Northern Peru's Cloud Forest Endemics Jul 04—15, 2014

Posted by Andrew Whittaker

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Andrew Whittaker

Andrew Whittaker was born in England but considers himself to be Brazilian, having moved to this biodiverse country in 1987 to work for the Smithsonian Institution, banding...

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Our 2014 tour to this mecca of Andean cloudforest birding surpassed my wildest dreams, beating last year’s total by 11, coming in at an incredible 359 species! As to be expected, the birding highlights were many: an amazing 41 colorful species of tanagers covering every spectacular color combination imaginable, to hummingbirds (if you love them as much as I do, this is the trip for you), with 37 dazzling species producing a non-stop kaleidoscope of colors at the feeders. The holy grail of Neotropical birding, the Long-whiskered Owlet, was again seen well (for the 4th year running), this time entertaining us by landing in the open on a bamboo stem! In fact, the owling rocked (an awesome 6 species seen), including incredible close looks at the rare Stygian Owl, as well as Band-bellied, Black-banded, and Rufous-banded owls. However, none of us will forget that wonderful full moon coming up at dusk, enhanced by two male Lyre-tailed Nightjars singing and doing their magnificent displays over the rock face above, showing off those immense tails. To round things up in a big way, we even had a completely new species of colorful manakin soon to be described!

Long-whiskered Owlet

Long-whiskered Owlet— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Other memorable moments came thick and fast including magical scope views of the rarely seen Chestnut-crested Cotinga (five species of cotingas seen); again, two different rare and striking Lanceolated Monklets; multiple breathtaking views of the stunning (endemic) Yellow-scarfed Tanager; close Fiery-throated Fruiteater; Golden-headed Quetzal; two endemic antpittas (Ochre-fronted and Rusty-tinged); stellar studies of Rufous-vented Tapaculo (endemic); and the recently described (endemic) Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher. Close hummingbird studies at feeders included the stupendous male Marvelous Spatuletail (what a tail!), Rufous-crested Coquette, Royal Sunangel, the unbelievable Sword-billed Hummingbird (for the first time a pair at the lodge feeders), Emerald-bellied Puffleg, and the endearing White-bellied and miniscule Little woodstars. However, it’s impossible not to mention some of the other truly stunning tanagers: Red-hooded, Vermilion, Hooded Mountain, Flame-faced, Yellow-crested, Grass-green, Green-and-gold, Yellow-throated, Paradise, Golden, Saffron-crowned, Blue-necked, Blue-browed, and flocks of the odd-looking and huge White-capped.

Stygian Owl

Stygian Owl— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

The well-kept Cloud Forest trail system at Owlet Lodge (by far the best-kept in all of the Andes, and with a new almost flat trail) was just brimming with exotic tropical plant life! There is no better way to experience the shades and colors of the cloud forest’s countless orchids, bromeliads, mosses, and lichens festooning the trees than by climbing the wonderful Owlet Lodge canopy tower and exploring along these fantastic trails. On top of the tower the view is breathtaking, as magnificent unbroken cloud forest unravels itself ridge after ridge as far as the eye can see! Birding these fine trails produced antpittas, tapaculos, mixed-species flocks, and wonderful fruiting trees with White-cheeked Solitaire, Golden-headed Quetzal, and Green-and-black Fruiteater.

Our exploration of lower elevations along the road was also very rewarding and produced scope studies of a magnificent White-rumped Hawk, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Speckle-chested Piculet, Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper, and countless mixed-species flocks and multiple stupendous males of Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, breathtaking Versicolored and Gilded barbets, White-collared Jay, and Ornate Flycatcher. We were also amazingly lucky to get the best views ever of such canopy species as Gray-mantled Wren and Yellow-breasted, Ash-throated (endemic), and Rufous-rumped antwrens.

Sword-billed Hummingbird, male

Sword-billed Hummingbird, male— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

From the Fruiteater Lodge we had an unforgettable visit to the Oilbird cleft (adults and juvenile seen in scope and in flight) combined with exceptional owling. The lodge garden and hummingbird feeders rewarded us with 20 species of hummers including the fabulous Rufous-crested Coquette, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Violet-fronted Brilliant, and Black-throated Hermit. From the lodge’s forested grounds we saw the two newly described species, Mishana Tyrannulet and Varzea Thrush, and had daily encounters with the stunning endemic Black-bellied Tanager. The lodge’s foothill reserve was extremely birdy with Red-stained Woodpecker, Lafresnay’s Piculet, Fiery-capped and Green manakins (6 species seen), Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Ornate Antwren, Spot-backed Antbird, Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher, Broad-billed Motmot, Orange-billed Sparrow, and Blue-crowned Trogon. For the botanists and even non-botanists amongst us, our visit to the incredible orchid garden was a thrill. One of the best in the Neotropics (over 450 species) with every size, shape, and color imaginable, it left us all with an orchid overdose!

What a fantastic group you all were! I hope you all enjoyed the fantastic and unique birding experiences that we all shared! I would like to thank the lodges’ excellent staffs who took such good care of us. I can’t wait to return next year to this birding paradise in Northern Peru!