Long-whiskered Owlet

More birds – North Peru

Photographer Max Waugh, who was with us on the Marvelous Spatuletail Display Tour in January 2012,  actually sent me a bunch of pictures from North Peru, apart from the Marvelous Spatuletail shots I posted in the last blogpost. Additionally, Alex Durand came back from two North Peru trips practically in a row with loads of great shots. So just to remind you  (hint, hint) of 17 good reasons to sign up for a North Peru trip, here is a North Peru Bird bestiary.

Sparkling Violetear Colibri coruscansSparkling Violetear by Max Waugh

Although, the Sparkling Violetear is very common through-out the Andes, it is a magnificent and very photogenic hummer.  Photo: Max Waugh.

Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan Andigena hypoglaucaGray-breasted Mountain-Toucan by Max Waugh

Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan is a spectacular bird. We usually find it near Leimebamba.

Marañon Crescentchest Melanopareia maranonicaMaranon Crescentchest Melanopareia maranonica Alex Durand

Crescentchests belongs to the Tapaculo family. They are very colorful. The Marañon Crescentchest is practically endemic to Peru, although it has recently been found across the Ecuadorian border at Zumba.  It differs from Elegant Crescentchest of the West slope, which we also see on the North Peru trips, by prominent white markings in the wing and richer orange below.
Photo: Alex Durand.

West Peruvian Screech Owl Megascops roboratus pacificus
West Peruvian Screech Owl Megascops roboratus pacificus Alex Durand

The Peruvian Screech-owl Otus roboratus consists of two subspecies roboratus of the Marañon valley and pacificus in woodlands on the Peruvian and Ecuadoran west slope of the Andes.  Here is pacifcus, which is much smaller than roboratus, photographed at Chaparri Eco Lodge by Alex Durand.

Tumbes Tyrant Tumbesia salvini
Tumbes Tyrant Tumbesia salvini. Photo: Alex Durand.

Tumbes Tyrant is a pretty and active little tyrant closely related to Chat-tyrants. It is endemic to the Tumbesian region and has only recently been recorded in Ecuador on the boarder to Peru.  We often see it at Chaparri or the White-winged Guan site called Quebrada Frejolillo. Photo: Alex Durand.

Emerald Toucanet  Aulacorhynchus prasinusEmerald Toucanet Aulacorhynchus prasinus photo Max Waugh

Emerald Toucanet  is sometimes regarded as 7 species The form in Peru belongs to Black-throated Toucanet Aulacorhynchus (prasinus) atrogularis. Photo by Max Waugh.

Purple-throated Sunangel Heliangelus viola.Purple-throated Sunangel Heliangelus viola. Photo: Max Waugh.

Purple-throated Sunangel is another lovely hummingbird from North Peru. Perhaps it is easiest to see in Leimebamba at the feeders of KentiKafé. But it can also be seen around Pomacochas. Photo: Max Waugh.

Golden-tailed Sapphire  Chrysuronia oenoneGolden-tailed Sapphire  Chrysuronia oenone. Photo; Max Waugh

This beautiful Golden-tailed Sapphire is photographed at Wakanqui near Moyobamba. Up to 18 species of Hummingbirds visit the feeders. It is truly spectacular. Photo: Max Waugh.

Ecuadorian Piculet Picumnis sclateri.Ecuadorian Piculet Picumnis scaleteri. Photo: Alex Durand

Piculets are diminutive small woodpeckers. And they are cute! North Peru has 3 species which are regularly seen, but sometimes hard to photograph. Alex Durand manage to photograph all three. Here is the Ecuadorian Piculet  which we usually see at the White-winged Guan spot near Olmos.

Speckle-chested Piculet Picumnis steindachneri Speckle-chested Piculet male - Alex Durand-001

Speckle-chested Piculet Picumnis steindachneri ALex Durand

The Speckle-chested Piculet has a very small range. It is endemic to Amazonas and San Martin departments in Peru. It is often seen at Afluentes near Abra Patricia, but it seems even more common along the Utcubamba river between Pedro Ruiz and Leimebamba. Here are photos of both male and female. Photos: Alex Durand.

Lafresnaye’s Piculet Picumnis lafresnayiLafresnaye's Piculet Picumnis lafresnayi. Photo: Alex Durand.

Lafresnaye’s Piculet can be found near Tarapoto. It is a lowland piculet and is quite common in the northern Amazon. Photo: Alex Durand.

Golden-headed Quetzal Pharomachrus auricepsGolden-headed Quetzal  Pharomacrus auriceps. Photo: Max Waugh

Some non-birders find it a bit surprising that there are Quetzals also in South America. They are just not Resplendent like in Costa Rica. There are three species in Peru. Two in the highlands and one in the lowland. Of the highland ones, the Golden-headed Quetzal is the most common. Photo: Max Waugh.

White-necked Jacobin Florisuga melivora.White-necked Jacobin Florisuga melivora. Photo: Max Waugh

White-necked Jacobin is a quite common Hummingbird in many parts of South America. It is nonetheless still a splendid species. This shot was taken at Wakanqui  near Moyobamba. Photo: Max Waugh.

Pale-billed Antpitta Grallaria carrikeri.Pale-billed Antpitta Grallaria carrikeri- Alex Durand

Pale-billed Antpitta is perhaps one of the most enigmatic Antpittas in Peru. It used to be very difficult. Now however it is staked out above on Rio Chido headland near San Lorenzo – not far from Pomacochas. It lives in dense Chusquea bamboo patches.  Photo: Alex Durand.

Lulu’s Tody-Flycatcher Poecilotriccus luluaeLulu's Tody-Flycatcher or Johnson's Tody-Flycatcher Poecilotriccus luluae. Photo: Max Waugh

Beautiful little bird endemic to the dense scrub around Abra Patricia.  It takes some time and patience to see it, but it responds well to playback.  It is also known as Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher.  Photo: Max Waugh

Long-whiskered Owlet Xenoglaux loweryi.Long-whiskered Owlet Xenoglaux loweryi. Photo: Alex Durand

Perhaps the most spectacular and the most enigmatic of all South American Owls. This was a bird which after its discovery in the seventies was not seen in the field by birders until 2007. Now it is regularly seen at the Owlet Lodge at Abra Patricia.  Photo: Alex Durand.

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Happy New Year! 

Gunnar  Engblom

Connect with Gunnar on Facebook or Twitter or kolibriexp@gmail.com

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Newsletter from Gunnar Engblom

This is a very exciting newsletter with10 topics, for example The-Best-Bird-of-the-World Cup, an attempt to break the Big DAY World Record, the Future of Birdwatching, How to Niche an Ecolodge into a Birding Lodge, stunning Bird Photography from Peru by Glenn Bartley and several articles from Peru about our recent AvistarPeru event in Lima, Pelagics, Whalewatching, the popular selection of a New National Bird of Peru, etc.

It is a bit long to read completely, so I have done teasers so you can click through to get the full story for each article. Mark this mail to read it later and please consider sending it forward to a birding friend. I hope you like it.

TIP: If you use lots of different devices, such as Ipad, laptop and a smartphone with Internet I suggest you try Instapaper which works like magic to transform web-pages to reader-friendly articles you can save for later reading across the devices.



1. Bird World Cup

Make sure you follow this exciting December game to choose the Ultimate Bird of the World.  Right now we are playing Quarter finals.  The games are as follows:

  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper vs Kakapo
  • Marvelous Spatuletail vs Wandering Albatross
  • Harpy Eagle vs Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise
  • Philippine Eagle vs Shoebill

How can one choose, when they all are good birds.  And why was your favorite missing? It didn’t make through round 2 (where you can see photos of all) last week nor the Facebook filter the week before.  Yet, here we are with 8 matches played and entering the quarterfinals.  Vote HERE!

2. The biggest Day

Ted Parker in action by Haroldo Castro.It is soon 30 years since legendary Neotropical superbirder Ted Parker set the amazing record of 331 species in 24h at Cocha Cashu together with Scott Robinson.

The year was 1982. Scott has later told me that they had around 300 species already by 11 AM, and that they from then on searched for more birds rather casually.

They did not have access to terra firme and did not use motorized vehicles. The record was beaten in Kenya by  John Fanshawe and Terry Stevenson who recorded 342 birds on a single day, but also using light aircraft.

I have often thought that these records could be beaten in Peru with modern playback equipment. This year it will happen.  In fact there shall be a competition between the US and Peru in September 2012 at Explorer’s Inn. BirdingBlogs’ Rich Hoyer is on the US team and I am on the Peru team.  The whole thing shall likely be filmed by Adventure Birding TV. Read more about this birding event of the year on Birdingblogs.com……
Maybe you want to join us?

3. The future of birding

I am wondering if traditional birding as we birders knows it really has a future.  You know, the whole listing game and the finer arts of bird identification.  Are Big Days or Big Years really that interesting to people in general?  Is twitching? Can birding really become main stream, and will listing be interesting enough for masses of people?  The only thing regarding watching birds that seems to become main stream is bird feeding, and hard-line birders argue that that is not really birding.

Did you ever wonder why there are more hunters in the world than birders? Why are there more people interested in fishing than in birding?  For all I know, there are probably even more stamp-collectors than birders.

Maybe that is the point. Birding is just a collection of observations. At the end of the day, you only write down in a notebook (or insert in a database) your observations – and if you are really lucky, you can put a tick in the check box in a yearlist or a lifelist or next to the bird’s name in the birdbook.

Take a look at yourself, and try to explain to a non-birder, that that is really exciting. A hunter or a fisherman at least gets a trophy. A stamp collector at least has the actual stamps. But YOU, what do YOU have?  You have a tick in a checklist!  Try to explain to the non-birder, that this really is more exciting than train spotting.
Read the rest of this article on Birdingblogs.com.

4. Jaw dropping bird photography from Peru by Glenn Bartley

Once in a while you come across bird photography that is so jaw-dropping that you simply want to throw your camera to the floor in dispair and scream “I need a new camera with a longer lens, more megapixels and a flash as strong as sunlight”.  Then  you buy a new camera only to realize that the results are still not what you wanted.  The simple truth is of course that you suck as a bird photographer.

Glenn Bartley is a professional photographer, who just returned from a 3 month trip in Peru, and has produced the best set of photos from Peru I have ever seen. Not only of common species, but some that are rarely photographed. The Long-whiskered Owlet for example at the top of this post, is of a species so rare that it has only been documented with some shaky video and a few half decent shots. I have only seen the bird once, and then it was a dark object flying from one perch to another without actually seeing the bird sitting.  That is all, after some 5-6 tries for the species.

Fortunately, for those of us who suck, Glenn organizes bird photography workshop in the Neotropics. I was fortunate enough to get Glenn to agree on an interview for Birdingblogs and I am allowed to share some of his amazing photos from Peru.  Check out the  rest of the interview with Glenn Bartley on Birdingblogs.com. Check this video too

5. How to niche a nature lodge to a birding lodge.

Ten years ago, the Wattled Curassow was thought to be practically extirpated from Peru. Then came rumors of sightings by fishermen from the fishing village of San Juan de Yanayacu. All of a sudden the Wattled Curassow was not only present in Peru, but in fact quite accessible.

Of the three areas in South American where you can spot one, Yanayacu is the easiest.  In Bolivia it is a very  long journey and at the site in the Brazilian Amazon, the birds are difficult to see.  So for a very special birds and a fantastic Varzea/Igapó experience the Yanayacu area has a secure place for visiting birders in the future.

I visited Amazon Refuge Lodge on Yanayacu. They have initiated a new program to turn the eco-lodge into a birding lodge with a 10 step program recounted here.  The strategy can be used for any lodge really. Check out 10 ways to turn an eco-lodge into a birding lodge.

6. Avistar Peru

I already talked about Avistar in the last newsletter that ran Nov 2-6, 2011.  just wanted to make a fast recap of the event.  It lasted 3 days in Miraflores. We had several excursions to near and afar. At least 5000 people attended the fair. 192 photographers participated in the bird photo contest.  Here you find the 10 best photos in the dslr category and in the compact camera categories.  Around 380 people went birding, most who had never been birding before.  We got quite good media coverage and we formed a small group of people who go birding together in the weekends.

Birding in Peru shall grow much in the way I discussed in “the future of birding” above. We can already see how people enjoy to share photos on the newly created groups  Facebook.com/avesdelima and Facebook.com/avesdePeru.

7. Peru’s national bird

Cock of the Rock IMG_8495 Gunnar EngblomUnofficially Cock of the Rock is the national bird of Peru, but it has never been established by congress or a presidential decree.  This void can be used to start debate in Peru  about the virtues of electing a new bird as national for the sake of conservation, of environmental education and simply as a tourist attraction.

The top seeded candidates in the first round are Marvelous Spatuletail, Condor, Cock of the Rock, Inca Tern and Junin Grebe.  Check out all 10 candidates on AvistarPeru (in Spanish).

By bashing up interest on Facebook, we hope that in the next stage we can present the idea to PromPeru (the state tourism agency) and Sernanp (the conservation agency) and the biggest newspaper in Peru and with their help take the contest with the 5 top candidates to the next level. In a similar program in Taiwan they got over 1 million votes between five candidates.  It would surely be a great publicity scoop for the birds of Peru when this happens. If you like to vote in the first round, check out the Facebook Question and vote.

8. Whalewatching in Lima

Peru is really megadiverse for Cetaceans. If you’re fascinated with whales and dolphins, and live off a coastline that harbors over a third of all cetacean species in the world , you’d be crazy not trying to go out there and see them. If you don’t live here, let me introduce you to 15 species you can see off Peru. Maybe, you’d like to come to Peru and see some of them. Check out the rest of this post if you like dolphins and whales.

9. 20 best pelagic birds of Lima, part 1

Ringed-Storm-Petrel-Oceanodroma-hornbyi Gunnar EngblomAbove is one of the most sought by the pelagic fanatics. The Ringed Storm-Petrel (aka as Hornby’s Storm-Petrel). We present the 10 best birds here, and hope that you can name the remaining ten for part 2, by adding your favorites to the list.

10. Kolibri Expeditions 2012

Finally a few sentances about Kolibri Expeditions programs in 2012. First of all until Dec 31, 2011, we are starting the VIP club.  For a contribution of $500 VIP club members get 10% off on all tours and several free daytrips in Lima, including pelagics, starting in 2012 for as long as they live. The $500 will be invested in infrastructure  for birders in Peru.  Hurry up, the offer ends on 31st of Decmeber.  Read more about it here.

Even if you don’t want to join the VIP club at this point, but still concider coming on a trip with us in 2012, do check out our tour Calendar. If you  order your trip with a deposit before Dec 31, you are entitled to our low 2011 prices. The calendar has many intersting trips such as Central Peru and Northern Peru with Marvelous Spatuletail coming up.  There are even trips to Argentina (Patagonia) and Chile with Juan Fernandez archipelago in this years program.

Finally, wishing everyone Merry Christmas – somewhat embarrising, but I wanted to offer you something really special – me singing, or whatever you shall call it.. so please don’t laugh.
This is for you! Merry Christmas!

Photo credits: Long-whiskered Owlet and Common Potoo Glenn Bartley, Marvelous Spatuletail by Roger Ahlman, Ted Parker photo by Haroldo Castro, Peruvian Birders by Barbara J. Fraser all other photos by Gunnar Engblom. All rights reserved.
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I tried, and I tried and I tried….

Long-whiskered Owlet - Xenoglaux loweryi. Photo: Rich Hoyer

Long-whiskered Owlet - Xenoglaux loweryi at Esperanza. Photo: Rich Hoyer

Three times this year at different localities.  Yes, more people than ever before have seen the Long-whiskered Owlet this year at the now quite famous Esperanza site.  As a tour operator and a promoter of community conservation initiatives, I am of course interested in providing a service to our clients that will give them a good shot to see this legendary bird. For background info about Long-whiskered Owlet please see my previous blog post on How to see the Long-whiskered Owlet.

Wait a minute, that does not make sense! First he writes a post how to see it, and now three ways how not to see it! Give me a break!  It is no problem to see the Owlet, just follow the instructions, contact Noga Shanee and make the arrangements to trek into the mountains from Esperanza for several hours and then stay overnight at the hut – preferably two nights – then you should see it.  And it is all very well, as long as you are used to run marathons,  you are around 20-35 years old and don’t mind missing a whole bunch of endemics present at Abra Patricia.  This is the main thing. The Esperanza site is not for everyone. Let me relate my experiences how not to see the Long-whiskered Owlet.

1. The Long-whiskered Owlet Lodge

Great name for a lodge! Just flavor those words – Long-whiskered Owlet Lodge! In spite of the name and in spite of the almost legendary discovery here by Nick Athanas and Frank Lambert in 2008, hardly anyone has actually seen the Owlet here. Some have heard it.  A few have had very poor glimpses. I was at the Owlet Lodge in January when the news of the Shachar’s filming of the Owlet was released.
We did several unsuccessful night shifts trying to get it at the lodge.  I did see my first Cinnamon Screech-Owl on this occassion.  Since, the people at the Lodge, have a site where the Owlet has been seen (again briefly) and heard at close range which is only one hour from the road. Much closer and much more comfortable than Esperanza. The direction of the Owlet Lodge promise excellent comfort – and is charging their usual lodge fee also for camping. On my last visit in the area, I was told that the Lodge would not accept only a one night stay, but that booking of at least two nights was necessary. In the end I was told that the program could not be offered to us because bookings needed to be made two months in advance.  One month prior to departure was not enough time! In the end we settled for buying trail permits. Only after I paid (cost $20 per person)  for the permits for the group, was I informed that visiting hours on the trails was between 9 AM to 6 PM and valid for one day.  In this case not particularly worth it.

RATINGS Owlet Lodge:

For Owlet:  POOR



General Birding: EXCELLENT

For Groups: EXCELLENT, but make sure to make reservation at least 2 months ahead of time.  Even individuals should book well in advance. Most of the time the lodge is empty, but they don’t have resources to let people just show up and stay there.  Since, the irregularity of groups, they may even deny stay in spite it being empty, because of lack of staff.

2. Esperanza

Well, before listing all the reasons why I did not see the Owlet at Esperanza, I want to make clear that I really should have seen it, if only….

I got about 10 of those.  I was at Esperanza at 3 PM a fine afternoon in June, but I was waiting for Thomas Love who was coming from Cajamarca to join me on this quest. He did not arrive…until 7 PM. I could have set off without him,  but decided to wait.  We only had one shot – that same night, so we had to try.  We had some spaghetti that project manager Nestor and the people at Esperanza had prepared and then at 8 pm we set off with our guide Humberto on what was supposedly a three hour hike.  It took us 6 hours just walking and walking and walking. It is true it was not the closest route, but our guide deemed it as less streneous in the dark. The trail was incredibly muddy (June is dry season!) and in horrendous conditions, due to the mules and horses carrying big logs from the forest. It is clear that logging is still very much the main source of income for the people here.

We heard no Owlet on the way, but I was surprised to hear Vermiculated Screech-Owl this high up. It called from an area that was at least 1500m altitude – probably more.  When we arrived at 2 AM, Thomas was completely exhausted and needed a rest.  I argued that our best be would be trying to see it just before dawn, since all owls make a territorial call before they go to bed.  I was tired too, but since Humberto said it was only 15 minutes up the slope to the place where the Owlet was last seen, I figured I may just as well go up there, and then come down for Thomas at 04.30.  After a much needed drink and sitting down for a few minutes, I was up on my feet again and walked a very steep trail for about 20 minutes.  Just what I needed! Arriving at the spot there was an overhang rock that protected should it start to rain. So I told Humberto now joined by Ronald – who owns the hut – and probably has seen  the owlet more times than any other living person on this planet  – that I would stay there. The climb down and up once again would have done my in.  It was cold but I was brought a blanket and a mattress to sit on. Incredible how service-minded these locals are.

Humberto and Ronald insisted I’d play the Owlet song at very loud volume and over and over again. I was very reluctant. I use playback a lot, but in my experience one very rarely succeed with too insistent trawling, and there is always a risk the bird will see your iPhone as a too tough opponent even before trying to defend the territory. I prefer to do playback when and if the bird has called spontaneously. When they do, it is because they are territorial and by logic it should be easier to see it, when it comes to investigate an intruder in its territory.

So a few bouts from me once in a while was all the trawling I did.  Suddenly, there was a response.  I made a few more bouts and it came closer calling only some 20-30 meters away – at the most.

Then I thought of Thomas. What if, I called it in to see it now, and then by the time Thomas joined me, it suddenly decided it had had enough and would not show again. I decided it would be very unethical if I would see it, and Thomas would not. After all he was paying me some to take him along.  Furthermore, since Scandinavian birders do count heard birds, the Owlet was now on my list!

Thomas arrived a little after 5 AM, and the owlet was still calling. In spite of trying for the remaining hour of darkness, we would not see the Owlet.  Somewhat comforting was that we saw Rusty-breasted Antpitta and only a couple of meters after I imitated its song. After breakfast we set off to walk back. Although we choose a shorter route back it still took us over 6 hours with hardly any decent birding on the way. The first part went through good forest, but it was too steep uphill to bird – us heavily panting at any possible break – hardly able to lift the binoculars. The second part was mostly downhill, but it totally open terrain. No birds at all, except in a bushy area of second growth a Lulu’s Tody-Tyrant.

In July our guide Juan Jose Chalco accompanied Rich Hoyer and Alan Grenon on a quest for the Owlet.  They also arrived exhausted. Juan Jose hurt his foot, and after failing seeing the owlet in the evening, he needed to rest during the pre-dawn attempt. This is when the owlet was seen at only a few meters and photographed with a point and shoot camera by Rich Hoyer (photo above).

Summery: When trying for the owlet, make sure to have ample of time to get there and get sufficiently rested. Ideal is to have two nights, so you can enjoy some of the other birds in the area. There were both Barred Antthrush and Wattled Guan calling nearby, that we would have seen if we had had more time. We also missed Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey, which was my number one target apart from the Owlet.

RATINGS Esperanza

For Owlet:  VERY GOOD – in spite of us only hearing it.


Comfort: POOR

General Birding:  Good in the general area for the owlet, but VERY POOR in getting there.

For Groups: POOR.  Our last of group of 4 clients and two guides would most likely have been too large. To make the trek in and out less physical, it would have been good to each have a mule to ride and also mules for the luggage. But the trail is in such poor conditions that even with a horse it would be difficult and potentially dangerous as clients could fall off the horses if not used to riding on such steep slopes.

3. LSU Trail – re-visited.

On my last trip in August,  we could not visit Esperanza for various reasons. There was a workshop for the guides of Esperanza just during the time we had, and another group visiting, so in the end there was not enough staff nor space.  Plan B did not work either, because first ECOAN (the owners of the Owlet Lodge) confirmed they would receive us and we would do a camp for one night at their new site and the second night stay at the lodge, and then all of a sudden they said they could not receive us because we had not done a booking two months ahead of time!!!! We contacted them with two weeks notice.

However, a new/old option was suddenly a very good option. In 2002 Dan Lane and others from Louisiana State University did a two months survey on the slopes of Cerro Patricia. There is still a good trail that enters this area known as the LSU trail.  This area is within the protected area of Bosque Proteccion Alto Mayo.  Turns out the same trail is also has one of the most attractive orchids of Peru – the endemic and threatened Phragmipedium kovachii.

Phragmipedium kovachii shoe-like Orchid. Photo: Marco Leon, Inibico

There is a Peruvian NGO INIBICO that works with Orchid protection in the area and has the co-management concession of the protected area together with the Peruvian state conservation organ SERNANP (basically the continuation of INRENA). They also got the concession of the road building camp of Venceremos, where they are now implementing a biological station and park guard station, where it is also possible to stay.  Once Venceremos gets well implemented with Hummingbird feeders, proper beds  it shall be a great inexpensive alternative to stay. There are toilets and showers available.

Anyway, the LSU trail is still very birdy, so we put all our cards on trying to get the Owlet here. Again it was heard only, but the birds along the trail was just great.  What about this list?

Ochre-fronted Antpitta seen and  photographed
Rusty-tinged Antpitta seen
Gray-tailed Piha seen and photographed
Cinnamon Screech-Owl seen and photographed
Golden-winged Manakin
White-capped Tanager
Metallic Green Tanager
Straw-backed Tanager
Barred Antthrush
Speckle-chested Piculet
Yellow-rumped Antwren – extreme range extension
Yellow-throated Tanager
Swallow-tailed Nightjar
Lyre-tailed Nightjar

The best of all is that the trail is birdy all the way. It does not feel like a very strenuous walk because of this. There is not a lot of mule traffic, so the trail is in quite good conditions.  Even better is that the local guys Juan Rojas and Roner Espinal who helped LSU during the two months in 2002 are now employed by INIBICO as park guards.  They were our guides during  the two days we employed. It felt like walking in Dan Lane’s footsteps at times as Juan and Roner were telling me: This is where we caught the first Owlet!  I stayed out all night listening for the Owlet. Alex and the others heard it at fairly close range just above our camp at 1850m. But alas none of us saw it.

Juan and Roner will survey the forest to try to stake out the owlet for future groups.  Eventually, there will be a hut to stay where we stayed, but for now camping is the only option or one may stay also at Roner’s dad’s (Pepe) place an hour below our camp.  Anyone wanting to try this option should coordinate with Marco Leon of INIBICO.


For Owlet:  QUITE  GOOD – in spite of us only hearing it. Roner and Juan should soon have it staked out.


Comfort:  Reasonable at Venceremos. Camp on LSU trail (bring your own camping gear). The trail is much easier to walk and much birdier than the ESPERANZA set-up

General Birding:  EXCELLENT! In fact there is no need to stay at the Owlet Lodge, nor use their trails if you do all the birding along the road and on this trail. There is a stake-out for Royal Sunangel on a short side trail at the beginning of the LSU trail.

For Groups:  QUITE GOOD. There was no problem of our group of 6 people plus driver to stay at ESPERANZA and the 6 of us on the trail. We could easily have had yet one or two more couples. Also Marco Leon of INHIBICO was very accommodating.

Final words.

We shall be using the LSU trail for our budget groups to Northern Peru – and offer the LSU trail as an alternative to the Owlet lodge – for those that would like to try for the Owlet on our standard North Peru departures – at least until the Owlet Lodge has a more secure stake out for Long-whiskered Owlet. Independent birders with lots of time should try both Esperanza and LSU trail options with two nights at each site.  This way practically all of the Abra Patricia endemics will be seen – including all the Antpittas.

UPDATE Dec 2010: In October-November several groups have seen the Owlet at Abra Patricia on a new trail at the Owlet Lodge only about 1km from the lodge. Easier to get to than the other sites – and very good success-rate of seeing the bird. I tried again with my last group – and again very close with hearing it at close range -but alas now views this time either. Next time I nail, it. I would be surprised if we during 2011 should not be able to stake it out also nearer Venceremos/LSU trail.

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Long-whiskered Owlet on film

Long-whiskered Owlet. Photo: Shachar Alterman

Long-whiskered Owlet. Photo: Shachar Alterman

Ever since I read the news about Shachar Alterman’s discovery and filming of Long-whiskered Owlet near Esperanza on January 25, 2010, I had the intention to do a blog post interviewing Shachar.  Finally got all the ingredients together – that is time in front of the computer and the inspiration.

First the facts.

The Long-whiskered Owlet Xenoglaux loweryi was first found on an LSU expedtition in 1976 and described in 1977. It should take until 2002 until Dan Lane and other LSU researchers obtained a recording of its song, after having mistnetted one and kept it in the tent overnight. In February 2007 David Geale and Juvenal Ccahuana managed to find and photograph one in the wild (outside a mistnet) for the first time but again far from the road on a gruelsome trail within the ECOAN conservation area at Abra Patricia. In May 2008 Frank Lambert and Nick Athanas found and recorded one 50 meter from the Long-whiskered Owlet Lodge.  A few people have heard it at the Owlet Lodge since, but as far as I know no more sightings.

When I was with a group at the Abra Patricia Lodge, I check an email giving details about yet a new site for the Owlet, very close to Abra Patricia. The Long-whiskered Owlet had been video-filmed for the first time by Shachar Alterman.

I got a mail from Shachar the other day asking if I would not consider to bring birders to the Esperanza site where he filmed it. Interesting prospect! Could it really be possible to sell a trip including a long muddy walk, sleeping in a moist hut with lack of the cosy comforts of Abra Patricia Lodge just a stone’s throw away. After reading Shachar’s great account about his search for the Owlet (highly recommended reading), I was even less sure it could be done.

BUT…..Maybe, if one considered the following:

  • Lack of Owlets at the Owlet Lodge. Sure it has been recorded there and Nick Athanas and Frank Lambert got excellent views and recordings. But, after that very few people heard it and as far as I know the last two years noone has seen it. My last stay at the lodge coincided with the discovery at Esperanza. Yet no see and no hear during the beautiful moonlit night in January at the Owlet Lodge. And we did try a lot. We were tempted to go to for it, but the comforts of the lodge struck us paralized.
  • The hit rate has been very high at the Ezparanza.
  • The cost at Abra Patricia is now 120 dollars per person including meals. Not budget birder friendly.

So the type of person that would go would be someone that can support less comfort, does not mind hiking a muddy trail and someone that would like to spend less money.

Interview with Shachar Alterman and Noga Shanee

To get a better idea what to expect I interviewed Shachar and Noga Shanee. Noga is founder of  Neotropical Primate Conservation.
How come you ended up going on the primate expedition? Did you specifically look for the owlet?

Shachar: I first visited Peru last July on a two-weeks birding trip with a local guide name Eduardo. Our main target species was the Owlet. We spent four or five nights in the LW Owlet lodge, and I only imagined hearing it once. On returning I published a small diary in an Israeli news-site. Noga Shanee, the co founder of the NPC read it and made contact, claiming they have the Lechucita in the forests near them. Of course I didn’t believe it a bit, but when she contacted me a couple of months later, looking for a birder to volunteer in a survey they were doing in some potential nature reserves, I jumped at the opportunity.

This led to a one month journey in some of the most remote corners of the north-eastern Andean slopes, and to many unforgettable birding and nature experiences (Read Shachar’s great tale on the Owlet expeditions here. ). The highlight of course was the discovery of the new LW Owlet’s population in the forests above La Esperanza on the 24th of January this year.
Tell me about the infrastructure at the camp site. Are there beds or mattresses to sleep on. Any cooking facilities? Can porters be arranged from Esperanza?
Shachar: Housing in La Esperanza is very basic. I slept in the volunteers’ apartment, but Noga, as part of her project, is insisting on Lodging the visitors in the house of the local village people – running water, matresses and food included. In the forest itself we all sleep in a forest hut, equipped with basic beds and matresses (a sleeping bag is still needed), with running water nearby and a burning fire to cook food on. No porters were hired, but you can hire horses to carry your equipment to the hut. The walk itself is steep and very muddy (boots are heavily needed), but in a slow pace you can make it in 3-4 hours. I did it with a heavily loaded backpack but it would have been much easier with a horse close by.
What other birds can be seen on a trail?
Shachar: Noga got a full list of  birds watched regularly in and near the forest. I can mention a few: Rusty-tinged Antpitta (abundant and very responsive!), Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Lulu’s Tody-Tyrant, Rufous-banded Owl,Vermiculated Screech-Owl and White-throated Screech-Owl, along with the usual mixed flocks in these altitudes.
Lulu's Tody-Tyrant Photo: Shachar Alterman

Lulu's Tody-Tyrant Photo: Shachar Alterman

It is worth mentioning that the forest is rich with other very interesting wildlife: the endemic Yellow-Tailed Wooley-Monkey and Nocturnal Monkeys, Ocelot (we ran into a mother and a cub the night we found the Lechucita) and the Spectacled Bear are seen quite regularly there.
Yellow-tailed Woolly-Monkey Photo: Shachar Alterman

Yellow-tailed Woolly-Monkey Photo: Shachar Alterman

What can you guarantee for a group that only have one shot – by staying one night at the campsite? I heard from my friend Noam Shany that he also saw the owlet recently. So could you go through the positive and negative sightings since January?
Shachar: As for the Owlet, I believe chances are very good, and frankly, can’t think of a better place. The night we found it, it took us less then an hour, and we heard at least another five. The following expedition succeeded on tracking it, but a second before lighting on it a group of nocturnal monkeys just scared it off… So they got only a glimpse of it flying. Noam Shany’s group spent 3 nights there, because it was heavily raining, but succeeded of seeing it for one second – ome meter away of the group! – before it took of. Noam told me he wants to go back there and have another go. Noga told me a 4th group went there and succeeded in seeing it very closely and for a longer time. So, by now the statistics are very very good – 4 out of 4, even though not all sightings were as satisfying as the one we had.
Noga: It is actually 5 times out of 5 now, as. I went to an area which is a little bit further and three individuals answered me simultaneously. The first time we heard it in June 2008, was never really confirmed, the guy didn’t use playback and couldn’t record it well enough to recognize, but he was sure that he had heard it.  June may actually be a good month as it is supposed to be dry season and the trails will be easier to walk.
When it was recorded were there any common denominator of the weather conditions, full moon, overcast, rain, etc?
Noga: Nothing I can think of, from my experience during nights here in the forest, there are nights when the forest is all alive and noisy and nights where it seems totally abandoned. These can be consecutive nights, so I don’t think that it has much to do with the moon. We never tried to look for the owlet in the rain because her call is very quiet and we would not be able to hear it through the noise of the rain.
Has anyone tried to worm feed the Ochre-fronted Antpitta?
Shachar: Unfortunately no Ochre-Fronted Antpitta was located in these forests yet, so can’t tell you much about worm-feeding there.
The description of the lodging conditions at Esperanza in Shachar’s article does not sound too inviting when people could stay in Pomacochas or Abra Patricia very comfortably.  I am sure many of my future groups would prefer a hotel than the basic overnight conditions in Esperanza – and opt only for one night in the forest hut. Is this at all possible?
Noga: Shachar was  over reacting a bit, I lauged a lot while reading his shower description. It is not too bad. We would like the communities to have as much income as possible, but you are welcome to sleep in Pomacochas or Abra Patricia, come here in the morning and start walking to the forest. There is absolutely no problem with that.
Why is the Esperanza site better for the owlet than the Owlet trail at the Owlet lodge?
Shachar: My answer is very simple: At La Esperanza you get to see the Owlet. At Abra Patricia Owlet Lodge you only pay for it;-). Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Owlet lodge, we saw a lot of great birds and the staff there were wonderful.

What are the chances of Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey? It is a species I have long wished to see, and it will certainly be a good bonus.
Noga: There are 6 groups of yellow tailed woolly monkeys living around the area where you would be visiting. There is a 99% chance of being next to at least one of the groups,  however, they are sometimes very quiet and hard to see. Usually you can at least hear them, and we see them all the time. You would need a bit of luck, but it is probably the best place to see this species.
Noga, you mention Andean Night Monkey in one of your mails. What is that? A different form or a good species?
Noga: Aotus miconax, good species and endemic to Amazonas and San Martin,
Unstudied, Vulnerable, but very easy to see here.
Gunnar: Wow, another endemic monkey species the. I was not aware of this!
Someone ought set up monkey watching trips – as there are three endemic primate species in the region if one include also the Rio Mayo Titi-Monkey lower down.
Andean Night Monkey Aotus miconax. Photo Noga Shanee

Andean Night Monkey Aotus miconax. Photo Noga Shanee

What altitude is the Hut?
Noga: Altitude of the hut is about 1900m. Lower than Abra Patricia, although the trail goes up and down

Future of Yellow-tailed Whoolly Monkey and Long-whiskered Owlet at Esperanza?

I am not going to give you all the anwers because I don’t know. Let’s discuss the issue here in the comment section. Will birders pay at Abra Patricia when most species can be seen from the road or on the Esperanza trail?

I´ll only answer this question myself before letting you loose. A definite YES!! The fee is for using the trails, visiting the feeders and use of the observation tower is $US20 which I believe is a one time fee, although this should be checked. The trails give access to species like Cinnamon Screech-Owl, Wattled Guan, Royal Sunangel, Ochre-fronted Antpitta, Bay Antpitta, Bar-winged Woodwren, and Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant that still have not been recorded on the Esperanza trail. Also, the trails are very well maintained.  Behind the lodge at I have seen the rare Rufous-vented Whitetip. The lodge area is also great for White-capped Tanager. Staying at the Lodge is 80 dollars per person plus 20$ for each meal (the trail fee included is included for those that stay at the lodge).  In contrast staying at Esperanza is 20 soles per person (roughly $7.50 and 4 soles for meals  ($1.50). I imagine that most birders shall end up staying at Abra Patricia anyway because comfort is just so much better, and even if one go to rough it for one night, most people want to come back to the comfort at Abra Patricia.

What do you think is the best strategy for the locals to get birders and primate lovers to stay at Esperanza? Is it viable to attract birders to this project with such basic conditions? Would you be willing to go? So should the new site be seen as a threat to existing eco-tourism business at Abra Patricia, which is empty during long periods? Interesting questions and even more interesting are your comments below.

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