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Trip Reports
Satipo road Nature-trek June 2003
February 13, 2004
Jon Hornbuckle


Ashley Banwellï (co-leader, Kolibri) otusbrooki@aol.com

Jon Hornbuckle (co-leader, Naturetrek) kagu@blueyonder.co.uk

Lee Mixon, Chicago

Roy Goldsmithï,  Norfolk

Martin Smyth, Coventry

with our agent Gunnar Engblom kolibriexp@gmail.com, Director of Kolibri Expeditions, present on a few days.

This was Naturetrek's first tour into a poorly-known region of the Andes of Central Peru where a number of very special and rare birds occur amongst a wide variety of more widespread species. We succeeded in seeing around 350 species including birds few others have observed such as Eye-ringed Thistletail, White-bellied Cinclodes, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Tschudi?s and Large-footed Tapaculos, and Black-spectacled Brush-Finch. We also saw other highly sought birds such as Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, displaying Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, and a fine selection of 39 hummingbirds and 43 tanagers. Unlike the first Central Highway tour, there were no logistical problems and an enjoyable time was had by all.



Martin, Roy and Jon assembled at London Heathrow and departed on the early morning Iberia scheduled flight to Madrid where, after watching distant Griffon Vultures, we boarded the non-stop service to the Peruvian capital of Lima, arriving at Jorge Chavez International Airport during the evening. We were met by Gunnar Engblom and transferred to Hostal de las Artes, opposite Lima's main police station. Here we met Lee Mixon, who had arrived a day earlier, and we all enjoyed beer and chips at a nearby cafe.


At 06.30 we departed south from Lima with Gunnar, Ash Banwell and Roger Ahlman, a Swedish client of Kolibri, to Pantanos de Villa, where we picked up local birder Alexandro. After a quick search for Peruvian Thick-knee, we continued down the Pan-American highway to the small seaside town of Pucusana. Here we climbed up to the cliff-tops from where we were able see most of the Humboldt current specialties: Red-legged Cormorant, the beautiful Inca Tern, Blackish Oystercatcher, and Peruvian Booby and Pelican, along with Sooty Shearwaters and several species of gulls, but alas no Humboldt Penguins. Down below, we had close views of the endemic Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes. Further south at Puerto Viejo we found grebes and ducks, a beautiful male Cinereous Harrier, the elusive Thick-knee and other waders, Burrowing Owl, Coastal Miner, Wren-like Rushbird, Yellowish Pipit, Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant, Dark-fronted Ground-Tyrant, and Chestnut-throated and Parrot-billed Seedeaters. We continued to Cañete where we turned inland and stopped for a late lunch by the river, with a search for the difficult Slender-billed Finch The latter was nowhere to be found but eye-level Andean Swifts, Croaking Ground-Dove, Scrub Blackbird and Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant were a consolation. We drove along the arid Cañete Valley up to the village of Catahuasi, with D'Orbigny's Chat-Tyrant and White-capped Dipper on the way. We elected to stay at a basic hostelry, which provided good steak and chips, rather than to camp.


We left at 5.45 but stopped after a few metres owing to a flat tyre. The jack would not lift the bus high enough to fit the spare wheel, so armed with a pick-axe, Julio the enterprising driver dug a hole in the road to enable the wheel to be fitted! After an hour's drive we stopped in a cactus-rich area at 1700m and saw the striking Peruvian Sheartail and Giant Hummingbird, Black-and-white and Band-tailed Seedeaters, the only Great Inca-Finch of the trip, and our first Torrent Ducks on the river. Continuing ever higher, we picked up three more hummers, Oasis, White-bellied and Purple-collared Woodstar along with White-capped Dipper on the river, then drove through a dramatic narrow gorge, with sheer cliffs 1000s of feet high on both sides. After a bread and cheese lunch at 3000m, we continued to a patch of Polylepis forest at 3900m where Black Metaltail, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail and Peruvian and Mourning Sierra-Finches were noted. All too soon we had to move on, up onto the puna where we found Dark-winged Canastero and White-bellied Cinclodes (a new site for the latter, a great rarity) near the pass at 4600m. Then it was down to the bustling city of Huancayo where we reached Hotel Kiya at 9.20 p.m., in time for a Chinese meal after a long and dusty day.


This morning we were joined by Gunnar and driver Adriano, Julio and Alexandro having taken the overnight bus back to Lima. We left at 06.30 but soon came to a halt as Adriano drove under a low bridge, knocking off some of the contents of the roof-rack. Fortunately, there was no serious damage but as yesterday's flat tyre had to be repaired, we were unable to leave until 08.00. We climbed up to Lago Pomococha at 4700m and found Cinereous and Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrants, a bathing Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Andean Negrito and a pair of scarce Andean Ibis. Later, a stop at 3700m gave the endemic Fire-throated Metaltail, Streak-throated Canastero and White-browed Ground-Tyrant and Chat-Tyrant. Then followed a slow drive through spectacular scenery, past another lake and via numerous tight hairpins to a pass at c.4500m, before dropping down to the end of the road at Punto, a village perched on a ridge at 3800m. Here we were granted the village meeting-house to stay in, and cook Lorenzo eventually produced an ample supply of chicken and rice.


At 06.00 we walked down to Otuto forest , stopping for a stunning male Purple-backed Thornbill, Shining Sunbeam, Mountain Velvetbreast and more Fire-throated Metaltails, Stripe‑headed Antpitta, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Black-throated Flowerpiercer. The key bird to find was the recently described Black-spectacled Brush-Finch, soon spotted in the chusquea bamboo by Ash but uncooperative in terms of reappearance. On a previous visit Gunnar had found a new form of Thryothorus wren, like Plain-tailed but with unspotted underparts - possibly a new species and we were able to lure this into view as it was highly vocal. Other birds here were Red-crested Cotinga, and Black-capped and Superciliaried Hemispingus. The walk back to the village was exhausting to those of us who were out-of-sorts; Blue-mantled Thornbill, another fine hummer, was a bonus for some. We left Punto at 11.30 and stopped on the tops to look for tapaculos, without success, but we did see Striated Earthcreeper. We dropped down to Canchapalca and left Gunnar to return to Lima by public transport, then continued to the Satipo Road, reaching our camping spot by the river at Punto Carizales at 5.30 p.m. Tents were quickly erected and after a tasty meal we retired to bed under a fairly clear sky, but with no sounds of nightbirds.


After a good night's sleep, despite some rain, we breakfasted at 06.00, then walked up the road, soon finding the star Eye-ringed Thistletail. More of this highly localised species were found below the camp, giving excellent views. Then came the first of a series of tapaculo sightings at different elevations, all seemingly sounding different but looking similar. We had some confidence that the first was Large-footed but have yet to resolve whether other species were involved lower down.
We dropped down to 3000m and ran into low cloud but soon encountered a huge flock, with lots of tanagers - 18 species during the day! - such as Scarlet-bellied, Hooded, Lacrimose, Buff-breasted and Chestnut-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, Plushcap, 4 species of conebill, Ochraceous-breasted Flycatchers, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Slaty Brush-Finch and several hummingbirds including the beautiful Amethyst-throated Sunangel. We drove down to 2700m and the birds kept coming: Andean Guan, Blue-banded Toucanet, Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Masked Trogon, stunning Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers, a pair of Maroon-chested Chat-Tyrant, Barred Fruiteater, White-eared Solitaire, White-collared Jay, Peruvian Wren, another tapaculo, and a magnificent Sword-billed Hummingbird perched atop a tall tree with its amazing bill pointing skywards with a pronounced up-turned profile. An incredibly productive morning! Then it started raining heavily and we had to walk quite a way to find the bus. After a quick lunch, we drove down to the village of Calavas at 2300m, where we were allocated a school building to sleep in. Our final walk of the day after the rain stopped was down to the river where we saw Inca Jay, Andean Solitaire and Green-fronted Lancebill fly-catching over the river. Lorenzo rustled up a beef and chip stew, with the customary rice.



The morning was sunny, which dampened bird activity, but it clouded over later. We got off to good start with a pair of Golden-headed Quetzal feeding near to our school. We drove up to 2500m and walked back down to the village, seeing many of the species from the previous day but White-throated Hawk, White-bellied Woodstar, Speckled Hummingbird, Striped Treehunter and Grey-breasted Wood-Wren were new. At 11.00 we drove back up to 2650m and walked down to 2500m, finding a good flock including Grass-green and Flame-faced Tanagers, Barred Becard and Chestnut-breasted Coronet. Then Martin spotted what we took to be another thistletail species which we studied as it climbed up the nearby moss-covered cliff. As it was virtually all brown, we thought it must be a new taxon and were highly elated. However, subsequent research has indicated that it was more likely to have been a juvenile Azara's Spinetail, which appears to look quite different from an adult. A little further down, a fruiting tree attracted a pair of Band-tailed Fruiteaters and a Blue-and-black Tanager.

We drove beyond the village down to 1800m, stopping just beyond a huge land-slip. Here a fast-moving flock contained a suite of different species, including Blue-browed, Silver-backed, Yellow-throated, Orange-eared and Golden-naped Tanagers, Ocellated Piculet, Versicoloured Barbet and Lemon-browed Flycatcher. A little further on the raucous cries of Andean Cock-of-the-Rock were heard and we espied 3 males displaying in trees by the road, a wonderful sight! Another great day's birding closed with a fine immature Fasciated Tiger-Heron on the river, a Buff-thighed Puffleg for some and a rare Golden-collared Honeycreeper, but only for Roger (to the frustration of both leaders for whom it would have been a new species). The tents were pitched beside the river at dusk and another tasty meal prepared by Lorenzo. 


After a bit of a lie-in, we set off down the road at 6.30 but birds were few, with Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Bronzy Inca, Blackish Antbird, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant and Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant the most notable. We reached a group of flowering Inga trees and spent some time checking out the many hummingbirds but only Reddish Hermit, Glittering-throated Emerald and Amethyst Woodstar were new. We drove to a village where there was a short trail to a waterfall, said to be a Cock-of-the-Rock lek-site. We tried it but saw nothing at this time of day. Adriano had been trying to buy fuel all morning and finally succeeded when we reached San Pedro. Here we had a chicken lunch while watching a local football match. We left at half-time and returned to 1250m where we took a trail from a bridge up the hillside along a water-pipe and stream. It looked good habitat but we only saw Red-throated Caracara, Coraya Wren and Golden-bellied Warbler. Returning to the road, a short walk brought a plethora of new birds including Violet-throated Brilliant, White-winged Becard and Paradise, Golden-eared, Masked and Swallow Tanagers. We departed before dusk and reached the busy town of Satipo at 7 p.m. Gunnar reappeared here and ushered us to a rather down-market but comfortable hotel, where after a very welcome shower, we enjoyed good steak and chips followed by banana splits


We had a good breakfast, after a noisy night on the streets outside. Satipo was in the thick of Shining Path deadly conflict ten years earlier: the sight of a severed head on a stick outside town meant stay away for at least 24 hours! We left at 06.20 on a good tarred road, for a change. A stop in secondary habitat near the river gave a nice selection of lowland birds, such as Black Caracara, Speckled Chachalaca, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Great Antshrike, White-banded Swallow and Epaulet Oriole. Then a walk onto a cane-covered river-island added species such as Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Black-fronted Nunbird, Little Ground-Tyrant and an adult Fasciated Tiger-Heron. We turned off the La Merced road at 10.50 for Oxapampa and had almost reached the latter by 1.30 p.m. when we took the rough road leading up to a communication site. Along here we found Torrent Tyrannulets, before reaching the campsite in beautiful moss-festooned cloud forest at 2.45. Gunnar promptly left us, for the last time, and we set out to explore the various trails. Bird activity was low, despite the apparently good, overcast conditions. One or two Rufous Antpittas called occasionally and a Tschudi's Tapaculo was responsive but it was not till dusk when flocks of Barred Parakeets zoomed over and birds such as Barred Fruiteater, Pearled Treerunner and Yellow-scarfed Tanager appeared. Although only 2600m in elevation, it turned very cold at night, with a clear sky above alive with innumerable stars. We had been told the key bird here was the very local endemic Cloud-forest Screech-Owl, and so eagerly awaited the sound of owls calling, which began at about 8 p.m. We eventually taped in one of a pair but then discovered that, although a stunning view, it was actually the widespread White-throated Screech-Owl a disappointing end to the day.



The dawn chorus at 06.00 included highly vocal, gaudy Grass-green Tanagers but, surprisingly, no antpittas. We later heard both Bay and Rufous Antpittas but their locations were almost inaccessible. We birded till 09.00 with modest success: a good view of the scarce Chestnut-crested Cotinga, and Rufous-capped Thornbill and Golden-browed Chat-Tyrant for some. Walking down the road gave White-eared Solitaire and Barred Fruiteater, but our plan to go down another track while lunch was being prepared was thwarted by the track being blocked a little way down and the crew's view that they would have to drive further down the main road to find water for cooking. The latter point was a little hard to understand as the road followed a stream, and it was over an hour later before we found the bus, after a birdless walk in the sunny heat of the day. As Lorenzo had not even started on the meal, and there was a long way to go, we decided to proceed direct to Oxapampa for lunch. This was achieved and we left for the mining town of La Oroya at 1.45 p.m., with assurances that we would arrive by 6 p.m. We hardly stopped, knowing that it would be a slow journey, and eventually reached Hostal San Juan at 9 p.m., but a hot shower, followed by trout and chips, soon revived our spirits.


After a late night, we had a good breakfast and left at 8 a.m, climbing along the Central Highway to the last pass before Lima until we reached Ticlio at 4,700 meters. As the weather was good, we were able to enjoy the dramatic scenery while looking for the beautiful, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover (DSP). On arrival, we soon saw a veritable flock of the rare White-bellied Cinclodes, 7 in all, with another later on! Walking across the spongy bog, breathless due to the high altitude, a pair of DSP was duly spotted and we were treated to fine views of this enigmatic creature. Other birds encountered were Andean and Puna Ibises, Rufous-bellied and Grey-breasted Seedsnipes, Puna Snipe, White-winged Diuca-Finch, and White-fronted and Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrants. After coffee at the bus lower down the hill, we proceeded at 11.00 down to Rio Blanco. An hour here gave White-winged Cinclodes, Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant and Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch. We reached the Kolibri office in Lima at 3 p.m., and were rewarded by the last hummer of a most successful trip, an Amazilia. Four of us then continued to the airport to catch the evening flight to Iquitos, while Martin and Roy were taken to the Indian market for some souvenir shopping, before returning to the airport in good time for the overnight flight to Madrid, and on to Heathrow on THURSDAY JUNE 26.

The species list in Excel format has been screened against viruses and can be downloaded here.

 Files for this Trip Report:
Satipo road June.xls (69 KB)
Species list

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Telephone: +51-1- 652 76 89. From the US: 011-51-1- 652 76 89. Cell: 988 555 938 (Gunnar) or 999 007 886 (Elia Gallo) - Email: kolibriexp@gmail.com