Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011 Peru Trip Report


Just months after both my first son, Charlie was born and after I decided to begin my world owling endeavor, I traveled to Peru. I chose Peru because it was a cheap country with  huge number of owls, because I had seen hardly any of these owls during my last trip and because it was home to the long-whiskered owlet, a mythical creature.

September 26th I arrived in Lima just before midnight. Too tired to get a room so I slept on the floor of the airport with some weary Peruvian travelers.

September 27th. I caught an 11am Star Peru flight to Tarapoto and then bused to Moyobamba, and finally took a moto taxi to Quebrada Mishquiyacu Reserve. I waited for dusk, then hiked up the ridge trail. At the third zig-zag I had a Rio Napo (aka Vermiculated) screech-owl respond to a rufescent screech-owl recording. I taped it out using a Rio Napo recording and got great views of the bird perched in the low understory. I subsequently heard a second Rio Napo screech-owl high on the ridge. In the open white sand scrub on the ridge I heard a band-bellied owl. I spotlighted the far trees and found the owl, perched in a tree. When I played the tape, the owl flew in and circled overhead. It did this twice, allowing good views. The bird remained silent when on the wing. I also saw what was probably a band-bellied owl down by the creek crossing, however this bird was silent and seen only in silhouette.

September 28th. Jose Altamirano Guerrero, (joseoag@gmail.com), the owner of Quebrada Mishquiyacu reserve and I cruised around Moyobamba on his motor cycle in search of owls. We spent three hours doing this. We taped out a tropical screech owl in a city park. We had given up on striped owl, and were heading home, when we had brief views of one flying overhead. The distinctive carpal mark on the underwing was seen well. I spent a few hours looking for rufescent screech owls later that night but to no avail.

September 29th. I bused from Moyobamba to La Esperanza, a small roadside village, west of Abra Patricia. I asked around in the village, and was soon shown the Neotropical Primate Conservation building where I met my guide, Eddy. (To organize a trip contact Noga, at nogashanee@gmail.com). Eddy and I hiked for two hours to a house on a ridge top. That night we went out to a ridge trail. We heard a singing Cinnamon screech owl. After a couple of minutes taping, I was soon enjoying amazing views of this beautiful little owl. We had climbed a little further, then it started to rain. We waited under a tree for a couple of hours, then set off again up the ridge. We got no response to our tape of long whiskered owlet. Eddy suggested that we try at 3am. Back at the house on the ridge, we heard a distant owlet. We scrambled across the valley into some really tough terrain-recently felled trees, vines on a very steep slope. We heard the owlet close by, but made so much noise trying to approach the forest that it stopped calling. We gave up at midnight and returned to the house. I set my alarm for 3am.

When I got up at 3am I didn't have the heart to awaken Eddy. I hiked back out to the ridge trail and taped for the owlet. Soon I got a response. The owlet came quite close, but I was not able to spotlight it. Dawn was fast approaching and the terrain made it very difficult to get near the bird. Eventually it stopped calling. As I left the forest I heard rufous-banded owl.

September 30th. Eddy and I hike late in the afternoon out to the ridge trail, we then walked down the ridge to a valley and a clearing where a new farm was being established at the edge of the forest. We crossed a stream, and hiked up to a building, then across another clearing. We then climbed very steeply through the forest. Where the path leveled out, near a small overhanging rock, we rested and waited for nightfall. Then we started started taping. We soon had a response from the owlet, high above us on the hill. We taped and waited for a long time. Eventually we climbed up the hill, but the terrain was nearly impossible. For a while we lost Eddy's machete in a tangle of fallen logs and bamboo. Eventually we gave up the climb and return to the trail. The owlet continued to haunt us with its repetitive call. So we moved along the trail and taped again. And again. Slowly over a couple of hours the owlet descended. Once near us, we stalked it and searched with the flashlight, three attempts and an hour later, we finally got excellent views of the owlet perched quite low. Wow, what a freakish little devil bird! We hike back to the house by an alternate route, and for a while were quite lost. I was exhausted. Eventually we made it back a little after 12am.

October 1st. Eddy and I set out for the ridge trail. This is a magical place at dusk, under a violet sky, the wet cow pasture was bathed in yellow light. Once we hit the ridge trail, we descended. I played tapes for rufescent screech owl. After about a mile I got a response. We were quite excited, until we realized that we had cinnamon screech, responding to a the recording of a rufescent. Further down the trail, we had a rufescent respond. It took a lot of taping to secure a view of the bird, fairly high in the canopy. I suggested to Eddy that we climb back up the ridge trail, to look for white-throated screech-owl. He looked tired, but agreed. We heard no white-throateds and soon we were returned to the house on the ridge by a different route. It was midnight and we were both tired, so we went to bed.

October 2nd. We awoke fairly early and set off, back to the village of La Esperanza. Soon it started to rain really heavily and the walk back was very muddy and not much fun. At the village I met up with Sam, the husband of Noga, both of the Neotropical Primate Association. Sam was very kind to me, he made me coffee and let me use his hot shower. I ate lunch in the village, and then took a taxi back up the highway to the top of Abra Patricia.

I spent the whole afternoon walking the owlet trail at the Ecoan property, and walking the main road to the east of the pass. I taped extensively for Andean Pygmy-owl, but got no response. At dusk I did get views of rufous-banded owl about 2km east of the pass.

I ate dinner at the little restaurant just west of the pass then explored the trail opposite the gate to the Ecoan property. The trail looked promising, but soon led me into pastures. I gave up and entered to Ecoan property and explored the Grallaria trail. I attracted another rufous-banded owl with my white-throated tapes. Then, about 100m down the Mono trail, I got a response from white-throated screech owl. A minute later, I got really lovely views of a pair of these fantastic owls.

October 3rd. I started the day walking a long way east on the main road and taping for Andean Pygmy owl. 6km down the road I got a good response, but I was never able to locate the bird, despite several minutes of prolonged singing. (This was incredibly frustrating for me because I have looked for this bird many times on earlier trips without success). The day went downhill from there. Heavy rain in the middle of the day. I then went back to Ecoan, and tried the Grallaria trail and the canopy tower, but to no avail. At dusk I took a share taxi to Pedro Ruiz. I changed share taxis at Pedro Ruiz and went onto Chachapoyas. I saw a barn owl fly in front of the car about 5km before Chachapoyas. I arrived there about 10pm.

October 4th The day didn't start well. Torrential rain awoke me at 4am, and by 6am, the streets of Chachpoyas were calf deep in fast flowing brown water. I took a minibus south and got off at a roadside hotel, called El Chilo. The hotel staff know about a pair of roosting Koepck's screech owls. I arrived in the morning, and despite a lot of help from the hotel's owner could not locate the owls. I expanded my search, and was working my way through the scrub above the hotel, when one of the employees located the two owls, in their original tree. I enjoyed long looks at the pair high in a eucalyptus tree across the road from the front gate of the hotel.

I picked up another minibus and headed south to Leimebamba.

At Leimebamba, I decided to abandon a trip to the pass that afternoon, because the mountains were enveloped in black clouds. I spent the afternoon birding the scrub above town looking for Yungas Pygmy owls. Unsuccessful, I returned to town and settled into my room in a small hotel on the plaza.

October 5th I got up before down, and set about locating a taxi to take me up to Abra Barro Negro. I got dropped off there a couple of kilometers before the pass. Setting out up the road, I birded slowly, stopping at any scrubby patches. The air was quite thin, so I walked slowly. Four kilometers on the Balsas side of the pass, a Yungas pygmy-owl responded to my taping. The bird was aggressive, and soon I was face to face with this yellow-eyed, feisty little owl.

Despite the lack of traffic, I soon got a ride with a friendly truck driver, who ran me back into Leimebamba. It was a long wait, till I got the next bus to Chachapoyas. I called Aldo, the owner of ACP San Antonio and arranged for him to pick me early the next morning. (Aldo Muñoz Saavedra, Movil: 1-975025954, www.acpsanantonio.org.pe, Km.491.5-Carretera Chachapoyas_Leymebamba). I then settled in to a small hotel room for the night.

October 6th I met the owner of the reserve in Chachapoyas and he drove me to APC San Antonio. (Which is accessible by public transport. It is about 1-2 km south of the 3-way intersection of the Chachapoyas/Pedro Ruiz, Leimebamba road). It's a gated dirt road, running east, up the hill.

ACP San Antonio is a small reserve of scrubby hillside forest. I spent the day loafing around and eating. At dusk, we heard a Koepck's, but was intent on finding buff-fronted owls, so paid it little mind. Initially the owner, Maria (the cook) and a maintenance guy went out with me. The group was curious about owling. Alas we didn't see anything. By 10pm, it was raining and the group gave up. I settled into my tent and set my alarm for midnight. At midnight it was still raining, so I set may alarm for one by which time the skies had cleared. I walked down the road from the old hacienda, where I had camped. At the first crossing of the (dry) creek, I got a response to my playback. A buff-fronted called several times, but didn't approach me. I walked a few meters up the stream bed and shone my flashlight. Amazing there it was. My most wanted owl, 20 yards away! I held the beam on the owl and walked up to a few inches from the owl. What an absolutely beautiful bird! I was thrilled. I spent the rest of the night in my tent, sleepless and feeling immensely lucky.

October 7th. Aldo drove me back up to Chachapoyas early the next morning. I took a bus to the Jaen turn off, and then a taxi into Jaen. At Jaen, I found a moto taxi to take me to Gotas de Agua. (The turn off for Gotas, is near the south entrance of Jaen, near where the towns street splits into two one way roads. Go east for a kilometer or so, then south for 5 km. It's not particularly easy to find, so ask around). I ended up walking around the reserve buildings for quite some time before I found the caretaker. He prepared my room and made me a basic meal of beef and bread. At dusk, I played the tape for Peruvian screech-owl by the reserve buildings, and immediately two birds flew over head. Soon I was enjoying excellent views of these terrific screech owls. I later located a third bird a few hundred yards away, and heard a barn owl in the fields.

October 8th. I started at 4am, and set out walking back into Jaen. I was barked at by innumerable dogs, which made for a tedious walk. In town I waited at the share taxi rank for an hour, before departing for Tabaconas. It was a long ride up to town. Once there I bought supplies, then walked back down the road. Every 100m I played a tape for Andean Pygmy Owl. 26km later, sun burnt and very dehydrated, I gave up. There were 11 people in the Toyota Corolla which took me back to Jaen! At Jaen I waited a long time for a bus to Chiclayo. The journey was hot and long. I awoke as the bus entered Chiclayo and saw a burrowing owl perched on a street sign. Nice.

October 9th. I found a bus for Chongoyape, and got dropped off just outside of the Chaparri Reserve (http://www.chaparri.org/en) around 7am. At the head quarters I asked about striped owls and was told they would be at the lodge. A moto taxi was arranged, and soon I was on my way along the long stony ride up to the lodge. At the lodge I was shown to a very nice room. I spoke with a couple of guides who didn't seem to know about striped owls. Heinz Plenge, the reserve director, suggested that the owls were more likely to be seen at the entrance to the reserve. Ahhh! So I ate lunch, paid for the room. I did see a spectacled beer and two cubs, which was very nice! Then I walked back down the now really hot stony road. At the gate, I looked for a guide or ranger, but just found a couple of kids. I spent the rest of the day waiting for it to get dark. After dark, I played tapes and listened for striped owl in the scrub and dry fields near the gate. I did run into two Tumbesian screech-owls and heard a barn owl. But no striped owls. What a disappointment! The western birds area potential different species from the eastern birds that I had seen in Moyobamba, and are quite range restricted. Tired, I gave up early around 1030pm and slept until 7am.

October 10th I walked back to the main road, and bused into Chiclayo. I had to wait for 10 hours for the next Lima bound bus. The journey to Lima was uneventful, apart from the relative comfort of the bus.

October 11th. I arrived in Lima around 8am. I found I had another long wait, until 330pm, for the next bus to Abancay. During the middle of the night, as we crossed the Andes I was struck with a powerful fever and bouts diarrhea. To my shame and embarrassment the bus was stopped and the driver explained (in front of all the other passengers) to stop shitting in the toilet. It's for pissing only! A cocktail of Advil, Imodium and Cipro had me feeling pretty good by the time I arrived in Abancay at 8am.

October 12th I booked myself into a bargain room, bought some groceries and then set off for a long walk down to the river, then up the other side. By dusk I had covered 30km. I was sun burnt and thirsty. And and not seen an Apurimac`pygmy-owl. At dusk I heard a pygmy owl, and I was able to get it to respond to my whistled imitations of its call. However the bird would not approach me. I tried to pursue it up a steep slope, but was rewarded with a lot of cactus thorns and no pygmy owl. Fortunately ten minutes later, I was able to lure out and get good views of an Apurimac screech-owl. A kilometer down the road I heard a second Apurimac screech-owl. I was picked up by some friendly Quechua-speaking truckers, who gave me a ride all the way to Abancay for free. Very nice. There I ate a wonderful meal and felt like my luck was restored.

October 13th. I got up early at 4am and walked out of town. I caught a ride with a share taxi to run me down to the river. I got off by a couple of businesses selling sugar cane. There I took the small road that runs parallel to the river and past a small quarry. At the far end of the quarry, at first light I heard two pygmy owls. By imitating the calls, I got the pygmy-owls to come in close for great views. Excellent, the long journey to Abancay, was well worth it. I took a taxi back into town. There I discovered that it would be a long wait to the next bus, at 2pm. The views from the bus on the high Altiplano were spectacular. The descent from the Andes was pretty scary, the driver had the wheels of the bus squealing at every corner, and I managed to convince myself that we were sure to crash. I was wrong, and we made it safely back to Lima by 4am.

October 14th I felt a little nervous about navigating Lima in the dark. Non the less I set out on foot, armed with my Lonely Planet guidebook. I looked like total tourist! Fortunately I didn't encounter any muggers. I found a bus to Chosica, and then share taxied to Santa Eulalia. From there I took a bus out to the hydro plant at Huico, about 15km further up the road. I spent the rest of the day washing in the cold river and sleeping in the corner of a small soccer field. At dusk I set out looking for Magellan owl. I asked the guards at the hydro station, but they were unfamiliar with the owl. I then found a lady from the village walking with her children. She asked me where I was going, and when I explained about the Magellan. She enthusiastically explained that they fly around the eucalyptus trees every night. Sure enough a couple of minutes later a Magellan flew overhead. I got a decent view of its underparts, which were well lit by a street light. However I could not get it to respond to my tape. I hiked a short distance up the road and camped. My sleep was disturbed by calling barn owls.

October 15th. I walked back to Santa Eulalia. I was eager to find Peruvian Pygmy owl, which would have been my 20th owl of the trip. However it was not to be. I spent most of the day in the airport at Lima, before leaving Peru just before midnight. What an amazing trip.