Saturday, September 29, 2018

Peru - Over the Andes on the Manu Road

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock
After our exploration of the Inca ruins it was time for some serious birding. We met up in Cusco with the rest of our group: Bob, Yve, Michael, and Mitchell, all from Florida. We had met Bob on our Cuba trip and he invited us to go on this trip he organized with Manu Expeditions. In the morning we met up with our guide Fernando Angulo, one of the most accomplished ornithologists in Peru. How lucky we were to have Fernando with us on this trip - he's a remarkable birder and trip leader, knows every sound in the forest instantly, and with his fantastic sense of humor was a joy to spend three weeks with. 

Our first day out was local to Cusco, birding the Lake Huacarpay and vicinity at the south end of the valley. It was a great introduction to Peruvian birds with mostly open sightings of many new and exciting species. Of special note for all of us was the magnificent Giant Hummingbird, the largest member of its family in the world at 9 inches in length!

eBird checklist for Huarcarpay Lake

Lake Huacarpay

Giant Hummingbird

Plumbeous Rail
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle being harrassed by a mountain Caracara

Marshland near Lake Huacarpay

Some of the habitat near the lake looked more like Sonoran Desert than 12,000 foot elevation Andes
Slate-colored Coot

Green-tailed Trainbearer

The next day we left Cusco for good. Cusco sits in a high mountain valley on the west side of the Andean crest. Our route would take us up and over the crest where we would start our descent down the east slope of the Andes all the way to the Amazonian Basin. We stopped just below one pass on our morning drive for a little casual birding at 13,200 feet! huff, puff... But the birds of this high mountain scrub land were unique and it would be our only chance for most of them. Common Miner, Cream-winged Cinclodes, and Taczanowski's Ground-Tyrant, just to name a few, were worth the hard-breathing effort of tromping around the high mountain meadow.

Google map of high mountain meadow

eBird checklist for high mountain meadow

Birding a high meadow at over 13,000 feet elevation

The crest was only 14,000 feet elevation where we crossed. Several mountains in this area are over 17,000 feet 
Andean Flicker

Cream-winged Cinclodes

Taczanowski's Ground-Tyrant
We continued up and down, weaving our way through mountain valleys before finally cresting the Andes one last time at Abra de Acjanaco (11,500 feet elevation) on the Carretara a Manu (Road to Manu). Here we entered Manu National Park and instantly entered the elfin cloud forest on the east slope of the Andes. Trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean push across the nearly flat Amazon Basin for thousands of miles, and as this warm moist air pushes up the mountains dense clouds, often at canopy level, develop. Over 300 inches of rain can fall in a single year in these forests. We had a mostly bright sunny day as we crossed over, how lucky can you get?

eBird checklist for Abra de Acjanaco

Entrance to Manu National Park at Abra de Acjanaco

We birded our way down the slope eventually arriving at the Wayqecha Biological Research Station at an elevation of 9,300 feet. Here we would spend two nights, birding the high cloud forest environment, before continuing down slope. Hummer feeders at the station provided great looks at some new species, and the forests nearby added many new species to our lists. And the Andean Fox we had several great looks at was pretty special.

Google map of Abra de Acjanaco and Wayqecha

sample eBird checklist Wayqecha 1
sample eBird checklist Wayqecha 2
sample eBird checklist Wayqecha 3

Grass-green Tanager

Andean Fox

Long-tailed Sylph

Masked Flowerpiercer
We birded down the road to our next destination - Cock of the Rock Lodge. I should mention that the Manu Road isn't for the faint of heart. It is unpaved, typically only a single vehicle wide, and is often perched over a thousand vertical feet above the river below. Thankfully our driver, also named Fernando, was professional and had driven the road many times before. In this video, we are traveling up the road a short distance from the lodge to go birding.

The road isn't all that busy, so birding on the road downhill was our typical venture and very pleasant. The slopes are so steep and forested here that there really isn't any other way to bird.

eBird checklist birding down the road

Clouds crawl up the canyon from Amazonia below

Cock of the Rock Lodge

We stayed at Cock of the Rock Lodge (elevation 4,500 feet) for four nights, watching the extensive feeders at the lodge and birding the road above and below. The birding was spectacular as expected, and a number of mammals made appearances to add to our enjoyment.

sample eBird checklist COTR Lodge 1
sample eBird checklist COTR Lodge 2
sample eBird checklist COTR Lodge 3
sample eBird checklist COTR Lodge 4

Guide Fernando looks for birds

One of the dozens of waterfalls along the road

Birding the road

Fernando looks down a particularly scary spot in the road
The Cock of the Rock Lodge came into being when a reliable breeding lek for the spectacular Andean Cock-of-the-Rock was discovered. Even with a birding blind built next to the lek the male "Cocks" have come in every day for over 20 years. It is one of the true spectacles in the birding world. We were fortunate to visit the blind on two different afternoons.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Of course there were many other species to be seen, hundreds in fact. After four days we felt we had hardly scratched the surface.

Google map of Cock of the Rock Lodge

Blue-banded Toucanet

Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan

Cinnamon Flycatcher

Blue-gray Tanager
Booted Racket-tail
Crested Quetzal

Golden-headed Quetzal
Silver-beaked Tanager
Russet-backed Oropendola
Sparkling Violetear
Speckled Chachalaca
Wire-crested Thorntail
Wire-crested Thorntail male displays for female
Wire-crested Thorntail
Large-headed Capuchin monkey
Large-headed Capuchin
Large-headed Capuchin family group
Brown Agouti
Tayra, a large member of the weasel family
Once more it was time to move on. We birded our way slowly down the road toward our final Andean destination in the foothills - Villa Carmen Biological Station near the town of Pillcopata. We were at Villa Carmen only one night exploring the network of nearby trails. I'm sure we would have enjoyed a longer stay if there was more time.

Google map of Villa Carmen

eBird checklist birding down to Villa Carmen
sample eBird checklist Villa Carmen 1
sample eBird checklist Villa Carmen 2

Amazon Hot Lips Flower

Fernando shows us how it got its name
Bluish-fronted Jacamar
Gray-cowled Wood-Rail
Orange-backed Troupial
Red-capped Cardinal
Smooth-billed Ani
This ended our Andes adventure by road. Next up was a spectacular trip through Amazonia by boat. But that's for another post.