IN NORTHWESTERN PERU, BIRD IS THE WORD
If you hear “South America” and “bird-watching” mentioned in the same breath, chances are you’ll envision large, colourful parrots winging their way through jungle canopies.
But here I was on my last day of a six-day bird-watching tour in Peru, and while I’d seen an incredible number of colourful birds, the most colourful ones were not parrots.
To be sure, I’d seen parrots; the first day out, I spied some small green Pacific parrotlets perched in a bushy tree along a trail – but they were not the most colourful birds we would see on the trip, not even the most colourful bird we’d see that day in and around the Bosque Pomoc Reserve, in northwestern Peru.
I was looking at a songbird through my camera lens, a black-faced dacnis. It sported feathers of a beautiful bright powder blue colour with dark blue-black wing bars and a “mask” surrounding its bright yellow eyes. Even through a 100-400 mm zoom lens, it seemed like such a tiny thing perched among the foliage, 100 metres away. Binoculars would have brought it a bit closer, but I was focused on getting a decent shot of this bird. Only after I’d taken some shots and looked at them on my camera’s back display screen could I really appreciate its beauty.
It was like that with many of the birds we saw during our six-day birding expedition with Green Tours along the North Peru Birding Route. It runs from Chiclayo by the coast, through a section of the Andes Mountains and ends up in Tarapoto. I was the least experienced “birder” of the group. That became apparent when several of them started pulling out their binoculars – or “bins” as they’re sometimes called – while we were boarding our tour bus at the Chiclayo airport, after flying in from Lima early that morning.
That was okay by me, it meant I could watch and learn from a group of experienced birders.
And watch we did.
The days were long, as we usually rose well before dawn to get on the road and to our morning’s first stop before the birds woke up. It often meant skipping breakfast, taking a “bag breakfast” with us or stopping for food some time later in the morning.
One of the trip’s highlights came on the third morning when we drove to Fundo Gotas de Agua, a private reserve in the Maranon Valley near the city of Jaen. After spending a few hours birding in the woods around the lodge, spying several squirrel cuckoos, some parrotlets, and a flock of several scarlet-fronted parakeets (a.k.a., red-fronted conures) soaring over our heads, we broke for breakfast on an outdoor veranda where we could eat while continuing to look for birds. At times it seemed we were doing more of the latter than the former, and we did spot a scarlet-backed woodpecker in a tree not far from where we sat sipping our morning coffee. There’s something almost dreamlike about watching exotic birds in a strange forest while enjoying coffee.
For many, that afternoon provided an even bigger treat. Along a stretch of the highway, we spotted the Peru’s national bird: the Andean cock of the rock. It was hidden down in a deep hollow about 50 metres off the road, in some thick forest. Many bird watchers make several trips to South America and never see this gorgeous red bird with the bulbous head. Each day seemed to provide more wonders than the previous. The day after our outdoor breakfast saw us at Abra Patricia, a private reserve and a place incredibly rich in bird life, even for Peru. At the Aguas Verdes lodge, we spotted several different hummingbirds making our way up the trail to the lodge, as well as some cinnamon flycatchers. Surrounding the lodge were several hummingbird feeders, and we feasted our eyes on all the different kinds of hummers as they zipped back and forth between the feeders and the forest: chestnut breasted coronets, white-bellied woodstars and emerald-bellied pufflegs were but a few of the feathered gems that graced us with their presence.
Even the very last day, after we’d left the Pumariniri Lodge along the Huallaga River near Tarapoto, to drive to the airport for our return flight to Lima, nature treated us one more time. We spotted our first and only hoatzins of the trip, sitting in some trees along the highway. The sun was setting behind these odd-looking birds, a fitting farewell to a satisfying trip.
IF YOU GO:
You can find Green Tours on the web, at https://www.greentours.com.pe Their phone number and email address is there.
PHOTOS by John Geary
1. A black-faced dacnis, seen on the final day of the trip.
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