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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Peru: Rainforest Lodges of the Madre de Dios

2017 Narrative

In Brief: Cream-colored Woodpecker and Musician Wren only just narrowly beat out other birds to tie for first place favorite birds, but we saw (and heard, in the case of the Musician Wren for most of us) so many spectacular birds, everyone had a very different list of most memorable sightings. Some birds were cherished for their sparkling colors and tropical auras, such as the Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Pavonine Quetzal, Gould’s Jewelfront, and Gilded Barbet. Others were remembered for their being so utterly unlike anything we have at home, and the bizarre Hoatzin, the only bird that preferments its food in a multi-chambered stomach might top that list. But guans and puffbirds also fall into that category, and we saw several Blue-throated Piping-Guans perform their amazing wing-rattling display at Explorer’s Inn, while at Los Amigos we stumbled into an unbelievably close and still Chestnut-capped Puffbird, and from our boats at Cocha Lobo the “Obama-Bird” (Western Striolated-Puffbird) in a lakeside tree. Some birds were remembered for how well we saw them, despite their reputations for being notorious skulkers, and the Black-faced Antbird that sang from a low perch for several minutes just a few yards off the trail and the Great Tinamou walking around just in front of us were of that ilk. Some of the most exciting encounters were with species so rare one almost never sees them – the amazing Yellow-shouldered Grosbeaks, rare and very hard to detect in fast-moving canopy flocks were amazingly obliging, and of course the rarest bird of the tour was the Crested Eagle perched in a tree across the river from the parrot lick, standing there just long enough for everyone to get a view in the scope. Night birds always rank high on the favorite list, since they are rarely seen so well, but a Great Potoo singing and sallying from a perch at the Explorer’s Inn clearing made a lasting impression. A huge flock of Sand-colored Nighthawks hawking over the Madre de Dios River at dusk was a marvelous sight, and seeing two different Amazonian Pygmy-Owls on one morning was amazingly lucky. Finally even simpler, more widespread, and familiar birds can make for a lasting memory. The small group of Chopi Blackbirds on the bank of the Madre de Dios on our first afternoon were a big surprise, sign of a recent range expansion into this region; an adorable American Pygmy-Kingfisher darted by and finally landed at super close range on our boat ride on Cocha Tres Chimbadas; and the perky and beautiful Rusty-margined Flycatcher (also close to the edge of its distribution here) were all part of this last category. As a group we tallied 292 species of birds seen, another 45 heard, and some wonderful mammals (a Tufted Capuchin mother with a baby so new, she hadn’t even started eating the placenta yet!), herps, and no fewer than 62 species of butterflies photographed and some wonderful moths, most notably the outlandish silk moth Rothschildia erycina. It’s already certain that next year’s tour will offer a very different set of highlights.

In Detail: A dusk arrival at Los Amigos on our first day wasn’t perfectly ideal, but we were glad to get in, and if it hadn’t been for the evening on the river, we would have never seen the most amazing sight of well over 100 Sand-colored Nighthawks swooping over the river. We began our birding in earnest right by our cabins the next morning, where a pair of White-throated Jacamars appeared at eye level. We then moved on into the forest where only some of us were delighted by a Fiery-capped Manakin, everyone dazzled by a Bluish-fronted Jacamar, and family listers pleased with a Wing-barred Piprites, possibly to be split off in a small, three-species family soon. A Plumbeous Kite at a nest was a very good find. Later in the afternoon we enjoyed the Undulated Tinamou and Rufescent Tiger-Heron near our cabins, and only a little farther along was a pair of Boat-billed Flycatchers at their nest, feeding young. Just as we entered another trail, Amazonian Motmots made an appearance, and then a fun highlight was a Brown-rumped Foliage-gleaner that responded very aggressively to a recording that was in the background of the target species at the time.

On our second full day at Los Amigos we were absorbed for hours on a small stretch of the old road with one mixed flock after another – or perhaps one gigantic mixed flock with many pseudopodia reaching throughout the forest; we never did get far from the main clearing. A Gilded Barbet and Speckled Spinetail were some of the better birds in the flocks, while a White-browed Antbird nearby was probably not part of the flock. Yellow-billed Nunbird, Blue-throated Piping-Guan, and many Swallow Tanagers were around the clearing off and on during the day, while an afternoon walk on the trails produced the aforementioned Chestnut-capped Puffbird, a family of very protective Starred Wood-Quail (none of us expected the male to come charging at us so closely!), and the haunting songs of White-throated Tinamou, among nine other species of tinamou we heard here.

On our final day, we hiked to Cocha Lobo, but with so much to see, we couldn’t make it non-stop. A pair of Royal Flycatchers were building a nest at the bottom of the hill, and most got at least brief views of them. We traversed a lek of Band-tailed Manakins, one of which perched nicely for us; a group of White-bellied Parrots paused in a canopy tree that was visible though just one gap from where we stood; and an active and noisy group of Casqued Caciques were foraging in the mid-story where we could enjoy their odd behavior. On the boat ride we saw several Hoatzins, heard Silvered Antbirds, and trolled in the Western Striolated-Puffbird that performed so well. In the afternoon a Fiery-capped Manakin finally appeared for the remaining members of the group; a mixed flock gave us good looks at our first Elegant Woodcreeper; Broad-billed Motmots at the ridge over the lake finally came in for good views; and at the palm swamp viewing platform a Point-tailed Palmcreeper appeared in a perfect location for extended scope views.

On our first morning at Explorer’s Inn, a short walk down the trail resulted in an unexpected Lawrence’s Thrush foraging in berries, along with other thrushes such as a furtive White-necked; we later heard the delightful song of several Lawrence’s high in the canopy, consisting of nothing but mimicry of the birds and frogs of the forest around them. In between the thrushes we heard several distant Screaming Pihas, also seeing one of them, and we came across a fast-moving mixed flock that contained a cooperative Elegant Woodcreeper and an Amazonian Barred-Woodcreeper. Focussing our attention in the understory we spotted a Great Tinamou walking on the trail, followed by a Pale-tailed Barbthroat that would have quickly vanished if it weren’t for the fact that she was busy building a nest on a palm frond overhanging the trail; we enjoyed watching her come back several times. Looking up we had views of a lone Curl-crested Aracari in the tallest trees. Back at the lodge clearing we enjoyed the antics of a family of Thrush-like Wrens, while a pair Streaked Flycatchers maintained a territory and a Red-throated Caracara family flew over. At dusk, a Roadside Hawk tussled with a group of Spix’s Guans, the latter certainly having the upper hand (or wing).

The next day we hiked to Lago Tres Chimbadas, stopping for several birds along the way, including a Black-tailed Tityra and White-throated Toucans. We then embarked on the catamaran-platform for a delightful paddle around the lake, spying our only Rusty-margined Flycatcher, following a furtive Sungrebe that disappeared and reappeared even though it never dove, flushing many families of Hoatzins, and finally getting great views of Greater Anis. A particular highlight came when we came cross three species of kingfishers all at once – American Pygmy, Amazon, and the rare Green-and-rufous. Another highlight was our close encounter with a very large and curious family of Giant Otters as we were paddled back towards the dock. We saw even more birds on the hike back, highlights among which were the rare Yellow-shouldered Grosbeaks and a truly stunning Cream-colored Woodpecker. An amazing find back at the lodge was a Gould’s Jewelfront, which defied all expectations by sitting still long enough for everyone to be fetched from their rooms a hundred yards away. Later in the afternoon we took a quiet walk on the trail, starting with our only sightings of a group of Plain Softtails, and ending with some great mammals sightings of Venezuelan Red Howlers and Brown Titis.

The highlight at the parrot lick was undeniably the Crested Eagle, and then for the rest of the time at our lodge we concentrated our birding along the main trail system, continually discovering new things. A marvelous little mixed flock in the understory allowed us to get to know every bird and their field marks, including White-eyed, White-flanked, and Long-winged Antwrens. But most of the favorite sightings weren’t birds with mixed flocks. Amazonian Pygmy-Owls came in to whistles and finally made themselves visible. A Red-stained Woodpecker was among those to try mobbing the owl. We passed by calling Broad-billed Motmots and Collared Trogon on most walks, seeing them well at least once. A White-throated Antbird was a good find and hard to see, but it finally found a perch to its liking and waited for everyone to see it. Black-capped Parakeets took a bit of work to spot feeding in a tree over the trail, after we had heard many flying by too fast to see. Curl-crested Aracaris reappeared, this time in a boisterous group in a very open, dead tree for fabulous views. Band-tailed Antbird, a bit unusual so far from water, responded very well. We sat for a long time waiting in vain for birds to come into the swamp for an afternoon drink, but on the way we saw Red-headed Manakin, a very good bird for Peru. And at the end of our wait, a Rufous-capped Antthrush came in and stayed put for everyone to see well. A Rufous-tailed Flatbill that we had heard on one walk was still on territory and more cooperative upon our return. Cinnamon-rumped Foliage-gleaner, Ringed Antpipit, and Musician Wren were three species we heard well, but only a lucky few were rewarded with views of them. One of the best birds seen at the lodge clearing, also requiring the luck of timing, was the pair of Blue-headed Macaws that flew in landed in plain sight for not more than a minute while most people were back in their rooms.

Flocks of macaws, close King Vultures, and an astonishingly close Plumbeous Kite were amongst the highlights on the transfer to the Puerto Maldonado airport, as we wrapped up the birding and our thoughts moved homeward.

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