23 October 2012

VILLA CARMEN (Peru, 3 Oct.)

Well this day in Peru was a an absolute cracker. Rich Hoyer and I were fired up and excited; we were to be birding an area very few people had birded. Ever. Just one birding group had been in a few weeks before with Jeff Woodman on a Birdathon to raise money for the NGO that runs the property: Amazon Conservation Association, ACA, (http://www.amazonconservation.org/index.html). And they had recorded quite the list, which whetted our appetite. The night before Rich and I dined at the property and poured over the trail map with volunteer Nicole, and Daniel Huaman from ACCA, the Peruvian arm of ACA, trying to come up with the best strategy for one of only two days to dig in and find out what this potentially dramatic site, just off the Manu Road, had to offer. We left the nearby town of Pilcopata early,  had breakfast on site, then hit the trails in earnest, focusing on the ones with abundant stands of spiny Guadua bamboo, for these could hold some very special birds indeed. The bamboo specialties came thick and fast: a jet-black male Goeldi's Antbird appeared and stared at us with its blood red eye; a White-lined Antbird lurked in the bamboo showing off its punky crest; a Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher gave its farting call regularly from the dense understorey, though showed momentarily; a pair of Manu Antbirds casually circled me in another stand of guadua; the calls of Bamboo Antshrikes regularly rang out from the taller bamboo patches, and, best of all, a striking male White-cheeked Tody-tyrant sang conspicuously from the canopy. And that was just the bamboo birds. I was having a hard time keeping up with all the lifebirds coming my way, but that was OK, I was in seventh heaven. Another choice moment occurred when a male Fiery-capped Manakin, every bit as stunning as the name suggests, spun around a low bamboo stem, in order to attract an unseen female. Even is she was not impressed, we were; VERY! On the way back to lunch I tried taping in a tinamou, usually regarded as an exercise in futility, but this time a Black-capped Tinamou, perhaps having never heard a recording of its call ever before came aggressively striding in! Over lunch we recovered from an exhausting, though exhilarating, morning, and pondered how high our day list must be heading with the tally looking mighty impressive thus far. The afternoon was predictably slower, although to some extent I was relieved to have a break from the onslaught and take in new birds, one-by-one, at a more gentile pace! Still the afternoon yielded some avian goodies, not least my first ever Rufous-capped Nunlet, one I had my eye on from the field guide before landing in Peru for this trip. It did not disappoint. Better still though, a low hooting call came drifting to us from the near understorey, and there was no mistaking the soft calls of an Amazonian Antpitta. I readied myself for a long run in with the species; after all, antpittas never come easy. However, on this day things were different. First the "soft" tinamou, and now an available antpitta watched puffing out its throat sac as it hooted back to me.

And I have barely had time to mention others like Chestnut-capped Puffbird, multiple Bluish-fronted Jacamars, a Great Jacamar near the dining area, Scarlet-hooded Barbet, Fine-barred Piculet, and Johannes's Tody-tyrant, and an electric blue male Plum-throated Cotinga lighting up a tree! I am exhausted merely trying to recall this day. I had heard many tales of the joys of birding the Manu area, now I got to see, hear, and feel the joys of this firsthand, and it was a very heady mix indeed. By the end of the day, Rich, who, as ever, was keeping meticulous notes of the day right as it unfolded, noted we had recorded just under 150 species, birding on foot, at a fairly slow pace. Not bad at all. This was quite probably one of the most enthralling days birding I have experienced in my life; tens of new birds for my world list, with many fine lookers among them, and a new antpitta and tinamou in the same day, both of which showed well. This was a rare day indeed, although perhaps not so much around here!? Sorry for the lack of a bird photo, but I guess I was just too busy, well, birding!

More from Peru very soon, including a shock find at Villa Carmen...

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