Sunday, January 3, 2010

From Quebradas to Quetzals

Up at five the next morning, our goal for the morning was to hire a car to take us to Quebrada Upaquihua, a name that had evolved in our minds to Quebrada Oompa-Loompa, but we luckily never slipped up and called it that to the locals, not that they could find us any crazier than they already do.
Upaquihua is in the dry Huallaga River Valley, and has some very special birds with some spectacular range extensions, along with some subspecies that are almost surely separate species. Some of the target birds there that occur only there in Peru are Ashy-headed Greenlet and Planalto Hermit, both birds that occur over a thousand miles away at their closest other populations. There are also resident Rufous Casiornis here, a flycatcher that is just an austral migrant to southeastern Peru, except for this population.
Arriving at the coopertivo area, we tried one group of people for hiring a car, and they wanted 250 soles for a half day! One of the more ridiculous rip-off attempts thus far in Peru, while Andrew talked to them I walked across the street to another couple people, asked these guys, and immediately got quoted 120 soles, the price we wanted. Without even bargaining we accepted and were off.
The drive there takes you by the Rio Huallaga, which is supposed to have sandbars on it where you can see Comb Duck regularly, a large and spectacular species of waterfowl. Of course when we were there the water levels were too high and it was simply a huge ocean of chocolate water running down from the highlands, with no sandbars above water.
Driving along the road to Upaquihua, a dirt side road off of the main highway near the small town of Buenos Aires, we had a Planalto Hermit fly in front of the car showing its distinctive rufous rump patch, a good omen. At the trail head there were many birds singing, including some “Huallaga” Slaty-Antshrikes, a subspecies endemic to this area and a possible future split.
Walking down the path we rapidly picked up more birds, with a Mishana Tyrannulet performing wonderfully, the first time that species had done that for us, another pair of Rufous-capped Nunlets, making this the third pair of nunlets we’ve had this trip, normally a very tough group to get even one sighting of. Andrew had only seen any species of nunlet once before this trip, in over 10 trips to the neotropics.
Near the nunlets we picked up a Rufous Casiornis, and found a fruiting tree that had Band-tailed Manakin, of a special Huallaga subspecies, and some Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakins in the same area as well. Further down the path there was a stream crossing where we had a Flammulated Bamboo-Tyrant, also a bird with a disjunct range from southeastern Peru, and a large raptor that Andrew thinks was an adult Ornate Hawk-Eagle, but I didn’t see it well enough to be sure for myself.
Picking up a few more interesting birds in the form of Ashy-headed Greenlet, a female Chestnut-tailed Antbird with a flock, and a couple Reddish Hermits as well as some more Planalto Hermits, we made our way back to the road, birding separately on a couple different trails. Andrew had a Rusty-backed Antwren, a gorgeous member of the antwren family, and some Chestnut-vented Conebills on his own, while Chris and I had nothing new for the trip.
Song was quieting down by now for sure, in this hot dry habitat reminiscent of southeastern Arizona more than anything else. We walked the road for a bit and found a trail leading into another small forested patch where we miraculously flushed an OCELLATED POORWILL onto a nearby branch. Such an amazing view of a gorgeous nightjar, and in such strange habitat for a bird that normally never leaves Amazonian humid primary forest. Stoked after that sighting we went a little bit farther up the hill to try to call in some Rusty-backed Antwrens in a little scrubby area. Lo and behold, a pair of birds responded wonderfully, circling us for at least 15 minutes. Great looks were had, and less than great photos were taken.
More than happy with our morning we headed back to our long-suffering driver, who was basically just sitting on the side of the road for 4-5 hours, and went back to Tarapoto, stopping briefly to buy some cold drinks. We got a drink for our driver, and he asked for some coke, which they only had large bottles of. When we came out with that large bottle of coke his face lit up and he giggled with glee, there is no other way to describe it. I have rarely seen someone so overjoyed at the sight of Coca-Cola.
Back in Tarapoto we hopped a bus to Nueva Cajamarca, a small town with nothing going for it except that it was close to a birding spot. It was a small dirty town with not many amenities, but it somehow had a fancy hotel in the form of the Hotel Alto Mayo, where we paid 50 soles a night for a double with tv, wifi, and nice rooms. One of the better lodging deals of the trip thus far no doubt.
Our target birding location here is near a town called Afluente, and is more roadside birding, in foothill forest that supposedly holds many large flocks. We had two days planned here, but our first night in Nueva Cajamarca was New Years Eve, which was not conducive to sleep. We ended up taking that day off as well, much as we did on Christmas. This time we celebrated with wifi, some Chinese food, and lots of mangos. Chris and I each ate 7 mangos that day I believe. When its 5 for 33 cents, how can you not?
The next day we were off to Afluente, which involved taking a car to a town halfway there and then another car the rest of the way, which delayed us getting there a bit, until about 7am. When we were dropped off, a guy in a taxi almost immediately accosted us and insisted that the forest around the road was his property, and that we had to pay him to be able to bird there. Well we had read many trip reports on this location, and nobody had mentioned the crazy local. He wanted 15 soles/person, just for us to walk along the road. No trails, nothing like that, and we didn’t even believe that it was his land! He supposedly needs the money to conserve the forest, which would be a great cause, if that is really what he does with it. After refusing to pay he started to threaten us, yelling things like “Do you guys want problems!?”
He followed us up the road as we birded, honking continuously every time we stopped to look at a bird, and if we stopped to try to bird a flock, he would stop the car, get out, and keep demanding that we paid him. It crossed all our minds that he is using quite a bit of gas following us in his car, kind of an amusing thought.
At one point when he was following us I conspicuously took down his license plate number, which enraged him so much that he pretty much tried to run me down. Luckily, I had thought that he might do that, and had situated myself near a ditch that I was able to hop over and thus avoid death.
Just after the attempted ramming he went and parked at his house, which was right there and the only house in that stretch of road with the forest, perhaps lending credibility to his story, but by this time we were all so pissed that we didn’t want to give him five cents.
We were out of “his forest” on the other side of his house, but of course we were out of all the forest then. Right as we were turning around he came back, and said that if we just gave him 25 soles he would leave us alone. We said screw it, gave him the money, and never saw him again.
The birding was good there, and the undoubted highlight of the morning was having a pair of Scaled Fruiteaters less than 20 feet away feeding on arboreal snails out in the open just above eye level. Absolutely stunning birds and such cool behavior. They would sit around sluggishly for a little while, and then sally out and “flycatch” a snail from a branch, and proceed to artfully bang it against a branch until they had cracked it enough to be able to get the creature out of its shell. We got to see both the male and the female do this multiple times, in addition to getting to see the male feed the female some tasty snail treats.
Other good birds seen by me included Orange-eared Tanager, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Booted Racket-tail, Gray-mantled Wren, and finding a nest of a Golden-eared Tanager was very cool as well. Andrew and Chris went down a trail while I stayed to bird some flocks along the road, and they had Ecuadorian Piedtail and Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant.
We headed back to Nueva Cajamarca for our last night in that lackluster town, and celebrated Andrew’s birthday by.. eating out? Sure, that sounds as good as anything. Another afternoon of laziness and mangos, and we arranged a taxi that night to come pick us up at our hotel the next morning, at 3am. Only 100 soles for a 3am taxi ride about 50km. Not that bad.
Our destination was the Garcia Trail once more up near Abra Patricia, this time with our goal being owling. We had mixed success, getting the Cinnamon Screech-Owls, and hearing a very frustrating call a couple times that very well may have been Long-whiskered Owlet.. Can’t get them all.
An Ochre-fronted Antpitta started calling right next to us at dawn, and we actually got looks at this one, always nice to see an antpitta. Some other highlights of the morning included a couple each of Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, the former a new trip bird, and great looks at Royal Sunangel, Bar-winged Wood-Wren, Uniform Antshrike, and Greenish Puffleg. We only got 4 species I think that we didn’t get last time, with the best being the screech-owls and a pair of White-chinned Swifts doing a courtship flight over our heads.
Andrew started feeling sick partway through the morning, so we cut our birding a bit short and headed up the the pass, hoping to be able to stay at the lodge up there. Well, there was nobody up there, and the lodge was seemingly deserted. I guess they don’t have anyone staffing it unless there are reservations in advance. After eating lunch at a roadside restaurant we headed back into the Utcubamba Valley and to La Florida once more, where I am typing this right now.
Tomorrow morning we will go and give the owlet another shot at Abra Patricia, hopefully get a couple other birds, and then head into the Maranon Valley to start getting more new endemics, such as inca-finches and other goodies.
Not sure when my next update will be, but hopefully I’ll be able to get them our more frequently than I have been.

Hope this finds everyone well in this new year,

To Iquitos And Back

After arriving in Tarapoto we found ourselves a nice hotel with wifi and air conditioning, living in the lap of luxury for us, and settled in to what would become the hotel we spent the most time sitting around so far this trip.
Early the next morning we headed out to our main birding destination from this town, the Tunnel as it is called, which is just a tunnel on the road to Yurimaguas. The Tunnel has some interesting birds that only occur there and one other place in all of Peru, and their closest other known ranges are in Venezuela and northern Brazil. Those birds are Plumbeous Euphonia and Dotted Tanager, and along with a few other key species, were our main targets at this location. The Plumbeous Euphonia also occurs at the Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve, and the Dotted Tanager also occurs in the Cordillera Azul.
We had two days set aside to bird this location, and for the first day we hopped a mototaxi just before dawn to take us to collectivo “station”, per usual, and got to the tunnel with high expectations. Unfortunately the only way that we knew how to bird the area the first day was from the road, and there is quite a bit of traffic there. We spent most of the morning walking along hot asphalt in the fumes of passing cars, buses and trucks. The birding was fairly good though, with Wattled Guan, White Hawk, Koepcke’s Hermit, Napo Sabrewing, high numbers of Cliff Flycatchers (17), and our long overdue first Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks for the trip.
Toward the end of the morning we discovered a great trail that crested a ridge and led into wonderful forest, with no exhaust, cars, or human activity of any sort. Well, except the teenager that walked by carrying a car battery, heading away from the road, but who really knows what that was all about. Probably carrying the power for some small village.
The next morning we headed straight to the trail first thing, birding a flock en route to the ridge crest, and once we got there I split off from the others to walk the ridge trail, while Andrew and Chris went down the backside of the small mountain as we had the day before. They of course had some birds that would have been lifers for me, but I am personally happy with what I had. Some of the highlights of birding the ridge trail included a confiding flock of 12 Ivory-billed Aracaris that came in to check me out for a while, many White-winged Tanagers, two Gould’s Jewelfronts, quite a fancy hummingbird, and the crowning pair, Dotted Tanager and Plumbeous Euphonia!
The euphonia was loosely associating with a mixed feeding flock, and the tanager was loosely associating with some Yellow-bellied Tanagers in another mixed flock. Andrew had a Dotted Tanager downslope, but Chris sadly never managed to see one. We eventually met up a few hours later, and had some other good birds, including a pair of Blue-naped Chlorophonias and a White-throated Woodpecker to round out the morning, and the day for that matter, as we happily lazed the rest of it away in our air conditioned room, as opposed to roasting in the 95+ degree heat.

The following day was Christmas, and we had decided to take a day off, a present to ourselves one could say. Basically that involved sleeping in, eating copious amounts of junk food, watching copious amounts of sub-par television, and generally enjoying ourselves.. We went out for a fancy dinner, courtesy of my parents, thank them so very much, and after watching the locals celebrating like crazy for a while went to bed.
Christmas is really such a huge deal down here, easily the biggest holiday. Everyone dresses up in their finest clothes, every single store has some decoration of red, green and/or gold, and there are people dressed in santa suits giving rides around and around the main square, in some form of vehicle that has a cardboard shell made to look like a sleigh. I can tell you right now, Latin American Santas are a sight to behold, especially when driving a sleigh-like contraption rapidly in large circles around the plaza.
The square itself gets fancied up, in Tarapoto they put a stage up, had about a 50’ tall fake tree, dressed the light poles as angels, and put as many twinkly objects on the fountain as possible. The church on the main plaza was packed as well, standing room only and spilling out into the street when we were headed back from dinner that night. It likely stayed that way until midnight. The revelry continued all night I’m sure, but we were tired from doing nothing all day, so we had no sleeping troubles at all.
In the morning we were planning to go birding again, but when we woke up we decided to take another day off. Our latest grand plan was to go to Iquitos, a place that we didn’t think we would be able to make it to this trip.
Iquitos is in the deep Amazon, and is the largest city in the world inaccessible by road, quite a claim to be able to make. We were originally planning to fly there from Lima, but when we tried to book our tickets we found out that there is a ridiculous “gringo tax” that amounts to over $200 extra EACH WAY for a flight there. That put it out of our budget and out of our minds, until Andrew out of idle curiosity looked up flights from Tarapoto to there, and found out that they only cost a little over $250 a head, roundtrip.
We decided that that was worth it, and bought tickets for the day after Christmas, departing at 5:45pm for a 1h flight. Of course we had to check out of our hotel by 1, so we spent four hours playing Hearts at the airport in the cafeteria area. Andrew won.
When our plane arrived, a nice small real jet plane, unlike the prop plane we took before, we piled on and took a lovely short flight over the foothills of the Andes into the Amazon as the sun set behind us. There weren’t that many people on the plane, and I had an entire six seat row to myself! This was a lot nicer than the usual crowded buses or coopertivos with people almost sitting on you much of the time.
Arriving in Iquitos after dark, while waiting at the baggage claim we were accosted by a man trying to get us to use his hotel, and after hearing him out, it actually sounded like a good deal. Included taxi to the hotel, and 55 soles a night (less than $20) for three people in two rooms with televisions and fans. The taxi to the hotel turned out to be a nice 8 person Mercedes van, so things were just getting better and better. It turns out it would be the best deal we would get in Iquitos, a city where people mostly expect to give you less for more money. The nighttime view of the fairly dingy city of Iquitos wasn’t much bettered during the daytime, overall it was pretty trashy, hot, and not easy on the eyes.
Our goal here was to bird the Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve, a very fun place name to say, and a very good birding site as we found out. The special thing about this place is the soil that the forest grows on, being very nutrient-poor “white-sand forest”, where the substrate really is pure white sand. There are many species that only occur in white-sand forest, and there is one bird that only occurs in this one reserve in the entire world, with two other species occurring there being endemic to Peru. As it turns out, they all have the local place names, being Iquitos Gnatcatcher (park endemic), Allpahuayo Antbird, and Mishana Tyrannulet. Funny how that works. There are also many other white-sand specialists that we were targeting here, and we ended up doing quite well.
The daily routine here was to get up at about 430 and walk a little over a mile along the road to the trailhead, hearing such birds as Crested Owl on the walk out, it being still quite dark out, and then walk through the forest using headlamps until we reached our destination for dawn chorus, all the while hoping to avoid the snakes that were certainly lurking just out of sight.
We spent two full days and an afternoon at this reserve, and the birding was good enough to justify at least a few more days, likely at least a week. Some of the more thrilling moments of our time there included, but were not limited to: spotting a pair of Brown Nunlets while taking a break on a log, and eventually calling them within 20 feet of us at eye-level at perfect light; at that same spot having a booming Salvin’s Curassow, a pair of Pompadour Cotingas, and hearing a Brown-banded Puffbird as well; discovering a roosting juvenile Crested Owl RIGHT ABOVE the trail, no more than 15 feet away; having a pair of color-banded Allpahuayo Antbirds come within 15 feet or so to check their own voices out that Andrew was playing back to them; and watching a great canopy flock swirl through one tree repeatedly, and finding such birds in it as Paradise Jacamar, Iquitos Gnatcatcher, Mishana Tyrannulet, and Ancient Antwren.
It is also nice to see our own birds from home down there, the coolest of which was a Gray-cheeked Thrush, which undoubtedly migrated from Canada and will do so for hopefully many more years. It’s interesting to think of how many species of bird one of our migrants have seen, I mean, we saw this Gray-cheeked Thrush right near the Allpahuayo Antbirds, which it surely hears daily. How often do you look at a thrush and think “I wonder how many Peruvian endemics this bird has seen?” The truth may be more than you think.
The only downside to this place, besides it being very hot and not having any fans in the rooms, is the fact that the closest dinner spot is oh, about 12k away, which is slightly prohibitive to having a nice meal without walking almost 15 miles roundtrip.
When we got hungry the first night there we decided to try to try to hitch a ride in the right direction while walking to shorten the distance needed to hitch. We had walked almost five miles, trying to hail down every passing vehicle, when a large semi truck finally stopped. After telling him where we wanted to go, by this point anywhere with food, we all hopped on the truck as we could, with Chris and Andrew riding on top of the trailer part, about 25 feet in the air, and me balancing on a small ledge between the cab and the trailer. It was possibly the most fun I have ever had on a moving vehicle.
Arriving at the town about 6k later, we asked at four restaurants that were just closing before we finally found one that was open. Relieved, we ordered omelettes, and some anonymous meat for Andrew, and ended up talking to a nice guy who was at one of the two tables at this eatery, while we waited on a nearby bench for our food. He was curious about our birding, per usual, and proceeded to tell us of all the venomous snakes that frequented the reserve that we were staying at, and how fierce they were and such. Always nice to hear such things about places where you will be hiking at night. We eventually bade him goodbye, ate our food, and took a mototaxi back to the reserve, where we gladly fell asleep almost instantly. A night of adventure.
The list of good birds seen at the reserve goes on and on, but we managed to get almost all of the specialties, with our only big misses being night birds, where we dipped on White-winged and Rufous Potoos, although we lucked out by seeing a Long-tailed Potoo flying around a pasture at dusk. In addition to the birds mentioned above, we had Collared Puffbird, Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin, White-plumed Antbird, Pearly Antshrike, White-browed Purpletuft, and “Chamizal” Flycatcher, currently a subspecies of Fuscous Flycatcher, but a certain future split.
After glutting ourselves with many lifers, photographs, and recordings, sweating our body weight daily, and all in all enjoying ourselves immensely, we made our way back to Iquitos and civilization, where we enjoyed such modern conveniences as air conditioning and ice cream. Good stuff.
With only one more objective in the Iquitos area, we got up early the next morning and asked our mototaxi to take us to a place where we could rent a boat for the morning. We arrived at the waterfront right near a market, and humanity was everywhere, especially for early in the morning. The second the mototaxi stopped we had people trying to get us to use their boat, and eventually we settled on one guy who would rent us his boat until 11am for 80 soles, so about $9 a head. We headed out onto the large sluggish river, where we were within 10 or 20 miles of being at the confluence of the Napo River coming in from Ecuador, and the Ucayali, the river that we were on. When they converge they become the true Amazon River. So close, yet so far, to seeing the real Amazon. Some day soon. In any case, the river was still impressive, multiple miles wide, but our goal was to get out to the middle of it, and bird some of the river islands.
River islands are an interesting habitat, simply separated from land by, in some cases, a matter of hundreds of meters, but they have species on them that are never recorded from the mainland, and just hang around on these mostly seasonally flooded islands for their entire lives. There are multiple sorts of islands, each one with different vegetation heights, different vegetation types, and different endemics. The trick is to find a young second growth island, which were flooded while we were there, and on that island we got such specialties as River Tyrannulet, Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant, Lesser Hornero, Parker’s Spinetail, White-bellied Spinetail, Olive-spotted Hummingbird, and Riverside Tyrant, all river island only birds.
The other river islands that should be visited are ones with actual forest on them, rather than the bushes on the young islands, and you want forest that is dominated by trees in the genus Cecropia, a very good type of tree for birds. En route to the Cecropia-dominated island we had nice large flocks of Yellow-hooded Blackbirds and some Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns. It was slow going, because with the pitiful motor on our boat we were moving at a fraction of a kilometer of an hour.
When we finally arrived at the island, 45 minutes to travel a mile at most, we disembarked after an incredibly ineffectual landing by our driver, where we got stuck on an easily avoidable log for about five minutes. Immediately we started getting more interesting birds, in the form of a couple Fuscous Flycatchers and some Castelnau’s Antshrikes, one of the more glamorous of the antshrikes. We knocked off the targets here as well, even though it was incredibly hot under the pitiless sun. Bicolored Conebill, Leaden Antwren, and Black-and-white Antbird were the new river island birds, and one of my personal favorites that we had was a nice garden variety Yellow Warbler. A soaring Great Black-Hawk threw us for a loop for a while, and some Brown-chested Martins on the way back in the boat were an overdue trip bird.
This was possibly the only day this trip where Andrew got more lifers that I did, being that I visited a river island in Ecuador, and it was a new habitat for him. Chris got oodles as well, with the same being true for him.
Our business done in Iquitos, we had a last lunch and headed off to the airport for another afternoon of waiting, where we imagined we would be sitting around in an air conditioned lounge eating ice cream, as we have in all the other airports this trip.
Of course, we get there, and it turns out that this is a quite old airport, there are about 15 chairs to sit at, and there are over 100 people waiting, easily. We sat on the ground near the ATMs inside and used the wifi for a few hours in the 95 degree weather without any form of respite except some overly sweetened iced tea. The airport was gringo-land for sure, the most white faces I’ve seen in my time down here, likely a sight that won’t be topped until we get to Cuzco.
After an uneventful flight back to Tarapoto, where I once again got an entire 6 seat row to myself, we checked into a different hotel than we had stayed at previously, just across the street. Bad idea, we spent 20 soles less for a place that had no air conditioning, no internet, and was on the fourth floor, as opposed to 20 more for a luxurious almost suite with wifi, powerful A/C, and a minifridge. If you ever go to Tarapoto, I would recommend the Hotel Altamira.
One dinner with excessive amounts of lemonade later, we were off to sleep with the alarm set for five. The story of our birding the next day and from then on deserves its own post.

Take it easy, and Feliz Navidad to all,

In The Footsteps of Antpittas

After our hummingbird-related adventures in the La Florida area we headed to the Rio Chido Trail in search of Pale-billed Antpitta, one of the coolest members of one of the best families of birds, in my opinion.
We started out as dawn was breaking, walking up a dirt road off of the main road, as many of our days start. The trail map for this area was less than fantastic, and so for most of the hike out we didn’t have any idea where we were going, and it turned out at the end of the day that we had been birding in an entirely different spot than is in the book! After finding the trail we wound our way through farm fields and denuded hillsides before making our way to a lush valley, after taking a side trail that went through someone’s front yard for a while. Oops.
Once in the real forest the birding started to pick up. The best birds at this location need large stands of bamboo of the genus Chusquea, and we were starting to see it patchily distributed in the understory of the forest, a good sign. We came on some small flocks with birds such as Black-capped Hemispingus, Flame-faced Tanager, and assorted flycatchers, but the first highlight of the day came in the form of a pair of responsive Johnson’s Tody-Tyrants, a small gem of a flycatcher that is endemic only to the small area of Northern Peru that we were in. The pair responded to playback so well that they were within the close focus ranges of our optics, and in perfect light too.
After glutting ourselves with full frame photos and great recordings we proceeded on up the valley, eventually coming out into a field where someone lived in a small house, the only marring in the forest, and behind the house, giant flowing stands of bamboo! Life was good.
While walking up the field towards the bamboo we started to hear some bamboo specialty birds, with Plain-tailed Wrens singing all over, and lo and behold, a Pale-billed Antpitta sang a couple times! We went to the largest patch of bamboo and proceeded up an almost vertical dry streambed to get closer to a singing antpitta. All we ever ended up doing was hearing singing antpittas, a few of them, but try our utmost, we could not get a view.
Lunch was had sitting on an area of mossy rocks in the streambed, in intermittent rain and an occasional passing bird. We began to head back down, but partway down the streambed we ran into a small flock. While piecing through the more common stuff, all of a sudden we saw a small rusty bird… a Russet-mantled Softtail!
Russet-mantled Softtail is more than just an evocative name, the bird it belongs to is one of the harder Peruvian endemics to get, and was something that was in the back of our minds for the days birding, not really expected. We followed the flock for a while, climbing up almost vertical mud to get closer at one point, and eventually had FIVE softtails go by us, with at least one juvenile mixed in, a plumage that is not often seen. The flock also had a couple Grass-green Tanagers mixed in, which are impossible not to enjoy.
Overjoyed with our success, we headed back to La Florida in mostly rain, occasionally heavy, and with few other birds to slow us down, the highlights being Plushcap and Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant.
The next morning we got up before dawn had even thought about cracking and got a car to take us over the nearby pass to the lower eastern slope of the Andes, part of a place called Abra Patricia, more specifically the Garcia Trail. Abra Patricia is an absolutely phenomenal place for birding, with multiple species having been described to science there, including such enigmatic birds as Long-whiskered Owlet, a bird that wasn’t seen for 20 years after its original discovery, when it flew into some nets that people were using for banding! It was never seen out of nets until the past few years, and even since then not that many people are lucky enough to see it. We will have a chance for that later in the trip, albeit a small one.
Our targets for the day were Royal Sunangel and Ochre-fronted Antpitta, with the antpitta being even rarer than the Pale-billed of the day before. Before the morning was out we had seen both of those birds and many more. The best part of the whole morning was standing at a lookout point on a knife ridge, with flowers nearby that a male Royal Sunangel was visiting, and mixed species flocks with many species of tanagers moving through the trees below us. We had Metallic-green, Straw-backed, Yellow-throated, Silver-backed, Beryl-spangled, and Flame-faced Tanagers from that spot alone. Other spectacular birds that rounded out that great morning included Bar-winged Wood-Wren, within 8 feet, Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant, another very rare and local bird, and Chesnut-crested Cotinga, possible the worst heard-only bird I have.
Come mid-day the rain had set in, so we headed out to the road, figuring we’d catch a bus down to Moyobamba, our goal for the night. If only it were that easy.
Two hours later of waiting under a little roofed construction by the side of the road we started to build dams using sand and the runoff from the road. Things were looking grim.
Another hour later STILL no buses had come, which is practically unheard of on a major road like this. A small van pulled up at one point, which ended up being driven people who worked at the lodge on the Abra where the owlet is seen, and we got foreboding news that nobody has had the owlet for two months. Ah well.
One good tidbit of information that we got out of this exchange is that there was a restaurant a few kilometers down the road, so we gladly walked there and satiated our hunger, while, of course, watching two buses go by in the direction that we wanted. After finishing our meal we tried to get a bus once again. Two went by in the right direction, but wouldn’t stop for us. At this point we were trying to flag down anything with wheels. Five and a half hours after stopping birding some guy in a very shiny new pickup truck stopped for us, and we gratefully piled into the back, and were treated to a spectacular ride down switchbacks through gorgeous forest as the sun set. A truly memorable experience.
We eventually made it to Moyobamba where we wanted to be, after a collectivo and a mototaxi, and settled in at our new digs, Hospedaje Rumipata.
Treating ourselves to a little more sleep we didn’t wake up until after 5am, and when we got out of our nice little five bed cabin we were greeted by our hostess, an incredibly nice woman who ran the place with her husband and possibly some sons. She offered breakfast, and we gladly accepted, going into the main building on the property, which kind of resembled an antique farmhouse with an almost oriental twist. While sitting down at our table right near the kitchen, we saw a most unexpected sight. There was a monkey in the room. As she came over with our tea, the monkey jumped to her shoulder, and then to Andrew! It turns out that his name is Pepito, he is three years old, and after identifying him using the wondrous power of the internet, he is a Black-mantled Tamarin!
He was the best part about a great place to stay, and he kept us company at breakfast and lunch whenever we ate there. The first morning he spent almost all of the time on Andrew, the next breakfast on my lap, and our third meal with him on both Andrew and me. He didn’t seem to like Chris much, giving him a little nip at one point, and taking a very small leak on his leg at one point as well.
Anyways, back to the birds. The place to bird here is called the Quebrada Mishquiyacu, and has some really interesting foothill specialties. Our highlights in the three days that we birded there were numerous, but some of the best included a pair of Rufous-capped Nunlets coming within about 20 feet at times, a male Fiery-throated Fruiteater out in the open with a blazing crimson throat, Buff-tailed Sicklebill singing its head off 15 feet away in the open, a pair of Rufous-crested Coquettes feeding in a tree above our heads, and some more familiar sights, such as numerous Cerulean Warblers, a few Blackpoll Warblers, and countless Swainson’s Thrushes and Canada Warblers.
One of the four days that we spent in this area was used to go to Morro de Calzada, an imposing outcrop of stone in the middle of the dry Rio Mayo Valley, which is supposed to have some very interesting birds around it. We were fairly underwhelmed, but managed to get some of the birds, although we missed our first couple birds for the trip! Highlights here for me included Burnished-buff Tanager, Scale-backed Antbird, and Striolated Puffbird. Andrew got to hear a Spot-tailed Nightjar that both Chris and I missed. Gotta save some for later I guess.
After having our last meal with Pepito we packed up and rolled out, kind of sad to be leaving the great Hospedaje Rumipata, but also relieved to be on our way to somewhere new. Our last stop in this area was en route to Tarapoto, and was simply a bridge that the road went over.
We stopped, looked down, looked around, and all of a sudden we saw them. Oilbirds. One of the stranger birds out there, a nocturnal bird that breeds colonially in caves, or in this case slot canyons, and feeds on fruit which it finds by echolocation. Very cool birds, and they sound prehistoric on top of all that. The others had seen them before, but they were new to me. After that it was smooth sailing to Tarapoto, and then a couple days of birding “The Tunnel.”

But that’s a story for another blog…