PERU’S IQUITOS & CUSCO ANDES BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Iquitos airport in northeastern Peru.
(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 Iquitos. We will be happy to arrange the Lima-Iquitos flight for you on request.)
From the Iquitos airport we transfer to the town’s waterfront, from where fast, covered boats will take us down the Amazon river to Yanamono creek and Explorama Lodge for an overnight stay.
Travelling down the immense Amazon river as it flows through northern Peru on its way to Brazil, we shall look for Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, White-winged, White-banded and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, and either of the two species of rarely seen river dolphins.
After our first sampling of the Explorama lodges’ tasty meals, our introduction to Amazonian birds will begin around the lodge clearing where we will likely see White-eyed, Dusky-headed and Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Blue-headed and Short-tailed Parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Blue-crowned Trogon, the splendid White-eared Jacamar, Black-fronted Nunbird, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Short-crested, Boat-billed, Social and Grey-capped Flycatchers, Thrush-like and Buff-breasted Wrens, Masked Tityra, Magpie, Silver-beaked, Blue-grey and Palm Tanagers, Yellow-rumped Cacique and Russet-backed and Crested Oropendolas.
Some late afternoon birding nearby should also yield Greater Ani, Tui Parakeet, Glittering-throated Emerald, the restricted-range Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Straight-billed and Long-billed Woodcreepers, Pygmy Antwren, Great Kiskadee, White-winged Becard, Red-capped Cardinal, Hooded and Masked Crimson Tanagers, Thick-billed and Purple-throated Euphonias, Greyish Saltator and Orange-backed Troupial. We will also have our first attempt at such specialities as Orange-eyed Flycatcher as well as the more secretive Black-banded Crake or Pale-billed (Bay) Hornero. In the evening we may well see a Tropical Screech Owl or a Common Potoo just outside our rooms.
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Day 2 This morning we shall visit one of the nearby river islands with differing aged stands of both young and mature woodlands. Edge growth is inhabited by the lovely Red-and-white Spinetail whilst in taller Cecropia trees we will look for Blue-winged Parrotlets, Brownish Elaenia, Streaked Flycatcher, Bicoloured Conebill and the restricted-range Pearly-breasted Conebill. Nearby, mature woodland is inhabited by Lettered Aracari, Plain-breasted Piculet, Spot-breasted Woodpecker and the restricted-range Leaden Antwren, Ash-breasted Antbird and Zimmer’s Woodcreeper (the latter a cryptic species whose identification remained unsolved until recent times). Our best chance for seeing the colourful Festive Amazon and the incredible Amazonian Umbrellabird will be from these islands.
Our boat journey will then continue down the Amazon, and after passing the dramatic confluence with the Napo River, our boat will take us to the 100,000-hectare forest reserve of Explornapo Lodge, located on the Sucusari river, and the Amazon Conservatory for Tropical Studies (ACTS) near the famous canopy walkway. From here we will bird the forest trails as we walk to ACTS for our three nights there. (The walk would take about 45 minutes if we kept going, but of course there will be plenty to distract us along the way!)
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Days 3-4 With the sun still a distant orange glow on the horizon, early dawn will find us on the canopy walkway platforms admiring huge emergent trees taking form amidst the backdrop of undisturbed rainforest. During this magical hour, the rainforest birdlife erupts in song. The clear whistles of Bartlett’s Tinamou, the rhythmic hoots of Rufous Motmots and the strident calls of Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper are soon followed by the yelps and croaks of White-throated and Channel-billed Toucans.
Small mixed flocks of tanagers and honeycreepers form as the sun’s first rays strike the canopy and the low hanging vapour clouds evaporate. It is much more enjoyable to watch colourful canopy gems such as Purple-throated and White-lored Euphonias, Paradise, Green-and-gold, Turquoise, Bay-headed, Opal-rumped and Opal-crowned Tanagers, Black-faced, Yellow-bellied and Blue Dacnises and Green, Short-billed and Purple Honeycreepers foraging in the same tree crown in which you are standing! These early hours are also the best time to find parrots and we will watch for pairs of Red-and-green Macaws, Maroon-tailed Parakeets, Sapphire-rumped Parrotlets, Orange-cheeked and Black-headed Parrots, and Orange-winged and Southern Mealy Amazons chattering contact calls as they commute from roost sites to feeding trees. Golden-tailed Sapphires and Black-bellied Thorntails visit nectar-rich flowering trees whilst ripe canopy fruits attract marauding Ivory-billed and Many-banded Aracaris and Purple-throated and Bare-necked Fruitcrows. Piratic Flycatchers and even Swallow Tanagers can be seen adeptly capturing invertebrate prey and with the increase in insect activity we will hope for a canopy flock comprised of such nuclear attendants as White-fronted Nunbird, Lineated Woodcreeper, Moustached and Dugand’s Antwrens, White-lored, Slender-footed and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets, Grey and Forest Elaenias, and Pink-throated Becard to pass near us.
We also have a good chance of finding one or two of the more inconspicuous, solitary denizens of the canopy such as Black-bellied Cuckoo, Paradise Jacamar, Golden-collared Toucanet, Lawrence’s Thrush (that remarkable mimic), and the diminutive Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher. Our scanning of the surrounding treetops should reward us with Double-toothed Kite, vociferous Red-throated Caracaras, Grey-rumped, Pale-rumped and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts, White-necked Puffbird, the gleaming Spangled Cotinga and, with luck, less frequently observed species such as Black-faced Hawk, White-browed Purpletuft or Band-tailed and Casqued Oropendolas.
After just a few hours the canopy avifauna goes quiet as the hot tropical sun forces the birds slightly lower, beneath leafy cover. We shall consequently descend to bird along an excellent trail system threading through the surrounding terra firme forests. The complexity of the rainforest will be immediately evident. Thick woody lianas looping through strata of various heights, flange-like tree buttresses and palms with odd-looking stilt roots are all part of the enchantment of the rainforest. While we walk patiently and quietly along the trails, our primary cues for finding birds will be sound and movement as we pursue both shy and retiring insectivorous birds and the more colourful frugivores.
We will be attentive for the flash of movement caused by a Purplish or Yellow-billed Jacamar spearing an unlucky katydid in flight, or a colourful Black-tailed Trogon sallying out for subcanopy fruits. The rhythmic song of a Pavonine Quetzal will alert us to its presence, although we will be fortunate to find it hidden in the immense greenery. The list of puffbirds is impressive and here in the terra firme we shall seek such inconspicuous species as Collared Puffbird, Lanceolated Monklet and Rusty-breasted Nunlet.
A diverse assemblage of ovenbirds and woodcreepers inhabit the terra firme and with the careful use of playback we may find Striped Woodhaunter, Olive-backed Foliage-gleaner, Short-tailed and Black-tailed Leaftossers, and Spot-throated and Ocellated Woodcreepers. A sudden harsh scolding note may be the first sign of a thrilling army-ant swarm attended by Plain-brown and White-chinned Woodcreepers, Sooty, Scale-backed, White-plumed, Bicoloured and Hairy-crested Antbirds, and Reddish-winged Bare-eye. The very rarely observed king of the aforementioned spectacle is, of course, the Red-billed Ground Cuckoo, which, just as the antbirds, voraciously captures plump insects fleeing the raiding ants.
Most antbirds are not obligate ant-swarm followers, and here we shall also seek a large list of antbirds found away from swarms including Fasciated, Undulated, Plain-winged, and Mouse-coloured Antshrikes, Black-faced, Warbling, Yellow-browed and Spot-winged Antbirds and Rufous-capped and Black-faced Antthrushes. To accomplish seeing either the shy and reclusive Striated Antthrush or the magnificent Ochre-striped Antpitta walking quietly over the forest floor will, however, require every bit of our recently-honed forest skills. Although somewhat inconspicuous when quietly foraging, manakins are usually more easily found when displaying and we may witness some of their peculiar antics. The nervous Golden-headed Manakin often displays in subcanopy trees and likewise we shall search for the hidden perches of chirruping Blue-backed Manakins.
Additional species we will look for from the canopy walkway and along the terra firme trails are White-throated Tinamou, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Marbled Wood Quail, Grey-fronted Dove, Great-billed, Straight-billed and Reddish Hermits, Green-backed and Black-throated Trogons, Great Jacamar, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, the roaming Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Black-and-white Tody-Tyrant, Amazonian Scrub Flycatcher, Brownish Twistwing, Bright-rumped Attila, Ruddy-tailed, Whiskered, Variegated and Dusky-chested Flycatchers, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, Musician Wren, Buff-rumped Warbler, Yellow-bellied Tanager, Slate-coloured Grosbeak and Red-rumped Cacique.
The primary target of our night birding near our well-placed lodge will be the Nocturnal Curassow, this being one of the few places on the continent where seeing this species is a real possibility. We will be alert for a male in song and with a modicum of luck, we will spotlight this coveted species high in a tree on one of our nocturnal excursions. We may also encounter Short-tailed Nighthawk, Northern Tawny-bellied Screech Owl, Long-tailed Potoo, Crested Owl or even Night Monkeys during our night birding here.
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Day 5 After a final morning of birding the forest around ACTS we will return on foot to Explornapo Lodge for a three nights stay. In the late afternoon, we will have our first opportunity to explore our new surroundings.
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Days 6-7 From our new setting we shall explore the surrounding floodplain, the seasonally flooded varzea forest and visit the nearby river islands of various sizes dotting the Napo river in this part of Peru.
The piercing call of the Screaming Piha, so emblematic of Amazonian rainforest, is a common sound here, whilst above the din we shall be attentive for the mellifluous whistle of a smart male Purple-throated Cotinga from the canopy. The variety of tyrant flycatchers in these forests seems endless and within the forest interior we shall seek Ringed Antpipit, Short-tailed and Double-banded Pygmy Tyrants, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and Golden-crowned Spadebill. For years the Orange-eyed Flycatcher escaped recognition until the late Ted Parker noted its distinctive call from these very floodplain forests. Tracking the strident calls of a flock sentinel such as Fulvous Shrike-Tanager may lead us to a subcanopy flock made up of Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Spot-winged Antshrike, Rufous-bellied Euphonia, and Yellow-backed and Flame-crested Tanagers. Occasionally, Red-stained, Yellow-throated and Chestnut and Cream-coloured Woodpeckers get caught up in the excitement of such foraging flocks. Moving through the botanically diverse forest understorey are mixed flocks led by Cinereous and Dusky-throated Antshrikes giving sharp alarm calls heeded by Cinnamon-rumped Foliage-gleaner, White-flanked Antwren, and Spix’s and Wedge-billed Woodcreepers.
The floodplain canopy holds additional flocking species, including core members such as Lemon-throated and Gilded Barbets, Chestnut-shouldered Antwren, Zimmer’s Flatbill and Wing-barred Piprites. Away from the flocks, we may find the restricted-range White-chinned Jacamar hawking insects near a tree fall, the impressive Red-necked Woodpecker drumming on venerable rainforest trunks, Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner and Slate-coloured Antbird in understorey shrubs, or a Grey Antbird calling from a canopy vine tangle. We will also look to add to our manakin quota with Wire-tailed, Blue-crowned and Striped Manakin from the lower and middle growth of these inexhaustible forests. With calm persistence, we will attempt to lure terrestrial avian wonders like Banded Antbird or the striking Chestnut-belted Gnateater onto a fallen trunk or even spot a Thrush-like Antpitta vocalizing in the thick growth of a ‘light-gap’ or at the forest edge. If we are fortunate enough to find an ant swarm in the varzea, this time it could be accompanied by either Lunulated Antbird or Black-spotted Bare-eye. We may also come across the striking Black-necked Red-Cotinga, although in recent years these shy birds seem to have become less predictable.
Our first early morning foray to the accessible river islands of the Napo river will be exciting as we discover their distinctive avifauna. These newly exposed islands have predominantly younger successional scrub grading into Gynerium cane and taller Cecropia woodland, the favoured habitat of Lesser Hornero, White-bellied, Dark-breasted and Parker’s Spinetails, the restricted-range Castelnau’s Antshrike, and the striking, restricted-range Black-and-white Antbird. As we approach the shore we will look for Shiny Cowbirds and Yellow-hooded Blackbirds noisily vacating their roosts, Chestnut-bellied, Lined and Caqueta Seedeaters and Oriole Blackbirds singing from grassy margins, and smart White-headed Marsh-Tyrants sitting on low perches over the water’s edge. Passing through Tessaria scrub, we will look for the restricted-range Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Orange-headed Tanager and Yellow-browed Sparrow. Stands of young Tessaria are preferred by Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant and Riverside Tyrant, and grassy edges echo with the vocalizations of the Black-capped Donacobius. There is usually a roost of Sand-coloured Nighthawk near one of the islands.
Another of our morning birding trails through varzea forest leads to an oxbow lake where understorey thickets and flooded areas are inhabited by White-shouldered, Plumbeous, Silvered and Dot-backed Antbirds, Yellow-crowned Elaenia, Johannes’s Tody-Tyrant and Buff-breasted Wren. In trees overhead, we may find the retiring Slate-coloured Hawk, Amazonian Trogon, Dusky-capped, Olive-faced and Grey-crowned Flycatchers, Little and Lineated Woodpeckers, the restricted-range Varzea Thrush and Buff-throated Saltator.
Depending on water levels, we will explore a nearby whitewater tributary of the Napo, which will no doubt result in more splendid bird sightings. Moving slowly along the river we will look for Rufescent Tiger Heron, Agami Heron, Great Black Hawk, American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous Kingfishers, Pied and Spotted Puffbirds, Black-chinned Antbird, Plum-throated Cotinga and the localized Velvet-fronted Grackle.
At clearings near the lodge we may find Grey-necked Wood Rail, Sungrebe, Sunbittern, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Fork-tailed Woodnymph and with luck admire garrulous Blue-and-yellow Macaws in flight. Other possibilities quite likely during our birding at Explornapo are Speckled Chachalaca, Crane and Short-tailed Hawks, Pale-vented, Plumbeous and Ruddy Pigeons, Pheasant Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Pauraque, Short-tailed Swift, Pale-tailed Barbthroat, Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper, White-necked Thrush, the skulking Coraya Wren and Collared Gnatwren.
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Day 8 After some final birding at Explornapo Lodge we will head upstream on the Amazon river, eventually arriving at the Yanayacu river and Muyuna Lodge, where we will spend three nights.
In addition to previously mentioned species, likely species we will encounter on our river journey are Neotropic Cormorant, Snowy and Great Egrets, Little Blue, Capped and White-necked Herons, Black, Turkey, Greater Yellow-headed and King Vultures, Osprey, Roadside Hawk, Yellow-headed and Black Caracaras, Plumbeous and Swallow-tailed Kites, Black Skimmer, Spotted Sandpiper and Collared Plover, Smooth-billed Ani, Neotropical Palm Swift, Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfishers and Tropical Kingbird.
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Days 9-10 At Muyuna we will seek out the rare and threatened Wattled Curassow in an area of várzea forest with the help of our local guide. This area of Peru is the most accessible site in the entire Amazon basin to see this species, which is classified as Endangered due to hunting pressure on its very small population. The only other sites for the curassow are found in Bolivia and Brazil, where the birds either require a long hike or can be difficult to see.
Peru’s Muyuna Lodge features rich varzea, an oxbow lake and a nearby river island. These extensive floodplain habitats should yield Muscovy Duck, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-collared Hawk, Hook-billed Kite, Laughing Falcon, Purple Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, Hoatzin, Little Cuckoo, Ladder-tailed Nightjar (at its daytime roost), Swallow-winged Puffbird, Sulphury Flycatcher, White-eyed Attila and Lesser Kiskadee.
Productive trails through varzea and riverine forest hold Cinereous and Undulated Tinamous, Blue Ground Dove, Collared Trogon, Olivaceous and Striped Woodcreepers, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Great, Amazonian and Barred Antshrikes, Black-throated Antbird, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Olivaceous Flatbill, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Cinnamon Attila, Black-tailed Tityra, Varzea Schiffornis, Grey-headed Tanager, Lesser Seed Finch and Solitary Cacique. Once thought to be endemic to Peru, and only recently found in neighbouring Brazil, the localized Black-tailed Antbird is relatively common here. The fascinating Pygmy Marmoset, the New World’s smallest primate, is also found here and we will make a special effort to locate a family group. By taking a short walk after dinner we will try to locate a Spectacled Owl by its reverberating call or the ominous-sounding Great Potoo.
This will also be our first opportunity to see several species of the south bank of the Amazon which we will not have visited until now. These south bank birds include Blue-cheeked Jacamar, Rufous-necked Puffbird and Saturnine Antshrike. Additional new species could include Boat-billed and Zigzag Herons, Blue-chinned Sapphire, Rose-fronted Parakeet, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, Rufous-capped Nunlet, Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Slender-billed Xenops, Amazonian Antshrike and Grey-chested Greenlet.
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Day 11 After some final birding at Muyuna Lodge we will transfer to the city of Iquitos and our comfortable air-conditioned hotel for the last three nights of the tour.
Open country birds of widespread distribution that we may see around the city include Pearl Kite, Ruddy Ground-Dove, House Wren, Brown-chested and Grey-breasted Martins, Vermillion Flycatcher, Black-billed Thrush, Blue-black Grassquit, Red-breasted Blackbird and Shiny and Giant Cowbirds.
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Days 12-13 The white sandy soil forests not far from Iquitos made recent ornithological headlines when local conservationist José ‘Pepe’ Alvarez brought several undescribed bird species to light. Thanks to his efforts the Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve was recently created to protect this distinctive forest community. We will have two full days here in search of Ancient Antwren, Allpahuayo Antbird, Mishana Tyrannulet and the recently-described, canopy-dwelling Iquitos Gnatcatcher. Here the flora is adapted to growing on very poor soils, and its herpetofauna and avifauna are likewise specialized.
Although these white-sand forests of Peru can be “defined by their silence”, a bit of persistence and luck will reward us with additional species of special occurrence including Brown-banded Puffbird, Pompadour Cotinga, Pearly Antshrike, Northern Chestnut-tailed (or Zimmer’s) Antbird, Orange-crested (or Orange-crowned) Manakin, Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin, Zimmer’s Tody-Tyrant, Fuscous ‘Campina’ Flycatcher, Cinnamon-crested Spadebill, Citron-bellied Attila and Yellow-throated Flycatcher. More widespread species include Dusky-billed Parrotlet, Canary-winged Parakeet, Gould’s Jewelfront, White-chested Puffbird, Yellow-billed Nunbird, Scaly-breasted Woodpecker, Plain-throated Antwren, White-crowned and White-bearded Manakins, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, Greyish Mourner, Thrush-like Schiffornis, Dusky-capped Greenlet, Southern Nightingale-Wren and Red-legged Honeycreeper.
On our last evening there will be a celebratory dinner.
Amazonian Peru: Iquitos: Day 14 Our tour ends this morning at Iquitos. A transfer to the airport will be provided.
(Most international flight connections out of Lima are in the evening, so it is easy to return from Iquitos to Lima in time to depart Peru today. We will be happy to arrange the Iquitos-Lima flight for you on request.)
CUSCO ANDES EXTENSION
Cusco Andes: Day 1 The extension to our Central Peru birding tour begins this afternoon with a flight from Lima to Cusco, where we will stay overnight in the ancient capital of the Incan Empire. Here, in this high Andean city that epitomizes Peru, the blend of Spanish and Inca elements has resulted in a unique architecture, and in the narrow streets colourful Quechua Indians sell their varied handicrafts.
Cusco Andes: Day 2 First we will visit an area of shallow lakes and surrounding shrubby grasslands. Our main goals are to find the Bearded Mountaineer, a spectacular endemic hummingbird restricted to just a few arid valleys, and the endemic Rusty-fronted Canastero.
Other birds we may well encounter here are White-tufted Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Western Cattle and Great Egrets, Cocoi and Little Blue Herons, Puna Ibis, Yellow-billed, Puna and Cinnamon Teals, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Duck, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Cinereous Harrier, Variable Hawk, Mountain Caracara, American Kestrel, Aplomado Falcon, Plumbeous Rail, Common Gallinule, Slate-coloured Coot, Andean Lapwing, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Andean Gull, Spot-winged Pigeon, West Peruvian and Eared Doves, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Burrowing Owl, White-collared Swift, the impressive Giant Hummingbird (which has a flight action not unlike a bee-eater), Black-tailed and Green-tailed Trainbearers, Andean Flicker, Streak-fronted Thornbird, Wren-like Rushbird, Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant, Andean Negrito, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant, Barn Swallow, House Wren, Chiguanco Thrush, Hooded Siskin, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Cinereous Conebill, the near-endemic Black-throated Flower-piercer, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Band-tailed Seedeater and Greenish Yellow-Finch. We may also come across Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant.
On leaving the Cusco area we will pass through the ancient landscapes of that empire, with the towering peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba lining our route. Once away from Cusco we begin to work our way through the arid intermontane valleys of the Apurimac, on our way to Abancay, which sits in the Apurimac canyon on the ecotone between the xeric habitats of the lower canyon and the semi-humid cloud forests of Bosque Ampay.
Stopping west of the canyon, we shall explore some excellent cloudforest with a magnificent vista of distant snow-capped peaks. We shall search for two endemics, Creamy-crested Spinetail and Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch, both of which are somewhat numerous here, before we enter the more species-rich humid forests nearby. Here we shall look for the endemic Apurimac Spinetail and the undescribed endemic ‘Ampay’ Tapaculo, both of which are quite common at this site. We should also see the endemic White-tufted Sunbeam and the endemic Coppery-naped Puffleg, as well as the lovely Great Sapphirewing and Scaled Metaltail.
In the late afternoon we will continue to Abancay for a two nights stay.
Cusco Andes: Day 3 This morning we will explore nearby sites in the spectacular Apurimac canyon. A pre-dawn start should put us in prime position to search for the recently discovered ‘Apurimac’ Screech-Owl. This taxon is closely related to Koepcke’s Screech-Owl, but most likely deserves specific status, as might the undescribed form of Glaucidium pygmy-owl found here. With luck we will see both of these taxa.
As dawn lights the canyon we are presented with the spectacle of towering cliffs and cactus-clad slopes. Our first target is the ‘White-tailed’ form of the Pale-tailed Canastero, a distinctive taxon and likely a separate species in its own right. If we are lucky we will also find ‘Hocking’s’ Parakeet; a recently described form that is intermediate between Mitred and Scarlet-fronted Parakeets. Other birds here include White-eared Puffbird and Crested Becard.
As soon as we have found our targets we shall climb up to Bosque Ampay, a protected forest just above town. This isolated montane forest is a National Sanctuary and protects large tracts of Podocarpus, the only native conifer of Peru. Although, species diversity is not high, the level of endemism is impressive. The forests harbour good numbers of the endemic Apurimac Brush-Finch. The fields and scrubby pastures are known to hold the near-endemic Taczanowski’s Tinamou, which we should find if we are lucky. The forests here hold a number of less numerous montane species, including an undescribed species of Taphrospilus hummingbird, the remarkable Sword-billed Hummingbird, Andean Parakeet, Purple-backed Thornbill, Undulated Antpitta and White-browed Conebill.
Cusco Andes: Day 4 Working our way out of the Apurimac canyon, we shall explore humid forest fragments on the east side of Bosque Ampay and semi-arid intermontane habitats en route to Mollepacta and the Sacred Valley, where we will search for any species we may have missed. In the late afternoon, we continue to Ollantaytambo for a two nights stay.
Cusco Andes: Day 5 The Abra Malaga area of Peru is well known for its avian specialities and we shall explore both sides of the pass from which the area takes its name. The road up to the pass is an endless series of hairpin bends through dry, scrubby country and then puna grasslands and some patches of stunted, high altitude Polylepis woodland. The pass itself lies at over 4300m (14,108ft) and from there the road drops rapidly into the humid cloudforest hung with epiphytes that is so typical of the eastern slopes of the Andes.
The scenery at the pass is dramatic and on clear days the huge ice-clad peak of Veronica and its associated glacier form a magnificent backcloth to our birding. Llamas graze on the slopes, tended by Quechua Indians whose lifestyle seems little changed since Inca days, whilst overhead we may see the bird that epitomizes the high Andes – the Andean Condor.
Weather conditions permitting, we will make an optional hike up to the ridge near the pass in order to bird a patch of Polylepis woodland for the endemic White-browed Tit-Spinetail and the near-endemic Ashy-breasted Tit-Tyrant. The very rare, near-endemic Royal Cinclodes has become increasingly difficult to find at this locality, but we will try our hardest, and we will likely find the endemic Junin Canastero and the restricted-range Puna Tapaculo, as well as Blue-mantled Thornbill, Tawny Tit-Spinetail, Giant Conebill and, with luck, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant.
As we descend the valley beneath the looming peak we may well see Andean Goose, the rare Andean Ibis, Puna Ground-Tyrant, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, Peruvian, Plumbeous and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches, Plain-coloured Seedeater and lower down a good number of hummingbirds, including Shining Sunbeam and Sparkling Violetear.
Cusco Andes: Day 6 After leaving Ollantaytambo this morning we will cross over the Abra Malaga pass and explore the humid forests of the east flank of the Andes before we reach the Vilcabamba area for an overnight stay. We will find that not only is there a great variety of different species in the Abra Malaga area, but that the avifauna undergoes a sudden and decisive shift as one crosses from the dry (western) side to the wet (eastern) side.
Cusco Andes: Day 7 Today we explore the temperate forests of the Cordillera Vilcabamba. Departing early, we shall climb up into the high part of the Vilcabamba to explore a very infrequently visited area which holds a number of endemics. We shall be searching for Vilcabamba Thistletail, Vilcabamba Tapaculo, Cusco Brush-Finch and the rare Vilcabamba Brush-Finch (we will need luck to find the latter). We will also be wanting to see the restricted-range Rust-and-yellow Tanager.
In addition to these specialities, we will also see a good variety of mid-elevation species of the eastern slopes of the Andes in southern Peru. Amongst the species we may well find here are Torrent Duck, Andean Guan, Mitred Parakeet, Chestnut-collared and White-tipped Swifts, Highland Motmot, Azara’s Spinetail, Variable Antshrike, Sierran Elaenia, Sclater’s and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Black Phoebe, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Blue-and-white Swallow, White-capped Dipper, Brown-capped Vireo, Dusky-green Oropendola, Tropical Parula, Slate-throated Redstart, Capped Conebill, Oleaginous Hemispingus, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch and a colourful array of tanagers including Saffron-crowned, Blue-necked, Beryl-spangled, Blue-and-black, Silver-backed, Blue-grey and Blue-capped Tanagers.
Hummingbirds could well include the endemic Green-and-white Hummingbird, as well as Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Gould’s Inca (sometimes split from Collared), Booted Racket-tail, White-bellied Woodstar.
Afterwards we will head for Quillabamba for a two nights stay.
Cusco Andes: Day 8 In the Quillabamba region our primary focus will be on some additional Peruvian endemics, namely Puna Thistletail, Marcapata Spinetail, Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant, Parodi’s and White-browed Hemispinguses, and the relatively recently-described Inca Wren.
In addition we will be looking for such restricted-range specialities as Violet-throated Starfrontlet, the recently-described Diademed Tapaculo, Pale-footed Swallow, Moustached Flowerpiercer, Chestnut-bellied Mountain-Tanager and Golden-collared Tanager.
Amongst the many other species we may well see are Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Tyrian Metaltail, Slender-billed Miner, Cream-winged and White-winged Cinclodes, Streak-throated and Line-fronted Canasteros, Pearled Treerunner, Stripe-headed Antpitta, Trilling (or Grey) Tapaculo, Red-crested Cotinga, White-throated Tyrannulet, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrants, Taczanowski’s Ground-Tyrant, Andean Swallow, Paramo Pipit, Mountain Wren, Great Thrush, Spectacled Whitestart, Citrine Warbler, Blue-backed Conebill, Masked Flower-piercer, Tit-like Dacnis, the striking Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, the lovely Three-striped Hemispingus, Golden-billed Saltator and Plush-capped Finch (or Plushcap).
Cusco Andes: Day 9 Today we will return to Cusco airport, where our tour ends this afternoon. We may have time for some final birding en route.
(Most international flight connections out of Lima are in the evening, so it is easy to return from Cusco to Lima in time to depart Peru today. We will be happy to arrange the Cusco-Lima flight for you on request.)