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NORTHERN PERU

Sunday 15th June - Saturday 5th July 2014

Eustace Barnes

The superb endemic Scarlet-banded Barbet (Eustace Barnes)

The superb endemic Scarlet-banded Barbet (Eustace Barnes)

What a trip! We generally say something like ‘this trip just gets better every year….’ or ‘can it get any better etc etc etc…. ’ or ‘We must have some genius at work here, we have just seen more birds than anyone else in the history of bird tours’ but, apart from the latter, this should always be true as more is known of the area and leaders become more familiar with their territory. However, we did have a spectacular time this year with a decidedly small group of Neotropical aficionados that allowed me to focus on finding the endemics and rarer range restricted species. Notwithstanding this, we found a record breaking 714 species including the full array of endemics and a great supporting cast including five Fruiteaters. In fact we ran out of time and not birds, there was never a shortage of good species to look for. Of what we did find I forget how many Scarlet-banded Barbets we saw or how long we enjoyed point blank views of a Pale-billed Antpitta that came to see us, but I certainly remember watching the Long-whiskered Owlet perched on a mossy branch for forty minutes or so. We nailed a good number of other species including Scarlet-breasted and Scaled Fruiteaters in the same fruiting tree as the aforementioned Scarlet-banded Barbets. Where to look? It was hard to know on so many such occasions.

I can think of no better way of summing up the character of this tour, than by contrasting Day One in the Sechura desert watching Peruvian Thick-knees and Burrowing Owls in a ‘lunar dunescape’ while Peruvian Terns fished the adjacent lagoon with Day Twenty One in humid foothill rainforest watching White-plumed and Hairy-crested Antbirds at a huge antswarm an hour before we were due to fly home! Of course these are not endemics or especially rare birds but they certainly add to the exciting mix of birdlife we enjoyed on the tour this year now that it incorporates the complex avifauna of the foothills and something of the Amazonian lowlands including the dry deciduous woodlands of the lower Huallaga valley. I suppose I should run through some of the endemics and range restricted species that give us so many highlights on this tour to encourage more birders to visit the region.

The White-winged Guans at Quebrada Frejolillo, the Henna-hooded Foliage Gleaner at our feet, the Peruvian Sheartails displaying at Abra Porculla or the pretty little Piura Chat-Tyrant nearby must be top moments on the coastal strip. Once over Abra Porculla the nominate form of West Peruvian Screech Owl, Koepcke’s Screech Owl at roost, the latter now returned after having been blasted out of their roost by a hapless tour leader who did not know exactly where they roosted. An outrage the rest of us paid for last year! Anyway, Little Inca-Finches and Maranon Crescentchests were spectacular and we had great views of all the Maranon canyon endemics and those found around Cajamarca; easy, no kudos there. The Marvellous Spatuletail lived up to its name but then Abra Patricia was cold and wet. We did see a superb pair of Ochre-fronted Antpittas and some very obliging Bar-winged Wood-Wrens along with much else in the sub-tropics including the Equatorial Greytail.

Once we had waded through the Grey-breasted Mountain Toucans, White-capped and Red-hooded Tanagers and had some good views of Royal Sunangel we descended to the foothills for some of the most exciting birding in Peru. Fiery-throated Fruiteater is always a favourite while the recently described Varzea Thrush a welcome addition too many lists. We had to look at them anyway, along with the Fiery-capped Manakins and Mishana Tyrannulets. We should not forget the night birding either with great views of Cinnamon Screech Owl, a Stygian Owl wing clapping around our heads and a superb Scissor-tailed Nightjar displaying overhead and almost underfoot. A furious Vermiculated Screech Owl made for an unforgettable foray into the dense greenery as well, lest we forget. Then it was on down the road and up into the Cordillera Azul which produced mesmerizing views of three Scarlet-banded Barbets within an hour of arriving on site followed by a good number of foothills specialties. In no time we found ourselves in Tarapoto packing for departure but still time to do some birding before the flight, of course. The foothill forests on La Escalera produced the goods and we found several Koepcke’s Hermits and jammed into an army ant swarm! It did just go on getting better as the trip went on, right up to the last minute.

The amazing Rufous-crested Coquette (Eustace Barnes)

The amazing Rufous-crested Coquette (Eustace Barnes)