PERU BIRDING TRIP REPORT
2012 Peru Scouting Trip
The intent of my scouting trip to the highlands and eastern lowlands of Peru was several-fold: first meet and evaluate the guide we hoped to use on future birding tours to Peru, second gain first-hand knowledge and evaluate birding opportunities in locales we were considering to include on future tour itineraries, third to perfect a tour itinerary for future tours, fourth to obtain photographs we can use to promote future tours, and fifth to see as many species as possible while meeting my other objectives. I consider my scouting trip a great success. My guide is very capable and qualified for leading our future tours, the knowledge I gained from the tour has allowed me to perfect a future tour itinerary that will fit in a 2-week time-frame, I obtained numerous photographs usable on our website despite my limited skills with my camera (this was my first venture into photographing birds in the field and I have a lot to learn about our Nikon equipment despite my wife Laura Fellows' tutelage prior to the tour), and we recorded over 500 species during 3 weeks in the field despite our spending considerable time making photographs instead of concentrating on species count.
My trip began on Aug 4 with a long flight to Lima, an overnight stay at the Hotel Manhattan located about 5 minutes from the international airport, and an early morning (5:30 AM) flight to Cusco the next day. My guide met me at the airport in Cusco. After stopping at the hotel to stash luggage, we proceeded to Huacarpay Lakes located about 20 minutes from Cusco. These lakes have been extensively drained and converted to agriculture, but the remaining lakes are excellent for birding. The reedbeds are home to Many-colored Rush Tyrant (rare), which we couldn't find, and Wren-like Rushbird, which we did see well despite its tendency to stay hidden in the reeds. Blackbirds were surprisingly uncommon, though we did see a single Yellow-winged Blackbird flying above the reedbeds. The best birding was at a water hole used by local sheep herders watering their flocks. Birds we saw there included White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Mourning and Plumbeous Sierra-Finches, White-winged Duica-Finch, Band-tailed Seedeater, and Hooded Siskin. We also saw numerous Chiguanco Thrushes, which are very common in this area.
That afternoon we drove to the Saqsaywaman (pronounced like "sexy woman") Archaeological Site above Cusco. It was a Sunday, so lots of people were present. Even so, we did see Andean Goose, the only ones I saw on the tour, Slender-billed Miner, and a number of species we also saw elsewhere.
We left early Aug 6 for the 2½ hour drive to Abra Malaga. We stopped briefly outside Peñas where we picked up Cinereous Conebill and Golden-billed Saltator. We then continued on to the pass. Our plan was to start at the top and walk down the other side to re-join the road below where our driver would meet us. The elevation is 14,160 ft and we had to walk up over the ridgeline before starting down. This rocky, scrubby area is the best place to find the endemic and prized Royal Cinclodes, which is uncommon there. Also present and easy to find were Cream-winged and White-winged Cinclodes and Plumbeous, Ash-breasted, and Band-tailed Sierra-Finches. After cresting the ridgeline, we were in Polyepsis forest. There we picked up the endemic White-browed Tit-Spinetail but missed the near endemic Tawny Tit-Spinetail. We also found Gray-mantled Wren. After descending below the Polyepsis forest, we found ourselves in open alpine grassland used for pasturing sheep. We soon spotted Andean Flicker and Brown-bellied and Andean Swallows. With some effort we had a quick look at White-throated Antpitta and a much better look at Red-and-white Antpitta. A really good bird we saw on the talus slope was the near-endemic Short-tailed Finch, which is very locally distributed and hard to find. We picked up a number of high elevation flycatchers, notably Taczanowki's Ground-Tyrant, Puna Ground-Tyrant, Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant, the quite rare Rufous-bellied Bush-Tyrant, and Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant. Omar saw an Andean Negrito, which I missed. We also saw one of our targets, White-tufted Sunbeam flying among the flowering plants. As we approached the farm buildings about 400 m before the road, we found Streak-throated Canastero, an uncommon near endemic that has a very small range in this area and is often missed by birding tours. On our way back to Ollantaytambo, we stopped outside Peñas near Phiry and picked up Speckled Hummingbird, White-tufted Sunbeam, had our first look at the endemic Green-and-white Hummingbird, and found Creamy-crested Spinetail, and Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch. Ollantaytambo itself is a Quechua town of traditional houses built of mud bricks. We stayed at the Las Orchideas Hotel on the edge of town, which was very nice.
On Aug 7 we took the early train to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo. After settling in our hotel, we walked along the river and then veered off on a path paralleling the train tracks. This latter path is the end of the Inca Trail and is heavily traveled by hikers, especially in late afternoon. We saw and photographed Torrent Ducks along the river and spotted a Puna Tinamou flying into the underbrush across the river. We had our first look at a flock of Mitred Parakeets, which are quite common. We had good looks at Many-spotted, White-bellied, and Green-and-white Hummingbirds. Omar saw a Fine-barred Piculet, which I missed. We saw several flycatchers, including the endemic Inca Flycatcher, as well as Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, the near endemic Sclater's Tyrannulet, and Lemon-browed Flycatcher. During late morning we spent quite a while watching a very good mixed flock visiting some flowering trees. Species included Blue-and-yellow, Golden, Saffron-crowned, Blue-necked, and Sayaca Tanagers plus Deep-blue and Bluish Flowerpiercers, Thick-billed and Bronze-green Euphonias, and briefly a Blue-naped Chlorophonia. That afternoon we returned to the same area and saw a young Andean Condor flying low along the ridgeline and then over the ridge.
We got up early Aug 8 to catch a bus to Machu Picchu, which is located some 1200 m above the town on a plateau. Buses depart every 3-5 minutes, but the line forms early. Even getting in line by 5:30 AM, we had to wait until the 4th bus up the mountain. Machu Picchu is a quite spectacular place with a fascinating history. Even so, we were on a birding trip, so after a half hour of looking around and taking photos, we headed down the mountain via a trail and, mostly, stone steps. One of our target birds was Inca Wren, a secretive bird that can sometimes be found in thick underbrush adjacent to the ruins. We missed it there but did find it near the top of the trail down, where we had very good looks. We also picked up Superciliared Hemispingus. Usually the area is quite cloudy and overcast, but we had a hot sunny day so bird activity was not very good. One big notable was a male White-bellied Dacnis, only the second record for southern Peru (the first was along Manu Road). That afternoon we took the train back to Cusco. The train station is actually some 20 minutes from the city. Our driver was supposed to meet us, but he was still getting his vehicle ready for Manu Road the next day so we had to take a taxi into town instead.
After a cold night in a Cusco hotel without heat or hot water, we headed out next morning (Aug 9) for Manu Road. I advised Omar that this sort of hotel was not going to be suitable for my clients on any future tours. This sort of thing is why I do scouting trips in advance of selling a tour. We drove first to Huacarpay Lakes, where we quickly experienced the unexpected. Our driver had left the lights on all night, and we were soon stranded along the side of the road with a dead battery. Omar and I went birding down the road while we waited for our driver to get some assistance. We saw Puna Teal, Speckled Teal, and Andean Ruddy Ducks on the lake. More notable were Spot-winged Dove and Black-winged Ground-Dove in the nearby fields, the only ones seen on the tour. With considerable effort along with the help of playback, we got good looks at Wren-like Rushbird in the reed beds. We saw no sign of the beautiful but rare Many-colored Rush Tyrant, which sometimes occurs there as well. Once again we saw Mourning and Plumbeous Sierra-Finches, which are quite common around the lakes. We saw Paramo Seedeater, which we missed on our previous visit, and Omar saw a Slaty Finch, an erratic wanderer that follows its food supply. We also saw our only Greenish Yellow-Finch and Olivaceous Siskin of the tour. Our driver's assistant finally showed up, not with a new battery but with jumper cables. He proceeded to jump start the car so we could be under way. I was a little skeptical of this concept, heading down Manu Road with a battery that was presumably still dead since it hadn't been charged up, but I was assured all would be OK. It is South America after all. I took comfort in knowing that when I return with a tour group, we'll have a proper minibus rather than a somewhat worse for wear station wagon for transport. As it turned out, we had no further problems with the vehicle, so the mechanically inclined really do know more than I about this sort of thing.
We continued on our way toward Wayquecha Biological Station, located at nearly 10,000 ft elevation along the Manu Road. It takes some 2½ hours from Huacarpay Lakes to get there. Along the way we saw and photographed a good sized flock of Puna Ibis feeding in a pasture area. The Andes at this elevation are covered mostly by grass, with a little scrub vegetation, and birding opportunities are sparse. The mountains do afford some nice vistas of the valleys and farmsteads far below. Compared to southern Ecuador, I would say the mountains are steeper and rockier in this part of Peru. That is even more evident around Abra Malaga and Machu Picchu than it is along the upper parts of Manu Road.
Wayquecha Station is on the side of a steep canyon. All trails are steep switchbacks, though some are less steep than others. It is a research station, so accommodations are quite basic. Birding is mainly along the road. Wayquecha is located in an area of scrub montane forest, with some better forest up the road. We birded down the road a bit and had excellent looks at D'Orbigny's Flycatcher. It posed nicely, allowing me to check out my photographic skills, such as they are. We had decent looks at Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Rufous-capped Thornbill, Tyrian Metaltail, Shining Sunbeam, and Fawn-breasted Brilliant foraging in the scrub vegetation. Other birds we picked up included Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant and Hooded Mountain-Tanager. We didn't have time to do the area justice, but we would be stopping again for another night on our way back to Cusco a few days later.
Next morning we again birded briefly down the road from the entrance to the biological station. We did find three Sickle-winged Guans hiding inside a bush, but we were rather impatient to drive farther down slope so didn't see much else new. The forest becomes taller about a half mile below the biological station. Just before Pillahuata we spotted a Barred Forest-Falcon perched in a dead tree along the road. It afforded a very nice photo op, not to mention great views of a great bird. At Pillahuata we stopped for a very good mixed flock consisting of Azara's Spinetail, White-tailed, White-throated, Bolivian Tyrannulets, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Spectacled Redstart, Oleaginous Hemispingus, Capped Conebill, and Blue-capped Tanager. Continuing downhill, we stopped to view a flock of White-browed Jays clamoring in a ravine below us. While we were there, a rare Greater Scythebill flew across the ravine and into the forest on the other side. We also had good looks at Crimson-mantled Woodpecker in the same place. From there we drove still farther down until we encountered another mixed flock. This one was quite fast moving, but we were able to identify Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet, Sedge Wren, Three-striped Warbler, Three-striped Hemispingus, Orange-throated Tanager, Masked Flowerpiercer, Cuzco Brush-Finch, Black-faced Brush-Finch, Short-billed Bush-Tanager, and Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager. A bit farther down the road de stopped at one of the three places where Yungas Manakin can be seen. This was a very frustrating experience, as we heard the bird many times but couldn't find it in the dense forest and couldn't get any response to playback. We finally gave up and continued down to our lodge, Manu Paradise Inn, only to find that no one was there! After waiting around for a bit, we decided to go across the river to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge and stay there for the night. While waiting at Paradise Inn, we did see White-browed Hermit feeding on flowers in the gardens and both Sparkling Violetear and Magnificent Hummingbird at the feeders. We later learned that the caretaker had left a half hour before our arrival, giving up on us even though we had pre-paid the lodge. It would be up to Omar to get the money back, which I'm sure will not be a problem.
Aug 11 we got up early to visit the cock-of-the-rock lek not far from the lodge and an easy walk from the road. The lek can be observed from a blind. We spent an hour or so there, watching two birds displaying and taking photos. In terms of birding, visiting the lek is not the best use of the time, since Andean Cocks-of-the-Rock are regularly seen along forest trails and even along Manu Road. We spent the rest of the morning birding trails around the lodge. These trails are the best reason to stay at Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge instead of Manu Paradise Lodge, which is newer, has electricity turned on longer for charging batteries, and has electrical outlets in the rooms. We had a mixed flock that included Silver-beaked Tanager, Orange-eared Tanager, Golden Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, and Blue-naped Chlorophonia. We heard several Yungas Manakins singing on territories and spotted a female. The males were very elusive, and the only one we saw was caught in a mist-net set up by a researcher at the lodge. Other birds we found included Golden-olive Woodpecker, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Stripe-chested Antwren, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Black-eared Hemispingus, Bay-headed Tanager, Masked Flowerpiercer, Black-faced Brush-Finch, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, and Purple-throated Euphonia. We found a Crested Quetzal and tried for photos, but the bird was some distance away and stayed mostly hidden in the forest canopy.
At mid-day we transferred over to Manu Paradise Lodge, where we stayed that night. In late afternoon we birded along the road outside the entrance and quickly found a juvenile Amazonian Umbrellabird perched in a dead tree next to the road. Omar had seen the species the year before in this same area, so they appear to be nesting there.
Early morning Aug 12 we birded the road above Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge and found a couple mixed flocks. We had great looks at a Versicolored Barbet. Omar saw a Plushcap in a mixed flock, which I missed because it quickly flew while he was trying to point it out. After breakfast we checked out and drove downhill looking for mixed flocks. We soon found a male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock perched along the road, offering an excellent photo op. We also picked up Andean Motmot, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Variegated Bristle-Tyrant, Masked Fruiteater, Violaceous Jay, Parodi's Hemispingus, and Black-faced Brush-Finch. Still lower down we had very good looks at two Round-tailed Manakins displaying on a lek. In the same spot we saw Plumbeous Kite and Black Caracara. We also found a mixed tanager flock consisting of Silver-beaked Tanager, Paradise Tanager, Green-and-gold Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Masked Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, and Purple Honeycreeper. Once we got to lower elevation, we started picking up swifts. Species seen included Chestnut-collared Swift, White-collared Swift, Short-tailed Swift, and Gray-rumped Swift. Other lowland birds we saw included Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Stripe-chested Antwren, White-browed Antbird, White-lined Antbird, Slender-footed Tyrannulet, Long-tailed Tyrant, Yellow-throated Tanager, Golden-collared Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, and Yellow-browed Sparrow.
At the end of Manu Road we took the boat 15 min. up the Rio Madre de Dios to the Amazonia Lodge. After our arrival at the lodge, we had our first look at Red-and-green Macaw and our only look at the rare Blue-headed Macaw, both flying overhead. Hummingbird feeders and flowers in the garden around the lodge attracted White-necked Jacobin, Pale-tailed Barbthroat, Needle-billed Hermit, Long-tailed Hermit, Gould's Jewelfront, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Gray-breasted Sabrewing, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire, White-chinned Sapphire, and most notably a male Rufous-crested Coquette that had a territory set up behind the lodge. We had time to walk a trail through the forest that afternoon and picked up Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper and several commonly seen tanagers.
We woke up to a steady rain the morning of Aug 13. The rain finally quit at 9:00 AM, so we went out birding. We had very good views of Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher behind the lodge along with two Blue-throated Piping-Guans, which are quite common in this area. We spotted a Cinereous Tinamou walking in the underbrush off the trail. We found Scaly-backed Antbird following an army ant swarm and had very good looks at Bluish-Slate Antshrike. We also had a very good look at Bamboo Antshrike quite high up in a 40-ft tree within a stand of bamboo. Surprisingly, our only encounter with Hoatzins was this morning while walking a trail paralleling a backwater oxbow cut off from the main river. We were able to lure out a Rusty-belted Tapaculo for quick views with the help of playback. Some other notable birds we saw along forest trails and near the lodge were Lemon-throated Barbet, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Gray Antwren, Turquoise Tanager, and Orange-backed Troupial. We also had a fleeting and unsatisfying look at a Black-spotted Bare-eye, which we only saw in silhouette. I really wanted to see that bird better, but not this time!
We spent all of Aug 14 at Amazonia Lodge birding the trails and trying to get better photos of Rufous-crested Coquette. We encountered a quite long Fer de Lance lying across the trail. Omar had been looking up at the time, and when he spotted it he jumped back about 3 ft in surprise. This snake is quite rare around the lodge, but nevertheless quite venemous. We had a brief look at Razor-billed Curassow, which is rare in this area. We also found a Red-throated Caracara, the only one seen on the tour. We had good looks at Chestnut-crowned Foliage-gleaner and had a surprise encounter with a Blue-headed Parrot perched in a tree in the forest. This bird is usually only seen at clay licks or when flying, rarely perched in the forest. We saw several antbirds including Plain-winged Antshrike, White-shouldered Antshrike, and White-eyed Antwren. We had very good looks at Fiery-capped Manakin displaying on a lek and did our best to photograph it. That afternoon we had a quick look at Koepcke's Hermit darting between flowers in the forest and very good looks at Goeldi's Antbird when it flew across the trail and perched in open understory. We had distant looks at a Gilded Barbet and found a Plain Softtail, a rather non-descript furnuriid.
Early next morning we had very good looks at a Ringed Antpipit that responded to playback. This was along the trail on the way to the river where we were to catch the boat back to the end of Manu Road. After a 15 minute boat ride, our driver met us at the boat dock. We drove to Wayquecha Biological Station, making few stops as it's a 6-hour drive. We did stop for a few photos of the Rio Madre de Dios at an overlook and picked up Foothill Antwren and Stripe-chested Antwren while there. After arriving at Wayquecha, we had time to bird up the road for a couple hours. It was foggy, gray, and threatening rain so I left my camera behind. Let me say that this was a big mistake. If you have a camera, never leave it back at the lodge. Along the road we had very good looks at Peruvian Piedtail, which Omar had seen earlier but had kept eluding me. We also had good looks at Moustached Flowerpiercer and excellent looks at two Andean Guans perched in a tree. Less than 2 minutes later we had superb views of two Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucans feeding on fruits in the tree tops below us in the valley some 400 m away. They then flew across the valley and landed in a tree along the road not 50 ft from us. Oh, I wished I had my camera with me, but alas a lesson learned the hard way.
Aug 16, our day to return to Cusco, was bright and sunny. We walked back up the road hoping to find the mountain-toucans again. No such luck. Yesterday was an opportunity missed that was not to be repeated. We did have good looks at a female Peruvian Piedtail, which is fairly common in the scrub bushes along the road. We found a Rufous-bellied Bush-Tyrant, a quite rare species and yet the second time we saw it on the tour. We also encountered a mixed flock of Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, and Grass-green Tanager. We did our best to get photos but they just weren't interested in posing for us. We also found a nice flock of Golden-naped Tanager, Scarlet-belled Mountain-Tanager, Dark-throated Flowerpiercer and Masked Flowerpiercer feeding along the road in some flowering bushes. We did get a few OK photos of the Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager while watching this flock.
After breakfast we headed back to Cusco. Along the way we found Red-crested Cotinga perched along the road. We stopped again at Huacarpay Lakes, but bird activity was slow and we didn't pick up anything new.
We took the mid-morning flight to Puerto Maldonado on Aug 17 and transferred to the office of Explorer's Inn for transfer up the Rio Tambopata. We waited some time for the remaining people to arrive and then transferred by bus to the embarkation point (about 45 minutes) where we caught the boat. We then took the boat up the Rio Tambopata to Explorer's Inn, stopping en route whenever an interesting bird appeared. The river is very brown in this stretch due to silt coming down from the confluence with the Rio Malinowski. Few birds were visible along the river but we did see the occasional Cocoi Heron, Snowy Egret and vulture. Highlights included a Horned Screamer along the shoreline and a Bat Falcon perched high in a distant tree. We also saw some parrots and macaws flying over the river, and Omar saw a Fork-tailed Palm-Swift which I missed.
Next morning we were up early and birding. We spent the morning walking trails through the forest, which are quite extensive around the lodge. We had very good looks at Black-faced Antthrush that kept circling us and crossed the trail several times in response to playback. We also had quick looks at Ringed Antpipit responding to playback. We found a mixed flock of mainly antwrens following the flock leader, Bluish-Slate Antshrike. In addition to the antshrikes, birds in the flock included Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Fasciated Antshrike, Undulated Antshrike, White-eyed Antwren, Plain-throated Antwren, White-flanked Antwren, Long-winged Antwren, Ihering's Antwren, Gray Antwren, Peruvian Warbling-Antbird, Chestnut-tailed Antbird, and Pectoral Sparrow. It took quite a while to ferret them all out, and the Chestnut-tailed Antbird was especially elusive. Other highlights of the morning included Spix's Woodcreeper (split from Elegant Woodcreeper), Gray Antbird, White-browed Antbird, Scale-backed Antbird, Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, and Grayish Mourner.
That afternoon we found a Rufous-capped Antthrush perched on a log in the understory. Well, we didn't just "find it" - it was responding to playback. We went to Laguna Chiquita, an oxbow cut off from the Rio Tambopata, and sat on the small dock for a while. While there we saw a Red-billed Scythebill fly across the lagoon and disappear into the forest. Amazing - our second scythebill species of the tour! We also had excellent looks at a small Chestnut-capped Puffbird perched on an open branch on the other side of the lagoon and distant views of Curl-crested Aracaris flying between tree tops.
We got up at 3:45 AM next day, Aug 19, and walked to Lago Cocacocha some 5 km from the lodge. The plan was to take a canoe onto the lake, but it was raining so we sat inside the shelter at the dock instead. We did see three Pale-winged Trumpeters on our way to the lake, but only in silhouette high in the trees walking along large limbs. We saw most of our "target" birds at the lake without going out on the boat, including Sunbittern. On the way back we found a pair of White-fronted Nunbirds making a ruckus while duetting. We spotted an Amazonian Pygmy-Owl with a lot of effort, as it's a tiny owl lost among the many branches in the forest canopy. Also notable was a Golden-collared Toucanet we saw perched straight up above us over the trail.
On Aug 20 we photographed a pair of Thrush-like Wrens nesting behind the lodge. While walking trails in the forest we photographed Band-tailed Manakins displaying and constantly flitting from perch to perch on a lek with considerable effort. We had a very good look at a pair of Slate-colored Hawks perched in a leafless tree and nice looks at Red-necked Woodpecker. We had decent looks at a Great Tinamou walking through the underbrush and up a muddy little embankment inside the forest. We tried for Pavonine Quetzal, which 90% of birders visiting the lodge see, but just never had any luck. We got no response to playback though we heard the bird. We saw an Ornate Hawk-Eagle soaring above the forest canopy and, later, three King Vultures soaring on thermals with a number of Black Vultures. We also had very good looks at Purple-throated Fruitcrow displaying its purplish-red throat high overhead in the forest canopy.
That afternoon we again walked forest trails around the lodge. In late afternoon we had a sizeable group of Pale-winged Trumpeters come out on the trail in front of us. I tried for photos but they all came out under-exposed. With some effort we had quite good looks of a male White-winged Shrike-Tanager overhead, which was quite shy. We had better looks at the female, which was also there.
Early on Aug 21 we walked to the canopy tower. It's a 42m tower but has limited room at the top. It's used mainly by researchers. We saw a few species from the tower, but only Striped Woodcreeper and Ivory-billed Aracari were notable. On the walk back to the lodge Omar flushed a Gray Tinamou, which was quickly gone before I could see it.
After breakfast we caught the boat for the 6-hour ride up the Rio Tambopata to Tambopata Research Center. The river turned from brown to clear once we passed the confluence with the Rio Malinowski. That's when we began seeing more interesting species such as Orinoco Goose as well as three Razor-billed Curassows that came down to the water, a Crane Hawk, and a troop of Red Howler Monkeys. After our arrival we had little time for birding as it was after 5:00 PM. Nevertheless, we went into the forest and saw Lawrence's Thrush in poor light, heard Hauxwell's Thrush, and then just before dark spotted Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl and a pair of Ocellated Poorwills.
Next morning we went to the parrot clay lick. It's a short boat ride from the lodge, but visitors are not allowed any closer than about 170-200 m from the clay lick, too far for photos. It was still fascinating to watch as several species of macaws visit. We saw Blue-and-yellow, Scarlet, Chestnut-fronted, and Red-bellied Macaws as well as Dusky-headed Parakeet, White-bellied Parrot, Orange-cheeked Parrot, Blue-headed Parrot, Mealy Parrot, and Yellow-crowned Parrot. We had hoped for Blue-headed Macaw, which shows up rarely, but not this day. We had also hoped for Rock Parakeet, which we heard but never saw.
Later in the morning after breakfast, we walked trails around the lodge. We successfully photographed Lawrence's Thrush and saw a number of other species including Amazonian Motmot (a recent split from Blue-crowned Motmot), Black-fronted and White-fronted Nunbirds, Plain-winged, Dusky-throated, and Bluish-slate Antshrikes, White-browed Antbird, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, and Dusky-capped Greenlet. In the afternoon we were back on forest trails and saw Yellow-breasted Warbling-Antbird and Large-headed Flatbill. Peccaries are common in the forest and we often heard or saw them thrashing through the underbrush.
On Aug 23 we again went to the clay lick in hopes of seeing Blue-headed Macaws but with no luck. We saw all the same species seen the previous day. After breakfast we headed back to the clay lick island. On the way to the boat we had good looks at Chestnut-headed Spadebill lurking in the forest mid-story. Back at the clay lick the macaws and parrots were mostly gone, but we saw a large herd of about 150 White-lipped Peccaries crossing the backwater between us and the clay lick. It was quite a sight seeing them all out in the open. The habitat on the island is different from that around the lodge as the soil is sandier and supports more bamboo, cane, and other early succession plants. Here we had very good looks at Black-spotted Bare-eye in the understory, a strikingly beautiful bird. We also had very good looks at Goeldi's Antbird in the understory and a Scarlet-hooded Barbet perched high in a tree some 100m away. We got back to the lodge about 12:40, just in time to miss the heavy rains, thunder, and lightning that struck at 12:55. In late afternoon after the rains had passed, we went back out and found Dusky-throated Antshrike and White-throated Antbird in the forest.
Next morning we gave the clay lick one last try. Again no luck with the rarities. After returning to the lodge and having breakfast, we had some time to bird before catching the boat to Refugio Amazonas. We finally saw Hauxwell's Thrush and took several photos, all out of focus. We also saw Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper and Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin.
The boat trip to Refugio Amazonas was long and uneventful. Since we were with a large group of non-birding tourists, we didn't stop for any birds. We did see a single Orinoco Goose along the river. After arrival at the lodge, we went birding and had long and fantastic views of a pair of Red-necked Woodpeckers banging on large tree limbs. I took lots of photos, none of which turned out. We finally got a really good look at Chestnut-tailed Antbird, a skulker that is more often heard than actually seen. Certainly the highlight of the afternoon was a covey of Starred Wood-Quail we found deep in the underbrush. We were even able to get some photos of a female.
Aug 25 was our last day. We had a short time for some early morning birding but didn't pick up anything new. The boat trip back to Puerto Maldonado was a straight shot without stops. We saw the usual species seen earlier and didn't add anything new to our trip list. When we arrived at the airport, a big surprise was in store for us. We were flying Taca and the only flight of the day had been cancelled. This led to complete chaos, with everyone trying to figure out how to get back to Lima for their international flights next day. A few people were able to re-book on a LAN airlines flight, people in the larger groups had to take an overnight bus to Cusco for a next morning flight to Lima, and the rest of us were put up at various hotels in Puerto Maldonado by Taca. I contacted my wife Laura, who called American Airlines and discovered that my international flight through Miami next morning had been cancelled due to Hurricane Isaac (the Miami Airport was closed). She supposedly got me booked on a flight through Los Angeles the following night. I got back to Lima next afternoon without incident, but after standing in lines until nearly midnight I discovered that my reservation on the LAN flight to Los Angeles wasn't reserved after all. American Airlines had evidently failed to confirm my seat with LAN. So, there I was in Lima at midnight on a Sunday night with all nearby hotels already booked full carrying some $10,000 of camera equipment and being told by American Airlines that the earliest available seats on flights back to the US were not until Thursday or Friday night 4-5 days later. This was not a good situation. Fortunately, the AA agents had not yet closed up ticketing and left the airport, though that was about to happen. I told one of their agents I had to get home and asked her if there were any flights through anywhere to get out. She said the only available flight was through Sao Paulo Brazil but I needed a Brazil visa to get on the flight. To her surprise I have a Brazil visa, which I'd obtained the year before. So, I was booked onto the 1:20 AM flight to Sao Paulo, then sat around all day at Garruhlos Airport in Sao Paulo until my overnight flight on United Airlines to Chicago and from there on to Denver. It was grueling, but at least I wasn't stuck in Lima for days trying to get out with no place to stay. All in all a memorable as well as informative trip.
- Jim Wittenberger, Exotic Birding LLC