July 24th - August 16th 2003

Simon Woolley & Julia Casson, with Jacky Harris & Chris Mills

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  • What follows is a blow-by-blow birding account of a 3+ week trip made by 'Peru Crew 2003' (Julia Casson, Jacky Harris, Chris Mills, Simon Woolley).

  • We started planning the trip at Christmas 2002, once we'd decided on a likely destination (Malaysia and South Africa had been in the equation at one point). Having looked at a variety of options, ranging from total self-organisation through to a fully-serviced Manu Expeditions tour, we decided on our now regular format of a 'modular' bespoke tour with a Peruvian company.

  • We quickly found Kolibri Expeditions, run by Swedish ex-patriate Gunnar Engblom. They appeared to offer the combination of competitive price, flexibility and local knowledge that we required. Essentially, we negotiated an itinerary, based on Kolibri's published departures, and adjusted things to suit our needs - the quid pro quo was that Kolibri would sell 'our' package to other birders as and when they applied. Fortunately for us, no other birders signed up for our 'modules', so we had our guides to ourselves!

  • The shape of the trip was as follows :

    Lima area : 3 days
    Pelagic : 1 day
    Cusco / Macchu Picchu : 2 days
    Trek into ornithologically unexplored valley : 5 days
    Manu Road : 7 days
    Tambopata : 5 days

  • This gave us reasonable stays in the 'difficult' forest areas, plus a taster of the Pacific coastal zone, and a brief 'Inca tour', including Macchu Picchu.

  • Given that this was a tour bought 'off the shelf', this report won't go into details of transport arrangements etc. Most of the vans used were comfortable (especially on Manu Road), and in Tambopata, a boat is a boat is a boat! On the remote sections of emergence from the trek, as you will read, lorries were the order of the day, and are best forgotten….


  • May-October is the 'dry' season in Peru, but there are no guarantees. The coast is almost always dry, and we were lucky to have good conditions for the pelagic. Cusco was dry and mostly sunny, but the high altitude areas get very cold at night - fleece, hat and gloves needed!

  • We were unlucky and had a mild friaje or cold front system for a few days on Manu Road, but we were never totally washed out. Our arrival in Tambopata was marked by the end of this system, and the weather just got hotter and hotter while we were there, though it was never impossible - or as hot as Europe was at the time, it turned out! In July/August, you can sensibly bird from 0600-1800, excluding owls and nightjars!


  • the briefest of reviews follows :

    Lima : Hotel Senorial - simple, efficient, normal. Nothing special, nothing fussy. Food not great, but plenty of restaurants nearby.

    Aguas Calientes (Macchu Picchu) : Hostal Urpi - slightly half-built, a bit smelly, and noisy.

    Ollantaytambo : Hostal Munay Tika - very pleasant, with excellent breakfasts and a tiny puppy dog.

    Trek : a green tent - variable floor quality, often a bit cool at altitude. Big advantage - portability.

    La Quebrada : Hotel Horror - do not stay here - ever!

Pisac : Hostal ??? - far right hand corner of the square, with flags outside. Comfortable and clean, but a bit noisy at night.

Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge - fantastically comfortable beds, at least in the separate bungalows - pay the surcharge and get one! Well-placed for birding, and very quiet most of the time. One 1.5km trail only, but road birding is good. Food adequate but not spectacular.

Amazonia Lodge - fantastic. Lovely quiet atmosphere, big, airy rooms, good bird garden, loads of trails, masses of superb food, will recharge batteries for you, good drying room. If only it hadn't rained so much!

Explorer's Inn - world-famous, but perhaps more famous for being famous than because it's the best lodge in Tambopata. Big pro - great network of trails in the forest. But there are downsides. It's too big for its own good, when full, and it is noisy. The huts are too close to the naturalists' quarters, and it only took one party of loud Spaniards to make things a bit stressful. The manager tried to fob us off with a 'deluxe family room' at one point - a detached bungalow with two double rooms, an unplumbed bathroom and no curtains! Cheek! Beware when booking - it is good for birding, but there are quieter and slicker Lodges to stay at. Insist on a room in either block 6 or block 7 - they're furthest from the kitchens etc.

Tambopata Research Center - wonderful - a pity we only stayed a night. Airy, polished, relaxing, professional and welcoming. They have clearly learned from the first generation of lodges (like Explorer's), and done much better!

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Blow-by-blow birding account

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23rd July

Our KLM flight via Amsterdam worked without difficulty, and we arrived in the Dutch Antillean island of Bonaire mid-afternoon. We had high hopes of a few bonus ticks here, and although we were restricted to viewing from behind the plate glass of the terminal, we scored with six species - Tropical Mockingbird, Bare-eyed Pigeon, Common Ground-dove, Laughing Gull, Magnificent Frigatebird and some very distant Caribbean Flamingoes, picked up by Chris in the heat haze at about five miles range! It's not that we're desperate or anything ….

The onward flight provided spectacular views over first the north-west Amazon basin, and then the high Andes, riven by immense canyons and topped by ice and snow. It was dark by the time we landed, and we were grateful to find Juan José, our driver, waiting for us outside. A forty minute drive took us to the Hotel Senorial, and sleep.

24th July

An early start - a pattern that was to be repeated every day - and Juan Jose arrived with Victor, our bird guide, ready to take us up the Tinajas Valley. Through the fog and darkness we drove, finding ourselves already at 2000m by dawn, in an arid and cactus strewn waste - this was the dry Pacific slope of the Andes, after all.

Birds were hard to come by at first (today was about specialities, not necessarily numbers, we kept telling ourselves), but as the sun hit the hillsides, activity increased. The first of many Band-tailed Sierra-finches started calling, and we soon found two Burrowing Owls, House Wren, Short-tailed Field-tyrant and White-browed Chat-tyrant. Our first hummers came in the form of Peruvian Sheartail and Oasis Hummingbird, and some Yellow-billed Tit-tyrants confused us for half an hour! And towards the end of the morning - endemics. Great Inca Finch was not expected here, but showed well, as did several Cactus Canasteros.

After a bonnet-top breakfast (they do a good line in granola and drinking yoghurt in Peru), we headed back downhill, checking out a few gardens and roadside bushes en route (Pacific Dove and Croaking Ground-dove, Groove-billed Ani, Amazilia Hummingbird and Vermilion Flycatcher included). A Plumbeous Rail dashed madly across the road at one point, and we scored easily with commoner New World species such as American Kestrel, Killdeer and Bananaquit. Down by the coast, we could see Peruvian Boobies fishing offshore, and we were soon at the little fishing town of Pucusana for our first close look. But upstaging the Guanay, Red-footed and Neotropic Cormorant, the Band-tailed, Grey, Kelp and Grey-headed Gulls, Blue-footed and Peruvian Boobies, Sooty Shearwaters and Peruvian Pelicans were two blue riband birds, the first on our 'Super 10' hitlist. The first was the stunning Inca Tern, every bit as good as expected. A breeding colony was in full swing, with many fledged and nearly-fledged young, and we were treated to stunning close-up views. After a good ten minutes, Chris finally found our ultimate goal for the day - Humboldt Penguin. Two were fishing right below us in the surf - a whole new family for us all, and a definite 'must see'. Pucusana is apparently one of the very few mainland sites where you have a decent chance of connecting - most are on offshore islands.

Tearing ourselves away from this feast of seabirds, we stopped off at a fascinating dried up lake, covered in flowering shrubs. Picking our way gingerly across the clay polygons, we had great views of many Amazilias and Peruvian Sheartails, plus Blue-black Grassquit and Long-tailed Mockingbird. Further on, by the Pan-American Highway, Victor called us to a rapid halt - returning up the road confirmed his suspicion that he'd seen a Peruvian Thick-knee - and what's more, there were 31 of them together in a sandy field right beside the motorway!

The evening was closing in, and we headed quickly south to Puerto Viejo, past some good marshy pools, where Simon got briefly onto a Great Grebe by the road - we left it for the return leg! At Puerto Viejo proper, new birds appeared - Peruvian Meadowlark, Striated Heron, Andean Coot, Little Blue Heron and Common Moorhen (thus maintaining its record of being the only bird seen on every overseas trip of all time). Down on the beach, 'easy species' like American and Blackish Oystercatchers were subtly upstaged by Coastal Miner and another endemic, the Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes, which turned out to be rather easy to see. Lesser Nighthawks over the swamps suggested we had little light left, and a mad dash to the earlier pools meant that everyone got at least silhouette views of Great Grebe, plus Osprey, Puna Ibis, Cinnamon Teal and White-cheeked Pintail.

and see the full systematic list too....

25th July

Our early start was a bit too early - Juan José was 45 minutes late with the van…. But we headed off through the Lima suburbs in the end, picking up Victor en route. By daybreak, we were at 1500m, heading up the semi-arid Santa Eulalia valley. Bird stops easily turned up commoner species like Rusty-bellied Brush-finch, Blue & Yellow Tanager, Hooded Siskin and Chiguanco Thrush, but we had just a few (or single sightings) of Scrub Blackbird, Yellow Grosbeak and Collared Warbling-finch. With increasing altitude, the birds changed all the time - Andean Swifts screamed over the precipitous canyons below, Bare-faced Ground-doves replaced their low altitude cousins, and Mourning and Peruvian Sierra-finches fed on the scrubby hillsides.

While sorting out a Pied-crested Tit-tyrant, we had 'that Condor moment' - two immense raptors soaring overhead, giving (eventually) quite good views. While a Black-chested Buzzard-eagle and a Red-backed (=Variable) Hawk continued the raptor theme, the other big species here was Giant Hummingbird, resembling a nightjar or swift more than a hummer! Four 'Super 10s' down already!

After a late lunch, we dropped back down to the main valley (still well over 2000m), and made our way slowly uphill. A Mountain Viscacha (resembling a Chinchilla) lingered outside its burrow in a scree slope.

Towards evening, we entered an area of narrow canyons with rushing streams, and not unexpectedly, some speciality species. A White-winged Cinclodes made an interesting change from the more abundant Bar-winged species, but sharing the same stream were two more 'Super 10s' - White-capped Dipper (the first of many in the Andean valleys) and better still, at least five Torrent Ducks, nervously shooting the rapids below. A Peruvian Pygmy-owl completed the day's work, and as darkness fell, we pulled in to the high altitude village of Huanza (3000m+), and checked in to our 'basic hostal' - one room between the four of us (we had to build one of the beds!), dubious shower room, rather chilly! Victor and Juan José got an Andean soup on the go on the balcony, and we got locked in - literally - for the night.

26th July

And we were still locked in at 0430! We eventually got a message to the guy with the key, and escaped (after quite a good night's sleep), first steeply downhill, then rapidly up again, and into cold puna grasslands, with an icy wind. At 0600, the sun still behind the mountains, we stopped at a small patch of Polylepis woodland (stunted brush, really), at 3900m. Gasping for oxygen, we explored the steep hillsides, and were rewarded with several specialities - Black-billed Shrike-tyrant, Black Metaltail, Black-winged Ground-dove, d'Orbigny's Chat-tyrant, Streaked Tit-spinetail, Band-winged Nighthawk, Black Siskin, Shining Sunbeam and Great Thrush were all new, but the real stars were three Polylepis specialists - Stripe-headed Antpitta, two Giant Conebills (looking for all the world like nuthatches) and last of all, the very scarce and sought after White-cheeked Cotinga, which didn't show until we had all got back in the truck! Close…

Still further uphill, White-winged Diuca-finches took over from Bright-rumped Yellow Finches, and we shortly arrived at a chain of high lakes, which turned up some very special (if slightly distant) birds - Andean Lapwing, Goose, Gull and Duck all fell in quick succession, along with Silvery Grebe, Crested Duck, Speckled Teal and several fantastic Giant Coots. At an even higher lake (we were really struggling for breath now), a pair of Grey-beasted Seedsnipes flushed from the roadside, and the first of several Puna Snipes showed in a sedge swamp.

At 4827m (15858ft) we finally reached the Marcopomacocha Pass - just standing up was hard work here! Everyone had a headache, and balance was going too. After just a slight descent to 4720m, we got out and started combing the famous Marcopomacocha bog for two ultras - Diademed Sandpiper-plover and White-bellied Cinclodes. Unfortunately, we dipped on the former (at this and two other bogs), but we did quickly connect with the Cinclodes, which gave stunning views. This bird is listed only as Endangered by Birdlife International, with a population of <250 birds, and Gunnar later explained that it has recently been looked for without success at several other apparently suitable sites, and that it is threatened by uncontrolled peat extraction from these high altitude bogs. His 1999 estimate of 32 individuals may be rather closer to the mark than Birdlife's, and White-bellied Cinclodes is probably among the rarest few dozen species on the planet.

Other birds on this stunning bog, overlooked by 5000m+ glaciers, were Andean Flickers, and at least three species of frustratingly similar Ground-tyrants - Cinereous, White-fronted and Plain-capped.

By now, we were pretty exhausted, and time was getting on - in addition, Simon developed a splitting headache (altitude strikes again!), and it was time to descend. The descent of the busy Central Highway was amazing in itself - how can a fast road go downhill for so long?

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27th July

Pelagic day! We got to the dock at Callao on time at 0530, and by just after 0600, we were away, with Jonas as our stand-in 'guide', and along with four Hungarians, a couple of Spaniards and a few Peruvians. The weather looked good - hardly any wind, flat light and just a light swell. Inshore birds included Peruvian Booby and Pelican, three gulls, Inca Tern and Neotropic and Guanay Cormorants, but these quickly thinned out as we left shore behind. A close approach to a large rocky island turned up another seven Humboldt Penguins, plus American Oystercatcher. Once out of sight of shore, the fun started. Very soon, the first Waved Albatrosses hoved into view, along with a rather distant 'Shy' Albatross - not identifiable to form. The first of seven Peruvian Diving-petrels whizzed auk-like across the sea, and as Sea-lions attended the boat, the first Storm-petrels appeared - mostly Wilson's. Common and Bottle-nosed Dolphins followed us from time to time, and a couple of Sunfish joined the fun. Several Cape Petrels were around the boat at times, along with up to a dozen White-chinned Petrels, a few South American Terns passed by. A party of six Swallow-tailed Gulls, again otherwise unavailable away from the Galapagos Islands, caused an alarming lurch to port as all aboard rushed for a view.

Still further out, the first of two immature Black-browed Albatrosses showed up, and Sooty Shearwaters became abundant - just four Pink-footed Shearwaters joined them. Chilean Skuas harried the passing Peruvian (and a few Blue-footed) Boobies. Stormies continued to grow in number and diversity - in decreasing order of abundance, we saw Wilson's, White-vented, Band-rumped (15), Markham's (10), Wedge-rumped and Ringed (5 each). Then the shout went up - 'Pterodroma!'. All eyes fixed on the pale grey petrel passing on our port side - desperate and inexperienced birders looked in vain for a totally clinching field mark. On the balance of probabilities, it was probably a Cook's Petrel, or possibly the quite recently split DeFilipe's form of the same.

At 55km offshore, we found a raft of over 1000 Stormies (mostly Wilson's), and spent an hour chumming and enjoying views down to just a few feet of almost all the tubenoses mentioned above. It was a truly unbelievable experience - the sort of thing you read about but never expect to see for yourself!

Reluctantly, we turned back, following our chum-slick back towards Callao. Another brief sighting of a similar Pterodroma raised hopes as the birds thinned out once more, and a final pelagic treat was to see two Humboldt Penguins well offshore.

Just prior to reaching port, we passed close by a small archipelago of islands, which held breeding colonies of boobies, cormorants, gulls and terns, as well as Blackish Oystercatcher and Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes. Much noisier, however, were the massive colonies of Humboldt Sealions on the rocks.

We finally docked at about 1800 - tired and wobbly legged but satisfied by a truly excellent pelagic.

28th July

A very early start saw us speeding to Lima airport once more - transfer day. Our 0730 flight left on time, and we were treated through bleary eyes to yet more spectacular views of the Andes. After just an hour, we descended, and landed at all of 3200m - Cusco. Gunnar was there to meet us, and after a bit of paperwork in town, we drove off to Huacarpay Lake, about 20km out of town. We had a short list of target birds here, and were also able to mop up a few 'trash birds' of marsh and swamp too! The specialities were the gorgeous and aptly named Many-coloured Rush-tyrant, Wren-like Rushbird, the endemic Bearded Mountaineer and Plumbeous Rail, the latter giving much better views here than on the coast. The bird-filled marsh held Cinereous Harrier, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Puna and Yellow-billed Teal, both Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpipers, and nearby fields produced Spot-winged Pigeon, Eared Dove, Rusty-naped Ground-tyrant and Mountain Caracara.

Back to town, and a 'cultural' couple of hours. Once we had met up with Gunnar's wife, Elita, we went with our excellent and very enthusiastic guide, Darwin, to the famous Sacsayhuaman Inca ruins perched above town. Birding was forgotten for a few hours as we soaked up the (genuinely) remarkable buildings, not only of Sacsayhuaman, but also of Qenko, Puca Pucara and the sacred bathing place of Tambo Machay. We brushed up on our Inca history, ready for 'the big one' tomorrow….

After an excellent lunch on the Plaza de Armas, we loaded up the van and drove over the high passes of the Vilcabamba range, finally dropping down into the Yucay valley, to Urubamba, and on at last to Ollantaytambo, bridgehead for Macchu Picchu. After a wander around town and a spaghetti-fest, it was time to catch the 1830 train to Aguas Calientes, our overnight stop. It was a pity that the ride was in darkness, in some ways, but most of us slept instead! We needed it….

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29th July

First things first - get some birding done! Gunnar's hot tip was the garden of the Pueblo Macchu Picchu Hotel, just down the railway tracks from the river (where Torrent Tyrannulets did their thing). Trying to look like guests, we worked the woods slowly, getting our first taste of Peruvian forest birding. As usual, hard, but well worth the effort. Hummers featured large - Green Violetear, White-bellied Woodstar, Green & White, Chestnut-breasted Coronet and a superb Booted Racket-tail were all using the feeders. Tanagers were plentiful too - Blue & Yellow, Blue & Grey, Silvery, Saffron-crowned, Silver-backed, Blue-necked, Fawn-breasted and Rust & Yellow. Sensory overload! Add in Streaked Xenops, Sclater's Tyrannulet, Golden-crowned and Streak-necked Flycatchers, Brown-capped and Chivi Vireos, Grey-breasted Wood-wren, Russet-crowned and Pale-legged Warblers, Slate-throated Whitestart (=Redstart - a silly name), Barred Becard, Andean Guan, Variable Antshrike, Golden-billed Saltator, White-throated Hawk and Masked Flowerpiercer, and it reads like it was - a busy morning! A Black Agouti represented our first 'jungle mammal'. To cap it all, a White-throated Quail-dove teased and then showed in the dense undergrowth, and finally we had excellent views of another 'Super 10' species - a stunning, too-orange-to-be-true Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.

Birded-out for a bit, we relaxed over an excellent buffet lunch by the river, watching Black Phoebes, Olivaceous Siskins and various hirundines eating theirs. And then it was time to catch our bus for the short but alarming ascent to Macchu Picchu.

It would be easy to employ many clichés about the famous 'Lost City of the Incas'. Suffice to say that it is one of those transcendent sites, rather like the Taj Mahal or Stonehenge, that really doesn't lose anything because (a) you've seen images of it a thousand times or (b) it's covered in tourists. Even the photos we took seem to be emptier than the place 'really' was. It is not over-rated, and the situation, rather than the buildings themselves, persists in the memory.

Bird-wise, the ruins were not without interest either - White-tipped Swifts careered around us, and a short walk up the so-called 'Inca Trail' turned up several good species - White-winged Black-tyrant, Sierra Elaenia, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Black & White Seedeater and best of all at least five singing Inca Wrens. Remarkably, this species was only described in 1985 (though it had been known about for several years before that) - it thrives in patches of bamboo, an early successional species of cleared areas, and so had presumably colonised Macchu Picchu shortly after the jungle was cleared from the ruins in the first half of the 20th century. A fitting conclusion to a special day!

The train ride back to Ollantaytambo afforded better views of the beautiful river valley, along with a few Torrent Ducks, and (for Chris only…grrrrr) a Highland Motmot on the wires.

30th July

We spent the morning birding around the Ollantaytambo ruins - another fabulous and imposing Inca site. Black-tailed Trainbearer was the undoubted highlight, but we also had Giant and White-bellied Hummingbirds, Black-backed Grosbeak and a mystery 'warbler' that turned out to be a female Rusty Flowerpiercer.

After the best cup of coffee in Peru (a proper espresso machine!) and a light lunch, we met up with our trekking crew in the main square, and climbed aboard the lorry, Julia and Jacky in the cab, the boys on the back with the porters and cook. It was not without trepidation that we rumbled out of town and uphill - trek time.

The ascent was largely uneventful (just a few sheer precipices and dubiously swampy crossings), but did turn up a few birds, such as Andean Ibis, Andean Goose and Mountain Caracara. Higher and higher we climbed, well above any theoretical tree-line, and into icy moorland. And then we stopped. This was it. In the middle of nowhere, at 4400m, our big walk into this unbirded valley was on.

The going at first was fine, if chilly and oxygen-deficient! The largest flock of Andean Ibis Gunnar had ever seen (21 birds) was the avian highlight, although we also saw a few others - Ochre-naped Ground-tyrant, Streak-throated Canastero and Puna Tapaculo were the stars. We walked for a while with a boy called Valerio, and his dog Pedro, but essentially we were on our own up here. Dropping below the 'potato limit' of 4100m, it still hardly felt inhabited, despite the odd llama and alpaca grazing the slopes. We were delighted to see our first camp set up for us in the ruins of an ancient hut or sheep-pen by the river. An amazing spot to spend the night (3950m). Heads were thumping a bit with the altitude, so we drank plenty of fluids, including plenty of coca tea. After a hot meal, we crawled into our sleeping bags…

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31st July

…and froze solid! Bitterly cold, necessitating the wearing of many layers - a layer of ice on the tent, and a frozen water bottle confirmed what we already knew - it must have been at least -5°C overnight.

But with the sunrise, things soon warmed up, with a Brown-backed Chat-tyrant as our first new bird of the day. We hiked down to the village of Quelcanca - unfortunately, Julia wasn't feeling too great (altitude?), so she bedded down behind our locally hired guide's hut and got some extra sleep, while the rest of us did a side hike up a nearby valley, in search of Polylepis. It was clear that a lot of Polylepis had been cleared from these valleys, as so often across the Peruvian Andes. Just 1% is estimated to remain.

It was a hard 90 minute walk uphill to the 0.5ha patch we could see - and alas it was almost bird-free! Gunnar played various tapes of the Polylepis specialists, and although the trees were in reasonable condition, it appeared that the patch simply wasn't big enough to hold the endemics - or perhaps they were just being totally uncooperative! Having to content ourselves with a Stripe-headed Antpitta, Brown-bellied Swallows and several Mountain Caracaras, we descended again at speed, and picked up Julia before lunch (a wonderful fresh guacamole special).

Julia's illness was a little more prosaic than altitude, it turned out, but she and we had no choice but to press on - she was stoical and pretty tough! The trail soon dropped very rapidly into another valley, much bigger and deeper than the first, and as the vegetation got thicker, new birds appeared. Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Red-crested Cotinga, Great Thrush, Tyrian Metaltail and Blue-mantled Thornbill all enlivened the hike, as did Chris going over on his bad knee and screaming in agony. Luckily, it hadn't 'gone', and he was able to continue with just the usual degree of discomfort!

We clearly had rather more ground to cover than we had thought - the descent was a bit rapid at times. At one point, the trail became indistinct, and we followed a track down to the river - it looked like the trail crossed over to the far side. The 'bridge' was little more than a thin tree-trunk, and not all of us felt confident of negotiating it - so there was nothing for it but to wade. Gunnar cut some bamboo staffs, and Chris expertly ferried Jacky and Julia across the icy stream in their bare feet! Perhaps partly to cover his embarrassment at having fallen in the river himself, Gunnar went ahead to check the trail - no trail! We'd followed a cow track by mistake…

So, guess what? Yep, boots back off, and back over the river. Our reward for these efforts then showed up - Sword-billed Hummingbird! Another 'Super 10' bird nailed. But more seriously, it was getting dark…. We finally spotted a trail marker left by our crew, and yomped up the hill to join the correct trail. Simon volunteered to march ahead at speed, to get torches from the camp, if nothing else. It was a good 3km further in the dusky light, via diversions for landslides, and the final obstacle was not insignificant, a rather larger rocky stream that we did need to cross!

The porters were very helpful (and rock hard) here - helping everyone across safely (including Jacky getting a piggy-back from a man shorter than her!) - and it was with relief that we collapsed into camp for a hot meal and lots of sleep.

1st August

We were now in much better bird habitat, and the first hour after breakfast was species-rich, with some good flocks in the riverside vegetation. Scale-naped Amazons reminded us that this was proper forest, while Mountain Caciques and both Chestnut-bellied and Hooded Mountain-tanagers made it clear that we were still quite high (2800m).Top birds included Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, White-collared Jay, Masked Trogon, Maroon-chested Chat-tyrant, Blue-backed and Capped Conebills, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Spectacled Whitestart (=Redstart), Smoke-coloured Pewee, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Mountain Wren and the endemic Cusco Brush-finch. A Yungas Pygmy-owl put in a brief appearance in response to our whistles, too.

Plenty of kilometres to do today, and the trail, while downhill, was not easy, often with loose rocks, protruding boulders, and tight switchbacks over nasty uphill sections. But occasional flocks gave us the breaks we needed - Andean Parakeet, Black-capped and Superciliared Hemispingus, Pearled Treerunner, Bluish Flowerpiercer, White-banded and White-tailed Tyrannulets, Montane Woodcreeper, Yellow-whiskered Bush-tanager and Long-tailed Sylph were all new. On several sections of the descent, we found ourselves walking on polished stone, or steps cut directly into the rock - this was an Inca road, forgotten and quite probably unknown. Short sections can apparently be found almost anywhere in the region, attesting to the ancient nature of these routes. Only a few sections (such as 'the' Inca Trail) have been restored - most were smashed up by the Spaniards, since they didn't suit their horses.

Another very welcome lunch awaited us after about 10km, but another 7 or so awaited, and it was with very great relief that we finally reached the camping spot, at a place called 'Bat Bridge', apparently. Here, we were rewarded with a stunning Golden-headed Quetzal in riverside trees, and a calling Lyre-tailed Nightjar at dusk. Gunnar was feeling quite ill himself now, and what with Julia only slowly recovering, and on an evil dose of antibiotics, we wondered if we'd ever get out alive….no, not really.

and see the full systematic list too....

2nd August

A rainy early morning woke us up in good time for the last day of walking! Breakfast was accompanied by such delights as Golden-crowned Quetzal (again), Blue-banded Toucanet and Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (all in one tree!), and we were soon adding Grey-mantled Wren (great eye-level views of a canopy species), Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Plum-crowned (or Speckle-faced) Parrot, Marble-faced Bristle-tyrant, Slaty Tanager, Crested and Dusky-green Oropendolas, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, Gould's Inca, Andean Solitaire and Citrine Warbler.

By now the rain was getting annoyingly persistent, although occasional breaks allowed us to see yet more birds. Golden-olive Woodpecker, Beryl-spangled and Golden-naped Tanagers and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets were all smart birds, although the prize for 'bird of the day' went to Ocellated Piculet.

We were by now tired, aching and rather wet, and it was with relief that we hiked quite rapidly down towards small farms and buildings. But one last obstacle faced us - a very fresh and extremely daunting rockfall across the road. This was without doubt the toughest part of the whole trek. We had to cross it - there was no way round, and it was a three day walk back. But it was clearly still active (Simon managed to avoid the football sized rock that fell down the mountain as he and Gunnar tried to cut a path into the scree), and there were some hairy moments! It took some nerve and much careful clambering with our bamboo staffs to cross. But hey - we all made it in the end.

At last, a lorry awaited us - we thought we were in the clear…no! On reaching a tiny village downhill, we had to absorb the bad news that there was no vehicle for us, despite the porters' assurances. There was a bus the next day, but it left from 10km further down the road. Oh dear…. We sat in a bar and had a beer while Gunnar made some phone calls, and then had a stroke of 'luck' - a passing wood lorry with a tarpaulin cover might just be able to take us downhill? Rapid negotiations achieved the desired result - a lift to La Quebrada.

What followed was a truly ghastly 3 hour journey in the dark, in the back of a fume-filled, rattling, smelly lorry. We felt (and probably looked) like refugees, and it was truly one of the least comfortable journeys we've ever done! It was with enormous relief that we finally reached La Quebrada, and checked in to what is probably best described as a 'basic' hostal….not recommended, but any port in a storm.

3rd August

This was largely a travel day, escaping from the mountain fastness of our trek route, first east, then south towards Calca and then Pisac. Yet another lorry was commandeered (although this one was much easier, since it had no tarpaulin), and off we rolled, up into more dizzying passes and mountains, heartily attempting pidgin-Spanish with the crew and chewing on foul mouthfuls of coca leaf. The road was being repaired in various places, so there were frequent stops where we and half the crew lugged rocks about a bit, or pushed the lorry out of deep trenches. All in a day's work.

Via a few White-lined Tanagers and a couple of Black-chested Buzzard-eagles, we reached our rendez-vous point, and had lunch in a tiny café, watching a snake documentary on TV. Almost on cue (we'd come to expect nothing on time in Peru!), Ashley arrived with our comfy van - yes! We had to leave most of the trek crew behind (the axles wouldn't take their weight on the roof!), and they didn't look very pleased, but the rest of us climbed aboard, and headed on to Pisac.

A final look at a high altitude bog failed to turn up the legendary DSP (Dipped Sodding Poxy-plover), although by now we were so tired that we were not birding as hard as we might have been! Pisac at nightfall, and at last a comfortable room - bliss!

The trek had been a combination of grind, excitement, problem-solving, good birds, rain, cold and personal challenge - probably a bit tougher than we'd bargained for - we'd been Gunnared!

and see the full systematic list too....

4th August

Part 3 - Manu Road! We'd said goodbye to Gunnar the night before, and now we left Pisac at 0430 with Ashley. Breakfast in Paucartambo meant we had covered plenty of high ground in the dark, and should have time lower down for birding. Abortive attempts for Diademed Tapaculo and Creamy-crested Spinetail did not deter us - nor did thick fog in the elfin forest of the upper part of the descent. Blue & Black Tanager and Moustached Flowerpiercer were the chief prizes, but sadly the rain started as we descended into the cloud forest proper. We could hear Red & White Antpitta clearly enough, but could we see it? No!

Despite the downpours, we dodged in and out of the van for occasional flocks - and the birds really started! Streaked Tuftedcheek, Grass-green Tanager, Collared Inca, Mountain Velvetbreast and Bolivian Tyrannulet all confirmed we were in new habitat, and everyone was pleased to get crippling views of Highland Motmot, right next to the road. Ashley was especially chuffed with Crimson-bellied Woodpecker - a tick for him! Add in large numbers of at least ten tanager species, and warblers, whitestarts and various others, and we were having a ball.

We finally reached Cock-of-the-Rock lodge late in the afternoon - comfortable (if rather dark) cabins with hot showers! The Lodge is set amongst thick, bromeliad-laden cloud forest - very cool, shady and exciting. After some time spent on the verandah checking out the local bird table species (Silver-beaked, Golden and Paradise Tanagers, Yungas Manakin, Versicoloured Barbet, Buff-throated Saltator, Violet-fronted Brilliant and the like), we did a quick loop of the trail, hearing Rufous-breasted Antthrush, and seeing a few 'non-specialist' others. A neat mammal came in the form of an Amazonian Bamboo Rat, appropriately enough halfway up a bamboo thicket. But dusk comes early in the forest, and a little frustrated, we retired for dinner and more sleep!

5th August

With lots of energy and decent weather, we bounded off down the trail by the river - many new birds to see today! Warbling Antbirds did creaky Willow Warbler impressions overhead, and we were soon into a mixed flock - Orange-eared Tanagers jostled with Black-goggled and Spotted Tanagers, Blue-naped Chlorophonias and Orange-bellied Euphonias. Deep forest specialists such as Slaty Antwren, Plain-breasted and Montane Woodcreepers and Two-banded Warbler gave views of varying quality. Our second Booted Racket-tail did its thing right over our heads! Back at the ranch, a Tayra briefly visited the bird table, as did at least one Brown Agouti, and the local troop of Brown Capuchin monkeys. A quick walk up the road did turn up what we weren't wholly keen on seeing - snake! We actually saw at least three around COTR - as well as it being a bit wet, workmen were brush-cutting along the roadsides, presumably disturbing them from the vegetation

Over lunchtime, a Golden-olive Woodpecker put in a good show by the huts, along with a small flock of tanagers and others, and Chestnut-collared Swifts wheeled in the sky above. Our afternoon walk was an easy one - just down along the road. We did battle for ages with numerous very tricky Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrants - eventually getting a decent view! Much easier were Squirrel Cuckoo, a Fasciated Tiger-Heron on the rocky stream, and best of all an immature Black & chestnut Eagle perched in a tree just a few tens of metres away, devouring an Andean Guan it had caught! A great finish to a bird-filled day….we thought.

But no - nightbirding! Armed with powerful Gestapo torches, we trekked up the hill after dinner, and surprised even ourselves by finding and seeing the two target species (Lyre-tailed Nightjar and Rufescent Screech-owl) within about ten minutes!

and see the full systematic list too....

6th August

Pre-breakfast excursion - Cock-of-the-Rock lek! And it was well worth it too - at least 8 males attending two females at the lek, with all kinds of weird mooing, posturing and squawking - peculiarly vile sounds from such brightly coloured birds.

After breakfast, we took another jaunt around the circular Lodge trail - Speckled Chachalaca, Fulvous-breasted Flatbill, Red-billed Scythebill, Spotted Barbtail, Ornate Antwren and Grey-capped Flycatcher were all new - every time you go out, even in the same place, you always see something new in these forests.

It was time to leave COTR for now, and we rapidly descended towards the lowlands. In an area of bamboo and open fields, we were surprised to find some really good species - Plum-throated Cotinga, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Bat Falcon, Swallow Tanager and Yellow-browed Sparrow. Down by the river, despite getting a bit stuck in some fresh mud, new species included Yellow-billed Nunbird, Dark-billed Thrush, King Vulture, Rufous Motmot, Long-tailed Tyrant, Lineated and Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers, Violaceous Jay and Dusky-headed Parakeet. Russet-backed Oropendolas replaced their upland Dusky-green relatives.

After a truly superb packed lunch (Chinese stir fried rice) by the river, we said goodbye to our driver Lucio for a few days, and loaded up into the boat which would take us the short distance across the Madre de Dios river, and down to Amazonia Lodge. Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers, Snowy Egret and Buff-rumped Warblers all joined the day list here, and although it was drizzling on arrival, we saw still more in the garden of the Lodge - fabulous Masked Crimson Tanagers, Red-capped Cardinal, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Grey-breasted Sabrewing and Violet-headed Hummingbird. The Lodge is an old hacienda, formerly part of a big tea estate, and most of the forests at low altitude are secondary - only the forests up on the ridge are 'original'. So there is a big diversity of habitats, and it was heartening to see so many supposedly 'primary forest specialists' in regrown areas - there's hope yet in some of the smashed-up areas we'd seen.

Once the rain had cleared, we took an evening walk - in wellies! It had clearly rained plenty here, and the mud was ankle deep in many places. We were pleased that we had come prepared - although Julia was non-plussed to find a mummified frog in one of her wellies (no doubt chased there by Cordelia at home ….)!

Down by an oxbow lake, we scored with Hoatzin and Sungrebe, and we even managed to coax a pair of Black-faced Antthrushes out of the undergrowth. Blue-headed Parrots were common, and we also found Black-capped Donacobius, Sclater's Antwren, Black-faced Antbird, Southern Nightingale-wren, Chestnut-eared Aracari and even two Uniform Crakes on the jeep track.

Back at the ranch, as dusk settled we added Golden-tailed Sapphire to the hummer list, and then settled in for a huge meal and a long sleep.

7th August

First stop was a patch of flooded forest which had suffered considerable dieback - Ashley had had reports of Peruvian Recurvebill being available here - but the tape elicited no response. We did see Little Woodpecker, Capped Heron and a few others here, nonetheless.

Uphill! Across the muddy swamp, and into terra firme forest at last. Birding up the steep trail was hard and sweaty work (high humidity, light showers), but we did connect with Spot-backed Antbird en route, while Chris whistled out a Thrush-like Antpitta, and a troop of Woolly Monkeys was a big reward for our efforts. But where was the new canopy tower? A bit frustrated, we turned back.

Some serious rain set in over lunch time - an ideal excuse to settle down for a bit of verandah birding! Between (and during) showers, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Rufous-crested Coquette and Sapphire-spangled Emerald boosted the hummer tally, and Plain-crowned Spinetails joined a Pale-legged Hornero on the lawn.

Finally, the rain eased, and our afternoon walk produced some real goodies - Blackish Rail crossing the jeep track by the swamp, Grey-necked Wood-rail, Cinereous Tinamou, Fine-barred Piculet, Double-toothed Kite (close!), Great Black Hawk, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, the endemic Köpcke's Hermit, a gorgeous Sunbittern, a troop of Squirrel Monkeys and a startled (but well seen) Red Brocket Deer. The crake clear-up continued with excellent views of Rufous-sided Crake in the swamp at dusk. As dusk settled, the incessant calls of Cinereous, Black-capped and Great Tinamous filled the forest, as they did in so many of the forest sites we visited - seeing them is a different matter!

A nightbirding attempt was moderately successful - flight views only of Common Potoo, and a very brief Tawny-bellied Screech-owl - although we could hear both of these species most of the night! A final extension into the swamps behind the drying room did give Chris and Simon poor views and distant sounds of Great Potoo, as well.

and see the full systematic list too....

8th August

Our last full day at Amazonia Lodge started with a better genned-up attempt at the canopy tower - we had been on the right trail - we just stopped maybe 50m short! So again we toiled up the hill - different birds again. Turquoise and Green & Gold Tanagers, Purple Honeycreeper, Rusty-belted Tapaculo and MacConnell's Flycatcher were all new, as were the Saddle-backed Tamarins which passed by. The tower itself ('only' 21m high) turned up a few canopy species, plus flyover Scarlet Macaw, Solitary Eagle, White Hawk and King Vulture. Chris and Jacky were pleased to get back yesterday's Double-toothed Kite, and the roles were reversed when Simon and Julia caught up with Emerald (now split as Black-chinned) Toucanet later on.

Spix's Guans bounced around the garden trees over lunchtime, while a flock of over 25 Swallow-tailed Kites cruised slowly by. Our afternoon walk through the woods to a bamboo patch over the river turned up a few new birds - Crested Foliage-gleaner, Bluish-slate Antshrike, the Amazonian form of Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Blue-winged Parrotlet and Chestnut-fronted Macaw, while Chris almost trod on an Undulated Tinamou!

By now, the evident friaje weather system had set in good and proper, and a sensible retreat was beaten!

9th August

More rain overnight, but an hour or so after breakfast to see a last few birds, prior to getting our transport back up Manu Road. Barred Antshrike, Yellow-bellied Dacnis, Crimson-crested Woodpecker and Pygmy Antwren were all new, although a desperate final search for Blackish Rail, still needed by most of the group, did not succeed!

It was now time to pack away our (almost) dry washing, and load up into the Land Rover for the 2km ride back to the landing point. And there we got stuck (not for the first time in Peru!), waiting for a boat for over an hour. Large-billed Tern and a few kingfishers enlivened the gloomy, rainy weather, while Simon and Chris were reduced to 'biggest splash', 'smallest splash' & 'ducks and drakes' stone-based competitions.

Finally, we caught our boat, and reconnected with Lucio for the journey back up to COTR. To our surprise, the road was actually easier after heavy rain - it made the thick rutted mud much softer and less awkward for the vehicle, and some of the worst bits had been washed flat.

The rain did start to lift as we climbed up through agricultural fields towards the forests again - Lesser Seed-finch and Dark-breasted Spinetail were new, as was a flyover Bare-necked Fruitcrow. However, the rain started once more at COTR, and we were reduced to a bit of quite poor road-based birding uphill towards another (very modernist!) lodge. We were all by now really fed up with the rain - time for it to STOP please!

and see the full systematic list too....

10th August

Better weather! Not perfect yet, but definitely better. A short walk uphill was very productive - Ashley was very excited (well, 'appeared moderately less laid back' is closer to the mark ….) when we found an Andean Slaty Thrush on the roadside (it later appeared in the Lodge garden). A lifer for him, and apparently a newly arrived austral migrant. Also, Three-striped Warbler completed our set of possible Basileuterus warblers.

Back down on the trail (one last try for Cerulean-capped Manakin - dip!), a White-backed Fire-eye was calling, and a Stripe-chested Antwren tried its best to be exciting! Patience finally paid off for Simon and Ashley when they, last on the trail, had very brief but adequate views of the pesky Rufous-breasted Antthrush that we'd been hearing every day since we arrived at COTR! And at the last gasp, Simon scored with the Great-billed Hermit he was missing for his hummer list - result!

Bags packed, and time to head uphill back to Cusco, birding en route. Within half a mile, we found a superb Solitary Eagle perched up right beside the road, plainly too wet to fly, along with yet more Highland Motmots, and mixed flocks continued to produce new species, such as Cloud-forest Brush-finch and Variegated Bristle-tyrant.

We reached Cusco mid afternoon, and after checking in to our hotel, and checking a few emails (and finding that the UK was having record-breaking heat), we went for some tourist shopping at the 'Artesans' Market' - stupidly good value! And then for our 'night on the town'….. We kicked off with a big Chinese meal, then went on to Barry Walker's 'Cross Keys' pub, just off the main square. Pisco Sours all round, and then happy hour….and then a stumble across to Mama Africa's nightclub …. free rums ….. dancing … dreadlocks …. darkness …. taxi …. oh dear!

11th August

Oh DEAR! Not even hungover yet…I blame it on the lack of oxygen rather than the excess of alcohol. Never mind. Dark glasses all round, and a taxi to the airport. Somehow we all got on the right plane, and by 1200 were on the ground in Puerto Maldonado, the gateway to Tambopata. Within minutes, the hangover began clearing! It really was the altitude!

Anyway, Alan, our final guide, was waiting for us - four guides, four nationalities (Peruvian, Swedish, British, South African)! After a quick shuttle into town to do yet more paperwork in triplicate, we were off to the dock, ticking off the common lowland open country birds en route. The boat was waiting for us, and within six hours of waking up in Cusco, we were speeding along the Tambopata River, heading for the famous Explorer's Inn, the lodge with the highest bird list of anywhere on Earth!

Once checked in, and after a refreshing (non-alcoholic) drink and lunch, we went for an initial foray down to Sunset Point - no big surprises, just a few oropendolas, caciques and swifts over the river, and Ornate Antwren in the undergrowth. Best of all were two Night Monkeys in the trees right over the dock. It was great to be somewhere warm (not too hot yet!) and dry. The friaje was finally behind us, and the forecast was HOT.

Julia and Simon took the evening 'Caiman Cruise' along the river - a few Pauraques and Ladder-tailed Nightjars, plus several Spectacled Caimans - though none of them more than three feet long! There was also a Pink-footed Tarantula to 'enjoy', on what turned out to be a regular tree.

and see the full systematic list too....

12th August

Red Howler Monkeys woke us up at 0500 - not that we were complaining! This morning's walk was quite long, quite warm, and very productive indeed. White-shouldered Tanager got us started, and we were soon in Amazonian lowland bird mode with Chestnut-tailed, White-browed, Black-throated and Warbling Antbirds, White-flanked and Plain-throated Antwrens, Band-tailed Manakin, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Forest Elaenia, Moustached Wren, Cuvier's Toucan, Reddish Hermit and a cracking Bartlett's Tinamou at our feet. By the river, once we had negotiated a swarm of Africanised 'killer' bees, we watched Masked Tityra, Tropical Kingbird and Greater Kiskadee sharing a dead tree, and a Solitary Sandpiper flew by, calling. Back in the woods, Alan was dead chuffed when Simon located a pair of Chestnut-crowned Puffbirds - a new bird for him too!

Buff-throated Woodcreeper and Broad-billed Motmot finally showed themselves (the latter costing Simon a painful ant bite when he leaned against a Tangarana tree by mistake), and a Plain-winged Antshrike rounded off a good morning.

A suitably long lunch break left us raring to go again at 1600 - but not before Simon managed to find Alan (and everyone else at the Lodge, apart from himself and Julia….) a second lifer for the day - a migrant Ash-coloured Cuckoo in the trees right beside the Lodge clearing!

Down the Tapir Trail, a pair of Cinnamon Attila got proceedings under way, and as we picked our way down the trail, trying not to squash too many hundreds of the leafcutter ants that shared our way, we added Musician Wren, Crane Hawk, Gilded Barbet and more Saddle-backed Tamarins. Screaming Pihas were calling, but remained out of view for now!

Another night-time boat ride turned up much the same as the night before, but also Alan's third lifer - a Scissor-tailed Nightjar perched at close range and then flying along the bamboo-clad riverbank. What's more, this species appears to be new for the Explorer's Inn list - and that's saying something!

13th August

As a dry run for Tambopata Research Centre (TRC) tomorrow, we decided to visit the small ccolpa (clay lick) just downstream from Explorer's Inn. In the event, it was rather a disappointment, with very few parrots coming in to visit the cliffs. Diversity was reasonable, with Dusky-headed Parakeet, Mealy, Orange-headed and Blue-headed Parrots, but few of them dropped out of the trees. The only macaws were a few Blue & Yellows in flight overhead.

Back at the ranch, Julia finally got to grips with Gilded Barbet, but it was soon time to board our boat for the long run upstream to TRC. En route, we stopped at another lodge, and got permission to work their trail, which, we were assured, had a small patch of bamboo. Indeed it did - and some special birds too, in addition to the Sunbittern wandering around on the footie pitch!

A pair of Golden-crowned Spadebills at the nest was a good start on the hot trail, and these were quickly followed by Curl-crested Aracari, Large-headed Flatbill, and after a bit of searching, the very difficult and very endemic White-cheeked Tody-tyrant. A small flock contained a dozen or so species - new ones were Spot-winged Antshrike and Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner. Chris then proceeded to break hearts by seeing two Pale-winged Trumpeters on the trail ahead of him - dipped by everyone else! Horrors …. this was Simon's biggest target for the trip!

Onwards upstream - Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Snowy Egrets, Capybara, and after the checkpoint, some quite alarming shallows and riffles. But Orinoco Geese, Anhingas and Sand-coloured Nighthawks took our minds off the bumpy ride a bit! The outboard only broke down once, and that gave Alan and Chris a chance to go and swim with the Piranhas…

Once settled at TRC (mid-afternoon), we had a bit of time for birding Trail 1 there - Cobalt-winged Parakeet (finally seen well), Yellow-bellied Dacnis and Black-tailed Trogon. Best of all, however, was a Tawny-throated Leaftosser, found by following up the tiniest rustle on the forest floor! Less tiny a rustle was made by something big crashing off through the undergrowth - presumably one or more Tapirs, which are apparently not uncommon here. A brief view of an arboreal mammal was not quite conclusive - but Kinkajou was the leading contender.

Darkness fell, and having listened to Pauraques and Ocellated Poorwills in the woods, we had a big meal and listened to a macaw talk by Aida, the woman who is i/c the Macaw Research Project at TRC. That set us up with anticipation for tomorrow's ccolpa visit….

and see the full systematic list too....

14th August

An extra early start today, and out into the boat for the short ride upstream to the slumping clay cliffs just south of TRC. The three theories about why macaws and parrots take clay at these licks are : (i) mechanical digestion, (ii) mineral supplementation and (iii) toxin neutralisation. The latter two are the most favoured, though it's also becoming clear that the ccolpa has an important social function too!

We didn't have to wait long to see that we were in luck - it was going to be a good morning. Small parties of Blue-headed Parrots (200) started to drop onto the clay almost as soon as the sun was up, quickly followed by Mealy Parrots (100+), Yellow-crowned Parrots (10) and the first macaws - Scarlet (25) and Blue & Yellow (35). Red & Greens (15) were present, but seemed to fly about a lot, and not drop in - they apparently visit the cliffs later in the morning. Chestnut-fronted (25) and Red-bellied Macaws (20) were next, and they were joined by Orange-cheeked (20) and White-bellied Parrots (30). Dusky-headed (100) and White-eyed Parakeets (10) arrived quite late, as did a few Cobalt-winged Parakeets (10).

But stuff the numbers and the exact species composition - feel the quality of the whole spectacle. It was like a noisy, colourful, utterly dazzling seabird colony, with frequent dreads, wherein 100s of parrots and macaws came flying out, right over our heads, only to settle again on the clay right afterwards. It was one of those avian spectacles to which words can't do justice - right up there with the flamingos of Lake Bogoria, or the waders on The Wash, or arctic seabirds at Varangerfjord. It was well worth the trip! And the local researchers were happy too - they rated it as a 9/10 clay lick session.

Once the birds began to disperse, we took a brief walk with Alan up towards the 'fish pond' - more new birds! A Limpkin was a bit unexpected, but still more unusual was a Ladder-tailed Nightjar roosting in full view. A Greyish Saltator in song was new, and a small flock of passerines produced Double-collared and Chestnut-bellied Seedeaters. Best of all, however, was a pair of Scarlet-hooded Barbets at the top of a dead tree. Barbet full house!

A big breakfast (are there other kinds?) set us up for the hottest walk of the trip, along the top of the ccolpa cliffs, through second growth forest. While we didn't find the big target (White-throated Jacamar), we did find two Amazonian Parrotlets - possibly even harder to see! Alan was certainly pretty excited. Red & Green and Blue & Yellow Macaws showed well in the trees overhead, as did Red Howlers and a troop of Dusky Titi Monkeys. A Tayra refused to show very well, but a Crimson-crested Woodpecker was rather easier.

It was time to go - and the ride back downstream was much easier and quicker! Best sighting en route was a party of 82 (Chris counted them) Sand-coloured Nighthawks on just one fallen tree! Once back at Explorer's Inn, we did a quick loop walk - lots of old friends, but just one new one - Cream-coloured Woodpecker.

15th August

A really early start today - departing at 0430 for the 5km walk to the oxbow lake, Cocococha. By the time the light appeared, we were deep in the forest, and we had to limit ourselves to just a couple of brief stops - a Pavonine Quetzal called from in deep somewhere - frustration…. Purple-throated Fruitcrows behaved much better, but before we knew it, we reached the lake, and settled in to the little hide on the south shore. Quite quickly, we picked up the resident monster Black Caiman, cruising across the lake to our right, and we had fun feeding the Piranhas with dry biscuits. But bird activity was a little slow - so we boarded the little catamaran canoe, and paddled along the lake shore.

We quickly found the local Hoatzins, and also had Ringed Kingfisher, Capped Heron, Green Ibis, Yellow-ridged Toucan and Masked Crimson Tanager. But the real highlight was mammalian - Simon picked out the resident Giant Otter family hunting and playing off to the west. We decided not to approach too closely - there is a visitor management scheme in place, which appears to be succeeding in allowing the Otters to increase slowly in numbers. Eight now inhabit the colcha.

Back on shore, and into the shady forest. It soon warmed up, but we were still able to find some good species, such as Dwarf Tyrant-manakin, White-eyed Tody-tyrant, Elegant Woodcreeper, Screaming Piha (a huge lek of perhaps a dozen males), Ringed Woodpecker, a cracking Semicollared Puffbird and a calling Amazonian Pygmy-owl, Alan's first ever daylight sighting.

But the best was for last. Alan heard the Pavonine Quetzal again, and a little judicious tape-luring produced brief but good views of yet another massive target species. What a way to finish!

We enjoyed a lengthy lay-off during the day, and took only the slowest and shortest of evening walks, simply enjoying our last evening in the jungle, listening to the motmots calling deep in the forest, watching the guans go to roost, seeing the macaws flying high over the trees and into the distance. Jungles are great.

and see the full systematic list too....

16th August

Last day! A little local birding first thing preceded our loading up onto the boat, for the hour-long ride back to the Puerto Maldonado dock. To our surprise, we added one more species - a Horned Screamer on rocks along the riverbank. The Peruvian infrastructure comedy continued on arrival - no bus to take us to the airport! We eventually (and very fortunately) got a car to take us there - a squeeze to say the least, and we ended up cutting it a bit fine ….

But all was well in the end - the flight left on time, and took us via Cusco to Lima. There, once we'd established that we didn't really have enough time to visit the Pantanos de Villa wetlands, we stored our bags, and headed down to the Larcomar shopping mall in Miraflores for ceviche (red hot!) and pizza at George's Pizzeria. A bit of last minute shopping, and then back to the airport for a lengthy check-in.

KLM got us to Bonaire OK, but their toilets were in worse shape! Explosions all round…. So we were delayed for two hours in a stuffy terminal on a remote Caribbean island - fun. Finally, the connection was made, and we got back to Schipol the following evening (Sunday) local time - they were even good enough to delay the onward flight for us, and our bags all got there OK. So on balance, 8/10 for KLM!

Home, exhausted, dirty, jet-lagged, tired - needing a holiday, in short!

and see the full systematic list too....

PLEASE contact me if there are glaring errors, or if you'd like further information, or if I can help in any other way.

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Simon Woolley

August 2003