Northern Peru's Cloud Forest Endemics Jul 10—21, 2016

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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WOW! This fabulous tour is truly the real mecca of Andean Cloud Forest birding with an incredible 362 species, including a staggering 44 dazzling species of hummingbirds and 44 colorful tanagers! Voted top bird of the trip (with outstanding views) was the mythical tiny and cute Long-whiskered Owlet; and who can forget those drop dead views of the Spatuletail! Both are mega-birds and outstanding endemics. Our impressive Owlet record now standing as seen on 7 out of our last 8 trips!

Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, female

Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, female— Photo: Andrew Whittaker


Again this year we had incredible views of three endemic antpittas: Ochre-fronted, Chestnut, and even the very hard to see Rusty-tinged! The huge and magnificent Crimson-bellied Woodpecker was seen not once but 3 times! It is 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.

Another exciting trip highlight for me was visiting a new private reserve where we could sit in a wonderful blind and observe, close at hand, a covey of Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail and Little Tinamous coming in to feed on corn! This alone was truly an incredible experience indeed, but to top this, at feeders and in the flower garden we had point-blank studies of superb male Wire-crested Thorntail and both Blue and Green-fronted lancebills!

As I have learned to expect, on this wonderful trip we again had an amazing record-breaking 43 colorful 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 wonderful mouthwatering Red-hooded, Paradise, Grass-Green, Golden-Eared, Flame-faced, and White-winged to mention only a few, and finally to the odd and jay-like White-capped, calling all so close in beautiful afternoon light on a lovely ridge top.

Cinnamon Screech-Owl

Cinnamon Screech-Owl— Photo: Andrew Whittaker






This tour is always a terrific hummingbird bonanza (if you love them as much as I do, this is the trip for you); no less than 45 dazzling species produced a non-stop exotic 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.  Other nocturnal highlights were the rare and poorly-known Cinnamon Screech-Owl, Stygian Owl again, and two incredibly ‘’long-tailed’’ male Lyre-tailed Nightjars putting on an unforgettable display, chasing females at dusk, that rightly pushed them into the top 5 birds of the trip! 

Other memorable moments came thick and fast, including magical stellar studies of a flock of White-collared Jays, and two neat endemics—the Rufous-vented Tapaculo and recently described colorful Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher. Close hummingbird studies at feeders included the stupendous Rufous-crested Coquette, the unbelievable Sword-billed Hummingbird, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Long-tailed Sylph, Emerald-bellied Puffleg, Booted Racket-tail, and the endearing White-bellied and miniscule Little woodstars. 

However, it’s impossible not to mention the truly stunning tanagers: White-winged, Hooded Mountain, Flame-faced, Grass-green, Blue-winged Mountain, Golden, Metallic-green, Green-and-Gold, Yellow-throated, Paradise, Saffron-crowned, Beryl Spangled, and Blue-necked among others.

Johnson's Tody-Flycatcher

Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher— 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 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, 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 Green-and-Black Fruiteater, Crested and Golden-headed quetzals, Rufous Spinetail, Stripe-headed Antbird and, the best songster of the Andes, the charming Chestnut-breasted Wren.

Our exploration of lower elevations along the road was also very rewarding and produced great studies of the magnificent Torrent Duck, an immature Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Sickle-winged Guan, Royal Sunangel, Speckle-chested Piculet, countless mixed-species flocks, multiple stupendous male Andean Cocks-of-the-rock, breathtaking Versicolored Barbets, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Lanceolated Monklet, Western Striolated Puffbird (described in 2013 after president Obama), Bar-winged Woodwren, and Ornate Flycatcher. 

On our way to the lovely Moyobamba Lodge 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 as they flew around below us. The lodge garden and hummingbird feeders were alive, rewarding us with another hummingbird feast in wonderful light and all so close for great photographic opportunities. Highlights included several fabulous male and female Rufous-crested Coquettes, the rare Many-spotted Hummingbird, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Black-throated Mango, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Long-billed Starthroat, Black-throated Hermit, Gray-breasted Sabrewing, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, White-chinned Sapphire, and many more.

Sword-billed Hummingbird

Sword-billed Hummingbird— Photo: Andrew Whittaker


The pleasant forested grounds rewarded us with two newly described species, Mishana Tyrannulet and we heard the newly described Varzea Thrush, as well as daily encounters with the stunning endemic Black-bellied Tanager. We explored the lodge’s foothill reserve which, as usual, was extremely birdy with a brightly colored pair of Guilded Barbets showing well, Red-stained Woodpecker, and Fiery-capped Manakin. The stunning Fiery-throated Fruiteater this year was, sadly, missed and just heard; however, we enjoyed a superb White-plumed Antbird (new for the trip) show at a wonderful antswarm as a bonus! Other highlights were the recently described Foothill Antwren, Spot-winged  Antbird, finally the stunning Black-and-White Tody-Flycatcher, and great looks at both 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 350 species) with every size, shape, and color imaginable, which left us all with an orchid overdose and many cool photographs and admiration for these spectacular plants, not to mention the wondrous sweet scents from several of these remarkable plants. We were able to finish this superb trip on a high note with around 150 Comb Ducks and a Capybara at a lovely marsh stop just outside Tarapoto.

Long-whiskered Owlet

Long-whiskered Owlet— Photo: Andrew Whittaker


What a fantastic group you all were! I enjoyed every minute of immersing ourselves in this amazingly rich and exotic Andean cloud forest and foothill avifauna. I certainly hope you all took back with you those countless fantastic, unique, and special birding memories (combined with all the funny tales and multiple jokes) we fondly shared together! 

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! Hope to see you all again on another exciting future VENT trip I lead. And, as always, happy birding!