The poor man’s Manu road gets a birding lodge

Satipo road – Colibri Cloud Forest

One of the best areas of birding in Peru is along the old Satipo road connecting Satipo with Concepción. The area has been close to my heart for a long time. I started exploring this area in 1999 for the first time and made the first sound recordings from the area of newly described Junin Tapaculo (Scytalopus gentryi) and Jalca Tapaculo (Scytalopus frankeae).

In spite that the Satipo road is often referred to as the poor man’s Manu road when it comes to birding, very few birders and bird photographers have made the effort to visit the area. Manu road, near Cusco, is of course being the most species-rich stretch of road in the world cutting through a number of altitudinal ecosystems and hosting over 1000 species. Satipo road is very similar in species composition with Torrent Duck, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzal, Cock of the Rock, Solitary Eagle, Black-and-Chestnut Eagle, Andean Motmot, and a bunch of beautiful tanagers and hummingbirds. It also hosts a number of unique species such as Bay Antpitta, Marcapata Spinetail, Eye-ringed Thiseltail, Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant, and Fire-throated Metaltail. Nearby are Black-spectacled Brush-Finch and an undescribed Wren and an undescribed Thornbird.
Update July 23: Junin Antpitta (Grallaria obscura) has just been elevated to species. Best place to see it is on the Satipo road.

A decade of conservation projects.

Over the years I have made a number of campaigns in favor of the area. In 2008 I did a fundraiser to enable a trip to Mindo bringing 6 campesinos from Satipo road and Carpish area to Mindo in Ecuador for a week so they could see how a cloud forest village in Ecuador has become an eco-tourism Mekka in only some 10-15 years.

On Satipo road, my seed of a community project was passed over to the US-based NGO Rainforest Partnership. One of the participants of the Mindo trip became RP:s coordinator in the Satipo road area. A vast area was declared a reserve, community hostels were set up for eco-tourists.  A trend of habitat destruction was broken.

In 2009, I run my first marathon after a long hiatus, and turned it into a fundraiser for Rainforest Partnership and the Satipo road project (called Colibri Cloudforest by RP, as it would be weird among non-birders to donate to the conservation of a road. Sic!).

Three years ago I made an additional small fundraiser to improve the capacity of beds at the new community hostel at Calabaza-Apaya at 2300m on the Satipo road. Yet, the lodging is still VERY BASIC, and to the date, no one has taken the reigns to do the necessary work to make this lodge attractive enough to attract foreign visitors in larger numbers.

Colibri Cloudforest Lodge 2020

By powering up the existing resources, we hope birders and bird photographers shall follow suit. The key will be to start reporting from the area through social media with lots of photos of birds and wildlife, and for this, a full-time birder/caretaker is needed here.

Right now Peru has been locked down to fight the spread of the coronavirus, so it is a good time for us here at Kolibri Expeditions to put our focus on something else than birding tours for a while.

We want to improve the comfort and the resources at the community lodge of Calabaza-Apalla.

The new building needs room separations, a kitchen area, and improve its water supply to the shower, toilet, and kitchen.

Resources for bird photography will be set up with feeders for hummingbirds and tanagers, a hide for tinamous and wood-quails, and try to habituate Antpittas to come to food.

Our guide Juan Julca will be leading the fieldwork in the first months. It will also be open for volunteers to help out with the project, once foreign flights resume to Peru.

By securing a viable ecotourism project in the area it will give income to the community, and locals will be given work. Our project here will spread to other communities where there are other key species to see.

Fundraiser – Win-Win!

We need to raise about US$5000-$7000 to make everything top notch and keep the project running for two months, but a more detailed budget will be established once we have done an inventory. Regardless, we shall get started with much less than this as soon as possible.

The cool thing about this project is that you don’t have to donate, as the full amount (or part of it, if you wish) of what you put down to the project can be used as a deposit for your future Satipo road birding trip. Win-Win for everyone. You can’t lose.

The timeline is the following:

  1. Raise awareness through blogs, social media, and newsletters
  2. Raise funds for the project attracting donations and deposits for future trips.
  3. Contact the key players in the area from the community, the municipality, and Rainforest Partnership, who has a full-time anthropologist in the area
  4. Initial recce trip once the travel ban within Peru has been lifted. This is hopefully by mid-October. Local birdwatchers from Lima can join for a reduced cost. Gunnar will meet with all the key players and stakeholders.
  5. Guide from Kolibri Expeditions Juan Julca stays on to start building feeders and set up hides. Produce bird photos to share on social media and to the initial backers of the project.
  6. Additional weekend visit when the community holds their monthly “asamblea” (community meeting) – usually on the third Sunday of the month.
  7. After all this, and with the bona vista from the municipality, Kolibri Expeditions and the community Calabaza-Apaya comes to an agreement and create a partnership.
  8. By the end of  November, we shall have a better picture of when birders can expect full service at Colibri Cloud-forest Hostel.

Become a volunteer

Once the coronavirus pandemic has blown over we are ready to receive birders to volunteer to help run the lodge on a daily basis and do regular updates with photos of birds, plants, butterflies, etc to the Social Media channels to promote the area. Volunteers will also help to teach English to locals and Kolibri Expeditions staff.

We shall open two volunteer spaces on a three-week basis. Volunteers may also be contracted in the future as bird guides for Kolibri Expeditions and 7 Wonders Birding. It is really a dream position. The birder gets some of the best birding in Peru and has a chance also to become a guide.

How to contribute?

Smaller amounts can be donations, and larger amounts can be deposits for your future Satipo road trip. It is not as easy as I had thought to set up ways to receive funding swiftly and without larger fees.  But here are the ways I have come up with so far.

  • 1. Deposit to our bank in Peru. This shall be the fastest way to get money to us.
    If you plan to do the Satipo road trip with us, you can prepay the trip deposit directly via the Peru bank. You can of course also prepay deposits of your other trips with us, and since timing is everything, the fact to have funds available will allow us to do the pilot trip when the Junin department opens up.
    There are bank fees of course, why very small amounts make little sense to send this way.
  • 2. Paypal.
    I have created a Paypal link where you can donate any amount you like in your own currency without any extra charges. There are considerable fees to get the money to Peru to take into account, up to 10% for very small amounts, but this is true also for VAKI.  Having said that, it is a convenient way to get us funding fast so we can act straight away when we again are allowed to travel within Peru, and also if you want to donate a larger amount than $10.
    You may have funds on your Paypal account already, and of course, then the platform could be ideal for you.
    You may use this button.
  • 3. Transferwise is the cheapest way to send money for amounts between $3-$1900. Also, borderless accounts in USD, EUR, GBP, AUD, and NZD to which residents in those currency areas can transfer money free of charge from their own bank accounts.
    I have summarized all about Transferwise in this blogpost and explained how to make the transfers.

The Satipo road birding itineraries

Finally, there is a new itinerary for the 5-day Satipo road program as well as the longer 16-day Complete Central Peru trip. Central Peru has more endemic birds than any other part of Peru.

Gunnar Engblom is a Swedish birder who lives in Peru since 1998, where he operates birdwatching and nature tours for Kolibri Expeditions. In October 2018 Gunnar lead a trip in Peru recording 1006 species in a Big Month. Gunnar is also a dedicated 3:04 marathon runner, still hoping for a sub 3h marathon in spite of turning 60 in 2020, perhaps in Berlin in September 2021.

In 2016, Gunnar re-launched his rock’n’roll singer career with his band Guran Guran, and in 2019 they released a new video – Feels Like Some Summer – also available on Spotify and other digital outlets.

10 thoughts on “The poor man’s Manu road gets a birding lodge

  1. steve melcher

    Enjoy your posts, Gunnar, and the music as well. Is there a webcam available at the lodge? Just would like to check in, folks are doing more virtual Birding – good that we are keeping their interest but unfortunate that we can’t take them
    Out there to get some Vitamin N. But also want to stress that Birding and social distancing are very compatible. And I like your idea of small Birding groups. Let us know if you’re doing a live broadcast sometime. Stay safe Steve, Odonata Sanctuary

    1. Gunnar Engblom

      Hi Steve

      Thanks for the comments. There is no internet in the area, not even phone access now, so it will be a while before there is a webcam. To start with we shall have to start with the basics. We need to get room seperations installed and set up feeders.

      Hope you will come and visit us sometimes.


    Here is a comment! I read your entire blog Gunnar. Would love to visit Satipo Road and would do it ahead of Manu. I do not have any idea of the likelihood of this actually happening. Right now is not the right time for me to start fund-raising as there are too many friends struggling and needing to consider how to raise their own income. We have even stopped fund-raising for our children’s school. But all this will happen, one brighter day.

    1. Gunnar Engblom

      Hi Chris,

      It would be great to see you here when this corona thing is all over. I realize it is hard time to fundraise, so that is why the money collected is actually a deposit for a future trip. Still not easy, but hopefully it will make it possible to have the place prepared when birders start arrriving to Peru again.

      I doubt we’d have any birders from Europe or North America coming until July in the best case scenario. But more likely, perhaps not before September or so.

  3. Gunnar Engblom

    Hi Chris,

    It would be great to see you here when this corona thing is all over. I realize it is hard time to fundraise, so that is why the money collected is actually a deposit for a future trip. Still not easy, but hopefully it will make it possible to have the place prepared when birders start arrriving to Peru again. I doubt we’d have any birders from Europe or North America coming until July in the best case scenario. But more likely, perhaps not before September or so.

  4. Pingback: How a Birdguide survives COVID19? | Kolibri Expeditions Blog

  5. Peter Christiansen

    Hi Gunnar
    Great idea with upscaling the lodge, developing birding in the Satipo Road area and hopefully raising income and job opportunities in the local community for the futures. I added a few dollars for the project with the Vaki-platform; very easy to use!
    Good luck with the project.
    Best wishes, Peter

  6. Manuel Parodi

    Hi Gunnarp thanks for sharing the link and the Info of hhis proyect , i really hope our Industry recovers soon and have the chance to visit your proyect .

  7. Pingback: Post Covid Birding. Special offer. | Kolibri Expeditions Blog

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