Northern Peru: Across the Marañon Canyon

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.




See more photos on our Flickr site.

Day 1: Lima. Your international flights arrive in Lima, the capital city of Peru. We’ll spend the night in a nice hotel next to the terminal, so there is no need for long airport transfers into the city center.

Day 2: Bosque de Pomac and Chaparri. We’ll start with a 1h20m flight to Chiclayo (currently scheduled for 5:40am), 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. Later, we’ll drive an hour and a half north to the nice Chaparri Lodge in the dry foothills of the western Andes. A highlight here is the White-winged Guans that were successfully reintroduced and are now breeding on their own in the wild and easy to see. The lodge also has feeders that attract a variety of dry forest species including White-edged Oriole, Golden Grosbeak, and Croaking Ground-Dove. We’ll spend two nights in the lodge.

Coastal marshes near Chiclayo are home to the dazzling Many-colored Rush-Tyrant
Coastal marshes near Chiclayo are home to the dazzling Many-colored Rush-Tyrant (Sam Woods)

Day 3: Chaparri Reserve. Bird activity can be spectacular right around the lodge early in the morning, with Baird’s Flycatchers, Superciliated and Speckle-breasted Wrens, Gray-and-white Tyrannulet, Collared Antshrike, White-tailed Jay, and others singing like crazy and often easy to see. A nearby stream attracts hummingbird like Purple-collared Woodstar and Amazilia Hummingbird, which bathe in the shallows. An easy walk through the woodland near the lodge will give us chances for Pacific Elaenia, White-headed Brush-Finch, Tumbes Hummingbird, Necklaced Spinetail, Tropical (Tumbes) Pewee among other common Tumbesian species. If we missed Tumbes Tyrant in Pomac, we have another chance to find it here. We’ll spend the afternoon in the lower areas, searching especially for Sulphur-throated Finch, Parrot-billed Seedeater, Collared Warbling-Finch, and Short-tailed Field Tyrant.

Day 4: Chaparri and the Pacific coast. If we’ve missed anything near the lodge, we can look for it this morning; then we can check some lakes and wetlands below the reserve to look for Comb Duck, Black-faced Ibis, Spotted Rail along with various other waterbirds. We’ll spend the afternoon along the coast. Reedbeds hold Many-colored Rush-Tyrant and Wren-like Rushbird while coastal beaches and wetlands give us a chance for a wide variety of species including Gray and Gray-hooded Gulls, Peruvian Pelican, White-tufted Grebe, numerous migrant shorebirds, Yellowish Pipit, and another shot at Peruvian Thickknee. We’ll spend one night in a nice lodge north of Chiclayo.

Day 5: Abra Porculla and Jaén. We need a very early start as we drive about 2h20m 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, Chapman’s Antshrike, Bay-crowned and White-winged Brush-Finches, and Three-banded Warbler. 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. We’ll spend the afternoon trying to see some of the main targets, especially Little Inca-Finch and Marañon Crescentchest.

A new lodge in the foothills has some of the best hummer feeders in Peru
A new lodge in the foothills has some of the best hummer feeders in Peru (Sam Woods)

Day 6: Tamborapa to Huembo We rise early to drive about an hour to some nice dry habitat near the village of Tamborapa. Here we’ll look for 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 drive several hours to the Huembo reserve, where we spend one night in the new lodge here. Huembo is home to the Marvelous Spatuletail – the incredible male is often mentioned in discussions about the world’s most beautiful bird! At least one male usually visits the feeders here on a regular basis along with numerous other hummers like Bronzy Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, White-bellied Woodstars, and White-bellied Hummingbird. Occasionally Little Woodstars visit flowering plants near the lodge as well.

Day 7: Huembo to Moyobamba. The morning is somewhat flexible: we may do some birding around Huembo, we may get a head start on the tough trail mentioned for day 13, or we may bird other areas between here and our next lodge. We’ll arrive at Waqanki Lodge near Moyobamba in the afternoon, and have some time to check out their feeders for some late afternoon hummer activity. Some species that visit their feeders include Rufous-crested Coquette, White-chinned and Golden-tailed Sapphire, Sapphire-spangled and Blue-tailed Emeralds, Black-throated Hermit, Long-billed Starthroat, and Gray-breasted Sabrewing. We have three nights at this great lodge located right next to the forest.

Days 8-9: Waqanki Lodge and the Moyobamba area. An amazing variety of birds inhabit this area due to a variety of habitats. Lush cloudforest blankets the mountain slopes, and a good trail will give us a chance to see some great birds like Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher, Chestnut-throated Spinetail, Fiery-capped Manakin, Speckle-chested Piculet, Mishana Tyrannulet, White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant, Peruvian Warbling-Antbird, Blackish, Spot-backed, and Spot-winged Antbirds, Black-bellied Tanager, Paradise Tanager, Golden-collared Toucanet, Gilded Barbet, and many, many more. We’ll also spend time birding the dry scrub around Moyobamba where quite different birds can be seen such as Cinereous-breasted Spinetail, Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Red-shouldered Tanager, and Burnished-buff Tanager. We’ll also be sure to visit a bridge about 30 minutes away where Oilbirds roost during the day. The newly-described Varzea Thrush is often seen near the lodge itself. Nightbirding at Waqanki can also be superb; an amazing number of owls are around including Band-bellied, Stygian, Black-banded, Tropical Screech, Vermiculated Screech, and Ferruginous Pygmy, and the local guides usually have some of them well staked out. Spot-tailed and Rufous Nightjars are also possible here along with the Common Pauraque.

Abra Patricia is arguably the best place on Earth for the stunning White-capped Tanager
Abra Patricia is arguably the best place on Earth for the stunning White-capped Tanager (Sam Woods)

Days 10: Moyobamba to Abra Patricia. We’ll leave Moyobamba early and drive about an hour to a new reserve with hummer feeders that attract both Blue-fronted and Green-fronted Lancebills along with other more common species. The owner has also been trying to feed Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail and Little Tinamou, and other neat birds like Red-ruffed Fruitcrow are possible here. We’ll then work our way up through the foothills, birding the roadsides and hoping for mixed-species flocks that can be truly superb with dozens of species. A few species we might see include Speckle-chested Piculet, Spotted, Green-and-gold, and Blue-necked Tanagers, Bronze-green Euphonia, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Lanceolated Monklet, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Marble-faced Bristle-Trant, Montane and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, and Olive-backed Woodcreeper. In the afternoon, we arrive at Owlet Lodge in Abra Patricia, named after the Long-whiskered Owlet, a bird that was virtually never seen in the field until this lodge was built about 8 years ago. We’ll spend some time at the hummer feeders, which usually have Long-tailed Sylph, Emerald-bellied Puffleg, Speckled Hummingbird, Booted Rackettail, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, along with some species we would have seen at Huembo. Depending on the weather, we may make a first attempt at trying to see the owlet.

Days 11-12: Abra Patricia area. 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, Johnson’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. Other interesting birds here include Yellow-scarfed, Yellow-throated, White-capped Tanagers, Silvery, and Blue-browed Tanagers, White-faced Numbird, Inca Flycatcher, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Rufous-vented Tapaculo, and Variable Antshrike. Along with the owlet, nightbirding near the lodge might turn up Cinnamon and White-throated Screech-Owls and Rufous-banded Owl.

Day 13: Abra Patricia to Leymebamba. We’ll leave again in the dark and drive about an hour to the start of a difficult trail where we hope to see Pale-billed Antpitta. It takes at least an hour to walk up the steep, rocky trail, but there is a reasonable chance to see the antpitta. We’ll also try to find Russet-mantled Softtail, Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant, Peruvian Wren, and a distinct subspecies of Plain-tailed Wren. In the afternoon, we’ll drive through the scenic Utcubamba canyon, where we’ll look for Marañon Thrush, Buff-bellied Tanager, Black-necked Woodpecker, Baron’s Spinetail, Koepcke’s Screech-Owl, and others before arriving at the bustling town of Leymebamba, where we spend one night in a very good and uniquely decorated hotel.

North Peru is a great region for owls (Cinnamon Screech-Owl)
North Peru is a great region for owls (Cinnamon Screech-Owl) (Sam Woods)

Day 14: Leymebamba to Celendín. 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 White-chinned Thistletail 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 15: Marañon Canyon and the Celendín area. There is a good chance we will have missed at least one of our Marañon targets, so we’ll plan to head back down to nail them this morning. Even if we got lucky, there are other birds we can look for such as Black-crested Tit-Tyrant and White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant. We may also relax a bit today after the long days behind us.

The base of the spectacular Maranon Canyon is a good place for Buff-bridled Inca-Finch
The base of the spectacular Maranon Canyon is a good place for Buff-bridled Inca-Finch (Sam Woods)

Day 16: Celendín to Cajamarca. This road passes through a mixture of farmland and montane scrub, yet can be surprisingly productive. Rufous-webbed Bush-Tyrant, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Tit-like Dacnis, Slender-billed Miner, Striated Earthcreeper, Peruvian Sierra-Finch, Streak-throated Canastero, Black Metaltail, Shining Sunbeam, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, are just some of the birds we’ll be trying to see along here. We’ll spend the last night of the tour in 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, where we should also find White-winged Cinclodes.

Day 17: 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, along with an endemic race of Masked Yellowthroat that could be split. Depending on access, we may stop at a small lake for Slate-colored Coot, Puna Ibis, and others, and may also have time to target the endemic Unicolored Tapaculo. We’ll take an afternoon flight back to Lima that arrives in time to connect with late evening international flights.

Yellow-faced Parrotlet, a rare Marañon endemic
Yellow-faced Parrotlet, a rare Marañon endemic (Nick Athanas)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate to intense. This tour covers a lot of ground and tries to see as many birds as possible, with special focus on the regional endemics; we usually amass a great list. It’s important to be out early since birding is usually best in the morning, and start times range from 4:00am to 6:00am. Many breakfasts and lunches will be in the field, but we’ll have thermoses for hot beverages and portable tables and chairs. On three or four days of the trip there will be some downtime after lunch to relax, but most days will be quite full. On several days, we will stay out after dark to spotlight for birds; some participants choose to skip the occasional afternoon or nocturnal outing and just relax around the lodge. There are few long drives, the longest being about 5 hours.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Generally fairly easy to moderate, but there are a few more difficult walks that may be considered optional. Most of the birding is done from flat or slightly inclined roads and trails, and you can expect to walk 3-4 miles (4.8-6.4 km) on most days. At Waqanki and Abra Patricia, the trails are steep in places and sometimes slippery, so a walking stick helps. Trying to see the Long-whiskered Owlet requires a c. 2.5 mile (4 km) roundtrip walk at night on a moderately inclined trail; this is an optional hike and some participants skip it and relax at the lodge. On day 13, there is a difficult hike on a steep and rocky trail that’s about 2 miles (3.2 km) roundtrip and lasts about 4 hours; some participants may choose to skip this and do some easy birding on their own near the vehicle.

CLIMATE: Highly variable. A wide range of temperatures can be expected. Temperatures in the high elevations can get down to near freezing early in the morning, but then usually warm up to be quite pleasant (about 70°F/21°C) and usually sunny. In the lower elevations, temperatures usually vary from about 68°-90°F (20°-32°C). This tour takes place in the dry season, but it is not unusual to get some rain at Waqanki and Abra Patricia.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All lodges have hot water and electricity. Single rooms may not be available for the one night at Huembo due to the small size of the lodge. Electricity is quite limited at Chaparri Lodge (solar), but it is enough to light the rooms and to provide a charging station at the restaurant. At Owlet Lodge, every two rooms share a bathroom. Depending on lodge occupancy, you may be able to have a private bathroom, but it is not guaranteed. Other hotels and lodges all have private, en-suite bathrooms. Wi-fi is usually available everywhere except Chaparri Lodge, though it is usually very slow and only available in public areas of the lodge/hotel.

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but casual photographers will have good chances to photograph birds at feeders at several of the lodges. Bird photography inside the forest is much more challenging, and hardcore bird photographers will likely be frustrated by the rather fast pace of the tour. We’ll also make some short stops for scenery photos, especially in the spectacular Marañon Canyon.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, nearly all European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Tourist visas are currently required mainly for citizens of countries in Africa (except South Africa), Asia, and the Middle East.Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge/restaurant staff; one way airfare between Lima and Chicalyo; one way airfare between Cajamarca and Lima; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 16; meals from breakfast on day 2 to lunch on day 17; safe drinking water and/or juice as well as tea and coffee during meals; safe drinking water only between meals (some lodges also provide complimentary tea/coffee between meals); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 17; local guide at Chaparri Lodge; local guide at Waqanki Lodge (ONLY IF AVAILABLE; there is only one local bird guide at Waqanki and he is sometimes unavailable); ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle with driver from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 17; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters in city hotels (if you require their services); international flights; excess luggage charges; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.