19 October 2014

Cinnamon and Spice and all things nice! PERU (10th Sept.)

With dusk approaching our plans were single-minded for the evening; look for the most enigmatic owl in all of Peru: Long-whiskered Owlet. We were staying at Owlet Lodge, after which the lodge was named, so we were in the right place (indeed pretty much the only place from where the owl is known). We had bumped into another group a few days before and had worked out that from our second night at the lodge we would overlap. They were a perfectly friendly and amiable group, but feared that two groups searching for the owlet on the same night might be a little crowded, and so we had planned to look for it on the single free night we were at the lodge alone, before they arrived. However, when we arrived at the lodge (near to dusk), we saw the very same group heading off down the trail for the owlet! They were here one day earlier than we had thought, and what's more had trumped us by going straight for the owl, before we had even checked in! Our plans needed a rapid rethink. Nick Athanas, the official guide for this trip, where I was tagging along, spoke to the lodge staff and soon got confirmation of a place downslope, where a new private reserve was being set up and had the owlet. Nick had this in his back pocket anyway, as a back up site if the lodge plan faltered. So the natural thing to do was visit the back-up site first; which we did. After dumping our bags in our rooms, and grabbing our torches, we headed straight to the "back pocket site"; we were led to believe there was a ranger on site 24 hours and all we needed to do was simply turn up, talk to him (and pay of course), and he would take us to his known owlet spot. However, on arriving we found an abandoned reserve with no human presence at all. Nick gestured for me to do up the trail with Mark and Rick, and try for the owl while he busied himself finding a human! Night was threatening to come, and in the tropics, night falls like a switch, none of this gradual on set of dusk, as we know it in the north; it approaches rapidly and falls almost instantly. Thus, not long after we were in owlet time, with a starry night and bright moon overhead, just the conditions we could have hoped for. However, we could have hoped for a bit more local knowledge of where to look! Thankfully, I soon heard voices and noticed a spotlight approaching behind; Nick had found a human, and the right one too; the ranger had been having dinner and was away for the short time when we arrived! Now he was here, he was with us, and knew exactly where to look for the owlet. He led us a short distance up the trail, gave us  a run down of what we needed to do, and Nick pressed play on his I-Pod. Minutes later, a clear call from the Long-whiskered Owlet was heard, ad goose bumps dotted my arms; it was close. We tried drawing it in even closer, but the stubborn little owl refused to budge. The local ranger was unphased though, instructed us to stay put, while he went to try and find it perched. He'd barely been gone minutes when he called us up, he had his spotlight planted right on this tiny owl! Me being a Tropical Birding guide on holiday on a Tropical Birding tour, did the genial thing and stayed at the back, thinking that once Rick and Mark had had their fill, I could move in for better looks. Unfortunately, the owlet left before I was able to do so, and I felt a little miffed I had not seen it's face, and it's famous whiskers better. But I was lucky enough to have seen this rare owl, and we were fortunate enough to have seen it at our first attempt. We arrived back the lodge for dinner triumphant, but on hearing the other group had not seen the owlet where they had tried, we had to mute our celebrations somewhat.

After dinner, and feeling luck was on our side, we opted for some further owling around the lodge, for this region is rich in owls, and we were enjoying the fruits of this on the trip, and did not want it to end. We visited their small canopy tower a few hundred meters from our cabins, and called in a White-throated Screech-Owl successfully, although it never sat where photos were an option unfortunately. We also heard a Rufous-banded Owl from their, but could not get it to come closer. Recognising this was another rare night for owls (I mean we had seen two species and heard three with relatively little time in the field), I was keen to head on further down the trail for another species, and one which I had not seen: Cinnamon Screech-Owl. However, with the clock pushing past ten o'clock, all the same people in the group turned the offer down to join me. So I found myself alone, walking on down unfamiliar trails. However, I was in my element, owls were calling regularly-I heard another (thought distant) Long-whiskered Owlet, another Rufous-banded Owl (equally as stubborn and uncooperative as the first), and so felt good about my chances. It seemed a vocal night for owls. I continued on down the trail, every so often playing the call of Cinnamon Screech-Owl in the hope of hearing an answer. I was not really sure how far I'd come (and had been told that the magic marker for the owl was 700m); but at one point I was near certain I heard just the right call for my quarry. I played the call softly to check that my thoughts were right, and was then utterly convinced I had heard the Cinnamon Screech-Owl. I ploughed on down the trail, with my neadlamp lighting the way. A hundred meters or more further, I noticed something in the periphery of my vision sitting beside the trail, and it seemed to glow orange: CINNAMON SCREECH-OWL. None of this chasing it down and scrambling through undergrowth that I had envisaged, it was merely sitting by the trail, waiting for me to turn up!

I climbed into bed at 1 o'clock in the morning ecstatic at a three owl night (again) on the trip; and full of enthusiasm at what this exciting venue was going to produce the next day. We were not to be disappointed, as we enjoyed several excellent days birding in the area...

15 October 2014

The "other" Snowcap...PERU (10th Sept.)

After our mega day in the foothills and our late night with a few large spectacular owls, you'd think we'd be happy for a lie in. But if you think that you do not know birders; some of us (me included) are a headstrong group of obsessives, who'll stop at nothing for the next bird (more or less); thus, next morning, we ate breakfast pre-dawn and headed straight out in the field. Our first clear target of the day was an interesting thrush; not so much interesting in appearance for, in truth, it is rather dull, coloured in drab olive tones, but more for the story behind it... This turdus thrush was first collected in 1961, and in spite of a different coloured bill (yellowish-green) and a different-coloured tail (grey), from "normal" dark-billed, rufous-tailed, Hauxwell's Thrushes, the specimen was considered as a Hauxwell's all the same. In 2007 the excellent field guide "Birds of Peru" was produced, and in there, clear as day, on plate 256 are two, quite different, illustrations of Hauxwell's Thrush; one depicted with an olive bill, yellowish eye ring, and greyish tail, labelled as a "gray-tailed morph", and another with a more rufous body and tail colour, lacking the pale eye ring, and with a dark bill. They are as different as some of the other species of thrushes in this section. To be fair, one of the co-authors of this brilliant field guide (one of my favourite guides), and original collector of the 1961 specimen, legendary ornithologist John P. O'Neill, in this guide, if you delve into the text, lie the immortal words "probably a separate species". Then from 2003 and later, due to the field skills of Barry Walker and B. J. O'Shea, and working with Dan Lane, Brett Whitney and others, strange thrush vocalisations, led to the final lightbulb moment; this strange, pale-billed, grey-tailed, "morph" of Hauxwell's Thrush sounded quite different from that species after all; a new thrush was born, the so-called Varzea Thrush. After a confusing 50 years in a dusty specimen draw, in a 2011 paper, that 1961 thrush finally got a name, and a rightful identity all of its own (paper here). I am not in any way mocking the people behind this; I have not described a single species after all, and am in awe of scientists of this creed, but it does make for an interesting story. So back to Peru in September; it turns out that the wonderful Waqanki Lodge, is one of the better places to try and track down this enigmatic thrush. The reason for this? An individual regularly feeds on the ground very close to the lodge; or so we were told. Our afternoon search the day before came up empty, although we did hear some intriguing calls, which were clearly coming from a near Varzea Thrush. Thus, after a slightly later than usual, dawn-time, breakfast, we set out in search of this turdus just a few minutes walk away. Our first scout of the area, revealed no thrushes feeding on the ground, and a possible Varzea Thrush sitting completely backlit in a tree, which we had to let go, with no clear ID features being seen. We walked back over the same areas, and Carlos quickly gestured to a thrush feeding on the ground: pale bill, we had it VARZEA THRUSH!

Some final birding around Waqanki that morning (when we refrained from our super-hike activities of the day before, having already bagged the antwren, and in need of a little easier birding). In the open areas we tracked down a pair of nesting Blue-winged Parrotlets, and both Stripe-necked and Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrants. Returning deeper into the forest again, passing canopy flocks held Yellow-bellied Tanager and Purple Honeycreeper, and we got cracking looks at Wing-barred Piprites, a rather handsome, and vociferous, manakin species. Once again (as the day before) we were serenaded by a Chestnut-throated Spinetail, but could not drag it into view, as it called from a thick tangle below us. Mark and I had had enough of this bird, and found a way into the valley bottom, working our way right into its favoured thicket as we did so. Murphy's Law of course ensured that by the time we made it into our idyllic position, the spinetail had fallen silent! We waited, and waited, and then suddenly it returned our playback, and then suddenly appeared on the ground, crawling around more like a tapaculo than a spinetail, just eight feet away! We then packed up and prepared to leave for the cloudforests of Abra Patricia. The beauty of this area is that the route up to those cloudforests is largely forested, meaning a range of altitudes can be covered. Before we rose up in elevation though, we dropped down the road a few bends, parked up by a bridge crossing a deep, dark cavern, and admired some 47 Oilbirds roosting underneath.

Working our way up towards the enticingly sounding "Owlet Lodge", activity was generally on the low side, with the sun beating down, and clouds few and far between (a death knell for bird activity in the Andes). Finally, we arrived at a spot for some "Andean Royalty", jumped out of the van, and walked straight on to the scarce Rufous-tailed Tyrant and the fancy Flame-faced Tanager. However, the Royal Sunagel, our primary avian target, was nowhere to be seen. We moved further up the road, with the aim of trying another spot. However, our focus was quickly switched when the harsh, jay-like cries, of a group of White-capped Tanagers reached our ears. One of the group, Rick, had missed this bird in southern Ecuador, and has a tanager fetish; we simply had to find them. While Nick scouted for the sunangel, I tried calling in the tanagers. They fell silent, when Nick returned with his significantly louder speaker; he cranked up the volume, pressed play, and we watched as seven of these gorgeous tanagers sailed in and landed alongside us. These are big boisterous tanagers, which feel more like jays than tanagers, (they sound so similar to jays, they can cause you to question which it is you have heard). 

After spending over a quarter of an hour with the "other Snowcap" (i.e. the tanagers), we climbed a small hill, with some interesting looking flowers below. Nick pressed play again, when a deep blue hummingbird darted in: Royal Sunangel! We'd barely started breathing following the splendid site of the male sunangel, when a pair of Blue-browed Tanagers suddenly appeared beside us too. The afternoon was turning into a bit of a classic, but there was little of it remaining, so we headed straight for Owlet Lodge, our fantastic lodging for the next three nights. We checked in, (or rather Nick checked us in while we feasted on hummingbirds at the feeders). The feeders were buzzing, and I quickly found my main target, a lifer Emerald-bellied Puffleg, which was backed up at the feeders by Long-tailed Sylph, Sword-billed Hummingbird, White-bellied Woodstar, Bronzy and Collared Incas, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Green Violet-ear, and Booted Racket-tail.

Dusk was approaching, which could only mean one thing: O-W-L-I-N-G! We had already enjoyed rare success with this, but we were not in a supreme area for owls, and the haunt of the enigmatic Long-whiskered Owlet. As it got dark, the image of this owl preyed on our minds...

12 October 2014

Don't Underestimate the Power of the Dark Side...PERU (9th Sept.)

After our bumper day in the Andean foothills, there were two options: 1) Accept your good fortune with a smile, and retire for the night; or 2) Get greedy and try to extend that luck to a bit of night birding near the lodge. We chose the latter! I am an owl fan of note, so this trip, which ended up with 12 different owls seen for the group, was ideally suited; thus my commitment to go out owling was never in doubt. Thankfully, Mark and Rick (the two tour participants), were dog-tired, like me, but just could not say no! The excellent local guide Carlos advised us that anything prior to 10PM was not worth it, so we it was a super-long day or nothing. We chose the tortuous option! I could not figure out way this late timing was important, as, traditionally, when searching for owls, when tapes are played to get a response, just after dusk or just before dawn (on clear nights) are usually the most fruitful. A quick scout for birds around the lodge earlier that evening failed to produce the Rufous Nightjar or the Spot-tailed Nightjar we'd seen the evening before, during an evening where clouds regularly featured in the night sky, compared with the beautiful clear night of the "Supermoon" the evening before. My fear was, that this night was simply not a good night for night birds. Anyway, we gathered by the bus at 10PM ready to launch another night foray, with plenty of cloud still present above, interspersed with periods of starry skies. Not perfect, but not disastrous either. Our first owl search was not what I was expecting. I was thinking that the guide would lead us to a spot and suggest I play a call for the stakeout species. But no, we proceeded five minutes drive from the lodge to a large power plant of some sort, sprinkled with many bright street lamps. Here, the guide Carlos advised us to check the posts by the lights for any owls. No recordings were played, but no owls were seen either. We swiftly moved, vowing to check the posts on our return journey. Next up, we scanned the cables along this far from quiet highway for any sign of a Striped Owl. Sadly this impressive owl did not feature either. Owls 2-US 0; the owls were winning this battle hands down. I was beginning to feel decidedly guilty at having dangled the "owl carrot" to the group, only to result in a tortuously late night with little payoff. Still, Carlos seemed unperturbed, and his continuing enthusiasm, and optimism was infectious; my dark thoughts of failed returns were kept locked inside my head! The next stop in this owl quest was another unlikely venue. We moved into the outskirts of the noisy city of Moyobamba, which could rightly have laid claim to the title "the city that never sleeps" at this time; cars and motorbikes zoomed around the city, heavy-bass, pumping disco music seemed to burst from every few houses, and the distinct lack of any large patch of bird habitat, all seemed the very antithesis of what you need to see owls. Under Carlos's instructions we left the bus, accompanied by the ever-present sounds of Latino dance music coming from across the street, and scanned a large university grounds for sign of our next quarry. There were a few scattered, tall Eucalypt trees bordering the building, but nothing in the way of what I would label decent habitat. Carlos expanded his information to us; gesturing to a large red-and-white cellphone antenna, he indicated our target owl, the magnificent Stygian Owl, regularly chooses to sit on the large aerial. However, it was abundantly clear the large red-and-white structure was completely owl-less. We walked around the border of the property scanning the few trees on its fringe with a spotlight for any sign large, reflecting red eyes staring back at us, but found nothing. Carlos led us to the busiest street that bordered the property, and suggested I play the tape (obviously just loud enough to be heard above the continuous dance music present), and told us to keep an eye for a large owl flying from one thin strip of trees to another. With a distinct lack of belief that any owl would respond while the town was still deep within party mode, I followed his request all the same. Amazingly, within just a few seconds of play, a huge owl sailed overhead, lit up by the spotlight, and glided onto an open branch above us! We watched, quite literally open-mouthed, as the Stygian Owl called back and glared at us from its lofty perch, accompanied by the unwanted sound of Latino club music! A curious and unlikely scene for seeing a rarely seen owl. Carlos told us that the owls had been discovered here in just the last few years, at an elevation fully 1000m lower than their stated altitudinal range in the excellent Peru field guide. Stygian means "Dark" and the owl certainly appeared that; dark and menacing.

After enjoying excellent views and taking a few snapshots, we headed back towards the lodge, once more failing to find a Striped Owl on the return journey. A short time before turning back into the lodge, we stopped again at the plant with the bright street lamps, but found the posts still missing any owls. Rick glimpsed an owl, which gave us renewed hope, and moments later a Black-banded Owl (sadly missing an eye), sitting right out in the open next to one of the bright street lamps! Another unlikely setting for a normally tricky owl species! As we drove back the short distance to the lodge, Carlos lit up another owl-Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl-sitting on a fencepost to complete a three-owl night, all seen within one hour! A remarkable end, to a remarkable day.

Next stop was Abra Patricia, the cloudforest realm of the rare and much wanted Long-whiskered Owlet...

09 October 2014

Don't Cry for me Peru!...9th Sept.

We awoke at the wonderful Waqanki Lodge, full of excitement at the enormous avian potential for our day. By the day's end, potential had become reality, with some 150 species recorded; an impressive haul considering we lacked for any waterbirds as we spent the day inside the forest. The name Waqanki is a Quechua, and means "You will cry", and by the end of the day we were nearly weeping with joy. Simply put, it was a mega day, from start to finish. The finish was late, as we could not resist trying to track down some of the best owls in the area.

The day dawned gloomy, with the real threat of rain. However, here in the Andean foothills, the worst weather that you can have is hot and dry days, when birds are usually not too active. Our day unfolded with spells of rain interspersed by overcast weather. The rain was never too troublesome and the regular grey skies kept it not only cool, but active through the day. Andean birds simply love this weather. On this day we were accompanied by Carlos, a superbly talented local guide for the lodge, who I would highly recommend to anyone visiting there. Shortly after entering the forest we tracked down a calling Wing-barred Piprites (a type of manakin), before Carlos put us on to a local endemic flycatcher: Mishana Tyrannulet (which was later photographed much better later in the day). 

Working our way further up the trail, the ante was upped, when a male Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher was reeled in; a smashing looking flycatcher that puts all those dowdy empidonax to the shame! Then Carlos pulled a real corker out of the hat, when he stated "Fiery-throated Fruiteater!" This caused me to almost fall off the trail in my hurry to get to Carlos and the bird. I have lived in Ecuador for nigh on 9 years, and had longed for this bird, which had masterfully eluded me thus far. I wanted it bad, and I was within touching distance of it. I looked to the place indicated and, honestly, was a little disappointed! I was ready for a visual feast, a tiny lime green bird with a burning red ember for a throat. However, all I saw a an all green female; I was unsatisfied momentarily, until I glanced up and saw the male, ember in place, sitting just above her; satisfaction complete. Instantly, a real contender for bird of the trip had honed into view. 

We continued up the trail, pushing on with the promise of rarer birds still on ahead. A clearing brought us a pair of Red-billed Tyrannulet, a miniscule White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant, ad an equally tiny Speckle-chested Piculet (a Peruvian endemic). The Andean foothills are graced with a swathe of colourful tanagers, and another clearing brought stark evidence of this, with Green-and-gold Tanager, Paradise Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, and the endemic Black-bellied Tanager all sharing the same trees.

After this point our continuing climb became tough; the trail was steep and energy was sapping as we neared a 3km walk from the lodge. However, we pushed on, birds like Gilded Barbet, and a perched party of Swallow-tailed Kites giving us a welcome boost as we continued up. I nailed another nemesis from my Ecuadorian birding, when we tracked down a Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant. Finally, we reached the ridge, with the forest seeming all but quiet. However, Carlos gestured us onto a side trail, where we played the call of Ash-throated Antwren, a scarce endemic, and waited. Not long after a clear response from an antwren was heard, and we legged it down the trail towards the sound. A little more playback, some slipping sliding in the mud, and we were all looking straight at up at a male Ash-throated Antwren, a lifer for all concerned, even Nick Athanas, for which it had been a bit of a nemesis. A fabulous surprise came up the trail, as the lodge staff walked our cooked lunch to us on the trail, which tasted all the sweeter for having just added a certain antwren.

Coming down the trail in the early-mid afternoon was predictably much quieter than the way up, during the traditionally least active time of day. We did see a pack of Saddleback Tamarins on the way down, and also recorded a new bird for the reserve in the form of a flock of Band-tailed Pigeons (a common species at higher altitudes). We closed the afternoon (but not the day), back at the hummingbird feeders, where, once again birds like Rufous-crested Coquette and White-chinned Sapphire were the standout attendees, along with Black-throated and Great-billed Hermits, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Black-throated Mango, and Gray-breasted Sabrewing among 13 species present that afternoon.

Our day did not end there though, as we got out in the field again, post-dinner (actually near 10PM), as we went out for one of the stranger sessions of owling that I have ever experienced...

30 September 2014

Bloody Marvellous!...PERU (8 Sept.)

Northern Peru is a land of contrasts, where you can begin the day in one environment, and by the end of the day find yourself somewhere entirely new and different. On this day we began by birding the scrub and remnant humid forest close to the city of Jaen. This area was visited for its discrete set of Maranon birds. Like many spots in this habitat within this region though, it is not super diverse. It is a low diversity area, but with high numbers of regional endemics. Thus our morning was not about racking up big lists, but checking off the handful of specialties in the area. We opened with a marvellous Maranon Crescentchest creeping about below the bushes. I missed the best viewing for the others in the group, but held back and had the bird to myself for a choice time too. The same spot also had several Red-crested Finches too. While I got greedy with the crescentchest, the others went in search of Maranon Spinetail, which I then missed due to my thorough approach to what I take for acceptable views. Never mind though, I had at least seen that species in southern Ecuador eons ago.

Our next stop was an area called Huembo. The area may look unremarkable from the highway, but a mural on the walls soon alerts you to the fact this place is far from unremarkable, for it is the main home of one of the World's most dazzling hummingbirds, the Marvelous Spatuletail. Gone are the days of descending down a slope and hoping to see one of these amazing creatures zip by; as now a set of feeders lures them in each and every day. I guess the suspense has been lost, as a sighting has become expected, but when you've paid this much money to come all the way to deepest darkest Peru to get one, I for one, will take it! (Photo by Nick Athanas). The same site held numerous White-bellied Hummingbirds, and a teeny, tiny Little Woodstar too.

By the end of the day we had arrived in the forest cloaked Andean foothills (at Waqanki Lodge), with the bird diversity once again through the roof in stark contrast to the morning's site. We had precious little time to bird the area on arrival and so hastened to the hummingbird feeders, where a perched male Rufous-crested Coquette soon got the blood rushing. The same feeders came with Golden-tailed Sapphire, a male White-chinned Sapphire, Black-throated Hermit, Gray-breasted Sabrewing, Blue-tailed and Sapphire-spangled Emeralds, and Long-billed Starthroat. A lot to take in, during a frantic thirty minute spell, before the light began to fade. That night we quickly learned of the quality of nightbirding on site. Hearing a gruff sounding owl calling just as the tropical day switched to tropical night (for it is so quick it feels like a light switching off), Mark and I moved into the forest, where we soon tracked down this Band-bellied Owl staring down at us (gruff owl located; check!) After dinner we went out again, listing three different nightjars in doing so: Common Pauraque, a lifer Rufous Nightjar, and a wonderful Spot-tailed Nightjar that glided around within a meter of us.

We retired at 10PM, with much excitement at what this site may bring on the next day; we had barely got there and had netted more than a few high end species already!

27 September 2014

Piura Class...PERU (7 Sept.)

The second day of our Northern Peru circuit, we headed up into the montane scrub and remnant forest patches at Abra Porculla, at an elevation of 2145m/7040ft. This was where we started to see some of the magnificent scenery that Northern Peru has to offer. By the end of the tour, I was well aware that this region of Peru is perhaps unfairly overlooked for the Manu region of the southeast; the numbers of birds, the quality of birds, and the landscapes in this part of Peru were every bit as good as that more visited region. Our reason for visiting here was a range of Tumbesian birds, many of which I was very familiar with, from leading a goodly number of tours in Southern Ecuador, although it's star resident, the Piura Chat-Tyrant, is a highly local Peruvian endemic, and offered me my most likely lifebird of the morning. Our focus was to find this bird, for it was the key specialty in the area, and soon after breakfast we had one in the bag, which flitted off so quickly, that only a few of us got onto it. Later that morning, and after a swathe of other regional specialties, we saw a much more obliging bird, which at least allowed me record shots. 

In between the performance of the Puira Chat-Tyrants, I enjoyed seeing some familiar faces from Southern Ecuador, many of which were new for Mark, who was undertaking his first foray in the Tumbesian biogeographic realm (which encompasses southwest Ecuador and northwest Peru). These included the butch Black-cowled Saltator, with its powerful, hefty orange bill, in contrast to its otherwise dull colors; several Line-cheeked Spinetails, working their way through the scrub below us; a handful of Chapman's Antshrikes; several shy Gray-and-gold Warblers that left most of us hoping for more of them; a small party of Bay-crowned Brush-Finches proving much easier to see than they can be in Southern Ecuador (where they typically give me the run around!); and a spritely pair of Three-banded Warblers, which seemed determined to not only be noticed above their more high profile neighbours, but also be photographed (which I duly obliged them to do). 

The area was also alive with calling male Purple-collared Woodstars, with their gleaming metallic blue-green throats, and oddly un-hummingbird like display calls. As we descended the road, with activity falling with the ever more powerful sun hitting the slopes, some light, but persistent, tapping led us to discover an Ecuadorian Piculet working a slender tree limb above us. While the Piura Chat-Tyrant was the must-see bird of the morning, it was not the most popular; that fell to the splendid Elegant Crescentchest, which gave Mark an entirely new family (the Crescentchests/Melanopareiidae), and me a buzz, as it is a smashing looking bird.

A fairly long drive lay ahead, and so with the sun now beating down, we loaded back into the vehicle and headed northeastwards, in the direction of the city of Jaen, our destination for the night, and the home of many Marañón specialties. During the hottest part of the day, we pulled off the side of the highway, and Nick persistently tried to pull something out of an unlikely situation. Barely a bird moved in the extreme heat of the day, but Nick did finally pick up a very subtle, quiet, note from a bird that he hoped would be just what he had hoped for. Then with a little playback Nick, lured up several Little Inca-Finches into the top of the low scrub. An upslope scramble was needed for us all to get views, but it was worth it for our first Inca-Finches of our lives, and one of the trickier ones on this itinerary (which offered 3 of the 5 species). The same scrub also bright us further Collared Antshrikes, but a softly calling Marañón Crescentchest, would not oblige us by showing us a second crescentchest of the day, and we hoped we would get a second crack at the species the following day.

In the afternoon we birded some dense scrub near Jaen, in search of yet more Marañón species, and quickly picked up Northern Slaty-Antshrike, of the distinctive form leucogaster, which is confined to the Marañón drainage, may yet be recognised as a distinct species in its own right (people sometimes refer to it as "Marañón Slaty-Antshrike". We'd hoped to find the rare and secretive Marañón Spinetail in the same area, although significant habitat modification in the area left us leaving empty-handed as regards this species, and wondering if the development had yielded its decline there. Our time was not wasted though as we added Yellow-cheeked Becard (currently regarded as a form of Green-backed Becard), Spot-throated Hummingbird, a lucky flyover Bicolored Hawk, a Short-tailed Hawk gliding over us, several Speckled-breasted Wrens, and another Pearl Kite for the trip. The large stick nests of Rufous-fronted Thornbirds littered the area, and we soon also saw several of these unremarkable birds (in relation to their remarkable nests). The day closed, as we headed for the city of Jaen for the night, with a score of Lesser Nighthawks hawking low over the roadside paddies.

We had further work to do, bird-wise, in the Jaen area; so over a fantastic chicken dinner in a traditional Peruvian restaurant, we plotted another morning search for the spinetail and other near Jaen....

25 September 2014

Birds & Boats in Coastal Peru...6 Sept.

After our bumper crop of Tumbesian birds at Bosque de Pomac, we headed back towards Peru's fourth largest city, Chiclayo, and the coast. We were rudely interrupted by some birds along the way though, with Nick spotting a Baird's Flycatcher, rather skillfully, from our speeding vehicle, which caused us to flea the vehicle at pace, (the bird was found sitting unremarkably shortly after). Nick too, noticed a camera-shy Pearl Kite, sitting on roadside wires, which hot-footed it away as soon as our cameras were in sight of it. As we got close to the coast our eyes were directed skywards, for any small flocks of hirundines (i.e. swallows), as this is the realm of the scarce Chestnut-collared Swallow, several small parties of which were seen, with persistence.

Finally, we arrived by a small pool in off the sea at Puerto Eten, where Nick (the official guide for the trip), was ready to target a small songbird within the low rushes at the edges. As we bundled out of the car, a couple of stately shorebirds rose suddenly out of the shrubbery, and revealed themselves to be a pair of Peruvian Thick-knees, which posed, in exemplary fashion, for our raised cameras. The pool revealed the hoped-for Wren-like Rushbird, appropriately in the low rushes around the edges. The pond also hosted numerous waterbirds, including Gray-hooded GullsLeast and Baird's Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts, and the first, of literally hundreds, of Wilson's Phalaropes. In the grassy edges of the pool we flushed up a couple of Yellowish Pipits, which later showed much better with aid of our 'scopes.

The final stop of the day was on the coast at Santa Rosa. Again, a pool was the centre of our attention, although the edges of this one were matted with tall reeds and rushes, much more suitable for the main target bird of the afternoon, a strange and colourful reed-dwelling flycatcher, which defies the very idea that flycatchers are all dull and boring. A quick burst of playback brought three Many-colored Rush-Tyrants into view, sporting their lemon-yellow chests and beautiful blue sides to the head. Magnificent, this bird seemed to get a better rise than the plantcutter did earlier that day! 

We finished off on the nearby beach, which was carpeted with gulls, with numerous adult and juvenile Gray Gulls dominating the pack, while massive Peruvian Pelicans cruised regularly overhead. We also got to admire the traditional reed fishing boats dotted along the beach. The near city of Chiclayo may be a modern bustling city of some 700,000 people, but here on the coast, traditional practices, at least to some degree, were still alive and well. 

Next up Abra Porculla...