Monday, September 28, 2009

Caño Tushmo, Yarinacocha - day 40

I'm now at the huge oxbow of Yarinacocha near Pucallpa in the department of Ucayali after a nightmare 22 hour bus journey over the Andes from Lima on the Leon de Huanuco. Below is shot showing the drivers changing a wheel after a blow-out near Tingo Maria. The ancient bus without heating or aircon took us to freezing in the mountains at 4450 metres to sweating along the dusty unsurfaced jungle road to Pucallpa. In Yarinacocha we hired Miguel ‘Pituco’ a skilled boatman who knows the whole area very well. We visited one of our previous sites (Caño Tushmo) from 2004 which again was good for Heliconius pardalinus butterflies, flying with their much more abundant co-mimcis, Tithoria harmonia. The site was quite rich in birdlife and I noted White-flanked Antwren. Barred Antshriek, Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher, Amazonian Antshrike, Grey Antbird, Warbling Antbird, Moustached Wren, Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Cream-coloured Barbet, Buff-breasted Wren, Greater Ani, Roadside Hawk, Screaming Piha, Pauraque, Silver-beaked Tanager, White-fronted Nunbird, Ringed Kingfisher, Canary-winged Parakeet, Amazon Kingfisher, Yellow-headed Caracara, Russet-backed Oropendola, Grey-fronted Dove, Lesser Kiskadee, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Black-fronted Nunbird and Blue-grey Tanager.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Peru - days 31-37

In the last week or so I’ve been back up in the Alto Mayo and out to Yurimaguas again for the last time. Around Nueva Cajamarca, our base for the upland Heliconius, the endemic Black-bellied (Huallaga) Tanager, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove and Rufous-fronted Thornbird were noted en route. The rice fields between Moyobamba and Aguas Claras held hundreds of Snowy, Cattle and Great Egrets and a few Striated Herons. Up around 1300m at El Afluente I finally obtained nice views of Ecuadorian Piedtail and Violet-headed hummingbird. Other notable species included Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Equatorial Greytail, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Smoke-coloured Pewee and Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. Between 1700 and 1800m on the LSU trail to Cerro Patricia the beautiful stunted forest produced Bar-winged Wood-Wren, Striped Treehunter, Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, White-backed Fire-eye, Napo Sabrewing and Emerald Toucanet.

Back in Tarapoto for a day, I made use of some pre-breakfast time to explore the Urahuasha trail once more, adding Spotted Tody-Flycatcher and Speckled Chachalaca to list to a two hour list of 50 species.

On to Yurimaguas via the tunnel at Km-18 produced a trio of stunning hummers: White-tipped Sicklebill, Black-eared Fairy and Koepcke’s Hermit. A Golden-collared Toucanet was calling from a roadside tree, its colours all revealed against a deep blue sky. Between Yurimaguas and Munichis, Oriole Blackbird, Red-crested Blackbird, Snail Kite, Dusky-headed Parakeet and Purple Gallinule were seen along roadside pools. Our final morning the Yurimaguas area was cool and cloudy with little butterfly activity and, with an hour or two to kill on the Micaela Bastida road while conditions improved, I located around 60 species along 1km of roadside passing forest fragments, second growth, chacras and marshy fields. Best of the lot were Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Blue-headed Parrot, Short-billed Honeycreeper, Spangled Cotinga, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher, Yellow-headed Caracara and Uniform Crake.

I’m now leaving the Tarapoto area and moving on to Pucallpa via Lima. Our new study site, mainly for Heliconius pardalinus butleri , will be around Yarinacocha, the big oxbow lake beside the Rio Ucayali.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Antiphonal duetting in the Coraya Wren

Listening to bird song in temperate regions it soon becomes clear that it is produced, in most cases, by the male of a species. In tropical reigons, females often sing and in some species the pair will even duet. I made some sound recordings of Coraya Wrens (Thryothorus coraya) near Tarapoto (06°28'39.8'' S 76°21'05.9'' W) soon after dawn the other morning. This species engages in antiphonal duetting where both sexes contribute alternative phrases in quick, coordinated succession to produce a ‘final’ song. To our ears this can sound like it is being produced from just a single individual. According to the new Birds of Peru field guide by Schulenberg et al, the Moustached Wren (T. genibarbis) has a near identical song but its distribution is generally allopatric with Coraya Wren and occurs south of the Amazon river and (mainly) east of the Ucayali river. The Coraya Wrens around Tarapoto are difficult to observe but the facial plumage actually looks more like Moustached! At this site they keep well hidden in dense scrub in long-cleared secondary growth. The birds in the sonogram below were not visible during the sound recording but I believe the male bird is producing the rapid phrase of four deeper hoots then two higher pitched whistles, quickly followed by the female’s higher pitched ‘wolf whistle’ phrase. If you look closely just after 5 seconds, you’ll see the female overlaps the end of the male’s phrase.

Rainforest Visions

...or 0.5 to 1.5 second exposures.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tarapoto-Urahuasha trail – day 30

A good few hours birding before breakfast this morning, I returned to the Tarapoto-Urahuasha trail to search the drier areas on the lower scrubby hillsides. Red-eyed Vireos were common but all appeared to be of either the resident (and not very red-eyed) pectoralis race or the austral migrant chivi race – difficult to tell apart. Barred Antshrike and Great Antshrike showed well in the first patch of scrub and a more thorough searching produced a singing Ashy-headed Greenlet hover-gleaning along the edge, a Mishana Tyrannulet in an area of taller bushes and trees, a stunning male Sapphire-spangled Emerald nectaring low down along the track edge, and a more furtive Dark-billed Cuckoo. A close look through the aerial ensemble of insect hawkers (Fork-tail Palm-Swift, Blue and White Swallow, Short-tailed Swift, White-banded Swallow) revealed a single male Chestnut-collared Swift. Also of interest were Short-crested Flycatcher, Little Woodpecker, Turquoise Tanager, Little Cuckoo, Long-billed Gnatwren, and a flock of around 25 (including immatures) of the introduced Saffron Finch (native to the northwest region in Peru) – its population seems to be burgeoning since I first noticed it in Tarapoto in 2004.

El Tunel & Biodiversidad – days 28-29

Two days working on Heliconius timareta and H. elevatus between Km-17 and Km-18 on the Tarapoto to Yurimaguas road just before it reaches the pass at around 1050 metres near the tunnel, produced a few good birds when I took some time out to check passing mixed feeding flocks. In the reserve at ‘Biodiversidad’ run by the Universidad de San Martin I noted Bronze-Green Euphonia, Opal-rumped Tanager, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Cinnamon Flycatcher, White-throated Woodpecker, Bicolored Hawkm Blue Dacnis, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Green Manakin, Plain-winged Antshrike, Paradise Tanager, Plumbeous Pigeon, Screaming Piha, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, White-lored Tyrannulet, Bay-headed Tanager, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Black Caracara, Orange-bellied Euphonia, and Green Honeycreeper. Around the tunnel and along the trail which leads off from the Km-18 post produced many Phaethornis hummingbirds zipping past. Two perched birds showed well to confirm them as the endemic Koepcke’s Hermit (Phaethornis koepckeae). A troop of seven Ivory-billed Ararcaris (small toucans) crossed the road and a Double-toothed Kite was soaring. Other g ood birds observed included Yellow-crested Tanager, Yellow-bellied Tanager, Cock of the Rock, Musician Wren, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, White-winged Tanager and Dotted Tanager.

Inca two step – days 23-27

Managed to get Montezuma's revenge with some sickness on this four-day foray to the blistering lowlands between Pongo de Caynarachi and Yurimaguas. Its gone now and followed by a two day diet of Oreo biscuits for breakfast and lunch and Sopa Wantan from the Chifa (one of Peru’s versions of Chinese cuisine) – salty stock with wantons, noodles and some pieces of chicken, pork, shrimp – I’m back to proper food. The butterflies were hard work again. At Alianza near Km-81 (Tarapoto-Yurimaguas) some Black-headed Parrots were found feeding in the canopy and White-beared Manakin displaying on the forest floor. Somewhere in between were Forest Elaenia, Many-banded Aracari, Blue-crowned Motmot, and White-lined Tanager. A site near Km-103 close to San Francisco held Grey-necked Wood Rail, Screaming Piha, White-flanked Antwren, Black-bellied Cuckoo, Chestnut Woodpecker, White-fronted Nunbird, Plumbeous Kite and another Many-banded Aracari. In the Munichis area, a small pool held a couple of Striated Herons in addition to the usual birds noted last time. Common birds along the main road included Wattled Jacana, Russer-backed Oropendola, Roadside Hawk , Swallow-wing and Yellow-headed Caracara, as well as a couple of Black-capped Donacobius. Two Brown-chested Martins were active around our hostal near the Rio Huallaga in Yurimaguas.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The most Marvellous Spatuletail

Last we night we got back from a three day trip that was not very successful work-wise due to the rain and low cloud. We were up the Alto Mayo which rises up to 2300 metres through montane tropical forest to stunted forest. It is home to several Peruvian endemic birds, notably the very rare Long Whiskered Owlet which is only the size of a sparrow and I think it has never been seen in the wild – only caught in mist nets. This is always my favourite place for birds as there is still little deforestation and many of the birds are restricted to higher altitudes and not found around Tarapoto. But lower down more forest is being cleared to grow coffee, particularly around El Afluente. One forest was burning as we passed, the smoke rising and probably fumigating all life in the forest higher up.

The first night in the town (Nueva Cajamarca) we were staying in had a power cut all night – in fact every time I’ve been here they’ve had a power cut. We were wandering around with candles and in 2007 I ate my dinner in a pitch black restaurant just with candles. This time we found a place called ‘Arizona Chicken’ which was the only place with all its lights on. They were using a portable generator to keep things going. A waiter came up and told us they served chicken. This was helpful as we would never have known that they served chicken. We got a 2.25 litre bottle of Inca Kola which could have been used to see our way back on the dark as it is almost glow in the dark yellow! Best birds of the day were Andean Cock of the Rock, Golden-winged Manakin, Slaty Antwren, Rufous-vented Whitetip and Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager on a trail from Puente Serranoyacu.

The second day was better with some sunshine but few Helinconius timareta butterflies which we were after. We climbed up a trail from El Afluente which leads to a village eight hours away but we only did a bit of it up to 1733 metres. Sadly I encountered no large Tanager flocks this time. Tanagers are these multi-coloured finch-sized birds, many of which move around in mixed feeding flocks in the mountain forests. It is really exciting when a flock passes and you are in frenzy looking this way as you try to see and identify as many as possible. They are best viewed from above so a trail on a steep slope is best. Anyway, I did see some great birds: Sickle-winged Guan, which is a pheasant-like bird which scrambles around in the midstory of the forest; Green Jays, vivid green and banana yellow which screech loudly when they see you; a stunning hummer, the Booted Racket-tail (though not as stunning as THE most-wanted Peruvian hummingbird seen the next day); and other attractive forest denizens such as Booted Racket-tail, Red-billed Parrot, Speckled Chachalaca, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Rusty Flowerpiercer (no relation to the fabled Rusty Wire-pecker), Ornate Fycatcher, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Rufous-tailed Tyrany, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Paradise Tanager and Plumbeous Kite.

The following day the low cloud and light drizzle never lifted. We planned to cut the trip short and return to Tarapoto. Our driver suggested that he could take us to Lago Pomacochas at La Florida, some distance away over the Abra Patricia pass …. for ‘touristic’ reasons. This is the only area for the crazy Marvellous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) – and endemic hummer with two extra long retrices and a ‘racket’ at each end - see a photograph at the link below. Its world distribution is centered around one small region in northwest Peru. Totally unprepared with no gen, I managed to find a local who knew a site at 2400m. After several other species of hummingbirds including Green-tailed Trainbearer and Purple-throated Sunangel, I found an immature Marvelous Spatuletail – which lacked the crazy tail. Then another, this time an immature male with only partially grown retrices/rackets. A few females were seen but all only zipped in briefly for a few seconds. Eventually a full adult male put in the briefest appearance and later again as it chased of the immature. This bird has to be seen to be believed – probably the best since the Scarlet-banded Barbet in 2007. We went to lake at Pomacochas and saw a few Andean specialties at some of their lowest altitudinal range including Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, White-cheeked Pintail, plus Plumbeous Rail, Torrent Tyrannulet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Striated Heron, and Peruvian Meadowlark.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Tarapoto – Urahuasha trail days 17-19

Back in Tarapoto, I made a dawn foray along the start of the trail up to Urahuasha and also discovered a good site for Heliconius pardalinus, killing two cats with one stone. This area on the other side of the Rio Shilcayo is much drier than the side I usually try and bird before breakfast and work and will hopefully produce some interesting sightings in the next few weeks. Species found in a couple of hours one morning included Great Antshrike, Long-billed Antwren, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Mottle-backed Elaenia, Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Southern Beardless Tyrranulet, Red-eyed Vireo, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Buff-throated Saltator and Blue-winged Parrotlet. Best on the Tarapoto (southern) side were Purple-throated Euphonia, Pale-legged Hornero, Amazon Kingfisher, Troupial, Gilded Barbet, White-banded Swallow, Reddish Hermit, Russet-backed Oropendola, Green Kingfisher.

Larger versions and more photos with labels can be found on the public version of my Facebook 'Peru Fieldwork 2009' album:

Tenko’d in Yurimaguas - days 13-16

We made a trip 120km from base to Yurimaguas at the confluence of the Rio Haullaga and Rio Paranoura in the Amazon lowlands of the neighbouring region of Loreto. The road from Tarapoto is the only road in – from there further travel is by boat. Colonised since the 1800’s, most of the immediate forest is gone and damp pasture and secondary growth forest dominates. This makes it quite difficult to find decent fragments for Heliconines. Several interesting birds were noted including Red-breasted Blackbird, Pearl Kite, Large-billed Seed-Finch, Snail Kite, Least Grebe, Blue Ground-Dove, Oriole Blackbird, White-eyed Parakeet, Crested Oropendola, Spot-winged Antbird, Wattled Jacana, Yellow-headed Caracara, Pauraque, and Black-bellied Cuckoo. The highlight was watching the amazing display of a male White-bearded Manakin (Manacus manacus expectatus) on the floor of the forest understory. In a tiny clearing in thick undergrowth it jumped at lightning speed between the ground and low plant stems producing the weirdest unbird-like sounds and flashing its striking white plumage. It was the vocalisations that first attracted me to investigate the source of the sound – strange buzzing and zapping as if from a high-voltage wire and a loud mechanical snapping sound! Yurimaguas was unbearably hot and humid at times and it was a relief to get back to a slightly cooler Tarapoto.