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....