The four of us left Cuzco early in the morning (on 13 November), about 6am for on bus to Abancay, which is the base town for both of these sites. Abancay is a fairly large town, and has all the amenities a traveler requires. The bus took about 6 hours, and was s/10 per person one way (all prices in soles, at the time of this trip the exchange rate was about 3.34 soles to the US dollar). We arrived in Abancay around noon, and we got hostel for the night and a quick menu for lunch. We stayed at the Hotel Arenas, which I recommend. They had both rooms with hot water (s/ 15 for a single) or rooms with communal bath (s/ 8 per person). There was a selection of restaurants (menu, polleria, chifa) and shops to obtain food items (in our case bread, tuna, and jam) for quick lunches in the field very close to the hotel. The rooms with hot water we considerably nicer, however the communal baths were adequate for our needs. We went up to Bosque Ampay that afternoon to check the situation for camping or staying at the station for the next couple nights, and to get in a couple hours of birding, so we hired at Taxi (s/ 10) up. We arrived at Ampay around 2pm, and talked to the guard. He said it was fine to stay in the Estacion Ecologia, where there were two beds (although we just slept in our sleeping bags, etc.). They also allowed us use of the kitchen facilities, a small wood stove and plenty of pots, plates, and silverware for about 8 people. This was a very conveinient option, and I recommend trying to stay here as staying in town and going by taxi would be a pain (especially trying to get back to Abancay). If you have your own vehicle, directions to Bosque Ampay are somewhat difficult on your own, as the raod going up has no signs and many side roads. However, everyone in the town knows the forest, and can give you directions. Also note the “Arch” over the road leading up from the main road in Abancay described by Thomas Valqui in his Birdfinding guide to Peru has fallen down (as did two other arches described in the book, but that’s a different story).
That afternoon we didn’t have much time, but we did hike up to the start of the Podocarpus forest. The vegetation around and above the station is dry scrub, with thicker, taller growth along the streams. The hike is steep but on a good trail, so it is fairly easy. To get up to the start of the Podocarpus is about 300m in elevation gain, and it took us about 1 ½ hours to walk, including some stops for birds. On the first afternoon birds were a little slow, but we did have Synallaxis courseni (common in dry scrub), the Schizoeca (heard only, several in dry scrub), and Atlapetes forbsei (a pair near the stream 50m up from the station). PAH had a glimpse of the Taphrospilus hummingbird as well. We walked back down to our hotel in Abancay which took several hours, arriving after dark.
The next morning (14 November), we got another taxi at dawn up to Ampay. We birded our way up fairly slowly through the dry scrub. Notable birds in this habitat included the Schizoeaca, more Synallaxis courseni, Crainioleuca albicapilla (abundant, seemingly everywhere) Pheucticus aureoventris, and MJA had a brief look at a Nothoprocta taczanowskii.
We got up to the Podocarpus around 9am. The Podocarpus forest lies mainly between 3100 and 3600 meters in elevation. Below is thick dry scrub, above it is humid scrub that gets more open and patchy the higher up you go until about 4100-4300m when it transitions into puna. At about 3100m the trail becomes flat for a couple hundred meters in the area around Lago Angascocha. There is a short trail (200m) off to the right running perpendicular to the main trail along a water ditch at the sign for Lago Angascocha, which is about 100m before the lake itself. Also at this sign is the main trail leading up to Laguna Uspacocha. The third main trail we used runs up the valley from Lago Angascocha, which leads into some open patches that are good for flocks, and then into a beautiful wooded mossy gully that eventually meets up with the main trail. Note that cattle trails lead everywhere through the forest, so these are more “routes” than trails. The Podocarpus generally has poor activity for birds, unless you are on the edge, or a flock is going though. The flocks in this area were productive, and included Piculus rivolii (only one pair), Margarornis squamiger, Phyllomyias uropygialis (not common, only 2 the whole trip), Elaenia pallatangae, Mecocerculus leucophrys, Mecocerculus stictopterus, Ampelion rubrocristata, Catamblyrhynchus diadema, Conirostrum cinereum, and Diglossa brunneiventris. Other birds present in this area were Grallaria squamigera, which was commonly heard, but we never managed to see one (despite playback and ample time searching), Ochthoeca rufipectoralis, and Atlapetes forbsei. Also several flocks large flocks of Patagieonas fasciata, Aratinga mitria, and Bolborhynchus orbygnesius flying about. Birds on territory included one calling Myairchus tuberculifer, and several Elaenia obscura on the edge of the clearings.
We continued on the main trail up to where the habitat turns to montane scrub at about 3600m. This ecotone between Podocarpus and scrub in was very productive for flocks, and there was a male Ramphomicron microrhynchum on territory here that was seen every day. Flocks here included the previously mentioned species and also one Catharus ustulatus (the big surprise of the trip), Anisognathus igniventris, and Delothaupis castaneoventris. Also hummingbirds began to turn over, and we had Aglaeactis cupripennis and Aglaeactis castelnaudii here and higher up. The Schizoeca reappears and is common in the scrub here, and the Scytallopus is common from this point and higher (we found them to be very uncommon in the Podocarpus, with one seen and only a couple heard). However, this is the highest point we had Synallaxis courseni.
From this point to Lago Uspacocha the area is grazed heavily there weren’t many birds, so we generally did this part fast (Hiking from Lago Angascocha to Lago Uspacocha takes about 1 ½ to 2 hours, not including long stops for birds). There was another Ramphomicron on territory and some other hummingbirds previously mentioned, as well as common species such as Conirostrum cinereum and Diglossa brunneiventris.
Up near Uspacocha there are a couple grazed fields that have higher elevation open country birds like Agriornis montanus, Cinclodes fuscus, Muscisaxicola albifrons, Muscisaxicola alpinus, Myiotheretes striaticollis, Sicalis uropygialis, and Phrygilus plebejus. There were also many raptors in the area, including Geranoaetus melanoleucos, Buteo polysoma, Phalcoboenus megalopterus, Falco sparverius, Falco femoralis, Falco peregrinus.
We ate lunch at Uspacocha, which held a Larus serranus, a pair of Chloephaga melanoptera with young chicks, and a pair of Lophonetta specularioides. Above Uspacocha (3900m), the montane scrub became more influenced with high elevation birds. The scrub was more open, and therefore in this area and above the Scytalopus and Schizoeca were most easily seen. If you don’t have a recorder for playback for the Scytalopus, walking through scrub (going off trail) where they are calling should produce them with patience. Also present in this zone were Duica speculifera, Grallaria andicola, Phrygilus unicolor, and single males of Chalcostigma stanleyi and Eroicnemis liciani
At 4pm we started to descent back down to the station, our plan was to be in the Podocarpus for an hour before dusk to listen for unusual antpittas or owls. Around dusk, it began to pour. In rained hard for our whole 2-hour walk back, eliminating the chance for any unusual sounds.
The next day (15 November) we started pre-dawn, and arrived at the Podocarpus forest around dawn. We continued up high, again eating lunch at Lago Uspacocha. We then continued higher than the previous day, up into the Puna around 4300, which added a few birds like Geositta canuncularia and Oreotrochillus estrella. The Scytalopus and Schizoeca were found up in the highest patches of scrubby vegetation. On our way back down, we stayed in the Podocarpus belt until dark, and spent about 1 ½ hours listening for owls and such. This produced many Grallaria squamigera at dusk, a single phrase of distant toots from a Glaucidium sp., a series of the hoots that sounded like they were made by a large owl (Ciccaba albitarsus?), and a couple Caprimulgis longirostris.
On November 16 we only spent the morning at Ampay, and did most of our birding in the low Podocarpus and the dry scrub. We left around noon, checked back into Hotel Arenas, and walked down slope from the Plaza de Armas and across the river and up the trail that leads downsteam parallel to the river. You can see this trail across the river from town on the opposite slope, it is lined with large Agaves. We had been told that the Taphrospilus was easier to find in this area. We didn’t have any luck with the hummingbird until we descended to the river and began to walk upstream. In streamside vegetation, we also had a couple interesting birds, including migrant Empidonax alnorum and Vireo olivacea. We had several of the Taphrospilus feeding in the scrub and handful of Eucalyptus trees that are about 200m downstream of the bridge over the river. This area should be easy to find when you are looking down at the river from town, near the Plaza de Armas. In the afternoon our plan was to head to the old bridge over the Rio Pachachaca, which was 15-20 minutes by taxi from Abancay. It was extremely windy here, which pretty much killed our hopes of listening for unusual owls, or any birds in general. Our taxi driver said it was usually very windy here in the afternoon, but usually calm at dawn. We didn’t have a dawn to spend there, but we were happy just watching the Merganetta armata take on the class 5 rapids. This taxi driver knew Runtacocha, so we hired him to take us there the next day.
We started up to Runtacocha at 4:30am (now 17 November), as we thought it would take 2 hours to get up to the site. We arrived around 7am. This area has a number of fairly large Polylepis patches and many small ones. There is a small reservoir as well, and a good dirt road leads here from southeast from Abancay, even though there are only a couple people that live up there. If you have your own vehicle (4wd is not needed), I would just ask for directions in town, as there is only one road headed southeast from town. If you don’t have transportation then hiring a taxi is necessary (ours cost s/ 90), so hire one that knows how to get there! A little of the Polylepis has been cut, but it is in pretty good shape overall.
At the end of the road, look to your right and you will see the first of the three larger patches at the base of a small peak (400m above the valley, which is 4100m). There is also a very small patch up the hill to your left. This small peak has Polylepis patches all around it. Two of the patches are fairly large (the first one you see and one around on the opposite side of the small peak). I recommend birding the first patch off to the right of the road, and then continuing around the right side of the small peak (there is a trail, which is easily visible). Continuing around to the other side of the small peak, you will see the Reservoir off to your right in the valley. The resivour held a few birds, including Fulica ardesiaca, Fulica gigantea, Lophonetta specularioides, and Oxyura furruginea. From the resivour the second large patch can be seen, which extends up the slope of the small peak all the way to the top, where there is a spectacular view of the Cordillera Vilcamamba in the distance behind Bosque Ampay. From the base of this patch, you can see the third large patch in the distance up the valley. We never made it to this patch, instead we continued all the way around the small peak back to the car, where there where three more small patches.
The first small patch up the mountain to the left only takes a few minutes to walk to, but it is so small it is probably not worth the time. We only had one pair of Anairetes alpinus and one Grallaria andicola there. The first large patch to the right had a good assortment of specialists and a few other birds mixed in. Specialists included a pair of Anairites alpinus, which was one of the most common specialists at this site. There was also a flock of 6 Xenodacnis parina, and a pair of Oreomanes frazeri. Other birds in this patch included Aglaeactis cupripennis, Aglaeactis castelnaudii, Pterophanes cyanoptera, Patagona gigas, Lesbia victoria, Crainioleuca albicapilla, Grallaria andicola, Polioxolmis rufipennis (on the edge) Ochthoeca rufipectoralis, and Ochthoeca oenanthoides. As for Apurimac specialists, there were several of the Scytalopus, and one or two of the Schizoeca on the edge. DJL had a pair of Atlapetes forbsei.
The puna between patches also had some birds of interest. Highlights were one adult Vulture gryphus soaring around, and a flock of Carduelis atrata. Other birds present included Chloephaga melanoptera, Buteo polysoma, Phalcoboenus megalopterus, Vanellus resplendens, Cinclodes fuscus, Asthenes modesta, Anthus bogotaensis (flushed a female from a nest), Sicalis uropygialis, and Phrygilus unicolor.
The second large patch on the other side of the small peak had a different set of birds. This patch is larger than the first, but also on a much steeper slope so the going is difficult in places. Here, the specialists included several Leptasthenura xenothorax, Anairetes alpinus, Oreomanes frazeri, and MJA got a glimpse of Cinclodes arcicomae. Also present were Aglaeactis cupripennis, Aglaeactis castelnaudii, Pterophanes cyanoptera, Patagona gigas, Crainioleuca albicapilla, Grallaria andicola, Carduelis crassirostris and the Apurimac Scytalopus. The third patch off in the distance looked like the largest of all, but we thought it would take too long (1-2 hours each way) to make it worth our while.
We climbed up around to the other side of the small peak, where there were several smaller patches that had Anairetes alpinus, Oreomanes frazeri, Carduelis crassirostris, the Apurimac Scytalopus, and other more common things. Highlight was flushing a Bubo virginianus.
I think this site can be adequately birded in one day, but two would be better to give you time to get to the third and largest of the Polylepis patches. I think Leptasthenura yanacensis has been reported here as well, but we didn’t find it. For Bosque Ampay, two days should be sufficient to find most of the birds, but three is probably better just in case. For the record, we did not see (or hear) any “Black Antpittas,” nor any Yeti, Unicorns or other mythical beasts.
Species lists, first with notes on the “specialty” birds
– Had two brief glimpses in the low scrub at Ampay and just below on the road, but this bird was much more common and easier to see down lower in the riverbed below Abancay. We had several (3?) down there feeding in flowering Eucalyptus trees, although we never got very good looks at any (they were usually far away and distant, with a couple brief close looks). This is not a bird of Podocarpus despite what some references say, while it does occur in the Podocarpus (though we never saw it there) it is much more common in scrub.
Schizoeaca sp. nov (?) – This bird is not in Podocarpus, rather in the dry scrub below and in the humid monatane scrub above the Podocarpus. In both of these areas they are very common, listen for the song that is extremely similar to the cuts of S. griseomurina on the John Moore Birds of the Ecuadorian Highlands CD set. These birds did not respond well (at all?) to playback. The best chance of seeing them is in the highest montane scrub bordering the puna. Here the habitat is open, and the shrubs are small and less thick, so the birds are easier to see. They were also present in low numbers at Runtacocha on the edge of the first large Polylepis patch. They look similar to S. vilcabambae, with which they are currently classified, but they lack scalloping on the breast.
Synallaxis courseni – Extremely common in the Podocarpus and in the dry scrub below the Podocarpus (particularly along the stream) at Ampay. They sound (and look) extremely similar to Synallaxis azarae. We didn’t have any problems obtaining good looks at the birds, but if you are on a very short trip to Ampay and you aren’t having any luck, I think playing tape of S. azarae would bring them out.
Scytalopus sp. Nov – Common in the humid scrub above the Podocarpus at Ampay. Listen for the song (a series of repeated “chir” notes repeated every 1-2 seconds, also a similar song with a whiney tone), which can be heard at a great distance. They, like the Schizoeca, are easiest to see in the highest montane scrub that is very sparse. They are also present in the Podocarpus forest, but at a much higher density. They are not in the dry scrub. They are also common in the Polylepis at Runtacocha, where they are also easy to see due to the open nature of the Polylepis forest. Visually the adults males (what I assume were adults males) are similar to S. shulenbergi, but have more pronounced white “diadems,” where the white comes up on the forehead. Another plumage type (females or young males??) was similar, except the white was restricted to a small supercillium and there was barring on the wings.
Atlapetes forbsei – These did not appear to be as common as the Scytalopus, Schizoeca, or Synallaxis courseni at Ampay, we only had 3-4 pairs. They were present in the dry scrub (especially along the stream) and in the Podocarpus forest. Listen for anything that sounds like an Atlapetes, as the song is very stereotypical of the genus, though they did not sing very often. One pair accompanied a mixed flock. There was one pair seen at Runtacocha, in the first large Polylepis patch.
Bosque Ampay site list:
Taphrospilus sp. nov
Schizoeaca sp. nov
Scytalopus sp. nov
Runtacocha site list
Schizoeaca sp. nov
Scytalopus sp. nov