Sunday, September 23, 2007

Screaming Piha

Screaming Piha (Lipaugus vociferans) song, single burst, part of series 4-6 per minute, recorded near Yurimaguas, Loreto, Perú, 19/08/07. Sonagram created with Syrinx software (

“whee WHEEE-OOO” or “pee EEEEE aaaaa”

If you’ve been to the Amazon or watched documentaries on the Amazon you’ll have heard the ear-splitting song of the Screaming Piha, The song is sometimes dubbed into movies and even sampled into music tracks, presumably to give it that tropical sounding vibe. Screaming Pihas form leks, though males and females look alike, and if you’re close in on the vocal contests of several males (where you’ll see them throwing their heads back before and during), it can get quite uncomfortable on the ears. These birds seemingly have something to prove to the females as they are otherwise an uninspiring dull-coloured bird of the mid-level forest.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Soundtrack for a Seawatcher

In Lima last week I picked up another album by Peruvian musician Miki González. He hybridises modern electronica with traditional melodies and folk music from all over Peru. Track 1 on his Iskay album, entitled Aves Marinas, features a bone flute made from a seabird bone, or more precisely a replica of an original one found in Caral dating from 3500BC. The track is also textured with some seabird ambience which I like to imagine is from Paracas and the Islas Ballestas.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Back in Britain now. There was a Nuthatch (Wood Nuthatch, Sitta europaea, for international readers) in Sunny Hill Park at 0815h this morning - must be autumn! This was only my fourth there since 2004. I have a few backdated Peru posts to add soon (Pantanos de Villa & Central Park NYC).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New York's Central Park

With a 10 hour stopover in New York, en route from Lima to London, I had to visit to Central Park in Manhattan. I was last here in October 2002 on a quiet autumn day. Today the Big Apple was like the summer day London never had this year. And the locals knew it too… it was thronged with people. Despite this there were many birds to be found. American Robins were everywhere (why did I take an overnight bus to Yorkshire for one earlier this year?) I was happy enough to complete my set of New World kingfishers with a Belted and another US hummer but it was also a good time for the fall migrants. I spent most of the day in the undergrowth so probably missed out on any raptors heading south. The only birders I met were at Belvedere Castle who were wondering whether a Solitary Sandpiper on the Turtle Pond (admittedly, viewed from above – not the best angle) was a Louisiana Waterthrush! I got there from JFK using the Skytrain ($5 Metrocard), the Long Island Rail Road ($6 return) to Penn Station followed by a big slow yellow taxi ($9)… probably quicker walking there! Didn’t have time too eat so had a 100 Grand bar…

The list…
Gadwall, Mallard, Solitary Sandpiper, Feral Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Veery, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Tennessee Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Wilson's Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch and House Sparrow. Two more from the train: Ring-billed Gull and American Herring Gull.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Peru day 30: Pantanos de Villa, Lima

Back in cold, grey Lima today. Spent a few hours birding at the wetlands of Pantanos de Villa on the southern outskirts of Lima. Highlights were Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant, Wren-like Rushbird, Andean Coot, Andean Duck, over 100 Puna Ibis, over 2000 Cattle Egret, Great Grebe, White-tufted Grebe, Plumbeous Rail, 1000+ gulls (Band-tailed, Kelp and Grey-headed) and several Striated Herons. Also noted were Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Snowy Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, Southern House Wren, Shiny Cowbird, Harris' Hawk, Osprey, Pacific Dove, Eared Dove, Blue-and-white Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, American Black Vulture, Black-necked Stilt, American Kestrel, White-cheeked Pintail, Yellowish Pipit, Pied-billed Grebe and Common Moorhen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Peru day 27: Juan Guerra

Spent a few hours early this morning birding some dry deciduous forest and scrub along the west side of the Río Mayo near Juan Guerra. This area is meant to be good for the near-endemic Northern Slaty-Antshrike of the endemic Huallaga race. I had seen a couple of birders (showing characteristics of northern temperate origin) in the area a few weeks ago as we sped past on the motorbike – should have stopped to speak to them really.

Approximately 800 metres from Puente Colombia on the Shapaja track I stopped and entered a short trail which ended in dense scrub. This proved to be productive area with a male Haullaga Slaty-Antshrike, White-browed Antbird (pr), Stripe-chested Antwren (m), Long-billed Gnatwren, Barred Antshrike (f), Buff-breasted Wren, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher (1-2), and Great Antshrike (pr).

A walk along the track above the Río Mayo provided Ashy-headed Greenlet, Hoatzin, White-necked Thrush, Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant, Red-eyed Vireo, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Buff-throated Saltator, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Drab Water-Tyrant, Gray-breasted Martin, White-banded Swallow and Buff-breasted Wren alongside more some common species typical of open/degraded areas including Ruddy-Ground Dove, Great Kiskadee, Smooth-billed Ani, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Blue-gray Tanager and Palm Tanager. Above a visible cleared hillside with the usual American Black and Turkey Vultures were Hook-billed Kite and Short-tailed Hawk.

A forest patch about 700 metres from the bridge included an actively feeding Bluish-fronted Jacamar, a pair of White-lined Tanagers, a pair of exceptionally approachable White-browed Antbirds, a pair of Yellow-breasted Flycatchers and a Rufous Casiornis.

About 1km from the bridge there is obvious trail on the left which follows a steep, dry ravine. This site allowed great views of two pairs of Huallaga Slaty-Antshrikes, a couple of Mishana Tyrannulets, a nervous Tataupa Tinamou, Chestnut-throated Spinetail, Little Cuckoo, White-tailed Trogon, some noisy Black-fronted Nunbirds, Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant, Speckled Chachalaca, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Buff-rumped Warbler, Buff-breasted Wren, Red-eyed Vireo, Drab Water-Tyrant, Squirrel Cuckoo, Magpie Tanager, and Silver-beaked Tanager.

Noted along the road back to Tarapoto in the rice fields and agricultural area: Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret, Greater Ani, Eared Dove, Turkey Vulture, American Black Vulture, Tropical Kingbird, Ruddy Ground Dove, Common Thornbird, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Blue-and-white Swallow, Rufous-collared Sparrow and Smooth-billed Ani.

Thanks to Armando for the lift by motorbike!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Peru day 26: Tarapoto > Boca Toma del Río Shilcayo

A walk up to the Boca Toma from Tarapoto before breakfast this morning produced a spectacular feeding flock of 19 Swallow-tailed Kites and a group of 44 White-collared Swifts. Also great views of a Reddish Hermit (hummingbird) and singing Moustached and Buff-breasted Wrens.

Around 50 species noted: Reddish Hermit, Little Woodpecker, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-headed Caracara, Blue-crowned Motmot, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Moustached Wren, White-tipped Dove, Black Phoebe, Buff-breasted Wren, White-necked Thrush, Pale-legged Hornero, Short-crested Flycatcher, Canary-winged Parakeet (70+), Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Turkey Vulture, American Black Vulture, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Gray-rumped Swift, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Buff-rumped Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Grayish Saltator, Saffron Finch, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Black-billed Thrush, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Eared Dove, Dull-coloured Grassquit, Cattle Egret, Giant Cowbird, Social Flycatcher, Short-tailed Swift, Southern House Wren, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Blue-and-white Swallow, Silver-beaked Tanager, Magpie Tanager, Streaked Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch, Shiny Cowbird, Smooth-billed Ani and several more hummer species zipping past and feeding high in flowering trees.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Peru days: 24-25 Tarapoto

Back to more usual fare today... Great Kiskadee still waking me up every morning. Some photos from the past couple of days around Tarapoto.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Peru day 23: Peru 600

Five years ago I was at today’s site above Afluente in the Alto Mayo. I remember this for two reasons: found my first Andean Cock-of-the-rock here and slightly annoyingly there was a Rose-coloured Starling in my parent’s garden where I had recorded birds for years. I still haven’t seen RCS but today I saw the crazy orange continga again, almost in the very same area of forest as in 2002. This time a male flew over the mule trail just metres in front of me and settled about 40 m inside the forest. Field guide illustrations don’t do these birds justice and even inside the forest they can look a bit subdued. You have to see one in full light to appreciate it. Not many birds actually shock me but the fly-past of this one was breathtaking!

I was already pretty pleased as I headed back to the village as some new species today took me over 600 species on my Peru list. All have been more or less self-found on four trips with work along with the occasional diversions to places like Paracas/Islas Ballestas, Machu Picchu and Lomas de Lachay. Ok, so I wasn’t meant to be watching birds today but those cloud forest tanager flocks are hard to ignore. We were actually after the soon to be described Heliconius timareta and upland Ithomiines for molecular work and I managed to get some specimens of Greta alphesiboea – my favourite Ithomiine butterfly and its larger co-mimic Godyris duillia.

The biggest mixed feeding flock contained Golden Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Vermillion Tanager, Flame-faced Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Blue-browed Tanager and Blue-necked Tanager. Also active in the surrounding forest were Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Black-streak Puffbird, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Three-striped Warber, Green Jays (including a flock of 10), Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater, Streaked Xenops, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Montane Woodcreeper, Yellow-throated Tanager, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Masked Trogon, Red-billed Parrot, and Barred Fruiteater.

Peru days 20-23 Alto Mayo

Left Tarapoto behind for a four trip up the Rio Mayo valley for field work on the upland Heliconius and Ithomiines in the lower to upper montane Andean cloud forests. Leaving the heat and humidity of the lowlands behind, I felt normal again in the comparative coolness at altitude. Bird-wise it was exciting but as field work for the lab is the main purpose of my time here, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface in terms of the birds I see. The Alto Mayo must have some of the most exciting birding opportunities on the planet. Some little known species occur below the Abra Patricia pass – Long-whiskered Owlet, Ochre-fronted Antpitta and Bar-winged Wood-Wren – all discovered by LSU expeditions in 1976 and rediscovered in 2002.

My highlights from the following sites:

Breakfast stop at Pacayzapa
Common Thornbird, Yellow-billed Cacique, Dark-billed Cuckoo, Troupial, Amazon Kingfisher, and Green Kingfisher.

Lejia/Fundo Davila
Huallaga Tanager

Mishquiyacu, Moyobamba 1050-1250m
White-crowned Tapaculo, 30+ Russet-backed Oropendola, Red-rumped Cacique, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Yellow-backed Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Bay-headed Tanager, Green-and-gold Tanager, Rufous Motmot, Buff-fronted Foliage Gleaner, and Ornate Flycatcher.

Venceremos 1700m
Best here was a pair of the endemic Speckle-chested Piculets (9cm woodpeckers!), Beryl-spangled Tanager, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yellow-throated Tanager, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Brown-capped Vireo, Hepatic Tanager, and Golden-faced Tyrannulet as well as some nice tanagers.

Caserío Alto Nieva 1940m
An endemic hummingbird, the Royal Sunangel, Rufous-tailed Tyrant, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, White-tipped Swift, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Cinnamon Flycatcher and Greater Yellow-headed Vulture.

Trail to Cerro Patricia from the house of Pepe Espinar Gomez 1800-1700m
White-capped Tanager, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Olivaceous Piha, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, White-backed Fire-eye, Royal Sunangel, Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Barred Becard, White-eared Solitaire, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, Spotted Tanager, Vermillion Tanager, and Barred Antshrike.

Hand-sized moth from our eatery in Aguas Clares