirds were much in evidence, and a fly-by Sword-billed Hummingbird was followed up by better views of Mountain Velvetbreast, Violet-throated Starfrontlet, Tyrian Metaltail, and Glowing Puffleg, the latter seemingly representing a range extension. However, despite much searching we could not find any Coppery Metaltails.

Although these forest patches are rather degraded, they still support some good birds and we also found Speckle-faced Parrot, White-chinned Thistletail (here of the peruviana race possibly a full species), Red-crested Cotinga, White-collared Jay, White-banded Tyrannulet, Mountain Cacique, Masked and White-sided Flowerpiercer and the unusual grey insignis form of Superciliaried Hemispingus.

Higher still the forest gives way to patches of humid shrubbery interspersed among areas of semi-natural high grassland close to the Abra Barro Negro, or Black Mud Pass. Here we stumbled across a large Curve-billed Tinamou in a field, raucous Andean Flickers, striking Andean Lapwings and a host of smaller birds among the bushes, including Moustached Flowerpiercer, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Peruvian Sierra-Finch and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, whilst Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Mountain Caracara and Brown-bellied Swallow passed by overhead.

Later we crossed the pass and began the hair-raising descent down into the spectacular Marañon valley towards the tiny settlement of Balsas. Habitat is very sparse on this side of the canyon and we made one or two fruitless stops in the humid shrubbery before reaching more arid areas by early afternoon. Mike and I explored a dry quebrada whilst Juve prepared a late lunch, and we quickly found a small family party of the endemic Buff-bridled Inca-Finch, plus Marañon Gnatcatcher, Spot-throated Hummingbird, Hepatic Tanager, Purple-throated Euphonia and Hooded Siskin. By 4pm we had arrived at the hot valley bottom and set about finding our remaining targets. The uncommon Peruvian Pigeon gave excellent views in a treetop and we were soon also admiring the localised Marañon Thrush. There were no Yellow-faced Parrotlets around, but we knew we had a better chance of finding the species at Chagual later in the tour. As the sun beat a quick retreat up the canyon we drove up the west side of the canyon to the tiny village of El Limon, where we set up camp on the football pitch, and bought some rather unpalatable tamales from a local family, before writing up the list and retiring to the tents.

Day 15 – August 4th
The plan for the morning was to locate the three specialities of the area before heading on to Celendin and exploring the remnant habitat around the town. Soon after dawn we climbed up a small trail onto a scrubby hillside and quickly located the rare and local Grey-winged Inca-Finch, and watched this little-known endemic for several minutes as it sang from the top of a bush. We then walked back down the road towards Balsas, and found a group of the near-endemic Buff-bellied Tanager in an acacia, in addition to Aplomado Falcon, Lesser Goldfinch, Purple-collared Woodstar, Peruvian Meadowlark, Stripe-headed Brush-Finch and Masked Yellowthroat. The three-note whistle of the Chestnut-crowned Antpitta was frequently heard but we opted not to invest time in seeking out this shy species. The final endemic took more time, but after locating an active nest, we were finally rewarded with views of the very localised Chestnut-backed Thornbird.

By 10am we were on our way up towards Celendin, and made a number of rather productive stops yielded specialities such as Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant and Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, in addition to other new birds for the trip, including Andean Emerald, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Andean Parakeet and the widespread Band-tailed Seedeater. Crossing the pass, we found a pair of Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrants and some Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches before we headed down into the attractive town of Celendin, complete with blue church in the Plaza de Armas, for lunch and a well-earned siesta as rain began to beat down on the roof of the hotel.

By 3pm the weather had improved sufficiently for us to explore an area of shrubbery some 10km from town where the rare Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch has been reported in the past. The habitat was quite poor and perhaps no longer supports the warbling-finch, although we did find Black-throated Flowerpiercer and White-browed Chat-Tyrant. Before dusk we returned to Celendin for dinner of pizza in the town square.

Day 16 – August 5th
With a horrendous night drive in prospect that evening, we were rather glad of the leisurely day we could look forward to, with a five hour drive to Cajamarca the only distance needed to be covered by 6pm. Unfortunately the road from Celendin is not blessed with much good habitat, but we did find a number of new birds for the trip list.

The first stop was at the shrubby area 11km from Celendin, where again we missed the warbling-finch, but did add Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Black-crested Warbler and the endemic Baron’s Spinetail. Further on, in higher and more open habitats, species such as Paramo Pipit, Bright-rumped Yellow-Finch, Mourning and Plumbeous Sierra-Finches and Rufous-webbed Tyrant were found, and in more areas of shrubbery, Golden-billed Saltator and another endemic, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail. We made a stop near the village of Cruz Conga in a small patch of woodland where I had seen White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant the previous year. Unfortunately there was no sign of this species or of the local race of Rufous Antpitta whose call is very different to other forms.

We continued on to Cajamarca, stopping to admire a field full of the austral migrant White-browed Ground-Tyrant, and a nearby Slender-billed Miner. After lunch in this attractive and historic city, we stocked up on some much needed supplies in preparation for our trip down towards Huamachuco and Tayabamba before heading out to nearby Baños del Inca for our rendezvous with what we thought would be two new clients. As it was, only one turned up, English birder Phil Richardson, and after an unsuccessful attempt to locate the Grey-bellied Comet site near the airport in the limited time we had available, let alone the bird itself. As dusk fell we started the long drive to far-off El Molino, via Cajabamba. After dinner in one of the towns en route, we headed south on terrible roads before climbing up onto the cold puna in the early hours and descending once more onto the upper slopes of the Marañon valley as it began to get light, with no-one really getting any sleep at all.

Day 17 – August 6th
It was an enormous relief when we arrived at the small village of El Molino shortly after daybreak, after what had been a terrible journey of some twelve hours. Our principal target revealed itself almost ridiculously easily, as the first bird we saw was a Purple-backed Sunbeam perched in an alder-lined gully close to the car that I found as I was relieving myself! Also in the area were more Baron’s Spinetails and a superb Rainbow Starfrontlet. The road became even worse below El Molino, which seemed scarcely possible, and it took us an age to get down to Aricapampa and then from there the 11km that took us to the next site. Once there, we searched the sparse dry scrub and eventually found a responsive Great Spinetail, a rare species which had gone unrecorded for almost 20 years until it was rediscovered in this area in 1998. Pausing for a hard-earned breakfast, we located another pair close to the car, along with some Buff-bridled Inca-Finches that foraged on the ground in the same binocular field.

Down in the valley bottom at Chagual it was becoming almost unbearably hot, although we did manage to find a couple of Yellow-faced Parrotlets near the airport, and some Peruvian Pigeons during a baking walk through some orchards above the river after lunch. In the early afternoon we drove up the other side of canyon, getting good views of more Yellow-faced Parrotlets, plus a Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant. Our destination was the small mining town of Pataz, gateway to the ruins of Gran Pajaten, one of the few accessible areas of the remote Rio Abiseo NP. After finding a very basic hotel, we headed up onto the first section of the long trail up over a pass and down to the ruins, a hike of two to three days. Darkness was falling and birds were not numerous but we did find Giant Hummingbird, Bare-faced Ground-Dove and White-crested Elaenia. After such an exhausting journey the previous night everyone was asleep by 8pm.

Day 18 – August 7th
After a refreshing night’s sleep we explored the same track as the previous evening, with our main quarry the rare Rufous-backed Inca-Finch. The path rose steeply through a variety of habitats from dry scrub to more humid shrubbery in a deep quebrada. We found a fairly wide range of the commoner Andean species which we had already seen during the trip, but particularly noteworthy was the excellent views we had of the endemic Black-necked Flicker. Flocks in the shrubbery held Black-crested Warbler, Plain-coloured and Black-and-white Seedeaters, Blue-and-yellow Tanager and Golden-bellied Grosbeak, all of which were as surprised as we were by an unexpected Bicoloured Hawk. We spent a fair amount of time scrutinizing a group of three Thlyposis tanagers, as the localised endemic Brown-flanked Tanager has recently been reported from the area, but despite our best attempts to turn them into this species, they were undoubtedly Rufous-chested Tanagers.

Higher up the track passed through a denser area of humid shrubbery where I was fortunate to see a shy Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush cross the path, although it had retreated into cover before any of the others could get on to it. We reached the INRENA headquarters for Abiseo NP, which was little more than a small mud hut, by about 9, and despite the lack of inca-finches we decided we ought to get back to Pataz with a long drive in store in the afternoon to Buldibuyo. It seems that we would have needed to hike quite a bit higher to find this bird, in addition to the potentially new species of earthcreeper that Gunnar discovered during fieldwork in this area earlier in the year.

We made it back to the hotel by about 11am and retraced our steps once more down to Chagual and the Marañon river, again finding Yellow-faced Parrotlet and Buff-bridled Inca-Finch on the way down. From there we followed the river for a while before climbing up a series of incredible hairpin bends, reflecting on the extraordinary feats of engineering evident in so many of the remarkably precarious roads we had travelled on. A couple of Peruvian Pigeons joined us at our lunch spot, before we continued on through the mining heartland of central Peru through some remarkably bustling towns nestled in deep barren valleys, and past a couple of emerald green lakes, hopelessly polluted by copper deposits. Climbing up over another high pass, after dark we passed the turn-off that we would take the following day and descended for a further half-hour or so to the quiet town of Buldibuyo for some dinner and to purchase supplies for our expedition to La Montañita.

Day 19 – August 8th
We drove back up the hill from Buldibuyo and turned off towards the east slope. Climbing still further, we passed through an area of puna with scattered high elevation woodland, until we reached a more extensive area adjacent to a large lake which held Black-crowned Night-Heron, Andean Gull, Speckled Teal and Andean Duck. By this time it had started to rain and we sheltered in the car for half an hour or so, once venturing forth to admire a Coppery Metaltail which hid from the rain in a nearby bush. Once the skies cleared up we found several more of this attractive endemic which often seemed remarkably tame, allowing a very close approach as they perched on top of bushes. In the wooded and shrubby area along the lake shore Great Thrush was comfortably the dominant species but also in evidence were Mountain Caracara, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Moustached Flowerpiercer. Soon after 9.30 we made our way up the appalling road up towards the pass, having to get out of the vehicle a number of times to allow Juve to negotiate the stony track that was dangerously slippery from the recent dowpour.

Once over the pass we entered a wonderful mosaic of elfin forest and adjacent boggy grassland, apparently similar to the Bosque Unchog area above the Carpish pass in Huanuco department further to the south. Mist and cloud were swirling around the area, but were gradually lifting to reveal great views down a long, rather wide valley towards lower elevations, whose sides were cloaked in almost unbroken temperate forest. This is the area known as La Montañita by locals in Buldibuyo and neighbouring villages. We reached a good viewpoint over one of the elfin forest patches, and incredibly, almost as soon as we had got out of the car for a first scan of the area, I found a magnificent Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager perched out in the open in a tall tree, which stayed for several minutes, allowing for excellent scope views and for Phil to take a number of photos. When it flew it was followed by two other individuals which had been hiding in the vegetation below it. This rare and little-known species is normally retiring and elusive, and often take days to find even in the right habitat. It was one of the most electric experiences of my birding life. After we had finished celebrating it was time to explore the forest further.

We walked down through one of the forest patches, which was rather quiet, before arriving in a more open area, where we scanned the treetops and patches of grassland, finding a female Great Sapphirewing and some Red-crested Cotingas perched in the treetops, and a Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant in the puna. We were soon entering an area of temperate forest with a bamboo-dominated understorey, and for the next hour or so birds were remarkably numerous, and barely a moment went by when we were not looking at something new or interesting. Mixed flocks containing a wide variety of species were almost continuously being encountered, including rare specialities such as the striking Rufous-browed Hemispingus, the little-known Russet-mantled Softtail, which was positively numerous and the newly-split Peruvian Wren. Other bamboo specialists such as Striped Treehunter and Plushcap also showed well at close range. Away from the bamboo, flocks held Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Pearled Treerunner, Ochraceous-breasted Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Mountain Wren, Black-capped and Drab Hemispinguses, Barred Becard, Barred Fruiteater, Yellow-scarfed and Grass-green Tanagers, Grey-hooded Bush-Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, Scarlet-bellied and Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, Citrine Warbler and Masked Flowerpiercer.

Away from the flocks we found Collared Inca, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Andean Parakeet, Scaly-naped Parrot, Andean Guan, White-collared Jay and Masked Trogon, before continuing on to the picturesque spot where Juve had already prepared a very welcome lunch. At lower elevations we went down through more largely untouched forest to our campsite at about 2800m, which is where the road ended. The afternoon was not as productive as the morning, although this would have been extremely difficult, and the temperate forest seemed rather less species-rich than higher up, and the flocks in particular were not as diverse. However, walking along the final section of the now undriveable track we did add Slaty Brush-Finch and the pretty Rufous-capped Thornbill before retreating to for supper and an early night as the rain began to beat down.

Day 20 – August 9th
The rain had not stopped all night, and Mike and Phil emerged from their tent rather wet and having had very little sleep. The plan for the morning was for Juvenal to accompany a local farmer (perhaps the only other person in the entire area) down towards the river in order to cut a trail into the elevational range of the very little-known Yellow-browed Toucanet. Meanwhile Mike, Phil and I explored the temperate forest further by walking down from the campsite. We spent some time trying to get views of a Rusty-tinged Antpitta that was almost close enough to reach out and touch but always remained hidden in the dense roadside vegetation. This species was quite numerous but we also occasionally heard the very different call of the rare Pale-billed Antpitta, although we never managed to get anything like as close to this species.

Many of the species we found were the same as we located on the previous day, but new birds for the list included Rufous Spinetail, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Buff-breasted and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, a shy Yellow-billed Cacique and brief views of a White-throated Quail-Dove which crossed the road in front of us. A Golden-headed Quetzal called quite distantly, but we did find another Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan and Rufous-capped Thornbill. After lunch we continued up beyond the campsite towards the elfin forest but found little else that we had not already seen. By dusk we had all gathered back at camp to prepare dinner, with Juve filling us in on the details of our planned hike down to the river in the morning.

Day 21 – August 10th
It was a morning of hard hiking through difficult conditions down to the river below, and we had little opportunity to make many stops for birding. We firstly crossed a precarious single log bridge where Phil almost came a cropper, before passing right by a plunging waterfall with a frightening drop-off down the cliff-face on one side of the fortunately more stable bridge. Mateo, our local contact, assured us that he knew of the ‘tucan verde’ but despite trawling with the tape of the closely related Blue-banded Toucanet, we had no luck trying to locate this rare species, and the presence of Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan confirmed my suspicion that we had not managed to descend low enough. On the way down we flushed a very large owl that must have been Great Horned Owl, and on two or three occasions we encountered mouse-like tapaculos creeping away from under our feet, which may have been the endemic Large-footed Tapaculo. Andean Solitaire was one of the species we found in this more mossy forest that we had not previously discovered on the other side of the valley, but generally the birding was a little disappointing in comparison with the previous couple of days.

After a tough slog through the mud for the 300-400 metres elevation we had lost getting down to the river, we arrived up at camp by lunchtime where we thanked Mateo, struck camp and began the drive back up to the elfin forest where we planned to spend the night camping close to the wreck of the blue van which we had passed on the way down. Remarkably, a Rufous-browed Hemispingus flew across the road in front of us, surely the first time this species has been seen from a moving vehicle! The weather had not been particularly good all day, but when we reached the elfin forest, great swathes of cloud lifted up out of the valley to reveal a brief period of bright sunshine. A number of species made the most of this break in the weather to feed and dry themselves out, foremost of which was the reappearance of the three Golden-backed Mountain-Tanagers which again gave good views, and of a pair of the rare Bay-vented Cotinga sallying forth from their treetop perch like flycatchers, behaving in a far more active fashion than the scant literature on the species would suggest. Coppery Metaltails were very numerous, as were Moustached Flowerpiercer, but we could not locate the final, and normally easiest of the four principal localised endemics of these elfin forest patches, the drab Pardusco.

Taking advantage of the bright spell, we descended a little on foot into the bamboo-dominated forest where we found a similar range of species to before, with the added bonus of the endemic Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant, which turned out to be quite numerous, plus Green-and-black Fruiteater and White-browed Spinetail. Back up at camp as the daylight faded, the unmistakable hooting of the Undulated Antpitta started up close to our camp, which Juve had set up brilliantly on a wooden platform. A bit of playback quickly excited this bird and it flew out of its dense habitat to perch briefly some two metres up in a tree on the other side of the path. After hiding once more, it shot back to its original patch over our hides, gliding against the sky like an owl in the gathering dusk. After a tasty dinner prepared in the shelter of the cab of the lorry, we retired to our tents to rest our weary limbs.

Day 22 – August 11th
Another night of persistant rain left both tents pretty wet this time, and also hampered our early morning birding. After a frustrating time waiting for the weather to clear we decided instead to make tracks back towards Buldibuyo as we had a long long afternoon and then night drive ahead of us. Just above the elfin forest a Neblina Tapaculo was watched as it crossed a rock face from one patch of shrubbery to another, and back by the lake we got excellent views of Blue-mantled Thornbill in addition to refinding many of the species we had seen on our way in. The trip back to Buldibuyo took about an hour and a half, interrupted briefly by a Many-striped Canastero, and from there we continued south towards the small town of Huancaspata over desolate puna landscapes where we found a pair of Aplomado Falcons perched on the ground beside the road, Streak-throated Canasteros amongst the tussock grass and an elegant Silvery Grebe floating quietly on the waters of a small lake. After dinner and an interesting conversation with the surprisingly worldly-wise restaurant owner, we headed out towards Sihuas on another all night drive.

Day 23 – August 12th
Another exhausting night saw us drive through Sihuas, Huallanca and the Cañon del Pato, arriving in the Cordillera Blanca just before dawn. Fortunately this journey will be done in daylight in future as the road passes through habitat for Pale-tailed Canastero, Grey-bellied Comet and even Kalinowski’s Tinamou. We passed Caraz before reaching Yungay and making our way up into the mountains towards the Llanganuco sector of the stunning Huascaran NP, undoubtedly one of the most spectacular birding backdrops in the country. We had got a little more sleep during this night drive but everyone was beginning to run out of steam, and we were a little too jaded to appreciate fully the beauty of the area. The marshy area at the end of the second lake held a variety of widespread Andean waterfowl, whilst higher up in the Gynoxys shrubbery and Polylepis woodland we found Tit-like Dacnis, Baron’s Spinetail, Giant Conebill and the endemic Rufous-eared Brush-Finch, but despite searching at a variety of altitudes could not find any White-cheeked Cotingas.

We worked our way down slowly towards the lake, finding Black Metaltail, Shining Sunbeam, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Band-tailed Sierra-Finch, Striated and Plain-breasted Earthcreepers, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant and, rather incongruously, a Smoky-brown Woodpecker. The areas of grassland next to the lakes held Plain-capped and Puna Ground-Tyrants, and we had a brief sleep in the car before continuing on towards the first lake where we had a light lunch in a small Polylepis woodland and watched an Andean Condor soaring against the snow-covered lower slopes of Huascaran.

Down in Yungay again we had some decisions to make. The initial itinerary was that we should head north again for another night drive to the area in the far northwest of Ancash department where Gunnar had rediscovered Kalinowski’s Tinamou in April. Fortunately, there is always a lot of flexibility in the itineraries and we decided that it just was not feasible and opted instead to spend the night in Yungay before another attempt at finding the cotinga up at Llanganuco and then heading onto San Damian. The rest of the afternoon was spent failing to locate Pale-tailed Canastero at a nearby site, before returning to Yungay for an early night.

Day 24 – August 13th
The next morning we returned, somewhat more refreshed, to Llanganuco, and drove straight up to higher elevations where once again we failed to locate White-cheeked Cotinga, despite driving all the way up to the pass which was well above the snowline following an unexpected snowfall the previous night. We walked up towards the snowy peaks into a high patch of Polylepis, finding Blue-mantled and Olivaceous Thornbills and Stripe-headed Antpitta, whilst Mike stumbled across an Ancash Tapaculo. Lower down we stopped briefly at the Maria Josefa trail where I found a Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch but unfortunately it had gone by the time the others had arrived. Away from the park a group of Andean Swifts circled above the car on our descent through the arid scrub below the ranger station, as we examined the ruins and the cementeries of the old town of Yungay, which was completely destroyed by a devastating earthquake in the 1960s.

From Yungay we continued south down the Callejon de Huaylas, intending to cross up over the Cordillera Negra to San Damian. Unfortunately, the huge distances we had covered on often appalling roads had taken its toll on the Landcruiser and a temperature problem amongst other things forced us to rethink the route. Concerned that we might have to go back to Lima for repairs, we luckily managed to get hold of Gunnar and he arranged for Julio and Goyo to come and arrange a smooth change of cars somewhere along the road. Although it made for a pretty miserable night, we were all very thankful that these problems had happened on a major paved road through the centre of the country and not at La Montañita. We coaxed the ailing vehicle down to the town of Pativilca, where the road meets the coastal Panamerican highway, and settled down to sleep and await the arrival of the Dodge van.

Day 25 – August 14th
The unexpected switch to the Dodge allowed us more sleep than we might otherwise have got on the drive north but it was still with rather heavy legs that we hauled our way up from the tiny village of San Damian, nestled in a valley amongst the stark arid landscape of the Cordillera Negra, into the limited area of dry scrubby woodland high above the town. After an hour and a half or so of quite hard walking up through barren, birdless terrain, we reached an area of grassy scrub where we encountered a number of Great Inca-Finches and Collared Warbling-Finches. At a small cattle yard we found a small oasis of more humid shrubbery and woodland where we found the first of three or so chat-tyrants which we had assumed would be the localised endemic Piura, although none showed any obvious rufous in the wings and therefore must have been White-browed Chat-Tyrants, despite their seemingly more unobtrusive habits. Other species we found were Bay-crowned Brush-Finch, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Scrub Blackbird, Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant, Amazilia Hummingbird and Purple-collared Woodstar, although our main target took rather a while to locate. Eventually we stumbled across a rather unvocal pair of Russet-bellied Spinetails and returned to the cattle area for a rest. Three Andean Condors circled worryingly low over us, presumably waiting for us to keel over, but soon lost interest as we began the descent back to the village.

We returned towards the coast, planning to spend the night in a hotel in Huarmey after the trials of the previous night, and stopped for lunch in a dry river bed on the way back towards the coast where we were interrupted by a small flock of Mountain Parakeets which perched in the crown of a nearby tree. By 3.30 we had arrived in Huarmey and after finding a hotel with a little difficulty we ventured to Puerto Huarmey, a little south of the town. A marshy area on the way towards the sea warranted an extended stop and we added a large number of species to the trip list. The areas of open water held large numbers of Wilson’s Phalaropes, whilst Cinnamon Teals and a pair of White-cheeked Pintails grazed the grassy margins. The shallow muddy fringes harboured a number of species of migrant shorebird, including Semipalmated, Least and Pectoral Sandpipers, Ruff, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs and Dark-faced Ground-Tyrants and Short-tailed Field-Tyrants searched for insects in the grass.

Down at the beach we found even more new birds. Blackish Oystercatchers and Whimbrels patrolled the beach and the endemic Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes was quickly found on the rocky promontory. A small offshore island held possible breeding colonies of a number of species, and an hour’s seawatching produced a wide range of seabirds including Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Booby, Peruvian Pelican, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants, South American and Inca Terns, Band-tailed and Grey Gulls and the slender Great Grebe. On the way back to town we passed an area of grassland where we admired about 20 Peruvian Thick-knees, before a dinner of ceviche and a comfortable bed.

Day 26 – August 15th
A fairly leisurely start saw us on our way south along the Panamerican towards Lima by about 7am, and by 9 we had reached the turn-off to the Lomas de Lachay. We started at the lower entrance, where we searched a dry cactus-dotted valley for the resident endemics. On the way in Coastal Miners were relatively common, and further into the canyon a pair of Greyish Miners were added. The remaining target was rather elusive, but we did finally manage to locate a Cactus Canastero, with Phil getting particularly good views.

After breakfast we moved up to the main park HQ entrance, and the normally barren desert along the main entrance road was covered by a carpet of green plants dotted with white flowers which attracted a number of cute Least Seedsnipes which seemed to be feeding on the flowers themselves. There were also large numbers of the attractive Tawny-throated Dotterel present, and we enjoyed excellent views of this elegant wader. At park HQ we walked the trail leading up from the car park in search of the final endemic Thick-billed Miner, and we eventually had poor views of a rather distant pair on a rocky outcrop. Returning to the HQ we had a very civilised lunch in the picnic area, and remarkably an astonishingly tame miner hopped right up to our table and picked up some scraps we left for it at our feet.

On the way back towards Lima we detoured to the Ventanilla marshes north of the city near Callao and the airport where we found a number of species we had seen at Puerto Huarmey, with the exception of American Oystercatcher and Sanderling on the beach and Grey-headed and Kelp Gulls in the large marshy area inland from the sea. A group of Peruvian holidaymakers from Huanuco were very excited to enjoy scope views of some sedate Peruvian Thick-knees. As darkness fell we continued to Lima and dropped Mike off at the airport before driving back to Gunnar’s appartment in San Borja to discuss the plans for the next few days.

Day 27 – August 16th
Phil was still keen to embark on a mission to try and locate Kalinowski’s Tinamou, so Gunnar had planned that we go off to Bosque Zarate for the next two days to look for Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch, so the car could be fixed, before I would take on another client going to Santa Eulalia and Marcapomacocha and Gunnar would take Phil north. A 5am departure saw us on the central highway north of Chosica before we turned off for our rendezvous with our local contact. After a quick breakfast we began the 4 hour hike up across dry slopes to the woodland, passing through areas of scrub and more dense shrubbery. We found a number of species typical of the Pacific slope including Black-winged Ground-Dove, Black Metaltail, Rufous-chested Tanager, Oasis Hummingbird, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant and the endemic Canyon Canastero. The highlight was the rare endemic Bronze-tailed Comet which we watched as it fed low down on a flowering bush. We were to find this species relatively numerous at our campsite later in the day.

The forest itself was rather unusual botanically, and not really what I had expected. The main tree species was vaguely reminiscent of Mediterranean cork and not a place where I would expect to find White-cheeked Cotingas, despite the fact that this species’ monotypic genus is named Zaratornis after this area of woodland. The cotinga is probably a seasonal visitor here and we certainly didn’t find any. The endemic Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch was very numerous, but in the heat of the day there were few birds present. One of these, however, was a strange sparrow-sized bird with a little rufous wash on the sides of the breast, which must have been a female or immature Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch, although the view was not conclusive. We climbed up out of the forest into an area of short grass next to an old deserted building where we pitched our tent and sat down to relax and enjoy some hard-earned lunch after a tough walk.

The afternoon was spent working up and down the path through the forest, which clings to the steep slopes. There was no further sign of the Poospiza but we did locate Shining Sunbeam, Andean Swift, Baron’s Spinetail and Rusty Flowerpiercer. As the sun got progressively lower in the sky we watched some hummingbirds come to the proliferation of flowering shrubs, which included good views of more Bronze-tailed Comets, their ruby gorgets and bronzy tail tips diagnostic. After dark Band-winged Nightjars circled around the camp as I cooked dinner before retiring to bed.

Day 28 – August 17th
We spent the first few hours of daylight trying to locate our main quarry, but drew a depressing blank at first, although I did find an Andean Tinamou feeding close to a small water tank just above camp. We relocated the majority of the species we had found the previous day, but it was not until the eleventh hour, in this case about 8.45am that we found a full adult male Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch in a small mixed flock. We enjoyed good views for a few seconds before it disappeared as quickly as it had materialised. Relieved to have found this endangered and little-known species after so much searching, we made good progress down towards the road, arriving at about midday, delighted to find Juvenal waiting for us.

We returned to Chosica where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and a rest at the junction with the road up into the Santa Eulalia valley whilst awaiting the arrival of Julio, Goyo and new client Peter Coburn, who had been in Manu for three weeks. They finally made it at about 4pm and we loaded Peter and all the necessary supplies into the Dodge and continued up on the Santa Eulalia road, making an unsuccesful stop for Black-necked Flicker. Climbing up the arid mountain slopes on a rather precarious road, we turned off to the town of San Pedro de Casta, arriving after dark where we found a basic hotel and had a simple dinner before bed.

Day 29 – August 18th
We worked the area of scrub from San Pedro down to the bridge for the first few hours of daylight, and caught up with a number of the endemics and specialities of the area. Black-necked Flickers showed well in a eucalypt, a Canyon Canastero gave good views in response to tape and the dainty Peruvian Sheartail buzzed around the flowers alongside Purple-collared Woodstar, Oasis Hummingbird and Bronze-tailed Comet. On the series of switchbacks on the final descent to the bridge, we encountered a large flock of seed-eating birds which included 1-2 male Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finches and at least 3 other individuals, either females, immatures or alternate-plumaged males. Other specialities such as Streaked Tit-Spinetail, Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant and Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch were found rather easily, although by the time we had reached the right area a little further up on the main road, there were no Great Inca-Finches to be found because of the heat.

After stopping for lunch in a shady spot we followed the river higher up towards Marcapomacocha, pausing to admire a rather flighty pair of White-winged Cinclodes. We reached the Polylepis woodland in the mid-afternoon and had time for a little birding before dark, finding a number of species including Black Metaltail, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, White-capped Dipper, Yellow-rumped Siskin, a Stripe-headed Antpitta perched on a rock, and Peter’s first Andean Condor. Dinner was followed by an early night bracing ourselves for the cold.

Day 30 – August 19th
Learning from previous experiences, we waited for the birds to wake up before venturing forth ourselves. Light hits the Polylepis area later than most of the rest of the valley, and it is the hour between 8-9am that the White-cheeked Cotingas are most active. Although not quite an obtrusive as last time, we found two pairs at least and enjoyed excellent scope views. A single Paramo Seedeater was rather unexpected, as was the rare and enigmatic White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant that put in an appearance. A pair of Black-billed Shrike-Tyrants shortly afterwards confirmed that the difference between these two species in terms of size and colouration is rather more marked than some literature might suggest.

Climbing up once more to the Marcapomacocha area, we found the endemic Junin Canastero in an area of bunch grass above the first lake before the pass. Despite the presence of three truck-fulls of men plundering the plants of the cushion bogs, which threatens to destroy the ecology of the area completely, we still managed to find the majority of the specialities, including good views of White-bellied Cinclodes, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Dark-winged Miner, Olivaceous Thornbill, Giant Coot and Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, although Puna Tinamou and Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe were absent, presumably forced higher up into the hills to avoid being hunted out.

We stopped for lunch again in San Mateo before returning to Lima, stopping en route for Peter to tick off his hoped-for Long-tailed Mockingbird. After arranging to visit Pantanos de Villa the following day Juve, Goyo and I headed for the cinema and then to a bar to celebrate the end of an exhausting but very rewarding journey.

Day 31 – August 20th
A lie-in and morning of completing a few bits of admin was followed by an afternoon visit to the marshes of the Pantanos de Villa reserve a short way south of the city. The highlight here is the excellent views to be had of Great Grebe, whilst Peruvian Thick-knee is also very reliable and we eventually found a pair on the way to the beach. The regular cast of waterbirds included Pied-billed and White-tufted Grebes, a variety of herons, Puna Ibis and Cinnamon Teal, whilst less expected were Savanna Hawk, Coastal Miner, Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant and a male Yellow-hooded Blackbird. A feral population of this species was introduced to Villa in the 1960s and were thought to have died out but they clearly persist in small numbers. After a spot of seawatching we bumped into Victor Emmanuel and one of his tour groups, and recounted some of our best birds and experiences from what had been a memorable month, before returning to San Borja.

 Files for this Trip Report:
NPERU2000LIST.doc (105 KB)
Species list

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