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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Peru: The Northwest: Chiclayo to Cajamarca

Birding in Chachapoyas Territory

2016 Narrative

In Summary: Our first tour to the Northwest of Peru, travelling from Chiclayo to Cajamarca, was a great success! This is one of the most scenic tours in South America, and we travelled through amazing landscapes from dry woodlands with centenarian trees, through the impressive canyons of the Utcubamba and Marañon Valleys, to majestic forests of trees covered with lichen and bromeliads, and picturesque Andean villages and their inhabitants still living in their traditional way amazed us every day. Our fantastic lodge with views of Gocta Falls is one of the great accommodations we used during the tour, and the Peruvian food was marvelous! However, amazing scenery, great lodges and stunning food are just the side dishes of this tour! We had amazing birding too: Marvelous Spatuletail, Peruvian Plantcutter, Rufous Antpitta, Peruvian Thick-knee, Torrent Duck, and Streaked Tuftedcheek (each voted as best bird of the tour at least by one participant) gave us all amazing views.

We also found lots of very restricted-range species such as Buff-bridled Finch, Tumbes Tyrant, Rufous Flycatcher, Marañon Thrush, Chestnut-backed Thornbird, Tumbes Hummingbird, Marañon Crescentchest, Short-tailed Woodstar, Peruvian Pigeon, Koepcke’s Screech-owl, Necklaced Spinetail, and so many more! Not to mention plenty of colorful ones such as Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, White-tailed Jay, Grass-green Tanager, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Many-colored Rush-tyrant and Chestnut-breasted Coronet. This is definitely one of the best tours to enjoy lots of great birds and impressive scenery!

In Detail: We began the tour with an early flight to Chiclayo. Arriving there mid-morning, we met our driver and after loading the bus we headed to the fantastic Señor de Sipan Museum in Lambayeque. We spent the rest of the morning exploring this superb museum, which exhibits the incredible discovery made there only 30 years ago. Peru is not only one of the best birding destinations, it also has an outstanding archeological patrimony and it would have been a shame to pass through Chiclayo without admiring this treasure. We followed up our museum visit with a succulent lunch, and those who tried the ceviche (local specialty of raw fish cured in lemon juice) agreed that Peru is also a great gastronomic destination!

In the afternoon, we drove to Chaparri Lodge with a stop at the Tinajones Dam where we found Little Blue and Striated Heron, a Wood Stork, Savanna Hawk, Ringed Kingfisher, Puna Ibis, and in the reeds we also had great views of the lovely Many-colored Rush-tyrant! In the nearby shrub, we found our first Tropical Gnatcatcher, Amazilia Hummingbird, Necklaced Spinetail, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, and Short-tailed Field-tyrant, just to give us a taste of our next day’s birding! We arrived at our rustic but lovely Eco-lodge in the late afternoon, just in time to see the White-winged Guans going to their night roost.

After an early breakfast, we enjoyed the ‘Hummingbirds bath’, an attraction of Chaparri Lodge. Seated in front of a little waterfall, we waited for the hummingbirds to come to bath, and after a few minutes, we were pleased to see dozens of Purple-collared Woodstar, Amazilia Hummingbird, and even a few Tumbes Hummingbird standing and preening in the water. We then birded the trails around the lodge, and found many amazing birds including close views of Elegant Crescentchest, Tumbes Tyrant, White-headed Brush-finch, Gray-and-white Tyrannulet, Collared Antshrike, Baird’s Flycatcher, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Fasciated Wren, White-edged Oriole, and even a rare (here) Orange-crowned Euphonia. After our tasty lunch and a well-deserved nap, we birded the lower part of the reserve, finding flocks of Sulphur-throated Finch, displaying Short-tailed Woodstar, a few Peruvian Pygmy-owls, large flocks of Pacific Parrotlets, the well-named Parrot-billed Seedeater, and our first Rufous Flycatcher. We ended our day in the rice fields near the village of Chongoyape, with dozens of Lesser Nighthawk flying over the fields, then back to the lodge for another great meal and a peaceful night beneath an amazing sky full of stars.

After breakfast at Chaparri, we began our drive back towards Chiclayo and then Bosque Pomac. We stopped on the way at a bridge to enjoy excellent close views of 40+ Chestnut-collared Swallows, and just before arriving at Chiclayo, we spotted a pair of Peruvian Thick-knee with a baby still in down! We arrived at Bosque Pomac Sanctuary by mid-morning, and spent an hour on the “Plantcutter trail” – a well-named trail actually, as we found no fewer than five different Plantcutters in just one hour! Besides these charismatic and endangered leaf-eater birds, we also had great views of the splendid Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, our first Streak-headed Woodcreeper, the soon-to-be-split ‘Tumbesian’ (Mouse-colored) Tyrannulet, and some old friends such as Collared Antshrike, Gray-and-white Tyrannulet, Rufous Flycatcher and Necklaced Spinetail. Before lunch we also made a stop at a known place for Tumbesian Swallow, and quickly saw this very restricted-range species. We enjoyed our lunch in the shade of some old ‘Algarrobo’ trees, with a few White-tailed Jays nearby who were maybe waiting for the leftovers.

We arrived at the splendid Los Faiques Lodge in the early afternoon, and soon after checking in and enjoying a glass of passionfruit juice, we headed towards Salas and some upper elevation forest patches. There we found some new species, such as Pacific Elaenia, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, White-winged Brush-finch and even a displaying Gray-chinned Hermit. Back at our lodge in the late afternoon, we had time for some rest, enjoying a drink in the garden while doing the list, followed by a succulent dinner. The brave participants who did not head straight to bed after dinner did some owling in the nearby forest and were quickly rewarded with an excellent view of a Peruvian Screech-owl (pacificus subspecies).

After an early cup of coffee, we left our lovely lodge for Abra Porculla at 7,000 feet elevation (2,145 m) arriving just after dawn. We enjoyed our breakfast surrounded by a wonderful panorama, and soon began to bird the dry scrubland. One of the very first birds we found here was a stunning male Peruvian Sheartail, perched in the sun so we could all enjoy his iridescent purple throat! A few more males of this superb hummingbird were seen during the morning, including some displaying ones, spreading their ridiculously long tail! Numerous flowers also attracted lots of Purple-collared Woodstar, a few Sparkling Violetear, and even a Little Woodstar appeared briefly. Other birds of interest here included Black-cowled Saltator, Three-banded Warbler, Chapman’s Antshrike, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Tumbes (Tropical) Pewee, Lined-cheeked Spinetail or White-winged Brush-finch. Unfortunately, a very strong wind spoiled our birding, and we weren’t able to enjoy that place and the local birds as much as we would’ve liked. After a nice picnic lunch of delicious lasagnas, we began our drive towards Jaen. Most of the drive was along the Huancabamba River – a very scenic drive with slopes covered by arid scrub and blooming Bombax trees, and a mosaic of rice fields filling the bottom of the valley. Just before arriving in Jaen we had some time to bird that arid vegetation, finding Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Spot-throated Hummingbird, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-tyrant, and having a short view of  Little Inca-finch.

Having another very early start, we birded the Chirinos Road north of Tamborapa. Arriving there at dawn, we enjoyed a chorus of the songs of Tataupa Tinamou, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Chinchipe (Necklaced) Spinetail, Marañon (Rufous-fronted) Thornbird, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-tyrant, Marañon (Tropical) Gnatcatcher and Streaked Saltator and we saw all these birds, except the tinamou, with the first light. After a nice field breakfast we birded a trail surrounded by dense vegetation, where we had good views of Red-crested Finch, Yellow-cheeked (Green-backed) Becard, Northern Slaty-antshrike, Green Jay and Mouse-colored Tyrannulet. We also heard at least four pairs of Marañon Spinetail, but we had to work hard to see that one briefly… amazing effort for a little brown bird! Later in the morning we stopped at a known spot for Marañon Crescentchest and quickly saw a male, performing super well, and everybody enjoyed great views…small effort for a fantastic bird!

We then drove back to Jaen for lunch, and continued our journey towards Gocta Lodge, crossing the Marañon River for the first time and then travelling through the scenic Utcubamba Valley. We arrived early enough at our splendid lodge to enjoy sunset on the impressive Gocta Falls (third tallest in the World if we do not consider the intermediary steps) and the stunning landscape surrounding our lodge. In the lodge garden, we also found some nice birds, including Golden-rumped Euphonia, Silvery Tanager and White-bellied Hummingbird coming to the feeders. Another great day ended with a fabulous dinner!

After our breakfast on the lodge terrace, enjoying the superb panorama, we birded the dry scrub along the access road. We found some species restricted to the Marañon and Utcubamba drainage, such as Buff-bellied Tanager, Speckle-breasted Wren (of the distinctive sclateri subspecies) and Spot-throated Hummingbird, but also contacted some Amazonian species like Speckled Chachalaca and Blue-necked Tanager arriving in these pockets of suitable habitat after following the Marañon River. However, the main attraction of the morning was a visit to the Huembo feeders, where the majestic Marvelous Spatuletail is sometimes seen. Enjoying a coffee break in front of the feeders, we were surrounded by Chestnut-breasted Coronets, Sparkling and Green Violetears, and a few Bronzy Incas, but the Spatuletail only made very brief appearances at the feeders. Fortunately, after a long wait, a male of this shy hummingbird performed well and offered ‘Marvelous’ views! Bird of the trip for many participants! 

During the afternoon, we followed the Utcubamba Valley making several photo stops for the beautiful scenery and scanning the impressive cliffs for Chachapoyas ruins. Along the River, we also found Yellow Oriole (an unexpected bird here) and a Plumbeous Rail foraging on the riverside. At a known stakeout we also enjoyed great views of two Koepcke’s Screech-Owls on their day roost, and at the end of the afternoon we also found hundreds of Mitred Parakeets coming to roost on a probable breeding cliff. We then arrived in the lovely and picturesque village of Leymebamba, where we would be the guests of Julio Zumaeta and his family for three nights.

During our two days at Leymebamba, we visited the superb Condor Canyon. A narrow canyon, dominated by cliffs and steep slopes with impressive forest of trees covered by bromeliads and lichens…and obviously, we saw a pair of Andean Condors flying over this well-named canyon! Besides the Peruvian National Bird, we also had an incredible look at the splendid Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan climbing a tree just 60 feet from us, Grass-green Tanager, Citrine Warbler, Capped Conebill, a much appreciated Streaked Tuftedcheek, a pair of the cute Cinnamon Flycatcher and a few of the elegant Maroon-belted (Slaty-backed) Chat-tyrant. Another exciting sighting was a group of five Red-hooded Tanagers, found right after Fabrice said ‘always look on the top of the tree for a yellow bird with a red hood, the rare Red-hooded Tanager occurs here.’ Great find!

At higher elevation, birding the last patches of forest between Leymebamba and Abra Barro Negro (the ‘black mud pass’) we found the superb Shining Sunbeam and Sapphire-vented Puffleg, some Andean Flickers near their nesting cavities, a Neblina Tapaculo hiding in the dense vegetation, a few Many-striped Canasteros, two shy Russet-mantled Softtails, the lovely Black-throated Tody-tyrant, a Red-rumped Bush-tyrant, three displaying Red-crested Cotingas and some flocks including Spectacled Redstart, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Superciliared Hemispingus, Blue-capped Tanager and Yellow-breasted Brush-finch. Scanning the river near Leymebamba, we also found a few White-capped Dippers as well as a female Torrent Duck.

Another nice birding spot near Leymebamba is the hummingbird feeders near the Museum, where we saw the tiny White-bellied and Little Woodstars side-by-side with the giant Sword-billed Hummingbird, the colorful Chestnut-breasted Coronet, the territorial Green and Sparkling Violetears and a few White-bellied Hummingbirds. It was also an opportunity to visit the Leymebamba museum, exhibiting the well-preserved mummies and other artifacts discovered only 20 years ago a few kilometers from the village.

After two days birding the Cloud Forest (without seeing a single cloud…) near Leymebamba, it was now time to drive back to the arid Marañon Valley. Reaching first the elevation of 12,000 feet (3,600 meters) at Abra Barro Negro, we began the scenic drive down to Balsas at 3,000 feet (900 meters) where we crossed the Marañon River. Obviously, we made several stops on the way down, not only for birding but also to photograph the amazing scenery. During one of these stops, we found a great mixed-species flock including Northern Mountain Cacique, Baron’s Spinetail, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Masked and White-sided Flowerpiercers and Black-crested Warbler. In the arid scrub above Balsas, we found the superb Buff-bridled Inca-finch, as well as a cooperative Black-necked Woodpecker, a few Purple-throated Euphonia, Spot-throated Hummingbird and Hepatic Tanager. Moreover, just before our lunch in the village of Balsas we found a pair of Peruvian Pigeon, another restricted-range species! After lunch, we began the drive up towards Celendín, on the other side of a pass at 10,000 feet elevation (3,000 meters). After some intense searching, we found a lovely pair of Yellow-faced Parrotlets perched atop columnar cacti! And after driving through a spectacular Bombax tree forest we had great views of Chestnut-backed Thornbird and Gray-winged Inca-finch, two more Peruvian Endemics. We arrived in Celendín for dinner, enjoying a roasted chicken and a few drinks.

The city of Celendín was still asleep when we left for Cruz Conga. Arriving there early, a team of cooks joined us to prepare a wonderful field breakfast. But before the coffee and eggs were ready, we had time to find the lovely Black-crested Tit-tyrant, the endangered White-tailed Shrike-tyrant, a few Baron’s Spinetail, a Spot-billed Ground-tyrant, the colorful Peruvian Sierra-finch and even had amazing views of Cajamarca (Rufous) Antpitta – this species will be split into at least 7-8 species, so be ready for some arm-chair ticks! We then continued our drive towards Cajamarca, finding Black Metaltail, Streak-throated Canastero, Rufous-webbed Tyrant and Mountain Caracara on the way. At our lunch spot, we had a great surprise finding the rare Plain-tailed Warbling-finch. A fantastic find! Another great surprise was to discover the lunch table covered by several plates of delicious Peruvian food. An amazing lunch! 

In the afternoon we visited the Chonta River, were we unfortunately did not find the endangered Gray-bellied Comet even after a long wait in his preferred habitat… but a few Tyrian Metaltails, White-browed Chat-tyrant and Andean Tyrant pleased us during our wait. We stayed at a very comfortable hotel by the charming main square of Cajamarca (called ‘Plaza de Armas’ in Peru), just in front of the splendid Cathedral. On our last evening, we celebrated our wonderful trip with Pisco Sour (Peruvian National Drink made of brandy, lemon juice, egg white, sugar and bitters… delicious!) and superb Peruvian food. 

Having a full morning before our flight to Lima and international departures, we went to San Marcos to bird some dry scrub. The habitat deforestation in that area has been so intense that the population of the endemic Great Spinetail has crashed in the last years and we only heard one individual just at the edge of a recently burned territory… sad. Nevertheless, our morning trip was rewarded by a fantastic view of an Andean Flicker and a Black-billed Shrike-tyrant. On the way to the airport, we added a last species to our long list, a pair of Andean Gulls foraging together with Cattle Egrets. It was now time to say goodbye, and hopefully we will meet again soon for another great tour!

 -        Fabrice Schmitt


Created: 12 July 2016