Borneo July 2013

August 8th, 2013

Male Orang-Utan

This past July, I had the opportunity to organize and lead my second tour to the Island of Borneo – I had a very nice group put together by a good friend, and we spent a little more than two weeks in Sabah, Malaysia, concentrating on three main areas – Kinabalu National Park, Sukau on the Kinabatangan River, and the Danum Valley – four nights at the wonderful Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Our trip was very successful. Everyone is always surprised at just how great the infrastructure is, and how nice the different lodges are. Borneo Rainforest lodge is, in my opinion, one of the nicest birding/wildlife lodges I have ever been to!

Mount Kinabalu if one of the most-famous “tourist” locations in Southeastern Asia – mainly attracting mountain-climbing enthusiasts for climbing the mountain. The national park, though is a premier birding location – beautiful forest, excellent trails, and very nice accommodations. We spent three nights at Mount Kinabalu searching for a good number of Bornean endemics.

Short-tailed Magpie

There were lots of very nice birds including specialties such as Bornean Treepie, and we had wonderful vies of difficult birds such as Golden-naped Barbet – coming to a fruiting tree. One of our favorites was this Short-tailed Magpie – a very improbable-looking bird! We made a side-trip and saw one of the “Rafflesia” species flower in bloom – an amazing sight right out of the “Little Shop of Horrors!” Of course, there was the mountain, which is an amazing sight to behold – especially seeing it during sunset with a red, misty glow around it!

We then traveled to the city of Sandakan, where we stayed at Sepilok and visited the wonderful Rainforest Discovery Center canopy walkway! Our morning there was very exciting – starting off with a rare sighting of a Rufous-collared Kingfisher – a bird I remember Dennis Yong telling me was “invisible!”

Red-bearded Bee-eater

We had a very nice array of canopy birds – three species of Malkohas, Bushy-crested Hornbills, a beautiful perched Crested Serpent-Eagle. Perhaps my favorite was this stunning Red-bearded Bee-eater that was perched at eye-level along the walkway! We searched diligently for Bornean Bristlehead – one of the strangest Borneo endemics – but we had to wait until later in the trip at Borneo Rainforest Lodge to finally catch up with this special bird! In the late morning we headed back to Sandakan for our boat trip up the Kinabatangan River to the very nice Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge for the next three nights.

Sukau Forest Reserve and the Kinabatangan River is a must place to visit while in Sabah – we had three nights at our lodge, which afforded us plenty of time to take several river excursions. This is the best place to see the Bornean “Pygmy” Elephant – an animal I saw in 2011, but unfortunately missed this trip! We did see many Proboscis Monkeys – well worth the visit, as well as lots of great birds!

White-crowned Hornbill

No fewer than eight species of hornbills are possible along the river, and we managed to see seven of the eight – including the rare White-crowned Hornbill – a bird I had missed on my previous visit! Just cruising up and down the main river, as well as along the smaller tributaries and oxbow lakes, we were able to find so many amazing things – including our first Orang-Utan – a female with a youngster – plus a wonderful family group of “Bornean” White-fronted Falconets – another special bird I had missed in 2011.

White-fronted Falconet

Another amazing sighting, and seldom seen along the river, was a male bornean Gibbon foraging in the canopy right along the Kinabatangan. We heard them every day later in the trip at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, but this was our only sighting – very lucky!

Just seeing loads of hornbills – in particular lots of Rhinoceros Hornbills – was amazing. The Kinabatangan has to be the best place in the world to see a variety of hornbills in numbers like this! One afternoon we went to Gomantang Cave where we saw all three species of “Edible-nest” swiftlets, and a stunning Bat Hawk foraging at will on the stream of Wrinkle-lipped Bats that were streaming from the cave. Oh yeah, we saw another Orang-Utan – this time much closer! Next it was on to Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

Rhinoceros Hornbill at Sunset

The Borneo Rainforest Lodge is simply one of the nicest lodges on Earth! I know that is saying a lot – but it is certainly one of my favorite places I have ever visited. The lodge is beautiful, the food is wonderful, the service excellent, and the birding fantastic!

As the trip progressed, we kept getting better and better views of Orang-Utans – finally culminating in an old male deciding to walk across the road in front of us! We thought that was pretty amazing, but it was duplicated (and even topped) on our exit the last day when another old male walked in front of our vehicle, and then st down on the side of the road – posing for head-shot photos! The birding at the lodge is generally acknowledged as the finest in Southeast Asia – and I believe it. We finally got multiple great views fo the Bornean Bristlehead, had walk-away views of a displaying Great Argus – a stunning pheasant that is difficult to see elsewhere – here we had one calling from minimal focus distance, standing right on the trail! Truly amazing!

Black-and-yellow Broadbill

The canopy walkway is also a great attraction, and we did very well there during multiple visits. Some of the nicer birds we had from the walkway included this Black-and-yellow Broadbill – one of five species of broadbills we found on the tour. There was always something interesting to look at – leafbirds, malkohas, an endless array of bulbils, barbets, woodpeckers, kingfishers, and on and on. We came VERY clost to seeing the almost-mythical Bornean Ground-Cuckoo – it was calling sooooo close, yet skillfully avoided detection! We saw a number of wonderful mammals – including the very strange Binturong (Bear-Cat), as well as a very rare sighting of a Sun Bear along the road back to Lahad Datu on the last day!

Male Orang-Utan

We went out at night and saw a variety of night-critters, including two species of flying-squirrells, some poor glimpses of a civet, and Leopard Cat, but my favorite was our diver spotting this “sleeping” Black-headed Pitta! We saw two other species of pitta – and heard a fourth species – but seeing this bird at night was thrilling!

In all, our trip to Borneo was quite a thrill – a wonderful mix of exotic birds and mammals, all while staying at beautiful, comfortable lodges that offer excellent service! I look forward to my next trip to this amazing island. If you have a few friends, putting together a private group is definitely the way to go! I have a great in-country contact and would be happy to put together a trip for you!

Southern Ecuador: Birding out of Guayaquil

October 17th, 2011

Striped Cuckoo

The first two days of my Avian Journeys Southern Ecuador tour were great fun. We birded at the Cerro Blanco Reserve, then headed for a day on the coast at the Santa Elaena Peninsular. At Cerro Blanco we saw a nice variety of dry forest specialties, including Pacific Parrotlets, Gray-cheeked Parakeet, Blue-crowned Motmot, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Pale-legged Hornero, White-tailed Jay, Speckle-breasted Wren, Gray-and-gold Warbler, and Yellow-tailed Oriole. After lunch, we headed over to Parque El Lago, a man-made reservoir not far from Cerro Blanco. Here we saw a nice variety of waterbirds, such as both Pied-billed and Least Grebes, Cocoi Heron, Wattled Jacanas, and two Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. Other fun birds included a Pearl Kite, Savannah Hawk, Striped Cuckoo, Masked Water-Tyrant,Baird’s Flycatcher, and tons of Scrub Blackbirds.

Collared Antshike

At the Santa Elaena Peninsular, we started with some nice dry-forest specialties, such as Necklaced Spinetail, Collared Warbling-Finch, Collared Antshrike, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, Parrot-billed Seedeaters, and Short-tailed Field-Tyrant. We then headed to the beach area near Punta Carnero and the Ecuasal Ponds. Lots of Magnificent Frigatebirds, a few Blue-footed Boobies, and good numbers of Brown Pelicans were evident. We ended up seeing lots of shorebirds, including American Oystercatchers, Whimbrels, Sanderlings, hundreds of Wilson’s Phalaropes, Wilson’s, Semipalmated, Snowy, and Black-bellied Plovers, and all three small peep. Fun birds included several Peruvian Pelicans, A scattering of Chilean Flamingos, at least five Kelp Gulls, White-cheeked Pintails, and several Gray-hooded Gulls. On the way back into Guayaquil, we stopped along a side road and saw two very close Peruvian Pygmy-Owls.

Peruvian Pygmy-Owl

Southeastern Peru: Manu National Park 2011

October 13th, 2011

Red-and-green Macaw

In September 2011, I led my 15th tour to wonderful Manu National Park in Southeastern Peru, my second since forming Avian Journeys in 2009. The tour was a great success, and we ended up seeing about 550 species. One of the amazing aspects of Manu is the incredible diversity of habitats and elevations we visit during the trip, starting at Cuzco in the dry inner-montane valleys, then birding in high elevation cloud-forest on the “Eastern” slope near Wayqecha Lodge, descending to Upper Tropical Forest at Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge at about 4000 feet, and then continuing down into the lowlands visiting Amazonia Lodge, Cocha Salvador up the Rio Manu, and wonderful Manu Wildlife Center, birding in beautiful, virgin Amazonian Rain-forest. We ended the trip with a visit to incredible Machu Picchu.

Blue-banded Toucanet

The trip began with a visit to the Huacarpay Lakes near Cuzco. Although we never have a lot of time there, we did manage to see all the nice waterbirds, such as White-tufted Grebe, Puna Teal, Andean Lapwing, and Puna Ibis. Interestingly, there was a Chilean Flamingo hanging out at the lakes! There was quite a bit of “Tree Tobacco” in bloom, and we were lucky to find a stunning Bearded Mountaineer. We then headed toward Manu birding through the inner-montane valleys where we saw a number of fun birds, such as the endemic Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch, Mourning and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches, the wild-looking Andean Flicker, a brief view of a Rufous-webbed Bush-Tyrant, Slender-billed Miner, and after severaly attempts, we finally got excellent views of another endemic, the Creamy-crested Spinetail. We arrived at Wayqecha Lodge right at dusk.

 

This year differed from past trips by spending two nights at Wayqecha lodge, allowing us more time at the higher elevations. We took advantage of this and saw a very nice variety of upper elevation hummingbirds, tanagers and flycatchers. When one thinks of the high Andes, images of beautiful tanagers come into view.

White-collared Jay

Some of the spectacular birds we encountered included Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Golden-collared Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Blue-banded Toucanet, White-collared Jay, Marcapata Spinetail, Masked Flower-piercer, several fun hummingbirds such as Shining Sunbeam, Amythest-throated Sunangels, and Rufous-capped Thornbill, Rufous-breasted and Chestnut-belted Chat-Tyrants, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, and Barred Becard. One of the birds of the trip was the stunning adult Black-and-chestnut Eagle we watched feeding a mostly grown “chick” in a nest across the valley!

 

Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge is always a real highlight of any Manu trip. We visited the “lek” at dawn, and successfully saw 3-4 males displaying. We also visited a second lek along the road – between the two we had very satisfying views of this bizarre Andean cotinga!

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Another highlight was seeing Lyre-tailed Nightjar. We first saw a very cooperative female – in the same spot as I have seen it in 2009 and 2010! But we did wait at our traditional spot for a male to begin calling and to fly across the sky above us. Our views were brief, but spectacular! The birding was excellent above and below the lodge, and we saw a huge number of scarce upper tropical species. Some of the more interesting birds we saw in this area included some rare flycatchers such as Inca Flycatcher, Unadorned Flycatcher, and the very cute Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, the stunning Versicolored Barbet, Yellow-breasted Antwren,

Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher

Two-banded and “Cuzco” (Golden-bellied) Warblers, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Stripe-breasted Antwren, Black-streaked Puffbird, Highland Motmot, and some wonderful tanagers including Slaty Tanager, Golden-eared, Golden, Blue-necked, Saffron-crowned, and Beryl-spangled Tanagers.At the lodge we saw several cool hummingbirds, such as Wire-crested Thorntails, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-fronted Brilliant, and Many-spotted Hummingbird. While looking for Lyre-tailed Nightjar, we saw a Semi-collared Hawk fly in and perch briefly – this is one of the rarest of “Manu” hawks, and we were quite lucky for even this quick sighting! We birded our way down-slope to the lowlands seeing a number of species new for the trip.

Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher

One of the best birds of the trip was the Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher we found in the bamboo! What a stunning bird, and we got such great views! Other highlights during this day included wonderful views of White-browed Antbird, very good views of the difficult-to-see Cabanis’s Spinetail, several Swallow Tanagers, a tantalizingly brief view of a Plum-throated Cotinga, and nice scope views of a Fine-barred Piculet. Before reaching the river, we had lunch and birded in the hills between Pilcopata and Atalaya seeing a nice variety of lowland species including White-lined Antbird, Violaceous Jay, Yellow-rumped Caciques, Black-fronted Nunbirds, and Yellow-tufted Woodpecker. One of the better birds, and a surprise, was a pair of Orange-fronted Plushcrowns – a very scarce bird on the Manu Road. We arrived at the river and were taken across to Amazonia Lodge, our base for the next two nights.

Amazonia Lodge is still one of my favorite places to stay and bird – the Yabar family always makes us feel at home – and I love their lemonade! The birding was excellent along the “Jeep Track” and around the little oxbow lake, not to mention around the clearing at the lodge. One of the more fun birds was seeing lots of Hoatzins – I know they are common, but their “Punk” hairdos are always comical, and everyone always enjoys these prehistoric-looking birds! Another excellent bird was having a few flyby flocks of Blue-headed Macaws – another scarce species.

Band-tailed Manakin

The birding at Amazonia Lodge is always a nice mixture of antbirds, woodcreepers, flycatchers, parrots, and includes both primary and secondary forest species. Some of the more fun species we saw included Lemon-throated Barbet, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Southern Chestnut-tailed Antbird, Band-tailed Manakin (one of the more stunning of manakins), Blue-throated Piping Guan, Spix’s Guan, Blue-headed Parrot, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, and Pale-legged Hornero. The clearing was usually hopping with birds, and the flowering bushes provided food for many hummingbirds, including a stunning male Rufous-crested Coquette, several Golden-tailed Sapphires, Fork-tailed Woodnymphs, Gray-breasted Saberwings, the beautiful Gould’s Jewelfront, and the Blue-tailed Emerald. It was fun just sitting on the porch and watching all the hummingbirds, and Masked Crimson Tanagers coming in to feed!

After a final morning at Amazonia Lodge, we headed down the Madre De Dios River through miles of undisturbed forest to the Manu River. Traveling up the Manu River is very exciting – one never knows what will be on the next sandbar! We spent a night at new Romero Lodge, then two nights at the Aguaje Manu Tented Camp across the river from Cocha Salvadore.

Horned Screamer

We spent a lot of time on the river – the water levels were quite low – and had a very enjoyable “catamaran” trip on the Cocha. The forest birding here was also very good! Some of the more interesting birds we encountered along the river included Orinoco Geese, Horned Screamers, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Pied Lapwings, and Collared Plovers. We even saw a scattering of migrant shorebirds, including a rare White-rumped Sandpiper in with a flock of Pectoral Sandpipers. Cocha Salvador was very exciting, with numerous Sungrebes, and some stunning looks at Sunbittern and Green Ibis, Lake edge specialties, such as Band-tailed Antbird, Amazonian Streaked Antwren, and Silvered Antbird were all seen.

Black-faced Cotinga

Most exciting was finding a Black-faced Cotinga along the entrance trail to Cocha Salvador – this species was described to science in the 1970’s, and is always one of the important target birds on the Rio Manu. Another great find was a group of Pale-winged Trumpeters, as was the Razor-billed Curassow. Although we failed to find a Jaguar this year, out time up the Manu was very rewarding! After a couple of days around Cocha Salvador, we headed back down the Manu, once again seeing many riverine species, lapwings, plovers, hundreds if not thousands of swallows and butterflies, and even some Capybaras and a huge Black Caiman. Our next lodge was beautiful Manu Wildlife Center – our base of operations for the next five nights.

Pale-winged Trumpeter

Black Caiman

Manu Wildlife Center is my favorite lodge in Amazonia – it has very comfortable accommodations, great trails, a fun canopy tower, and access to a wonderful Macaw Clay Lick, two different oxbow lakes, and excellent terra firmeforest. Five nights at MWC just scratched the surface.

Red-and-green Macaw at Clay Lick

Of course, probably the number one highlight of our visit to Manu Wildlife Center was our morning at the Parrot Lick. It began with lots of Blue-headed, Mealy, and Yellow-crowned Parrots, with smaller numbers of Orange-cheeked Parrots and Tui Parakeets “hanging around” but not really coming down to eat the clay in any numbers. Then, when everything had left, the Red-and-green Macaws arrived – we had no fewer than 80 individuals coming down to the clay – an amazing sight!

We had many other wonderful experiences at Manu Wildlife Center. There were our catamaran trips around Cocha Blanco and Cocha Camungo, our visits to the two canopy towers, and our visit to the “bamboo.”

Curl-crested Aracari

There were many highlights from the canopy that included wonderful views of so many birds! Some of our favorites included great views of five species of toucans, especially the Curl-crested Aracari, close views of Scale-breasted Woodpecker, both Spangled and Plum-throated Cotingas, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Black-bellied Cuckoo, Black-bellied Thorntail, Casqued Oropendolas, and lots of sweat bees! The oxbow lakes are always fun and relaxing, and there are several specialties that we look for in this habitat. One of the key species we saw was the Pale-eyed Blackbird, another species only recently described to science. Another important bird we saw was the Purus Jacamar – a recent split from the White-eared Jacamar of northern Amazonia.

Purus Jacamar

We once again saw a number of Sungrebes, a few Rufescent tiger-Herons, Green Ibis, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, lots of Hoatzins, and one of our favorite birds, a nice view of a Green-and-rufous Kingfisher.

We did only so-so in the “Bamboo” seeing several key species, but missing a few that I usually see. We did see very well two of the most important bamboo species, Bamboo Antshrike and Manu Antbird, two species described to science in the 1980’s. We also saw both Large-headed and Dusky-tailed Flatbills – two more bamboo specialists. Onthat day we also saw the amazing Long-billed Woodcreeper, and the scarce White-throated Woodpecker. It is always interesting to visit the bamboo and see this very specialized habitat.

Manu is also great for monkeys – and we saw eight species on the tour, including the rare Emperor Tamarin.

Emperor Tamarin

 

 

Saddle-backed Tamarin

After five wonderful days at Manu Wildlife Center, we exited Manu through Puerto Maldonado, allowing us some birding time near this Amazonian City. We managed to see all the Moriche Palm specialties, especially the Point-tailed Palm Creeper! In the open country we saw expanding species such as Southern Caracara, White-tailed Kite, Burrowing Owl, Red-breasted Blackbird, and Grassland Sparrow. It was an enjoyable morning of birding, after which we flew back to Cuzco for our extension to Machu Picchu.

Our extension to Machu Picchu was fun! Of course there were the ruins, and our very nice tour given by Vilma! But we did get to do quite a bit of birding along the Urubamba River.

Highland Motmot

Some of the highlights included several Torrent Ducks along the river (and more from the train), a few White-capped Dippers, Mitered Parakeets, Highland Motmots, Variable Antshrike, Sclater’s Tyrannulet, Ocellated Piculet,  and of course the endemic Inca Wren.

Inca Wren

In conclusion, the Manu tour was a wonderful experience that exposed us to a wide range of elevations and habitats in a relatively short distance. We saw some of the wildest places remaining in Amazonia, which was evident from the nearly 550 species of birds we saw on the tour. My next tour to Manu is scheduled for August of 2012

Southeastern Peru: Manu National Park and Machu Picchu

August 31st, 2010

Although I have been organizing and leading Manu Peru tours for more than ten years, this was the first official trip to Peru since starting Avian Journeys. The tour was memorable for a number of reasons. First, I had decided that traveling up the Rio Manu and actually staying in Manu National Park was going to be exciting and worthwhile (and different from my itinerary), and it would give us the best opportunity for seeing a Jaguar!

Blue-headed Parrot

Blue-headed Parrot

This plan, amazingly worked to perfection! Next, the tour was memorable for the “Friaje” (cold front from Patagonia) we experienced (see below). Most importantly, the tour was memorable for having an amazing experience in Peru, with flawless logistics, and seeing more than 500 species of birds. Manu remains the premier Amazonian experience providing the opportunity to experience the wonders of the Amazon in relative comfort.

We began the tour in Lima, followed by a flight to Cusco. Upon arriving in Cusco, we were met by Manu Expeditions, our ground agent for the tour. Our plan for the day was to travel all the way to the Ajanuco Pass and the Wayquecha Biological Station (Lodge). Our first stop was at the Huacarpay Lakes where we saw a number of interesting species. We encountered a nice variety of water birds, including White-tufted Grebe, Puna Teal, Puna Ibis, and Andean Gull. On the dry hillsides we found Streak-fronted Thornbird, and we saw a nice Black-tailed Trainbearer coming to some flowering Tree Tobacco. Our journey took us through seemingly endless dry inner montane valleys where we made a number of stops during the day. We saw a number of interesting birds en route to our lodging. We had excellent experiences with a group of Andean Lapwings at close range. A Slender-billed Miner performed quite well. An Andean Flicker was distant, but certainly identifiable in the scope. We had good views of a Rufous-webbed Bush-Tyrant. And perhaps our best bird of the day, we saw Creamy-crested Spinetail, a Peruvian endemic. Fog prevented us from birding the Acjanuco Pass area, so we headed to the lodge.

Cinnamon-faced Tyrannulet

Cinnamon-faced Tyrannulet

The Acjanuco Pass to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge area was an important day, as this tour is designed to concentrate on the Amazonian lowlands, and this day afforded us our only opportunity at high Andean species (next year I am adding an additional night at Wayquecha Lodge). We had a fantastic day that was filled with looking at birds all day. At Acjanuco Pass we saw a number of fun birds, such as a pair of the rare Scribble-tailed Canastero, Puna Thistletail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, both Black-throated and Mustached Flower-Piercers, lots of Great Thrushes, and a Great Sapphirewing. Closer to the lodge we found some great mixed flocks that had spectacular birds such as Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, a nice Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, several Shining Sunbeams, Masked Flower-Piercers, a Red-crested Cotinga, and close views of a circling White-throated Hawk that Janet spotted. We had close “flight” views of Marcapata Spinetail, another specialty of the upper Manu road. Lower down along the road we found a flock of White-collared Jays, had nice views of Chestnut-belted Chat-Tyrant, saw a Grass Green Tanager, and had a nice day birding our way down to San Pedro.

Agami Heron at Cocha Salvador

Agami Heron at Cocha Salvador

Cock-of-the-rock lodge is famous for its wonderful location in the Andean foothills. We were shocked to discover that a huge landslide had wiped out the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek just up from the lodge, but we were lucky that a couple of nice males were still “hanging around.” There are other leks in the valley that will continue to offer opportunities for viewing this species in the future, but it was impressive (and depressing) to see what destruction heavy rain can cause! Our day of birding around the lodge was very productive, and we had an absolutely mind-boggling mixed flock that seemed to go on and on forever! I know everyone didn’t see every bird, but the action was crazy for a while there. Some of the better birds we had in the flock included, Versicolored Barbet, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Gray-mantled Wren, Olive Flycatcher, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Lemon-browed Flycatchers, and a ton of cool tanagers, including Yellow-throated, Orange-eared, Paradise, Golden, Golden-eared, Spotted, Blue-necked, and Beryl-spangled, just to name some! We also had great views of a Lanceolated Monklet, and very close views of Black-streaked Puffbird (thank you Tom!). At the lodge we had some great hummingbirds, including a stunning Wire-crested Thorntail, Many-spotted Hummingbird, a Booted Racket-tail, and several Violet-fronted Brilliants. The best bird in the yard of the lodge was a close study of a Cinnamon-faced Tyrannulet – one of the birds named in honor of the late Ted Parker!
Great Black Hawk

Great Black Hawk

Our journey from CORL to Amazonia Lodge started out in the rain, but got nice by mid-morning. Some of the many highlights seen during this day included Black-Hawk-Eagle, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Tschudi’s Woodcreeper (a potential split from Ocellated), Ornate Flycatcher, and Golden-bellied Warbler. One of the best birds of the trip was the incredible Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher. In the bamboo (Guadua) along the road, we saw Bamboo Antshrike, a specialty closely related to Fasciated Antshrike, and the local Dusky-cheeked Foliage-gleaner. Another fun bird during the morning was the pair of Chestnut-backed Antshrikes we finally got nice looks at. At the Pilcopata bridge we had nice scope views of a Fasciated Tiger-Heron. We arrived at Amazonia Lodge in the mid-afternoon with plenty of time to enjoy the hummingbird show at the lodge clearing, which included Koepcke’s Hermit, Gray-breasted Saberwing, White-necked Jacobin, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, lots of Golden-tailed Sapphire, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, and Gould’s Jewelfront. Probably the best hummer there was the incredible Rufous-crested Coquette. Birding at the lodge was excellent and varied. Just some of the many fun birds we saw included many Hoatzins, a swimming Sungrebe on the oxbow lake, our first Scarlet and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, a stunning pair of Blue-headed Parrots nesting in the clearing, Squirrel Cuckoo, both Blue-crowned and Black-tailed Trogons, two stunning Scarlet-hooded Barbets, a close Rufous-capped Nunlet (while looking at a Rufous-breasted Piculet!), Fine-barred Piculet, some fun antbirds including Pygmy Antwren, White-lined, Black-throated, and Goeldi’s Antbirds, an incredible view of the diminutive Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, White-winged Becard, Violaceous and Purplish Jays, Pectoral Sparrow, and generally lots of tanagers and flycatchers to look at! The group of ever-present Masked Crimson Tanagers in the clearing were entertaining, to say the least! It was nice to just relax on the porch and watch the hummingbirds – and sip on their famous lemonade (and Pisco Sours!).

Jaguar on the Rio Manu

Jaguar on the Rio Manu

When I designed the tour, I added a three-night stay at the Cocha Salvador Tent Camp (Campamento Aguaje) 4-5 hours up the Rio Manu from where it flows into the Madre de Dios River. I had been looking forward to the boat trip down the Madre de Dios and up the Rio Manu for more than a year – mainly to look for the elusive Jaguar. What I didn’t plan on was the strongest “Friaje” (cold front from Patagonia) to hit Amazonian Peru in 30 years!!! Yes it was cold and wet during the first part of the boat trip – OK, I have been warmer in Alaska! But despite the cold, the afternoon journey up the Rio Manu was incredible – perhaps even improved due to the cold cloudy weather! Every sandbar and every curve of the river had something interesting to look at. First there were the egrets and herons as an almost constant backdrop, beginning in the morning with several Fasciated Tiger-Herons, and finishing on the Manu with numerous Cocoi and Capped Herons. We even had a Puna Ibis, apparently chased out of the highlands by the cold! One of the better birds of the day was Orinoco Goose, and we saw no fewer than four pairs along the river. Other fun birds along the river included Horned Screamer, many Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, many Black Skimmers, Pied Lapwings, Collared Plover, Great Black-Hawk, our first Blue-and-yellow and Red-and-green Macaws, hundreds of Sand-colored Nighthawks, several Swallow-winged Puffbirds, Brown-chested Martins, numerous White-banded Swallows, and no fewer than 1000 White-winged Swallows.

Giant Otter on Cocha Blanco

Giant Otter on Cocha Blanco

Our three-night stay at Cocha Salvador was exciting. Despite the freak “cold” weather – yes we had to sleep in our cloths, and the nights were “totally” silent with not a peep from an insect or frog!!! – we had a very productive stay. Cocha Salvador was beautiful, and we were lucky that no other groups were scheduled so we could spend the entire morning leisurely paddling around the lake. Some of the exciting birds we saw along the edge of the oxbow lake included Rufescent Tiger-Heron, a stunning Agami Heron, several Green Ibis, Limpkin, Rufous-sided Crake, Purple Gallinules, Sungrebe, Wattled Jacanas, lots of Hoatzins, four species of kingfishers, Amazonian Streaked Antwren, Band-tailed and Silvered Antbirds, Lesser Kiskadees, Black-capped Donacobious, and the rare Pale-eyed Blackbird. The forest within walking distance of the lodge was incredible, and we spent an entire morning birding the nice loop trail through the forest, and an afternoon was spent at Cocha Otorongo. Other fun birds seen during our stay included Little Cuckoo, Rose-faced Parakeets, great looks at a Semi-collared Puffbird, White-fronted Nunbird, Ringed Woodpecker, five species of woodcreepers, Great Antshrike, Long-winged Antwren, Band-tailed Antbird, a very cooperative Rufous-capped Antthrush, White-crested Spadebill, Grayish Mourner, a good view of a Screaming Piha (a memorable sound in the forest), and Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers, just to name a few. The forest birding was a bit slow due to the colder-than-usual weather, but it was excellent nonetheless!

Macaw Clay Lick

Macaw Clay Lick

For more than a year I had “dreamed” of once again looking for Jaguar along the Rio Manu. I had been up the Rio Manu twice previously (and the owner of Manu Expeditions once told me that he used to see Jaguar one in three trips up the Rio Manu), so I felt that perhaps a third time would be a charm! The problem was that we were experiencing a freakish cold front, and our local guide (David) thought our chances for “El Tigre” were low – he told us that they like to “sun” themselves on sandbars, and we were not experiencing any sun! I decided to stick to plan “A” and we motored further up the Manu from our camp in the late afternoon, with the plan of slowly drifting down the river searching the sandbars for the big cat! At about 4:15 David yelled out “JAGUAR!!!”. There, walking across a sandbar was a HUGE male Jaguar. I was stunned at just how large it appeared, completely dominating the sandbar. It paused to look at us (I suppose we weren’t quite as quiet as we should have been), licked his chops, and then turned and “melted” back into the forest! I had been looking for Jaguar for 30 years, and our experience with this beautiful animal was well worth the wait!

Great Potoo

Great Potoo

After our Jaguar experience, it seemed anti-climatic that we still had the “best” location to visit, five nights at Manu Wildlife Center! Such is a Manu trip! By the time we traveled down the Rio Manu to Manu Wildlife Center, the weather had improved greatly – and by our first full day there, we were experiencing typical hot and humid Amazonian weather – and wishing again for the nice cool cloudy skies! Our four full days of birding at Manu Wildlife were more than excellent. Perhaps the big highlight of our stay (and the tour itself) was our visit to the macaw clay lick. Our morning at the “blind” overlooking the cut bank along the river where the parrots come to eat clay was very productive. It was perhaps the best I had ever seen the parrot activity. Not only were there hundreds of stunning Blue-headed Parrots, and lots of Mealy and Yellow-crowned Parrots, we did see Orange-cheeked Parrot and White-eyed Parakeet coming to the wall. Of course the big highlight was the macaws coming down, and we saw no fewer than 100 Red-and-green Macaws – what a show!

Another fun experience was our visit to Cocha Blanco, another beautiful oxbow lake that we were able to paddle around on a floating catamaran. The big highlight of our visit was the incredible experience we had with a family of Giant Otters – they followed us around the lake for more than 30 minutes! Amazing views! Other nice birds we had here, and at Cocha Camungo included nice views of Purus Jacamar, more views of Pale-eyed Blackbird, more Horned Screamers and Hoatzins, a group of at least eight King Vultures, Snail Kite, Tui Parakeet, and a pair of Barred Antshrikes.

Cocha Blanco

Cocha Blanco

Another big highlight of the tour was the morning we spent on the canopy platform at Manu Wildlife Center. We had an amazing morning with a very impressive mixed-species flock that went on and on! We had numerous exciting sightings from the tower, including close fly-by of Blue-and-yellow Macaws, Lemon-throated Barbet, White-throated and Channel-billed Toucans, a close Curl-crested Aracari, Bar-breasted Piculet, Yellow-tufted, Red-stained, White-throated, and Cream-colored Woodpeckers, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner, Speckled Spinetail, Chestnut-shouldered Antwren, White-lored Tyrannulet, Syristes, Spangled Cotinga, Black-capped Becard, Yellow-crested Tanager, White-winged Shrike-Tanager, Turquoise, Paradise, and Green-and-gold Tanagers, and Yellow-bellied Dacnis. What fun!

Spotted Puffbird

Spotted Puffbird

We also did very well on the forest trails at the lodge, that go through good transitional forest, terra firme forest, and Guadua bamboo. One can spend a month on these trails and not see everything! There were many highlights produced from these trails. One of our best sightings was the pair of Razor-billed Currasows we had on the “grid”. Also the stunning Spotted Puffbird we had in the “exact” location I had one in October was a fun highlight. Some of the more exciting birds seen included Slate-colored Hawk, White-bellied Parrot, Blue-crowned Motmot, White-necked and Chestnut-capped Puffbirds, Gilded Barbet, Golden-collared Toucanet, Scale-breasted and Red-necked Woodpeckers, a stunning Long-billed Woodcreeper, Dusky-throated, Bluish-slate, White-shouldered, and Spot-winged Antshrikes, Striated, Gray, Manu, Black-faced, Peruvian Warbling, Scale-backed, and Plumbeous Antbirds, White-bellied Tody-Tyrant, Wing-barred Piprites, Scaly-breasted Wren, and Casqued and Olive Oropendolas.

Apart from the incredible Jaguar and wonderful experience with Giant Otters, we had a great trip for other critters. Perhaps my favorite (or second favorite) was the group of White-lipped Peccaries we saw on one of the trails – there were so many of them calling and chomping their teeth! It was only the second time I have seen them so well! We were also luck to see and hear no fewer than nine species of monkeys – the best being Red Howler Monkey and nice views of Common Wooley Monkey. Other interesting mammals included Capybaras along the Rio Manu, a Tayra, and a Two-toed Sloth. Other than the mammals, we saw both White and Black Caimans, and lots of Side-necked Turtles. Amazingly we did not see a single snake!

White-throated-Jacamar-2Leaving Manu is always difficult. Our boat trip down river to Puerto Maldonado was “warm,” and sunny, and we saw a few nice new birds for the trip, including Laughing Falcon and a Black-tailed Tityra. A Southern Caracara seen along the river was a big surprise – this is a species expanding its range into southeastern Peru, but it had not been seen away from Puerto Maldonado. Around Puerto Maldonado we saw a number of exciting birds. Some of the other species also expanding their ranges in Peru that we saw included Southern Lapwing, White-tailed and Pearl Kites, and Burrowing Owl. In the morning we saw at least three White-throated Jacamars, and we finished off by finding a stunning Point-tailed Palmcreeper – a species restricted to the Moriche Palms. An afternoon flight to Cusco (and Lima) concluded what was an amazing tour to one of the best and wildest areas in Amazonia – Manu!

Inca Wren

Inca Wren

For those on the extension, we over-nighted in Cusco and traveled to Machu Picchu the next morning. Machu Picchu is a magical location. We had a very nice tour of the ruins with our local guide Wilma. The weather was wonderful, and the ruins were not too crowded, so we all enjoyed the tour. The birding outside of Machu Picchu during the afternoon, and the following morning was very good. We all enjoyed the excellent views of Torrent Ducks and White-capped Dippers along the river, and we had some fun species such as Mitred Parakeet, Highland Motmot, Ocellated Piculet, Variable Antshrike, Sclater’s and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, Pale-legged and Russet-crowned Warblers, and Silvery Tanager. After another night in Cusco, we flew back to Lima where we spent the afternoon along the coast at Playa San Pedro and Villa. The birding on the coast was incredible, with excellent views of Humboldt Penguin, thousands of Peruvian Boobies, thousands of Gray Gulls, and other fun birds such as Peruvian Tern, Belcher’s, Kelp, and Gray-hooded Gulls, Blackish Oystercatcher, Long-tailed Mockingbird, and Peruvian Meadowlark. After a final dinner at our hotel we transferred to the airport for flights home and happy memories of a wonderful trip!

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Southern Ecuador – The Jocotoco Reserves

June 8th, 2010

Although I have led many tours to Southern Ecuador, this was my first Avian Journeys trip to this wonderful region. We had an excellent group of six participants, and we managed to see nearly 500 species of birds during the two week trip. The highlights were many, with the Jocotoco Antpitta taking the crown for favorite bird of the tour, and the amazing Long-wattled Umbrellabird a close second! I sort of like any trip that sees an amazing 43 species of hummingbirds, and more than 50 species of tanager!

View From Tapichalaca

View From Tapichalaca

The tour began with a day trip out to the Santa Elaena Peninsula, where we saw a number of dry desert species that we did not see elsewhere, including Superciliated Wren, Necklaced Spinetail, Gray-and-white Tyrannulet, and Collared Warbling-Finch. The coast provided fun birding, especially the Ecuasal Ponds where we saw a variety of shorebirds, gulls, and terns. It is always fun to see Chilean Flamingos, which appear to be resident there. On the way to and from the peninsula, we saw a few other highlights, including Pearl Kite, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Baird’s Flycatcher, and Chestnut-collared Swallow.

Long-wattled Umbrellabird

Long-wattled Umbrellabird

The day we left Guayaquil for Buenaventura, the road takes first by a large area of wetlands, where waterbirds were plentiful, as were Snail Kites! We must have seen 20-30 Snail Kites in the morning. We drove by the Manglares de Churute area where we saw a few Horned Screamers – this area has a remnant population on the West slope – it is a much more common bird in Amazonia! Other stops produced a nice variety of lowland west-slope birds, including fancy species such as Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Olivaceous Piculet, and the Yellow-tufted form of Black-faced Dacnis.

From Guayaquil, our first major stop was Buenaventura and Umbrellabird Lodge. This is always a big highlight of the tour because of the wonderful hummingbird feeders, not to mention the Long-wattled Umbrellabird. We successfully got wonderful views of the umbrellabird, as well as snazzy birds such as Gray-backed Hawk, Choco Toucan, Buffy (Pacific) Tuftedcheek, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Esmeraldas Antbird, Club-winged Manakin, a male Golden-winged Manakin, and lots of fancy tanagers such as Rufous-throated and Silver-throated Tanagers. It was fun just watching the hummingbirds with dozens of Green Thorntails and Violet-bellied Hummingbirds to keep us entertained, as well as Long-billed Starthroat, Green-crowned Brilliant, White-necked Jacobins, Green-crowned Woodnymphs, and Andean Emeralds! The lodge itself is quite comfortable, with five double cabins, and a nice lounge area to sit and watch the hummingbirds.

Club-winged Manakin

Club-winged Manakin

From Buenaventura we headed up slope to Loja, where we birded for a morning at Podacarpus National Park (Cajanuma), and then continued down the east slope to Copalinga Lodge. The birding in the Andes is fantastic. We had many highlights on this section of the tour, probably the best being the lek of Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks we had right along the road. Copalinga Lodge is owned and operated by Catherine Vits from Belgium, and it has become my favorite place to stay! The birding up in Podacarpus National Park along the Rio Bombuscaro was excellent. Some of the many highlights during our three night stay here included White-necked Parakeet, Red-headed Barbet, Black-streaked Puffbird, Equatorial Graytail, the newly described Foothill Elaenia, Amazonian Umbrellabird, and lots of fancy tanagers, such as Vermilion, Orange-eared, Golden-eared, Blue-browed, Paradise, Green-and-gold, Magpie, Spotted, and on and on!

Andean cock-of-the-Rock

Andean cock-of-the-Rock


Our next lodge on the trip was at Tapichalaca, where the Jocotoco Antpitta was discovered in 1997! The lodge is like a large cozy house, with four bedrooms with private bathrooms. Our small group fit into the lodge nicely! Certainly the highlight of our stay at the lodge was the hike to see the Jocotoco Antpitta. This used to be one of the most-secretive and difficult to see birds in the world – that is until they discovered that seemingly all species of antpittas will come out onto the trail and feed on worms! Who would have thought! We hiked up the “Jocotoco” trail, seeing a few nice birds along the way, such as White-throated Quail-Dove, and Orange-banded Flycatcher.
Jocotoco Antpitta

Jocotoco Antpitta

It is truly amazing. Our local guide for the morning arrives at the shelter and digs up some unbelievably long worms, which he cuts up and washes for the antpittas – they never had it so good! He then calls and they come! Simple as that. In all we saw three different Jocotoco Antpittas – Pancho, Bibi, and a new youngster (I can’t remember its name!). Sometimes other species such as Chestnut-naped Antpitta come as well, but not this day – we only heard them off in the distance!

Collared Inca

Collared Inca

The birding along the trail was also quite good – some of the many highlights included Golden-plumed Parakeet, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Pearled Treerunner, White-browed Spinetail, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Rufous Wren, Black-headed Hemispingus, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Lachrymose Mountain-Tanager, Golden-crowned Tanager, Grass Green Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, Spectacled Redstart, Citrine Warbler, and lots of Slaty Finches – due to the seeding bamboo!

The birding below Tapichalaca down to Valladolid was also quite good. We ran into numerous tanager flocks that had some nice Tangara tanagers, such as Blue-necked, Metallic-green, Silvery, and Flame-faced! Right near the lodge we saw a nice group of Red-hooded Tanagers, and down by Valladolid we saw a number of specialties including Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Marañon Thrush, and Yellow-cheeked Becard.

White-necked Parakeet

White-necked Parakeet

Other good birds around Tapichalaca included Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, more White-necked Parakeets, Rufous-tailed Tyrant, Cinnamon Flycatcher, and a very nice variety of hummingbirds coming to the feeders at the lodge, such as Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Collared Inca, Long-tailed Sylph, Little and Amethyst-throated Sunangels, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, and White-bellied Woodstar.

From Tapichalaca we headed back to the city of Loja for a night’s stay. On the way back we found a small patch of forest and saw the Three-banded Warbler – a species with a limited distribution.

From Loja we headed south and west toward the Peruvian border where we stood to pick up most of the Tumbesean specialties. Along the way we stopped in some nice lush desert scrub outside of Catamayo where we saw a number of good birds, such as Tumbes Sparrow, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant, Pacific Parrotlets, Band-tailed Sierra-Finch, and tons of Pale-legged Horneros and Saffron Finches! One of the highlights of the morning was locating, and getting great scope views of an Elegant Crescent-chest – a fancy member of the tapaculo family.

Chapman's Antshrike

Chapman's Antshrike

The road took us back up into some higher elevations with forest patches in the inner montane valleys. In these patches we searched for and found specialties such as Chapman’s Antshrike, Line-cheeked Spinetail, and Black-cowled Saltator. Our destination was one of the Jocotoco Foundation Reserves called Utuana. Here we saw Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant (our main target bird), as well as several Rainbow-bearded Starfrontlets, and Purple-throated Sunangel.

We then continued on to Jorupe, another Jocotoco Foundation Reserve, and their newest lodge. Staying right on the reserve was fantastic, and the lodge was both comfortable and beautiful. The birding here was excellent as well, and we managed to see most of the specialties we were searching for, which included Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Red-masked and Gray-cheeked Parakeets, Scarlet-backed and Guayaquil Woodpeckers, Ecuadorian Piculet, Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Blackish-headed Spinetail, Collared Antshrike, Watkin’s Antpitta, Slaty Becard, Sooty-crowned Flycatcher, White-tailed Jay, Gray-and-gold Warbler, Black-capped Sparrow, and White-edged Oriole – just to name a few.

Comb Duck

Comb Duck

On one afternoon we drove an hour or so to the town of Zapotillo where we birded the rice fields and saw several Comb Ducks – a strange species of duck that has expanded it’s range into this portion of Ecuador. Also in the rice fields were lots of Peruvian Meadowlarks, and we saw our only West Peruvian Doves fly by.

From Jorupe we headed back to the Buenaventura area for another night – breaking up the long drive. We stayed in the town of Piñas, and then birded the upper section of the Buenaventura Reserve – mainly looking for El Oro Parakeet – which unfortunately we missed! The birding was very good during the morning with lots of tanagers again.

From Buenaventura we headed back towards Guayaquil. Along the way we managed to see a few new birds for the trip, including Masked Water-Tyrants foraging along the edge of a small pool, and then, closer to Guayaquil, we stopped for Jet Antbird. We arrived back in Guayaquil in time for everyone to clean up and have a farewell dinner before most of the group headed to the airport for flights home.

I hope everyone enjoyed he tour as much as I did – it was a great group and I look forward to seeing everyone again soon!

East Slope Ecuador – February 2010

June 8th, 2010

Antisana

Antisana

The Avian Journeys tour to the East Slope of the Andes in Ecuador, led by Gary Rosenberg, began in Quito, and traveled to the lovely Antisana Reserve. We had a wonderful morning of birding in the high paramo grassland, with stunning vistas of the volcano! We began with excellent views of a Giant Hummingbird, and ended up seeing nearly 100 Carunculated Caracaras, as well as a group of 15 Black-faced Ibis – one of the largest groups I have ever seen at Antisana! Other nice birds included Andean Gull, several Andean Lapwings, a nice variety of ducks on the large lake, Ecuadorian Hillstar, both Stout-billed and Bar-winged Cinclodes, Paramao Pipit, and lots of Plumbeous Sierra-Finches.

Andean Lapwing

Andean Lapwing

From Antisana we headed to Papallacta Pass, where the weather was not that great for birding, so we headed down to Guango Lodge, our accommodations for the night. The best thing about Guango Lodge is the hummingbird feeders. Of course the best bird we saw at the feeders was the Sword-billed Hummingbird, but other nice birds such as Tourmaline Sunangel and Glowing Puffleg were also present. We spent a morning birding the treeline forest above the small town of Papallacta, where we were successful in seeing the incredible Masked Mountain-Tanager, Black-backed Bush-Tanagers, Golden-crowned Tanager, and Glossy Flower-Piercer. Around Guango, we found both Torrent Ducks and White-capped Dipper down by the river, and ran into a nice mixed species flock with Mountain Caciques, White-banded Tyrannulet, Cinnamon Flycatcher, and Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, to name a few.

Golden-headed Quetzal

Golden-headed Quetzal

It was then on to Cabañas San Isidro for three nights. On the way we birded at the Borja Bypass Road near Baeza where we had an incredible mixed species flock that just wouldn’t end! One of the best birds we saw was a stunning male Cerulean Warbler. Other highlights from the flock included Red-headed Barbet, an incredible view of a Gray-mantled Wren, and lots of tanagers.

Our stay at San Isidro was fun and productive. We were successful in finding a nice male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock at the small lek, but also saw a nice variety of great birds. Some of the many highlights included both Golden-headed and Crested Quetzals, Long-tailed Sylph, Emerald Toucanet, wonderful views of Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, both Chestnut-crowned and White-bellied Antpittas, Green and Black Fruiteater, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Black-billed Peppershrike, both Glossy-black and Pale-eyed Thrushes, and wonderful tanagers such as Hooded Mountain-Tanager and Grass Green Tanager. Of course the un-described “San Isidro” Owl performed for us quite well. The food and hospitality at San Isidro can not be beat!

Ochre-breasted Antpitta

Ochre-breasted Antpitta

It was then off to the Loreto Road and Wildsumaco Lodge. The birding along the Loreto Road is always fun, and we did very well during the morning seeing a number of fantastic specialties. Some of the better birds we encountered included excellent views of an Orange-breasted Falcon, Golden-collared Toucanet, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black-billed Treehunter, Lined Antshrike, Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher, Cliff Flycatcher, Olivaceous Greenlet, and lots of fun tanagers.

Wildsumaco Lodge is a relatively new lodge with lots of amazingly rare species possible there. We had only two nights there, but saw a number of the specialties. The hummingbirds were fantastic, and included great views of Napo Saberwing, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Black-throated Brilliant, Wire-crested Thorntail, and Gorgeted Woodstar, just to name a few of the better ones! Along the forest trails we found Black-mandibled Toucan, Foothill Antwren, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Gray-tailed Piha, both Blue-rumped and White-crowned Manakins, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Yellow-cheeked Becard, Red-billed Tyrannulet, and lots of other nice birds, The lodge itself is lovely and VERY comfortable.

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta

It was sad to finish the week with our return to Quito, but we had a great time birding at some of the premier birding sites in the eastern Andes of Ecuador. We amassed a respectable list of nearly 300 species, which included an amazing 32 species of hummingbirds.

La Selva – February 2010

June 8th, 2010

La Selva Lodge

La Selva Lodge

The Avian Journeys tour to La Selva Lodge, located on the Rio Napo in eastern Ecuador, began in Quito with a flight to the Amazonian town of Coca. Arriving at about 10:30 am, we were transported to the river, and then traveled down the Rio Napo in the rain to La Selva. We arrived at the lodge at about 3:00 pm, got settled in our cabins, and spent the rest of the afternoon peacefully canoeing on the beautiful oxbow lake called Garzacocha. For the next six days, we spent much of the time birding the canopy tower, the oxbow lake, the river islands on the Napo, and the wonderful forest trails. We managed to record more than 250 species of birds, including many of the specialties of the region that La Selva has become famous for.

José Hualinga

José Hualinga

We were joined for the week by José Hualinga and Marcelo, who both helped us find the birds, and make the week as easy as possible. We thank them greatly for all the fantastic paddling of the canoes, bringing us our lunches on the forest trails, carrying our daily snacks, and finding lots of great birds.

One of the best areas we visited was the canopy tower! This year the tower was exceptional, with what seemed like a never-ending tanager flock. We had numerous excellent sightings from the tower. Some of the best birds included King Vulture, Slate-colored Hawk, Blue-and-yellow Macaw (incredible fly-by views and then one perched!), White-throated and Channel-billed Toucans, Many-banded and Ivory-billed Aracaris, Gilded and Lemon-throated Barbets, an amazing Lanceolated Monklet, White-necked Puffbird, Cream-colored and Scale-breasted Woodpeckers, Pink-throated Becard, Plum-throated and Spangled Cotingas, White-browed Purpletuft, and a number of incredible tanagers including Paradise, Green-and-gold, Opal-crowned, Yellow-bellied, and Swallow, just to name a few. One the best birds we had was a Dougand’s Antwren, and it is always fun to see spectacular birds such as Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher at point blank range – a bird that looks like an insect from the ground!

Lanceolated Monklet from Canopy

Lanceolated Monklet from Canopy

The Oxbow Lakes are always fun at La Selva. The main lake, Garzacocha, that the lodge is located on was the main lake that we canoed across many times. The birding is always interesting here, and it is just very relaxing to be paddled around in a relatively comfortable canoe while watching the Hoatzins and Sand-colored Nighthawks. The lake produced a number of great birds as well, including the premier bird of La Selva, the Zigzag Heron! It took us a couple of tries, but we finally all got nice views! Other highlights from the canoe included a stunning Dot-backed Antbird, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher (in flight as usual), a stunning Spectacled Owl along Garzayacu, Lesser Kiskadees, and the ever present Greater Anis. At nearby Mandicocha, we saw some additional specialties such as Azure Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, White-chinned Jacamar, Yellow-crowned Elaenia, and Masked Crimson-Tanager.

A visit to the nearby River Islands produced many of the island specialist that are restricted to early successional habitats found only on the sand bars in the river. One of our favorite birds was the excellent views of Black-and-white Antbird we obtained, as well as Castelnau’s Antshrike, Parker’s Spinetail, and Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant. Along the edge of the islands we saw the gaudy Oriole Blackbird, and got very nice studies of both Pied Lapwing and Collared Plover on the sandy beaches. Perhaps the most fun bird out on the islands was the Amazonian Umbrellabirds we saw – one male flying across the river from the island, and at least a couple others perched in the Cecropia trees on the island. What a fancy bird! On the way to the islands we passed by an area along the river where we saw two Brown Jacamars, a very local species at La Selva. We also saw a Ladder-tailed Nightjar perched low over the water along the bank, and spotted a group of Drab Water-Tyrants flying along the edge of the river. The air was full of hundreds of Bank Swallows (Sand Martins) from North America, and we saw a few groups of the very attractive White-banded Swallow.

Mealy Parrot

Mealy Parrot

We visited the parrot clay lick along the river across from La Selva. At the blind we saw numbers of Mealy and Yellow-crowned Parrots, but were treated to a real spectacle when we left the blind and motored a bit up river to an area where the parrots were obviously congregating. Here we saw larger numbers of Mealy and Blue-headed Parrots, as well as numbers of Dusky-headed Parakeets – all coming down and foraging on the dirt! We visited the interior forest clay lick, which had hundreds of Cobalt-winged Parakeets in the canopy, but not seeable. We were headed out on one of the forest trails from there when a rain storm was approaching, which forced us back to the blind! What luck for us, as when re approached the blind for a second time, hundreds of parakeets were down on the ground (and in the cave). We were treated to quite a spectacle, which included great looks at Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet and Orange-cheeked Parrot as well!

We finally made it up the forest trail where we were pleased to find several excellent species, including Striped Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, and Yellow-browed Antbird. By the river we had wonderful scope views of White-eared Jacamar. The beautiful Wire-tailed Manakin was also one of the highlights of the trip! We were tantalizingly close to encountering an antswarm with antbirds, but they were just out of our sight!

White-chested Puffbird

White-chested Puffbird

The forest trails by the lodge also produced a number of great birds. One of the highlights was trying for and seeing a Chestnut-belted Gnateater – gnateaters are always excellent to see. We also spotted a very nice White-chested Puffbird, a decidedly secretive bird. We were fortunate that it sat tight and afforded very nice scope views (and photographs). Across Mandicocha we went to an area where José suggested we try for Cocha Antshrike. This is a species that was “rediscovered” in about 1990, and La Selva is one of the best places to find this rare bird. We eventually heard a pair calling from this swamp, and both a male and female came in and gave us brief views. Other nice birds on this trail included a pair of Peruvian Warbling Antbirds, and a snazzy Spot-backed Antbird, scope views of a Yellow-billed Nunbird, and we heard only an Undulated Antshrike!

In all, we had a very nice time at the lodge. In general, the lodge is very comfortable, and although we were a year too early, they are renovating the cabins for next year (isn’t that always the case!). The service at the lodge has always been great, and I think everyone enjoyed the food. It is jus nice being at a place where ambient sounds are Yellow-rumped Caciques and distant Red Howler Monkeys. The lake was very peaceful, as usual, and we were sorry to leave and head back to civilization. Until next year!

Garzacocha at Sunrise

Garzacocha at Sunrise

Argentina November 2009

April 28th, 2010
Scarlet-headed Blackbird

Scarlet-headed Blackbird

On November 4, 2009, Barbara Trask and Ger van den Engh arrived in Buenos Aires, and after securing a taxi from the international airport to downtown, met Gary Rosenberg at the Hotel Wilton. Despite traveling all night, we decided to spend the afternoon birding out at Costanera del Sur, a very nice (and convenient) local reserve. Word was that the reserve was completely dry, but recent rains provided some much needed water, and at least a few of the “pools” had some water. Nevertheless, we did not see that many waterbirds (we did see our first White-faced Whistling-Ducks and Coscoroba Swans), but the land-birding was excellent. Some of the many species we found this afternoon included, Picazuro Pigeon, Monk Parakeet, Dark-billed and Guira Cuckoos, Golden-breasted and Checkered Woodpeckers, Rufous Hornero, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Yellow-browed Tyrant, White-rumped Swallows, Rufous-bellied and Creamy-bellied Thrushes, Chalk-browed Mockingbirds, distant Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Red-crested Cardinal, and several Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finches. The walk was a lot of fun, and we were impressed with the quality of the paths within the reserve, and very impressed with the number of birds we saw in such a short time.

Greater Rhea

Greater Rhea

The next three days were spent birding our way south of Buenos Aires to San Clemente del Tuyo, a resort town on the coast, and then back to Buenos Aires. First, Gary, with Barb navigating, successfully negotiated the route out of Buenos Aires, with only minor mistakes (Gary’s fault). Once south of town we drove the “backroads” all the way to San Clemente, and were absolutely amazed with the number of birds we saw. Everywhere one looked there were flocks of birds – ducks, ibis, storks, gulls, caracaras, blackbirds – just huge numbers of birds! One of our first stops was in an agricultural area with dozens of Grassland Yellow-Finches, and fun birds such as Great Pampa-Finches. Some of the many exciting birds we saw on our drive south included, Greater Rhea, Southern Screamer, Chiloe Wigeon, Ringed Teal, Rosy-bellied Pochard, Whistling Heron, Maguari Stork, Snail Kite, Southern-Crested and Chimango Caracaras, Southern Lapwings (hundreds!), Brown-hooded Gull, Ash-colored Cuckoo, Field Flicker, Warbling Doradito, Spectacled Tyrant, lots of Fork-tailed Flycatchers, Brown-and-yellow Marshbird, and Scarlet-headed Blackbird.

Brown-and-yellow Marshbird

Brown-and-yellow Marshbird

Once in San Clemente del Tuyo, we checked into our comfortable hotel, and headed out to Punta Rasa – the main birding destination here. The point is a huge spit sticking out into the ocean with a combination of scrub and marsh habitat, where we saw a few interesting species such as Bay-crowned Wren-Spinetail. The point itself was where the action was. We saw a large concentration of White-rumped Sandpipers, along with a relatively good number of Hudsonian Godwits. There was a huge roosting flock of Common Terns, along with numerous Sandwich (Cayenne) Terns, and a number of Black Skimmers. The big target bird for the point was Snowy-crowned Tern, of which we saw at least 30-40 individuals. We also saw a distant flock of Olrog’s Gull, the Atlantic version of Band-tailed Gull that was split into two species – the Pacific species being called Belcher’s Gull. We ended up visiting the port (at low tide) where we got close-up views of a number of Olrog’s Gull in various plumages. Other interesting birds at the point included a sub-adult Parasitic Jaeger, what was apparently a Chilean Skua, and a single Two-banded Plover.

Olrog's Gull at San Clemente Del Tuyo

Olrog's Gull at San Clemente Del Tuyo

We spent an entire day working our way back to Buenos Aires, again via the backroads (Highway 11), and stopping at the Elsa Shaw Reserve. We repeated the exciting first day birding, again seeing tons of waterbirds such as ducks, including our first Black-necked Swans. We added a few interesting land birds, such as White-throated Hummingbird, Firewood Gatherer, Sooty Tyrannulet, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and others. One of the best birds was a Giant Wood-Rail, which Gary spotted in his rear view mirror! We successfully negotiated the return trip through Buenos Aires, and stayed at the Complejo Tango Boutique Hotel, where we treated ourselves to a wonderful dinner/Tango show – as the comment in the “comments book” aptly put it – “God Damn!!!”

The following morning we drove north of Buenos Aires to the town of Otamendi. We birded along a tract that passed through nice marsh on the way out to a river. It was quite windy, but we still managed to find the two main target birds – both Curve-billed and Straight-billed Reedhaunters, as well as a few other interesting land birds such as Spix’s Spinetail and several Spectacled Tyrants. We returned to Buenos Aires in time for our flight to Trelew.

Magellanic Penguins

Magellanic Penguins

We spent four nights in the Trelew and Valdez Peninsula area, which was our introduction to Patagonia. Driving south from Trelew, we visited the Punta Tambo Reserve, famous for an extensive Magellanic Penguin colony. On the way to Punta Tambo we saw a couple of specialties we were looking for, including our first Darwin’s Rhea, the fancy-looking Rusty-backed Monjita, and our first Carbonated Sierra-Finch. The penguin colony at Punta Tambo was a lot of fun – the trail meanders through the colony allowing us excellent close-up views of numerous penguins, doing their thing. Most were in the process of nesting, with many sitting in burrows, and many already with eggs. Watching them walk around – sometimes coming right up to us – was a lot of fun! Along the beach, we saw several “Chubut” Steamer-Ducks – a recent split. Also present were several pairs of Brown “Antarctic” Skuas doing their courtship displays, and several Southern Giant Petrels.

Puerto Pyramides

Puerto Pyramides

It was then off to the Valdez Peninsula. The entire peninsula is a National Park and is famous for its Southern Elephant Seal colonies, which occasionally attract Killer Whales. We stayed in the small town of Puerto Piramedes, from which we took a short “whale-watching” trip and got very close-up views of several Southern Right Whales. On one full day we drove the entire “loop” road around the peninsula. We saw numerous Darwin’s Rheas, as well as several pairs (groups) of Elegant Crested Tinamou. Along the beaches we visited a couple of different Southern Elephant Seal colonies, and we saw numerous Southern Giant-Petrels. At Punta Norte we located a group of swimming Northern giant-Petrels (the orange-red tip of the bill being the best distinguishing mark), and a stunning White-banded Mockingbird. Very fun were the Mourning sierra-finches at the parking lot coming down and perching on our hands looking for food! Unfortunately Gary was the only one to see the Hairy Armadillo.

Hairy Armodillo

Hairy Armodillo

The area around Puerto Piramedes was quite scenic – particularly at sunset from the rocky bluff behind the hotel. Early morning birding above town produced more Elegant Crested-Tinamous, singing Carbonated Sierra-Finches, Patagonian Mockingbirds, Scale-throated Earthcreepers, and lots of Long-tailed Meadowlarks. Our drive back to Trelew took us by a nice Burrowing Parrot colony near Puerto Madryn – with several of the parrots sitting on the telephone wires, and even more sitting along the small bluff that had the actual burrows! Near Puerto Madryn we visited the small Punta Loma Reserve, where along with the Southern Sea Lions we saw a pair of Snowy Sheathbills. Outside of town we saw our only Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant. In the late afternoon we drove out to the coast where we saw more flocks of terns, including numerous South American Terns (also seen from our boat trip). Later we visited the Trelew Sewage Ponds, where there were tons of birds including numerous Chilean Flamingos, hundreds, if not thousands of Red Shovelers, and a nice variety of many of the other duck species.

El Calafate

El Calafate

Our next destination was the town of El Calafate at the base of the Andes, and Los Glaciers National Park. We took a morning flight to Calafate arriving in the late morning. It took us a little extra time to rent our car (Hertz did not have our reserved vehicle!), but we succeeded and were soon checked into our comfortable Bed and Breakfast. We then spent the better part of the next to days birding the edge of Lake Argentina, and the Patagonian steppe between El Calafate and the beautiful National Park. One of the best birding locations was a small “reserve” right in town along the edge of the lake. Here there were small ponds and mudflats that were teeming with birds. One of our most important “target” birds was the unique monotypic Magellanic Plover, and we found a beautiful pair along the rocky beach. One of the more enjoyable groups of birds were the geese, and we were pleased to find both Upland Goose, which turned out to be abundant in the wetlands, and Ashy-headed Goose, which was not quite as common, but beautiful nonetheless. Another common bird was the attractive Black-faced Ibis. Out on the large lake were dozens of Black-necked Swans, and virtually every direction we looked, there was stunning scenery of snow-capped mountains.

Moreno Glacier

Moreno Glacier

Los Glaciers National Park was wonderful. The drive there took us along the edge of Lake Argentina, with flocks of Upland Geese and lots of Black-necked Swans. We even found a family group of swans with signets. In a wet ditch, we found a few Austral Blackbirds, and once we got into the park itself, we entered the “Nothophagus” forest where we saw a number of interesting birds, most-notably Austral Parakeet, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, and the unique White-throated Treerunner. We were very pleased to find a female Magellanic Woodpecker – its curly crest quite in evidence! At a small scenic pullout, we scoped a small lake and found a “staked-out” (or in Argentina – “steaked-out”) pair of Spectacled Ducks. Then we got to the Moreno Glacier – by far the most-spectacular glacier we have seen! It was just soooooo big! The trails in the park to view the glacier were excellent, and the day we chose to visit was perfect – clear skies, warm, just adding to the amazing scenery! We even saw the glacier “calve” extensively while we were there watching.

Black-necked Swans

Black-necked Swans

Our last morning was spent driving out through the steppe looking for a few specialty birds – the main one being Chocolate-vented Tyrant, which we saw easily. The steppe was pretty quiet, and we even got snowed upon a little, but we did make a stop and saw several Least Seedsnipe, and a few more Darwin’s Rheas. We returned to El Calafate in the late morning in time for our flight to Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego.

We enjoyed our four nights in Ushuaia greatly, and the long stay allowed us to poke around the region, and along the edge of the Beagle Channel at leisure. Some of the best birding was right along the coast on either side of town (and in town as well) where we saw both Flightless and Flying Steamer-Ducks, Kelp Geese, Magellanic Oystercatchers, lots of Chilean Skuas, numerous Dolphin Gulls, and even Black-browed Albatrosses offshore. Again it was fun to see both Upland and Ashy-headed Geese, and Kelp Gulls were common and everywhere! We stopped near the “dump” and got great close-up views of skuas, and this is where we got our best views of White-throated Caracara.

Ashy-headed Geese

Ashy-headed Geese

One of the best areas we visited was Tierra Del Fuego National Park. The coastal Nothophagus forest was very interesting, and we went for a couple of nice hikes. We again saw specialty birds such as the Rayadito and Treerunner, but our best bird was a very responsive male Magellanic Woodpecker that came in and hung around forever! One afternoon we hiked up to the ski area at Martial Glacier and got wonderful views of the Beagle Channel below, as well as close views of a pair of Yellow-bridled Finches.

Beagle Channel

Beagle Channel

Perhaps the highlight of our stay in Ushuaia was our boat trip to the Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel. Our six hour trip took us by several King and Rock Cormorant colonies, as well as Sea Lion colonies and generally superb scenery. Thoughts of Charles Darwin sailing down the channel were unavoidable! Our stop at the penguin island afforded us close views (again) of Magellanic Penguin, as well as a small number of Gentoo Penguins, which have recently taken up shop there. In the channel we saw numerous Southern Fulmars, and scattered Black-browed Albatrosses. It was a very enjoyable trip.

Magellanic Woodpecker

Magellanic Woodpecker

After four glorious days in Ushuaia, we finally flew back to Buenos Aires for one last day of birding at Costanera del Sur. We had a wonderful morning walking the loop trail, and seeing a few new birds such as Spot-flanked Gallinule, and White-crested Tyrannulet, not to mention the close Gray-necked Wood-Rail in a puddle right on the trail. In mid-day we headed back to the hotel to clean up, and then took the “wild” taxi ride to the International airport for our flights home.

Peru Tour October 2009

December 10th, 2009
Spotted Puffbird at Manu Wildlife Center

Spotted Puffbird at Manu Wildlife Center

My October 2009 tour to Southeastern Peru and the Manu Biosphere Reserve marked my 12th tour to this amazing region, yet I continue to be amazed by how pristine the rainforest appears, and how fantastic the birdwatching is there.

Our trip list of some 645 species seen and heard in less than three weeks is still one of the largest lists produced by ANY regular tour we run in the world, and is testament to just how diverse the Amazonian rainforest and Andes can be. The actual number seen is less important than the overall birding experience and enjoyment had by the participants, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that we encountered more than 50 species of antbirds, 50 species of tanagers, 40 species of hummingbirds, 10 species of toucans and barbets, and an unbelievable 80 species of flycatchers!

The trip provided an excellent representation of all of the Neotropical families. The diversity one experiences during this transect from high elevation paramo to lowland Amazonian rainforest will make your head spin!

We began the tour with a flight from Lima to Cusco, and went directly out to the Huacarpay Lakes, a scenic area with a nice selection of high-elevation water birds and other specialties. We had a very productive few hours seeing such birds as Bearded Mountaineer, Streak-fronted Thornbird, Rusty-fronted Canastero, distant views of an Andean Negrito, Puna Teal, Plumbeous Rail, Andean Gull, and Puna Ibis.

On the grounds of our hotel in the Sacred Valley of the Incas we saw a few nice birds, including Black-backed Grosbeak and Black-tailed Trainbearer. The hotel is also great for White-bellied Hummingbird. Machu Picchu is always a highlight of the tour, and our tour with local guide, Wilma, was well worth it!

The birding in the Machu Picchu area was also very good, where some of the better birds we saw included the endemic Inca Wren, Ocellated Piculet, a Black-streaked Puffbird, many Torrent Ducks (mostly from the train), specialty flycatchers such as Sclater’s and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, and fun hummingbirds such as the endemic Green-and-white Hummingbird, Gould’s (Collared) Inca, and Chestnut-breasted Coronet. But, again, the best memory was the incredible Inca ruins at Machu Picchu!

Although the majority of the tour concentrates on lowland areas in the Manu Biosphere Reserve, we do make a transect through high elevation areas, with one night near the high-elevation pass, and three nights at the wonderful San Pedro area (divided between Paradise and Cock-of-the-Rock Lodges). We were very lucky with nice weather in the Andes (although it was a little too sunny), and the birding at the high elevations was very rewarding.

Our journey through the high and dry montane valleys on our way to Manu yielded us some very interesting birds, including Creamy-crested Spinetail, Slender-billed Miner, both Peruvian and Mourning Sierra-Finches, Andean Flicker, Rufous-webbed Bush-Tyrant, and the endemic Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch. Near our accommodations in the cloud forest, Wayqecha Lodge, we had one of the more enjoyable moments of the tour when a male Swallow-tailed Nightjar came in and did its display flight right in front of us.

We also had a nice high-elevation flock with both Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, a stunning Grass-Green Tanager, excellent views of Marcapata Spinetail and Puna Thistletail, and nice hummingbirds including Rufous-capped Thornbill and Great Sapphirewing. Working our way down slope through the untouched temperate and subtropical forest, we saw a number of fantastic birds including a White-throated Hawk, White-collared Jay, Inca Flycatcher, Chestnut-belted Chat-Tyrant, Golden-headed Quetzal, and Blue-banded Toucanet.

Our stay at San Pedro (Paradise and Cock-of-the-Rock Lodges) was a lot of fun as usual. The Cock-of-the-Rock lek was incredibly active with as many as 15-20 males, including several females which always increases the activity, all displaying right along the road as usual. Birding above and below the lodge was excellent, although our search for the new, unnamed species of tanager was unsuccessful – maybe next year! Despite missing this rare tanager, we did see numerous other fancy tanagers, including flocks of Paradise, and other Tangaras such as Spotted, Golden, and Beryl-spangled Tanagers.

One of the highlights here was the Lyre-tailed Nightjar show, with a stunning male calling and perched in plain sight! Some of the “upper tropical” specialties seen during this section included Solitary and Black-and-Chestnut Eagles, Many Spotted Hummingbird, Wire-crested Thorntail, Crested Quetzal, Highland Motmot, a stunning Lanceolated Monklet, the foothill version of Ocellated Woodcreeper (likely to be split and called Tschudi’s Woodcreeper, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher, Yungas Manakin, Green (Inca) Jay, White-eared Solitaire, Orange-eared Tanager, Two-banded and Golden-bellied Warblers, and wonderful views of an Olive Finch, just to name a few! One of the birds of the trip was the stunning White-cheeked Tody-Flycatcher we found at a stop before reaching the Madre de Dios River.

Amazonia Lodge is always one of my favorite places to visit – an original citrus plantation turned into a birdwatchers paradise. The Yabar family makes us feel at home with family-style service (cold lemonade upon arrival and Pisco sours on the porch!). Birding from the porch is a real highlight, from Red-capped Cardinals and Masked Crimson Tanagers coming into the feeders, to a wide variety of hummingbirds, including Rufous-crested Coquette and Golden-tailed Sapphire, coming into the Vebain flowers. It’s a great spot to spend one’s siesta!

Birding the jeep track and forest trails were also incredibly productive. Nice birds we saw included Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Red-throated Caracara, Razor-billed Currasow,  a Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl in a cavity, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, Lemon-throated Barbet, Rufous-breasted Piculet, Chestnut-tailed and Black-throated Antbirds, White-thighed Swallow,  were just a sample of the many amazing birds we saw there. Other fun birds seen here included several Hoatzins, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, nice looks at Sungrebe on the oxbow lake, and an incredible male Amazonian Umbrellabird which appeared out of nowhere right over our heads! Our visit to Amazonia Lodge was a memorable highlight of the tour.

Rose-fronted Parakeet at Manu Wildlife Center
Rose-fronted Parakeet at Manu Wildlife Center

It was then off to my favorite lodge in Amazonia, Manu Wildlife Center. Our six hour boat trip down the Madre de Dios River into the heart of the lowland rainforest was another highlight, with lots to look at during the journey – we saw a Fasciated Tiger-Heron along the gravel bars, several Horned Screamers, a couple pairs of Orinoco Geese, loads of all the egrets and herons, Pied Lapwing, both Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, and our first of many Macaws.

Manu Wildlife Center has a very varied array of fun birding activities. Our visit to the parrot and macaw clay lick (Collpa Lorros) was exciting, as some 75 Red-and-green Macaws were seen coming to the river bank to ingest dirt to counteract the acids from their usual fruit diet. Other parrots such as hundreds of Blue-headeds and Mealy Parrots, and the stunning Orange-cheeked Parrot were also present.

At Cocha Camungo we had great success seeing Pale-eyed Blackbird and Purus Jacamar, and a big surprise was a family group of Giant Otters. At Cocha Blanco we found another family of Giant Otters, and had a wonderful morning floating around this beautiful oxbow where we saw a number of great birds, including numerous Sungrebes, Green Ibis, Black-collared Hawk, a family of Horned Screamers (including four fluffy chicks!), several Wattled Jacanas, Amazonian Streaked Antbird, and Plumbeous Antbird.

Our visits to two canopy towers were yet another big highlight of the tour. Unless one has experienced a visit to the canopy, it is difficult to accurately describe how unique and exciting being among the treetops can be. Some of the fabulous birds we experienced up there included Blue-crowned Trogon, Red-stained and White-throated Woodpeckers, Scale-breasted Woodpecker, Lineated Woodcreeper, Chestnut-winged Foliage-Gleaner, Bare-necked and Purple-throated Fruitcrows, Black-capped Becard, Lawrence’s Thrush, Green-and-gold Tanager, and Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak, all birds difficult (or impossible) to see from the ground.

Our ventures into the terra firme forest were equally productive, with some of the better birds being Slate-colored Hawk, Pale-winged Trumpeter, Black-capped and Rose-fronted Parakeets, Golden-collared Toucanet, glimpses of Pavonine Quetzal, Plain Softtail, an incredible Long-billed Woodcreeper, Long-winged Antwren, Black-faced Antbird, Peruvian Warbling-Antbird (a recent split), Black-faced and Rufous-capped Anthrushes, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, White-crested Spadebill, Band-tailed, Round-tailed, and Dwarf Tyrant-Manakins, and White-winged Shrike-Tanager, just to name a few!

One of the birds of the trip was the incredible Spotted Puffbird perched right over the trail at point-blank range! During our visit to the bamboo, although hard work, we still managed to see several of the most-specialized species of the region, such as Manu and Striated Antbirds, Bamboo Antshrike, Large-headed Flatbill, and another candidate for bird of the trip – two different stunning Rufous-headed Woodpeckers! In all, our stay at MWC was incredible for birds, several species of monkeys, and just an enjoyable experience, despite the unusually hot and humid conditions.

We finished the tour by continuing down river to Puerto Maldonado – a more secure way of returning to Cusco and Lima. Outside Puerto Maldonado we were able to spend a late afternoon and early morning birding, where we saw a number of interesting species, including some recent “invaders’ to the Puerto Maldonado area, such as Southern Caracara, White-tailed Kite, Southern Lapwing, Burrowing Owl, Red-breasted Blackbird, and Grassland Sparrow.  Other fun birds included Red-bellied Macaws and Point-tailed Palmcreeper, both Moriche Palm specialists, as well as Rusty-margined Flycatcher.

The real prize of our birding here was a staked out pair of White-throated Jacamars – a new bird for everyone (including the leader!). We arrived in Lima in the late afternoon in time to do some quick birding along the coast, where we saw Peruvian Booby, Peruvian Pelican, Gray, Kelp, Band-tailed, Gray-hooded, and Franklin’s Gulls, and a wide variety of shorebirds. The trip ended in Lima with flights home with, I hope, lots of incredible memories of a fantastic tour.

For information on my 2010 Peru tour, check out my web page here.

October 5th, 2009
Curl-crested Aracari at Manu National Park

Curl-crested Aracari at Manu National Park

Hi Friends,

I am off to Florida (to visit my mom), then to Peru to lead my last WINGS tour to Manu, and then to Southern Argentina to lead my first private tour for my new company Avian Journeys. I am very much looking forward to getting back into the field, after nearly three months in front of my computer. Manu is one of my all time favorite tours, and I am looking forward to birding the Neotropical rainforest once again! I am REALLY looking forward to Argentina! This will be my first trip to the southern portion of the country (I have only birded once at Iguazu Falls in 1992!) so I stand to see many new birds. I am really looking forward to seeing my first Steamer-Ducks, and Snowy Sheathbills. I hope to periodically keep you posted on my travels, so check back soon.