01 November 2014

What's in a Name?...PERU (13th Sept.)

After a morning scooping up Pale-billed Antpitta, Chestnut-crested Cotinga and Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant in wet, damp conditions, at the chilly higher elevations close to San Lorenzo, we changed direction entirely in the afternoon, dropping down into the Utcubamba Valley. This valley was in stark contrast to our morning, semi-arid in nature, with cacti dotting the scenic, steep hillsides. We were passing through the valley to pick up some key birds before stopping the night in Leymebamba. This was hoped to be a short process, as we needed just a few there. Chief among them for me was a certain owl, known to roost beside a hotel: Koepcke's Screech-Owl, which would have been a lifebird, and a lifeowl at that, making it extra special. I say would have been, because on arriving and checking its recent branch, the branch held no such owl. We searched and searched in 4 different trees, where we were informed it can be, but came up empty-handed. The owners of the hotel finally indicated five possible trees where it could be, but after scouring them, we were owl-less. So we moved on to other things, quickly picking up a new woodpecker for us all: Black-necked Woodpecker, another Peruvian endemic. We also enjoyed a pair of Golden-rumped Euphonias and a number of Buff-bellied Tanagers too. But we were also missing our other main target: Maranon Thrush, a regional endemic, which was also proving elusive.

While we checked local orchards for the thrush, we noticed we were being waved at; being waved at frantically, from beside the "owl" hotel. This could mean only one thing, and as we ran full pelt back to the spot, we realised a new guy had turned up and promptly found the owl, sitting in the fifth tree, where we had spent the least time searching. Very galling for all of us, but we were very happy to clap eyes on a pair of Koepcke's Screech-Owl sitting without a care in the world, unaware of the stress that they had caused! So "What's in a Name?", in regards to this owl. The owl, or rather the name of the owl, has an interesting story behind it. The owl was named in memory of a German ornithologist who lived and worked in Peru, Maria Koepcke. On Christmas Eve in 1971, this esteemed biologist was travelling with her 17-year old daughter Julianne, on board LANSA flight 508 from Lima to Pucallpa in the Amazon rainforest. The plane crossed the Andes east of Lima without incident before hitting a thunderstorm and experiencing a lightning strike, which caused the plane to crash, killing Maria in the process. On board the plane were 92 people (86 passengers and 6 crew), all but one of which were killed in the tragedy. The sole survivor was Maria's daughter, Julianne, who fell from the plane, while strapped in her seat, falling 3km, and crashing into the canopy of the jungle, which broke her fall and leaving her with only relatively minor injuries (broken collar bone) that allowed her to walk through the forest for 10 straight days, when she was finally rescued. A remarkable story that sits behind a remarkable owl.

We settled in to our hotel in Leymebamba, and readied for another ascent into wet temperate forest again the next morning...

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