Utah Birds, Utah Birding, and Utah Birders. Promoting the sharing of information, and the conservation of habitat for birds in Utah and elsewhere. We are a group of people who want to share what we know, and create a positive birding experience in Utah.


a blog by and for Utah Birders

Birding Peru part 15 - Abra Malaga & Sacred Valley

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, October 29, 2012 

August 30 and 31, 2012 - Birding in Sacred Valley and at Abra Malaga

I don't remember waking up once during the night following Machu Picchu.  The bed was extremely comfortable, and I hadn't gotten a full night sleep in some time.  We had been getting up between 4am and 6am for most of the past 2 weeks, so when we didn't set an alarm and didn't wake up till some time around 9am I was okay with that.  While Sam slept a little longer I took my binoculars and camera and headed out onto the grounds to take a look around.  From what I could tell there were very few people staying at the large property.  The grounds were immaculate--water features, trees, flowers, gardens, and a stretch of the river--plenty of habitat for "feeder" birds.  The trees right outside our room actually proved to be the most productive for birds both days we stayed here.  CINEREOUS CONEBILL were often seen high in the tree tops fumbling around for food.

Cinereous Conebill were common but this was the only photo I managed

Aside from the conebills there was almost always a BAND-TAILED SEEDEATER or two present.  I have no idea what the tree was, but it had something those two species really enjoyed.  EARED DOVES were everywhere on the property.  You couldn't walk 10 feet without flushing one, two , or a flock of ten even.  Second most abundant were CHIGUANCO THRUSHES often running ahead of you on paths as you made your way around.

Band-tailed Seedeater feeding in the trees outside our room

There were several Peacocks roaming the grounds, as well as a small menagerie of rescued parrots.  Scarlet, Blue-and-gold, and Red-and-green Macaw were all here and sat in the trees near the chapel at the center of the grounds.  A single Blue-headed Parrot without a tail was also present.  There were usually a dozen or so RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW here picking up seed form the food the parrots were eating.  While I was walking through the trees here I flushed a GOLDEN-BILLED SALTATOR, finally getting a good look at a bird I had seen the previous week for a fleeting second.

Golden-billed Saltator was one of my favorite common birds

I walked all the paths trying to see if there was one location that was better than others, and always ended back near our room and the trees between there and the parrots.  Several times I wound up face to face with a GREEN-TAILED TRAINBEARER in trees at various locations.  Each time I was unable to get my camera off my shoulder in time to take a picture before it flew away.  While I was walking one of the alleys at the edge of the property, I heard the rattling buzz of one of the birds form a tree covered in flowers.  I saw it move and finally caught it out on a branch for a picture.

This Green-tailed Trainbearer was often seen flying by,
but rarely posed long enough for a photo!

Ironically I had seen both trainbearers, and the mountaineer, but somehow missed the "common" Giant Hummingbird.  Even now 2 months later I still don't know how such a common bird managed to evade me, while I saw a number of rare, and  hard to find species.  That's just birding though.  Back by our rooms I saw what I considered the most stunning bird of the last couple days--and honestly, it's pretty hard to beat in overall flash anywhere in the highlands.  A pair of BLACK-BACKED GROSBEAKS were often seen moving about right outside our patio and the golden-yellow bodies were just striking in the trees.

A gorgeous Black-backed Grosbeak at our hotel

Walking around the property it wasn't uncommon to see flocks of MITRED PARAKEETS flying high above the valley, or ROCK PIGEONS crossing the grounds between fields and roosts.  Several times ANDEAN GULLS and PUNA IBIS could be seen making their way along the river, and a VARIABLE HAWK was seen soaring and sitting atop a power pole.  This made up the majority of the birds seen at the resort.  I did flush one other conebill species, a WHITE-BROWED CONEBILL, but didn't manage a photo. In the end the last few days were more just for relaxation before going home--I imagine I could have seen quite a few birds had I hired someone to take me into the hills--instead the only birding outside the gates I did was when we hired a driver to take us to Abra Malaga Pass the following day.

The dizzying switchbacks up to Abra Malaga

I'll admit I blew it with Abra Malaga.  I should have A. hired a professional birding guide, and/or B. done a little more research about birding there.  We had our hotel call us a driver and we sped off into the highlands to see what we could find.  The bird list for Abra Malaga and Penas is impressive and hosts a number of spectacular endemics.  I figured it would be a cinch.  We left around lunch which was another mistake--the birds just weren't out and active int eh afternoon as I hoped, and a nasty wind picked up and blew pretty much the entire time.  The drive up is a dizzying 4,000' climb from Sacred Valley on a winding road that hugs the sides of the mountains.  The view is spectacular, but you go up in elevation fast and that took its toll on Sam.

View of the East Slope from Abra Malaga

As we rose into the mountains clouds started to cover the sun, dropping the temperature.  Along with the wind it was pretty unfavorable to be outside.  We reached the pass and I thought to myself, this doesn't seem like a great birding spot. A couple of distant MOUNTAIN CARACARA were cool to see again, but way to far away to photograph.  In the rocks scrambling among the garbage just this side of the east slope there were a few birds.  The most abundant were the WHITE-WINGED DIUCA-FINCH--who appear awkwardly shaped in the field guide--really were that awkward looking in real life.

The White-winged Diuca-Finch is a drab but interesting bird

PLUMBEOUS SIERRA-FINCH and CREAM-WINGED CONCLODES were also quite common here and at several places below where we stopped to check out the streams.  Both CORDILLERAN and STREAK-THROATED CANASTERO were seen hopping around here as well.  ANDEAN LAPWINGS looked out of place on the high slopes, but added a dash of excitement when they flew squealing from one place to another.  And not to be missed we also added fly PARAMO PIPIT and PALE-FOOTED SWALLOW--a couple more lifers as the trip winded down.

Streak Throated Canastero posing for a moment

I kept reading about a habitat in the books called poleylips forest, which was the specialty habitat up here where I was supposed to find a bunch of birds--but I did not see this habitat anywhere.  I did however see countless signs boasting of how this area was protected for the endemic Royal Cinclodes.  Now the real shocker wasn't that I couldn't find the habitat--I later learned you have to hike up over a ridge to where the habitat is located out of view form any of the roads.  What was really shocking was the fact I photographed a ROYAL CINCLODES a couple hundred feet below the pass along a stream near numerous other CREAM-WINGED and WHITE-WINGED CINCLODES.  I don't know the exact habitat needs or restrictions, but thought it was typically found in the poleylips.

Royal Cinclodes in the rocks at Abra Malaga

It was a good bird to end my time at the pass, but one I figured I had no chance of seeing since I couldn't find the poleylips forest.  The entire time on top I was scanning the ridges in a last ditch effort for that elusive Andean Condor--but it just wasn't meant to be.

Royal Cinclodes Preserve at Abra Malaga

We headed back down the winding road and I had the driver stop whenever I saw a place where the wind wasn't bad and there was some habitat for birds.  I didn't really see anything of note.  We made a stop at Penas near the base of the canyon but the wind made it almost impossible to look for birds.  I pulled out the iPod in an attempt to track down a CREAMY-CRESTED SPINETAIL.  I played the tape several times, and after some chattering a single bird flew over me, across the road and into the brush out of sight.

A BLACK-THROATED FLOWERPIERCER also took offense to the playback and scolded me before flying off.  As we drove down I spotted one more bird perched on a  fence post that appeared to be a D'ORBINGNY'S CHAT-TYRANT--making up the last and final life bird of the trip.  We were back at the hotel by 4pm and say a TORRENT TYRANNULET playing in one of the ponds--by the time I unpacked my camera it flew back off towards the river.  We headed to the room to start getting packed, it was our last night in Peru.

Aranwa Sacred Valley Resort at night

The following day we had to drive back to Cusco, and fly to Lima, where we had a 6 hour layover before taking the red eye back to Los Angeles.  By the time we would be back in Salt Lake it was almost 24 hours of travel--so tonight it was time for another good sleep!

I've still got one more post to recap the entire trip, and highlight our last day in the country--where despite no life birds, I managed some very cool pictures of one species I missed multiple photo ops for during the previous weeks--and got to pose with a couple very impressive birds.

16 life birds these two days / 242 total trip life birds / 298 total trip birds
Photos from Sacred Valley and Abra Malaga on TimAveryBirding.com

Labels: , ,

Birding Peru part 14 - Machu Picchu

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 

August 29, 2012 - A day at Machu Picchu

After our lunch in Cusco, we met up with our driver Charles again, at the Cusco Aranwa Boutique Hotel, where we stayed our first 2 nights in Cusco before the Amazon.  They also owned the resort we were staying at in Sacred Valley so Charles went there to wait for us.  As a side note, our entire trip to Peru was based around the 5 nights we booked at the Aranwa hotels.  We purchased a deal on Groupon that was about 50% off the 5 nights, and all the transfers between the two places and the airports.  Once we did that, everything else was planned around it.

Entry to Sacred Valley from the highway

The drive out of Cusco into Sacred Valley was surprisingly relaxing--and was the first leg of the trip to Machu Picchu.  Getting there is an adventure in itself, and in our case required two car rides, and a train ride--you can take one train form Cuzco that goes all the way there to simplify things.  In any event the scenery going into the Sacred Valley was amazing--the Andes rose straight to the skies above, some of the slopes from the valley floors seemed impossibly steep, and the mountains just towered over the tiny villages below.  It was only about 80 minutes driving to Huayllabamba along the Rio Vilcanota where our hotel was.  We were not staying here tonight but our train didn't leave for more than 4 hours, and the staff allowed us to hang out and relax on the grounds while we waited.

Stained Glass in the Aranwa Hotel Lobby, and Sam on the phone

We spent most of the time in their business center recharging cell phones, cameras, and iPads, as well as calling family to let them know we were alive and had survived the Amazon.  The time here flew by and we were soon on the road for a 45 minute drive up to the "end of the road" at Ollantaytambo.  Going to Machu Picchu this is the last train stop before the tracks follow the river  into the canyon and the tiny village of Aguas Calientes.  There is no road into Aguas Calientes, so the train is the quickest route there.  You can also hike in--but must hire a guide, and have a permit--I imagine this would be an amazing experience. Charles walked us to the station and where we needed to wait--he said goodbye and let us know he would meet us back here the following night.

We boarded the train for the 2 hour ride.  Sam slept most of the way while I stared out into the darkness--I had wanted to ride this in the day in hopes of seeing a few birds, but in the end just getting to Machu Picchu was more important.  The train arrived without issue, and we left with the masses of other tourists.  The scene when you leave the station is hectic.  Maybe 100 people standing outside the gates with signs for different hotels, and people arriving. It's a little overwhelming trying to find yours, but eventually we found a sign with our name. We followed the folks from the hotel on a 5 minute walk up through the streets of the town to our hotel.  After a few minutes we had our keys and retired to our room for the night.  Clean clothes, fresh showers, and a comfortable bed--it was like 5 stars compared to the Explorer's Inn.  We soon fell asleep, with a 4:30am wake up call to start our day at the ruins.

Sleep came easy and the phone ringing in the morning was an unwelcome sound--I could have slept all day.  We woke, packed our things for the day, and headed to the lobby for breakfast.  It was potentially one of the worst meals of the trip, and later in the day I didn't feel very good--attributing it to breakfast.  In the dark we left the hotel and made our way to a ticket station along the road for bus tickets.  As we stood waiting I heard a song I knew as a LYRE-TAILED NIGHTJAR wailed somewhere up in the canyon,  It was a bit away, but the distinct sound was hard to miss. Song below from Fabrice Schmitt on xeno-canto:
After getting our tickets we waited in a line with about 100 other people near the buses--finally they loaded, and we ended up in the 3rd bus. We were on our way up the mountain as it became light enough to appreciate the forest and cliffs surrounding us.  Up and up the buses climbed on switchbacks barely wide enough for one vehicle.  When another bus met us coming back form dropping off the first group, it was a game of back up and move over to make things work.  This happened coming down as well, and the drivers maneuvered like pros.

The drive up only takes about 30 minutes, and it goes by quickly.  We exited the bus and got in line with the others--this was it, we were here.  When they opened the gates the flood of early risers made their way in.  We were 2 of the first 100 people in this day, and after reading the plaques just inside the gates, we high tailed it up the trail towards the overlook of the ruins. It only takes about 10 minutes, and the view is unforgettable.  When you emerge from the trees onto the path below the guard house the view that awaits is awe inspiring--that is the only way to describe it...

Machu Picchu at first light

We probably spent the first hour up there taking pictures and just taking the whole scene in.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and we wanted to remember this forever.  It was overcast, but clouds were not covering the mountain.  The conditions were almost perfect for photography.  Of course I couldn't help but notice a few birds--the most obvious were the numerous BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOWS flying by and sitting on the tops of walls everywhere.  I spotted several GRAY-HOODED BUSH-TANAGERS and several times heard the raucous song of a SCARLET-BELLIED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER.  I am not sure how common that species is here--I know it is seen at quite a few locations in the mountains nearby.

Sam was taking pictures with 3 different cameras... so was I...

We started to make our way through the ruins, taking time to take pictures, and admire how perfect the cuts on the rocks were.  It was just spectacular, and took several hours to go room to room from area to area.  An AMERICAN KESTREL came zipping by along the cliffs--and despite continually checking the surrounding ridges and skies, I never did seen an Andean Condor.  Swifts were everywhere zipping over the tops of the ridges.  We picked up ANDEAN SWIFT and WHITE-TIPPED SWIFT among the numerous CHESTNUT-COLLARED and WHITE-COLLARED SWIFTS.

White-tipped Swift seen above Machu Picchu

Eventually we made our way from the south end to the north  in a couple hours just as the clouds parted and the sun lit up everything.  I saw there were thick patches of Bamboo here so I pulled out my iPod.  This was the only time on the entire trip I used it, but knew it would make getting the endemic Inca Wren easy.  It only took about 20 seconds of playing the song and there were 3 or 4 INCA WRENS in the trees around me.  They moved quickly, but finally one popped out int he open.  My camera was giving me issues, but I managed to snap off one shot in manual and somehow it was in focus.

Bad photo I snapped of an endemic Inca Wren

I turned off my speaker and continued through the ruins.  We hiked back to the south to the exit and went to the small cafe to grab a drink and something to snack on.  We decided to head back in and up to the guard house for photos with the sun out.  It was well worth hiking back up as the sun made it even more scenic.

The ruins at Machu Picchu in mid-morning sun

A flock of SPECKLE-FACED PARROTS came flying along the ridge and through the trees, while an OCELLATED PICULET chattered from the forest.  I only saw one hummingbird up top--a GREEN-AND-WHITE HUMMINGBIRD that was a flyby.  By lunch time we had gone back through the ruins finding a couple things that we saw in the book that we missed earlier in the day.  By this point the place was swarming with tourists--probably 2,000-3,000 people were now here as the main tourist trains form Cusco arrived mid-morning.

Sam and I leaving Machu Picchu

If you ever go to Machu Picchu, get there the night before and take the early buses up the mountain.  It's worth it to explore before the groups show up and make it impossible to take pictures without having dozens of people in your shots.  The last thing we checked out was the "condor" before we headed for the buses...

"The Condor" at Machu Picchu

The bus ride down was quick and we were soon back in town.  We walked to a restaurant overlooking the Rio Urubamba and grabbed a table at the windows where we could see out while we ate.  Along with numerous BLACK PHOEBES we picked out several TORRENT TYRANNULETS, and a WHITE-THROATED TYRANNULET.  The swallows nested along the building here and came and went in swarms.  A TROPICAL KINGBIRD patrolled the other side of the river, and BLUE-AND-GRAY TANAGERS moved form tree to tree on the opposite hillside.  After eating we hiked the road back towards the ruins along the river and picked up WHITE-CAPPED DIPPER which was dwarfed by the boulders strewn in the river bed--some the size of small houses.

White-capped Dipper along the river on the Rio Urubamba

We kept looking for Torrent Ducks, Tiger-Herons, and anything else that might be along the river, but didn't see any on the hike out to the museum.  A pair of GOLDEN-CROWNED FLYCATCHER  did provide excellent looks along the railroad tracks though.

1/2 of a pair of Golden-crowned Flycatchers

At the museum there were quite a few birds in the gardens.  Numerous hummingbirds worked their ways through the tree tops, including: GREEN HERMIT, COLLARED INCA, GREAT SAPPHIREWING, WHITE-BELLIED HUMMINBGBIRD, and CHESTNUT-BREASTED CORONET.  There weren't a ton of songbirds here but a CINNAMON FLYCATCHER called several times from somewhere in the canopy.  The highlight of the gardens was without a doubt the SAFFRON-CROWNED TANAGER that posed for several seconds before flying off.

A gorgeous Saffron-crowned Tanager

After touring the small museum, we headed back towards town.  In the first stretch of tree we got into a good number of warblers, that included both SLATE-THROATED and SPECTACLED REDSTARTS as well as TROPICAL PARULAS.  A GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER  flew across the road and called several times form somewhere across the river.  Every time we came to a good vantage point we would look up and down the river for the ducks, but still had no luck.  As we walked around a curve I was scanning the cliffs for Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks when Sam asked if the birds standing on the rocks in the river was the Torrent Duck.  She was peering through the trees that I wouldn't have even looked through--and instead of finding a duck she spotted a FASCIATED TIGER-HERON--what an awesome find!

Sam spotted this Fasciated Tiger-Heron I would have missed

As we kept walking we added DUSKY-GREEN OROPENDOLA making a racket form a perch on the other side of the river.  We ran into several birders who didn't speak any English--bummer.  Then we ran into two more folks, one who clearly was decked out as an "American Bird Watcher".  Multi-pocket jacket, khaki pants and matching bucket hat, tall hiking boots, and of course binoculars.  I asked what she was looking at as she stared across the river into the trees.  She responded with the name of some type of Orchid--I was a little thrown off as she was clearly a birder.  So I asked, "are you a birder?".  To which I go the most ridiculous answer--I kid you not, "well no, I am a Biologist!" she said as if calling her a birder was an insult.  I mentioned that when you see someone looking in the trees with binoculars, the first thought is, bird watcher, to which she responded, "well I do watch birds."  I didn't even know what to say--talk about a round about way of getting to the point.

The only Dusky-green Oropendola we saw

In any event I was glad I talked to her, because she mentioned having just seen a cock-of-the-rock nest shown to here just back up the road.  She told me that one of the bus drivers there pointed it out to her, so it would be worth asking him.  I thought it was kind of cool but seeing a nest didn't compare to seeing the bird.  We made our way to where the bus driver was and after realizing that he did not understand the term "cock-of-the-rock", we finally managed to get on the same page about a bird nest by the river.  He pointed and explained where it was on the cliffs.  I put my binoculars up and scanned--to my surprise I found 2 blue eyes from a ruddy-brown-orange ANDEAN-COCK-OF-THE-ROCK female staring back at me--she was on the nest!

The unofficial bird of Peru--the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Sam couldn't believe I was freaking out about seeing a nest, when I offered her my binoculars to look.  She said she didn't care to see a nest and couldn't believe I thought it was so cool.  I about died laughing and said look, because the bird was there--ah, my goofy excitement was warranted.  I thanked the driver profusely, and we continued back towards town.  A HIGHLAND MOTMOT called from across the river, but I could never pick it out among the trees.  We walked out on an overlook to scan the water again and I spotted a speck up river on a rock.  I joked that it was probably the duck, but didn't think it was--I was pleasantly surprised when I brought my binoculars up and it was indeed a TORRENT DUCK.

Lifer Torrent Duck on the Rio Urubamba 

We had basically picked up every bird I had hoped for walking the river--with the exception of any other tanagers.  We made it back to town and headed to our hotel to get our bags.  We spent a couple hours relaxing, before it was time to catch our train back to Ollantaytambo.  We hit the shops on our way out of town, picking up a few souvenirs, and a couple water bottles to rehydrate. We boarded the train, and slept most of the way back.  Charles was waiting where he said he would be, and had us in the car on our way to the hotel again.  When we arrived we checked in, and then dove into bed--where we slept for almost 12 hours.

32 life birds today / 226 total trip life birds / 282 total trip birds
Photos from Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes on TimAveryBirding.com

Labels: , ,

Birding Peru part 13 - Explorer's Inn and Out...

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, October 12, 2012 

August 27 & 28th, 2012 - Explorer's Inn Canopy Tower and Boat Ride back to Puerto Maldonado.

We met up with our original guide who was taking the group we arrived at the inn with to the canopy tower to watch the jungle til sunset or so--at least that's what we were told.  While we waited for everyone to arrive I took some time to try and get shots of a Pink-toed Tarantula at a nest near the trail.

Pink-toed Tarantula in the Jungle

There was also a Blue-toed Tarantula nest nearby, but that spider never came out into the open like the one above.  Several of the biologists mentioned there was a Paraque roost in the woods right off the trail, and they had flushed the bird several times.  I spent about 10 minutes looking but never saw the perfectly cryptic bird.

The path into the Jungle

We took off hiking through the jungle about 1 kilometer to the tower.  It was apparent that whoever measured these distances either did a terrible job, or had bad equipment.  I had felt the guide during the morning hike was definitely off in his distances and can say without a doubt it is no less than a mile to the canopy tower--which isn't a big deal, it would just have been nice to get some accurate numbers.  In any event the hike is easy--more of a stroll.  On the way out the SCREAMING PIHAS were at it screaming again.  I am pretty sure we passed the same lek as we had in the morning, and the birds were right off the trail again.  Such a cool song--and one of my all time favorites.

There wasn't a whole lot else on the hike out, I did hear some clicking that I thought was manakin-like, but I just wasn't sure it was actually a bird.  There are so many little noises in the jungle that sometimes its hard to tell what is an insect, and what is some ubiquitous jungle bird.  When we emerged to a small clearing we found ourselves looking up at a 140' tall canopy tower.  Finally, I could look the jungle birds in their eyes--I would be at their level and have a clear view to the tree tops.  This was it.

View from the base of the Canopy Tower

We started up the tower, waiting for the people in front to make their way up.  Up and and up we went--higher and higher.  And older pair from Spain was holding everyone up as they ended up at the front of the group--so the trek up the metal stairs took a bit longer than it should have.  As we rose the jungle roof began to appear around us--looking up I could see we were almost to the top where we could relax and enjoy the view.  Then everyone stopped.  I figured they were trying to open a gate or something but after a couple minutes I finally hollered, "hey what's the hold up?"  The guide responded, "this is as high as we go".

The Amazon Canopy from the tower

What?  This is as high as we go--crammed in a tiny stairway 130' above terra firme?  I had had it, "are you kidding me?" I yelled.  He responded that only the researchers were allowed on top of the tower, where they were conducting experiments.  We could not go on top because we may interfere with their research.  I was furious, yet another example of the complete LIES that the Explorer's Inn sold on their website.  How could they sit there and advertise a canopy tower on their site as, "an additional attraction for tourists visiting the lodge, since being able to climb up to canopy level, it offers the opportunity to spot different species of birds, monkeys, etc., and to appreciate the magical beauty and colorful sunrises and sunsets that characterize the Amazon jungle."

It was impossible to enjoy much with bars and metal strapping all around you--it was more like being in a cage looking out at the beautiful surroundings, knowing you can't fully enjoy them.  So many let downs when it came to the Amazon, and the tower pretty much put things over the top.  I had expected to kick back at the top and relax for a couple hours watching birds moving through the canopy.  Instead he told us we had 20 minutes to stand confined in the stairwell before heading back down.  Looking back it's even hard to get excited about the birds we did have here because it was all over so quick.  It started with several pairs of SCARLET MACAWS flying past--the lighting was beautiful, and the view of them passing couldn't have been better.

A pair of Scarlet Macaws gliding past

In a tree a couple hundred yards away a flock of IVORY-BILLED ARACARI were milling about.  The made several short flights but never came in close enough for a good look.

3 Ivory-billed Aracari in the distance

In a nearby tree a LINEATED WOODPECKER worked its way up almost 50' of open tree pecking away till it disappeared into the thick foliage at the top.  Several MASKED TITYRA flew into a nearby tee and then past.

This Lineated Woodpecker posed nicely for a moment

We didn't see any hawks or vultures from the tower, although I learned that the day before the group Sam and I were supposed to be with had a Harpy Eagle soaring and sitting in a tree for nearly 30 minutes.  The non-birders who really could have cared less about such an spectacular bird got to see one, while we got the common leftovers.  A small flock of AMAZONIAN PARROTLETS flew past, and finally we spotted a pair of WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRDS that were visiting a nest and posing in the sun nearby.

My first ever puffbird--a White-necked Puffbird

The Puffbirds were a great sighting and I did enjoy watching them.  They are a cool family of birds and this was the first I had ever seen.  As the rest of the group started down the tower, I lingered a little longer, trying to soak in the experience, while hoping for a Paradise Tanager or a flock of them to come flying by at any moment.  It was my most sought after bird for the trip, and I couldn't even put in a decent search for them.  I snapped one last picture of the Amazon, then slowly made my way down the tower and back to the forest floor--dejected and upset about the way our trip into the jungle had ended.  The following morning we would board our boat in the dark to head back to Puerto Maldonado--for all purposes this was it for the Amazon.

A stunningly patterned Butterfly

As we started back towards the inn, Sam and I fell back from the group.  I voiced my disappointment to her, and she felt the same way.  This could after all be a once in a life time trip, and not having gone as expected, it was a bit of a let down.   Even the yelling of a BLACK CARACARA  and the chuckling of a CHANNEL-BILLED TOUCAN from the tree tops couldn't make up for let downs.  We passed the Piha's again, and I took a minute to record them.  It was just one of those sounds you can't help but appreciate.  A BAR-BREASTED PICULET let out a rattle nearby, and a suspected ORNATE ANTWREN trilled in the understory.  Several flocks of parakeets or parrots passed above the trees chattering--once they past I heard the rattling of a GILDED BARBET--one of my most sought after species.  It was great to hear--but one I wanted to see so much--and it was a possibility at the canopy.

Several tanagers could be heard in the trees calling as we made our way--one pair sounded an awful lot like the Paradise Tanager--but I challenge anyone to go through and listen to the various chips, chirps and calls of the tanagers in the area and see if you can differentiate most...  Tanager sp. it was.  We emerged from the jungle to the housing area and headed back to our room. Diner came and went we packed our bags, and were off to sleep.  Our alarm actually went off the next morning, and we were up in the dark, and in the dining hall eating breakfast.  Afterwards we headed down to the river, loaded the boat and were off in the dark.  The highlight of the river trip back was the pink sky over the Rio Tambopata as daylight hit the jungle.

The Rio Tambopata at Sunrise

Birds were few and far between, but a striking SWALLOW TANAGER was hard to miss perched in a dead snag, and a flyover ORANGE-BACKED TROUPIAL added a little color to the gray morning.  After making it to the dock, we packed 12 people into the van, and headed down the bumpy dirt road back to Puerto Maldonado.  PLUMBEOUS PIGEON and VARIEGATED FLYCATCHER were both seen along the road when I had time to look around as we slowed down form time to time.  Back in town we dropped the rest of the group off at the Explorer's Inn office, while they took us to the airport for our 9:00am flight back to Cusco.  AS much as I wanted to spend weeks birding in the jungle, I was glad to get away from the Explorer's Inn.  This is one place I WOULD NEVER RECOMMEND for anyone to visit.  I know that some birders lover the area and speak very highly of it.  But s a tourist/birder I can honestly say you money would be well spent somewhere else--more on this in my final recap.

At the airport we had to wait forever in line to check our bags--but it gave us tie to waste some money at the gift shops--after all who doesn't need a stuffed Piranha to remember their trip to the Amazon?  After making it through security and taking a seat we just relaxed and waited--and waited--and waited.  Boarding time had passed and nothing--finally I asked one of the employees for LAN what was going on--the flight in from Cusco hadn't left yet--it would be at least an hour.  Apparently our woes with flying weren't over with.  What was originally an hour turned into over 2 before the plane arrived.  There was some speculation that the flight had been canceled, leaving a number of people at the airport frantically making phone calls form the pay phones--It was just like being in Cusco again!  After eventually boarding, we were on the runway and taking off.

A different kind of bird--our flight back to Cusco

I snapped a few pictures through a dirty window before we climbed into the clouds, leaving the Amazon behind.  I knew as I lost sight of the jungle that I had to come back--I hadn't gotten to do the birding I needed to.

The Rio Madre de Dios from the plane

We landed in Cusco without any issues--besides being hours behind schedule.  Why Sam waited for our bags, I headed to look for our driver and see if he had bothered to wait around, the almost 3 hours since we were supposed to arrive.  To my surprise there he was holding a sign with the name "Avery" scribbled on it.  Things were again on the up and up.  I introduced myself and again as a surprise he spoke English almost perfectly--then let me know that we were going to miss our train to Machu Picchu--so much for the up and up.  As it turns out the hotel had gone ahead and moved our train tickets up--unfortunately they did it an hour earlier than I had asked.  I went into the airport and spent about 30 minutes wheeling and dealing with the person at the Peru Rail counter and explained everything that had happened int eh past 72 hours.  I don't know if it was out of the kindness of her heart, or the fear of me freaking out about the situation--either way she changed our tickets back to our original train at no cost, giving us plenty of time to make our way to Sacred Valley.

Our driver Charles who was one of the nicest people we met in country asked what we wanted to do now that we had the afternoon--we had paid for the time so he would take us wherever we wanted.  After the last few days, we wanted to go somewhere comfortable, that reminded us of home, and had something to eat.  So we went to McDonald's in downtown Cusco where we enjoyed what was one of the best McDonald's visits we had ever had--it was the first time I dared touch a McDonald's burger in more than a year, telling of how hungry I personally was.  And almost instantly the stress of the previous days started to fade--we were out of the Amazon and headed to Machu Picchu.

22 life birds in the last 16 hours / 194 total trip life birds / 245 total trip birds
Photos from the Explorer's Inn on TimAveryBirding.com

Labels: , ,

Birding Peru part 12 - Explorer's Inn Trails

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 

August 27, 2012 - Hiking the trails through the Amazon around the Explorer's Inn

As we walked through the jungle away from the clay licks our guide told us it was three kilometers back to the inn.  Sam and I talked and figured it would be perfect--we could be back by 9am and then get one of the guides to hike out to the Oxbow Lake with us since we missed that portion.  The odds for otters by mid-day weren't great, but it would give us a chance to see the birds that use the lakes and their edges, specifically Hoatzin.  We made our way through the jungle making our first stop below a large tree.  A pair of BLUE-AND-GOLD MACAW flew over making a racket.  The guide thought they might be nesting in the tree, which was also filled with Oropendola and Cacique nests hanging.  Shortly after passing the tree we flushed a flock of SPIX'S GUAN but only got fleeting glimpses as they hopped and fluttered away through the trees.  As with my previous jungle hikes here and in Costa Rica, I wasn't surprised not to be seeing any birds in the understory--I just hoped we would stumble across a mixed flock wandering--that never happened.  We did see lots of butterflies, and other insects though.

Leaf or Butterfly?  You be the judge.

Coming around a bend we flushed a SPECKLED CHACHALACA and got to watch the ass end of it disappear into the tangles, vines, and endless depths of green.  Occasionally we would hear flocks of chattering parrots, or parakeets overhead.  At one tree the guide pointed out ROCK  PARAKEETS flying over saying they were nesting here. Okay I guess-- the tree was like 150' tall and the birds were specks flying over.  As we walked I heard the ringing scream of one bird I knew and recognized immediately--the SCREAMING PIHA.  I blurted it out to the guides surprise.  He said, yes that is exactly what it was, somewhat in shock that I knew some random bird of the Amazon.  Soon you could hear 3 or 4 Piha's literally screaming all around us as we walked.  I stopped near where one of the birds was and it sounded like it was just feet away--but you could see nothing--you could only hear the piercing scream.  Since I knew a picture wouldn't be happening I managed to record the song and put it up on Xeno Canto.  Check it out below.
We heard Piha's at several points, and they were likely the most widespread and common bird of the day--being that they seemed to be at numerous locations along the trails.  I was able to recognize a few other songs along the way as well, helping to get a few birds I would not end up seeing.  WHITE-THROATED TOUCAN were heard chuckling at the tree tops a couple times. A BLUE-CROWNED TROGON could be heard hooting in the trees as we walked and at one point a SIRYSTES rang out from somewhere above.  It was birding by eat at its finest--the only problem was I didn't recognize most of the small zips and buzzes or trills coming form off in the canopy or deep in the jungle.
We stopped at a tree where the guide was telling the group how locals thought this type of tree was magical.  What I thought was magical was the flashing ball of red I caught zipping by out the corner of my eye.  I turned and caught it as it passed across the trail in front of me.  There was only one possibly with so much red, and such a squatty awkward ball shape--it was a BAND-TAILED MANAKIN.  Several times during the walk I heard clicks that I thought were manakins, but could never connect them to a species--so actually getting a glimpse of one was a good sign!

Yes, that is a hot Pink Dragonfly

As we walked on Sam and I both realized it was past 9.  Our guide kept switching trails, but always said we were getting closer to the Inn.  I soon came to the conclusion that we weren't going back--this was a babysitting walk to keep the group preoccupied all morning.  Every time we would come to a fork that would take us back to the inn it was off on another trail--and most of these stretches of forest were bird less.  There was one moment of comic relief during the morning march though.  The German woman mentioned in my last post struggled every time we went up or down a draw.  Several times I helped her up and or down when she couldn't make it on her own.  Anyways we came to a small creek and Sam and I were at the front of the group--we crossed on rocks, then climbed up the muddy bank to a small overlook to wait for the rest.  The German woman was after us, but she struggled to make her way across--and about 3/4 of the way those park shoes she was wearing taught her a lesson as she ended up on her rear in 6" of water floundering to keep her bag and camera out of the creek.

As sad as it was, it was also actually kind of funny, and we both had to keep each other from laughing a little bit.  We've both have some pretty funny slip and or falling stories, but never in front of a group of complete strangers--and in the Amazon.  The guide scurried down and helped her up. She refused to take her shoes off to wring out her socks, so instead spent the remainder of the morning trudging through the jungle half wet, with squishy shoes.

Amazon Forest opening at ancient oxbow

As the trek continued we finally came to a clearing where at some time in history there was an oxbow lake.  Now it was mostly low vegetation and just an opening in the endless green.  The group sat here to relax, but I remained standing and looking towards the sky and trees.  Across the opening I spotted some monkeys--which looked like 2 new species.  Sam and I were talking about them, but the guide ignored us.  About 5 minutes later he blurted out that there were capuchin monkeys across the way.  We told him they had been there the whole time along with another species.  He started to argue with me and say there were only Capuchin, to which I flipped through my pictures pulling up a picture of what he then said was a Squirrel Monkey--oops.

Squirrel Monkey sitting in a tree

The guides were priceless on this trip for arguing with me.  I would guess that the majority of tourists they get are just regular folks who are going to the jungle to say they've been to the jungle.  They aren't birders, or wildlife watchers, or even all that interested in the wildlife--truthfully they are happy to see just about anything.  So it was a surprise having someone who actually was observant, and was calling things out before them.  At that point I decided to really stick it to him to drive the point home.  A vulture passed by and I called out GREATER YELLOW-HEADED VULTURE.  This was followed by a pair of RED-AND-GREEN MACAWS coming through the trees and passing overhead.

A pair of Red-and-green Macaws in flight

I think he got it at that point--I knew a few birds.  A RED-THROATED CARACARA made a high pass over us before we finally ventured back into the forest.  It wasn't long before we came to an opening along the river and there were finally some more birds.  A LESSER KISKADEE flew low over the river and called after landing.  A  COCOI HERON was sitting in a tangle of sticks in the middle of the river.   What appeared to be FORK-TAILED PALM SWIFTS were circling out above the trees, and a GREAT BLACK HAWK sailed over the opposite bank and into the trees.  This was good birding.  Back into the woods we made into some secondary forest--but surprisingly the birds were still hit or miss.  Several BLACK-BILLED THRUSH sang, and one hopped across the path and into the woods.  Sam and I fell a bit behind the group when I stopped to show her a BLACK-FRONTED NUNBIRD sitting silently out in the open on a limb.

One of several Black-fronted Nunbirds seen on the trip

We caught up just in time to find the group gawking at several SPIX'S GUAN hopping through the trees.  I was able to get a decent shot despite the crappy lighting and a malfunctioning flash.  Shortly after this one of the members of the group somehow fell behind and took a wrong turn onto a trail by himself.  This was the type of person they didn't want hiking alone, and probably why they enacted the ridiculous rules of no hiking without a guide.  Why we waited I caught a glimpses of an OCHRE-BELLIED FLYCATCHER before it flew off into the forest.  GRAYISH MOURNER could be hear "mourning" while what I think was a RUDDY QUAIL-DOVE cooed from somewhere out of view.  It was sensory overload for my ears.  After locating the lost Magoo we made our way back to the inn--just after 11am. He told us the rest of the day was ours to relax and explore the area around the rooms--that wasn't going to fly. We cornered our guide to ask about going to the lake which he told us was impossible--of course it was.  He refused to hire out as a guide for the afternoon because he was too tired from our morning death march through the jungle, and the only other guide available was sick.  It was convenient--I asked to speak with management immediately.

This Spix's Guan sat still just long enough for the photo

It just so happened that the manager was in Puerto Maldonado, so I had to talk to the assistant manager, who said they had someone who could walk around the trails near the main area with us but that was all.  I complained telling them we only had this day and wanted to make the most of it.  He said going to the lake was out of the question.  So I asked about the canopy tower--again, there was no one to go, but the guide with the other group would be taking a group there in the afternoon.  I asked how long they would spend and he said it was typically up to the guide--but 30 minutes was the normal.  I was stunned.  So here we were in the jungle, and there was absolutely nothing we could do.  Sam could tell I was pretty defeated at this point--as I just told them we would just do our own thing.

One of the more vibrant butterflies at the river

After lunch we walked down to the river to check out the butterflies.  I was able to get a few photos closer than the day before, and enjoyed watching them.

"Awesome" photo of the only Yellow-browed Sparrow we saw

As we headed back up the stairs a YELLOW-BROWED SPARROW flew in and landed nearby, disappearing into the tall grasses just as I snapped one crappy photo.  We sat at the top of the stairs watching the river.  BROWN-CHESTED MARTINS were circling just off the bluffs.  As I was watching them a bird streaked across my field of view which ended up being a PEARL KITE.  At one point I spotted a swallow that didn't quite look like the Southern Rough-winged Swallows--it wasn't as long-winged and had a brighter buffy chest and head.  I wasn't sure what it was, but there was at least one zipping around as we watched.  I snapped a few pictures and am fairly certain it is a TAWNY-HEADED SWALLOW, which is listed as rare--but also poorly known in Birds of Peru.

Apparent Tawny-headed Swallow on the Rio Tambopata

After a bit we headed back to the room and Sam decided to take a nap--I decided to say eff the rules again and go for a hike.  I slowly made my way back past the hillside where they toss the fruit scraps.  A WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN flew past me here--this was the only hummer I actually saw at the inn--and it also happened to be one I saw in Costa Rica in 2011 so it wasn't a new species.  I slowly slipped into the forest and hiked off down the main trail.

It was the middle of the afternoon--it was hot and humid--and bird life was pretty much null.  I spent about an hour wandering the trails and didn't see a single bird.  Even the sounds had drifted off to mostly just clicking and buzzing of insects.  I headed back to the room and worked on my checklist for the day, went through some pictures from the morning, and finally napped a little before we had to meet to head over to the canopy tower for the evening--despite the way the day had gone since the clay lick, I was still in high spirits from all the great lifers.

28 life birds on the trails / 172 total trip life birds / 220 total trip birds
Photos from the Explorer's Inn Trails on TimAveryBirding.com

Labels: , ,