Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve Sep 09—23, 2014

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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After thirty-one tours to the Manu Park and Biosphere Reserve area, you would think it would be routine. But you would be wrong. For the first time in several years we added a new site—the Wayquecha Lodge—to the itinerary, and it was a roaring success. Second, I added a couple of life birds on this trip and that hasn’t happened in awhile. Life birds aren’t my goal, but getting them for our clients is a top priority, and this trip succeeded in spades.

On our first morning out of the Wayquecha Lodge, located in humid upper montane forest at 9,750 feet elevation, we slowly worked our way back up the eastern slope to a treeline pass and encountered mixed species flocks almost continually—mostly fast-moving groups—where we tallied dozens of Three-striped Hemispinguses, a half-dozen Golden-collared Tanagers, several White-browed Conebills, and so many Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers that we lost count. A pair of little Line-fronted Canasteros at the pass rounded out the morning. But the day didn’t end there. A late afternoon session with a Red-and-white Antpitta was interrupted when a stunning Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan appeared, and at dusk we watched a spectacular Swallow-tailed Nightjar fly around us and perch in full view.

The next day began with a pair of stunningly close Hooded Mountain-Tanagers at the lodge entrance, as well as a Grass-green Tanager, several brush-finches, and light misty rain. Downslope a few kilometers we soon encountered Mountain Caciques, more Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, White-collared Jays, a Strong-billed Woodcreeper, and a rare Greater Scythebill, all of which appeared almost one after another. Later, at lower elevation still, and at the tail end of a midday rain shower, we followed the mother of all mixed species flocks for nearly 45 minutes and enjoyed a sampling of that Andean tanager diversity that everyone dreams about.

The following afternoon we sat in a primitive little wooden “hide” on a steep hillside and watched the matinee performance of eight Andean Cocks-of-the-rock—and it was a show to behold, those blood-red males carrying out their ages-old antics. No females were present, but the males have to display anyway in order to maintain an uneasy pecking order in the lek. And we ended the day with another nightjar performance, this time the spectacular silhouette of a male Lyre-tailed Nightjar flying back and forth against the evening sky.

If the first three days in the Andes were spectacular, it only got better as this two-week trip progressed, ever downward in elevation, and ever richer in species diversity. As we descended the eastern slope of the Andes, we gradually lost the colorful, tanager-dominated flocks of the cloud forests, but gained a more diverse avifauna that included hoatzins, wood-rails, quail-doves, macaws, puffbirds, antbirds, spinetails, manakins, a new cast of tanagers (but fewer Tangara), and a wider array of nightbird sounds. Throughout the trip there also were plenty of diversions for butterflies (Dave Wolf, I’m looking at you here), and butterfly diversity and abundance were more spectacular this year than I have ever seen in the lowlands. There were also many new and exotic plants, new primates, Giant Otters, and discussions of “what ifs” and “how things might work” on a wide variety of avian and community ecology topics.

This trip plunges you into arguably one of the most diverse biological regions on the planet, and there is simply a lot more of everything than a visitor can possibly comprehend during a whirlwind trip of just over two weeks, but it is a great sampler. There’s something for everyone—something to stir new interests, stimulate questions, and flesh out a western Amazonian life list. And, if nothing else, it is a place which takes you just a little bit beyond your normal comfort zone, where suddenly everything is new and different and exciting, and the unexpected might be waiting around the next bend in the river, or a little further down that forest trail. And that, I think, is what makes a birding trip, or any trip, exciting.

We hope you enjoyed this trip, felt a little sense of adventure from time to time, made some new friends, and took away some great memories and photos. We also hope that this trip leaves you wanting to see and learn more. So, of course, we want to see each of you again somewhere on another VENT tour.