29 October 2014

The Beak of the Antpitta...PERU (13th Sept.)

After an amazing three days in and around Abra Patricia, we had to reluctantly move on. Well, I say reluctantly, although the promise of our next destination was quite substantial, meaning that the sadness of leaving that great place was softened somewhat. To say we left pre-dawn is an understatement, as it felt like the middle of the night, and was arguably not far off it. However, these are the necessities of the ardent birder, and the sacrifices we make for that one...MORE...BIRD! The early start was needed as we had a fair drive, plus a sturdy hike in order to reach the spot for our next target bird. We were led to believe our hike from the town of San Lorenzo, into the bamboo choked upper elevations was to be relatively easy, and was a much softer version of the old hike that people historically had to do for this same bird. However, in hindsight, I would wager that those people who advised us of the relative ease of walk, had not had a hip operation that year (as I had), and had also not undertaken it with a steady stream of rain turning the mule track into a hazardous uphill climb!

The walk was tough, but the way was eased with some avian downtime, when we spotted a little flick of Citrine Warblers and a Barred Fruiteater on the way up. Better still was to come, when a passing flock was found to hold a pair of Unstreaked Tit-Tyrants, which instantly pulled themselves out of the flock and into the surrounding shrubs with a little playback. Feisty little creatures they were! All this helped to ease the pain of the seemingly constant upward climb. We also saw the only Gray-browed Brush-Finch of the trip on the way up (a species that was formerly part of the Stripe-headed Brush-Finch complex that was recently split into multiple species). Another cotinga (in addition to the fruiteater) came in the form of a Red-crested Cotinga, which was a forebearer of a great day for this family. Slowly, but surely, we worked our way up to our target altitude, where our target bird was said to be found. We were armed with directions from another Tropical Birding guide, but trying his stakeout, we came up empty-handed, with neither sight nor sound of our target bird. Some compensation came in the form of a Plain-tailed Wren of the endemic schulenbergi form, which is a likely future species, by virtue of its distinct voice. We kept trying the call of our main target, Pale-billed Antpitta beside the trail, hoping for a response close to us. But, try as we might, the only one we heard was buried in what seemed to be a dense swathe of bamboo, across an undulating private field of wet grass. Finally, Mark and I snapped, and decided we simply needed to chase after the sound, albeit on the far side of a stretch of private land. Thankfully, the owners of the land were in, and seemed unperturbed by our request for entry. We made our way through the field, making sure our trousers were wet through by the time we reached the other side, and neared the bamboo patch, where we figured the bird was located. Remarkably, when we got close to the first stand of dense bamboo, the bird seemed tantalisingly close. I had already seen three new antpittas on the trip up until this point, all of which are endemic to Peru, and had enjoyed them all. However, this was the one I really wanted; there's just something about that pale bill, which created a pull in me. Before pressing play on my I-Pod, I scanned the forest floor for signs of movement, hoping that by some miracle I would locate an antpitta without the aid of playback (a rare occurrence). Finding nothing, I nervously pressed play, and waited. Mark quickly stated he had this mega bird in his sights, but it was abundantly clear that I was blocked from my position; one of those all too frequent moments that occurs in forest birding. All too soon, this hefty antpitta had hopped away and was lost from Mark too. I tried playback once more, adjusting my position again just before I did so. Horror of all horrors, once again this beefy bird jumped into a position visible to Mark, though entirely blocked from me.

At this point Mark declared he had enjoyed decent views and he was happy with what he had seen and needed no more. This was both bad news (I was completely gripped off by this-i.e. jealous), but the good news was that Mark was happy for me to plow into the bamboo alone to try and see it for myself, (getting the two of us into the bamboo may have been a real challenge with limited space available). I climbed in, now ensuring the rain-drenched bamboo, soaked through not only my trousers, but all other of my clothing items too. I found myself a small opening within the bamboo, which had an enticing looking log (just the sort of log, I hoped, that Pale-billed Antpittas, liked to hop up on) within full view of it. I pressed play again, and instantly the sound of the antpitta was on top of me; I scoured the ground, and then it jumped up onto my favoured log, posing with its ivory-coloured bill in full, fantastic view. I was wet through from head to foot, and may have permanently water damaged my shiny new bluetooth speaker in the process, but did I care? Did I heck, it was worth every single uncomfortable moment, and financial burden (the speaker).

On the way down we found our final cotinga of the day, a treble-cotinga day, when we chanced upon our second Chestnut-crested Cotinga in as many days; while also picking up Golden-browed Chat-Tyrant, and Drab Hemispingus

After our long hike, lunch tasted very good at the bottom of the hill and end of the hike, and we looked forward to a very different afternoon's birding ahead, in the dry Utcubamba Valley...

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