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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Peru: Machu Picchu and the Manu-Kosñipata Road

2018 Narrative

In Brief: The numbers, variety, and rarity of birds on the tour to Machu Picchu and the Kosñipata Valley of SE Peru will be hard to beat on future tours. It was a fair bit cooler than usual (as it had been all season, apparently), but with less rain than one might expect, both made for great birding conditions. The group list stood at 410 species seen, with an addition 36 heard. By far the tour highlight was a super rare Crested Eagle at Los Amigos, apparently a first local record.

In Detail: On our first day’s drive after arriving in Cusco we had time to make a couple of birding stops at wetlands and dry scrubby hillsides. Rusty-fronted Canastero and a write-in Streak-fronted Thornbird were found in the latter habitat, while some blooming shrubs briefly hosted a Bearded Mountaineer that not everyone saw well. But Plumbeous Rails were out in numbers this day, and while the Wren-like Rushbird was vocal and visible a few times, we really had to work to find Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, though when they appeared they really gave us a show.

After our visit of Machu Picchu, birding began in earnest, though Inca Wrens were to be seen only in the ruins. After lunch some feeders hosted Collared (Gould’s) Inca and Saffron-crowned Tanagers, while just upstream along the railroad tracks we had time to enjoy a pair of Torrent Ducks in the Urubamba River, along with White-capped Dipper and a Fasciated Tiger-Heron. A pair of Azara’s Spinetail teased us but showed for most, and one huge mixed flock had many goodies including a rare Ashy-headed Tyrannulet.

We had a bit of birding in the fringes of the Urubamba Valley in the early morning, where Green-tailed Trainbearer, Mourning Sierra-Finch, and Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch were good finds, the latter at a new location for Rich. We then worked our way over the mountain, where we coincided with flocks of migrant ground-tyrants, a highlight being a well-seen Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant as well as a surprising number of Rufous-webbed Bush-Tyrants, possibly including birds from the migratory Chilean population.  Andean Flicker performed well, and a pair of the very handsome Andean Goose was quite a surprise right next to the road. We then found ourselves in humid montane scrub at Wayqecha Birding Lodge, and Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, and Grass-green Tanager were right along the road before we arrived.

We spent the early morning of our full day out of Wayqecha up at the top of the pass, where perfect weather made it possible to locate Paramo Pipits, a pair of rare Scribble-tailed Canasteros, and get views of the shy Creamy-crested Spinetail. The local subspecies of Rufous Antpitta was singing from the distance in several places early on, but later two were clearly very close to the road, and we eventually had views of one not too far back in the bushes. A Variable Hawk perched on a non-native pine next to the road offered unusually good views. We spend the rest of the afternoon in more humid forest close to the lodge, where we had great views of White-collared Jay, a Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant at the canopy tower and bridge,  very close Pearled Treerunners in a mixed flock, a Barred Fruiteater that didn’t sit still for everyone, and multiple Golden-collared Tanagers. We finished the day with an owling attempt, hearing a distant Rufous-banded Owl, but most amazing was a Swallow-tailed Nightjar that dashed in and out of the group in response to Rich’s whistle; presumably a territorial male, it was missing its longer tail feathers. Another highlight here were the blinking fireflies.

Before we left the higher elevations, we were treated to a quick view of Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan right next to the road, and then on our first birding stop below Pillahuata we had multiple Masked Trogons at eye level. At multiple stops on the way down the mountain we found Versicolored Barbet, a flock of Short-billed Chlorospingus, a couple White-cheeked Solitaires, a Long-tailed Sylph on top of a tree, and a very furtive rare Rufous-backed Treehunter that called from a dense thicket and revealed only a dark shape. We had time at Cock of the Rock Lodge to enjoy the hummingbird feeders, though the Wire-crested Thorntail appeared only in the blooming porterweed bushes. Wintering Andean Slaty Thrushes (newly split from the not-so-closely related Eastern Slaty Thrush) were new additions to the master list, and it was a nice surprise to learn that a Brown Tinamou recently has become acclimated to the bustling kitchen noise, and we saw it twice during our stay.

Our early morning visit to the very active Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek was an unforgettable highlight. While there, a White-crowned Tapaculo appeared from the undergrowth and sang out in the open on a mossy branch. As we worked down the road from the lodge, large mixed flocks failed to appear, but we were rewarded by an immature Black-and-chestnut Eagle soaring and calling overhead. Booted Racket-tail and Golden-eared Tanager at the feeders made it to the list of favorites, and then highlights on our walk up the road from the lodge included Golden-olive Woodpecker and a scarce Fulvous-breasted Flatbill in a mixed flock that eventually also revealed Gray-mantled Wren.

Our early morning up the road from San Pedro towards Rocotal was very different, starting and ending with marvelous mixed flocks and amazing views of difficult birds. Normally elusive Yungas Manakin, normally only heard calling unseen well below the road, actually appeared for all to see. Then a pair of Solitary Eagles appeared out of nowhere and soared up and over the ridge. Mixed flocks had Orange-eared Tanager and Blue-and-black Tanager as highlights, and apart from mixed flocks were a Blue-banded Toucanet and an unusually vocal and exposed pair of rarely seen Unadorned Flycatchers. Somehow we found just the right spots to coax in a pair of White-crowned Tapaculos into view, and a White-throated Antpitta was also amazingly visible as it sang with a beetle larva in its bill. A final stop at a large mixed flock just above our lodge resulted in a surprising find of the very elusive Golden-collared Honeycreeper. As we arrived for lunch, so did a cold front and a light rain began for much of the afternoon; but luckily we were departing for lower elevations with no planned birding, so the timing couldn’t have been better. We did make a short stop when our driver Omar spotted a gorgeous Chestnut-tipped Toucanet perched right next to the road. We arrived at Villa Carmen just as the rain abated and with a flurry of bird activity around the feeders. Several Blue-throated Piping-Guans were on the railing and in the bushes by the dining hall, while Pale-legged Hornero walked by, and a family group of what amounted to 22 Hoatzins gathered around the fish ponds.

Our two full days at Villa Carmen Birding Lodge gave us merely a taste for what is possible here, but we did very well. On our first day we worked the bamboo-loving birds, seeing several of them, but the Rusty-belted Tapaculo walking across the trail stood out as a highlight, as did a super colorful Lemon-throated Barbet, and the wintering Vermilion Flycatchers that we saw here and there. The Crested Eagle sighting was amazing, after which we saw a fiery Band-tailed Manakin through the dense undergrowth. Then we had the Crested Eagle once again, maybe a kilometer away from where had first had it, an while we watched it, a Black-and-white Hawk Eagle appeared, and we watched it soaring and covering quite a bit of ground before it returned to the same area and performed a diving display while the Crested Eagle was still on its distant perch. Closer to the lodge we had Blue-crowned Trogon and Spot-breasted Woodpecker for further highlights, and in the early afternoon we checked the new tinamou feeder just to see. In fact, a Cinereous Tinamou was there when we arrived, along with many Gray-fronted Doves, and then by just waiting a few minutes we were treated to a Black-capped Tinamou feeding in the open at length. After dinner we did some owling and topped off the day with Black-banded, Tawny-bellied, and Tropical Screech-Owls, as well as two Black-headed Night Monkeys, all in about 40 minutes.

A morning visit to the quarry netted us White-eyed Parakeets and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, but we also had great views of a singing Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch, Little Cuckoo, and a very scarce Buckley’s Forest-Falcon along the entrance road. Birding a bit more around the lodge we saw a Lineated Woodpecker sticking its head out of a nest cavity (the only one for the tour), a Capped Heron by the river, and a Slender-billed Xenops near our rooms. We drove up to the Atalaya overlook hoping for an afternoon macaw flight, but we had instead great views of Dusky-headed Parakeets, a large group of Swallow-tailed Kites, and a locally rare White-necked Puffbird that was a lifer for Omar.

The drive back to Cusco was mostly uneventful, though a quick stop for low-flying Chestnut-collared Swifts in the Patria valley led to a good find of Sulphury Flycatcher in the appropriate Mauritia flexuosa palm and hearing very close Rufous-sided Crakes in the marsh across the road. We bumped into Versicolored Barbet yet again on the way up through the cloud forest (hard to imagine that we’ve missed this bird in the past), added a scarce Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo and White-winged Tanager to the master list, finally caught up with Cinnamon-faced Tyrannulet, then dropped out of the fog at Acjanaco Pass to have our picnic lunch in the warming sunshine alongside a White-winged Black-Tyrant. Giant Hummingbird remained elusive for us despite several stops, but the little known lizard Proctoporus lacertae was a good consolation, as was Black-tailed Trainbearer and a group of Greenish Yellow-Finches at our last birding stop.

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