AMAZONIAN PERU: TAMBOPATA & MADRE DE DIOS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 1 Our tour starts this morning at Puerto Maldonado airport, our gateway to the ornithologically richest corner of Amazonia. Puerto Maldonado, situated in southeastern Peru, is reached by what is often a highly spectacular flight over the Andes. (There is a good quality hotel in the terminal complex at Lima airport, so there is no need to leave the airport should you need an overnight stop en route to Puerto Maldonado.)
After a short transfer from Puerto Maldonado airport to the waterfront, we have a short ride in our motorised canoe up the Rio Tambopata to the beautifully appointed Refugio Amazonas for an overnight stay. Located in a tract of high terra firme forest with access to some superb forest trails and recently the best place to see Harpy Eagle. As we make our way to the river, Black and Turkey Vultures wheel over town along with numerous Grey-breasted Martins. At the port we may see the introduced Saffron Finch and Picui Ground-Dove before we board our canoes.
Our initial experience with Peru’s ‘fluvial transport network’ may reward us with a number of commoner riverine species including Neotropic Cormorant, Western Osprey, Plumbeous Kite, Great Black-Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Black Caracara, a few Collared Plovers and perhaps a Yellow-billed Tern on the sand bars, Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfishers, the ubiquitous Tropical Kingbirds sitting atop their riverine vantage posts, and perhaps a Bare-necked Fruitcrow crossing the river. There will also be Brown-chested Martins and the numerous White-winged and White-banded Swallows skimming over the waters.
On arrival we will settle in to our splendidly-situated accommodations before taking a first opportunity to see what can be found around the clearing. Here we will see or hear a great variety of more widely distributed secondary growth species as well as rainforest species. We should hear the tremulous songs of both Little and Undulated Tinamous and see Speckled Chachalacas clambering about in fruiting trees, along with Ruddy and Plumbeous Pigeons and White-tipped Doves walking about the grounds. Parrots are well represented, with Chestnut-fronted Macaw, White-eyed, Dusky-headed and Cobalt-winged Parakeets and Blue-headed Parrot all milling about around the clearing.
During our our stay at Refugio Amazonas our major target is the awe-inspiring Harpy Eagle, and we will have the help of our indigenous guides who know the whereabouts of occupied nests in the area. There are a couple of nests along the Rio Tambopata and one of these is typically occupied in any given year. The local guides have a very detailed knowledge of the area, making their assistance invaluable and our chances of finding Harpy or indeed Crested Eagle all the better. Seeing these low density top predators in this dense forest environment is always a bit hit and miss, but with local assistance we have a very good chance of success with Harpy Eagle. Other goodies around the lodge itself include Long-tailed Potoo, Peruvian Recurvebill and Fiery-capped Manakin.
Also present are Squirrel Cuckoo, Grey-rumped and Short-tailed Swifts, Black-tailed and Blue-crowned Trogons, the resplendent Amazonian Motmot, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, family groups of Black-fronted Nunbirds chattering away and Swallow-winged Puffbird hawking for insects. There may be Gilded and Lemon-throated Barbets, Chestnut-eared and Lettered Aracaris, and White-throated and Channel-billed Toucans making their way through the forest edge trees looking for food. Flowering bushes around the clearing attract Rufous-breasted and Reddish Hermits, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, White-chinned Sapphire and maybe the spectacular Festive Coquette. We may also see the stunning Cream-coloured Woodpecker or the widespread Lineated Woodpecker.
The clearing can also be good for seeing the characterful Pale-legged Hornero, Dark-breasted and Plain-breasted Spinetails, Straight-billed and Buff-throated Woodcreepers, White-browed Antbird, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Grey-crowned and Olive-faced Flatbills, Long-tailed Tyrant, and Piratic, Social and Grey-capped Flycatchers. The loud songs of the Great Kiskadee rings out, while Streaked, Boat-billed and the inevitable Short-crested Flycatcher are all quite numerous. Black-crowned and Black-tailed Tityras and White-winged Becard may also be seen. There should also be a good number of true songbirds including Red-eyed Vireo, Violaceous and Purplish Jays, Thrush-like Wren, the perky House Wren, Black-billed Thrush, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Crested and Russet-backed Oropendolas, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Giant Cowbird, Yellow-browed Sparrow, the splendid Magpie Tanager and Masked Crimson, Silver-beaked, Blue-grey, Palm, Turquoise and Blue-necked Tanagers, the beautiful Swallow Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Purple and Green Honeycreepers, Blue-black Grassquit and both Buff-throated and Greyish Saltators.
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 2 After some morning birding we will take our motorised canoe upriver to the Tambopata Research Centre, some five hours away, for a three nights stay. The journey itself is one of the most spectacular river trips anywhere. As we slowly wind our way up the shallow braided channels of the Rio Tambopata, the foothills of the Andes first come into view and then, if it is clear, the snowy peaks of the Cordillera Vilcanota. This is a river trip like few others as it enters and passes through a superb wilderness.
It will be an enjoyable trip, during which we will see a huge variety of birds and maybe a few mammals. The river is a great place to see the regal Razor-billed Curassow along the banks, a species which is fast disappearing across most of its range. We should also see the declining Orinoco Goose at one of its last strongholds, Wood Stork, the enormous Jabiru, Roseate Spoonbill, the lovely cream-coloured Capped Heron, Crane and Short-tailed Hawks, and Pied Plover. The sandbars hold breeding colonies of Black Skimmers, Large-billed Terns and Sand-coloured Nighthawks.
A stop to explore an island may flush out the impressive Ladder-tailed Nightjar and we should find both the Drab Water-Tyrant and Little Ground-Tyrant. The sand banks also provide resting places for a number of Nearctic migrant shorebirds, including Upland Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Spotted, Pectoral and maybe Buff-breasted Sandpipers. If we keep an eye on the river edge trees we may see a Laughing Falcon, South America’s Gymnogene the distinctive Crane Hawk and, if we are very lucky, the rare Orange-breasted Falcon. As we cruise along the river we will pass by Southern Roughwing Swallows and maybe Sand Martins (Bank Swallows) and Barn Swallows, while another stop on an older river island covered in thick Salix and Tessaria might produce Yellow-browed Tyrant, Plain Tyrannulet (an austral migrant here), Lined and Double-collared Seedeaters, Orange-headed Tanager and Southern Yellowthroat. As we near the lodge we may be lucky and catch the wing flash of a Sunbittern or the greyish hues of a Brazilian Tapir, the largest forest mammal here. Even the sight of a Jaguar along the river edge is not unusual in this incomparable biological treasure chest that epitomizes southeast Peru. We should certainly check the beaches and banks after any heavy rain!
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Days 3-4 Walking the trails around the Tambopata Research Center (TRC) in search of wildlife is an unbeatable pleasure. Being in such a unique wilderness will, without doubt, reward us with innumerable spectacular memories. The river cliffs near the lodge sport the biggest and most spectacular of all clay licks visited by macaws and other psittacids. This is surely one of the world’s most dramatic avian spectacles, first documented by Charlie Munn in the January 1994 issue of National Geographic magazine.
One morning we will take a boat and cross the river to wait for dawn and the arrival of thousands of parrots, parrotlets, parakeets and macaws. We will watch as hundreds of Blue-headed Parrots along with Mealy and Yellow-crowned Amazons arrive in great swirling flocks to take clay from the cliff along with the rarer, very pretty Orange-cheeked Parrots. Additionally, White-eyed, Dusky-headed and Cobalt-winged Parakeet and the very similar Tui Parakeet congregate in the trees lining the rivers cliffs, often taking to the wing and circling as they gradually gain enough confidence to descend to the cliff face. We should also see Dusky-billed Parrotlets and will certainly be on the look out for the rather plain Amazonian Parrotlet, a species recently described from the region. At the same time dozens of Red-bellied and Chestnut-fronted Macaws arrive and sit in noisily squabbling family groups before they too descend to the cliffs. Of more interest, perhaps, will be the arrival, in some numbers, of the more localised Blue-headed Macaw. More cautious than the rest, the larger macaws gather in spectacular numbers with maybe hundreds of Scarlet, Red-and-green and Blue-and-yellow Macaws chattering, squawking and squabbling amongst themselves, patiently watching over the noisy commotion of their smaller cousins. After a time the smaller species suddenly erupt off the cliff face in a riot of colour and the macaws take their place, hanging from the vertical wall, squabbling and opening their wings as they too break off chunks of clay. Thought to neutralize their diet of toxic seeds, the sheer number of birds attracted to the cliffs in the early morning light and the deafening crescendo of their vocalizations make for an unforgettable experience!
Probably the most important habitat or forest type for us to explore in this part of Peru is the bamboo forest. We will devote a good deal of time to search for many of the regional specialities and habitat specialists in the large stand of Guadua bamboo not far from the lodge. This extraordinary habitat is known for its suite of endemic species and is the most diverse of all Amazonian forest types, making for some exciting birding. Here we will have a great opportunity to find most of the bamboo specialities of the region. These include the widespread Rufous-capped Nunlet, Cabanis’s Spinetail, the rare Brown-rumped Foliage-gleaner, Bamboo Foliage-gleaner, the somewhat enigmatic Peruvian Recurvebill, the stunning Red-billed Scythebill, the recently described Bamboo Antshrike, Ornate and Dot-winged Antwrens, Bamboo Antwren (split from Ihering’s Antwren), Striated, Manu, White-lined and Goeldi’s Antbirds, Yellow-breasted Warbling-Antbird, the pretty little White-cheeked Tody Flycatcher, Euler’s Flycatcher, Dusky-tailed and Large-headed Flatbills, the uncommon Buff-breasted Wren and the somewhat nomadic Slate-coloured Seedeater.
Bamboo thickets often also hold a rich selection of those species found more widely in secondary growth and tall floodplain forests in Peru. Of these, we shall try to see the shy Cinereous Tinamou, while in the tall open trees we should also see the dapper Blue-throated Piping-Guan, which can be common around the lodge at times, and a family group of Purple-throated Fruitcrows. Grey-fronted Dove, Chestnut-crowned Foliage-gleaner, Great Antshrike, Varzea Blackish Antbird, the cryptically coloured Amazonian Antpitta, Rusty-fronted Tody Flycatcher and the pretty little Fiery-capped Manakin all have a liking for bamboo patches and may be surprisingly common in them.
The forests at TRC are home to a new selection of species for us to seek out, which may include, along with many species we will have already seen, the rather shy Ruddy Quail-Dove, White-bearded Hermit and the Amazonian Trogon (split from Violaceous). The spectacular Scarlet-hooded Barbet is another target species for us here and we have a good chance of finding it. Yellow-tufted, Little and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers noisily feed in the Cecropias and Gynerium canes, and while we are teasing them out we should also come across the quite extraordinary Long-billed Woodcreeper. Peruvian Warbling-Antbirds and Plumbeous, Black-throated, Chestnut-tailed and Spot-backed Antbirds will be calling all around us and again we should see them with patience and quiet determination. In taller trees and vine tangles we should find Plain Softtail, maybe the rare Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Johannes’s Tody-Tyrant, Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Sulphur-bellied and Variegated Flycatchers, wintering flocks of Eastern Kingbirds, the dapper Masked Tityra, Chestnut-crowned Becard, Varzea Schiffornis, a family group of Moustached Wrens noisily chattering in the undergrowth and Creamy-bellied Thrushes feeding in fruiting trees. We shall hear and most likely see Solitary Cacique and Grey-headed Tanagers in their dense riverine thickets, while Orange-backed Troupials and Hooded Tanagers flit quietly and inconspicuously in the Cecropias above us. An explosive ringing song alerts us to the charming Buff-rumped Warbler, which can be seen along forest streams. Darting across the trail and maybe returning to take a look at us, the splendid Grey-necked Wood Rail is quite numerous here. This becomes very apparent at dusk when pairs begin their loud duetting songs around the lodge, alongside the rougher rattling dusk song of the widespread Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper.
As dusk approaches we will search for Southern Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl and maybe a Short-tailed Nighthawk will hawk overhead. If it has rained, the chorus of amphibians is a magnificent natural concert to experience. During our stay we will make a number of forays in to the forest when it is fully dark when we will also look for Mottled Owl and other nocturnal species we may have missed previously.
A typical morning near the lodge may begin with a Strong-billed Woodcreeper announcing the new day with its loud song, whilst the tremulous whistles of numerous tinamous emanate from the dark forest undergrowth, including the huge Grey Tinamou and the very elusive Brazilian Tinamou. As the dawn light cuts through to the forest floor, Rufous Motmots deliver their bubbling songs. Once it is fully light, White-fronted Nunbirds, Golden-collared Toucanets, and Red-stained and Golden-green Woodpeckers can be seen busily occupying themselves with their daily routines.
The forest floor then becomes our focus of attention and with just a bit of luck we should see Pale-winged Trumpeter, a species that roams the forest floor in bands of six to twelve individuals. If we come upon these marvellous but shy creatures strutting along a forest trail it will be an unforgettable experience. The forest floor should also give us the Black-tailed Leaftosser, throwing huge leaves over its ‘shoulder’ as it searches for invertebrates, or the often very confiding Banded Antbird as it jerkily walks around us while calling. We will also be on the lookout for Black-faced Antthrush and Thrush-like Antpitta, Ringed Antpipit and Southern Nightingale-Wren. If we are fortunate we will enjoy the incomparable song of the Musician Wren, which with patience we will see as it furtively investigates us.
As the day warms up quite number of sub-canopy species begin to call from their display grounds and leks. We will easily be able to locate quite a number by call and track them to their source. These will include lekking Ochre-bellied Flycatchers, White-bellied Tody-Tyrant, Golden-crowned and White-crested Spadebills delivering their shrill songs, the decidedly drab Dwarf Tyrant Manakin, Blue-crowned Manakin of the green bodied race and the lovely Band-tailed, Round-tailed and Blue-backed Manakins displaying at known leks. It is always a pleasure to watch the antics of these jewels of the forest interior. Interestingly, manakins are often found to be the commonest species in rainforests when ringing programmes are carried out. Hidden in the gloom, we may hear and lure into view Greyish Mourner, Olivaceous Flatbill, Amazonian Schiffornis, the stunning Amazonian Royal Flycatcher and less the impressive White-necked Thrush.
During the course of the morning, mixed-species flocks start assembling, and often a quiet moment will suddenly be interrupted by the arrival of a nervous party of birds roving through the understorey, led by the noisy Bluish-slate and Dusky-throated Antshrikes emitting their false alarm calls and therefore readily located. Amongst confusing tangles of vegetation we shall experience the often frustrating challenge of identifying as many birds as possible before they all move on again. This will include quite a number of furnarids and antbirds, with which we should become quite familiar in the course of working through the many flocks we encounter.
Lower down we shall be on the lookout for Buff-throated and Olive-backed Foliage-gleaners, a bewildering mix of Plain-throated, White-flanked, Grey and Long-winged Antwrens, Black-faced Antbird, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager and maybe the pretty little Pectoral Sparrow. A little higher up in the understorey the flocks may also be led by the handsome White-winged Shrike-Tanager and additionally include a cryptic mix of such species as Speckled Spinetail, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Eastern Woodhaunter, Buff-fronted, Rufous-tailed, Rufous-rumped and Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaners, Slender-billed and Plain Xenops, Wedge-billed and Elegant Woodcreepers and Fasciated Antshrike clambering about in a vine tangle along with the chunky Spot-winged Antshrike or the range-restricted Sclater’s Antwren. The distinctively hesitant songs of the Wing-barred Piprites and White-lored Tyrannulet, or the rattling trills of Chestnut-shouldered Antwren, White-eyed Attila or Rufous-tailed Flatbill, will draw our attention to the high sub-canopy and with patience we should get good views of all of these species. If we are very lucky we will see the rare White-browed Hawk or an Ornate Hawk-Eagle or maybe even the stunning Striated Antthrush. The loud ringing song of the latter species would certainly draw us off-trail to try and see this beauty.
As is often the case, the lodge grounds can be very productive and our late morning and lunch time wanderings should produce quite a number of species less frequently seen on adjacent forest trails. Overhead, with a clear view of the sky, we may hear the yelping calls of a Black Hawk-Eagle or see a circling Double-toothed Kite accompanied by large flocks of Chestnut-collared and White-collared Swifts. Flowering plants around the lodge attract good numbers of hummingbirds, including the aggressive Grey-breasted Sabrewing, the immaculate White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, the tiny Blue-tailed Emerald and the lovely Golden-tailed Sapphire. Nesting in small trees or even in the lodge itself, Sepia-capped Flycatchers could keep us entertained at lunch. We may also hear the distinctive song of the Black-capped Becard or see a Hauxwell’s Thrush sneaking in to feed at a fruiting tree along with Masked Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia and Epaulet Oriole. There are a number of more rarely seen hummingbirds in the area including Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Gould’s Jewelfront and Amethyst Woodstar, all of which appear only seasonally.
A walk through the high terra firme forest in the late afternoon may well produce a Hook-billed Kite, a family of raucous Red-throated Caracaras shrieking in the high sub-canopy or a small flock of Black-capped Parakeets feeding at a fruiting palm. Dusk is often the time when forest-falcons call, but we would be lucky indeed to see either Lined or Slaty-backed Forest Falcons, although sometimes they can be surprisingly responsive to playback.
Working our way around some excellent high forest, we shall search for Great Jacamar and the uncommon Semi-collared Puffbird. As this latter bird sits motionless in the understorey, it can be time consuming finding them. A lengthy rattle gives away the presence of a Cinnamon-rumped Foliage-gleaner, the smartest of the group. We will patiently try to see that one. We may also come across Tschudi’s Woodcreeper, Rufous-tailed Xenops and the widespread Rufous-capped Antthrush, but it is the uncommon Humaita Antbird that we most hope to find. The explosive calls of the Screaming Piha alerts to the presence of a lek of one of the best known of Amazonia’s birds and indeed a species most evocative of South America’s rainforests. With patience we will see this rather drab cotingid. We may also find Cinereous Mourner, McConnell’s and Ruddy-tailed Flycatchers, and the shy Blue-black Grosbeak. Loud calls from deep in the forest draw us to a colony of Casqued Oropendolas, a truly odd looking icterid. We shall see this species and the closely related Olive Oropendola, the largest oropendola found here and often seen flying to roost on the river islands in front of the lodge in large numbers.
Another Neotropical avian spectacle can be witnessed if we come across a column of army ants with its attendant avian obligates. As the huge columns of ants march through the forest the fleeing invertebrates are a ready source of food for a great many species, some of which are considered obligate ant swarm followers. In southeast Peru these often include the rather demure Plain-brown and White chinned Woodcreepers and the more strikingly marked Black-banded and Amazonian Barred-Woodcreepers, and if we are very lucky the huge Bar-bellied Woodcreeper. Antbirds are well represented with Sooty, White-throated and perhaps even Hairy-crested Antbirds usually in attendance. Also present are usually both Black-spotted Bare-eye and the Common Scale-backed Antbird. If we come across an ant swarm we will certainly experience one of the highlights of any visit to the Neotropics!
Mammals also roam the vast forests of Amazonian Peru and we are in one of the best places to see a large variety of New World primates. As many as thirteen species of monkey share the canopy and regularly seen species include the Bolivian Squirrel Monkey which roams through the forest in huge troops. We will probably see several troops of curious Brown or White-fronted Capuchin Monkeys. If we are lucky, we will see a Double-toothed Kite attending a troop and waiting for them to flush a brooding bird which it can pursue. We might also find several troops of acrobatic Black Spider Monkeys during our stay; a very interesting species to watch as it swings through the canopy. High pitched whistles and chirps will alert us to the presence of a family troop of the little Saddle-back Tamarin. We may even see the rare Goeldi’s Monkey, a species which often associates with the tamarins. One of the most memorable sounds of the rainforest is the roaring howl at dawn of the lethargic Red Howler. Quite unforgettable!
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 5 After a full final morning birding we will reluctantly leave TRC behind and head downstream for the superb Posada Amazonas for a two nights stay. Once again our journey will again be packed with bird life, with which we have by now become quite familiar. We may be lucky and see a Grey-headed Kite, and more likely the rapidly increasing Southern Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras (a sign of forest clearance, sadly). We may well arrive in time to do some initial birding around the lodge.
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 6 Walking the trails at this exciting location, one of the best in Peru, should provide us with a good number of common mixed flock species and a few habitat specialists. During our stay at Posada Amazonas and indeed throughout the tour we should be treated to a chorus of various tinamous on the trails. With luck we will see some of them, including Great and White-throated Tinamous of the larger Tinamus genus and Variegated and Bartlett’s Tinamous of the smaller Crypturellus genus. At dusk we may hear the ear-shattering cacophony of a family of Starred Wood-Quails or the loud calls of Barred or Collared Forest-Falcons. We may also come across the huge Spix’s Guan feeding in a fruiting tree, while a patient wait may reveal some Rose-fronted Parakeets quietly feeding, a Black-bellied Cuckoo shuffling about in the canopy, a pair of Green-backed Trogons, a Broad-billed Motmot or maybe the stolid Chestnut-capped Puffbird. Western Striolated Puffbird (split from Striolated) is not uncommon here and their distinctive calls will lead us to this somewhat cryptically-coloured species.
We shall be spending a good deal of time on the excellent canopy tower where we may see King Vultures amongst the Greater Yellow-headed Vultures, the delightfully graceful Swallow-tailed Kite, Black and white Hawk-Eagle, a family group of White-bellied Parrots, a Black-eared Fairy at a flowering vine and a White-necked or Pied Puffbird sat high in an open tree. A fruiting tree may produce Black-throated Toucanet (split from Emerald) or a roving group of Ivory-billed and Curl-crested Aracaris. We should certainly see several pairs of Channel-billed Toucans delivering their croaking calls from distant bare branches. Creeping about in the taller trees we might see the beautifully coloured Scaly-breasted Woodpecker or even a Ringed Woodpecker. Any visit to a canopy tower usually produces quite a number of canopy specialists, those typically encountered here including Lineated Woodcreeper, Pygmy Antwren, Grey Antbird (which love vine tangles), Forest Eleania, Slender-footed Tyrannulet, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Zimmer’s Flatbill, the demure Dusky-chested Flycatcher, Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher, Eastern Sirystes, Bright-rumped Attila, Pink-throated Becard and Dusky-capped Greenlet.
Constant scanning of the tree tops may reward us with views of an immaculate Plum-throated Cotinga or a Spangled Cotinga. If we are very fortunate we might see either the rare Purple-throated Cotinga or a pair of White-browed Purpletufts. Flocks passing through often hold White-lored, White-vented and Rufous-bellied Euphonias, a number of Tachyphonus tanagers, including Flame-crested, Yellow-crested and White-shouldered, the outrageously coloured Paradise Tanager, Green-and-gold, Yellow-bellied, Opal-crowned and Opal-rumped Tanagers, both Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnises, and possibly Guira and Yellow-backed Tanagers or Slate-coloured Grosbeak. However, what we really hope to see is the aberrant Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak, now placed in its own genus, Parkerthraustes, after the late Ted Parker.
Nocturnal excursions may reward us with views of Pauraque, Southern Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, Spectacled Owl and perhaps Crested Owl, the diminutive Amazonian Pygmy-Owl, Great Potoo and Common Potoo, or even the often-elusive Ocellated Poorwill. If we are very fortunate we will even find the rare Long-tailed Potoo.
We shall also be searching for a number of species restricted to or, at the least, very fond of Guadua bamboo thickets. As we work our way through this dense habitat we shall be on the lookout for Rufous-breasted Piculet, Rufous-headed Woodpecker and Flammulated Bamboo-Tyrant. If we are very lucky, a Pavonine Cuckoo or a Pheasant Cuckoo may be singing and we might then be lucky enough to see one. These species are generally hard to find, although they are very widespread in tropical South America.
The terra fire forest is excellent here and we shall devote some time to searching out a few of the specialities. We shall make for a Needle-billed Hermit lek and, while waiting to get a good view of this regional speciality, we might hear the distinctive call of the stunning Pavonine Quetzal, to which we would certainly devote some time to tracking down. We may also see Collared Trogon, the huge Red-necked Woodpecker, a group of chattering Ruddy Spinetails, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, White-shouldered Antshrike, the somewhat localized White-eyed Antwren and the delightful Ash-throated Gnateater.
We shall be sure to explore the beautiful Tres Chimbadas oxbow lake, not far upriver from our lodgings. As we work our way around the tranquil waters of this huge oxbow lake we should see the prehistoric-looking Horned Screamer, a name that seems evocative of some earlier geological epoch. There may also be Least Grebe, Muscovy Duck, Green Ibis, numerous Rufescent Tiger Herons, Striated and Cocoi Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, the reptilian Anhinga, South America’s ‘fish eagle’ the Black-collared Hawk, Snail Kite, Slate-coloured Hawk and maybe a Bat Falcon hawking for dragonflies over the lake. Overhead there are often Pale-rumped Swifts and occasionally a couple of Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts. We may be lucky and see the much sought after Sungrebe, while in the tall sedges and marsh edge we shall search for Rufous-sided and Grey-breasted Crakes, Wattled Jacana, Azure and Purple Gallinules, Limpkin, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch and if we are lucky the now rare Black-billed Seed-Finch.
Going to roost or feeding around the lake edge we may see Pale-vented Pigeons, Red-bellied Macaws and Mealy Amazon. Flopping around in the lake edge vegetation will be numerous family groups of Hoatzins and Greater Anis and, if we are lucky a Little Cuckoo. Out in the tall grass we should see Smooth-billed Ani, Black-capped Donacobius and the localised Pale-eyed Blackbird, the latter at one of the few sites at which it is regularly found. Working the lake edge, we may find Spot-breasted Woodpecker and both Green-and-rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers, Amazonian Streaked-Antwren, Silvered and Band-tailed Antbirds, Lesser Kiskadee and Spotted Tody Flycatcher, while flitting about just above the water are sure to be the lovely Red-capped Cardinals with their young. If we are very lucky we will see the beautiful Agami Heron, although we would count ourselves very fortunate indeed to come across this crepuscular forest heron.
In addition to a rich selection of waterbirds, such lakes are very good for seeing primates resting in fruiting trees. These may include Red Howler and Brown Capuchin Monkey. The lake itself is, however, famous for its large family of Giant River Otters which have been studied by the Frankfurt Zoological Society for several decades now. In the late afternoon we hope to see these impressive creatures as they fish the lake, just before we make our way back to the lodge. Our return journey after dusk may turn up a Boat-billed Heron along the river, but this is by no means guaranteed.
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 7 After a last morning birding we return to Puerto Maldonado. This is the end of our exploration of the Tambopata River area. This afternoon our target species are the near-endemic White-throated Jacamar and restricted-range Purus Jacamar, in search of which we will walk through some tall secondary growth on the outskirts of town.
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 8 Early today we take a short ride to the Las Piedras River. We will begin our search for more of the regional specialities of Southeast Peru as we pass through some excellent large stand of Guadua bamboo close to the river. Here we will try to find the localised Long-crested Pygmy Tyrant. Our journey to the Lago Soledad lodge takes us along the sluggish channel of the Rio Las Piedras where we can relax and enjoy the famous spectacle of Amazonia’s riverine birdlife. This may include the impressive Horned Screamer, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Osprey, Sungrebe, Collared Plover, Yellow-billed and Large-billed Terns, the migratory Eastern Kingbird, Drab Water-Tyrant and Little Ground-Tyrant, along with a good variety of species typical of primary rainforest habitats in the region. These could include the stunning Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Tui Parakeet, Mealy Amazon, Bare-necked Fruitcrow and the beautiful White-banded Swallow. Sunbitterns and Pied Plovers are particularly common along this river. This small lodge is located at the edge of an oxbow lake and also has a nice canopy tower! We shall arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 9 We have a full day to explore bamboo and terra firme forest as well as the fantastic canopy tower. We will have our first chance to look for the rather enigmatic Rufous-fronted Antthrush; a shy species discovered by the late Ted Parker who noted an unfamiliar call in the Manu region of Peru. It turned out to be a new Formicarius antthrush restricted to a specific microhabitat – heliconia thickets in the riverine forests of southeast Peru. It used to be seen around TRC but in recent years it has not been reported there and our best chance to see one is on the second leg of the tour either here at the Rio Las Piedras area or at the Los Amigos Biological Station.
We make our way to a large stand of Guadua bamboo in the terra firme forest where we will enjoy the unfolding dawn chorus of Amazonia, which typically begins with Strong-billed Woodcreeper and is followed by the clear whistles of Cinereous and Brazilian Tinamous. The bamboo here holds the localised Fulvous-chinned Nunlet and the near-endemic Long-crested Pygmy Tyrant, both of which we shall be focusing on. We will also have more chance of other bamboo birds if we have missed them at other locations. In the terra firme forest the mixed flocks also hold Rufous-tailed and Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaners, Plain-brown and Elegant Woodcreepers, Fasciated Antshrike, Long-winged Antwren, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, Cinereous Mourner, White-vented and Thick-billed Euphonias, Yellow-crested, Opal-rumped and Opal-crowned Tanagers and maybe the aberrant Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak. If we are lucky we will also see a number of other less common species, perhaps including Black-bellied Cuckoo, White-fronted Nunbird, Ringed and Red-necked Woodpeckers and maybe the stunning Pavonine Quetzal. In this area of Peru the very rare Rufous Twistwing has also been recorded, but we would consider ourselves very lucky to come across this little known bamboo creature.
The trails here pass through pristine forest and so we will be able to tease out a good selection of the more solitary denizens of these forests. This could include Black-tailed or even the uncommon Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Common Scale-backed Antbird, and Black-faced and Rufous-capped Antthrushes. We will surely enjoy the chorus of Grey, Great, White-throated, Variegated and Bartlett’s Tinamous, Starred Wood Quail and Ruddy Quail Dove and with time and patience might see a couple of these very retiring creatures. The forest floor and lower sub-canopy is also home to Long-tailed Woodcreeper, White-shouldered Antshrike, Ringed Antpipit, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, White-bellied Tody-Tyrant, Amazonian Schiffornis (split from Thrush-like Schiffornis), White-necked Thrush and Tawny-crowned Greenlet, any of which we could find. We will certainly hear the unforgettable song of the Screaming Piha and should see this somewhat drab cotingid at a lek. If we are very lucky we will find the uncommon Amazonian Antpitta, the rare Bar-bellied Woodcreeper or Amazonian Royal Flycatcher.
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 10 After a last morning visit to the canopy tower and a morning birding we will travel back to Puerto Maldonado for an overnight stay.
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 11 This morning we will travel upstream on the mighty Madre de Dios river, onbe of the principal rivers of Peru. While still close to Labirinto, we will see many gold mining activities along the river, but as we cruise further the human disturbance is less obvious. After we reach the confluence of the Inambari and Madre de Dios rivers we will get into excellent pristine habitat and we shall soon arrive to the famous Los Amigos Biological Station (or as it is called locally, CICRA). The station was established in 2000 by two non-governmental organizations. Between 2005 and 2009, CICRA was the most active research station in the Amazon basin, hosting an average of 24 researchers and assistants per day. During the same period, it was likely also the most intensively studied site in the Amazon, hosting 145 different research projects spanning animal behavior, biogeochemistry, botany, conservation biology, geology, hydrology, zoology, as well as biological inventories of 31 different taxa, ranging from copepods to marsupials. The birdlife has also been thoroughly studied and it has an amazing diversity! This biological station has had much more researchers in the past, and even a short airstrip, which is not operational nowadays. Recently they started encouraging eco-tourism and nice bungalows were built for visitors.
Our primary target here is the localized Black-faced Cotinga; a species discovered in the Manu region of Peru by ornithologists working on mixed species flocks. After remarking on a call they heard infrequently from an unseen bird high in the canopy of floodplain forests, their native guide subsequently presented them with the corpse of an undescribed cotingid he had shot with a blow pipe – the first Black-faced Cotinga seen by western scientists! Today we can see this species with some ease in this area and we will make sure we get good views of this very special species.
The other main target is the enigmatic Rufous-fronted Antthrush. We shall visit a couple of territories in order to see this localised near-endemic in some beautiful floodplain forests near the lodge. With patience we should be rewarded with good views of this delightful little bird as it briskly marches about the forest floor.
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Days 12-14 We have three full days to explore this amazing wilderness and try to find the special birds. Our main targets are going to be the above-mentioned Black-faced Cotinga and Rufous-fronted Antthrush, but birding at CICRA is simply amazing! There are several difficult birds on this tour which can be seen here again if we have not had been lucky with them before such as Starred Wood Quail, Chestnut-headed Crake, Ocellated Poorwill, Amazonian Parrotlet, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, White-throated Jacamar, Pavonine Quetzal, Plain Softtail, Bar-bellied Woodcreeper, White-eyed, Sclater’s and Chestnut-shouldered Antwrens, Ash-throated Gnateater, Band-tailed and Fiery-capped Manakins, Varzea Schiffornis, Flammulated Bamboo Tyrant, Long-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Johannes’s Tody-Tyrant, White-winged Shrike-Tanager and a wide range of other Amazonian goodies! In the last few years even the widely distributed but very difficult to see Grey-bellied Hawk has been regularly seen here and with luck we could even encounter the scarce Pavonine Cuckoo or the rare Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo.
Los Amigos is a fantastic place for monkeys, and in particular there are two species we could not have seen elsewhere on this tour (south of the Madre de Dios river) and which can be located within the trails of the research station; the superb Emperor Tamarin and the rare Gray’s Bald-faced Saki.
Amazonian Peru: Tambopata & Madre de Dios: Day 15 This morning we will return to Puerto Maldonado airport, where our tour ends.