CENTRAL PERU BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Central Peru: Day 1 Our Central Peru birding tour begins this evening at Lima airport, from where we will drive to a nearby hotel for an overnights stay.
Central Peru: Day 2 Today we will visit the Lomas de Lachay, an area of low coastal hills that are covered in a unique ‘fog vegetation’ (i.e. vegetation exclusively fed by moisture from the near-permanent coastal fog or garua). We will first visit a desolate desert canyon where, among the sparse cacti and large boulders, we shall look for the endemic Cactus Canastero. We shall also keep an eye out for the cryptic Peruvian Thick-knee, the small desert race nanodes of the Burrowing Owl and the near-endemic Greyish Miner (which tends to roam around in flocks at this time of year). Taking the road to the main entrance of the reserve, we will check the sandy desert for the endemic Coastal Miner as well as the diminutive Least Seedsnipe. Rocky areas higher up hold yet another endemic miner, the large Thick-billed Miner. Other birds we may find in the lomas include Amazilia Hummingbird, the gorgeous Oasis Hummingbird and Purple-collared Woodstar, Yellowish Pipit (the local form perhaps meriting specific status as Peruvian Pipit), Band-tailed Sierra Finch, Grassland Yellow Finch and Peruvian Meadowlark. Near the rubbish containers, we may find the restricted-range Sechura Fox, while if we are very fortunate indeed we will even find the now very rare Tawny-throated Dotterel or the nomadic Raimondi’s Yellow-Finch (although our time to look for this species will be limited).
In the afternoon we will head to the immense Bahia Paraiso; a lagoon bounded by a ten-kilometre beach and the Atacama desert. A scan over the nutrient-rich waters of the Humboldt current should produce the huge Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby, Neotropic and Guanay Cormorants, Band-tailed, Grey and Kelp Gulls, and perhaps Guanay Cormorant and the delicate Inca Tern. We will investigate a section of rocky shoreline for Blackish Oystercatcher and if we are lucky we may find the endemic Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes, while a rocky island may hold roosting Red-legged Cormorants. Noisy Killdeer patrol open areas and a scan of the beach may reveal an American Oystercatcher and more gulls and terns. Cinnamon Teal and Grey-hooded (or Grey-headed) Gulls float on the coastal lagoon, and large numbers of wetland species, including White-tufted and Great Grebe, White-cheeked Pintail and large numbers of Nearctic waders during the northern winter. At certain times of the year, the site is good for the endangered Peruvian Tern as well as both South American and Elegant Terns.
Finally, we will continue our journey northwards to the busy coastal town of Barranca.
Central Peru: Day 3 Today finds us exploring the Fortaleza valley as we climb up to Conococha and the high Andes. As the murky dawns wakens life along the riverine woodlands we will hope to see Lesser Nighthawks swooping over the cane fields while Tropical Kingbirds sing from powerlines and Scarlet-fronted and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets head off to nearby fruiting trees. While our able crew arrange the first of many sumptuous field breakfasts we will begin to explore the nearby riparian scrub and woodlands. Our targets here include the rufescens form of Bran-coloured Flycatcher, which is increasingly considered a separate species and Baird’s Flycatcher, here at its southernmost site. Peruvian Pygmy Owl, Harris’s Hawk, Amazilia Hummingbird and Pacific Parrotlet are common here in the weedy field edges Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Blue-black Grassquit, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Groove-billed Ani and Peruvian Meadowlark abound.
As we make our way to higher elevations a series of stops target the endemic and now endangered Russet-bellied Spinetail and Great Inca Finch. Time permitting we will search scrubby gullies for Bay-crowned Brush Finch. Well above the road the relict pacific forests here support Piura Chat-Tyrant and Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch but we have little time and a long journey ahead of us. With some luck, we may one of these species. Our last stop will be Lago Conococha where we will see a wide selection of Andean waterfowl including Silvery Grebe, Puna Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Yellow-billed Teal, Andean Duck, Andean Goose, several hundred Giant Coot, Andean Coot, Puna Ibis, Chilean Flamingo and maybe the uncommon Andean Ibis.
After an exciting day, we will continue our journey to Caraz for a two nights stay. Our journey will provide us with vistas of the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the Cordilleras Huayhuash and the Huascaran National Park, surely the most scenic area in Peru.
Central Peru: Day 4 Our full days birding the exhilarating mountains of the Cordillera Blanca will surely provide us with a truly memorable spectacle of dramatic scenery. We will spend a lot of time at Quebrada Llanganuco above the village of Yungay. A more astounding setting cannot be imagined, as the magnificent peak of Huascaran forms an impressive backdrop which dominates the landscape. The Polylepis groves at the upper end of the valley are among the most accessible in all of Peru and within a short time here one can usually see a very fine variety of birds. A readily found speciality of these gnarled woods (especially where Gynoxis bushes are prominent) is the colourful Tit-like Dacnis, but our prime target will be the striking White-cheeked Cotinga, a low-density bird that may well require some persistence and a modicum of luck. This high-elevation frugivore mainly feeds on mistletoe berries, and so we shall keep an eye out for patches of this parasitic epiphyte.
We will also seek a handful of other endemics inhabiting this scenic area. Black Metaltails thirstily sip from the mistletoe flowers, the secretive Ancash Tapaculo is usually singing from boulder-strewn slopes and the smart Rufous-eared Brush Finch is common here.
Other birds we may well find during our exploration of these wonderful mountains of central Peru include Green-headed Hillstar (often lumped in Andean Hillstar), White-winged Cinclodes, Green-tailed Trainbearer, the streak-crowned cajabambae race of the Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, Rufous-webbed Tyrant, and Rufous-naped and Plain-capped Ground Tyrants. A beautiful trail through taller Polylepis woodland lower down leads us into the haunts of the nuthatch-like Giant Conebill, the shy Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant and the endemic Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch, and we should also find Black-crested Warbler (here near the southern limit of its range).
Central Peru: Day 5 An early morning start near Yungay finds us in an area of dry intermontane scrub in the bottom of the ‘Callejon de Huaylas’ where we hope to find the undescribed cinnamon-tailed race of the endemic Pale-tailed Canastero. The endemic Spot-throated Hummingbird is found here, Southern Beardless Tyrannulets deliver their plaintive calls from this cactus-studded habitat and Vermilion Flycatchers add a touch of colour.
All too soon it is time to move on as we make our way through the Huascaran National Park and on to the city of Huanuco for a four nights stay. Along the way, we will enjoy some breath-taking scenery and we will make a few stops to catch up on some of the birds we might have missed so far.
By mid-morning we will reach the high pass between the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Huayhuash, where the scenery is so overwhelmingly stunning that it is regarded by many as unsurpassed in South America, let alone Peru, with line upon line of snow-capped peaks stretching away on both sides. We may see Rufous-bellied and Grey-breasted Seedsnipe in their alpine homes, and we will scan the slopes for the rabbit-like Mountain Viscacha. Descending west of the pass, we will pass through paramos studded with giant Puya raimondi, a terrestrial bromeliad known for having the world’s largest flowering stalks, and if we find one in flower we will stop to watch the show provided by dozens of hummingbirds thirstily zooming in to sip the copious nectar.
Time permitting, we shall stop at a marshy lagoon which is part of the Cordillera Blanca National Park. Photographic opportunities are very good as Giant Coot and Silvery Grebe nest right next to the road and a variety of other aquatic birds may be seen. In the afternoon we cross the headwaters of the Rio Marañon, one of the rivers giving rise to the mighty Amazon, though here it is only a small stream in comparison to the great river that it becomes further north. We will continue our journey through temperate but arid inter-montane valleys, skirting several picturesque Andean villages. Around nightfall we will roll into our hotel near Huanuco.
Central Peru: Days 6-8 While staying in this interesting area we divide our time between the forested ridge east of town and Bosque Unchog. As one passes through the Carpish Tunnel east of Huanuco the landscape suddenly changes from an arid interior valley to humid, mossy cloudforest.
Birding the legendary Paty Trail, one of the best birding sites in Peru, provides access to the cloudforest interior, the realm of the endemic Chestnut and Bay Antpittas, and we shall make a concerted effort to try and see these ultimate forest floor skulkers. Other furtive denizens of the dark understorey along this trail and at higher elevations near the tunnel are Trilling Tapaculo and the endemic Peruvian Rufous-vented Tapaculo. We shall be seeking out a number of additional Peruvian endemics found in this fabulous area, including Masked Fruiteater, ‘Huanuco Fruiteater’ (a small, distinctive race of Green-and-Black Fruiteater which probably merits being elevated to species level), Peruvian Tyrannulet, the bamboo-loving Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant, Inca Flycatcher and the vociferous Peruvian Wren.
If we are very fortunate we will even see such highly sought-after specialities as the White-rumped Hawk, the shy Golden-browed Chat-Tyrant or the mega-elusive Masked Saltator, while pre-dawn nightbirding sessions may produce a White-throated Screech Owl or a Swallow-tailed Nightjar.
In the 1970s some Louisiana State University researchers stunned the ornithological world with the discovery of three new species to science on a remote mountain in Central Peru. In a high area of wet elfin forests they not only found a splendid new mountain-tanager (the brilliant Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager, the largest of them all!), but also a rare cotinga in a totally new genus (the Bay-vented Cotinga), and a very odd small tanager, the Pardusco, that did not look like anything previously known to science and warranted the description of a new genus (Nephelornis).
Reaching this remote mountain in order to search for these highly-prized and little-known birds requires some effort. This morning we will head up a narrow and winding road towards the small village of Cochabamba, where nearby drier habitat holds the endemic Brown-flanked Tanager, as well as the endemic Baron’s Spinetail and the striking Black-crested Tit-Tyrant. From here we will bird our way up to the mist-enshrouded Bosque Unchog, high in the mountains above the Carpish Tunnel. We plan to visit this site at least twice, maximizing our chances of finding the area’s specialities. Our days in Bosque Unchog will be spent birding the often misty paramos and treeline forests in search of the three main specialities and several other endemics. The easiest of these is the abundant Coppery Metaltail, and we should soon become familiar with both sexes of this treeline hummer. The odd-looking Pardusco is numerous and is found in small to large flocks, sometimes mixed in with other species, which work their way energetically amongst the stunted bushes on sunny mornings. The other specialities often require more work and patience. We shall diligently scan the tops of bushes and small trees for the elusive Bay-vented Cotinga, which is only sparsely distributed across this inhospitable habitat. Indeed, finding their first Doliornis is often the prime reason for keen birders to make the effort to reach these remote mountains, but we will need a modicum of luck to find this highly prized endemic.
The most glamorous bird in Bosque Unchog is the spectacular Golden-backed Mountain Tanager, which moves through the tops of Escallonia trees as the sun comes up in the morning. Later in the day, this avian jewel can, in spite of its glamorous appearance, remain out of sight for long periods of time. The small family groups may also move long distances between feeding areas, making finding this superb endemic something of a waiting game.
Hopefully we will also encounter the handsome Rufous-browed Hemispingus, another Peruvian endemic which is hard to find elsewhere. We plan on spending plenty of time at a particular forest patch where this attractive bird is an unobtrusive but core member of mixed flocks working through the dense stands of Chusquea bamboo. It forages closer to the ground than other members of the genus, and it can be a hard bird to see well, even once found, as it often keeps out of sight as it hops among moss-laden, fallen trunks.
We will also listen for the monotonous calls of the endemic Neblina (or Elfin Forest) Tapaculo, while we hope to find the smart Line-fronted Canastero in grassy areas with large boulders.
We should have time to cover the trails into taller forest at lower altitude. White-banded Tyrannulet and Ochraceous-breasted Flycatcher are common here, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrants often perch in the open, and at the trumpet-shaped Datura flowers we may see the unbelievable Sword-billed Hummingbird. We will also make special efforts to see the endemic Large-footed Tapaculo as well as the reclusive obscura race of the Rufous Antpitta (likely to be elevated to full species status and often referred to as ‘Fulvous Antpitta’). We will also have another chance to see the endemic Tschudi’s Tapaculo should we have missed it earlier.
Other birds which are likely to be found in this misty environment while we quietly stalk our main targets are White-chinned Thistletail (here of the endemic southern race, which is sometimes split as Plenge’s or Peruvian Thistletail), Many-striped Canastero, Barred Fruiteater, White-throated Tyrannulet, Peruvian (or Kalinowski’s) Chat-Tyrant, Red-rumped Bush Tyrant, Paramo Pipit, Blue-backed Conebill, Golden-collared Tanager, the endemic Yellow-scarfed Tanager and Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager. Open areas hold the retiring Curve-billed Tinamou, but this highly sought-after bird usually manages to keep well out of sight. Arriving pre-dawn one morning may produce a roding Andean Snipe.
On one day, on our return to Huanuco from Bosque Unchog, we will stop in the arid Huallaga Valley in search of Plain-breasted and Croaking Ground Doves, Smooth-billed Ani, White-bellied Hummingbird, Black Phoebe, Fasciated Wren (which has an isolated population in this valley) and Blue-grey Tanager.
Central Peru: Day 9 Today we travel south of Huanuco to an arid canyon where we will look for the endemic Rufous-backed Inca Finch. We shall diligently search the bush tops and cacti for this secretive endemic, which tends to deliver its high-pitched song from a conspicuous Agave, but keeps in thick cover for most of the day. Along the way we will keep an eye on a rushing stream that runs adjacent to the road for both Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper. In the afternoon we will climb to the high plains around Lago Junin stopping at some Polylepis woodlands en route. These woodlands give us another opportunity to see the endemic Brown-flanked Tanager as well as Giant Conebill. Continuing to Junin we will stop to look for Ornate Tinamou, Aplomado Falcon, Common Miner and Black Siskin on the high plains.
In the late afternoon we will make for the sedge-choked marshes lining certain sections of the great lake where we hope to see the elusive endemic Junin Rail, often considered a separate species from Black Rail. We will then make our way to the high plains town of Junin for an overnight stay.
Central Peru: Day 10 Lago de Junín is one of the largest lakes in Peru, second only to the enormous Lake Titicaca, and like the latter it harbours a flightless species of grebe. Sadly the Junín Grebe has suffered a steep decline during the last century, and our prime goal this morning is seeing this endangered endemic. It lives and breeds in the floating reed beds well out into the lake and so we shall go out in a motorized boat in order to find this legendary bird. Our expert boatmen will manoeuvre us among the reeds, where we will sort through the rather similar-looking Silvery Grebes as we try to find our quarry.
The waters are crystal clear, often allowing for interesting views of the lake bottom, and we will also see a wide variety of other waterbirds. Possibilities include White-tufted Grebe, Speckled and Puna Teals, Yellow-billed Pintail and Andean Duck. Puna Ibises and Andean Gulls are often present in large numbers and we shall scan the shallows for Great and Snowy Egrets, Cinereous Harrier, the large garmani race of the Common Moorhen, Andean Coot and the elegant Andean Avocet. The Acrocephalus-like Wren-like Rushbird and the lovely Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant are common in the reedbeds, and around the fringes of the lake we may spot the secretive Plumbeous Rail. Overhead we will watch for Short-billed Pipits performing their relentless song flights, and in surrounding fields and meadows we should find a number of passerines, such as Common Miner, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Andean Negrito and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch.
In the afternoon we shall head to Villa Rica for a two nights stay.
Central Peru: Day 11 Today we depart in good time to reach some shade coffee plantations for dawn. Here we hope to see the endemic Creamy-bellied Antwren in the large and highly active mixed flocks that pass back and forth through the low canopy.
As we are in the lower sub-tropics the diversity of species is very high and we should see or at least hear Tataupa Tinamou, Black-throated Mango, Blue-tailed Emerald, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Ocellated Piculet, Crimson-crested and Lineated Woodpeckers, Red-throated Caracara, Blue-headed and Red-billed Parrots, White-eyed Parakeet and, if we are lucky the magnificent Military Macaw, Streaked Xenops, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Peruvian Tyrannulet, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Olive-faced Flatbill, Long-tailed Tyrant, Yellow-cheeked and White-winged Becards, Coraya Wren, Purple-throated and Thick-billed Euphonias, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Blackburnian Warbler, Crested and Russet-backed Oropendolas, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Giant Cowbird, Bananaquit, Magpie Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Palm Tanager, Blue-necked, Paradise and Silver-backed Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, Purple and Green Honeycreepers and Buff-throated Saltator. This list is by no means exhaustive and we could see a good many more species depending on exactly where we go or indeed which way we turn along some of the trails.
Central Peru: Day 12 After an early morning exploring the cloud forests at the newly established Bosque Shollett reserve we descend to Oxapampa in the afternoon we then head to the delightful Ulcumano lodge nestled in the hills above town for an overnight stay.
Our pre-dawn birding may produce the restricted-range Cloud-forest Screech Owl as well as Rufous-bellied Nighthawk.
Working the bromeliad festooned cloud forests of Bosque Shollett, a little known cloud forest reserve set up to protect the watershed forests, we may find Trilling Tapaculo, Golden-collared and Yellow-scarfed Tanagers or Bluish Flowerpiercer. As we investigate dense bamboo thickets we hope to find the rarely seen Peruvian Treehunter or maybe Maroon-chested Ground Dove, if we are indeed very lucky.
Commonly found in these forests is the superb endemic Masked Fruiteater and we should certainly see this key species, if we have not done so already.
Crimson-bellied Woodpecker is also found with some regularity in the area and we shall search diligently for this unobtrusive species. We shall also be keeping an eye on the sky for a number of raptors including White Hawk, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle. We shall also hope to see the localised endemic form of Black-winged Parrot as they hurtle low over the canopy.
In the afternoon we will head to the Ulcumano lodge and walk the trails in search of some local specialities including Powerful Woodpecker, Andean Motmot, the stunning Golden-headed Quetzal, Sickle-winged Guan, Sub-tropical Blackish Antbird, Chestnut-crested Cotinga and Jet Manakin. If we still need to see Bay Antpitta it is indeed a common bird around the lodge.
Nightbirding at this remote lodge is excellent and we hope to find the rarely seen Cloud-forest Screech Owl, a genuinely enigmatic denizen of these beautiful forests. While out at night we might also see the stunning Swallow-tailed Nightjar or the noisy Rufous-banded Owl.
Central Peru: Day 13 After spending the best part of the morning around Oxapampa we will make our way to the base of the Andes to drive through the foothills to Satipo for an overnight stay.
As we descend to the tropics along much of this route we have a chance to enjoy some leisurely tropical birding, seeing a stunning variety of species not available on the rest of our Central Peru tour. Amongst these, we might see Swallow-tailed and Plumbeous Kites, Ruddy Ground Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, Short-tailed Swift, Neotropical Palm Swift, Green Kingfisher, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Yellow-headed Caracara, Great Antshrike, Social and Grey-capped Flycatchers, Great kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Short-crested Flycatcher, Violaceous Jay, White-banded Swallow, Black-billed thrush, Orange-backed Troupial, Yellow-browed Sparrow and Chestnut-bellied Seedeater. Depending on time available to us we may also see many other tropical species but these are not our priority for this trip. We should arrive in Satipo in the early evening.
Central Peru: Day 14 Departing from Satipo in time to be on-site for dawn we climb the Satipo road to explore the cloud forests above town. We will on the lookout for Amazonian Umbrellabird the gaudy Andean Cock-of-the-rock, the magnificent Black and chestnut Eagle and active tanager flocks passing through the canopy accompanied by numerous flycatcher and furnariid species. Excellent mixed-species flocks regularly make their rounds, and among a colourful palette of tanagers, we may well see Common and Grey-hooded Bush Tanagers, White-browed, Superciliaried, Oleaginous, Black-eared and Drab Hemispinguses, Grass-green, Rufous-crested, Blue-capped, Saffron-crowned, Flame-faced, Beryl-spangled and Blue-and-black Tanagers, and Hooded, Lacrimose and Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers.
A variety of suboscines also accompany these often chaotic mixed flocks. Streaked Tuftedcheeks inspect the detritus accumulating inside the omnipresent bromeliads, Montane Woodcreepers and Pearled Treerunners shuffle up moss-encrusted branches and Band-tailed Fruiteaters unobtrusively flit through the foliage in their quest for protein-laden berries. A multitude of glittering hummingbirds are found in these bird-rich cloudforests and possibilities include Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Bronzy and Collared Incas, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Emerald-bellied Puffleg and Long-tailed Sylph.
We will have a wide range of birding options in the area, ranging from the foothill forests to the upper subtropical zone, depending on the species we still need to look for.
Other birds we may find as we work up and down the forest-clad slopes include Turkey Vulture, Roadside and White-rumped Hawks, Andean Guan, Speckle-faced and Scaly-naped Parrots, Golden-headed Quetzal, Masked Trogon, Black-throated Toucanet, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Bar-bellied, Crimson-mantled and Powerful Woodpeckers, Azara’s and Rufous Spinetails, Rusty-winged Barbtail, Striped Treehunter, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Uniform and Variable Antshrikes, Long-tailed Antbird, Rusty-breasted Antpitta, the impressive Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Streak-necked, Flavescent, Cinnamon, Dusky-capped and Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Rufous-headed Pygmy Tyrant, White-tailed and Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulets, Smoke-colored Pewee, Maroon-chested Chat-Tyrant, Smoky Bush Tyrant, Barred Becard, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, the gorgeous White-eared Solitaire, Mountain Wren, the melodious Chestnut-breasted Wren, Glossy-black Thrush, White-collared Jay, Brown-capped Vireo, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Tropical Parula, Citrine and Russet-crowned Warblers, Capped Conebill, Plush-capped Finch, Tricolored, Slaty and Stripe-headed Brush-Finches, Yellow-billed Cacique and Dusky-green Oropendola.
After a full day of birding in these highly productive forest we head for the Colibri Cloud-forest Lodge at Apalla for a two nights stay.
Central Peru: Day 15 Today will leave very early for the road to Andamarca. This small Indian village is located in the dry Rio Mantaro Valley, where our primary target will be the recently-described, endemic Black-goggled Brush Finch. The shrubby slopes also provide a home for the endemic Creamy-crested Spinetail as well as Red-crested Cotinga, Sierran Elaenia, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, White-winged Black Tyrant, Blue-and-white Swallow, Pale-legged Warbler, Black-throated Flowerpiercer and Golden-billed Saltator. Also present in dense scrub and bamboo is a recently discovered Thryothorus wren, either an undescribed race of the endemic Inca Wren or perhaps a new species to science; the Mantaro Wren.
We will descend a little lower towards the town of Andamarca stopping in some drier scrubby habitat where we will search for a recently discovered Phacellodomus thornbird that may be a new species; the Mantaro Thornbird. Retracing our steps towards Satipo we aim to reach a patch of high-elevation shrubbery, the haunt of three little-known and highly localized Mantaro endemics, the evocatively-named Fire-throated Metaltail, the fidgety Eye-ringed Thistletail (it will not take long for us to find this striking furnariid) and the Milpo Tapaculo. Other birds found in this area of central Peru include the noisy but handsome endemic Striated Earthcreeper, the striking Stripe-headed Antpitta, the rather prosaically named Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Sedge Wren.
In the late afternoon we will return to the Colibri Cloud-forest Lodge through open puna grasslands and stunning unbroken cloud forests. In the temperate forests, we will search for the weskei form of Marcapata Spinetail, which might prove to be a distinct endemic species.
We shall also stop at higher elevations, where we may find Andean Ibis, White-throated Hawk, Band-tailed Pigeon, Shining Sunbeam, Violet-throated Starfrontlet, Purple-backed Thornbill, Tyrian Metaltail, Brown-bellied Swallow, Great Thrush, Spectacled Redstart, and Masked and Moustached Flowerpiercer.
Central Peru: Day 16 Taking our leave of the Colibri Cloud-forest lodge, we climb up to the high Puna before heading to San Mateo for an overnight stay.
Depending on what we need to see we can stop at any elevation in the cloud forests from the humid sub-tropics to the elfin forest scrub at Carrizales. In all likelihood, we will stop in the sub-tropical zone, where we may see the stunning Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Blue-banded Toucanet or the massive Strong-billed Woodcreeper. It is probably here that we will enjoy a very productive early morning session working the flocks. However, we are essentially travelling through the Andes to get to San Mateo by the early evening. Passing La Oroya we hope to reach Milloc bog, a high elevation wetland bog, in time for our first chance to see the endangered endemic White-bellied Cinclodes.
Central Peru: Day 17 Providing an exciting finale to our high Andean birding, the cold, high-elevation bogs of Marcapomacocha are home to one of the world’s most highly sought-after waders, the exquisite, restricted-range Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. We shall find the air pretty thin this morning as we will be birding at an elevation of over 14,800ft (4500m), but the superb set of special birds to be found here will make our physical efforts well worthwhile. The scenery is without comparison, and at this time of year we can expect sun and a scattering of snow. We may well flush a startled Puna Snipe as we search through this often waterlogged habitat, while the drier slopes hold the small Grey-breasted Seedsnipe.
We shall also be hoping to find four high-altitude endemics in this area. Among boulder-strewn grassy areas we will look for the large White-bellied Cinclodes (probably the most spectacular member of the Furnariidae), while flat areas hold Dark-winged Miners, sparse flowers attract shimmering Black-breasted Hillstars and areas of thick bunchgrass are home to strikingly-patterned Junin Canasteros.
Olivaceous Thornbills often walk on matted grass in search of their scarce insect prey, while other birds we may find in this scenic area include Andean Goose, Crested Duck, Mountain Caracara, Aplomado Falcon, Andean Lapwing, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Andean Flicker, Slender-billed Miner, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Streak-throated Canastero, Puna, Cinereous, White-fronted and Ochre-naped Ground Tyrants, Black Siskin, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, White-winged Diuca-Finch, Plain-colored Seedeater and Bright-rumped Yellow Finch.
In the late afternoon we descend from our high elevation explorations to the delightful town of Santa Eulalia for an overnight stay.
Central Peru: Day 18 An early start along the dusty but spectacular Santa Eulalia road will take us high into the mountains above Lima. After crossing a bridge over a tremendous chasm we shall reach a shrubby hillside and small ravine where the rare and endemic Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch is still regularly seen. As the early morning sun hits the slopes we will be sorting through flocks of the much more numerous Mourning Sierra Finch in the hopes of finding this elusive speciality, but we will be fortunate if we encounter this threatened species. Giant Hummingbirds are particularly numerous here, but we shall be on the lookout for the endemic and less conspicuous Bronze-tailed Comet.
Other endemics we will try to find in this area are Black-necked Woodpecker, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail (here the nominate race with a solid rufous crown), Canyon Canastero and Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch.
The supporting cast may include Black Vulture, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Variable Hawk, American Kestrel, Eared and White-tipped Doves, Bare-faced and Black-winged Ground-Doves, White-collared and Andean Swifts, Sparkling Violetear, Peruvian Sheartail, Streaked Tit-Spinetail, Pied-crested and Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrants, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Spot-billed Ground Tyrant, House Wren, Long-tailed Mockingbird, White-capped Dipper, Chiguanco Thrush, Hooded Siskin, Cinereous Conebill, Rufous-chested and Blue-and-yellow Tanagers, Peruvian Sierra-Finch, Collared Warbling-Finch, Band-tailed Seedeater, Greenish Yellow Finch, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Golden-bellied Grosbeak and Scrub Blackbird. With a modicum of luck a majestic Andean Condor will even grace the scene.
In the afternoon we will head to Lima for an overnight stay.
Central Peru: Day 19 This morning we will explore arid areas along the coast for the restricted-range Slender-billed Finch and Tschudi’s Nightjar, as well as ‘Rufescent Flycatcher’ (now split by some from Bran-coloured).
Afterwards, we will head to Lima airport, where the main section of our Central Peru birding tour ends in the late afternoon.
CUSCO ANDES EXTENSION
Cusco Andes: Day 1 Our 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 Crossing over the pass today, we 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 side to the wet side. After leaving Ollantaytambo today we will explore the humid forests of the east flank of the Andes before we reach the Vilcabamba area for an overnight stay.
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 the extension to our Central Peru birding tour ends this afternoon. We may have time for some final birding en route.