Northern Peru: Across the Marañon Canyon
Marvelous Spatuletails and endemics galore.
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. You will be met at the airport and transferred to a nearby airport hotel for the night.
Day 2: Pomac and Chaparri. We’ll transfer to the Lima airport for 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, and Cinereous Finch. We occasionally see Tumbes Swallow here as well. Later, we’ll drive an hour and a half north to the nice Chaparri Lodge in the dry foothills of the western Andes. The highlight here is the White-winged Guans that were successfully reintroduced and are now breeding on their own in the wild. We’ll spend two nights in the lodge.
Day 3: Chaparri Reserve. We’ll spend the full day in the reserve, which has a combination of open areas and wooded valleys. The guans should be fairly easy to find, and some other targets include Andean Tinamou, Tumbes Tyrant, Ochre-bellied Dove, Black-and-white Tanager, Tumbes Hummingbird, and numerous other more common Tumbesian species.
Day 4: Chaparri and Chiclayo. After another morning at Chaparri, we’ll return to Chiclayo for a one night stay. In the afternoon, we’ll bird coastal wetlands for Chilean Flamingo, White-tufted Grebe, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Wren-like Rushbird, and others.
Day 5: 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. In the afternoon, we’ll drive several hours to the town of Jaén, where we spend a single night, stopping at a stakeout for Little Inca-Finch along the way.
Day 6: 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 drive through the afternoon to the town of Moyobamba in the lower east slope foothills, our base for the next two nights.
Day 7: 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 8-10: Eastern Andes. Leaving Mishquiyacu behind we will head up 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 was even seen right behind the lodge in October 2010 – who knows, maybe luck will smile upon us! 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.
Day 11: 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 12: Leymebamba to Celendin. Abra Barro Negro (Black Mud Pass) is the edge of the spectacular Marañon Canyon. 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 before traversing the canyon along one of the most amazing roads in the world. We’ll check 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, where we’ll spend two nights in a good new hotel in the small town of Celendín.
Day 13: Marañon Canyon and Celendin. We’ll leave early to head back down into the canyon to target two key endemics on the west slope of the canyon, Gray-winged Inca-Finch and Chestnut-backed Thornbill as well as anything we may have missed the day before. We should have time in the afteroon to bird scrub and agricultural areas near Celendin for both Black-billed and White-tailed Shrike-Tyrants, Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Black-tailed Trainbearer and more.
Day 14: Celendín to Cajamarca. Birding along this road can be surprisingly good even though it is now mostly farmland. Small patches of forest harbor a distinctive subspecies of Rufous Antpitta that will likely be split, the cute Rusty-crowned Tit-Tyrant, electric blue Tit-like Dacnis, and with luck even the rare Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch. Even the more-open areas have great birds like Slender-billed Miner, Striated Earthcreeper, and Rufous-webbed Tyrant, Peruvian Sierra-Finch, and Streak-throated Canastero. We’ll spend the last two nights 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. There may be some time for some afternoon birding near Cajamarca.
Day 15: San Marcos and Rio Chonta. 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. In the afternoon, we’ll return to Cajamarca and bird the Río Chonta for our last Marañon Valley endemic, the rare and extremely local Gray-bellied Comet. The woodland and scrub by the river also supports White-winged Cinclodes, Black Metaltail, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, and others.
Day 16: Departure. There should be time for more birding this morning to chase anything else we still need, before catching an afternoon flight back to Lima and connecting with international flights home. A day use hotel near the airport will be provided.
CLIMATE: Hot and dry at Chaparri to chilly in the highest elevations.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Much of the birding is from the roadsides. There are some longer trails to walk at Chaparri, and some fairly short but steep and muddy trails at Abra Patricia. There are some long drives and early starts 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.