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Peru - Manu Road and beyond: 7 - 27 Jul 2017


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7 - 27 July 2017.
Very mixed, dependent on altitude and cloud cover. A cold front moving through made several days in the Amazonas cold and wet. Temperatures ranged from 2°C to 32°C.
Huacarpay, Manu Road, Amazonia Lodge, Manu Wildlife Centre, Puerto Maldonado, Andean Spirit Lodge and Soraypampa Road.

With Mike Danzenbaker and Lee Hung. Although each of us had visited Peru a few times previously, none of us had birded the popular Manu Road - a location that tends to attract birders on their first visit, due to the large range of habitats and altitudes, from the lowlands to 4,500 metres, that can be covered in relatively short time. So, armed with a reduced target list and three weeks available, we aimed to cover it thoroughly. Although we'd set up this trip a couple of years previously we were let down at short notice by our original guide, who will remain nameless, so approached Manu Expeditions who fortunately had local guide Silverio Duri Valdiva available and could arrange the logistics. We were very satisfied with Manu Expeditions's logistics, and Silverio proved to be an excellent and highly skilled guide.

Due to the remoteness of the locations, clear nights gave fantastic displays of stars and the Milky Way. We were slightly caught out being unprepared and unwarned of practically no mobile network coverage, plus in a few places where Internet was allegedly available it mostly was not. So, just don't plan on being contactable here, and it was pleasant to forget the world's media for three weeks! Although we'd allowed as much time as possible at each locality, including a week at Manu Wildlife Centre, we could easily have spent twice as long everywhere and still be seeing new species.

Capped Heron
Capped Heron

Itinerary

5 Jul. Having already been in the USA birding California and Arizona - Trip Report - the previous ten days, we took an early taxi to San Francisco airport. What should have been a simple 09:00 departure to Houston with connection to Lima was turned on its head with the failure of the United Airlines plane whilst taxiing to the runway. This meant a replacement plane and a delayed departure, with consequently a missed connection in Houston. Eventually we left San Francisco at 13:40, had an overnight at the Holiday Inn Houston Airport courtesy of United Airlines, and a one day delayed departure to Lima.

6 Jul. Left Houston 17:00, arriving Lima late evening. As Lima had a quick and efficient airport, we managed to pass through immigration, change money, collect baggage, pass customs and be transferred to the Limaq Hotel, about 10 minutes away, before midnight. The original plan had been to do this overnight yesterday and take a later Cusco connection, but now, having lost 24 hours, we simply had to take the next, earliest, connecting Cusco flight.

7 Jul. This happened to be the Avianca flight, so after two hours sleep at the Limaq, up at 02:50 and transferred back to the airport for 03:00. Here we were totally amazed to find the airport absolutely heaving at this time of the morning, as evidently many domestic flights operate very early. Although we boarded the plane on time, an unexplained delay had us sitting on the tarmac for 45 minutes, delaying our eventual arrival in Cusco till 08:00, where we were met by a temperature of 2°C, Silverio, and our driver, Walter. Had things gone to plan, we'd have flown into Cusco yesterday afternoon and been picked up from our hotel at 05:30, so with this later start we spent the whole day trying to catch up the lost hours and never really succeeding.

We started with the short drive to Huacarpay for the Bearded Mountaineer, that took some time to obtain reasonable views. From here we headed toward the Manu road checking dry hillsides successfully for Rusty-fronted Canastero and Streak-fronted Thornbird. Thereafter, a long dusty journey along the first section of the Manu Road via Paucartambo and the high pass after, to Wayquecha Research Station, finding several higher altitude specialities including Andean Ibis, Mountain Caracara, Andean Swift, Puna Ground Tyrant and Creamy-crested Spinetail, but missing Slender-billed Miner.

Mitred Parakeet
Mitred Parakeet

This drive took us up to an altitude of 4,200 metres - probably not the most sensible option after two hours sleep and starting at sea level in the early morning - so headaches all round.

Strong winds at the top also didn't help. Arrived after dark, around 18:00, at Wayquecha, to drizzle, cold and damp. Accommodation at the research station was quite comfortable, and a welcome change from previous years when it would have been necessary to camp. The station did have a satellite Internet connection but was exceedingly slow and unreliable.

8 Jul. Out at sunrise and back the way come, over Acjanaco Pass, that we'd passed late yesterday too late for effective birding. Decidedly cool at this altitude, but at least above freezing, so some activity once the sun topped the ridge. Best birds were Diademed Tapaculo, Creamy-crested Spinetail, Puna Thistletail and Violet-throated Starfrontlet. Unfortunately, low cloud descended early in the day, making birding difficult, but by lunchtime, back at the station, we'd added flyover Andean Parakeet, Variable Hawk, Rufous-capped Thornbill and Rufous Antpitta heard. During the afternoon worked our way below the station, to about 3,000 metres, but still cool with some fog. During a few bright patches, more activity presented Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Amethyst throated Sunangel, Collared Inca, Mountain Cacique, Pearled Treerunner, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Drab Hemispingus and Rust-and-yelllow Tanager. After sunset, Rufous-banded Owl, Swallow-tailed Nightjar and White-throated Screech Owl all heard but none seen.

Diademed Tapaculo
Diademed Tapaculo

Red-and-white Antpitta
Red-and-white Antpitta

9 Jul. An 06:30 start, heading downhill, with the sun warming the slopes early on. Some excellent early flocks with Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Plushcap and Hooded Mountain Tanager as well as Trilling Tapaculo in the undergrowth. We spent two to three hours trying to see Red-and-white Antpitta, several of which were calling from the surrounding slopes, but after several failures we finally obtained good views of an individual at around two metres only. By 14:00 we'd birded and walked at least 5-6 kilometres along the road, but failed to find the hoped for White-browed Hemispingus or Marcapata Spinetail.

Violet-fronted Brilliant
Violet-fronted Brilliant

Bolivian Squirrel
Bolivian Squirrel

We then drove farther downhill, as far as Cock-of-the-rock Lodge with a couple of stops along the way for tanager flocks, with Saffron-crowned Tanager, Golden-naped Tanager and Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer. This lodge proved one of the nicest places we stayed, with interesting feeders in the garden and excellent food and staff. The only minor downside was the lack of power in the rooms, meaning when full of customers, a tussle over the available outlets in the shared restaurant area - twenty people trying to charge several devices each with power only from 18:00 - 21:00 being somewhat a challenge.

10 Jul. Given rumours of Peruvian Piedtail visiting the garden feeders early morning, we were waiting expectantly at 05:30 pre-dawn. This turned out to be false hope and in reality the piedtail had not been seen there in a while, though not many people would be looking at that time of day. After an hour at the feeders, with White-bellied Hummingbird, White-bellied Woodstar, Violet-crowned Brilliant, Green Hermit, Long-tailed Sylph and Bronzy Inca, we hit the trails behind the lodge. Here we heard Yungas Manikin and saw Cerulean-capped Manikin, Slaty Tanager, Yellow-throated Tanager, Slaty Gnateater and Golden-eared Tanager. One good flock with Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer and Spotted Tanager. After lunch, walked the the trail behind the lodge again, this time finding Yungas Manakin as well as Brown Agouti.

In the afternoon sun a large number of stunning butterflies in evidence. At 14:30 we made our way to the Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek, where we'd previously made a reservation, but in the first hour and half only a pair of Orange-bellied Euphonia turned up! Finally at 16:15, when almost dark in the overcast late afternoon, the first Andean Cock-of the-rock arrived with up to five males and a single female following. Rain started at 17:00 when we returned to the lodge, with the rain continuing on/off all night, some heavy.

11 Jul. Rain easing by early morning. An 05:00 breakfast and back up the hill to the Rocotal area at 2,250 metres trying for a few specialities we'd missed on the way down. Cool and overcast so little activity.

Golden-headed Quetzal
Golden-headed Quetzal

 

The morning spent in a long walk, with several flocks. Best birds included Bolivian Tyrannulet, Inca Flycatcher, Buff-thighed Puffleg and Golden-headed Quetzal. Following lunch by the roadside we continued our walk, though activity poor with spots of rain eventually turning continuous by 16:30 when we returned. Rufescent Screech Owl in the garden after dark.

12 Jul. Left at 06:00 and headed in the opposite direction to yesterday, downhill, working the roadsides as far as 1,060 metres in several productive stops. First up was an attempt for Cinnamon-faced Tyrannulet, that was immediately successful, plus Yellow-crested Tanager for luck. Then further down seeking Peruvian Piedtail. Seeing this bird is like trying to see a wraith, and we heard several zipping past not even glimpsed. In the process we had Geoffroy's Wedgebill and Reddish Hermit. Back for lunch then searched the road near the lodge for Yellow-rumped Antwren. Many tanagers including Yellow-throated Tanager plus Yellow-throated Chlorospingus and Dusky-green Oropendola. All in all a great day with excellent weather - cloudy but dry and cool - very conducive to good birding and mixed flocks.

13 Jul. Drove straight down the hill for 40 minutes to start a three hour session trying to obtain better views of Peruvian Piedtail, that eventually was just about successful. More feeding flocks included Flame-crested Tanager and Yellow-crowned Flycatcher. We then moved into the hot lowlands to try, successfully, for Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher, but no luck with Bar-breasted Piculet. Continued to Villa Carmen Biological Research Station, where in the adjacent, very small, town we dropped in to the only clinic in an attempt to have an infected foot looked at. Initially we were surprised to find ourselves the only customers. That was until we were informed they were on strike, though they would deal with emergencies and were prepared to have a look at the foot. Only problem was no doctor or nurse available, though they reckoned they could russle-up a couple of medical students, though they were all out to lunch. So having checked into the research station we split into two, with the vehicle driving back to a previous village, 30 minutes away, in search of a nurse, while others checking the grounds of the station, finding Hoatzin, Cinereous Tinamou and Chestnut-fronted Macaw. After dark Tawny-bellied Screech Owl and Black-banded Owl heard. The station itself is pleasant to stay at, with 24 hour electricity and Internet, though it has only recently opened to visitors. For birders the main interest are the extensive areas of bamboo forest and a good trail network. Chiggers and mosquitos here though were the worst of our trip.

Cinereous Tinamou
Cinereous Tinamou

Black-capped Squirrel Monkey
Black-capped Squirrel Monkey

14 Jul. We started by walking Trail 2, spending all morning there. Some more notable species included King Vulture, Blue-headed Macaw, Reddish Hermit, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, Rufous-breasted Piculet, Red-billed Scythebill, Rufous-headed Woodpecker and Bluish-slate Antshrike.

South American Sipo
South American Sipo

Map Tree Frog
Map Tree Frog

Lowlight of the morning was another group of birders managing to grip us off with White-cheeked Tody Flycatcher. After lunch we concentrated on Trail 4, complete with its abandoned plane of 26 years - home to the impressive South American Sipo. However, little else seen. After dark, an exploration of the local pond for frogs, resulting in several species found, but even more chiggers to deal with.

15 Jul. A short search for White-cheeked Tody-Flycatcher was successful, though obtaining good views seemed nigh on impossible, after which we continued down the Manu Road with a few stops en route for better views of White-cheeked Tody Flycatcher and Chestnut-backed Antshrike. Arrived at Antalaya dock for 14:30, where we met our boat, said our good-byes to Walter and then a short 15 minute boat ride to Amazonia Lodge, with Fasciated Tiger Heron en route. Very pleased to find we were the only guests at the lodge. From 15:00 till dusk we simply birded the clearing around the lodge, with Black-banded Woodcreeper, Rufous-crested Coquette, Koepcke's Hermit, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Blue-tailed Emerald and Golden-tailed Sapphire. A great start. This lodge is simple and rustic, with shared bathrooms, though recently a few rooms have had private facilities installed. Having been in operation something like 30 years some maintenance would go a long way. Phone signal and 24 hour electricity was nice. Food fine.

16 Jul. An 04:30 owling session didn't produce the hoped for Black-banded Owl - just Tawny-bellied Screech Owl. Following breakfast we walked the wide trail from the back of the lodge, then took smaller trails along the lake edge before looping back by 12:00. Amazonian Antpitta seen fairly well eventually after a lot of effort. Fewer mosquitoes than Villa Carmen but chiggers still in evidence. Just before lunch a calling Scarlet-hooded Barbet had us running around like headless chickens with its constant movement between treetops. Late afternoon we revisited the bamboo habitat, successfully finding Dusky-cheeked Foliage-gleaner, but then had another runaround, this time from Plain Softtail.

17 Jul. Out at first light and a return to the bamboo area where a few specialists seen - Dusky-cheeked Foliage-gleaner and Flammulated Pygmy Tyrant, but no luck with Bamboo Antshrike. Blue-headed Macaw, Capped Heron, Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift and poor views of Plain Softtail were new for list. Back in to the forest after lunch to try for the difficult Black-capped Tinamou, where we ensconced ourselves behind some foliage and waited. We picked an area we'd heard Black-capped Tinamou earlier, and were amply rewarded after an hour wait when one rushed across a small clearing, and amazingly repeated the performance a couple more times. At dusk, a late try for Uniform Crake was unsuccessful. The onset of heavy rain at 18:00, together with an immediate temperature drop of 6 degrees, marked the onset of a southerly cold front, that had potential to mess up the next few days.

18 Jul. Heavy rain all night, eventually easing around 05:00, with a cool, very damp and overcast day and almost no bird activity. We had intended to use the last morning for a climb up the adjacent hill to the canopy lookout, but the rain had made trail conditions treacherous, so we had to content ourselves with a short walk on the loop to the river, that gave us Sand-coloured Nighthawk and Yellow-billed Tern. We left at 08:30 for a long, seven hour boat ride to Manu Wildlife Centre. With the full arrival of the cold front, conditions were more akin to an Atlantic pelagic, with Silverio reckoning he'd never been so cold in the Amazon. Even dressed as we were for the puna at 4,000 metres it still felt freezing. During the ride, a surreal fog ascending from the river as the air temperature dropped below the water temperature. Eventually arrived, frozen solid, at Manu Wildlife Centre around 15:45, to a balmy 11°C and immediately headed for a hot shower.

19 Jul. A cold night with the temperature up a tad by dawn to maybe 12°C - decidedly not Amazonian!, We started the day at the 40 metre canopy platform, with Lineated Woodcreeper, Spangled Cotinga, Guira Tanager, Ivory-billed Aracari, Black-tailed Trogon, Plain Softtail, Yellow-bellied Dacnis and White-winged Shrike-Tanager. After nearly three hours, descended and took a slow walk on trails near the lodge finding Dusky-throated Antshrike, Red-necked Woodpecker, Plain-throated Antwren and Olive-backed Foliage-gleaner. On return to the lodge, a couple of Blue-throated Piping Guan were waiting behind the kitchen for scraps. The afternoon spent in a walk through terra firma forest on the ridge above, though as usual rather quiet in the afternoons, with Red-stained Woodpecker, White-crowned Spadebill and Rufous-tailed Flatbill about the sum total. Late afternoon a female South American Tapir seen crossing the river by the lodge.

Tawny-bellied Screech Owl
Tawny-bellied Screech Owl

Hoatzin
Hoatzin

Rufous-crested Cocquette
Rufous-crested Cocquette

Black-headed Night Monkey
Black-headed Night Monkey

Masked Crimson Tanager
Masked Crimson Tanager

20 Jul. Following another cold night, out pre-dawn for another pelagic. This time, due to the thick fog along the river, the boatmen were forced to stop for 20 minutes due to non-existent visibility and the risk of ramming submerged trees in the river. So it was past 07:30 by the time to arrived at the other, truly impressive, canopy tower 30 minutes down river, with the huge platform nestled in a giant kapok tree at 45 metres plus, and with a commanding view of the surroundings. Unfortunately, the later than expected timing and the fog taking so long to lift meant early activity had finished and few birds of note found.

However, Slate-coloured Seedeater en route finally buried a nemesis species. The pick of the bunch went to Long-winged Antwren, Tui Parakeet, King Vulture, Black Caracara and Spot-breasted Woodpecker. Mid morning we took a very pleasant punt on the adjacent ox-bow lake, with Giant Otter, Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth, Pale-eyed Blackbird, Amazonian Swift and Purus Jacamar. Back to the lodge, and the afternoon spent on the the Grid Trails, though not so far, as a couple of good flocks kept us very occupied. Amazonian Pygmy Owl heard, Sclater's Antwren, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Chestnut-shouldered Antwren heard, Wing-barred Piprites, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper, Black-tailed Trogon and Pygmy Antwren.

21 Jul. Back on the boat at first light and down river for 20 minutes to the oxbow lake of Cocha Blanco, where we took another punt. Foggy along the river again but less so than yesterday as the temperature had risen slightly. Spent in the region of three hours here, with fantastic, cool, bright weather - Agami Heron, Black-billed Seed Finch, many Pale-vented Pigeon, Grey-breasted Crake, Horned Screamer, Anhinga, Blue-and-yellow Macaw and Orange-cheeked Parrot. Returned to the lodge and out again along the ridge trail in terra firma forest, for about 1.5 kilometres, finding Spotted Puffbird, Golden-collared Toucanet, Amazonian Pygmy Owl, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner and Elegant Woodcreeper. Our third day of being the only guests at the lodge.

22 Jul. Early morning at the parrot lick, that's a short ride down river. Light was excellent from 07:00 - 08:00, but it's important to arrive as early as possible as it's a couple of kilometres walk from the boat landing to the clay lick. This morning was actually the first day with a temperature approaching anything tropical. Arrived 06:45, and stayed longer than all other visitors, finally leaving 11:30.

Agami Heron
Agami Heron

Horned Screamer
Horned Screamer

Lesser Kiskadee
Lesser Kiskadee

Ocelot
Ocelot

Red-and-green Macaw
Red-and-green Macaw

South American Tapir
South American Tapir

Mid morning we had spectacular views of an Ocelot that attempted to lunge out of the forest onto the gathered Red-and-green Macaws, narrowly missing them, though evidently it occasionally succeeds. Parrots at, and around, the lick included, Orange-cheeked Parrot, Tui Parakeet, Manu Parrotlet, Blue-headed Parrot, Yellow-crowned Amazon and Southern Mealy Amazon. Late afternoon we birded farther into the Gird Trails - definitely in need of maintenance - hoping for Pale-winged Trumpeter without success, but excellent views of Needle-billed Hermit and Rufous-crowned Antthrush, White-bellied Parrot and Long-tailed Woodcreeper.

23 Jul. All day spent along the Collpa Trail, that runs for about four kilometres from the lodge to the salt lick, returning via the Creekside Trail. In the morning had a great encounter with White-browed Hawk. Also Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Wing-barred Piprites, Sclater's Antwren and Golden-collared Toucanet. Midday at the salt lick hide with lunch kindly bought out to us by the boatmen. It's possible to spend the night here as mattresses and mosquito nets are available. This would have been an excellent experience had we had time. Despite the heat of the day we encountered South American Tapir and Black Spider Monkey. Birds included Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, Green-backed Trogon and Variegated Tinamou.

24 Jul. A repeat, as yesterday, of the Collpa and Creekside Trails, since many species on our remaining targets would most likely be found along these. A frustrating experience with Pavonine Quetzal heard and promptly disappearing. This was tempered however with an excellent find of both Collared Puffbird and Semi-collared Puffbird. Having returned to the lodge for lunch, out again mid afternoon the whole length of the Collpa Trail, staying till dark when Ocellated Poorwill heard and a large owl, presumed to be Spectacled Owl, seen perched over the lick. Our main targets along the trail were Silky-tailed Nightjar and Long-tailed Potoo but neither seen, nor heard, and probably the biggest disappointment of our trip as both were major targets. Crested Owl common by voice.

25 Jul. Left early for the lengthy boat and truck journey to Puerto Maldonado, stopping early for 20 minutes in bamboo, trying for Peruvian Recurvebill and Cabanis's Spinetail, with the former seen well. Then almost three hours to Boca Colorado - a major blot on the landscape due to its gold mining activities - followed by an hour in a bush taxi, a further short boat trip then another three hours by van to Puerto Maldonado, stopping late in the trip for Point-tailed Palmcreeper. Overnight in town.

26 Jul. With our driver evidently unaccustomed to birders, he arrived 15 minutes late at 05:45. With limited time available we birded a couple of dirt roads at the edge of town.

Fasciated Tiger Heron
Fasciated Tiger Heron

Brown-mantled Tamarin
Brown-mantled Tamarin

Spectacularly successful really, with White-throated Jacamar, Black-banded Crake, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike and Brown-mantled Tamarin, together with a number of commoner lowland species padding the list due this being practically our first lowland birding outside of forest. Back by 08:30 for the hotel breakfast, due to our Latam flight to Cusco, where we reunited with our earlier driver, Walter. A near three hour drive to Andean Spirit Lodge, due mainly to horrendous traffic resulting from striking teachers blocking key roads in town and a large volume of trucks on the winding narrow mountain roads.

Pig hunter
Pig hunter

Koepcke's Screech Owl
Koepcke's Screech Owl

Eventually arrived at the lodge by 18:00, where straight out for night birds finding a couple of Koepcke's Screech Owl, but not Buff-fronted Owl.

27 Jul. Out at 04:30 to continue our owl hunt, but no further success. Drove to Soraypampa Road where we birding the whole length of the road, ascending to over 4,000 metres. Excellent birding and scenery, though the experience was somewhat diminished by the constant procession of tourist busses passing, sometimes at speed on this very dusty road. Initially we found the birding slow and struggled to find any of the specialities, but with perseverance we finished with all main targets in the bag - Vilcabamba Tapaculo, Apurimac Spinetail, Apurimac Brushfinch, White-tufted Sunbeam and Chestnut-breasted Mountain Finch. Left the area at 14:30 for the four hour drive to Cusco, that was again congested with strikes plus, this time, build up to independence day celebrations. Overnight at Casa Andina with dinner in the main square.

Apurimac Brushfinch
Apurimac Brushfinch

 

28 Jul. Left Cusco mid afternoon for a long series of flights home, flying Cusco - Lima - Houston - San Francisco - Hong Kong - Bangkok - Chiang Mai, losing a day crossing the dateline and eventually arriving back mid afternoon on 31 July. All in all an excellent trip, a wonderful experience and mostly very successful for our targets, though naturally a few missed we'd hoped to see.

Species List

Species list.