Trip organised through Barry Walker's Manu Expeditions Tour Company based in Cuzco. Guide for Manu portion was Colin Bushell of Toucan Tours Manuexpeemail@example.com
Participants Simon Hartill, Alan Baxter and 6 keen Swedish birders, Erling Jirle, Claes Engelbrecht, Per Alind, Joakim Johansson, Bengt-Eric Sjolinder and Nils Kjellen the Swedish Rarities Committee Chairman, an excellent birder with amazing eyesight. The Swedes had booked with Manu Expe before us. As the cost of travelling to the Manu is so high, especially for a party of only 2. We asked to join the 6 Swedes to save costs all round, reducing the overall per person cost for everyone. Hiring guides, boats, trucks, chartering aircraft and camping equipment does not come cheap in Peru!
Flight booked through WildWings, Iberian Airlines via Madrid £500. Total cost of holiday, inc. flight was £2700. Much cheaper than booking an organised 4 week tour with a UK Bird Tour Company such as BirdQuest. It probably would not have been possible to organise this trip without the wonders of modern technology such as the internet and e-mail. We had to pay Manu Expe in advance by wiring the US Dollars to their account in the USA. It was a nervous 2 week wait to receive final confirmation that the money had safely reached their bank account. At first they told us the money had not been received. Manu Expe's accounts and admin dept. left a lot to be desired. Despite this, the trip ran smoothly with no glitches, except for an increasingly violent student demonstration at Cuzco Airport, who threw rocks at our vehicle, protesting about an increase in bus fares! The police just stood back and let them throw rocks at any passing vehicle.
4/11/00 Left Heathrow at 7.30 a.m. to Madrid, connecting with the 13:15 Direct flight to Lima arriving at 18:30 Peruvian time. Flying past Maderia, the Canaries and across the Atlantic making landfall over the Amazon River Mouth, great views of the mighty Amazon from the air, huge tract of unbroken rainforest visible for over an hour. Taxi to the La Castellana Hotel in Miraflores. $50 for a twin room
5/11 Day spent around Miraflores, birding the beach and gardens of this upmarket part of Lima. Kelp Gulls, Peruvian Boobies and Pelicans, Rufous collared Sparrows, Vermillion Flycatcher (dark race) Band-tailed Gull, Amazilla Hummingbird, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Blue-grey Tanager etc.
6/11 Internal Flight Lima-Cuzco at 9.30 a.,m. 1 hour 15 mins, excellent views of the Andes. Checked into Hostal Pascana, $35 per night. Spent the p.m. around Sacsayhuuman Inca Ruins, highlights being Chiguanco Thrush, Ash-breasted Sierra Finch, Andean Tinamou, Hooded Siskin, Black-throated Flower Piercer, Blue/Yellow Tanager, Green Trainbearer. The rise in altitude from sea-level to 10,000 feet or so, soon had us all gasping for breath as we ascended the hill. Cocoa tea helped with the light headed symptoms.
7/11 Huacarpay Lakes, nr Cuzco. Lots of wildfowl and waders, highlights Bearded Mountaineer, Andean Nergrito, Collared Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Mountain Caracara, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Cinerous Conebill, Rusty fronted Canastero, Plumbeous Rail, Wren-like Rushbird, Puna Ibis, Giant Hummingbird, Many coloured Rush Tyrant, Wilsons Phalarope. The sunlight was very intense at this altitude, wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen. I got rather sunburnt here as there was little shade.
8/11 4.30am start in Volvo Overland Expedition Truck from Cuzco to Pilahautu high altitude camp (2800metres) on the famous Manu Road, via the Ajcanuca Pass at 3500m. Fantastic Andean Mountain scenary, pre Inca Ruins and Quechua indian villages. Highlights: Tyrean Metaltail, loads of Tanager species, Chestnut breasted Mountain Finch, Shining Sunbeam, Puna Thistletail, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Grey-breasted Toucan. When we arrived at the campsite Manu Expeditions staff had already set up camp for us. Swallow-tailed Nightjar tape lured in, an amazing bird. An excellent evening camp meal in the dining tent washed down with copious amounts of beer and whiskey to ward off the cold.
9/11 Cloud forest to Cock of the Rock Lodge, 91 species seen today, highlights the enigmatic and elusive Red and White AntPitta, tape lured out into the open. Gould's Inca, Citrine Warbler, Sword-b-Hummingbird, Black and Chestnut Eagle, Rufous crested Cotinga, Blue-banded Toucanet, Golden headed Quetzel, Streaked Tufted Cheek, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Lyre-tailed Nightjar at dusk.
10/11 more Cloud forest birding above the Cock of the Rock Lodge, Sparkling Violetear, Gray-b-WoodWren, Cock of the Rock male, Highland Motmot, Andean Solataire, Uniform Ant Shrike, Solitary Eagle, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Versi-coloured Barbet, Grey mantled Wren, Amazonian Unbrellabird, prolonged views in bare branches, Magpie Tanager
11/11 visited the Cock of the Rock lek at dawn, very noisy birds! Paradise, Blue naped, Palm. White winged, Scarlet and Swallow Tanagers, White capped Dipper. Maked Tityra, Cinammon faced Tyranulet and Sepia-capped Flycatcher.
12/11 Drove from Cock of the Rock Lodge down to the Amazonia Lodge leaving the Cloud Forest behind, descending into the Amazon lowlands, becoming hotter and more humid. Highlights Torrent Duck, 3 very obliging Lanceolated Monklets, loads of tanager species, Ornate Flycatcher, Peruvian Piedtail, Rufous crested Coquette, Epulet Oriole, Long-tailed Tyrant, Chestnut fronted Macaw, Chestnut eared Aracari, Yellow headed Vulture, Emerald Toucanet, Blue-headed Macaw. Took the boat across the Madre de Dios to the Amazonia Lodge.
13/11 Road opposite the Amazonia Lodge; Capped Heron, Military, Scarlet Macaws, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, WS Tanager, White vented Euphonia, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Black-throated and Black Antbirds, Opal-rumped Tanager. Lots of the weird but wonderful Sensitivae plant by the roadside, Minosa pudica. The leaves of the plant roll up when stroked in 2-3 seconds, a moving plant, perhaps they are as interesting as birds!
Amazonia Lodge Clearing, very hot and humid this afternoon, Common Potoo, Masked Crimson Tanager, Black fronted Nunbird, Great Potoo, Blue crowned Trogon. Jeep Trail - Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Black faced Donocobis. Hoatzins or stinkbirds as they are known locally, amazing creatures and remarkably common and confiding. Ruddy necked Wood Rail, Black-tailed Trogon, Fork-tailed Wood Nymph, Blue-tailed Emerald, Golden-tailed Sapphire. Heard the elusive Amazonian Ant Pitta calling.
14/11 Amazonia Lodge trails; Short-tailed Swift, White-lined Antbird, White-bearded Hermit, Purplish Jay, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Yellow-browed Tody Flycatcher, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Pale-legged Hornero, very confiding on the lawn of the lodge garden and more along the stream behaving like a Waterthrush. Ornate Hawk Eagle, White lored Euphonia, Troupial, fantastically bright bird!, more Hoazins, Bluish fronted Jacamar, Blueish Slate Antshrike, Gouldis Antbird, Chestnut capped Puffbird, Long winged AntWren and Red billed Scythebill the highlights.
15/11 Jeep Track - Black capped Tinamou, Pectoral Sparrow, high pitched "tseep" call, Plum throated Cotinga. Stonking views in the lodge clearing, Agoutis, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Tiny Hawk, Band-tailed Manakin, Linneated Woodpecker, Blackish Rail. Heard a loud growl coming from the forest near the jeep track. Jaguars have been sighted here infrequently so beat a hasty retreat as it was just myself and Alan at the time.
Some of the others went up the Ridge Trail but there had been heavy wind and rain overnight making it very treacherous and muddy with fallen down trees blocking the path. I chickened out and birded an easier trail but some of the others persevered, and saw some good birds risking life and limb clambering up slippery slopes and getting stung by some angry wasps from a nest in a fallen down tree. However, I was to experience a similar encounter with these nasty wasps later on in the trip!
16/11 Jeep Trail early a.m. more of the same and a Johan's Tody Fly. We departed the Amazonia Lodge at 9.30 for the long motorised dugout canoe ride up the Rio Alto Madre de Dios river to its confluence with the Manu River (about 4 hours) and then another 2 hours to the Manu Wildlife Centre with a few stops on the way. Highlights were Black Caracara, Skimmer, White-necked and Capped Herons, White banded Swallow, Roseate Spoonbills, King Vultures, Green and Yellow Macaws, Orinoco Geese, Pied Lapwing, Swallow Wing, Large-billed Tern, Horned Screamer, Jabiru Stork and some Sand-coloured Nighthawks, perched on a floating log in the Manu River.
Also saw and videoed a large Bush Master Snake when we stopped for a picnic lunch beside the Madre de Dios. It was found by our boatmen, as they clambered about on some washed up logs. Not a snake you would want to get too close to. Allegedly the most venomous snake of Amazonia! A few years ago an American birder was bitten by one whilst staying at the Amazonia Lodge, at the now infamous "Bushmaster Corner" on the Hoatzin Trail, according to our guide Colin Bushell. The birder had to have his leg amputated but he survived the ordeal. Food for thought when quietly birding the forest trails looking up towards the canopy rather than down at your feet where a snake may be lying camouflaged. A golden rule of birding the trails in the forest is to look over on the other side of fallen down branches/logs to ensure there isn't a snake curled up on the other side!
17/11 Manu Wildlife Centre (MWC) a.m on the Grid Trail. Stayed in one of the en-suite bungalows at the comfortable MWC. An exciting place to stay deep in the heart of primary rainforest with a variety of different habitats on the extensive trail system, with varzea forest, tierra firme, transitional floodplain, bamboo, 4 ox-bow lakes and just downstream from the Blanquillo Macaw Lick. MWC has Peru's only 40 metre high tree platform accessed up a disconcerting spiral staircase.
During the morning we saw Black fronted Nunbirds, an Undulated Tianamou calling, Lesser Greenlet, Spot winged AntShrike, Black capped Becard, White winged Shrike Tanager, White tailed Trogon, Black faced Antbird, White necked Thrush and loads of Screaming Pihas calling, the ubiquitous sound of countless wildlife documentaries of the rainforest. More birds followed with Grayish Mourner, Speckled Spinetail, White eyed Atalia, Sepia capped Flycatcher, Spix's Woodcreeper, Schlater's AntWren, Collared Trogon, Grey Tinamou, Long winged AntWren, Red crowned AntTanager, Stipple-throated AntWren, Dwarf Tyrant Manakin, rather dull as apposed to the Turquoise Tanagers, Double-toothed Kites, feeding young at the nest by the lodge bar.
Cocha Blanco Ox-bow Lake p.m.We were punted around the lake on a floating platform strapped to 2 canoes, a rather pleasant and relaxing way to bird the afternoon. Sungrebe showed well, Blue-throated Piping Guan, King Vulture, Red capped Cardinal, Red and Yellow, Red and Green Macaws, Snail and Swallow winged Kites, Amazon Oropendula, Curviers Toucan, Capabara and turtles, Opal-crowned Tanagers, Black-collared Hawk, Grey-sided Crake, Green Kingfisher, Horned Screamers,
18/11Blanquillo Macaw Lick from floating boat hide - One of the highlights of the trip, an amazing technicolor spectacle as hundreds of Parrots descended onto the clay cliffs to take their daily dose of kaolin to neutralise the poisons and acids of the fruit they eat. The floating hide enabled us to get within 25 metres of the birds as we sipped coffee and were served a picnic breakfast by attentive staff, this is my sort of birding, beats the hell out of trudging along dark muddy forest trails in high humidity!
Mealy and Blue headed Parrots were the commonest with about 150 of each. Mixed in were 15 Orange cheeked Parrots. After the parrots had finished, 65 Red and Green Macaws flew in with a few Scarlets. Also saw some Piping Guans eating clay from the cliff. Ticked Muscovy Duck on the river, a wild one plus a stunning Great Black Hawk and some Green Ibis.
Cocha Negro and Clearing. Chestnut Jacamar, Great SeedFinch, Sungrebes (4), more Hoatzins, Slate coloured Hawk, Agami Heron - huge! Sunbittern, White bearded Hermit on the feeder back at the lodge.
p.m. Trail by River more Antbirds and Ant Thrushes, Buff fronted Foliage Gleaner, Scarlet bibbed Barbet, Paraque flying around the cabin at dusk.
19/11Canopy Tree Platform. Double toothed Kites eating cicadas above us. Yellow ridge Toucan, Ringed Woodpecker, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Bare-necked Fruit Crow, White-lored and Orange-bellied Euphonias. Guira Tanager, very nice, White necked Puffbird, Gilded Barbet, White bellied Parrots.
In the afternoon we all trudged off to the Tapir Lick for the evening, seeing a brief, elusive Thrushlike AntPitta, Red stained Woodpecker, Royal Flycatcher en-route. We stayed till 9.30 p.m. during which time most of us fell asleep, including our guide lying on our comfortable mattresses, under mosquito nets in the hide. Didn't see any Tapirs, but heard several large mammals walking around the hide. The lick is an ideal place for a Jaguar to lie in wait for an unsuspecting Tapir. It was a brisk one hour walk back to the lodge in the dark, making lots of noise to scare off any snakes on the footpath.
20/11 Cocha Blanco early a.m. Green and Rufous Kingfisher, Rufous bellied and Yellow crowned Parrots, Ladder-tailed Nightjars perched up on branches overhanging the water, Am. Parrotlet, Ferruginous Pgymy Owl, looking out of its nesthole in a dead tree, Silvered Antbird, Barred Woodcreeper.
Lookout Trail, Red necked Woodpecker, fantastic bird, Bartlett's Tinamous, good view of Screaming Pihas at last, White eyed Ant Wren. More Ladder-tailed Nightjars and 200 Sand-coloured Nighthawks on the shingle bank opposite the lodge in the River at dusk, superb as they all took off together.
21/11 heavy rain and lightning overnight continuing into the morning, a short respite from the downpour induced us to venture out but the rain soon returned and so did we to the lodge. Eventually the weather cleared and we ascended the Canopy Tower. 5+ Black Spider Monkeys were very impressive as they launched themselves from tree to tree. Excellent canopy birding with loads of brightly coloured tanagers and barbets but nothing new except a Forest Eleania and White winged Shrike Tanager.
The Grid p.m. saw several unidentified snake species slither off the footpath ahead of us, probably viper spp. Wedge-billed and Long-billed Woodcreepers, Buff-rumped and Buff-fronted Foliage Gleaners, Gilded Barbets, Ruddy Quail Dove, Peccary, White faced Capuchins, Orange fronted Plushcrown, Semi-collared Puffbird, Collared Trogon, 400 Sand-coloured Nighthawks tonight on the river island.
22/11Cocha Nueva a.m. Black-faced Ant Thrush, Musician Wren (amazing song, one bird that is worth ticking on call) although we did see it quite easliy. Rufous capped Nunlet, Manu Antbird, Pale-legged Hornero, Thrush-like Wren, Rufous capped Ant Thrush, Iring's Ant Wren, Rufous Pickulet, White cheeked Tody Fly.
p.m. The Grid. Silver backed Tamarins, White crested Spadebill, Grey-headed Kite, heard the Elusive AntPitta calling. Colin tried to tape lure it in but to no avail as expected. Very few birders have seen one. Not even Barry Walker has clapped eyes on one yet, and he part owns the MWC! Dipped the Trumpeters again this afternoon, the second time I was at the back of the crocodile line of birders and only the ones at the front saw them, less said about this infamous dip the better. If you want to see Trumpeters go into the forest on your own or make sure you are at the front, take point position as American Soldiers say.
The Swedes decided to trek back to the Tapir Lick for the evening and were rewarded with a good view of a Tapir, a horse type creature with a shortened elephant prehensile trunk. The largest mammal in the Amazon.
23/11 Island in the River. Cream-coloured Woodpecker, Great-billed Hermit, White bearded Hermit, Large headed Flatbill, White-browed Antbird, Dusky-tailed Flatbill. Dipped the Peruvian Recurvebill which were not following the script or tape lure in the bamboo. Worse was to come though when we had to step over a fallen down tree blocking the footpath. Our Guide woke the wasps up, Erling and Nils got them angry, I was the fourth in line and got stung about 6 times along with the 2 Swedes in front. Took it easy in the afternoon as it was raining, watching the hummingbird feeders. Our last night at the famous MWC
24/11 Left early for the boat ride to the Bocu Manu Airstrip. Saw a long (2m) snake with a bright green head on an island in the river as we passed by in the boat. Pied Lapwings, Spotted Sandpiper, Jabiru Storks, Large billed Terns, Peccary swimming across the river. We had to wait an hour or so for our chartered Beechcraft 16 seater plane to arrive to whisk us back over the rainforest and Andes to Cuzco. A spectacular flight and exciting take off from this little grass airstrip cut out from the forest. Transferred back to Hostal Pascana in central Cuzco. Spent the rest of the day sightseeing in Cuzco with a decent Pizza in a restuarant overlooking the Plaza Square in the evening.
25/11 Cuzco - Ollantaytambo. More shopping and sightseeing in the morning, with an excellent Fillet Mignon for lunch, a nice change. The food at MWC was a bit bland, not up to the standard of the restaurants in Cuzco. The minibus taxi picked us up at 2 p.m. for the drive to Ollantaytambo on the winding Andean Inca Roads. Spectacular scenary through the Urambamba Valley. Lots of Mountain Caracaras, Andean Flickers and Torrent Tyranulets. Walked around the Inca Fortress at Olantaytambo and hotel gardens. Giant Hummingbird, Black-backed Grosbeak, Golden-billed Saltator, Bearded Mountaineer again, Andean Swifts.
Booked the 10.45a.m. train for tomorrow morning to Machu Picchu, $25 economy class which was very comfortable. Tourists are prevented from using the dirt cheap local trains.
26/11Machu Picchu. Saw 10+ Torrent Ducks on the way up to the Inca Citadel. Suffice to say that despite having seen Machu Picchu loads of times on TV, it was fantastic, on a par with the Taj Mahal in India. Just find a quiet spot and soak up the atmosphere and history of the place in its mountain setting, wonderful. Still good birds to be had as well with Green and White Hummingbird, Inca Wrens, Variable Antshrike, Spot-billed Ground Tyrant, Mitred Parakeets, Torrent Ducks and White-capped Dippers. Got the train back to Ollantaytambo for the night.
27/11Abra Malaga. Left the hotel at the ridiculously early hour of 4a.m for the tortuous drive up the mountain to the fabled remnant polylepis wood at Abra Malaga. Very cold first thing but the scenary and birding made up for it. Andean Goose, Streak-throated and Lime-fronted Canasteros, Puna Hawk, Rufous-rumped Tit Spinetail, Giant Conebill (like a Nuthatch), Blue-black Conebill, Tit-like Dacnis.
More lifers followed with Andean Tapaculo, Tawny Tit Spinetail, Great Sapphire Wing, then we had that Condor moment. When the shout went up I was in the trees and had to scramble up to the clearing as fast as I could to see this huge vulture soar overhead and glide off along the Andean Ridge, fantastic. Quality Polylepis birding continued with Black Siskin and Stripe-headed Ant Pitta showing well, but only because its habitat had been partially chopped down by locals for firewood. It will all be gone in a few years sadly. Pride of place went to the Royal Cinclodes that showed fairly well, another bird surely destined for extinction in the not too distant future if the current rate of deforestation continues. Also saw White winged Dica Finch, Plain capped Ground Tyrant, Tufted Tit Tyrant, Shining Sunbeam, Aplomoda Falcons, Moustached Flowerpiercer, Plain coloured and Plumbeous Seedeaters, Pale Treerunner, Chestnut-bellied Mountain Tanager, White-browed Conebill, Paramo Seed eater, Coppery-naped Puffleg, Violet-throated Starfrontlet and Blue-mantled Thornbill. Returned to Cuzco exhausted but very happy with the birding.
28/11 Cuzco - Lima. Flew back to Lima early a.m. trying to avoid the student demonstration on the approach road to Cuzco airport. Minibus to the coastal desert habitat of Lomas de Lachay with Barry Walker as our guide. Red-backed Hawk, Groove-billed Ani, Greyish Miner, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle. Star target bird was the Cactus Canastero, a Peruvian endemic along with specialities such as Ramondis Yellow Finch, Oasis Hummingbird, Least Seed Snipe, Coastal Miner, Yellowish Pipit, Thick billed Miner that responded very enthusiastically to Barry's tape. Peruvian Meadowlark and Thick Knee, Croaking Ground Dove, Collared Warbling Finch, Purple-collared Woodstar, Short-tailed Field Tyrant, Scrub Blackbird, Burrowing Owl and thousands of Franklins Gulls on the beach.
This was our last day with the Swedes as they were continuing their trip with Barry up to the high altitude bog for Diademed Sandpiper Plover which they saw and the Junin Grebe. The lucky Swedes had an additional week in Peru more than us Brits which also included a pelagic and trip to the seabird islands. We had to make do with one last day in Peru birding around Lima, which we made the most of.
29/11 Lima - Pucasana and Villa Marshes. Stayed at the Mahatten Hotel near the airport $55 each. Got a local taxi down the coast to Pucasana Harbour and hired a very small old boat to cruise around the coast. Surfbirds, Black Oystercatcher, Guanoy Cormorant, Kelp Gulls and best of all loads of stunning Inca Terns. Also Red legged Cormorants and Seaside Cinclodes plus seals. Dipped out on the Penguin none to be found. Drove back towards Lima and stopped off at the Pantanosa de Villa Marshes Reserve. White cheeked Pintails, Great Grebe, 6000+ Franklins Gulls! Cinammon Teal, Night Herons, Many-coloured Bush Tyrant, Striated Heron, Peregrine, Pied-billed Grebe, Puna Ibis. A nice way to round off the trip.
574 species of bird in 25 days, far too many to take in. I have already forgotten many of the LBJs, they are just names in a notebook, cannot recall actually seeing them let alone identify them again, especially all those dull boring flycatchers! I will remember most, the spectacular species, such as Cock of the Rock, Condor, Quetzels, Macaws and Hummingbirds. The spectacle of the Colpa Clay Cliff with its Parrots and Macaws and stunning Machu Picchu, is etched into my memory forever.
Left Lima at 10 p.m for the long flight back to Madrid and onto Heathrow arriving at 5.30 p.m. UK time. The baggage never made the connection in Madrid, it arrived the next day by courier. Better to have this happen on the flight home than on the way out.