References: Birds of Peru. Schulenberg, O’Neill, et al. 2008. Where to Watch Birds in Peru. Valqui, Thomas. 2004.
Getting Around: Getting from place to place in Northern requires a few things. First, one must arrive in either Chiclayo or Cajamarca (depending on which way you want to run the loop described in the trip report) to begin. The common means of getting to either place is flying into the capital of Peru, Lima and spending the night there. The following day one catches a flight to Cajamarca of Chiclayo. This is where our whirlwind trip first started to gain speed. Rather than taking the leisurely day in Lima before a reasonable flight to Chiclayo, Sharon Lynn, Sally O’Byrne, and Bernard Master flew into Lima on January 21st, arriving at about 11pm. The following morning they caught the 4:30am red-eye (ONLY morning flight at the time of writing) to Chiclayo to meet Ms. Goodman and myself. With little to no sleep, I picked them up at the airport at 5:45am, they got their binolculars out, and we set off in search of Peruvian Plantcutters, Rufous Flycatchers, and the like. To Preface this, Ms. Goodman and I took the private transport that we hired for the duration of the trip down from Loja, Ecuador. It was 15.5 hours from Vilcabamba, Ecuador to Chiclayo, Peru, including breakfast stop, immigration stop, and being stopped FOUR times by the Peuvian highway patrol in futile attempts to extort some petty cash from us. We looked ragged at the time, and they had no problem believing us when our driver (Bless him) persistently explained that, aside from having all the proper documentation, we had no money. Upon hearing the no money part, they always let us go.
This brings me to our driver, Franz Rios. The man is incredible. Most important thing to have in Northern Peru, besides an appreciation for relative time and distance, is a great driver. Franz was awesome. The roads in Northern Peru, when paved, are extremely curvy, dangerous, and breathtakingly scenic. Franz managed to allow us to delight in the beautiful topography and incredible vistas, despite the fact that you are always seemingly about to fall off a mountain. He was careful, patient when we got
stuck looking for birds (which is probably inevitable in rainy season), and could handle that big van on the slickest, steepest slopes. Plus, he was a great guy. I highly recommend him as a driver, through Bombuscaro Rentals.
Price of logistics in Northern Peru is not at all cheap. Van rentals are around 120 USD – 140 USD with driver. I would suggest that people from Westernized countries, with little experience driving in Peru or other countries with little regulation, hire a
driver. Diesel prices while we were there were well over 3.50 USD per gallon. Flights in Peru are always very expensive relative to Ecuador or Bolivia. They rival USA prices for domestic flights and still fill up. Book in advance.
Last but not least, realize that you will encounter construction in many places, landslides, muddy roads on even the “main” roads that will likely lead to getting stuck, and that the distance and time frames must be adjusted accordingly. We averaged 35kph
throughout the trip. Some days faster than other, obviously, but do take heed of suggested driving times and try to factor in an extra 20% just in case.
Accommodation: The places to stay vary widely. I would suggest using a local company to book your stays, at least, because ownership changes quickly, as does quality. Some places are must-stays. Luckily, these tend to be the nicest. Abra Patricia Lodge is fabulous. Great birds, great food, and ask for Roberto. He’s a wonderful guide and lots of fun to bird with. Hacienda El Remanso in Olmos is a must for getting to WW Guan territory and is quite nice, too. Puerto Pumas Resort on Lago Pomacochas is the perfect base for seeing Marvelous Spatulatetail. Do so with Santos, who now works at the ECOAN hummingbird research land about 15 minutes before arriving at La Florida. Sharing the experience with such a knowledgeable, enthusiastic, person always makes it better. Lastly, the Choctumal Lodge, to visit Kuelap, is a unique experience and also a must. For the Leymebamba to Cajamarca, I would go with local advice.
Generally speaking, if it’s bad, then it’s very cheap. If it’s good, then it’s just sort of inexpensive. Overall, you get what you pay for, and in some places there is little to no option so you take what you can get.
Food: We had good food throughout the trip. Makenzie is a vegatarian. For all of those who, like her, assume that vegetarian meals are as readily encountered in Peru as in Ecuador or Colombia, be prepared to eat lots of Chicken and Fish. I think vegetarians and martians are held in the same regard here. That being said, though forced to eat some dishes she would’ve otherwise passed on, the food was decent all the way to great!
Gear: Be prepared for extreme heat to cool or cold temperatures and widely varying humidity. We had many mornings of fog and drizzle, but it affected bird activity little and we had great success. Bring comfy sandals, hiking shoes, and waterproof hiking
boots, if you can fit them all in your pack. Rain gear is a must and plan on layering up.
We experienced 11C to 37C in one day.
Pests: We had no illnesses, diarrhea, or even serious bug bites on the trip. Mosquitoes were few, Chiggers unreported. Good stuff, all the way around. Dengue is a possibility, but it’s the one there is no prevention for anyways.
1/22 – 0530 arrivals from Lima in Chiclayo. Morning Birding in Ocupe/Mocupe (Valqui E5.1) and afternoon birding Arid Scrub en route to Olmos. Overnight Hacienda El Remanso.
1/23 – 0400 departure to pick up Lino Soles en route to Bosque Frejolillo (Valqui E4.2). All day birding the area. Overnight Hacienda El Remanso.
1/24 – 0630 morning departure to Abra Porculla (Valqui E4.3). Birding en route (F7.3) 9 hours driving time. Overnight Puerto Pumas Resort, Pomacochas.
1/25 - 0700 Marvelous Spatulatetail with Santos and birding ECOAN property.
Afternoon birding to Abra Patricia. Overnight AP Lodge.
1/26 – 0630 departure to Afluente (Valqui F4.5) for morning birding. Alto Mayo (F4.4) and Trucho Buho(F 4.2) in the afternoon. Overnight AP Lodge.
1/27 – 0700 morning birding Trucho Grallaria and AP Lodge Grounds (Valqui F4.1). Afternoon drive to Choctumal Lodge, birding en route along Maranon drainage. Overnight Choctumal Lodge.
1/28 – Kuelap ruins in the morning. Afternoon drive to Leymebamba. Overnight
Albergue de Los Condores.
1/29 – 0630 departure to Birding en route (Valqui F2.4, 2.3, 2.2) to Celendin. 7 hours drive time. Overnight Hostal Celendin.
1/30 – 0645 departure to Birding (Valqui F1.6) en route to Cajamarca. Afternoon Birding Rio Chonta (F1.1). Overnight Hotel Costa del Sol.
1/31 – Departures.
Nearly all the sites we birded on this trip were fairly extensively detailed in Valqui’s book. Directions we found to be fairly easy to use, but, in many cases the book’s birding information may be outdated. Simply look for the best habitat in the areas listed.
I should make a specific note on how valuable we found this book to be. I recommend that everyone and anyone looking to travel to Peru have this great work. I can’t imagine the hours and extent of research that went into its making. In the following paragraphs I will go over the state that we found the particular sites to be in, weather conditions we encountered, and some cautionary notes. Target species for each site are listed in Where to Watch Birds in Peru. I will list the misses we had for the sites.
All the hits will go down in the Bird List portion of this report. This was extremely target oriented birding. We paid little heed to raptors, some flock birds, etc., because we were mostly gunning for endemic and range-restricted species.
Mocupe/Ocupe E5.1 – Finding this unmarked road described in Valqui’s literature was the biggest feat of the morning and was not accomplished until around 8am. We had some great birds in the looking, though, at the bridge over the Rio Ocupe. Beware that all KM markers on the Panamericana HAVE CHANGED since the printing of Valqui’s book. Adjust them all 10kms minus what is listed in the directions. This will make a huge difference in being able to find the site. We had no trouble and no misses at this site.
Ruta 4 to Olmos – We birded this the highway the first afternoon, on our way to Olmos. I highly recommend spending some time where habitat looks good. We had many target species from the roadside within about 30 kms of Olmos proper.
Limon and Quebrada Frejolillo E4.2 – The place for White-winged Guans and our guides found them for us. BE sure to coordinate with Fernando Angulo and Lino Soles in advance. It is impossible to find on your own and involves 20kms on a horrendous dirt road that is great for birding. By leaving in the early morning you are guaranteed some good night birds en route. No problems getting in or out and our only miss was the slight chance of seeing Slaty Becard.
Abra Porculla E4.3 – Be prepared to push your vehicle if attempting this in the rainy season. We did. It was fine, though. We had a good group and had a lot of great birds to make up for it. We were birding in abject fog limiting visibility to 25-40 feet most of
the morning. Subsequently, we missed Piura Chat-Tyrant. Our only miss.
Jaen F7.3 – Be prepared to be a bit disappointed. There is little to no habitat left, therefore expect misses from what is listed in the book. Due to huge construction delays and bad road conditions we had to skip Tamborapa and Chirinos in the afternoon. We had heard only Maranon Crescentchest and missed Red-crested Finch and Maranon Slaty-Antshrike.
Marvelous Spatulatetail – Find Santos, first and foremost. He is the man. We had THREE displaying Marvelous Spatulatetails, all on his property, with over 7 individual birds seen.
Lago Pomacochas F3.1 – We birded around the Puerto Pumas Resort for a few minutes before taking off for the Marvelous Spatulatetail. Good birds can be had in the gardens.
Rio Chido Trail F3.3 – We had planned on birding this Trail, but Santos informed us that the nearest decent forest as around 5kms up the steep trail and has been reduced to patches. Sad, and disheartening. Without this access to habitat, Large-footed Tapaculo and Pale-billed Antpitta are improbable to impossible along this route. Hopefully someone, someday will find an alternative site.
Abra Patricia sites F4.1 thru 4.5 – All Great! Can’t say enough about how exciting birding this area is. Only total misses were Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant, Rusty-tinged Antpitta, and having to settle for heard only Bar-winged Wood-Wren. We did amazingly well in 1.5 days! Lots of rain and drizzle, though.
Utcubamba Valley F2.5 – we birded en route to Choctumal Lodge at the various construction road stops. Picked up a few Maranon goodies here. Expect Landslides, delays, and rough roads.
Balsas to Leymebamba F2.4 – We had some good birds along this stretch, but Abra Barra Negra is nearly non-existent. The forest is extremely small and reduced to patches. We birded in mostly fog and rain. Sally and I saw Russet-mantled Softtail, but poor views.
Balsas to Celendin F2.3 and 2.2 – We nailed everything along this stretch. The search for Gray-winged Inca Finch now involves driving quite far off the road (17kms) to get into scrub, rather than just 8 kms off the road. Nonetheless, the birds are there, just find the scrub. Beware, however, that you are in for some insane roads, sheer cliffs, landslides with construction delays, and soap-like mud on places you really do NOT want to encounter it. Be prepared to go extremely slow.
Cruz Conga F1.6 – This site no longer exists as it is known in the book. All forest and scrub is gone. However, approximately 14 kms prior to reaching this area visitors should bird any and all good scrub habitats. We had no misses here.
Rio Chona F1.1 – I suggest accessing this site by driving past the airport toward the Ventanillas de Otuzco tourist attraction area. This will get you on the right road. Coming into the site from the South takes much, much longer on bad roads. Drive straight to the canyon site, and search this area, first, for the Comet. We searched several short stops prior to this, then found 3 there. I would suggest, since it is the farthest from town, that the visitor begin birding here, at the end of the proper GB Comet habitat, as described in the book, and work their way back towards town. We
had no misses here.