Northern Peru's Cloud Forest Endemics Jul 05—16, 2015

Posted by Andrew Whittaker


Andrew Whittaker

Andrew Whittaker, a senior member of the VENT staff, has led VENT tours since 1993 throughout Brazil, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama, Europe,...

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Our 2015 tour to the mecca of Andean Cloud Forest birding did not let me down, beating last year’s high total and finishing with an incredible 362 species! Voted top bird of the trip, with repeated stunning views (after playback), was the huge and magnificent Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, certainly one of the world’s greatest woodpeckers. Its fiery crimson underparts contrasted with its black back and huge, flashy white wing patches as it glided through the forest and landed on a tree, the sun blazing down and exaggerating its splendid bright colors. This will surely be one of my birding highlights this year.  Another exciting trip highlight for me was the surprise of first hearing, recognizing, and then bringing in with tape the newly described Western Striolated-Puffbird, only described in 2013. It did, however, make us work hard to locate it, but after we did so, it offered prolonged and excellent scope studies and was also a trip first.

Western Striolated-Puffbird

Western Striolated-Puffbird— Photo: Laurie Dann


As I have learned to expect on this wonderful trip, we again had an amazing record-breaking 44 species of tanagers! They covered every spectacular color combination imaginable from the much sought after blue and golden-yellow of the endemic Yellow-scarfed to the wonderful mouthwatering Orange-eared, Paradise, Grass-Green, Golden-Eared, Flame-faced, and Vermilion to mention only a few, and finally to the odd and jay-like White-capped, calling so close in beautiful afternoon light on a lovely ridgetop.

This tour is always a terrific hummingbird bonanza, too (if you love them as much as I do, this is the trip for you); no less than 41 dazzling species produced a non-stop, iridescent kaleidoscope of colors at lodge feeders. These included the holy grail of Neotropical birding and one of the greatest hummingbird gems of all, the critically endangered and endemic Marvelous Spatuletail. Alas, this year the Long-whiskered Owlet was only heard (however, we have seen it 4 out of the last 5 years); in fact, the unseasonal rains certainly hurt hard our owling this year. Despite this our nocturnal trips still rewarded us with the rare, poorly-known Stygian Owl again and both Lyre-tailed and Swallow-tailed nightjars.

Marvelous Spatuletail

Marvelous Spatuletail— Photo: Andrew Whittaker










Other memorable moments came thick and fast, including magical scope views of the rarely seen Chestnut-crested Cotinga (four species of cotingas seen); breathtaking views of a pair of Ochre-fronted Antpittas; superb male Fiery-throated Fruiteater with its scarlet throat alight in the sun; brief views of the endemic Rusty-tinged Antpitta; stellar studies of a pair of Rufous-vented Tapaculos (endemic); and the recently described (endemic) Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher. Close hummingbird studies at feeders included the stupendous Rufous-crested Coquette, Wedge-billed and the unbelievable Sword-billed hummingbirds, 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 we saw: Red-hooded, Vermilion, White-winged, Hooded Mountain, Flame-faced, Grass-green, Golden, Metallic-green, Green-and-Gold, Yellow-throated, Paradise, Saffron-crowned, Beryl-spangled, and Blue-necked to mention but a few.

Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, female

Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, female— 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 forests including countless colorful flowering orchids, amazing bromeliads, and mosses and lichens festooning the trees than by climbing the wonderful Owlet Lodge canopy tower or by slowly walking 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, tapaculo, mixed-species flocks, and wonderful fruiting trees with White-cheeked Solitaire and Green-and-Black Fruiteater, and, of course, magical encounters with the mega-rare Yellow-tailed Wooly Monkey.

Johnson's Tody-Flycatcher

Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher— Photo: Andrew Whittaker













Our exploration of lower elevations along the road was also very rewarding and produced great but quick studies of a magnificent, rarely seen Wattled Guan (with its odd yellow wattle), Fasciated Tiger-Heron (fishing), Speckle-chested Piculet, Torrent Duck, countless mixed-species flocks, multiple stupendous male Andean Cocks-of-the-rock, breathtaking Versicolored Barbets, Violet-fronted Brilliants,  and Ornate Flycatcher. We were also amazingly lucky to get the best views ever of such canopy species as Gray-mantled Wren, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Black-capped Tyrannulet (thanks to Jeff), and finally, the odd Equatorial Graytail, even finding what must have been its nest.

Sword-billed Hummingbird

Sword-billed Hummingbird— Photo: Andrew Whittaker


On to our lovely Moyobamba lodge where close by we had an unforgettable visit to the Oilbird cleft where we observed these odd birds well through the scope and also heard their odd calls. The lodge garden and hummingbird feeders rewarded us with another hummingbird feast in wonderful light and all so close for wonderful photographic opportunities. Highlights included several fabulous male and female Rufous-crested Coquettes, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Black-throated Mango, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Black-throated Hermit, Gray-breasted Sabrewing, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, White-chinned Sapphire, and many more. From the lodge’s forested grounds we saw the newly described species, Mishana Tyrannulet, and heard the newly described Varzea Thrush, and enjoyed daily encounters with the stunning endemic Black-bellied Tanager. The lodge’s foothill reserve was, as usual, extremely birdy with a wonderful brightly colored group of Gilded Barbets showing well, Red-stained Woodpecker, Fiery-capped and the poorly-known Green manakins, stunning Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Ornate Antwren, Spot-backed Antbird, Black-and-White Tody-Flycatcher, and Blue-crowned and Green-backed trogons. For the botanists and even non-botanists amongst us, our visit to the incredible orchid garden was, as always, a great thrill. This is one of the best in the Neotropics (with over 450 species), with every size, shape, and color imaginable, which left us all with an orchid overdose and many cool photographs of these spectacular plants.

Wild Orchid

Wild Orchid— Photo: Andrew Whittaker





What a fantastic group you all were! I enjoyed every minute of our immersion in this amazingly rich and exotic Andean cloud forest and foothill avifauna. We shared many fantastic, unique, and special birding memories, as well as funny tales and multiple jokes. Finally, I would like to thank Roberto and his amazing eyes, as well as the staff at the two excellent lodges who took such good care of us during our stay. I can’t wait to return next year to this birding paradise which is Northern Peru! I hope to see you all again on another exciting VENT trip. As always, happy birding!