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,