19 October 2014

Cinnamon and Spice and all things nice! PERU (10th Sept.)

With dusk approaching our plans were single-minded for the evening; look for the most enigmatic owl in all of Peru: Long-whiskered Owlet. We were staying at Owlet Lodge, after which the lodge was named, so we were in the right place (indeed pretty much the only place from where the owl is known). We had bumped into another group a few days before and had worked out that from our second night at the lodge we would overlap. They were a perfectly friendly and amiable group, but feared that two groups searching for the owlet on the same night might be a little crowded, and so we had planned to look for it on the single free night we were at the lodge alone, before they arrived. However, when we arrived at the lodge (near to dusk), we saw the very same group heading off down the trail for the owlet! They were here one day earlier than we had thought, and what's more had trumped us by going straight for the owl, before we had even checked in! Our plans needed a rapid rethink. Nick Athanas, the official guide for this trip, where I was tagging along, spoke to the lodge staff and soon got confirmation of a place downslope, where a new private reserve was being set up and had the owlet. Nick had this in his back pocket anyway, as a back up site if the lodge plan faltered. So the natural thing to do was visit the back-up site first; which we did. After dumping our bags in our rooms, and grabbing our torches, we headed straight to the "back pocket site"; we were led to believe there was a ranger on site 24 hours and all we needed to do was simply turn up, talk to him (and pay of course), and he would take us to his known owlet spot. However, on arriving we found an abandoned reserve with no human presence at all. Nick gestured for me to do up the trail with Mark and Rick, and try for the owl while he busied himself finding a human! Night was threatening to come, and in the tropics, night falls like a switch, none of this gradual on set of dusk, as we know it in the north; it approaches rapidly and falls almost instantly. Thus, not long after we were in owlet time, with a starry night and bright moon overhead, just the conditions we could have hoped for. However, we could have hoped for a bit more local knowledge of where to look! Thankfully, I soon heard voices and noticed a spotlight approaching behind; Nick had found a human, and the right one too; the ranger had been having dinner and was away for the short time when we arrived! Now he was here, he was with us, and knew exactly where to look for the owlet. He led us a short distance up the trail, gave us  a run down of what we needed to do, and Nick pressed play on his I-Pod. Minutes later, a clear call from the Long-whiskered Owlet was heard, ad goose bumps dotted my arms; it was close. We tried drawing it in even closer, but the stubborn little owl refused to budge. The local ranger was unphased though, instructed us to stay put, while he went to try and find it perched. He'd barely been gone minutes when he called us up, he had his spotlight planted right on this tiny owl! Me being a Tropical Birding guide on holiday on a Tropical Birding tour, did the genial thing and stayed at the back, thinking that once Rick and Mark had had their fill, I could move in for better looks. Unfortunately, the owlet left before I was able to do so, and I felt a little miffed I had not seen it's face, and it's famous whiskers better. But I was lucky enough to have seen this rare owl, and we were fortunate enough to have seen it at our first attempt. We arrived back the lodge for dinner triumphant, but on hearing the other group had not seen the owlet where they had tried, we had to mute our celebrations somewhat.

After dinner, and feeling luck was on our side, we opted for some further owling around the lodge, for this region is rich in owls, and we were enjoying the fruits of this on the trip, and did not want it to end. We visited their small canopy tower a few hundred meters from our cabins, and called in a White-throated Screech-Owl successfully, although it never sat where photos were an option unfortunately. We also heard a Rufous-banded Owl from their, but could not get it to come closer. Recognising this was another rare night for owls (I mean we had seen two species and heard three with relatively little time in the field), I was keen to head on further down the trail for another species, and one which I had not seen: Cinnamon Screech-Owl. However, with the clock pushing past ten o'clock, all the same people in the group turned the offer down to join me. So I found myself alone, walking on down unfamiliar trails. However, I was in my element, owls were calling regularly-I heard another (thought distant) Long-whiskered Owlet, another Rufous-banded Owl (equally as stubborn and uncooperative as the first), and so felt good about my chances. It seemed a vocal night for owls. I continued on down the trail, every so often playing the call of Cinnamon Screech-Owl in the hope of hearing an answer. I was not really sure how far I'd come (and had been told that the magic marker for the owl was 700m); but at one point I was near certain I heard just the right call for my quarry. I played the call softly to check that my thoughts were right, and was then utterly convinced I had heard the Cinnamon Screech-Owl. I ploughed on down the trail, with my neadlamp lighting the way. A hundred meters or more further, I noticed something in the periphery of my vision sitting beside the trail, and it seemed to glow orange: CINNAMON SCREECH-OWL. None of this chasing it down and scrambling through undergrowth that I had envisaged, it was merely sitting by the trail, waiting for me to turn up!

I climbed into bed at 1 o'clock in the morning ecstatic at a three owl night (again) on the trip; and full of enthusiasm at what this exciting venue was going to produce the next day. We were not to be disappointed, as we enjoyed several excellent days birding in the area...

1 comment:

Lee Dingain said...

I don't think I've ever been so gripped by pics on a blog post (you b******)! Beautiful set of photos and what a stunning bird! I'm dreading your next post... absolutely DREADING it!