Manu is legendary among birders. From the highlands near Cusco, the Manu Road snakes down almost 4,000 meters to the rich tropical forests of the Amazon basin. Nearly 1,000 species of birds have been recorded in this transect. Having lived in Bolivia for four years, organizing a Manu trip had been on the back burner for some time. But it was a posting last year on the BIRDCHAT listserve that finally provided the impetus for this trip. In October 1999, Paul Champlin posted a summary of his field work at a number of lodges in southern Peru and northern Bolivia and called Pantiacolla the "best birding lodge" in the southwest Amazon. In just over a month, he reported seeing over 500 species, quickly putting it on a par with the more famous Manu Wildlife Center.
Since in September 1999 I had organized a trip to Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in northern Bolivia through the Ornifolks network of travelling birders (www.ornifolks.com), Pantiacolla seemed like a natural choice for a group trip since it would be difficult (and expensive) for myself as an independent "solo birder." After every trip to Amazonian lowlands, I always seem to wish I had "just a couple more days" in the rainforest, thus I made the early decision to spend a good chunk of the trip in the lowlands at Pantiacolla lodge to really do justice to the tremendous diversity. As it was, we spent six full days at Pantiacolla (seven nights) and roughly an equal number of days birding at higher altitudes.
Overall, it is fair to say that Pantiacolla delivered. Although little visited by birders, Pantiacolla has a good, very well-maintained trail network, including trails climbing up to remnant cloud forest at 1,000 meters. Outstanding varzea forest, including some extensive bamboo, is close to the lodge and proved to hold a number of range restricted species. Key specialties seen included: Blue-headed Macaw, White-cheeked Tody-Tyrant, Bamboo Antshrike and Manu Antbird. No one in our group had been to Manu Wildlife Center, so comparisons are difficult to make, but Pantiacolla certainly offers a lot to birders. Marianne (e-mail: email@example.com) at the Pantiacolla office in Cusco proved to be of enormous help in planning for the trip. You can check out their website at www.pantiacolla.com.
Including our guide, Bennett Hennessey, we were eight in total (Carolyn, Marianne, Bob, Bobbie, Travis, Alfred and myself). The group could have easily grown to 12 or 14 due to strong interest in the trip on the Ornifolks birding network (www.ornifolks.org), but we chose to keep it small as rainforest birding is not conducive to large groups.
October 7: Lima October 8: Lima to Cusco; Huacarpay Lakes. October 9: Cusco to Ajanaco pass (4000m) to Pillahuata (2500m). October 10: Pillahuata to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge (1500m). October 11: Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge (1500m). October 12: Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge to river port of Atalaya to Pantiacolla Lodge. October 13-18: Pantiacolla Lodge. October 19: Pantiacolla Lodge to Cusco. October 20: Sacsayhuman ruins above Cusco. October 21: Cusco to Aguas Caliente. October 22: Aguas Caliente and Machu Picchu. October 23: Aguas Caliente to Cusco. October 24: Cusco to Lima; Callao
Field Guides (both kinds):
We brought just about every conceivable field guide. Between the eight of us we had:
Birds of the High Andes by Jon Fjeldsa and Niels Krabbe: Indispensable for the humid montane forest on upper Manu Road above 2500 meters. We brought one copy of the text and three sets of plates.
The Birds of South America Volumes 1 and 2 by Robert Ridgley and Guy Tudor: Although heavy (we brought one copy of the text and two sets of the plates) and limited to the passerines, we spent more time referring to these two volumes during the evening hours than any others.
Birds of Columbia by Steve Hilty: A few of the most interesting and puzzling birds from Manu NP do not range into Colombia and thus are missing from this field guide. But it was otherwise a very useful addition. We must have had at least three copies between us. Ironic how the country with the best national field guide is virtually off-limits to birders these days...
The Tanagers by Morton and Phyllis Isler: Excellent coverage of the tanagers. Recently (1999) reprinted (but not revised). A nice addition to our trip library!
A Guide to the Birds of South America by Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee: Now 30 years old, but this granddaddy of the South America guides still has excellent text accounts. It was a nice luxury to have along.
South American Birds: A Photographic Guide to Identification: by John Dunning: Can't really remember us referring to this one that often...
In retrospect, the first three entries listed above would be the most important ones to consider for anyone planning a similar trip.
Our guide was Bennett Hennessey, a Canadian ornithologist who lives in Bolivia and does guiding at times to supplement his income as a full-time ornithologist. He proved to have extensive experience with the birds of the Amazonian lowlands. Coupled with his outstanding knowledge of bird sounds, he had a collection of "reference tapes" at his fingertips that permitted the use of immediate playback on some of the more difficult to see species. Indeed, on the entire trip I cannot remember a single bird that we saw at least reasonably well or were calling/singing that went unidentified.
Cusco: Our first two nights in Cusco we stayed at the Hotel Bellavista just off the Avenida de Sol. Smallish rooms, but clean with a friendly and helpful front desk and cable TV. Upon our return to Cusco on October 19th, we stayed at the Hotel Prisma, a three-star hotel like the Bellavista, but closer to the main plaza and perhaps a little nicer (but no cable TV). Actually, we did not originally plan to change hotels, but there was a large group of rowdy students at the other hotel and the attentive hotel manager at the Bellavista thought we would be more comfortable at their sister hotel, the Hotel Prisma. Lo que sea. The negotiated price (in advance) at each was $35 per double including breakfast, less than half the posted rate. I relied on the advice and help of a friend in Cusco in identifying and booking the hotels.
Pillahuata: Essentially a roadside clearing with a couple buildings, Pillahuata could be considered, in the words of a real estate agent, charmingly "rustic." Beds with mosquito nets were in two communal rooms, one for the men and one for the women (visions of summer camp?). But, if as in the real estate lexicon the three most important characteristics are location, location, and location, then Pillahuata cannot be beat. Perched at 2800 meters, there are no other options (other than camping) for birders who want to wake up and start birding in upper montane humid forest.
Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge: A newish lodge at 1600m on the Manu Road, just down from the famous Manu road Cock-of-the Rock lek. Very nice, especially after the minor hardships of Pillahuata. The rooms were a bit small, but service and food were excellent. And from the dining room one could relax and watch an amazing feeder filled with fresh fruit as well as hummingbird feeders that attracted some real gems.
Pantiacolla Lodge: As mentioned, Pantiacolla has only effectively been open to tourists for two years. In fact, we may have been the first true "birding group" to visit. In general, I think we all found it a very pleasant place to stay. Service by the Pantiacolla staff was excellent and our host Raoul was both gracious and extremely accommodating. Pantiacolla is in a clearing with a large thatch dining room forming the heart of the facility. Accommodation is double-occupancy in detached cabañas, linked by paths to the main dining area. Food was simple but very good and filling (second helpings were happily provided). The few disadvantages including the fact that there were only two bathrooms. Not a problem for eight birders, but when a group of 12 language students arrived on Monday, the guest-to-bathroom ratio increased considerably. To the credit of the Pantiacolla staff, a good job was done of keeping the bathrooms clean and, with the differing schedules of early-to-rise birders and students, no lines formed outside the bathrooms. Apparently Pantiacolla has already broken ground on a new bathroom complex. Another pet-peeve: no screens in the rooms. But mosquito nets were provided and mosquitos were almost non-existent near the lodge. Finally, cats are kept as pets by Pantiacolla staff, something certainly not compatible with an ecotourist lodge.
Health and Safety:
A medical practitioner in South America tells me that the conventional wisdom in South America is that one in four visitors get some type of stomach upset during their trip that causes them to curtail their activities. Our experience provided strong support from such percentages: two members of our group of eight came down with upset stomachs, with one person finding the bug somewhat hard to shake and losing some birding time.
Our visit happened to coincide with an ongoing political scandal in Peru that caused the then President to call for new elections and created rumors of a military coup. However, despite the hyperbole on CNN, there was really no effect on the tourist areas near Cusco and in Manu. Peru has effectively contained or eliminated the guerrilla groups that kept most birders away for much of the 1980s. Like hundreds of Manu birders before us, we never felt threatened nor had safety concerns other than taking the normal precautions against pickpockets and purse snatching in downtown Cusco.
This being the end of the dry season, we were very lucky with the weather. We had a little rain near the cumbre on the Manu road on the 9th but no birding time was lost to rain during the entire trip. Pantiacolla was rather hot and humid, but there was cloud cover on several days that certainly kept the birds more active. It rained during the nighttime hours at Pantiacolla on a couple occasions, but each morning dawned clear and cloudless. We had quite a storm on our last night at Pantiacolla that considerably raised the water levels of the Alto Madre de Dios, making our return upriver somewhat exciting!
Some of the more interesting or noteworthy birds are described in this day-by-day account. A full list of species seen appears at the end of this report.
October 7: Lima
I had an unexpected day in Lima due to problems flying out to Cusco that morning, a combination of a late flight in from Miami and misplaced luggage (by the carrier) in Lima. I made the best of it by birding a few city parks close to the luxurious downtown hotel (Sheraton) that I was put up. Birds observed here which were not seen elsewhere on the trip were CROAKING GROUND-DOVE,WHITE-WINGED DOVE (the genetically distinct desert coastal form) and VERMILION FLYCATCHER (the dark morph peculiar to Lima). The latter was a real puzzler!
October 8: Lima to Cusco and the Huacarpay Lakes
I was finally put on a flight out but had to get to Cusco via a stopover at Arequipa. Half of our group arrived in the morning of the 8th, so after dropping off luggage (and a short nap for some), we met at noon for an excursion to the Huacarpay Lakes (3,200 m.) outside of Cusco. Unfortunately, our rented van broke down a couple miles from the lakes, but we were able to quickly find a taxi that took us to the far shore where we hoped to find the endemic Bearded Mountaineer in the roadside tobacco plants. (Another vehicle was sent to replace the van and arrived within an hour). We soon got excellent looks at the BEARDED MOUNTAINEER and also added GIANT HUMMINGBIRD, GREEN-TAILED TRAINBEARER and SPARKLING VIOLETEAR to our list of hummingbirds. Other highlights include excellent looks at a MANY-COLORED RUSH-TYRANT foraging on the ground in the open, a WREN-LIKE RUSHBIRD, PLUMBEOUS RAIL, not to mention a variety of high Andean waterfowl. Dinner in Cusco at the El Paititi restaurant with live Andean music to boot.
October 9: Cusco to Ajanaco pass to Pillahuata
The road to Manu! We left the hotel at 5 AM and transferred to our vehicle for the next few days: a six wheel Russian-made Zil. Formerly a troop carrier, it was imported to Peru by an oil company, and later outfitted for tourists for travel on the sometimes rough and muddy Manu road. The very high clearance meant that the Zil offered excellent views from the bus-like seats (the only drawback being the effort climbing UP into the vehicle). Since it seated 24, the eight of us and our cook Orlando and driver Emilio were very comfortable.
Leaving Cusco and passing through heavily farmed Altiplano communities, the first birds were SPOT-WINGED PIGEON, TORRENT TYRANNULET, BROWN-BELLIED SWALLOW. As we approached Ajanco pass, ANDEAN FLICKER, VARIABLE HAWK, ANDEAN LAPWING and MOUNTAIN CARACARA were seen in the sparse, arid environment outside our windows. After breakfast in the Quechua town of Paucartambo, we made the last climb to the cumbre at 4,100 meters and then descended down the eastern slope into humid montane forest. Our first stop, a short hike just below the pass offered up SHINING SUNBEAM, RUFOUS-BREASTED CHAT-TYRANT, BLUE-BACKED CONEBILL,BLACK-THROATED FLOWERPIERCER, MOUSTACHED FLOWERPIERCER and SCARLET-BELLIED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER. After passing a sign noting the Manu Biosphere Reserve entrance, we stopped and birded in the light rain and mist at 3,350 meters and found a PUNA THISTLETAIL foraging low. We made several more stops between 3,000 and 2,700 meters and recorded HOODED TINAMOU (calling frequently), GRASS-GREEN TANAGER, PLUM-CROWNED PARROT, MASKED FLOWERPIERCER and CITRINE WARBLER. We heard Mountain-Toucans calling in the ravine below us, but we were unable to lure them in with playback.
At dusk we arrived at Pillahauta and part of the group quickly located a singing UNDULATED ANTPITTA that was seen very well perched about a meter off the ground right below the cabin. Orlando, our cook, put together a great meal of soup and spaghetti under rather primitive conditions. Afterwards we walked up the road for nightbirds. We heard a SWALLOW-TAILED NIGHTJAR but we were not lucky enough to see it. We also heard ANDEAN PYGMY-OWL and RUFOUS-BANDED OWL.
October 10: Pillahuata to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge
An early breakfast at Pillahauta of pancakes and then we began walking down the Manu road from 2,500 meters towards the Cock-of-the-Rock lodge at 1,500 meters. Our plan was to let Orlando and Emilio pack up the truck and then continue downhill to pick us up in a few hours. For many of us, this proved to be one of the favorite days of the trip: not only did was see a host of interesting birds, but on this day the birds seemed to never stop!
In the clearing near Pillahauta, in the early dawn light we found BLUE-CAPPED TANAGER, BAND-TAILED PIGEON, a very close CRIMSON-MANTLED WOODPECKER and GLOSSY-BACKED THRUSH. Walking downhill, we came across a BARRED BECARD, WHITE-COLLARED JAY, DUSKY-GREEN OROPENDOLA and SUPERCILIARIED HEMISPINGUS. At 2,400 meters, we encountered a nice slow-moving flock and were able to follow it for the next hour. The flock included CAPPED CONEBILL, WHITE-THROATED TYRANNULET, BLACK-CAPPED HEMISPINGUS, RUFOUS-CHESTED TANAGER, GOLDEN-BILLED SALTATOR (somewhat of a surprise to us in humid montane forest), BLUE-BANDED TOUCANET and MASKED TROGON. We heard several RED-AND-WHITE ANTPITTAS calling as we walked downhill, but despite repeated efforts at playback, we were unable to see one. By 9am, we were at 2,200 meters and had another flurry of activity with MOUNTAIN CACIQUE, BROWN-CAPPED VIREO, STREAKED TUFTEDCHEEK and BLUE-NECKED TANAGER.
By lunchtime, we arrived at the Cock-of-the-Rock lodge (1,600 m.), our home for the next two nights. We were immediately bowled over by the fruit feeders that had attracted a bright male VERSICOLORED BARBET that was eating papaya just a few feet away. GOLDEN TANAGER and ORANGE-BELLIED EUPHONIA were also regular visitors to the feeders. At the hummingbird feeders, the most common bird was the VIOLET-FRONTED BRILLIANT. After lunch, we hiked uphill a few hundred meters to the Cock-of-the-Rock lek. But before arriving, Bennett spotted a SOLITARY EAGLE circling above a distant ridge. Unlocking the gate, we entered a roadside hide that offered views of several males and one female ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK at a lek. As we strolled a little further uphill and then made our way back down, the birds kept coming, with FAWN-BREASTED TANAGER, OLIVACEOUS SISKIN, GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER, the somewhat rare and local LEMON-BROWN FLYCATCHER that Alfred got in his scope, BLUE-NAPED CHLOROPHONIA, and MARBLE-FACED BRISTLE-TYRANT.
October 11: Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge
After a restful night, we awoke to a foggy and wet morning. Our plan was to take the Zil back up the Manu road a few hundred meters in altitude and bird our way down. As we twisted and climbed back up the road many probably hoped never to see again, Bob spotted a WHITE-CAPPED DIPPER out the window at 1,625 meters near a waterfall. We all piled out and got some nice views. We continued climbing in the Zil up to 1,800 meters (about 8 kilometers up the road from Cock-of-the-Rock lodge) where we got out and began walking back down.
Birding was a bit slow, but as we walked down, our patience was rewarded with WHITE-CROWNED TAPACULO (heard only), SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD, SHORT-TAILED PYGMY-TYRANT, BLUISH FLOWERPIERCER, SLATE-THROATED and SPECTACLED WHITESTARTS (in the same foraging flock at 1,750 meters). Most of us also got good looks at WHITE-EARED SOLITAIRE, except for Travis who only got a glimpse of the head. (But by the end of the day, Travis had also seen, at various times, glimpses of the underparts, legs, back of the White-eared Solitaire, so someone pointed out that he had seen the whole bird, just not at one time!).
At 1,700 meters, we came across a troupe of eight or more Woolly Monkeys that we followed for a while along the roadside. Since the birding was somewhat slow, we blamed the lower than apparently normal temperatures. After enjoying some GREEN JAYS passing through, someone noticed a GOLDEN-HEADED QUETZAL, perched on a roadside snag further back up the hill. After distant but unsatisfying views, we slowly backtracked towards the queztal. Every dozen meters we stopped for more views. Finally, we had approached within 10 meters of the queztal. This quetzal simply could not be spooked (and, diplomatically speaking, we were not a very quiet or stealthy group). We stood on the roadside, chatting and looking at the quetzal for 15 minutes or so. From 10 meters, we could see the details of each feather that almost seemed to form metallic armour on the breast. Simply outstanding. In fact, a week later when we voted on the best bird of the trip, this quetzal won hands down. Finally, we walked away from it and headed back down hill.
The Zil was waiting for us at 1,625 meters near the Manu Cloud Forest Lodge. But before getting on and heading to lunch, we saw a pair of TORRENT DUCKS foraging the river below, a pair of WHITE-EYED PARAKEETS, BLACK PHOEBE on the boulders and heard a MOUSTACHED WREN.
After lunch and a brief siesta, a mid-afternoon thundershower passed though. When the rain stopped the balcony of the lodge was surrounded by the sounds of a foraging flock. Most interesting was a YELLOW-BREASTED ANTWREN. Having decided to walk downhill for the lodge for the afternoon, we had barely left the entrance when Bennett found us a BUFF-THROATED TODY-TYRANT. Further down we found a GOLDEN-CROWNED FLYCATCHER, but not much else new for the trip. On the walk back to the lodge, as it was getting dark, Marianne spotted a HIGHLAND MOTMOT perched on a boulder in a nearby stream (certainly not their normal habitat one presumes...).
October 12: Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge-Atalaya-Pantiacolla Lodge
Pancakes with honey and hot coffee at 5:30am get us moving. By mid-afternoon, we would be at Pantiacolla. But first we wanted to take advantage of the early morning hours to visit the forest between 1,200 and 1,000 meters. Our first stop was at 1,150 meters. We quickly found a TWO-BANDED WARBLER, BUFF-THROATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER, PLUMBEOUS KITE, and YELLOW-THROATED BUSH-TANAGER. Then we spotted a DOUBLE-TOOTHED KITE perched near the roadside. Then what was presumably a male Double-Toothed Kite flew in, perched next to the female, and offered her a tasty mammalian morsel. Great views of the female ripping the flesh enjoying her meal. Getting back in the Zil, we continued down the road a few more minutes. Stopping at 1,000 meters, the heat was apparent, despite the relatively early hour. The sky was cloudless and the temperatures would only rise. Our second stop yielded RUFOUS-TAILED JACAMAR, MAGPIE TANAGER, BLUE-HEADED PARROT, more PLUMBEOUS KITES, RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE, LONG-TAILED TYRANT, YELLOW-THROATED TANAGER, SWALLOW TANAGER and, in a chance encounter, excellent views of a LANCEOLATED MONKLET, perched about a meter off the ground in the roadside scrub.
Below 1,000 meters, we found the area increasingly impacted by settlements and agriculture.
We drove straight through, with only a stop for refrescos at Pilcopata. Upon reaching the port town of Atalaya at mid-day, we had more refrescos while the motorized canoe was loaded up. We said goodbye to our driver Emilio and after a quick tour of the gorges upstream from Atalaya, we headed down the Madre de Dios river towards Pantiacolla. Despite the mid-day heat, we saw a variety of river birds including RED-THROATED CARACARA, OSPREY, FASCIATED TIGER-HERON, LARGE AND YELLOW-BILLED TERNS, SWALLOW-WING, and ZONE-TAILED HAWK on our two or three hour journey.
By mid-afternoon, we arrived at Pantiacolla Lodge. We had barely sorted out our rooms, when a pair of BLUE-HEADED MACAW (a Manu specialty) were spotted perched near the lodge clearing. We got excellent scope looks, not knowing that we would not see them as well for the rest of the week. We re-grouped and quickly set off for the nearby Capybara trail, the first couple kilometers of which offer an excellent example of varzea forest heavily influenced by bamboo. We had only gone a few hundred meters from the trailhead, when Bennett heard an interesting call and brought in a WHITE-CHEEKED TODY-TYRANT, an endemic and another specialty of Manu! With green mantle, yellow-edging on the flanks, orange bill, and white cheeks, it was a very handsome flycatcher indeed. Two Manu specialties within hours of arrival!
After dinner, we conducted a quick, successful search for TAWNY-BELLIED SCREECH-OWL, which we lured in to the spotlight. Late at night, a storm passes through.
October 13: Pantiacolla Lodge
The morning dawned cool and clear. In some strange display of national unity, all of Peru is in the same time zone. But since Manu is much further east than the coastal population centers, birders must get up before 5am to have breakfast and be on the trails by 5:30am (first real light). This morning we walked the Monk Saki trail returning via the Oropendola trail, both mostly terre firme forest with a fair number of tree falls. Our first bird was a SPOT-BACKED ANTBIRD, with a "squeezy, squeezy" call like one of those plastic dog toys. Other birds included: WHITE-BACKED FIRE-EYE, BLACK-FACED ANTBIRD, WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN, PLAIN-WINGED ANTSHRIKE, MOUSE-COLOURED ANTSHRIKE, BLUE-CROWNED MANAKIN, WHITE-FLANKED ANTWREN, SOUTHERN NIGHTINGALE WREN, and BAND-TAILED MANAKIN.
We decided to head back on the Oropendola trail and soon we encountered a flock of oropendolas that included several CASQUED OROPENDOLA. We enjoyed their weird, drawn out calls and then continued on down the trail. Before we had gone 100 meters, we ran into a small canopy flock that included PURPLE HONEYCREEPER, GREEN HONEYCREEPER, PARADISE TANAGER, GREEN-AND-GOLD TANAGER and YELLOW-BELLIED TANAGER. Finally, as it was close to 12:30pm and lunchtime, we picked up the pace and headed towards the lodge. But a high frequency call from the trail side distracts us, and Bennett uses playback to give us nice views of a WHITE-EYED ANTWREN.
After lunch and a siesta (with those unwilling to sleep sitting on their balcony observing hummingbirds such as GOULD'S JEWELFRONT, LONG-BILLED STARTHROAT and FORK-TAILED WOOD-NYMPH at the ornamental plantings), we took another walk in the afternoon, again on the Monk Saki trail. There was not as much activity as in the morning, but we saw RED-BILLED SCYTHEBILL (very close to the lodge), WHITE-NECKED THRUSH, DWARF TYRANT-MANAKIN, GRAY ANTBIRD (with its "cook-ies, cook-ies" call) and a mystery furnariid (a leaftosser?) that flushed and perched on the trunk of a large fig tree.
After updating the day's list and dinner, most of us decide to sleep. We drift off to the sounds of COMMON POTOO and GREAT POTOO.
October 14: Pantiacolla Lodge
Only our second day at Pantiacolla and we have already settled into a routine. We start with breakfast at 5am and then set off for a long morning walk at 5:30am. We return to the lodge at little before lunch (1pm) and then after a siesta, we take another walk in the afternoon.
This morning we chose the Capybara trail. We started off in a part of the trail that is best characterized as bamboo dominated varzea. The morning began nicely with several handsome skulkers: WHITE-BROWED ANTBIRD, WARBLING ANTBIRD, WHITE-LINED ANTBIRD, and MANU ANTBIRD. A couple of times, we get brief but frustrating looks at a WHITE-BEARDED and WHITE-BROWED HERMIT. With hermits, one often has such little time to note the key hermit field marks such as size of tail, color of supercilia, malar stripe, and flight pattern. We also hear PERUVIAN RECURVEBILL; some of us even get a glimpse of the bird. After looks at GRAY ANTWREN, RED-THROATED CARACARA, WHITE-CHINNED AND BUFF-THROATED WOODCREEPER, and WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGER, the Capybara trail takes us into drier, almost terre firme forest with little bamboo. Here we see ROUND-TAILED and FIERY-CAPPED MANAKIN, BARE-NECKED FRUITCROW, RUDDY PIGEON ("whip your UN-cle") and BLACK-TAILED TROGON. For many of us, the bird of the morning is a cooperative RUSTY-BELTED TAPACULO that slowly circles us, calling all the while. Accustomed to Scytalopus Tapaculos, we marvel at how different the Rusty-belted Tapaculo (of the monotypic genus Liosceles) appears. On the way back to the lodge, we also catch looks at WHITE-LORED EUPHONIA, DUSKY-CAPPED GREENLET, and a MUSICIAN WREN, that Alfred alerts us to.
Having thoroughly enjoyed our morning, in the afternoon we chose to focus on the Tinamou Tail, a spur of the Capybara trail that parallels the river. Despite the heat, we see WHITE-BROWED ANTBIRD again, SWALLOW-TAILED KITES, BLUE-AND-YELLOW MACAW, GRAY-FRONTED DOVE, and BLACK-THROATED ANTBIRD.
After the bird list and dinner, most of us opt to head to bed by 9pm; tomorrow will be an early day. A midnight rain shower and breezes ensure comfortable sleeping temperatures.
October 15: Pantiacolla Lodge
It is hard to have much of an appetite for breakfast at 4:30am. But today will be a early one as by 5:10am we are piling into the boat and heading a few minutes upstream to the colpa, a clay lick that attracts parrots and macaws. Fog rises off the river and low clouds block views of the foothills as we motor upstream. On the river, we see BLACK CARACARA, CAPPED HERON, and WHITE-NECKED HERON, all birds we missed on our trip in. Arriving at the colpa, we are disappointed to see that few birds are visiting it. Our boatman (motorista), a local resident, says that he has noticed that parrot numbers tend to decline after rainy nights and perhaps the clay is too wet for the parrots. But by loitering around, we do see a number of psittacids "commuting" along the river, including: BLUE-AND-YELLOW MACAW, CHESTNUT-FRONTED MACAW, RED-AND-GREEN MACAW, WHITE-EYED PARAKEET, DUSKY-HEADED PARAKEET, BLUE-HEADED PARROT, and MEALY PARROT. In the riverside bushes we also see a beautiful RED-CAPPED CARDINAL.
We decide to head downstream a few minutes to visit a small dry stream bed that, in the rainy season, flows in the Alto Madre de Dios. Here Bob spots a DARK-BILLED CUCKOO that we all eventually see well. Then we are distracted by a BLACK-EARED FAIRY with the white flashes in its relatively long tail. Walking along the dry stream bed, we surprise a perched GREATER YELLOW-HEADEDVULTURE and later see RUDDY GROUND-DOVE and PLAIN-CROWNED SPINETAIL.
Returning to the boat, we head downstream a few more minutes to a small marsh isolated from the main river. As we walk through the wet sand and 6 to 8 inches of water, we share the obligatory stories of South American quicksand. Arriving at the marsh, we record: SPOTTED SANDPIPER, HOATZIN, STREAKED FLYCATCHER, and a pair of SUNGREBE lazily swimming near the shore. A PALE-LEGGED HORNERO was called in by Bennett after he was alerted by the presence of their nests. We also get brief looks at a LEMON-THROATED BARBET and see plenty more macaws. On the return journey we see a CRIMSON-CRESTED WOODPECKER and DRAB WATER-TYRANT. Arriving back at the lodge, most of us decide to take a quick walk on the east end of the Monk Saki trail before lunch. We are rewarded with a WHITE-CRESTED SPADEBILL and RED-CROWNED ANT-TANAGER.
After lunch, we settle on another walk that combines the Monk Saki trail with the Aracari trail. Activity is low, but we lure in a BROAD-BILLED MOTMOT ("waaa-waaa") and observe YELLOW-BELLIED DACNIS and CREAMY-BELLIED and BLACK-BELLIED THRUSH. Most of the group opt to watch the sunset on the riverbank and see a flock of SAND-COLORED NIGHTHAWK and a PECTORAL SPARROW, but some of us chose to race to the showers to wash off the day's accumulated sweat and grime.
October 16: Pantiacolla Lodge
Another early morning as today the plan is to hike the long Mirador trail that climbs up into the Pantiacolla foothills past 1,000 meters. At 850 meters, the trail is said to pass through an isolated patch of cloud forest; a good spot for the rare Black Tinamou. We start the hike before dawn (5am) and hike hard for 45 minutes to get some mileage under our belt. In the dim light, we get a glimpse of a group of GREAT TINAMOUS, hear several LITTLE TINAMOUS and see a SPIX'S WOODCREEPER. As dawn breaks, we stop and spend some time with a well-concealed BUFF-BREASTED WREN that finally emerges into the open. In a small canopy flock, a SCARLET-HOODED BARBET briefly appears. We also observe a handsome pair of BLUE-BLACK GROSBEAK. As we continue climbing, Bennett stops and alerts us to a strange but clear call: "hoo-ha-ha" that he hazards may be a forest falcon. With playback we are rewarded with eye-level views of a beautiful LINED FOREST-FALCON, one of the rarer forest-falcons and a new bird for the lodge list. More climbing and views of GRAYISH MOURNER and CARMIOL'S (Olive) TANAGER.
By 9:30, we reach 650 meters and notice a severe fall off in bird activity. Indeed, we had been warned that the Mirador trail seemed to have less activity than other trails closer to the lodge. Democracy prevails and we turn around to slowly work our way downhill, leaving that mysterious patch of isolated cloud forest to be explored some future visit. We encounter a small flock on our return journey that include a couple new tanagers for the trip: OPAL-RUMPED and OPAL-CROWNED TANAGER.
We also observe some evidence of logging and hunting (shotgun shells) and later learn that the Mirador trail is sometimes used by hunters from a nearby village that do not seem to have bought into the concept of the Manu Biosphere Reserve. Indeed, lower numbers of some of the Cracid sp. near Pantiacolla may possibly be evidence of hunting in the area.
The shady veranda of the dining hall and lunch greet us and we return from what was a seven and a half mile morning hike. After lunch and a siesta, we opt for the productive Capybara trail and Tinamou spur trail. More interesting birds seem to be waiting for us: we see: GOELDI'S ANTBIRD, BAMBOO ANTSHRIKE, SOLITARY CACIQUE, and RUDDY-TAILED FLYCATCHER. Dinner is a busy affair. About a dozen language students have arrived, whereas we had the place to ourselves before. After dinner, we prowl for more owls but find more mammals than birds. We get great looks at Giant Armadillo and Brazilian Porcupine.
October 17: Pantiacolla Lodge
After breakfast, we are off by 5:30am to the Capybara tail again. This trail proved to be one of our favorites, with many of the most interesting and "wanted" birds observed on this trail. Few Amazonian lodges have such high quality varzea forest interspersed with mature bamboo. The taller terra firme forest was less productive as we did not encounter the large understory flocks that we had expected. Forest floor species were at a premium possibly due numerous treefalls leading to increased sunlight and relatively dense undergrowth. And, for the most part, we did not see large canopy flocks either, especially of tanagers. Most tanager flocks are quite small and we hypothesize that they were family groups. Perhaps it was a seasonal phenomenon?
New trip sightings continue to pop up, including: LONG-TAILED HERMIT, CHESTNUT CAPPED PUFFBIRD, GRAY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, BRAN-COLORED FLYCATCHER, and COLBALT-WINGED PARAKEET. Moving into the dry terre firme forest on the Capybara trail, we find RUFOUS-BELLIED EUPHONIA, BLACK-SPOTTED BARE-EYE at an army ant swarm (the good looks were worth the Army Ant bites!), BLACK-FACED DACNIS and RUFOUS MOTMOT. We marvel at how distant the motmot sounds (it seems to be at least 200 meters off), but how close it actually is (20 meters only!).
The afternoon is quite hot, making it difficult to nap. Given the heat, we decide to take another trip along the river. About 10 minutes upstream we find a small inlet and wander north along a sandy bank adjacent to a stream that flows into the river. We are happy to see new birds in the stifling heat, including: GRAYISH SALTATOR, DOUBLE-COLLARED SEEDEATER, AMAZONIAN OROPENDOLA, BUFF-RUMPED WARBLER, and BLUE-HEADED PARROT. Some ways upstream, we flush a group of 15 BLUE-AND-YELLOW MACAWS. They circle us and settle for a time in a nearby tree. In the late afternoon light, their colors are almost magical. We hear a LAWRENCE'S THRUSH, the accomplished rainforest mimic, in the riverside vegetation and listen as it cycles through a series of common Amazonian birds. This individual seemed to prefer the song of the Goedi's Antbird, seeming to use it as a base for every burst of song. Losing light, we head back to the boat, but stop for a welcome sighting of a VIOLACEOUS JAY, first spotted by our sharp-eyed boatman Leo.
After a nice dinner of spicy noodle soup and a vegetarian potato side dish, some of us look for owls again, but the mammalian diversity of last night is not repeated. We are treated to the calls and a very close fly-by (in the darkness as we were instructed to leave our flashlights off) of what I believe was a BAND-BELLIED OWL.
October 18: Pantiacolla Lodge
During the night, we received quite a bit of rain, but we awoke to clear blue skies and lower temperatures. At breakfast, we remarked how lucky we had been with the weather: even though it was the beginning of spring (rainy season), no birding time was lost to rain, but enough rain fell at night to keep the temperatures down and the forest from being too dry and lifeless. Again we chose the Capybara trail. As mentioned earlier, each day on this trail seemed to bring new delights. In fact, I personally saw more "lifers" at Pantiacolla on our last day there (today, the 18th) than on any one of the previous six days-- a tribute to the tremendous diversity in the varzea forest.
We started the day with nice views of a WHITE-EYED TODY-TYRANT. Manu has the sub-species H. zosterops griseipectus that is a good candidate for a splitting, in which case Ridgely and Tudor have suggested the name White-bellied Tody-Tyrant. The tody-tyrant was soon followed by a cooperative STRIATED ANTBIRD. We then encounter a rather large foraging flock that included: YELLOW-CRESTED TANAGER, SLATE-COLORED GROSBEAK, and GREEN-AND-GOLD TANAGER. As the flock was almost directly overhead, many of us used the trick of laying flat on our backs and looking straight up into the canopy. Much less neck pain! We continued down the path and played hide-and-seek with a BLACK-FACED ANTTHRUSH. After all of us had only somewhat satisfactory looks at the bird and (grudgingly) were ready to leave, the bird suddenly became unwary and proceeded to cross the path in front of us and forage in the trail side vegetation.
Further along the Capybara trial, we found another nice flock that included CHESTNUT-CROWNED FOLIAGE-GLEANER and WHITE-WINGED SHRIKE-TANAGER. We then had success in calling in COLLARED TROGON that perched very close and gave us amazing views. Then it was a close encounter with a WEDGE-BILLED WOODCREEPER (with views of the upturned bill) and a RUFOUS-RUMPED FOLIAGE-GLEANER that grabbed our attention. On the hike back, we were lucky to come across a SPECTACLED BRISTLE-TYRANT and a JOHANNE'S TODY-TYRANT with an olive back with yellow wing edging, grayish head, yellow belly, and white eye. Just before the lodge, we ran into a final flock of tanagers, but the majority of the group stopped for only quick looks before heading into lunch.
For an afternoon walk, we strolled the Monk Saki trail and then took a connecting path to link up again with the Capybara trail. We see an understory flock, but no species that grab our attention. Further along, Bennett catches a short call and lures out a RINGED ANTPIPIT. A large and docile tortoise on the trail caught our attention immediately afterwards. After an unsuccessful hunt for the Peruvian Recurvebill in the fading light, Bennett tapes in an AMAZONIA ANTPITTA that a few of us glimpse.
We then head to the lodge for showers and a final meal and toast Pantiacolla with Chilean vino tinto. Just as dinner ends, the rain starts up and continues, heavy at times, most of the night.
October 19: Pantiacolla Lodge to Cusco
This was basically a travel day as we went by boat up the Madre de Dios River and over the Andes to Cusco. The river was very high and rather fast due to the rains of the night before. On the river we did see a few birds new for the trip, including: GREATER YELLOWLEGS, TROUPIAL (new for the lodge list!), BLACK-CROWNED TITYRA, STRIATED HERON, PIED LAPWING on the sandy riverbank, CHESTNUT-EARED ARACARI, and SUNBITTERN. We also 4 or 5 FASCIATED TIGER-HERONS, this usually shy species was actively feeding on the fast-flowing, turbulent river edge.
Upon arrival at Cusco, we happily settled into the Hotel Prisma. Some of us went out for a leisurely dinner, while others were content to call home (having been away from a telephone for 10 days or so) and get to sleep early.
October 20: Sacsayhuman ruins above Cusco
Today was our last day and we spent it in the Polylepis scrub and farmlands above the Sacsayhuman ruins above Cusco. Bob and Bobbie had a mid-day flight and our plan was to find the endemic Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch. Our van met us at the hotel at 7 AM and climbing outside of Cusco, we found a patch of Polylepis in a roadside ravine at about 3,550 meters. Among others, we recorded TUFTED TIT-TYRANT, MOURNING SIERRA-FINCH, PLUMBEOUS SIERRA-FINCH, PERUVIAN SIERRA-FINCH, BLACK-THROATED FLOWERPIERCER, and a CINEREOUS CONEBILL that initially gave us a little bit of trouble. We had glimpses of a TAWNY TIT-SPINETAIL foraging in the Polylepis. Finally, after moving downhill, in some farm fields near Sacsayhuman ruins we found the endemic CHESTNUT-BREASTED MOUNTAIN-FINCH. We gave a chase and finally were rewarded with prolonged views of this handsome finch.
Soon it was time for Bob and Bobbie to head for the airport. Four of the group were going to stay on for a side trip to Machu Picchu.
October 21: Cusco to Aguas Caliente
We departed by bus along the Sacred Valley of the Incas to Ollantaytambo where we transferred to the "backpacker express" train for the remaining leg to Aguas Caliente. Travis and Marianne were assigned seats on the Urubamba river side of the train so they recorded many pairs of TORRENT DUCK while Alfred and Carolyn struck out as they assigned seats on the other side of the train.
After arrival at Aguas Caliente (2,000 m.) and check-in to our hotel (Machu Picchu Inn) we decided to visit the Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel for lunch and to check out the grounds for birds. After a good meal which included the fateful custard for Travis and Alfred (who were both ill next day) we found and visited the Hummingbird feeders. We quickly found the endemic GREEN-AND-WHITE HUMMINGBIRD and also recorded LITTLE HERMIT, GREAT SAPPHIREWING and CHESTNUT-BREASTED CORONET. In a nearby tree we recorded MASKED and BLUE-AND-YELLOW TANAGER. We were fortunate to see a BLACK-AND-CHESTNUT EAGLE high overhead that Alfred had spotted. Our luck continued when the head gardener pointed out to us a female ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK. As the afternoon waned bird activity on the grounds picked up and we also recorded WHITE-CRESTED ELAENIA, SCLATER'S TYRANNULET and COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER among many other species. The TODY-FLYCATCHER was a bit of a surprise as it was at the extreme high end of its normal elevational range (2,000 m.).
On the trip back to our hotel along the railway tracks, we recorded flybys of ANDEAN PARAKEET and ANDEAN SWIFT flying to roost.
October 22: Machu Picchu and Aguas Caliente
Despite an uncomfortable night for Travis and Alfred, and a gimpy leg for Travis, we all took the first bus out to Machu Picchu (2,400 m.) to avoid the tourist crush. It was well worth seeing the sunrise over the ruins with scarcely a person in sight. Birds were few but Alfred recorded COMMON MINER. We all saw WHITE-WINGED BLACK TYRANT. A thorough search of the bamboo near the entrance was fruitless for INCA WREN but a pair was finally glimpsed by Marianne when she chose to sit and wait rather than walk the ruins. We all heard the birds singing however.
In the afternoon we returned again to the Pueblo hotel but birding was much slower than the previous day. We did add HIGHLAND ELAENIA, COLLARED INCA, SPARKING VIOLETEAR and PLAIN TRRANNULET. We had supper again with entertainment at the Inka Wasi restaurant, but needless to say, Travis and Alfred didn’t have much of an appetite!
October 23: Aguas Caliente
We again got an early start and decided to walk the railway tracks the bridge, about 2 km downriver from town. About halfway along we switched to the Machu Picchu road as it was easier walking and birding more productive. In the early morning mist bird activity was high and we observed many large feeding tanager flocks. New tanagers seen were: FLAME-FACED, GOLDEN-NAPED and SILVER-BACKED. We were finally able to get good looks at SCARLET-FRONTED PARAKEETS after first hearing the flock. TROPICAL PARULA, PALE-LEGGED WARBLER and ASHY-HEADED TYRANNULET were also new for the trip. The biggest surprise was a rare sighting (and a crippling one at that) of an OCELLATED PICULET. Overall we were very pleased with our morning jaunt.
We took the afternoon off to complete some shopping and just to relax before our train trip that evening back to Cusco.
October 24: Cusco to Lima; Callao
After our flights out from Cusco to Lima, we were faced with a very long stopover in Lima before our late evening flight back to Miami. To break the monotony, Alfred made arrangements to hire a taxi driver for a few hours to take us to the coast and see Humboldt Current specialities.
We left mid-afternoon to the port area of Callao. As there was no public access to the main shipping pier, I asked that we be taken to the fishing port. We found a small park along the ocean and what a sight awaited us! Squadrons of PERUVIAN PELICANS and PERUVIAN BOOBIES flying and fishing amongst the many fishing boats and most of the Peruvian Navy. Due to security reasons we were politely requested not to use the scope but binoculars were ok! Conditions were pleasant, if not a touch chilly, in the on-shore breeze and light mist. Also observed in the harbour area were GUANAY CORMORANT,SURFBIRD, RUDDY TURNSTONE, KELP GULL, BAND-TAILED (BELCHER'S) GULL, GREY GULL, ROYAL and SOUTH AMERICAN TERN. Another stop beside a small inlet yielded a bonanza of small gulls in a feeding frenzy. These included GREY-HEADED GULL, FRANKLIN'S GULL and unexpectedly, the unmistakable SWALLOW-TAILED GULL. We returned to the airport and congratulated ourselves on the success of this excursion.
Complete species list from October 2000 as follows:
Great Tinamou Tinamus majorP
(S) Hooded Tinamou Nothocercus nigrocapillusTh
Cinereous Tinamou Crypturellus cinereusPh
Little Tinamou Crypturellus souiPh
Undulated Tinamou Crypturellus undulatusPh
Red-legged Tinamou Crypturellus atrocapillusPh
White-collared Swift Streptoprocne zonarisP
Chestnut-collared Swift Cypseloides rutilusP
Short-tailed Swift Chaetura brachyuraP
Andean Swift Aeronautes andecolusMP
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift Panyptila cayennensis P