Here we are in Lima on the west coast of Peru and on the airport car park we see the appropriately named West Peruvian Dove. After breakfast in the hotel we head out of town to Villa marshes, where a lagoon backs on to a sandy beach covered with Belcher’s Gulls, with bright yellow legs, and a few similar but larger Kelp Gulls with greenish legs. Among the loafing flock we also find several Grey-hooded Gulls and a single Franklin’s Gull, while three Elegant Terns made a brief flyover. Also on the beach were a few noisy American Oystercatchers, a flock of Hudsonian Whimbrel, which lack the white rump of ‘our’ Whimbrel, and amongst them a Willet, which looks like a cross between a Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit in winter plumage. On the lagoon there were yellow and white-billed forms of Andean Coot, and Andean Duck, a relative of the Ruddy Duck with a similarly bright blue bill, plus White-cheeked Pintail, with a bright red bill, lovely Cinnamon Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and a pair of very smart Great Grebes. Around the margins we found Snowy Egret, Striated and Little Blue Herons, dozing Black-crowned Night-Herons, Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper, and in the reeds we eventually got views of Wren-like Rushbird weaving its nest in the reeds, as well as the fabulous Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant feeding a youngster. Other passerines here included Long-tailed Mockingbird, Shiny Cowbird, the bright Vermillion Flycatcher and the vocal House Wren. Our local guide for the day described the next pool as “Peep Paradise” and he was not wrong, as it was covered in twirling Wilson’s Phalaropes and crawling with Semi-palmated Sandpipers around the edges. Amongst the throng we also found Least and Baird’s Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt and Stilt Sandpiper, and at one stage the whole lot was spooked by a couple of Harris’s Hawks. A great morning’s birding concluded with American Kestrel, and a Burrowing Owl peeping over the top of the sandy rim of its burrow.
We had lunch in Pucusana, at the El Sol restaurant overlooking a tidal pool fed by waves funneling through a natural tunnel in the rocks. As well as lunch and a paddle in the pool, we also enjoyed close views of the Surf Cinclodes, which only occurs at sea level along the Peruvian coast. After lunch we boarded a small boat for a cruise around the headland, washed white with guano from the hundreds of Peruvian Boobies, ornately moustached Inca Terns, and Peruvian Pelicans with their awesome red, blue and yellow bills. There were also Blackish Oystercatchers, and amongst the South American Sea Lions, three Humboldt Penguins stood looking confused when dozens of terns took to the air. There were also three species of cormorant; Neotropic, Guanay and Red-legged, which must surely be the world’s smartest looking member of the family, with that red and yellow bill and soft grey plumage delicately dappled with white.
The big question over breakfast this morning was “Did you feel the earth move last night?” Apparently there had been an earth tremor at 2.35am, but I slept through it! We rendezvoused with our guide Silverio at the airport and checked in for an internal flight from Lima to Cusco. Silverio set three main target species en route to Ollantaytambo; the range restricted Streak-fronted Thornbird, and the endemic Rusty-fronted Canastero and Bearded Mountaineer. First stop was Huacarpay lakes at a breath-taking 10,170 feet, where we found White-tufted Grebe, Puna Ibis, Puna Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail and Andean Gull, alongside better views of Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant, but probably best of all was the show put on by a pair of Plumbeous Rails, calling like mad with their red, blue and green bills, right in front of us. Around the lakes we found Yellow-winged Blackbird, Chiguanco Thrush, Hooded Siskin and Andean Lapwing, with a metallic green sheen, while the dry montane landscape produced birds such as Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant and the ubiquitous Rufous-collared Sparrow. Arriving at a shady spot for a picnic lunch, we spotted a group of about forty lovely Spot-winged Pigeons, and straight after lunch we bagged the Rusty-fronted Canastero as it darted through the low scrub, followed by scope views of a Giant Hummingbird and then a White-browed Chat-Tyrant. Also here we staked out the massive hanging stick nest of Streak-fronted Thornbirds but they didn’t show, although we found a pair at a nest further along the road. That just left the endemic Bearded Mountaineer to find before dusk, so this was our last chance, but first came Black-throated Flowerpiercer. Then we spotted the Mountaineer up the slope and soon it was in the bushes right in front of us, a superb male with an iridescent blue supercilium and gleaming green and violet beard. What a stunning gem of a bird.
We caught the 07.05 train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, along the scenic and progressively more wooded valley of the Rio Urubamba, spotting numerous Torrent Ducks along the way. From Aguas Calientes it was a brief upward bus ride to Machu Picchu, where we did the tourist bit along with thousands of others, but it is a must do location in a spectacular setting, with Blue-and-white Swallows dashing around the ancient stone ruins. After lunch here Silverio showed us the endemic Inca Wren, singing away at ridiculously close range, followed by equally close views of Azara’s Spinetail. We took the bus part way back down the slope and alighted for more birding, with great views of Rust-and-yellow Tanager, and after more hard work by Silverio, we found the endemic Masked Fruiteater. Lower still we saw our first of many Tropical Kingbirds, followed by Streaked Xenops, Russet-crowned Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Slate-throated Whitestart, Variable Antshrike, White-bellied Hummingbird, the endemic Green-and-white Hummingbird, and Blue-necked Tanager with a completely blue head. Back by the river, we had great views of White-capped Dipper, Black Phoebe, Torrent Tyrannulet, the magnificent Saffron-crowned Tanager and a pair of Torrent Ducks posing on a boulder in midstream.
Today we left Cusco at 11,150 feet, heading down the eastern Andean slope. In the dry village fields, we found plenty of Band-tailed Seedeaters and Mourning and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches, followed by Peruvian Sierra-Finch and eventually the endemic Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch. Further on it was market day in the little town of Huancarani, providing plenty of photo-opportunities thanks to the glittering dresses and fancy hats worn by the local ladies. Out of town we found Andean Flicker, Mountain Caracara, Rufous-webbed Bush-Tyrant and eventually Slender-billed Miner. From the stone bridge at Paucartambo, we watched White-winged Cinclodes and by midday the dry landscape had given way to cloud forest with Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Shining Sunbeam, Hooded Mountain-Tanager and Great Thrush, which looks like an overgrown Blackbird. From now on pristine cloud forest cloaked the vertiginous slopes all the way down to Cock-of-the-Rock lodge, and on the way down good birds included Golden-headed Quetzal, White-collared Jay, Blue-banded Toucanet and Highland Motmot.
The feeders and bushes at the lodge attracted numerous Hummingbirds including Many Spotted and Speckled, plus Sparkling Violetear, Fawn-breasted and Violet-fronted Brilliants, Booted Racket-tail, the tiny White-bellied Woodstar, which hovers like a bee, and the amazing Wire-crested Thorntail. Other stars of the grounds included Speckled Chachalaca, Stripe-chested Antwren, Bolivian Tyrannulet, Mottle-backed Elaenia, Olivaceous Siskin and the gorgeous Golden Tanager. Birding the road above the lodge produced loads of good birds such as Crested Quetzal, Slaty Gnateater, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Three-striped and Russet-crowned Warblers, Yungas Manikin, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Zimmer’s Antbird, Orange-eared Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Inca Jay, Dusky-green Oropendola and a couple of very showy Golden-olive Woodpeckers. As well as all these stunning birds we enjoyed a bewildering profusion of fabulously colourful butterflies. After lunch we birded the road below the lodge and found Lemon-browed and Slaty-capped Flycatchers, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Yellow-breasted Warbling-Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Two-banded Warbler, Squirrel Cuckoo and the lovely Bluish-fronted Jacamar. At dusk we went back up the road, and as the fireflies began to glow green in the thickening darkness, Silverio aimed the beam of his powerful spotlight onto a male Lyre-tailed Nightjar perched on a high branch with its incredible thirty inch long tail streamers!
On day two in this bio-diverse cloud forest another bevvy of great birds included Masked Trogon, Capped Conebill, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Mountain Wren, Montane Woodcreeper, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Greenish Puffleg, Spectacled Whitestart, Black-faced Brush-Finch, the endemic Slaty Tanager and the Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant with a high pitched whistle. In the frenzy of a busy mixed flock we managed to pick out Brown-capped Vireo, Streaked Tuftedcheek and Short-billed Bush-Tanager. A trio of Handsome Flycatchers showed very nicely and then we had the incredible spectacle of a Chestnut-crested Cotinga feeding on berries just a few yards ahead of us! Next came Collared Inca, and good views of a gingery Andean Coati with a banded tail, feeding amongst the bromeliads below the road at eye level. It was now 9.45am and ‘snack time’, and as I reached into my bag for something to munch my hand came out with a two inch cockroach clamped to my skin! Once the hysteria died down, we managed to get the stowaway off the bus. The next wildlife encounter was a troop of muscular looking Grey Wooly Monkeys, breaking off and dropping branches as well as pooping, as they rushed through the trees above our heads! Afternoon sightings included Unadorned and Olive Flycatchers, Green-fronted Lancebill, Chestnut-collared Swift, Common Bush-Tanager and the very smart Deep-blue Flowerpiercer with piercing yellow eyes. We concluded a fabulous day with a visit to a Cock-of-the-Rock lek not far from the lodge of the same name, and as we watched from the side line, about ten of these vividly bright orange males, pumped up with testosterone, put on a remarkable wing stretching and bowing display accompanied by a raucous shouting match. This was a privileged experience reminiscent of a BBC wildlife programme and one of the many highlights of the trip. That evening someone left the dining room door ajar and so the room quickly filled with a wide assortment of bugs including three inch long beetles and huge moths with wingspans as wide as a human hand!
By now I had lost track of what day it was, but my Proguanil pack told me it should be Wednesday. We waved adios to the staff at the lovely Cock-of-the-Rock lodge and slowly descended further down the eastern Andean slope. Our first new bird was a well concealed roosting Rufescent Screech-Owl, another amazing find by Silverio. The bromeliad-festooned cloud forest soon gave way to a different forest type with palm trees and lots more Bamboo, and so the avifauna also changed, and we saw our first member of the parrot family, a White-eyed Parakeet, followed by Golden-bellied Warbler, Plumbeous Kite, Magpie Tanager, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Black-and-white Seedeater and the dazzlingly psychedelic Paradise Tanager which is shiny blue, green, purple, red and black! At the next stop we found Double-toothed Kite, Crested Oropendola, a pair of Dot-winged Antwrens and a ‘punch-packing’ Crimson-crested Woodpecker. Lower still the tropical heat became apparent for the first time as a procession of new birds were added to the list including Dusky-cheeked Foliage-gleaner, White-winged Becard, Blue Dacnis, Swallow Tanager, graceful Swallow-tailed Kites and best of all, the endemic Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher which showed really well. Beyond Chantachaco at a mere 3,116 feet above sea level, White-bearded Manikin put in an appearance and then we reached ‘civilisation’ with shanty houses, power lines, forest clearings and birds like Smooth-billed Ani, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Blue-black Grassquit and the impressive Long-tailed Tyrant. At the final stop before lunch, at a clump of Moriche Palms, Silverio came up trumps with another of his ‘targets’, this time the fabulous Point-tailed Palmcreeper, which showed really well, as did Yellow-browed Sparrows. Noisy Violaceous Jays accompanied our picnic lunch (8 hours after breakfast) and then slave-driving Silverio ‘cracked the whip’ and had us back to ‘work’, finding Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Slender-billed Xenops, Bamboo Antshrike and the amazing spectacle of two Great Potoos sat side by side on the same dead branch! In the scope the detail in their pale grey plumage mimicked the bark perfectly and the only thing that gave them away was the occasional sleepy blink and slight movements, just like ‘live street statues’. At the end of the road at Atalaya, we thanked our bus driver for such a good ride, scoped a Fasciated Tiger-Heron and then boarded a small boat across the Alto Madre de Dios river and downstream to Amazonia Lodge. The garden feeders at the lodge were buzzing with another dazzling selection of hummingbirds including Violet-headed and Many Spotted, along with Grey-breasted Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Blue-tailed Emerald, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Gould’s Jewelfront, the endemic Koepcke’s Hermit and the cute little Rufous-crested Coquette. After dark, distant lightning lit up the sky for the fourth night in a row, but this time the heavens opened and torrential rain cascaded off the lodge roof, like so many of the waterfalls back in the steep-sided valleys of the cloud forest. Such a downpour made me wonder how the tiny hummingbirds could withstand such a battering, but there they were again at the feeders next morning.
After breakfast at the now routine time of 5am, we began birding in the lodge garden, and after one and a half hours we had spotted over thirty species without moving more than 200 yards from our cabins! The kaleidoscopic ‘garden bird list’ included Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Black-fronted Nunbird, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, White-browed Antbird, Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper, Ochre-bellied, Sulphur-bellied and Grey-capped Flycatchers, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Purplish Jay, Black-billed Thrush, Red-capped Cardinal, Masked Crimson, Silver-beaked and Blue-grey Tanagers, Buff-throated and Greyish Saltators, Purple Honeycreeper, Russet-backed Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique and Golden-bellied Euphonia. The sheer diversity of birds in this rainforest is incredible and that was just the garden list! Along the trails which delve a short way into the jungle, we found Swainson’s Thrush, Pale-legged Hornero and prehistoric looking Hoatzins, but then ‘rain stopped play’ and so we retired to the lodge verandah, to watch the ‘garden birds’ again. After lunch, another crack at the trails produced Round-tailed Manakin, Variegated Flycatcher and a pair of trilling Rufous-sided Crakes at very close range. By the end of the day we had seen seventy one different birds around the lodge including a Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl after dark.
Today we had four more hours at Amazonia Lodge before continuing our journey down river, and the garden was still producing new birds such as Blue-throated Piping-Guan and Black-banded Woodcreeper, while new birds on the trails included Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Spix’s Guan, Pale-vented Pigeon and White-lined Antbird. Suddenly I felt an insect bite my arm and as I brushed it off another one bit followed by more bites all over my body. We were being attacked by a swarm of bees and Silverio said “Run!” Ironically, he stayed put while the swarm chased the rest of us along the trail, arms waving frantically as we ran. During the sprint Adrian was quickest away, leaving the rest of us for dead! By now the bees were all over us and even stuck in our hair, but they found Dave’s tee shirt particularly attractive and so I set about swotting him with my hat! Meanwhile he even dropped his trousers to brush one out of his pants! After the kerfuffle had subsided we regrouped and continued birding like war heroes after a hand to hand jungle skirmish, finding Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Red-billed Scythebill, Black-throated Toucanet, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Great Kiskadee, Swallow-wing and a Yellow-tufted Woodpecker making repeated sallies from a dead branch to catch insects in mid-air just like a flycatcher!
Cruising down river toward Manu Wildlife Centre, new birds included Black and Southern Caracaras, Large-billed Tern, White-winged Swallow, Cocoi Heron and Capped Heron with a buff-washed body and gorgeous blue bill. Below the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Manu rivers we made a brief stop at Boca de Manu in order to purchase wine and wellies. By now the landscape was flatter and the river smoother with birds like Great Black Hawk, White-banded Swallow, Giant Cowbird and the smart Pied Lapwing along the riverbank. Manu Wildlife Centre is so plush, we had to take our boots off to enter the long house-style dining hall for the cool refreshing welcome drink of wild tree tomato juice. New acquaintances in the lodge grounds included Reddish Hermit, Festive Coquette and a large rufous rodent called a Brown Agouti.
Our boat set off at 5am downstream to a side creek, where a clay bank attracts a variety of parrots and macaws each morning. By 6.40am we were in position in the large hide looking across the creek to the opposite bank where the trees were full of Blue-headed Parrots, along with a few Yellow-crowned and Orange-cheeked Parrots and a couple of silvery backed Mealies, and they were all a vivid green whenever they flew along the creek with the early morning sun behind us. What a place to have breakfast, as raucous Red-and-green Macaws gradually piled in to the tree tops from all directions, usually in pairs, before hanging around in the trees, often upside down. Among the growing congregation were a few Blue-and-yellow Macaws, three Scarlets, and a trio of Tui Parakeets with deep pink bills. It was 8.08am before the first Red-and-greens came down to the bank to partake of the clay to aid their digestion, but then more and more soon came down, often breaking off chunks of clay to take away and chew while held in one foot back in the trees. Beside all this action we also watched a Green Kingfisher, a Barred Antshrike, and a tree full of Eastern Kingbirds, plus Alder, Social and Crowned Slaty Flycatchers, with Little Ground-Tyrant and Drab Water-Tyrant competing for ‘LBJ’ of the day, while a Roadside Hawk looked on from a lofty perch. The four hours spent watching the scene unfold sped by, and as we returned to the boat, a congregation of butterflies fluttered at the base of the clay bank like confetti outside a church after a wedding. On the boat ride back to the lodge, we spotted a handful of Black Skimmers resting on a pebble beach.
After lunch we marvelled at the amazing bill of the aptly named Long-billed Woodcreeper and then explored a network of trails near the lodge known as The Grid, where we found Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, and then heard our first Screaming Piha, the quintessential sound of the Amazon jungle. A smart Rufous-capped Antthrush crossed our path and then we found a pair of Plumbeous Antbirds, followed by Black Spider Monkeys and a Collared Trogon. Emerging from the forest, the lodge grounds added Yellow-bellied Dacnis, White-throated Toucan and Bare-necked Fruitcrow. That evening, just before dinner we had a visit from Vanessa, a wild but tame Lowland Tapir, who regularly comes to the back door of the kitchen for hand outs, and so we had the privilege of stroking her and hand feeding her with carrots and bananas!
By now I was despising my alarm clock as it seemed to go off so soon after bedtime. After breakfast at 4.30am we took the boat downstream again, this time to visit the Cochacamungo ox bow lake. Soon after landing we got good views of Black-faced Antbird and then spent a good five minutes climbing the 230 steps up to a platform in the crown of a massive four to five hundred year old Kapok tree. At seven inches per step that equates to a height of 134 feet, and yet we were still below the crown of this majestic giant of the rainforest! The tower allowed fabulous eye level views of canopy birds like Masked Tityra, Purus Jacamar, Epaulet Oriole, Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak and Scale-breasted Woodpecker, as well as three species of Trogon; Black-tailed, Blue-crowned and Amazonian, while Greater Yellow-headed and King Vultures floated over the tree canopy. Back at ground level we watched a Black-collared Hawk wolf down a whole snake and then we took our seats on a makeshift catamaran for a tranquil cruise along the length of the lake and back. From the boat we saw Lesser Kiskadee, Black-capped Donacobius, Pale-eyed Blackbird, Black-billed Seed-Finch and a pair of Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, but the highlight was a Giant River Otter which swam across the lake and climbed out onto a fallen tree trunk to sun itself, while we quietly paddled to within about twenty yards before it decided to go for another swim. What a magical morning that was.
At 3pm we set off with a packed dinner along the Collpa trail with a view to coming back after dark. Before we even joined the trail we were just an arm’s length away from a Blue-throated Piping Guan strutting along the hand rail of the bridge that leads out of the lodge garden! A little further on Silverio showed us a small dead leaf on the path which turned out to be a frog in disguise, but I can’t believe how he spotted it. Next he found us Chestnut-tailed and Peruvian Warbling Antbirds, followed by Olive Oropendola. Watching him locate birds high up in the foliage was like watching a native Indian hunting in a television documentary, except that he had binoculars instead of a blow pipe. Wherever we went, he knew every bird by sight and sound, which is remarkable given that there are over 1,800 species in Peru! By late afternoon we had reached a boggy patch in the forest which birds and animals visit in order to lick the clay that lines the edge of the bog, and within fifteen minutes of arriving we were watching a wild Tapir barely twenty yards away! The strange creature looked like a prehistoric horse.
After dark the jungle came alive with an incessant cacophony of pinging tree frogs and millions of stridulating insects, and the walk back to the lodge was full of surprises thanks to Silverio’s remarkable spotting skills. Even in the dark with just a torch, he managed to find a tree frog about twenty yards from the path, and a Tree Boa hanging from a vine at least thirty yards from the path, as well as a Tarantula, and a strange frog with horns and a mouth as wide as it’s body, sitting still among the leaf litter, waiting to gobble up passing insects. Finally we came across a White-throated Tinamou roosting in a tree just above the path.
The alarm clock beeped at 4am again this morning. By 5.10 we were heading downstream again, this time to visit Cocha Blanco ox bow lake, and on the way we saw a Wood Stork as well as the usual suspects. At the lake the boat house should be renamed the bat house, as it was full to the rafters with tiny Long-nosed Bats. We spent two and a half happy hours on a very relaxing cruise along the length of this lovely peaceful lake, during which we saw lots of great things including Purple Gallinule, Green Ibis, Yellow-billed Tern, Black-tailed Tityra, Sungrebe, Limpkin, Wattled Jacana, Muscovy Duck, Snail Kite, Dusky-headed Parrot, Little Cuckoo, Greater Ani, Ringed, Amazon, and Green-and-rufous Kingfishers, Amazonian Streaked Antwren, plenty of Hoatzins and Horned Screamers, a Ladder-tailed Nightjar roosting on a stick just above the water and nine Red Howler Monkeys dozing on the same branch. Back at the bat house we also added Silvered Antbird and Rufous-breasted Hermit to the bulging bird list. On the way back up river we disembarked in a patch of bamboo and the boatman cleared the overgrown trail with a machete so that we could make a start. Along the way we found Rufous-breasted Piculet, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Thrush-like Wren, Manu and Blackish Antbirds (the female of which looks like a Robin) and a little Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in a very big tree, thanks to Silverio’s superhuman spotting skills.
After lunch back at the lodge I took a small group on a short trail to another viewing platform up in the canopy, but this time it was a mere 144 steps to the top. The Screaming Pihas stayed hidden, but new birds for the list here included Curl-crested Aracari, a male Green Honeycreeper and a stunning male Spangled Cotinga sitting obligingly at the very top of a tree.
This morning Silverio allowed us a lie in as breakfast was not until 5am! At this time each morning the local Howlers were particularly grumpy, and their roaring sounded like a strong wind rushing through a distant tunnel. Today’s cunning plan was to follow the Collpa trail again to the clay lick, and have lunch there while watching whatever came along. Next to the lodge we had good views of Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, a preening Plain Softtail and an Amazonian Red Squirrel, just like our own Red Squirrel only twice as big. Along the trail we had a steady stream of sightings such as Plumbeous Pigeon, White-necked Thrush, Green-and-gold Tanager, Grey Antwren, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, Spot-winged Antshrike, and an Elegant Woodcreeper in the scope. Next came a very busy mixed flock containing Dusky-capped Greenlet, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Wing-barred Manikin, Flame-crested and Yellow-backed Tanagers, White-winged Shrike-Tanager and Chestnut-shouldered, Long-winged and Sclater’s Antwrens, but in the frenzy I personally only saw two of the nine species well. By 10.30am we had reached the clay lick which was alive with Rose-fronted and Cobalt-winged Parakeets and tiny Dusky-billed Parrotlets along with just one Rock Parakeet, and some also had close views of a male Band-tailed Manikin and a pair of Rufous-bellied Euphonias. On the way back we finally saw a Screaming Piha and then from the same very productive spot we had a procession of good birds; Casqued Oropendola, Thrush-like Schiffornis, Gilded Barbet, Green-backed Trogon and a noisy pair of White-fronted Nunbirds, as well as the massive Blue Morpho butterfly and Saddle-backed Tamarins. Further on we came across Plain-winged Antshrike, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager and a superb Scaly-breasted Wren singing as loudly as a Nightingale. Eventually after a lot of persistent searching by Silverio, we also found a male Pavonine Quetzal. That evening during dinner, ever alert Silverio called us out for a magnificent Crested Owl, calling from a high branch next to the dining hall.
Sadly it was time to leave Manu Wildlife Centre, and our journey to the airport at Puerto Maldonado was a challenging logistical exercise, performed admirably by the Manu Expeditions team. We began with a two and a quarter hour boat ride down the Manu river to Boca Colorado, where we took four taxis along a dirt road to Puquiri, followed by another boat to ferry us across the Inambari river, where a minibus was waiting to transfer us to Puerto Maldonado airport in time to check in for the flight across the snow-capped Andean peaks back to Lima. With each change of vehicle the luggage was manhandled from one mode of transport to the next, without any hitches, losses or breakages.
It was our last day in the field and on the way out of Lima heading north, a brief stop at a roadside service station produced close views of the Amazilia Hummingbird and Croaking Ground-Dove, as well as our old friend the West Peruvian Dove, not seen since day one, which now seemed like ages ago. The barren arid coastal landscape north of Lima could not have been more different from the lush rainforest we left behind in the pouring rain only yesterday, just a few hundred miles to the east across the Andes, but as we climbed away from the coast into the hills, the bare sand gradually became more and more floral. Arriving at the national nature reserve of Lomas de Lachay, we found plenty of wheezing Peruvian Meadowlarks as well as Coastal Miner and Yellowish Pipit right beside the track. Higher up the slopes, amongst the rocks and scrub, we found Cinereous Conebill, Mountain Parakeet, barrow loads of Eared Doves and both Purple- collared Woodstar and Oasis Hummingbird in the same bush, with several Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles patrolling the hillsides. While birding the reserve, we were talent spotted by a camera crew, who filmed us in action for a nature programme to be featured on the telly in Peru! On the way back to Lima we made one last stop in a rugged area inhabited solely by hardy cacti, with no sign of the endemic Cactus Canastero.
We left this fascinating country of amazing contrasts with some unforgettable experiences, such as the vista at Machu Picchu, the Cock-of-the-Rock lek, all the wonderful monkeys and macaws, vibrantly coloured tanagers, lots of stunningly beautiful butterflies, the sunbathing Giant River Otter and Vanessa the Tapir! We had seen a mind-boggling 485 species of birds, with everything from penguins to parrots, including eleven endemics and thirty six different hummingbirds, so no wonder the roll call took at least half an hour each evening. Peru is not for wimps, and during the trip we shed blood and sweat, and survived sleep deprivation, high altitude breathlessness, heat and humidity, sickness and diarrhoea, mosquitoes, chiggers and ‘killer’ bees, but it was still a great trip! Well done everyone.