Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Northern Peru - the Maranon Endemics



Entry #6


26 September

We got up at 4:00 a.m. Knowing how nice the pool and palm tree area looked here at the hotel, I was tempted to "stay in", but a sparrow - Black-capped (Maranon) Sparrow - beckoned. So I got up and was on the bus with the others at 4:30. It turned out that Erick responded to the same temptation and decided to sleep in this morning. We had breakfast along a side road about 22 km above Tamborapa (800-900 m) - the wonderful granola that Raul makes with yogurt, and coffee concentrate that was as thick as motor oil this morning, and a mixed fruit salad. We then birded up along the side road for a whole series of arid land Maranon endemics. We had beautiful looks at the Maranon Black-capped Sparrow - quite the dapper fellow. We also saw the Chinchipe Spinetail, not-so-good looks at the Maranon Spinetail (only glimpses for me) and FINALLY I got a nice look at the Speckle-breasted Wren! Then we climbed back on the bus, drove up the road only a short distance, where we stopped and almost immediately had crippling (good) looks at the Maranon Crescentchest. Another bird that could be one of the "birds of the trip" - really a gorgeous, sharp-looking bird.

We were "done" by 10:30 a.m. - we'd seen all the target species - and headed back to the hotel, arriving at 11:45. We met for lunch by the pool at 12:30 - lomo saltado with papas fritas and Coca Cola "regular". We then dispersed to our rooms for a siesta. Dave and I slept until 2:45; then he got up and joined some of the guys for some afternoon birding; I slept until 3:30. I then got up and spent some time by the pool catching up on my journal.

I reflected some more on our experience with the Aguaruna Indians. Historically they have been an extremely aggressive, violent people and are still so on occasions today. We heard stories about recent events from various Aguaruna villages. They got angry with some of the non-Indian settlers who had moved up along the river, so they killed all of them - men, women, and children. They have killed missionaries in the near past when they didn't like what the missionaries did or said. Nuevo Salem, where we stayed, was a new village that Barry had not been to before, although other of his guides (Manu Expeditions) and other partner tours (Richard and Rosanne) had. This new village was being visited because some other tour groups had disobeyed the rules about how to arrange visits to the previous Aguaruna village (as arranged by the village and partner groups such as Manu Expeditions). As a result, the men of the village showed up in war paint with spears and told them to leave and never come back. We were reminded that although they appear "civilized" in European-style clothing, they are still a very violent people. In fact, Jorge (the chief) talked about how he still had to work with some of the more traditional individuals to convince them not to respond to someone who made them angry by killing them. The chief said that he now understands that this (violence) is not a good way, presumably due to the influence of the missionaries.

It was a very interesting situation to know that it was within the realm of possibility, no matter how unlikely, that these wiry, diminutive peopole could have taken exception to our presence for some reason and, as we were unarmed, could have chosen to kill us in our sleep. They showed us their spears (and sold some to us) and appeared quite comfortable in handling them; I don't know whether they still use bows and arrows although we did see a "poison arrow frog"; and the did have ancient-looking rifles of some sort.

Barry (Manu Expeditions) and several other tour group leaders have worked very hard to establish a respectful, cooperative arrangement with this village. Anyone who wants to visit and bird there is asked to make the arrangements through one of the partners. We hope that everyone respects this arrangement rather than flouting the rules, which would spoil it for everyone AND could be dangerous in light the the Aguaruna's volatile nature. It is a fabulous opportunity to learn from them. They probably don't need to learn from us - it is primarily a monetary arrangement to them.

After some nice relaxing time around the pool, the guys returned and we met and did our bird list for the day. We then had another pell mell mototaxi ride across town to the same restaurant on the plaza for dinner, only to discover that it was closed on Mondays! So, pell mell back to the hotel and an quick dinner of lomo saltado for everyone to expedite the ordering/preparation. Dan continued to fight what we'd come to call "the malais" that he and Dave had had in Nuevo Salem, so we gave him our Cipro in the hopes that this would bring back the spring to his steps.

27 September

We got up at 3:15 a.m., packed up everything, and were on the bus before 4:00. By 3:50, Erick still wasn't there; Terry went and checked his room and he was still in bed! Ooops. Either he misunderstood the departure time or overslept. Amazingly he was climbing onto the bus at 4:05 - not something that I could have pulled off. With that we left El Bosque Hotel in Jaen. I awoke on the bus at about 6:00 a.m. We were still traveling up toward Abra Porculla (the lowest pass in the Andes - 2050 m). This has ecological significance because the pass provides a barrier to movement north and south of montane species along the spine of the Andes (resulting in speciation and differentiation in the northern and southern Andes), BUT because the pass is so low, it has permitted movement east and west across the Andes between the Pacific coast and the interior/Atlantic drainage for lowland species. We traveled most of the way to the pass along the Rio Chamaya, which empties into the Rio Maranon at the town of Chamaya, which we'd passed through on our way to and from Jaen.

The contrasts were striking between the incredibly dry, desert-like and over-grazed rocky mountains supporting nothing but a few scraggly, thorny trees/shrubs and the relatively fertile, narrow river valley where green rice fields could still be seen. It's amazing that the goats and sheep we saw could find a single tidbit to eat, but the characteristic criss-crossed, diamond-patterned goat tracks all over the mountainsides testified to their historical if not current presence.

Image: As usual, all the big trucks traveling this main highway had bunches of thorny branches tied to the back ends, apparently to prevent people from climbing up on top to "hitch a ride".

We reached the pass at about 7:00 a.m. and drove over into the Pacific drainage. A short distance down from the pass, we stopped in a small town called Limon de Porcuya and drove up on a dirt track above town that was almost too narrow for the bus. It required Raul to jump out and direct Jose with hand motions and concerned looks on his face. The rest of us held our breath. We drove up quite a way into what supported some remaining scrubby habitat and had a great morning birding up the track after breakfast - granola and yogurt, rolls, and peanut butter and jam. We saw Black-cowled Saltator, Chinchipe and Rufous-necked spinetails, Elegant Crescentchest, and Three-banded Warblers to name a few species.

Image: Way up the canyon and above our heads on a ridge, a kid (child, not goat) started yelling, apparently to someone else beyond our view in a tedious, sing song voice, over and over! We couldn't figure out what she was saying or to whom she was calling, but we soon wished that whoever it was, would answer so that she would be quiet. The only response was from the goats who seemed to bleat some equally unintelligible answers.

We spent the whole morning there (dubbed "Barry's road") and had lunch at the same breakfast location when we returned to the bus - some kind of rice dish with beans and bacon in a sauce.

From there we drove on southwest to Olmos and beyond to the tiny town of Limon at the mouth of Quebrada Frijolito. The latter leg of the trip required a bone-and-teeth-jarring, slow ride down dusty tracks that twisted and turned and scrabbled across large-cobbled, dry riverbeds. If it ever rained here (I'm sure it does but it sure didn't look like it), we'd probably never get out!

We finally arrived at Limon (230 m) at about 3:45 p.m. - little more than a few adobe houses and a cemetery. As we piled off the bus, we were greeted by curious children and hundreds of perched Black and Turkey vultures along with one regal-looking King Vulture that tolerated the binocular and photographic attention of the whole group for only so long before it flapped slowly off through the scrub. After selecting the sites for our tents - one patch of bare dirt and thorny shrubs looked pretty much like every other one - we walked a ways up the trail to the quebrada. We managed a some nice looks at the local Collared Antshrike (see photo).

Clouds and lightning were playing off of the mountains in the distance as we returned to camp and just after we'd settled in at the tables with a beer and popcorn, it started to rain. So we all scuttled onto the bus to wait out the insubstantial shower. But when our return to the table was again interrupted by rain, we repaired to the bus while the crew, with the "help" of the local children, erected the dining tent for the first time on the trip. We completed our bird list to the giggles of the kids outside the tent peering in at the tent windows. Dinner - soup; spaghetti with tomato sauce; and peaches with whipped cream for dessert.

Image: (perhaps skewed in my mind by it being near the end of three weeks of travel) Bano (toilet) tent - shared by Janet and 8+ guys - NOT fun. But for the rain and the darkness, I'd have made for the surrounding desert scrub.

I crawled into the tent with Dave to the sound of a few raindrops still hitting the canvas and dropping temperatures that made me glad for a fleece jacket and willing to zip up my sleeping bag with me inside for a change.

Birds Observed around Jaen and from Jaen to Limon
September 26 - 27

Tataupa Tinamou (heard only)
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
Bay-winged (Harris') Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Variable (Red-backed) Hawk
American Kestrel
Band-tailed Pigeon
Peruvian Pigeon (Near Endemic)
Eared Dove
Pacific Dove
Croaking Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Scarlet-fronted Parakeet
Red-masked Parakeet (Tumbes Endemic) (Heard only)
Pacific Parrotlet
Squirrel Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Peruvian Pygmy-Owl
Lesser Nighthawk
Tawny-bellied Hermit
Gray-chinned Hermit
Sparkling Violet-ear
Spot-throated Hummingbird (Peruvian Endemic)
Andean Emerald
Amazilia Hummingbird
Scarlet-backed Woodpecker (Tumbes Endemic)
Lineated Woodpecker (heard)
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Pacific Hornero (Tumbes Endemic)
Maranon Spinetail (Near Endemic)
Necklaced Spinetail (Tumbes Endemic)
Chinchipe Spinetail (Peruvian Endemic)
Line-cheeked Spinetail
Rufous-fronted (Maranon) Thornbird
Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner (Tumbes Endemic)
Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner (Tumbes Endemic)
Collared Antshrike
Maranon Collared Antshrike (subspecies) (Tumbes Endemic)
Chapman's Antshrike (Tumbes Endemic)
Northern Slaty Antshrike
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta
Elegant Crescent-chest (Tumbes Endemic)
Maranon Crescent-chest (Peruvian Endemic)
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Tumbesian Tyrannulet (Tumbes Endemic)
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant
Tumbes Pewee (Tumbes Endemic)
Vermilion Flycatcher
Piura Chat-Tyrant (Peruvian Endemic)
Tumbes Tyrant (Peruvian Endemic)
Short-tailed Field-Tyrant
Sooty-crowned Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher (heard only)
Tropical Kingbird
Baird's Flycatcher (Tumbes Endemic)
Inca (Green) Jay
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Yellow-green Vireo
Chiguanco Thrush
Great Thrush
Long-tailed Mockingbird
Fasciated Wren
Maranon (Speckle-breasted) Wren
Speckle-breasted Wren (different subspecies) (heard only)
Superciliated Wren (Tumbes Endemic)
House Wren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Maranon Gnatcatcher (Peruvian Endemic) (heard only)
Gray-breasted Martin
Blue-and-White Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
House Sparrow
Hooded Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
Slate-throated Whitestart (Redstart)
Three-banded Warbler (Tumbes Endemic)
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Black-capped (Maranon) Sparrow
Bay-crowned Brush-Finch
White-winged Brush-Finch
Bananaquit
Buff-bellied Tanager (Near Endemic)
Highland Hepatic Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Purple-throated Euphonia (heard only)
Red-crested Finch
Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch
Collared Warbling-Finch
Saffron Finch
Blue-black Grassquit (heard only)
Chestnut-throated Seedeater
Band-tailed Seedeater
Blue Seedeater
Dull-colored Grassquit
Rusty Flower-piercer
Golden-bellied Grosbeak
Black-cowled Saltator (Tumbes Endemic)
Streaked Saltator
Yellow-tailed Oriole
White-edged Oriole (Tumbes Endemic)
Peruvian Meadowlark
Scrub Blackbird

28 September

The alarm went off in the tent at 3:30 a.m. for 4:00 owling - Dave decided to go and I decided to "sleep in". I put that in parentheses because my bladder had turned me into the human water balloon and I couldn't go back to sleep. I just tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position so I wouldn't have to get up .... but "mind over bladder" did not work. I got up at 4:15 and waited less than patiently for my turn in the Bano Tent. The owlers got back at about 5:15, having seen a Peruvian Screech-Owl but no Scrub Nightjars. They also experienced some surveillance from a Coastal Gray Fox that followed them along the edge of the trail as they birded and played tapes. Breakfast was pancakes.

At 6:00 a.m. we met Lino, the fellow who lives at the mouth of the quebrada and protects the White-winged Guans - an extremely range-limited and endangered species and our target bird for the day. He gets paid to provide this protection. He also led us on our birding walk all morning. When asked, he said we didn't have to hurry up to the canyon to see the birds early ... "just a normal pace". Well, I'd hate to see a fast pace if he called this regular! I was almost immediately lagging behind with Barry, who'd picked up some stomach bug and wasn't feeling too chipper. Lino took us immediately to a place along the trail where he knew that a pair of White-winged Guan had their territory and by the time that we laggards arrived, the birds had been flushed and only briefly glimpsed by a few. Lino took off up the slope to try to flush them into view. The guans obliged wonderfully, flushing up into the trees to be admired by all - huge black turkey-like birds with white primary feathers and some red on the face. We had quite a few other good birds on this trek, which continued most of the morning. Now that we'd seen the target species early and didn't have to worry about them anymore, we could bird the rest of the quebrada in a more leisurely fashion. We saw Blue-crowned Motmot, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Guayaquil Woodpecker, White-tailed Jays, 2 Striped Owls flushed from a group of 4 that Lino found (a real bonus) (see photo), Pacific Parrotlets (see photo), AND at the end of the trek, a small flock of Tumbes Sparrows (another Aimophila to add to my world list!). The Tumbes Sparrow is quite nicely marked on the face - more like the Rufous-winged Sparrow than the bland Cassin's and Botteri's sparrows. We also saw a Guayaquil Squirrel. Arrived back at Limon at 11:10 a.m.

Sad Note: When I got up this morning and got ready for the morning hike, I couldn't find my camera. It wasn't in my fanny pack and it wasn't on my bus seat where I often left it if I wasn't using it. I made a quick search but didn't find it. So, deciding that I didn't need to make everyone wait while I panicked and searched before the hike, I took the hike without my camera, missing some beautiful photos of the quebrada - pretty spectacular, with sheer rock faces, broad cobbled river bottom, and dry deciduous forests which reminded me of autumn with dry, yellow leaves drifting down from the trees. When I got back to Limon, I had the crew pull my duffel bag from the back of the bus, thinking that I might have absent-mindedly put it in there while in the tent - no luck. The group was getting ready to leave Limon, so I waited, still holding out hope that since Dave's duffel bag had been at the front of the tent, perhaps the camera had slid into it. Unfortunately, when we checked upon arrival in Chiclayo, there was no sign of it. I'd been preparing myself for the possibility of its loss all day (I had not downloaded any digital images during the trip), but it was still a crushing blow. All the great photos I had - frame-filling shots of the Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes, photos of Roberto and the group at Abra Patricia, photos of Abra Patricia habitat for American Bird Conservancy (they've helped Roberto's group purchase land for conservation there), the chief at Nuevo Salem, photos of Dave throughout the trip, and all the "artistic" shots I'd taken as ideas for dreamed of bird paintings - all gone, probably over 200 photos. I will never completely reject the possibility that I mislaid it or dropped it somewhere, although after racking my brain, it seems unlikely. I had it at lunch the previous day and after lunch we immediately got on the bus and drove to Limon. It would have been in my field vest or sun-shirt pocket and if it had fallen out, would have made a very noticeable noise. I totally trust the Manu Expedition crew, leaving only one possibility. I had gotten used to leaving my camera on the bus seat because the crew was always there to watch things. However, in Limon there was lots of commotion, especially surrounding the time of "in and out of the bus" during the rain and setting up of the dining tent, and any of the kids from the village might have climbed onto the bus and not been able to resist the temptation of a shiny camera. I find my self feeling that I wouldn't even mind if they kept my camera if the thief would just give me the chip inside .... one of the downsides of digital cameras is that if you don't carry extra chips and trade them out (or download them during the trip), everything is inside the camera (no used film stored elsewhere). It will teach me to come up with a solution for the next trip. I was determined not to allow this to ruin the end of the trip - I will have fabulous memories with pictures in my head, and the rest of the group felt terrible and promised to share their photos. After all, a camera is just another of the "things" one hangs onto isn't it? But it is disappointing and I keep seeing things I want to take pictures of.

When we left Limon, we drove to a place called El Tocto (translated "pork cracklins") at Km 105 on the old Pan American Highway, where we birded while lunch was prepared and afterwards. It was extremely hot and dry. We walked through thick dust on the roads and out into the thorn scrub. I kept expecting a wildebeest to come around the corner, but saw only scruffy goats and sheep, cows and horses - no wonder there's no vegetation left AND what do they eat anyway?! We were also beset by a plague of small wasps that first looked like sweat bee-types but were incredibly persistent and at arbitrary times would either take nips OR would sting. I got it once on the arm and Terry and Erick each "got it" several times. It made my really jumpy (and a little grumpy), not really wanting multiple stings even though the one I got didn't seem to elicit any major reaction.

Image: We saw a beautiful, fairly large lizard that we later identified as a Golden Tegu (or something in that family) - almost 2 feet long, long pointy/angular head (kind of shaped like a monitor lizard head), black and white/cream splotches best defined on the back legs, and a banded tail. It was pretty fierce-looking. When we approached, it went down a hole in the bank.

We saw another funny lizard - small and of pale shades of brown; it would stop moving and lift one foot and shake it, put that one down and lift another and shake it. Was it some kind of "display"?

We left this spot at 3:45 p.m., stopping at one of the propagation sites for the White-winged Guan which was right along the road. It was like a little zoo - cages of White-winged and Gray-winged trumpeters, various guans, Speckled Chachalacas, a toucan, etc. There were two macaws - a Blue-and-Yellow and a Scarlet digging around on the ground outside the cages. We left there at 4:20 and drove to Chiclayo, arriving at the Inca Hotel at about 6:30 p.m.

This was quite an upscale hotel compared to most if not all our accomodations during the trip. (perhaps we were being reintroduced to "civilization"! :) We showered and cleaned up, and then met downstairs for a bird list and dinner - for me, fish in a sauce of ajillo (peppers) and mushrooms with rice. We enjoyed a complimentary pre-dinner drink called algorabino, made from the fruit of the algorobo (or algarrobo?) tree, a Prosopis species (same as mesquite). It was very delicious - sweet and caramelly - seemed more like an after-dinner drink to me. Apparently it was very traditional in this area. However, I think the consensus of the group was that the drink of choice for Peru is Pisco, either in a Pisco Sour or straight up.

Birds Observed at Limon and on road from Limon to Chiclayo
September 28

Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
Savanna Hawk
Northern Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
White-winged Guan (Peruvian Endemic)
Black-necked Stilt
Eared Dove
Pacific Dove
Croaking Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Red-masked Parakeet (Tumbes Endemic)
Pacific Parrotlet
Groove-billed Ani
Barn Owl (heard only)
Peruvian Screech-Owl (Tumbes Endemic)
Striped Owl
Peruvian Pygmy-Owl
Tumbes Hummingbird (Tumbes Endemic)
Amazilia Hummingbird
Long-billed Starthroat
Short-tailed Woodstar
Ringed Kingfisher
Blue-crowned Motmot
Ecuadorian Piculet (Tumbes Endemic)
Scarlet-backed Woodpecker (Tumbes Endemic)
Golden-olive Woodpecker
Guayaquil Woodpecker (Tumbes Endemic)
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Pacific Hornero (Tumbes Endemic)
Necklaced Spinetail (Tumbes Endemic)
Collared Antshrike
Maranon Crescent-chest (Peruvian Endemic)
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Tumbesian Tyrannulet (Tumbes Endemic)
Gray-and-white Tyrannulet (Tumbes Endemic)
Pacific Elaenia (Tumbes Endemic)
Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant
Gray-breasted Flycatcher (Tumbes Endemic/Vulnerable)
Tumbes Pewee (Tumbes Endemic)
Vermilion Flycatcher
Tumbes Tyrant (Peruvian Endemic)
Short-tailed Field-Tyrant
Tropical Kingbird (heard only)
Baird's Flycatcher (Tumbes Endemic)
White-tailed Jay (Tumbes Endemic)
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Plumbeous-backed Thrush (Tumbes Endemic)
Long-tailed Mockingbird
Fasciated Wren
Speckle-breasted Wren
Superciliated Wren (Tumbes Endemic)
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Peruvian Martin (Peruvian Endemic)
Blue-and-White Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Hooded Siskin
Tropical Parula
Tumbes Sparrow (Tumbes Endemic)
Black-capped Sparrow
White-winged Brush-Finch
White-headed Brush-Finch (Tumbes Endemic)
Bananaquit
Cinereous Conebill
Highland Hepatic Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Cinereous Finch (Near Endemic)
Collared Warbling-Finch
Saffron Finch
Sulphur-throated Finch (Tumbes Endemic)
Parrot-billed Seedeater
Golden-bellied Grosbeak
White-edged Oriole (Tumbes Endemic)
Peruvian Meadowlark
Scrub Blackbird

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