Friday, September 11, 2009

The most Marvellous Spatuletail

Last we night we got back from a three day trip that was not very successful work-wise due to the rain and low cloud. We were up the Alto Mayo which rises up to 2300 metres through montane tropical forest to stunted forest. It is home to several Peruvian endemic birds, notably the very rare Long Whiskered Owlet which is only the size of a sparrow and I think it has never been seen in the wild – only caught in mist nets. This is always my favourite place for birds as there is still little deforestation and many of the birds are restricted to higher altitudes and not found around Tarapoto. But lower down more forest is being cleared to grow coffee, particularly around El Afluente. One forest was burning as we passed, the smoke rising and probably fumigating all life in the forest higher up.

The first night in the town (Nueva Cajamarca) we were staying in had a power cut all night – in fact every time I’ve been here they’ve had a power cut. We were wandering around with candles and in 2007 I ate my dinner in a pitch black restaurant just with candles. This time we found a place called ‘Arizona Chicken’ which was the only place with all its lights on. They were using a portable generator to keep things going. A waiter came up and told us they served chicken. This was helpful as we would never have known that they served chicken. We got a 2.25 litre bottle of Inca Kola which could have been used to see our way back on the dark as it is almost glow in the dark yellow! Best birds of the day were Andean Cock of the Rock, Golden-winged Manakin, Slaty Antwren, Rufous-vented Whitetip and Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager on a trail from Puente Serranoyacu.

The second day was better with some sunshine but few Helinconius timareta butterflies which we were after. We climbed up a trail from El Afluente which leads to a village eight hours away but we only did a bit of it up to 1733 metres. Sadly I encountered no large Tanager flocks this time. Tanagers are these multi-coloured finch-sized birds, many of which move around in mixed feeding flocks in the mountain forests. It is really exciting when a flock passes and you are in frenzy looking this way as you try to see and identify as many as possible. They are best viewed from above so a trail on a steep slope is best. Anyway, I did see some great birds: Sickle-winged Guan, which is a pheasant-like bird which scrambles around in the midstory of the forest; Green Jays, vivid green and banana yellow which screech loudly when they see you; a stunning hummer, the Booted Racket-tail (though not as stunning as THE most-wanted Peruvian hummingbird seen the next day); and other attractive forest denizens such as Booted Racket-tail, Red-billed Parrot, Speckled Chachalaca, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Rusty Flowerpiercer (no relation to the fabled Rusty Wire-pecker), Ornate Fycatcher, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Rufous-tailed Tyrany, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Paradise Tanager and Plumbeous Kite.

The following day the low cloud and light drizzle never lifted. We planned to cut the trip short and return to Tarapoto. Our driver suggested that he could take us to Lago Pomacochas at La Florida, some distance away over the Abra Patricia pass …. for ‘touristic’ reasons. This is the only area for the crazy Marvellous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) – and endemic hummer with two extra long retrices and a ‘racket’ at each end - see a photograph at the link below. Its world distribution is centered around one small region in northwest Peru. Totally unprepared with no gen, I managed to find a local who knew a site at 2400m. After several other species of hummingbirds including Green-tailed Trainbearer and Purple-throated Sunangel, I found an immature Marvelous Spatuletail – which lacked the crazy tail. Then another, this time an immature male with only partially grown retrices/rackets. A few females were seen but all only zipped in briefly for a few seconds. Eventually a full adult male put in the briefest appearance and later again as it chased of the immature. This bird has to be seen to be believed – probably the best since the Scarlet-banded Barbet in 2007. We went to lake at Pomacochas and saw a few Andean specialties at some of their lowest altitudinal range including Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, White-cheeked Pintail, plus Plumbeous Rail, Torrent Tyrannulet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Striated Heron, and Peruvian Meadowlark.

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