NORTHERN PERU TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Northern Peru: Day 1 Our Northern Peru tour begins this morning at the coastal city of Chiclayo, a vibrant symbol of modern Peru and commercial capital of the north. (There is a good quality hotel in the terminal complex at Lima, so there is no need to leave the airport should you need an overnight stop en route to Chiclayo.)
From here we will drive to an area of Acacia-Prosopis forest that is one of the very few localities where the rare and endemic Peruvian Plantcutter is known to survive, and a habitat that is under severe threat from the increasing cultivation of the coastal river valleys. Throughout the early morning, the attractive male plantcutters emit their strange songs from the treetops and we have a very good chance of seeing this now threatened species. We should also find another very uncommon endemic, the Rufous Flycatcher, which may reveal its presence with its scratchy whistles.
The area is very birdy and holds a good many other localized specialities (many of which are only shared with Southern Ecuador). Walking through the dunes, we shall be looking out for the pretty Scarlet-backed Woodpecker (which utters a loud rattle), smart Pacific Parrotlets, Necklaced Spinetail, Tumbesian Tyrannulet, Grey-and-white Tyrannulet (looking like a miniature elaenia), both Superciliated and Fasciated Wrens, White-browed Gnatcatcher (here the western, white-faced form), and the smart Cinereous Finch. The constant chorus of West Peruvian Doves and Croaking Ground Dove, along with the calls of the garrulous Pacific Hornero, provide the soundscape for these deserts and all are numerous here, while overhead we may well see the localized Chestnut-collared Swallow. A Pacific Pygmy Owl may attract the unwanted attention of an Amazilia Hummingbird or Peruvian Sheartail, and other more widespread species we may find include Turkey and Black Vultures, Pearl Kite, Eared Dove, Tawny-crowned Pygmy Tyrant, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Scrub Blackbird, Cinereous Conebill, Rufous-collared Sparrow and Bananaquit.
Working the more open areas close to the coast, we may find the near-endemic Peruvian Thick-knee and hopefully the endemic Coastal Miner, the near-endemic Peruvian Pipit, and, with luck, Least Seedsnipe as well as the widespread Burrowing Owl, Vermilion Flycatcher, Blue-and-white Swallow and Grassland Yellowfinch.
This will be our only opportunity to see birds restricted to the coast and we shall devote some time to looking for the now rare Peruvian Tern. Also offshore we will look for the localized Peruvian Pelican and Peruvian Booby. A good variety of other gulls and terns are likely to be present including localized Grey and Belcher’s Gulls as well as Kelp, Laughing, Franklin’s and Grey-hooded (or Grey-headed) Gulls, and Royal, Elegant and South American Terns, and amongst the many other widespread wetland species present, we may well find the smart Great Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Cinnamon Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Cocoi and Little Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Grey (or Black-bellied), Semipalmated and Snowy Plovers, Killdeer, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Surfbird, Sanderling, Least, Semipalmated and Spotted Sandpipers and the hulking Ringed Kingfisher.
In the late afternoon, we will drive to the now-famous Chaparri Lodge for a two nights stay. On the way, we will make a stop at a large reservoir where a small population of a localized form of Black-faced Ibis occurs. Whilst looking for these, we are likely to encounter a number of other widespread new species such as Wood Stork, Puna Ibis, Western Cattle Egret, Western Osprey, Savanna Hawk (common here), Pied-billed Grebe, the ungainly Comb Duck, Common Gallinule, Andean Coot, Greater Yellowlegs, Baird’s Sandpiper (sometimes flocks of these long-distance migrants stop off here), Groove-billed Ani, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, the smart Aplomado Falcon, Grey-breasted Martin, Shiny Cowbird and Saffron Finch. As we head towards the lodge, Lesser Nighthawks are likely to appear overhead. An evening exploration of nearby woodlands may reveal the localized West Peruvian Screech Owl and the range-restricted Anthony’s (or Scrub) Nightjar.
Northern Peru: Day 2 We will spend the whole of today exploring some superb birding areas close to our lodge. We will begin in some slightly higher, wetter forest, where one of our key targets will be the rare and shy Ochre-bellied Dove, though we do have a realistic chance of finding this excellent species. We will also have our first chance of seeing the key endemic White-winged Guan. Discovered in the arid northwest of Peru in 1876 and presumed extinct for a century thereafter, the endangered White-winged Guan was rediscovered in 1977 and now suffers a precarious existence in a small number of wooded valleys in the west Andean foothills.
Many other birds inhabiting these woodlands are confined to semi-arid habitats in northwestern Peru and southwestern Ecuador (the so-called ‘Tumbesian endemics’) including the smart Ecuadorian Trogon, the robust Guayaquil Woodpecker, Grey-chinned Hermit (the form concerned may be split-off as Porculla Hermit), retiring Rufous-necked and Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaners, Chapman’s Antshrike, the unassuming Pacific Elaenia, Grey-breasted Flycatcher, Tumbes Pewee, the bulky Baird’s Flycatcher, Speckle-breasted Wren (range-restricted if Maranon and Colombian Wrens are split-off), the subtly beautiful Plumbeous-backed Thrush, Black-capped Sparrow, White-winged Brushfinch, White-edged Oriole, and sprightly Grey-and-gold and Three-banded Warblers. More widespread species we may see include Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Mouse-grey (Bran-coloured) Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, House Wren, Thick-billed Euphonia, Tropical Parula and Tooth-billed Tanager. As we head back to the lodge, across the desert, we will be looking for the rarely seen Sulphur-throated Finch on our way, an eruptive species very infrequently seen away from this remote corner of northern Peru, but frequent here, and the equally localized Short-tailed Woodstar and Parrot-billed Seedeater. We may also encounter Harris’s Hawk or the attractive Peruvian Meadowlark in the area.
The lodge itself attracts a number of avian visitors. Not least, there is a re-introduced population of the impressive White-winged Guan! Also here are localized and attractive Tumbes Tyrants, Red-masked Parakeets, lovely but noisy White-tailed Jays, Collared Antshrike and the delightful Elegant Crescentchest, whilst Tumbes Sparrows and White-headed Brushfinches compete for kitchen scraps. More widespread species may include White-tipped Dove, Lineated Woodpecker and the attractive Collared Warbling Finch.
Northern Peru: Day 3 This morning we will leave our delightful lodgings and will drive to the Sanctuario Bosque Pomac. This extensive area of Acacia-Prosopis forest is of great importance as it holds good populations of Peruvian Plantcutter and Rufous Flycatcher, and if we have missed either on Day 1, we have another chance! However, of even more interest to us is the fact that it is also an important site for the very rare Tumbes Swallow (a species normally hard to find throughout its small range), which can often be found flying low over the acacia forest here. We may also find the localized and diminutive Ecuadorian Piculet, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant or Snowy-throated Kingbird.
Heading further north, we will pause at a roadside pool where sometimes we can find a few interesting species such as the striking Many-coloured Rush Tyrant and Wren-like Rushbird. We’ll also check the edges of the pool, where skulkers such as Least Bittern and Plumbeous Rail sometimes lurk, and if we’re really fortunate we will also find the rare Spotted Rail.
We will spend the afternoon at a lovely but remote canyon in the rolling hills above Olmos. Here, the dry deciduous forests hold one of the best populations of White-winged Guan, and we should not have too much trouble tracking down truly wild individuals of this smart species with the help of a local farmer. We will have another chance to see many of the dry country species already noted around Chaparri Lodge, and it is often a good area to find Peruvian Thick-knee and Red-masked Parakeet if we’ve struggled until now. Tumbes Hummingbird, another localized speciality is often to be found here, sometimes attracted to the whistled imitations of a Pacific Pygmy Owl, which may also entice in the range-restricted Sooty-crowned Flycatcher. Other additions to our list may well include Golden-olive Woodpecker, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and Golden Grosbeak, as well as the possibility of scarcer species such as the elusive Pale-browed Tinamou, King Vulture, the rare Solitary Eagle, Bat Falcon, or the noisy Laughing Falcon. Later we will return south and arrive in the small town of Olmos, a dusty town somewhat recalling those depicted in many westerns, for an overnight stay.
Peru: Day 4 This morning we will head up to the Porculla Pass, high above the coast, where the morning air will be relatively crisp and cool! We will search the shrubby gullies for the endemic and somewhat shy Piura Chat-Tyrant, the delightful Peruvian Sheartail and the localized Black-cowled Saltator and Bay-crowned Brushfinch. We will also have another chance of Rufous-necked and Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaners, and may see other new species such as Sparkling Violetear, noisy Line-cheeked Spinetails, Chiguanco Trush and Grey-browed Brushfinch. We may well also hear the evocative calls of the handsome Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, though would need some luck to see this species here.
We will then head east to Jaen for lunch an overnight stay. Once it cools down in the afternoon, we’ll head out to a small reserve on the outskirts of town where the gorgeous Marañon Crescentchest occurs as does the elusive endemic Little Inca Finch. Other goodies we may find include the endemic and somewhat demure and sombre-plumaged Spot-throated Hummingbird, the localized Shumba Antshrike and Maranon (White-browed) Gnatcatcher, whilst after dark, we will have another chance of Anthony’s (or Scrub) Nightjar if we have not yet seen it.
Northern Peru: Day 5 This morning we plan to arrive at our first site before dawn, in the hope of finding the roberatus form of the West Peruvian Screech Owl, which possibly represents a distinct species – Maranon Screech Owl. We may also come across a Common Potoo in the area. Once the sun rises, we will target a few local specialities in the dry forest, including the uncommon Maranon Spinetail and the much bolder Chinchipe Spinetail. Ecuadorian Ground Dove is also present, and interesting subspecies include the isolated Marañón/Huallaga Valley race of Rufous-fronted Thornbird (another candidate for full species status), the leucogaster race of Northern Slaty-Antshrike, also possibly best regarded as a species in its own right; the Maranon Antshrike, and the distinctive Maranon (Black-capped) Sparrow.
Other birds inhabiting the xerophytic scrub include Common Tody-Flycatcher, Blue-black Grassquit, the aptly-named Drab Seedeater, and the cute Red Pileated Finch, and we also have another chance to see the spectacular Maranon Crescentchest. The tall woodlands here also hold the endemic Buff-bellied Tanager and pretty Yellow-cheeked Becard, both of which we also hope to find, and we may well also come across our first Great Antshrike, Chivi Vireo, Lesser Goldfinch, Silver-beaked and Blue-and-yellow Tanagers and the rather unimpressive Yellow-bellied Seedeater. This is also a good area for Cordilleran Parakeets and occasionally we have seen Military Macaws and Hook-billed Kites here. Tataupa Tinamous are also often present, though far easier to hear than see!
We will then cross the Rio Marañon and head up the Utcubamba Valley. Upon reaching the river we will follow it southwards until the valley opens into a wide plain, covered in dense, cactus-studded desert scrub. At merely 500m above sea-level, it is hard to imagine we find ourselves in the watershed of the Amazon. The bulk of the avifauna, however, is related to that of Peru’s north-western Pacific lowlands, as indicated by the presence of the noisy Pacific Hornero, and the perky Chestnut-throated Seedeater. Of course, there are the typical Marañón Valley elements as well. A little higher up the valley shrubby areas and woodland patches in this largely deforested valley hold Maranon (Speckle-breasted) Wren, as well as Yellow-bellied Elaenia.
Later, as we follow the rushing course of the Utcubamba River, we shall carefully scrutinize the said river for the stately Fasciated Tiger Heron, the amazing Torrent Duck, the drab Torrent Tyrannulet and the acrobatic Black Phoebe. Roadside stops should also produce another endemic, the Maranon Thrush. Eventually, we will arrive at Pomacochos for an overnight stay.
Northern Peru: Day 6 This morning we will make an early start to reach a site for the elusive Pale-billed Antpitta, a rarely seen endemic and certainly one of the most spectacular in Peru. We’ll set off in the dark, and will keep our ears open for the smart White-throated Screech Owl as we go. After an ascent, we will reach the highly fragmented forest patches in which our quarry resides, and with perseverance we should get to see this amazing species. Also here is the distinctive Grey-browed (to be split from Plain-tailed) Wren, complete with their amazing song as well as the superb Violet-throated Starfrontlet. We will also have our first chance to find the endemic Russet-mantled Softtail, and the endemic Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant sometimes pops up in mixed flocks here. Other more widespread species we may find include Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Mountain Velvetbreast, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Black-capped Tyrannulet, Brown-backed and Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrants, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Ash-colored Tapaculo, Yellow-breasted Brushfinch, and colourful Grass Green Tanagers and Blue-backed Conebills. If we are really fortunate, we’ll come across one of the scarcer species possible such as Peruvian Treehunter or White-throated Hawk.
After lunch, we will make our way to the nearby Huembo for the afternoon in search of what is surely the world’s most spectacular hummingbird. The stunning Marvellous Spatuletail is confined to the humid montane forests on the west slope of the eastern Andes above the Rio Utcubamba, and while females or young males are easily found, the thrilling male of this legendary hummer is sometimes more challenging, although we have had great success recently with males visiting feeders, where they buzz about like miniature drones. With its extremely long tail feathers ending in round rackets and curved back around the body, this most amazing ‘nectar-burner’ has to be seen to be believed! Whilst looking, we are also likely to be entertained by numerous Chestnut-breasted Coronets, Velvet-fronted Brilliants, White-bellied Hummingbirds, Lesser and Brown Violetears and Andean Emeralds. This is also a good area to find the smart endemic Speckle-chested Piculet, and we may well encounter our first Green-tailed Trainbearers, Sierran Elaenia, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Bluish and White-sided Flowerpiercers, and smart Silver-backed and Blue-capped Tanagers. Later we will travel to the now famous (in birding circles) Abra Patricia for a three nights stay.
We will also find time to have a look at the edge of the Pomacochas lagoon where, with luck, we will find Puna Snipe and perhaps the secretive Subtropical Doradito.
Northern Peru: Days 7-8 Our lodge at Abra Patricia is set amongst tall cloud forest and stunted elfin forest and provides the most awe-inspiring scenery of the tour, with forested ridges stretching away to the horizon. This most famous of collecting sites is home to some of Peru’s least known birds.
We will be birding at the type locality of the monotypic Long-whiskered Owlet, known from just a few specimens and sight records, and initially thought to be only a weak flyer. With almost nothing being known about this bird in life, until recently, we would seem to have the odds against us, but recent knowledge has improved, and we now have a good chance of finding this near-mythical species, and will certainly give it our best shot!
Another of our focuses at Abra Patricia will be antpittas. Until recently, the localized endemic Ochre-fronted Antpitta was seldom seen, but in recent years, they have become easier, with some individuals coming for food, and we also have a chance of seeing the endemic Rusty-tinged and Chestnut Antpittas also being lured out in this way, and the recently split Rufous-breasted Antpitta can also often be seen. We may even come across the hulking Undulated Antpitta which is sometimes to be found on the trails, and we may strike lucky with a Hooded Tinamou or a White-throated Quail-Dove.
Several other localized specialities have evolved in the nutrient-poor, heath-like stunted forests that occur in the region. Here, the midnight-blue Royal Sunangel, the tiny Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant and the distinctive Bar-winged Wood Wren are known from inaccessible outlying ranges from southern Ecuador south through northern Peru, but only here are the haunts of these birds easily accessible on a paved road. The latter species seems to be greatly outnumbered by the Grey-breasted Wood Wren, but we shall persist in our efforts to locate this relict species. These areas can also be good for the seldom-seen Rufous-tailed Tyrant.
The newly-described Lulu’s (or Johnson’s) Tody-Tyrant is another bird that will be high on our agenda, and these can often be found in densely vegetated roadside gullies. Here we will also look for the electrically coloured endemic Yellow-scarfed Tanager and less impressive though localized Drab Hemispingus.
Our lodge is set right in the heart of the action! From the breakfast table we can watch hummingbird feeders that are visited by Green Hermit, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Bronzy and Collared Incas, stunning Emerald-bellied Pufflegs, Long-tailed Sylphs, amazing Sword-billed Hummingbirds and tiny White-bellied Woodstars. Another nearby set of feeders attracts similar species, though in addition the confusingly white-thighed form of Buff-thighed Puffleg, the stunning Peruvian Racket-tail and, sometimes, Royal Sunangel attend.
Trails from our lodge lead into pristine cloud forest, a wonderland of moss-draped trees, dense bamboo thickets and plentiful epiphytes, and here we can search for the endemic Peruvian Tyrannulet, as well as two more seldom-seen, though widespread species, the Olive Tufted Flycatcher and the striking Red-hooded Tanager. We will also no doubt spend some time staring into the undergrowth in our quest to find the endemic Rufous-vented Tapaculo. Dense stands of bamboo hold Streak-headed Antbird and Black-throated Tody-Tyrants whilst other undergrowth skulkers likely to be present include Rufous Spinetail, the scarce Spotted Barbtail, Variable and Uniform Antshrikes, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Sepia-brown Wren, Three-striped and Russet-crowned Warblers, and Chestnut-capped Brushfinch.
The relatively quiet road that passes our lodge is often excellent for birding, as it gradually winds down towards the Amazonian lowlands. As we move along, we’ll be serenaded by Andean Solitaires, whilst listening out for mixed flocks, and if we connect, the results can be spectacular as busy flocks of multi-hued tanagers make their rounds in these moss-draped forests. Our top target will be the stunning Vermilion Tanager, and the scarce Blue-browed Tanager is also often seen, but the variety can be quite staggering and other species may well include colourful Saffron-crowned, Flame-faced, Metallic-green, Beryl-spangled, Yellow-throated and Rufous-crested Tanagers, the lovely Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Capped Conebill and Masked Flowerpiercer, as well as less impressive Common and Grey-hooded Bush Tanagers and Oleaginous Hemispingus. We’ll also be listening out for the raucous calls of the stunning White-capped Tanager, and may encounter the large Hooded Mountain Tanager. White-capped Dippers can often be found along the river that the road follows.
Other specialities we are likely to see include the smart Black-throated Toucanet, the endemic Inca Flycatcher and the localized Maroon-belted Chat-Tyrant whilst other more widespread species we may encounter in the Abra Patricia and nearby Alta Nieve areas include Plain-breasted and Roadside Hawks, the elegant Swallow-tailed Kite, Andean and Sickle-winged Guans, Chestnut-collared and White-tipped Swifts, the stunning Golden-headed Quetzal, Masked Trogon, Tyrannine and Montane Woodcreepers, Western Fire-eye, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Olive-striped, Cinnamon, Pale-edged and Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Barred Becard, Brown-capped Vireo, the smart White-collared Jay, Glossy-black Thrush and Slate-throated Whitestart.
Around the lodge at night, we may come across a Rufous-bellied Nighthawk or Lyre-tailed Nightjar, and we are almost sure to hear the local Rufous-banded Owls, though they can be tough to see. We will also make an effort to find the finely marked Cinnamon Screech Owl.
If we are fortunate we will come across one or two of the rarer species in the area such as Barred Hawk, the little-known White-chested Swift, Andean Potoo, Spot-winged Parrotlet, the shy Barred Antthrush or the super-elusive but sedate White-faced Nunbird.
During our stay at Abra Patricia, there is likely to be some wet weather, making the forests further downslope, and often drier, an appealing prospect. Either during this stay, or when we head back north in a few days, we will spend some time lower down to the area known as Affluente. Here the road passes through beautiful upper tropical forests where another set of new and exciting birds will await us in excellent roadside habitat.
Flashes of red reveal the presence of the flame-hued Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, and other snazzy cotingids possible at these altitudes include both Scarlet-breasted and Scaled Fruiteaters, though both are somewhat scarce. Here, mixed flocks hold the restless Grey-mantled Wren and the easily overlooked Equatorial Greytail, a warbler-like member of the Furnariidae, here at the southern edge of its range, and we’ll be keeping a keen eye out for the localized Ecuadorian Tyrannulet. Rather modestly-adorned Yellow-throated and Ashy-throated Bush-Tanagers make their rounds in noisy family parties and our growing tanager list may further be supplemented by an incredible set of multi-hued jewels, including Orange-eared, Paradise, Green-and-gold, Spotted, Golden, Blue-necked, Bay-headed, White-winged and Magpie Tanagers. Chestnut-breasted Wrens deliver their amazing tunes from the understorey, and the less musically endowed Black-billed Treehunter regularly snarls out its strident calls. We shall carefully scrutinize mixed parties for the beautiful Versicoloured Barbet, Little, Golden-olive and Smoky-brown Woodpeckers, Olivaceous and Olive-backed Woodcreepers, Ash-browed Spinetail, Montane and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, Streaked Xenops, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant, Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet, Streaked and Boat-billed Flycatchers, Olivaceous Greenlet, Blackburnian and Canada Warblers, Golden-eyed (or Deep-blue) Flowerpiercer and Orange-bellied and Bronze-green Euphonias. In the darker gulleys we’ll look out for Northern White-crowned Tapaculo and perhaps Golden-winged Manakin, and we may come across Ornate Flycatcher and the open-country loving Olive-chested Flycatcher along the roadside. With luck, we will also find the tricky Ecuadorian Piedtail, a lek-forming hummingbird here reaching the southernmost limit of its range.
Other more widespread birds we may find in this area include, Ruddy and Plumbeous Pigeons, the stream-loving Green-fronted Lancebill, White-eyed Parakeet, Red-billed and White-capped Parrots, Yellow-throated Toucan (Black-mandibled form), Lined Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Blackish Antbird, Social Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Pale-eyed and Black-billed Thrushes, Palm and White-lined Tanagers, Blue-grey Saltator, Yellow-browed Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Cacique, and Crested and Russet-backed Oropendolas.
Northern Peru: Day 9 Today we will descend early from Abra Patricia and make our way to an area known as Aguas Verdes. Here some enterprising and skilled local folk have set up a small nature reserve, which will give us an opportunity to add some quality birds to our lists. Here, we will spend some time in a fairly basic hide where feeders may well attract Cinereous and Little Tinamous as well as the usually elusive Rufous-breasted Wood Quail and the furtive Orange-billed Sparrow. Nearby some hummingbird feeders will likely produce more highlights, including the smart Blue-fronted Lancebill, the localized Many-spotted Hummingbird and, with luck, the diminutive Little Woodstar as well as Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Reddish Hermit and Grey-breasted Sabrewing. The stunted forests nearby are home to the localized Northern Chestnut-tailed (or Zimmer’s) Antbird, and the smart endemic Huallaga (or Black-bellied) Tanager is also fairly common here. Other species we may well see here include the noisy Peruvian Warbling Antbird, Zimmer’s Flatbill, Short-crested Flycatcher, the gaudy Orange-backed Troupial and Golden-eared and Guira Tanagers.
Later we will continue towards Moyobamba for a two nights stay. If time permits we will make some stops in the late afternoon to look for a few more specials. We may well look at a wetland area where species such as the localized Pale-eyed Blackbird and Black-billed Seed Finch occur, alongside other more widespread species such as Purple Gallinule, Pale-vented Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, Yellow-headed Caracara, the noisy Black-capped Donacobius, Giant Cowbird and the colourful Oriole Blackbird. With luck, we will also find the much wanted and adorable Striped Owl here and perhaps, at dusk, an American Barn Owl will put in an appearance.
Northern Peru: Day 10 Today we will explore the foothill forests at the Quebrada Mishquiyacu, a great forest reserve that offers a number of special birds including the recently described Painted Manakin, and is also home to the San Martin form of the Mishana Tyrannulet, which likely represents a separate species from its lowland cousin, itself only recently described from the white sand forests of Iquitos. The amazing Rufous-crested Coquette is reasonably common here, and our birding should also feature a number of interesting sandy soil birds that include Chestnut-throated and Cinereous-breasted Spinetails, the recently described Varzea Thrush (a cryptic species previously considered conspecific with Hauxwell’s Thrush) and Red-shouldered Tanager. Other goodies possible include Band-bellied Owl, Spot-tailed Nightjar, the smart Fiery-capped Manakin (with its irritatingly ventriloquial call) and Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher, and with luck, the robust Buff-tailed Sicklebill or Fiery-throated Fruiteater. The rare and endangered Ash-throated Antwren also occurs here, high up on the ridge above our lodgings. However, to see this species here entails a long and arduous all-day hike, which limits our time to look for other species, and it is likely we will only offer this as an optional hike for the more adventurous!
Other species we may encounter in the forests here include Double-toothed Kite, Blue Ground Dove, Grey-fronted Dove, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Blue-crowned and Green-backed Trogons, Broad-billed Motmot, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Yellow-tufted, White-throated and Red-stained Woodpeckers, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Tschudi’s Woodcreeper, Plain-winged Antshrike, Stripe-chested, Foothill and White-flanked Antwrens, White-browed Antbird, Fasciated Antshrike, Spot-winged and occasionally Spot-backed Antbirds, the rather interesting Wing-barred Piprites, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant, Forest Elaenia, Ochre-bellied, Euler’s and Piratic Flycatchers, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Olivaceous and Olive-faced Flatbills, White-winged Becard, the flock-loving Tawny-crowned Greenlet, noisy Thrush-like and Coraya Wrens, the stream-loving Buff-rumped Warbler, Fulvous-crested, White-shouldered, Turquoise, Masked, and Yellow-bellied Tanagers and Buff-throated Saltator. We’ll also spend some time around the excellent hummingbird feeders where, as well as the stunning Rufous-crested Coquettes, we’ll also keep an eye out for Black-throated Hermit, Great-billed Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Blue-tailed Emerald, White-chinned and Golden-tailed Sapphires, Fork-tailed Woodnymph and, with luck, the diminutive Amethyst Woodstar.
We shall also explore a number of other lowland sites in and around Moyabamba, specifically looking for a few other interesting species. In the past, we’ve found a number of goodies such as Masked Duck, Russet-crowned Crake, the stunning Stygian Owl (sometimes present at a day roost), Rufous Nightjar, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Amazonian Trogon, Amazonian Motmot, Yellow Tyrannulet, the palm-loving Point-tailed Palmcreeper and Sulphury Flycatcher, the smart Rusty-backed Antwren, Stripe-necked and White-eyed Tody-Tyrants, Red-capped Cardinal, Black-faced Tanager, Wedge-tailed Grassfinch, and maybe the diminutive White-browed Purpletuft or the hard to see Buckley’s Forest Falcon, as well as more widespread species such as Speckled Chachalaca, Pauraque, Lesser Swallow-tailed and Neotropical Palm-Swifts, Channel-billed Toucan, Spot-breasted and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Riparian Parrotlet, Black Caracara, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet and Pale-breasted Thrush.
Northern Peru: Day 11 After some further birding in the reserve, we will descend through the humid subtropics, stopping at selected sites in search of species we may have missed earlier. We will stop at a deep canyon which is right by the roadside, and here, we should get some excellent views of the amazing Oilbird, at what has to be the easiest place in the world to see this highly sought anomaly!
In the afternoon, after passing through Tarapoto, we shall be travelling alongside the mighty Huallaga River, and here we’ll keep a lookout for the smart Sand-colored Nighthawk, the river-loving White-banded Swallow and Chestnut-bellied Seedeater. We will eventually reach Bellavista for an overnight stay, in preparation for our excursion into the Cordillera Azul.
Northern Peru: Day 12 Departing from Bellavista, we head up to the remote settlement of Flor de Café, situated at 1400m in the foothills of the Cordillera Azul, which may take us much of the day to reach, depending on the state of the road. We will stay here for two nights in a very basic ‘guesthouse’. We’ll make several stops along the way, to break the journey, beginning with a stop at a productive ‘cocha’ (lagoon) not far from town. Here, we are likely to find the spectacular Hoatzin, hissing from the waterside trees, whilst noisy Limpkins forage nearby. A number of other species associated with wetlands are likely to be present, and these may include Striated and Black-crowned Night Herons, Snail Kite, Crane Hawk, the smart Grey-necked Wood Rail, Wattled Jacana, Yellow-billed and Large-billed Terns, Green and Amazon Kingfishers, White-winged Swallow and Brown-chested Martin, and perhaps Collared and Pied Plovers, Black Skimmer and even a Sunbittern. As we continue on, we will pass through numerous ricefields, where flocks of Black-and-white Seedeaters congregate, and here, if fortune is on our side, we may find the often elusive Paint-billed Crake.
As we climb steadily into the foothills, the endless agriculture begins to give way to patches of scrub and forest. Our vehicles will generally be travelling fairly slowly (the road conditions will dictate this!) and as a result, we should be able to find a few new bird species during the journey, and whenever we encounter anything interesting we can stop and have a look. Species we may encounter on the way up (or indeed on our journey back down) include the smart Western Striolated Puffbird, the hulking White-necked Puffbird, White-fronted and Yellow-billed Nunbirds, Lemon-throated Barbet, the noisy Red-throated Caracara, and the scarce Red-billed Tyrannulet, as well as more widespread species such as Scaled Pigeon, Plumbeous Kite, Buff-throated Woodcreeper (a common sound at dawn and dusk), Bright-rumped Attila (easier to hear than see) and Masked Tityra. Once we have arrived and set up home, we will begin our exploration of some of the forest close to the village.
Northern Peru: Day 13 The Scarlet-banded Barbet, only discovered in 1996 and endemic to humid foothill forest in this remote region, was only found at this new site recently and has not been seen by many birders as a consequence. It seems to be reasonably common at this site, though declining as the forest degradation sadly continues. Its known range is tiny and the total population has been estimated at less than 1000 individuals. Consequently, it is considered Vulnerable by BirdLife International. Additionally, in the last few years, as birders began to visit the area, a spectacular new antbird was discovered. The Cordillera Azul Antbird likely has an equally tiny range, and makes a visit to this remote area even more worthwhile!
Based at this recently opened settlement, far removed from everyday Peruvian life, we shall be the guests of this welcoming community in an area unused to visitors. However, this site is not only the only accessible site to look for Scarlet-banded Barbet and Cordillera Azul Antbird, but also one that is very good for a variety of foothill specialities.
Dawn around our lodgings often begins with the loud and distinctive calls of the local form of Strong-billed Woodcreeper. From our base, we shall be exploring the tracks and trails recently cut through the forests here and if we find fruiting trees we may see Jet and Blue-rumped Manakins (the form here being leucopygia and sometimes considered a separate species: the Milky-rumped Manakin), and in the same trees we will be on the lookout for Scaled, Fiery-throated and Scarlet-breasted Fruiteaters or even the very rare Andean Laniisoma, which has been recorded here occasionally.
Other good species we are likely to see include Rose-fronted Parakeet, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Wire-crested Thorntail, the smart Rufous-breasted and Short-tailed Antthrushes (both easier to hear than see), Rufous-rumped Foliage-gleaner, the foothill form of Long-tailed Woodcreeper, the smart Grey-tailed Piha, the scarce White-fronted Tyrannulet, the sneaky Yungas Manakin (far north of its usual range), Foothill Schiffornis, the remarkable Amazonian Umbrellabird, and the scarce but smart Blue-browed Tanager. At night, we should be able to find Foothill (or Napo) Screech Owl, close to our lodge. If we have luck on our side we will also see one or two of the scarcer species such as Wattled Guan, Subtropical Pygmy-Owl, Napo Sabrewing, Curl-crested Aracari, the sneaky Dusky Leaftosser, Riparian Antbird (here at a higher altitude than usual), Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Blackish Peewee, Yellow-throated Spadebill or Rothschild’s Grosbeak. There is a phenomenal list of good birds here and one not equalled at other foothill sites.
A number of new more widespread species may also be encountered, and these may include Black Hawk-Eagle, Collared and Barred Forest Falcons (both are difficult to see), Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Grey-rumped and Short-tailed Swifts, Collared Trogon, Blue-headed Parrot, the huge Red-necked Woodpecker, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Rufescent Antshrike, Slaty and Ornate Antwrens, Common Scale-backed Antbird, Variegated Bristle Tyrant, White-throated Spadebill, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Epaulet Oriole, Yellow-whiskered Bush Tanager, Golden-naped and Swallow Tanagers, Black-faced Dacnis and a variety of other tanagers.
Northern Peru: Day 14 After some early morning birding at Flor de Café, we will transfer via Bellavista to Tarapoto for an overnight stay, stopping en route to explore a number of lower areas with dry deciduous woodland and gallery forest. These sites can be very productive, with recent fieldwork revealing a somewhat unpredictable avifauna. Here we may find the spectacular, if rather rare, Pheasant Cuckoo, the noisy Plain-crowned Spinetail, the distinctive local form of Northern Slaty Antshrike (sometimes split as the Huallaga Antshrike), the attractive Southern Chestnut-tailed Antbird, White-bellied Pygmy Tyrant, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Rufous Casiornis, the oddly distributed Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Band-tailed Manakin and Hauxwell’s Thrush.
More widespread species include the unpredictable Grey-headed Kite, the diminutive Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Black-fronted Nunbird, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Barred Antshrike, Grey Antbird (a species that loves to hide in vine tangles), Greenish Elaenia and Buff-breasted Wren. If we stay until dusk, we may also encounter a Tropical Screech Owl, or perhaps the smart Ocellated Poorwill.
Northern Peru: Day 15 Early today we shall explore a number of sites close to Tarapoto. We shall head to low-lying foothill forest just north of Tarapoto where there is a good chance of finding a number of specialities. Along the roadside, we shall look for the rarely seen Dotted Tanager. Here, Cliff Flycatchers frequent the roadside cliffs and other species we may see include Gilded Barbet, Rusty-winged Antwren, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Greenlet, White-lored and Rufous-bellied Euphonias, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Blue Dacnis, Purple and Green Honeycreepers and Chestnut-bellied Seedfinch. White Hawks sometimes soar over the rugged landscapes, and we may also find White-throated Toucan, Ivory-billed Aracari and Golden-collared Toucanet.
We shall also visit some hummingbird feeders where we should find the local Koepcke’s Hermit along with the spectacular Gould’s Jewelfront and, with luck, Black-throated Brilliant or even the hard to come by Black-bellied Thorntail. At the same reserve, there is an excellent trail into the forest where we should gain great views of Golden-headed Manakins at their lek. Occasionally the local guides know where there is a roosting Crested Owl, and if we are in luck we will come across some ants, which will likely be attended by the spectacular White-plumed Antbird and the seldom-seen Hairy-crested Antbird.
Many other species are possible in the foothill forest here and new species likely along the trail may include Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Black-faced Antbird, White-lored Tyrannulet, Violaceous Jay, the secretive Southern Nightingale-Wren, Subtropical Cacique, Olive Tanager, Slate-colored Grosbeak and Yellow-crested Tanager.
Later we will continue our journey north. We will pause in the Moyobamba area in the late afternoon to look for any species that we had missed earlier in the tour and then make our way to Nuevo Cajamarca for an overnight stay.
Northern Peru: Day 16 Today we will continue our journey north. Our route will take us all the way back through the foothill forest and on over the pass at Abra Patricia before we head south to Leymebamba. Although this is a route that we have already travelled, we will be pleased to have another opportunity to pass through this incredibly bird-rich area. There will undoubtedly be species that we would still like to see, and we will make an effort to locate any of the targets that we have not yet connected with. Later we shall reacquaint ourselves with the fast-flowing Utcubamba River, and follow it south. Along the way, we will pause to look for the endemic Koepcke’s Screech Owl which can often be found along this road, and eventually, we will arrive in the charming Andean town of Leymebamba for an overnight stay.
Northern Peru: Day 17 Early this morning we will climb the road above Leymebamba before dawn in search of the spectacular Swallow-tailed Nightjar. Eventually, we will reach an area of elfin forest where the little-known Russet-mantled Softtail occurs. We plan on being at the spot at dawn, to optimize our chances of finding this highly localized endemic. In this area, we will also look for two localized and only recently recognized specialities, the Utcubamba Tapaculo and the Chachapoyas Antpitta, both skulkers that will require some effort!
Among a variety of possible hummingbirds, we will look for the endemic Coppery-naped Puffleg. Other birds we may find in this often mist-enshrouded valley, primarily in a number of forest patches along the highway, include Scaly-naped Amazon, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Azara’s Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail (of the endemic race peruviana, which may represent a distinct species), Streaked Tuftedcheek, Barred Fruiteater, White-banded Tyrannulet, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Mountain Wren, Spectacled Redstart (here of the black-crowned form), Moustached Flowerpiercer, Blue-and-black Tanager and Scarlet-bellied and Buff-breasted Mountain Tanagers. Even higher up we will reach patches of elfin woodland and even open paramo along the legendary ‘Black Mud Pass’ (Abra Barro Negro, also known as Abra Chanchillo), separating the Marañon canyon from the valley formed by one of its tributaries, the rushing Utcubamba. Among the gnarled trees, we will be looking especially for the endemic but uncommon Coppery Metaltail and the very distinctive insignis form of the Superciliated Hemispingus. Other birds we may find in this inhospitable habitat include Rainbow Starfrontlet, Many-striped Canastero, Pearled Treerunner and White-throated Tyrannulet, while more open areas hold Andean Lapwing and perhaps Yellow-billed Teal.
Later we will return to Leymabamba for an afternoon birding nearer to the town itself. Here we will focus our efforts on a few other new species. We’ll explore an area that is good for the smart Purple-throated Sunangel, and here, in a delightful valley, we may also find the stunning Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan. Other species we may encounter in this excellent area include Black-tailed Trainbearer, Mitred Parakeet, Rufous-capped Antshrike, the inconspicuous Highland Elaenia, White-tailed Tyrannulet, the attractive Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (common by voice!), the noisy Northern Mountain Cacique, Citrine Warbler, Rufous-chested Tanager and the attractive Black-throated Flowerpiercer.
Northern Peru: Day18 We will set off very early this morning so that we can be above Balsas by dawn. Here we shall search the deciduous woodlands for the endemic Yellow-faced Parrotlet, whose natural population has plummeted in the last few decades because of the cage bird trade. For a few years now there has been a ban on their export and fortunately, the species does seem to be recovering, though we may still need to work a bit to come across this captivating species. Also here, we shall seek out the endemic Maranon (or Peruvian) Pigeon. In the stands of Bombax forest, we should find the electric Yellow-tailed Oriole, amidst the awesome backdrop of steep mountains and the legendary Marañón River below us. In addition, these woods may well produce Squirrel Cuckoo, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Inca Jay, Purple-throated Euphonia and Blue-grey Tanager. As we approach the valley bottom, noisy flocks of Cordilleran Parakeets pass overhead. Later we will drive up the impressive switchbacks on the western slope of the canyon, enjoying some of South America’s most awesome scenery. The cacti-studded landscape will give us another opportunity to find the Yellow-faced Parrotlet, and other endemics found in this area are the cactus-hugging Black-necked Woodpecker (a species of ‘Flicker’), and the colourful Buff-bridled Inca Finch. Climbing up to Hacienda Limon, we may well find two another Marañón endemics. One, the owner of the large stick nests one sees in the flat-topped acacias, is the noisy Chestnut-backed Thornbird, whilst the other is the somewhat scarce Grey-winged Inca Finch, while additional species in this area include White-collared Swift, the impressive Giant Hummingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Streaked Saltator and Band-tailed Seedeater.
As we make our way upwards we work our way through more humid habitats. In these areas, we may find Band-tailed Pigeon, Black-crested Warbler and Baron’s (Yellow-breasted) Brushfinch.
Eventually, we shall arrive in the rural colonial town of Celendin for an overnight stay.
Northern Peru: Day 19 Another early start will take us across a series of high mountain ridges until we reach an area of high humid temperate shrubbery around dawn. We have a very good chance of encountering our main targets, the recently recognized Cajamarca Antpitta (which clings on in the tiniest habitat fragments) and the rare and localised White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant. Interestingly, here, the latter outnumbers the commoner Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant by some margin.
We may also see attractive Black-crested Tit-Tyrants, as they give their harsh trills from bushy slopes, and in more open areas Rufous-webbed Tyrants sallying out for the scant insect prey that ekes out a living at these high elevations. Loud rattles echoing across the valley may reveal an Andean Flicker standing guard among some rocky outcrops, and we will also listen for the distinctive song of the endemic Striated Earthcreeper, here at the northern edge of its range. Baron’s Spinetails are quite numerous here and Jelski’s Chat-Tyrants skulk in dense undergrowth in narrow gullies, while the hummingbirds here includes species with such evocative names as Shining Sunbeam and Great Sapphirewing.
Other birds typically found at this altitude include Variable Hawk, the majestic Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Mountain Caracara, Andean Gull, Cream-winged Cinclodes, Streak-throated Canastero, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Rufous-naped and White-browed Ground Tyrants, White-winged Black Tyrant, the smart Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Brown-bellied Swallow, Grass Wren, Great Thrush, Spectacled Whitestart (here of the chestnut-crowned form), Paramo Pipit, Hooded Siskin, Plain-coloured Seedeater, Plumbeous and Ash-breasted Sierra Finches and the colourful Golden-billed Saltator. With a modicum of luck, we will also find the endemic Plain-tailed Warbling Finch and Tit-like Dacnis, which are occasionally found in scrubby gullies here, and possibly Andean Tinamou. We may even see an Andean Condor majestically soaring over the mountains!
Eventually, we will reach the bustling Andean city of Cajamarca, a beautiful colonial city nestled in a dry inter-montane valley where Pizarro ambushed and captured Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, for an overnight stay.
In the afternoon we will make an excursion to a narrow gulley where we will search for the endemic Grey-bellied Comet. This little-known and endangered hummingbird is known from only a few scattered localities in this region, so we shall devote some time to finding this spectacular and somewhat enigmatic species. Other birds here include the endemic Black Metaltail and the lovely White-winged Cinclodes, here at the northernmost limit of their range, as well as the agile endemic Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, and more widespread species such as Bare-faced Ground Dove, Andean Swift, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant and the smart Peruvian Sierra Finch.
Northern Peru: Day 20 Today we head out on the road towards Cajabamba, stopping en route in an inter-montane valley carved out by the Rio Crisneja, a tributary of the Marañón. Our main target here is the endemic and endangered Great Spinetail, a monotypic species inhabiting remnant arid scrub in mountainous areas that have been inhabited by humans for very long periods. For over two decades no birder had seen this localized species until it was relocated in this and a few adjacent valleys. We have an excellent chance of finding this large furnariid that often reveals its presence by its telltale stick nests and rattling song. Here also, tiny Purple-collared Woodstars buzz around a variety of flowers, whilst Black-lored Yellowthroats skulk inside the shrubbery. Among the other, more widespread species possible here are Striped Cuckoo, Bananaquit, the colourful Golden-rumped Euphonia and Dull-coloured Grassquit. And one final push will see us visiting a final site, another scrubby gulley that this time holds the skulking endemic Unicolored Tapaculo, while flowering shrubs may attract the septentrionalis race of the Tyrian Metaltail with its deep-blue tail.
After a final lunch, we will make our way to Cajamarca Airport where our Northern Peru tour ends this afternoon.