22 September 2014

Lost in PERU...6 Sept.

Having been sidelined for the last few months in Quito, Ecuador, while recuperating from a hip operation, this was to be my first major foray into the field since the op, and I was chomping at the bit. I joined a small group of two people for a Northern Peru custom tour led by Nick Athanas of Tropical Birding. This served two primary purposes for me: to have a fine birding holiday, where I had not yet been, and also to learn an area which I would sincerely love to guide some time in the future. Having arrived the evening before in Lima, Nick and I connected with Mark Gawn and later, Richard Goldfarb, the two participants on the tour, and quickly boarded a flight to Peru's fourth largest city, Chiclayo, in the north. 

No sooner had we landed but we were on the road heading east to the deciduous forest of Bosque de Pomac, most famous among birders as the hangout for the endemic Peruvian Plantcutter. Soon after arriving in the area, we started picking up "Tumbesian" birds, which are found within this endemic-rich Tumbesian region, (found within Northwest Peru and Southwest Ecuador). This included a typically boisterous group of Fasciated Wrens greeting us on arrival; and soon after we started to walk the "plantcutter trail". We saw the first of many Grey-and-white Tyrannulets, sporting their characteristic, elaenia-like crests. However, the star flycatchers were lemon yellow Tumbes Tyrants (my first lifer of the trip just minutes in), and the endemic Rufous Flycatcher, which was conspicuous throughout our time there. However, the kazoo-like calls, and Union Jack-colored body, of Peruvian Plantcutters were conspicuously absent. About every turn we came upon the ever-present Vermilion Flycatcher, which in spite of its abundance, is a stunning bird in its own right.

However, we were all here to see specialties and endemics, and so with the plantcutter failing to perform, we set off for another, moving into a particularly arid part of the reserve, where the trees gave way to low scrub, and sand was felt underfoot. Flying low over the trees in this area was another of our targets, the white-rumped Tumbes Swallow, swooping low over the scrub, and onto our life lists. Meanwhile, a diminutive Peruvian Pygmy-Owl stared back at us with those typically angry-looking eyes that only owls seem to bear, from the scrub below. While the forest at this site is not bursting with diversity, like that of some forests on the wetter Andean slopes, it is home to numerous specialties and localized endemics, the plantcutter being the A-list one in this area. While we worked the area again for this much-wanted bird, we enjoyed other specialties like the stout-billed Cinereous Finch, the dashing White-tailed Jay and several Collared Antshrikes. As morning turned to lunchtime, and the heat of the day reached its peak, things were looking increasingly grim in our quest for the plantcutter. We emerged from the trail that bears its name, and worked the road, feeling somewhat deflated. Then, just when Rick thought he was eyeballing yet another mockingbird, up popped a red, white and blue bird; a stunning male Peruvian Plantcutter!!! Thanks to Rick for saving us from the tricky decision of whether to ditch the afternoon's coastal birding for yet more time scouring the forest for this endemic cotinga. We enjoyed great views and could soon after head back towards the coast with our consciouses clear, all of our targets in the bag. 

Next up was an action-packed close to the day birding the dunes, and pools along the coast near Chiclayo...

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