Thursday, November 03, 2005

Northern Peru - the Maranon Endemics

Entry #4

19 September

Got up at 3:45 a.m. in order to have time to pack up my laundry. Most of it was still damp, so I packed what I could and carried a small, damp pile onto the bus. Like most of the others, I draped things over the back of the seat and from the overhead shelf to dry a bit at a time all day.
We drove back up to Abra Patricia (2220 - 2000 m) and had breakfast there again - scrambled eggs with bacon and coffee. We birded up and down the road on the near side of the pass. I finally got to see Azara's Spinetail for this trip (I had the same problem with this "bogey bird" last time). I call it the "buckwheat" bird because of its irritating call that sounded like "buck-WHEAT".

We went back to the trail at the pass that we'd tried yesterday. Raul and Roberto had gone back with machetes and did a wonderful job of clearing the trail quite far down. We hiked down as far as they had cleared the way. We tried unsuccessfully for several targets but we did have nice looks at a pair of Russet-crowned Warbler, one singing a wonderful song over our heads and in the surrounding understory. As we returned up the trail, someone pointed out what we dubbed "the hornet death star" - a huge, scary-looking hornet's nest shaped like an upside down sunflower seed head with what looked like adults clinging to the top waiting to defend the grubs clinging to the bottom in even rows (see photo) . We all walked very quietly!

We continued a good distance down the road all morning. The Rio Nieve is the river running long the road. We then had the bus come down to meet us and the crew prepared lunch at a small palapa (shed) with a thatched roof and open sides. Lunch was a mixed vegetable salad and chicken rolled around some kind of filling. We then continued birding past the Km 100 post, up past the "famous" tire repair shop, and on down the next hill. It was a very frustrating time as we tried to call in and see the Ash-throated Antwren. Although an unassuming-looking little bird, it was a real "wish bird" for most of us for sentimental reasons -- because it was named after Ted Parker (Herpsilochmus parkeri). Barry played and played the tape; we heard one respond and it came in relatively close on a steep wooded slope above the road but try as we might, we couldn't see it. It called and then it moved back up the hillside and continued calling as long as we were there, but wouldn't come in close enough for us to see. Argh!

We birded into the late afternoon, by which time my feet were very tired. We finally piled onto the bus and headed on down past Afluente; I believe that the town was named after the fact that it was at the confluence of two rivers. There was a story about Afluente and the LSU collecting expedition, but I have forgotten what it was.

We drove down out of the mountains, past the foothills and onto flatlands covered by agricultural fields. We passed through Nueva Cajamarca (supposedly the most lawless city in Peru) and continued on to Rioja. There we checked into the Hotel Gran Bombonaje. What a "wild west" type of town! It was loud and dusty and full of people, moto-taxis, blaring horns, and loud music. The lobby of the hotel and the attached, adjacent building are a casino - more noise, music and people. I think this was our most challenging place to stay. Dave and I were "lucky" enough to get a room on the courtyard on the ground floor which meant that we got the noise from the street coming straight down the hall from the lobby, noise from the casino, noise from the restaurant right around the corner, and noise from all the rooms that opened onto the courtyard. To improve the sound transmission, the wall of the room facing the courtyard and was almost entirely of glass with only a sheer curtain and frosted glass between us and all the hotel patrons that walked past. We had a very nice, copious shower as compensation; it was a welcome change not to have to run around under the shower head chasing the drops. The room itself was no more than basic but afterall we were only going to sleep there (I hoped).

Dinner was in the restaurant upstairs - they gave us our own separate room. I chose to try some typical regional food - cecina con tacaches (grilled pork and mashed plaintains with bits of other veggies, etc. rolled into a ball). It was pretty bland going, but one has to try these things. We did get a quite potent hot sauce that Barry and I agreed had some ingredient in common with a hot sauce one commonly gets with the crispy bread in Indian (Asian) restaurants. We also drank a local alcoholic liquer called Siete Raices (seven roots) which comes from the jungle. It was a little too strong for me and I think someone else finished mine off. It left me with a sort of dull feeling like I had a hole in the pit of my stomach.

20 September

We got up at 4:00 a.m. and met in the lobby at 4:30; Dave dropped off his laundry hoping for better luck this time. We drove back up to the area just below the tire repair shop and had breakfast by the side of the road - granola with yogurt and bread with cream cheese. We spent a lot of time birding right near (down the road from) the breakfast spot. There were a couple trees with lots of flowers and fruit and so we got loads of tanagers - nice views of a couple male Cock-of-the-Rocks, Huallaga Tanager, etc. Then we turned around and birded back up the hill toward the tire repair shop. We moved faster when we discovered a truck parked along the road and heard the men start up their chainsaws. They were cutting trees in an area protected for the water drainage system, but there's no one to enforce the laws. It was pointless to listen for bird calls over this cacophony, so we moved on. We walked on down the other side of the mountain on the road, almost to where we'd had lunch yesterday. We had a nice look at the Yellow-browed Sparrow, an Ammodramus species that looks amazingly like a Grasshopper Sparrow. We'd seen this species on our last trip, but being "sparrow girl" I was excited to see it again. It alternated between singing from a fencepost right along the road and from a tree branch on the other side. We then called the bus to come pick us up.

Images from this segment - (1) Black-mandibled Toucans yelping up a storm on the hillside - huge birds hiding in plain sight! They apparently employ Romulan cloaking devices. (2) Local dogs barking and coming out to the road .... Dave picks up a rock and Barry points a menacing finger at the dog, walks toward it, speaking to it in English (which it's probably never heard) and telling it that he's going to kick its ass. The dogs hang back. Terry, in a moment of humanity, tosses a piece of cookie to the dog but it turns tail and skeedadles .... it's not used to having anything but stones thrown at it!

We then returned the way we'd come, almost to Rioja and turned off to a place called "Morro del Calzada" which is a protected area for a local watershed. A tall volcanic plug of a mountain thrusts out of the savannah around it. The vegetation is similar to desert thornscrub but it is apparently due to poor soil conditions. The bus lurched up a rocky track to a partially shaded spot where we stopped for the crew to prepare lunch. The others did some exploring while lunch was prepared and I spent a little time resting in the bus and catching up on my journal. Lunch was that great dish with yellow mashed potatoes and layers of tuna fish and onions in between.

We then birded down the road - a rocky dirt track through this "park" with no other traffic (a pleasant change from the busy roads along which we'd been birding). But it was HOT and sticky and for the first time, applying mosquito repellant was required. Unfortunately profuse sweating quickly reduced the effectiveness of the bug spray and I got bitten anyway.

Because we were staying at the same location to do some owling, we ate a field dinner at the same spot - spinach soup; baked chicken with rice and a tomato sauce; and half a canned peach for dessert. After dark we started owling. Many of us had managed to forget our flashlights and so we (especially I) stumbled up and down the rocky track following Barry in the dark. We heard a Barn Owl; had a Rufous Nightjar fly in and land at dinner/dusk and then heard at least 3 calling - it sounds sort of like a Chuck-will's-widow with an extra short syllable added "Chuck-will's-Fediddle". Barry called in a Tropical Screech-Owl and we got a very nice look. There were actually multiple individuals calling. Finally we called the bus to pick us up and returned to Rioja. To our relief Dave's laundry was done, so he had clean clothes. It was too late to do a list, we'd already had dinner, so we were on our own. I think some of the others sat and drank beer in the restaurant. I showered and caught up on notes; Daved showered and washed the remaining clothes he'd been wearing in the sink.

Impressions from the drive back toward Rioja and Morro del Calzadas in daylight ... (1) I wonder what the original vegetation/habitat was like. There are now flooded rice fields with new, tiny green rice shoots emerging, fields with older plants and less water, and new fields, recently cleared, with new irrigation ditches and walls. There are also other crops .... I think some may be sugar cane. (2) There are HUGE stacks of logs and cut saplings laying around ... a reminder of what used to be I guess. (3) The phenomenon of strip development along roads that Barry has talked about; rows and rows of extremely poor houses (shacks really) clinging to the sides of the roads. These people are really on the edge of survival I think. (3) Moto-taxis (Peruvian rickshaws - a motorcycle attached to a seat over an axel for transporting 1-2 passengers) are everywhere. Are there higher gasoline prices here as there are in the States right now? I wonder how these moto-taxis will do. I'm sure they get pretty good gas mileage but I can't imagine that there's much margin of profit in those operations. Our favorites were the ones with Che Guevara pictures on their sides. (4) A lady walking along the road with a huge pile of bananas or plaintains on her head and her little daughter following behind holding a large banana leaf over her head like a sun bonnet. (5) Scrawny dogs sprawled in the dust everywhere.

To bed at 9:30 at Hotel Gran Bombonaje.

21 September

We got up at 4:00 a.m., packed up and were on the bus at 4:30. We drove back west out of Rioja to the bridge (Puente Aguas Verdes). We birded up and down the road there while breakfast was being prepared (French toast with syrup and coffee). Barry said that they used to camp on this corner before it got too busy and noisy; now they (we) stay in Rioja for this leg of the trip.

All morning we continued to notice the wierd grasshopper with the white folded wings jumping out of the bushes along the road and flashing its wings. Terry dubbed it the "lekking grasshopper". It bounced around like popcorn.

After breakfast we birded up the road all the way to the top of the hill with the tire shop and a little further before the bus picked us up.

At one point while we were walking, we were entertained by this crazy fellow and his compadre who came blasting by on his motorcycle (Honda Tornado). First he drove by several times standing up with a yellow towel flying behind him like a very strange Peruvian Superman! Then he stopped to talk with us and brag about himself. His name was Jesus (no, really) and apparently he is some kind of Peruvian stunt man/motorcycle competitor and had made some TV ads that he insisted on demonstrating. He drove back up the road and came racing back, while standing up on his bike and imitating gun-toting action heroes pointing his imaginary "gun" everywhere. His compadre appeared not to be the "sharpest tool in the shed" and didn't say much. However, for no apparent reason (except perhaps to garner some attention) he showed us his gun (a pistol) strapped to his waist, which left me wondering about the safety of the general Peruvian public (and us for that matter)! Finally Jesus and his odd compadre blasted off in a flurry of waves and shouts.

We birded until about 10:45. No luck with the "Ted Parker bird" to everyone's disappointment - not even any responses to the tape this time. The bus then drove us to the Royal Sunangel spot (Garcia Ridge) to look for it and to have lunch. I stayed in the bus while lunch was prepared and the others birded nearby. Lunch was late (about 1:30 p.m.) which was one reason I lagged back and ran out of steam. Lunch was a Peruvian specialty called Papa a la Huancayna - potatoes and cucumbers in a yellow sauce made of milk, peanuts, chile peppers, and crushed crackers (very good). We also had nice sweet, crunchy pears.

Erick and I decided not to join the group going back down the muddy trail for the Tody-Flycatcher. Erick napped. I caught up on my journaling, took a nap, did a little reading in Mario Vargas Llosa's novel The War at the End of the World (he's a Peruvian author but unfortunately this book happens to take place in Brazil, oh well ...). I also hoped to report to the others that I'd seen the Royal Sunangel while they were gone (no such luck). However, while hanging out there, I saw about 5 Saffron-crowned Tanagers (they are becoming a favorite), a pair of siskins that were probably Hooded Siskins, and the Cliff Flycatchers hanging about ... believe it or not .... on the cliffs (see photo). I also had a GREAT look at a male Long-tailed Sylph - deep blue-green, long tail glowing in the light and THEN he turned his head and the light glinted off of his metallic green forehead! The guys returned at about 5:00 and we did a little birding in the same area along the road.

We then piled back on the bus and returned to the Puerta Puma Pomacochas Inn in Pomacochas. The Field Guides group, with Rosanne Rowlett and Richard Webster as leaders, was already there. Dave and I got the "family suite" in the other building - two stories with singles and bunkbeds and a shower downstairs, and a double bed and second bathroom/shower in the loft. I guess it was because the hotel was so much more crowded that we got this "suite" because it was something like "overkill". Took a quick shower and then went up to dinner. As is the custom, we waited to do our list until the other group had finished theirs (too noisy otherwise). Dave and I went over and greeted Rosanne and Richard (I know them because they came and volunteered for my sparrow research project in Arizona) and chatted with them a little. Then we had our dinner - some kind of creamed soup, chicken with red peppers and onions over rice with french fries, and some kind of junket-type dessert. We were in bed by 9:30.

Birds Observed from Pomacochas to Abra Patricia, in the Rioja area and back to Puente Aguas Verdes and Garcia Ridge
September 19 - 21

Little Tinamou (Heard only)
Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Swallow-tailed Kite
Double-toothed Kite
Plumbeous Kite
Roadside Hawk (Heard only)
American Kestrel
Speckled Chachalaca
Scaled Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Plumbeous Pigeon
Ruddy Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Blue Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove (Heard only)
White-eyed Parakeet
Cobalt-winged Parakeet
Spot-winged Parrotlet
Blue-headed Parrot
Red-billed Parrot
Scaly-naped Parrot
Mitred Parakeet
Squirrel Cuckoo
Smooth-billed Ani
Barn Owl
Tropical Screech-Owl
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Heard only)
Rufous Nightjar
White-collared Swift
Gray-rumped Swift
White-tipped Swift
Neotropical Palm-Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Green Hermit
Green-fronted Lancebill
Napo Sabrewing
White-necked Jacobin
Green Violet-ear (Heard only)
Wire-crested Thorntail
Blue-tailed Emerald
Fork-tailed Woodnymph
Many-spotted Hummingbird
Speckled Hummingbird
Ecuadorian Piedtail
Collared Inca
Rainbow Starfrontlet
Emerald-bellied Puffleg
Booted Rackettail
Long-tailed Sylph
Wedge-billed Hummingbird
Crested Quetzal (Heard only)
Golden-headed Quetzal (Heard only)
Blue-crowned Trogon (Heard only)
Amazonian White-tailed Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot (Heard only)
White-fronted Nunbird
Gilded Barbet (Heard only)
Versicolored Barbet
(Andean) Emerald Toucanet
Chestnut-eared Aracari
Black-mandibled Toucan
Speckle-chested Piculet (Peruvian Endemic)
Smoky-brown Woodpecker
Red-necked Woodpecker
Little Woodpecker
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Azara's Spinetail
Dark-breasted Spinetail
Dusky Spinetail (heard only)
Rufous Spinetail
Rufous-fronted (Maranon) Thornbird
Equatorial Graytail
Streaked Tuftedcheek
Montane Foliage-gleaner
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner
Rufous-tailed Xenops
Lined Antshrike
Plain Antvireo
Stripe-chested Antwren
Ash-throated Antwren (Peruvian Endemic) (Heard only)
Long-tailed Antbird
Blackish Antbird
White-backed Fire-eye
White-browed Antbird
Rusty-tinged Antpitta (Peruvian Endemic) (Heard only)
White-crowned Tapaculo
(Peruvian) Rufous-vented Tapaculo (Peruvian Endemic)
Green-and-Black Fruiteater
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock
Streak-necked Flycatcher
Olive-striped Flycatcher
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Johnson's (Lulu's) Tody-Tyrant
Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant (Near Endemic) (Heard only)
Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher (Heard only)
Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant
Peruvian Tyrannulet (Peruvian Endemic)
Lesser Elaenia
Highland Elaenia
Sierran Elaenia
Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet
Variegated Bristle-Tyrant
Ecuadorian Tyrannulet
Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant
Flavescent Flycatcher
Olive-chested Flycatcher
Cinnamon Flycatcher
Cliff Flycatcher
Smoke-colored Pewee
Vermilion Flycatcher
Rufous-tailed Tyrant
Long-tailed Tyrant
Dusky-capped Flycatcher (Heard only)
Tropical Kingbird
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Piratic Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Yellow-cheeked Becard
Barred Becard
White-winged Becard
Inca (Green) Jay
Rufous-browed Peppershrike (Heard only)
Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo (Heard only)
Red-eyed (Chivi) Vireo
Olivaceous Greenlet
Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (Heard only)
Great Thrush
Andean Slaty-Thrush
Black-billed Thrush
Sharpe's Wren (Heard only)
House Wren (Heard only)
Gray-breasted Wren
Bar-winged Wood-Wren (Peruvian Endemic)
Blue-and-White Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Hooded Siskin
Tropical Parula
Slate-throated Whitestart (Redstart)
Citrine Warbler
Russet-crowned Warbler
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Yellow-browed Sparrow
Rufous-naped Brush-Finch
Black-faced Tanager
Magpie Tanager
White-capped Tanager
Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager
Ash-throated Bush-Tanager
Yellow-crested Tanager
White-lined Tanager
Huallaga Tanager (Peruvian Endemic)
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Blue-capped Tanager
Yellow-throated Tanager
Thick-billed Euphonia
Bronze-green Euphonia
Orange-bellied Euphonia
Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia
Orange-eared Tanager
Paradise Tanager
Green-and-gold Tanager
Golden Tanager
Saffron-crowned Tanager
Golden-eared Tanager
Flame-faced Tanager
Spotted Tanager
Bay-headed Tanager
Blue-necked Tanager
Blue-and-black Tanager
Silver-backed Tanager
Golden-collared Honeycreeper
Black-faced Dacnis
Blue Dacnis
Green Honeycreeper
Purple Honeycreeper
Dull-colored Grassquit
Rusty Flower-piercer
White-sided Flower-piercer
Buff-throated Saltator
Streaked Saltator
Crested Oropendola
Russet-backed Oropendola
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Subtropical Cacique


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