Northern Peru: Across the Marañon Canyon

Note: this is a special, small group tour that is shorter than our standard tour. We are not running the standard 16-day tour in 2014, but it will likely return to our schedule in 2015. Please click here to see that itinerary.

This is a hard-core, fast-paced tour that tries to cram a lot into a short about of time. It will not be appropriate for people desiring a more relaxed trip, or for bird photographers, in which case our standard 15 day tour would be more appropriate.

Northern Peru is a land of stark contrasts, from the desolate coastal dunes of the Sechura Desert and dry Tumbesian forests through the awe-inspiring depths of the Marañon Canyon, to the lush cloudforests of the eastern slopes of the Andes. This tour explores a poorly-known area with numerous endemics almost legendary in ornithological lore, and we target almost all of them. The construction of some new lodges in this area has made the trip a lot more comfortable than it used to be, with no camping necessary.



Day 1: Lima. Your international flights arrive in Lima, the capital city of Peru. We will spend one night in the airport hotel.

Day 2: Pomac and Chiclayo. We’ll start with a one-hour flight to Chiclayo, then drive north of the city to the dry forest of Bosque de Pomac. We’ll look for some of the rarest Tumbesian endemics in the gnarled woodland, including Peruvian Plantcutter, Rufous Flycatcher, Cinereous Finch, Tumbes Swallow, and Tumbes Tyrant. With luck, we can also find Peruvian Thick-knee. If we have good luck with our targets, we’ll spend the afternoon at some coastal wetlands for Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Wren-like Rushbird, and various waterbirds and shorebirds. We’ll spend the night near some ruins north of Chiclayo.

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Day 3: Abra Porculla and Jaén. We need a very early start as we drive up to a low pass over the western Andes. Remnant forest patches here offer the best chance to see Piura Chat-Tyrant as well as other Tumbesian gems like Black-cowled Saltator and Bay-crowned Brush-Finch. Skulkers like Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner and Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner are also here, but can be shy and tough to see. In the afternoon, we’ll drive several hours to the town of Jaén, where we spend a single night. An afternoon at a nearby reserve will give us our first chance at Little Inca-Finch as well as several other species.

Day 4: Tamborapa to Moyobamba. We rise early to drive to some nice dry habitat near the village of Tamborapa. Here we should see some key Marañon endemics like Marañon Spinetail, Marañon Crescentchest, Marañon Slaty-Antshrike, Buff-bellied Tanager, and the endemic race of Black-capped Sparrow. We’ll then have a long drive through the afternoon to the town of Moyobamba in the lower east slope foothills, our base for the next two nights. We’ll stay in a new lodge near the forest with great hummer feeders

Day 5: Quebrada Mishquiyacu. We will spend the entire day birding the forested hillside slopes of the last gasp of the Andes. An eclectic mix of Amazonian and foothill species such as Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Hairy-crested Antbird, Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher, Dusky and Chestnut-throated Spinetails, and Ash-breasted Antwren inhabit the lush quebrada. The Moyobamba area also includes some savanna like habitat, and some surprising species far from their main ranges make an appearance. We could find Cinereous-breasted Spinetail, Red-shouldered and Burnished-buff Tanagers, and a nighttime excursion may turn up a Spot-tailed Nightjar.

Days 6-8: Eastern Andes. Leaving Mishquiyacu behind we will head to the foothills higher up the road, which have their own treasures, such as Ecuadorian Piedtail, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, White-eared Solitaire, and a rainbow of Tangara tanagers including Paradise, Green-and-gold, Golden-eared, Spotted, and Blue-necked. Later we will drive on to the mountain pass known as Abra Patricia; this area has unique elfin ridgetop forests that support numerous rare and extremely localized species, some of which were only described to science in the last 30 years. We’ve got a good chance to find Bar-winged Wood-Wren, Royal Sunangel, Lulu’s Tody-Tyrant, and Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant, and make a serious effort to see three difficult endemic antpittas, Rusty-tinged Antpitta, Chestnut Antpitta, and Ochre-fronted Antpitta. The near-mythical Long-whiskered Owlet is even a possibility, but it requires a tough hike hike on a narrow trail at night and a considerable amount of luck. Other interesting species here include Yellow-scarfed, Yellow-throated, and White-capped Tanagers, Inca Flycatcher, and Chestnut-crested Cotinga. We’ll spend three nights in a great new lodge built right at Abra Patricia.

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Day 9: Abra Patricia to Leymebamba. It’s a fairly long drive, but we’ll break it up with some great stops. First on the menu is a set of hummingbird feeders that attract the outrageous Marvelous Spatuletail, one of the world’s top hummers and always a tour highlight. Later in the morning, we’ll drive through the scenic Utcubamba canyon, where we’ll look for Marañon Thrush, Buff-bellied Tanager, Baron’s Spinetail, Koepcke’s Screech-Owl, and others before arriving at Leymebamba. In the afternoon we’ll bird some temperate forest above town. This is one of the few areas where the rare Russet-mantled Softtail can be found, though we need a lot of luck. Other possibilities include White-collared Jay, Coppery-naped Puffleg, and Drab Hemispingus. We spend the night in a good new hotel in Leymebamba.

Day 10: Leymebamba to Celendin. A long but spectacular day as we traverse the Marañon Canyon. Abra Barro Negro (Black Mud Pass) is our first stop, where we’ll look for the endemic Coppery Metaltail in the temperate forest, then try for páramo species such as Neblina Tapaculo and Stripe-headed Antpitta. We’ll then head into the canyon along one of the most amazing roads in the world, checking patches of woodland as we go down for Rufous-capped Antshrike, Moustached Flowerpiercer, and Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant. As we get lower the habitat becomes much drier, and we’ll keep an eye out for Marañon endemics like Yellow-faced Parrotlet, Peruvian Pigeon, and Buff-bridled Inca-Finch. In the afternoon we drive up over the western rim, stopping at stakeouts for two more endemics: Gray-winged Inca-Finch and Chestnut-backed Thornbill. We’ll spend one night in a decent hotel in the small town of Celendín.

Day 11: Celendín to Cajamarca. If we missed anything in the Marañon Canyon, we might head down again; otherwise we’ll drive to Cajamarca. The habitat along this road has been sadly degraded, but we still have decent chances to see Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, electric blue Tit-like Dacnis, Slender-billed Miner, Striated Earthcreeper, Rufous-webbed Tyrant, Peruvian Sierra-Finch, and Streak-throated Canastero. We’ll spend the last night of the tour in to Cajamarca, the ancient city where the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro defeated a force of 80,000 Inca warriors and captured their emperor Atahualpa with a band of only 200 well-armed soldiers. In the afternoon, we’ll search for Gray-bellied Comet at a well-known site not far from the city.

A Peruvian Pigeon, often seen near the bridge at Balsas
A Peruvian Pigeon, often seen near the bridge at Balsas (Nick Athanas)

Day 12: San Marcos and departure. In the morning, we drive south of Cajamarca into arid intermontane valleys near the town of San Marcos, a reliable site for another rare endemic, the Great Spinetail. We should also find Spot-throated Hummingbird if we haven’t seen it yet, and may have time to look for other birds as well depending on flight schedules. We plan to take an afternoon flight that lands in Lima at 6:30 pm, in time to connect with late evening international departures. There is no hotel included for today, but we can book one for you if needed.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

CLIMATE: Hot and dry in Chiclayo and Jaen to chilly in the highest elevations.

DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Much of the birding is from the roadsides. There are some moderately difficult forest trails to walk at Abra Patricia that can be steep and muddy. Long drives and early starts are required.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. There is no camping required on this itinerary. The lodge at Abra Patricia has shared bathrooms – one bathroom per two rooms. If space is available, you can have a private bathroom, but this cannot be guaranteed.