Thursday, October 06, 2005

Northern Peru - the Maranon Endemics

Entry #1



September 10 - 30, 2005
Manu Expeditions (Expediciones Manu)

Guide: Barry Walker
Participants: Janet Ruth, Dave Krueper, Terry Rich, Bill Grossi, Erick Campbell, Dan Singer, Sam Brayshaw
Driver: Jose
Cook: Raul
Asst Cook: Ivan

Photos by Dave Krueper - thanks to him since my camera was "lost" 3/4 of the way through the trip :(

Trip Map

10 September

And so it begins ... (beats "long, long ago in a galaxy far away"! :) ... Dave and I got up this morning at 3:30 a.m., took a quick shower and got dressed. We left for the Albuquerque Sunport airport at 4:35. The sky was partly clear and it was still humid from last night's rain. The fact that we're on our way to Peru for the second time still seems unreal to me - three weeks in another world! And all on Frequent Flyer miles - a "free trip" - well, sort of.

We got to the airport and through check-in and security with no problems. We were sitting at the La Hacienda Express before 6:00 a.m., waiting for them to open so we could by our traditional "going on a trip" breakfast burritos with sausage and green chiles. It will be three weeks before our next New Mexico green chiles and I fear that Dave will go through withdrawals long before then! :)

We took off on time for an uneventful flight to Dallas-Fort Worth. While waiting at the gate for departure in DFW, we were inundated by about 15 kids 8 to 10 years of age, who were part of some kind of school group from a Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking country. I kept thinking they were speaking Spanish but then there would be words that sounded very unfamiliar. Perhaps my Spanish is just rustier than I thought - they were speaking very fast. Some sat and played palm pilot video games, some were listening to music on portable CD players, and others just bugged their friends (one pulled a damp towel out of a plastic bag and stuffed it into his friend's face). From his reaction I'm guessing it smelled something like an old gym sock ..... guys! I just don't get it sometimes. It turned out to be a humorous omen of what it was going to be like traveling as the only woman with a bunch of guys.

Our flight took off on time to Miami and when we got there, we discovered that our next flight to Lima was going to serve a meal (what a revolutionary idea)! So Dave and I shared a sandwich and candy bar. I met Dan, a fellow Peru tripper, for the first time (he was on the same flight to Lima, having flown in from San Francisco). Dave knew him from a birding trip that he and Erick took to Chiapas last year.

We got off late from Miami, but I was already asleep while we were still waiting on the tarmac .... something about problems loading the luggage. We took off about 5:30 p.m. The flight was basically uneventful. I had bits of conversation with my other seat mate in broken Spanish. She was born in Iquitos, Peru but now spends part of the year in Lima, part in Iquitos, and part in Canada and the U.S. (she has a married daughter in Canada). Although the pilot tried to make up the time from the delay, we arrived in Lima at about 9:40 p.m. (about 30 minutes late). We had no problems in Customs; we did get "the red light" but all we had to do was run our bags and carry-ons through an X-ray machine. They didn't even open them!

We met a Manu Expeditions representative outside the gate who helped us find an ATM; then of course my PIN number wouldn't work! How fortunate to have a husband handy who withdrew extra money from his account and promised reasonable lending rates! We were driven through the seamy sections of Lima (I swear it was exactly the same route on which we were taken 2 years ago) to the Hotel Jose Antonio in Miraflores (a suburb or section of Lima) - this is the same hotel we've stayed at before.

We met Terry and Erick in the lobby as we were checking in. We found our room and tried knocking on Barry's room (softly since it was 11:00 p.m.) because we wanted to find out the details of plans for the next day .... no answer. Met Terry and Erick and Dan in the bar and drank some celebratory Pisco Sours (a highlight from our previous trip) and waited for Bill and Sam who were arriving on a later flight. When they arrived we were getting really tired, there had been no sign of Barry, and so we went up to bed. Set the alarm for 5:30 a.m.

11 September

Dave woke me up and said, "Time to get up." I squinted at my alarm clock, wondering why it hadn't gone off, and said, "It's 4:30! We're not getting up until 5:30!" Ooops .... back to sleep. Lucky we're sleeping in the "Ward and June Cleaver separate single beds" or I'd have punched him! :) Up at 5:30 a.m.; quick shower, dress, repack. They'd told us that the restaurant didn't open until 6:30 so we didn't get down til 6:20 and it was open and bustling with people! Had a quick odd breakfast of fruit, tea, biscuit with egg, ham and cheese, yogurt with cereal. Barry arrived in the middle of our breakfast, so now our whole group is united and Dave can stop worrying about being the de facto trip organizer .... it's now Barry's trip (he's the self proclaimed "benign dictator").

We piled into the bus (with our luggage since we're going directly to the airport later this afternoon). We headed south toward Pucusana. We stopped only briefly on the side of the road at the Pantanos de Villa marshes (where we had birded 2 years ago). It has become quite unsafe to bird along the road there - birding groups have been robbed at gunpoint. Then onward toward Pucusana. We stopped at the same desolate desert playa/scrub habitat with the polygons of baked, cracked earth and the foot-swallowing cracks in between. Since it was planned we didn't have to convince a somewhat incredulous driver like we did last time. The weather was overcast, so walking around was much more pleasant, although the bird activity seemed reduced in response. Again the birds included Coastal Miner, Amazilia and Oasis hummingbirds, Peruvian Sheartail, Cinereous Conebill, and Long-tailed Mockingbird. We then continued on to the harbor in Pucusana where we hired a boat and boatman to travel around the harbor. We ventured out to the mouth of the harbor but determined that the seas were too rough to go out along the cliffs outside the harbor to look for Humboldt Penguins, so we "dipped" on them again this trip. We did see many of the same birds as last visit, including 3-4 Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes (see photo), loads of Inca Terns, Peruvian Pelicans, lots of Neotropical Cormorants, a single Red-legged Cormorant, Belcher's Gulls, etc. The day was completely fogged in and cloudy, unlike 2003 when it was hot and sunny.

On our way back to Lima we did stop again at Pantanos de Villa marshes, turning left into some kind of secure community with a guarded entrance gate. We checked out the same back shore ponds and sandy shoreline and then walked along the edge of the ponds/marsh and back through some odd grass/forb-lands with low vegetation looking for Peruvian Thick-Knees ... SUCCESS! (see photo) We saw two. They were surprisingly cool looking birds (better than the guide illustration) with broad flattish heads, and huge eyes (primarily nocturnal). They walked rather nonchalantly in front of us, apparently not threatened since we did not move quickly. With Barry's help, I also managed views of a "curse bird" from last trip - Wrenlike Rushbird - a nice pair "chick-chicking" at the edge of the reeds. Some saw a Least Bittern which would have been a lifer for me; can't believe that I haven't been able to get a look at this species in the U.S.! Then back on the bus, with one last quick stop along the highway to scan the marshes and then on through Lima to the airport.

Transport is so easy when someone else takes charge of loading ones bag onto carts, gathers your passports and flight fees and then takes care of all of it for you. Once Barry had us all checked in, we had lunch at a Peruvian fast food counter in the terminal - chicken with rice, potatoes, one of those cool sandwiches I remember from our last trip with thickened mashed potatoes instead of bread and tuna, etc. in the center, and Diet Coke. Then we climbed onto the plane to Cajamarca. I slept most of the flight, only waking as we descended.

As we dropped through the clouds, I was struck by a landscape that has been inhabitted for thousands of years - very few trees remain and most are introduced Eucalyptus trees. Patches of crops; a landscape criss-crossed by dirt roads running up valleys along rivers and threading their way along mountain ridge tops. We landed uneventfully in Cajamarca ... a small airport in a town of 400,000 (a number that seemed an overestimate to my North American eyes). It seemed much too "rural" for a city of that size. Here we met up with our "crew" - Raul (Cook); Ivan (Asst Cook); Jose (Driver); and an Asst Driver whose name I never got. We loaded into our vehicle for the rest of the trip; a large bus/truck - they are custom made to withstand the kind of driving we'll be doing (see photo). There is plenty of room for us, our luggage, the crew, supplies, etc. and it's high up off the ground for clearance on rough mountain roads. The suspension is set to deal with these tough conditions and thus promises a somewhat rough but safe ride for the passengers.

We loaded up and immediately took advantage of a few hours of remaining light to drive out to the Rio Chonta near Otuzco (2764 m in elevation) are where we successfully targetted our first endemic - Gray-bellied Comet (one male) - feeding and perching on a shrub with bright yellow flowers. We saw a number of other species there - steep grassy slopes along a ravine in the midst of primarily farm/pasture land. The Cajamarca area is the largest dairy-producing area in Peru. We saw lots of Holstein cows and people in the fields milking them by hand. Lots of potato plants in the fields.

Then we drove back to Cajamarca, arriving as it got dark at the Hotel Continental #2 (turns out there were two hotels of the same name down the street from each other and we went to the wrong one first). We got checked into our room and then went next door and had beers in Terry and Dan's room with Erick. Then next door to the Restaurant de Cajamarques where we did our first bird list of the trip and then ate - dinner for me was rice with a yellow sauce and fried cui (guinea pig) .... as I remember from last trip, there's not much meat there but one has to try it at least once on the trip; no beer for me - I am still struggling with a low-grade headache. Went to bed about 10:00 p.m. - we're getting up early since we missed part of the day here due to our change of Peru to Cajamarca flights from morning to afternoon.

Bird species from Lima area, Pantanos de Villa, Pucusana (September 11)
NOTE: does NOT include species seen around Cajamarca (see next list)
(species seen or heard by someone in the group; see full trip list for definitions of endemic categories)

White-tufted Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Grebe
Sooty Shearwater
Peruvian Booby
Neotropic Cormorant
Guanay Cormorant
Red-legged Cormorant
Peruvian Pelican
Andean Duck
Cinnamon Teal
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Striated Heron
Least Bittern
Puna Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
American Kestrel
Plumbeous Rail
Common Moorhen
Andean Coot
Whimbrel
Lesser Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Peruvian Thick-Knee
Black-necked Stilt
American Oystercatcher
Blackish Oystercatcher
Killdeer
Belcher's Gull
Gray Gull
Kelp Gull
Gray-headed Gull
Franklin's Gull
Elegant Tern
Inca Tern
Eared Dove
Pacific Dove
Croaking Ground-Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Amazilia Hummingbird
Black-tailed Trainbearer
Oasis Hummingbird
Peruvian Sheartail (Near Endemic)
Coastal Miner (Peruvian Endemic)
Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes (Peruvian Endemic)
Vermilion Flycatcher
Short-tailed Field-Tyrant
Tropical Kingbird (heard only)
Long-tailed Mockingbird
House Wren
Blue-and-white Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Sparrow
Yellowish Pipit
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Cinereous Conebill
Band-tailed Seedeater
Peruvian Meadowlark
Scrub Blackbird

Other Wildlife

South American Sea Lion

12 September

Got up at 4:00 a.m. and climbed onto the bus at 4:30. We drove for about 2 hours to the southeast of Cajamarca; most of us slept for a good part of that in the dark. As dawn approached, I was struck again by the ancient landscapes we were driving through. They have been farmed for thousands of years. It looks pretty sparse and depleted but they do appear to do some contour farming and leave strips of native shrubs or agaves running parallel to the contours of the fields to reduce erosion. The edges of fields were also lined with agaves and the ubiquitous eucalyptus trees; in a few locations we also saw eucalyptus plantations of different ages (apparently for firewood). There appears to be only a thin layer of soil and vegetation on most of these rocky fields on the slopes of the mountains.

There is an interesting common building construction type that appears to be a layer of adobe brick plastered over, interspersed with layers of field stone, giving a horizontal striped appearance to the walls. Several times during the day we saw yards lined up with newly made adobes - much larger than those in New Mexico - sometimes almost cinder block size. In the towns, many of the buildings were stuccoed/plastered over and painted; some were more traditional brick. Most roofs were of curved, red ceramic tile.

The road was narrow and curvy but well paved (apparently an improvement since the last time Barry took this tour), which cut an hour off our travel time. I did wake up once during the trip to find the bus momentarily stuck in the middle of a stream. A new, unfinished bridge was silhouetted above us and a smaller van was passing by above us on the old bridge which apparently could not hold the weight of our big bus. After a little grinding and spinning we were on our way again.

We arrived at our first target location just above the town of San Marcos (2570 m), where we had a great picnic breakfast set up at the side of the road by Raul et al. I'm sure the local farmers, who were headed to work in their fields, were amazed at the sight of 8 gringos sitting at folding tables on folding chairs drinking coffee or coca tea and eating yogurt with granola and rolls with cream cheese.

Once fortified, we headed off down an old mule trail (likely an old Inca highway) that took off from the road down the valley/ravine, birding as we went. Among the good birds along that trail were the Maranon Gnatcatcher (see photo), a pair of White-winged Black-Tyrants, a pair of Fasciated (fascist) Wrens, Striped Cuckoo, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant (it SHOULD be called the Tawny-FACED Pygmy-Tyrant but no one asked me!), and our only target bird for this location - the endemic Great Spinetails - a pair that skulked and responded to taped calls from a dense thicket but ultimately were seen fairly well by all. We continued down the track and met the bus where the main road crossed the path again.

We then drove all the way back to Cajamarca by the same road; on the way we passed through a town having a huge farmer's market and stopped to take photos - women in traditional, bright gathered skirts and tall, straw hats; farmers pulling pigs or sheep along with a piece of string around their necks (see photo). I watched one woman cross the street and wait in line for a bus, clamber on herself, and then wait at the top of the steps until a man behind her picked up her sheep by the head and the tail and heaved it onto the bus after her! We continued on through Cajamarca and on to the west and across Abra Gavilan (a pass at 3050 m that took us out of the Rio Maranon Valley and across the divide into the Pacific drainage).

We had lunch at a pull-off just on the Pacific side of Abra Gavilan - sandwiches we made of ham, cheese, avocado, and mustard; Diet Coke; good kalamata-type olives. Before we even sat down, Barry summoned us over to a ravine just across the road because he'd already gotten a response from our next target species to his tapes - Uniform Tapaculo. We all crowded into a small wooded niche at the top of an open ravine and had fabulous looks (especially for a tapaculo) at a pair that skulked in silently and then called repeatedly as they hopped through the undergrowth and then over our heads in the low shrubby vegetation, peering at us.

After a return to our lunch, we packed up for some more birding. Barry stopped to give a candy bar to the kid from the nearby house who'd watched the whole amazing lunch scene. We walked past the multiple dogs that had skulked hopefully around the periphery of the events (I saw Raul give one of them some scraps). The dogs, like most we saw in Peru, did not respond to kind tones of voice in strange languages - perhaps they have not always been treated kindly. We scrambled down into an unnamed scree- and river rock-filled ravine that continued on down the mountain. This was a tough afternoon for me. For the second afternoon I developed a headache that was just enough to take the edge off my tolerance for difficult scrambling ... trying to avoid turning an ankle or spending so much time looking at my feet that I couldn't always look for or at birds. By the end it was one of those afternoons of "put my left foot forward, then put my right foot forward, then put my left foot forward...." The day was rather quiet - mostly cool and overcast - which was something to be grateful for. But we did see a few good birds - beautiful looks at Shining Sunbeams (fantastic gold/rust colored hummingbirds with a golden gorget that glowed when it caught the light); Rufous-naped (Baron's) Brush-Finch; Rufous-backed Inca-Finch, Slate-throated Whitestart (Redstart). We then scrambled up a convenient cow path to the road, having been overtaken and passed by a very determined bull followed quickly by his master.

We piled onto the bus and discussed what to do next since we'd caught up on the lost time from the first day with our successes so far today. We decided to go back to the Gray-bellied Comet site (Rio Chonta) from the previous day and bird along that road. This turned out to be a good idea in spite of my first thought (let's go back to the hotel so I can take a shower and take a nap). We saw some of the same birds again, including several more Gray-bellied Comets (see photo). We also saw some new species - Maranon (Black-crested) Tit-Tyrant (coolest bird of the day in my eyes); White-winged Cinclodes (we saw a pair at a nest in a cliff over the river feeding 2-3 nestlings); Black-crested Warbler; and Baron's Spinetail.

We then returned to the hotel, showered, and managed to plug up the toiletl. Although we should have known better, we made the mistake of thinking that since the hotel appeared modern, the plumbing was also. This is a euphimism for saying that we neglected to use the strategically located trash can and clogged the toilet with toilet paper (a "no no" that anyone who travels in Latin America should be too smart to do). We went next door to the same restaurant, did our bird list, and had dinner - mixed vegetable salad, chicken with mushroom sauce, and french fries. Went to bed before 10:00 p.m.

Birds from the Cajamarca area, including Rio Chonta, San Marcos, Abra Gavilan

Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Turkey Vulture
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle
Variable (Red-backed) Hawk
Mountain Caracara
American Kestrel
Eared Dove
Croaking Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Striped Cuckoo
Andean Swift
Green Violet-ear
Spot-throated Hummingbird (Peruvian Endemic)
Amazilia Hummingbird
Speckled Hummingbird
Giant Hummingbird
Shining Sunbeam
Black-tailed Trainbearer
Green-tailed Trainbearer
Tyrian Metaltail
Gray-bellied Comet (Peruvian Endemic)
Purple-collared Woodstar
Bar-winged Cinclodes
White-winged Cinclodes
Azara's Spinetail
Baron's Spinetail (Peruvian Endemic)
Great Spinetail (Peruvian Endemic)
Unicolored Tapaculo (Peruvian Endemic)
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Torrent Tyrannulet
Maranon (Black-crested) Tit-Tyrant (Near Endemic)
Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant
Tawny-crowned Pgymy-Tyrant
Black Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
White-browed Chat-Tyrant
Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant
White-winged Black-Tyrant
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Chiguanco Thrush
Great Thrush
Fasciated Wren
House Wren
Maranon Gnatcatcher (Peruvian Endemic)
Brown-bellied Swallow
Blue-and-white Swallow
Hooded Sisken
Lesser Goldfinch (heard only)
Slate-throated Whitestart (Redstart)
Black-crested Warbler
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Rufous-naped (Baron's) Brush-Finch
Banaquit
Cinereous Conebill
Highland Hepatic Tanager
Blue-and-yellow Tanager
Peruvian Sierra-Finch (Near Endemic)
Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch
Rufous-backed Inca-Finch (Peruvian Endemic)
Buff-bridled Inca-Finch (Peruvian Endemic)
Blue-black Grassquit
Band-tailed Seedeater
Dull-colored Grassquit
Black-throated Flower-piercer
Golden-bellied Grosbeak
Golden-billed Saltator
Peruvian Meadowlark

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