The Amazing Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans). Photo Uli Erfurth.

We are on our way to Antarctica, a day ago we left Ushuaia and the calm waters of the Beagle Channel. Cape Horn and its furious water are away from us and we are sailing in the waters of the Drake Passage. The conditions are ideal, it is not a journey in calm waters without wind or a swell, what is known as a Drake Lake. Instead, we have a 1-2-meter swell and the wind blows at a speed that we can enjoy the presence of dozens of different species of pelagic birds from the open decks of the Scenic-Eclipse.

White-chinned and Pintado Petrels, Northern Giant-Petrel and a Wandering Albatross following the Scenic-Eclipse across Drake’s Passage. (Photo Pepe Rojas)

These seabirds belong to the order Procellariiformes (from the Latin procella meaning tempest, storm, or gale) and they are adapted to spend their entire lives flying and feeding in the open sea, only coming to land to breed once a year or every other year. For this reason, some people refer to them as “real seabirds”. Many of them occur in areas with very intense winds known as the “roaring forties”, “the furious fifties” and “the screaming sixties” and it is common to see them following boats for miles, as it is in our case.

Wandering Albatross have a complex plumage pattern that can be confused with Southern/Northern Royal Albatrosses. (Photo Pepe Rojas)

An important feature that sets them apart from other seabirds are their nostrils. These are located above or to the sides of the upper mandible and they are tube-shaped (that is why they are also known as Tubenoses) and they have a very acute sense of smell which allow some of them to detect food and also guide them to their breeding grounds. Some as small as the Storm Petrels, (in Spanish are known as “sea swallows”); others of medium size such as Petrels, Shearwaters, Diving Petrels and finally among the largest we have Giant-Petrels and Albatrosses. Among albatrosses we have the medium size known as mollymawks and the large size where it undoubtedly stands out the Wandering Albatross.

Notice the “tubenose” on top of the bill on this Northern Giant-Petrel. (Photo Pepe Rojas)

One of my favorite activities on board is spending time on the bridge or the open decks interacting with the passengers and identifying the wildlife that may appear. Mostly birds and sometimes whales. I am in the observation area on deck 5 behind Café Azure enjoying a spectacular show. Dozens of birds have been following us for a while: Black-browed Albatrosses, Cape Petrels, Southern Giant-Petrels, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Blue Petrels, Slender-billed Prions among others, but one of the most sought-after on the trip has yet to appear.

This is the other type of “tubenose”. Unlike the other example, you can see the nostrils on this Black-browed Albatross. (Photo Pepe Rojas)

Suddenly, in the distance, I spotted the unmistakable figure of a Wandering Albatross. It comes flying in the direction of the ship, it is very close to the waves, almost brushing with its wings the surface until it begins to turn and faces the wind; with the wind against it, the bird starts to rise and gains height again. It reaches a point from which it turns in the direction of the wind and begins to descend until it almost touches the waves; and keeps following the same flight pattern, which is known as Dynamic Soaring which is one of the most efficient ways to fly. This flight pattern allows them to cover thousands of miles of the ocean without expending more energy than they do when sitting down incubating their eggs. This flight pattern has been studied by physicists and aeronautical engineers and they are seeking to apply this adaptation in the aeronautical industry, designing more efficient drones that minimize the use of fossil fuels.

Wandering Albatross and Pintado Petrels. (Photo Pepe Rojas)

As I followed it with my binoculars, I kept adjusting the focus as it was getting closer and closer to the ship. I could see in detail the tubenose nostrils and at some point I feel I could even touch the tip of its wings! The feeling of excitement and joy was indescribable but I know that many of those who share the eccentric passion of watching birds know exactly what I mean! Suddenly I remember the lady who told me that one of the species she WANTED to see was precisely the Wandering Albatross. With no time to waste I contacted her, and she joined us to enjoy an excellent display and even take some photos. For me, watching one of my guests having a great experience, is one of the most rewarding and satisfying feelings in my career as a professional guide!

Masters of the air! (Photo Uli Erfurth)

The interesting fact about this was that this guest was not a birdwatcher, she had a very strong interest in the wildlife but not all birds caught her attention like the Wandering Albatross. While chatting with her, I discovered that she had learned about this species through various Sir David Attenborough videos. She was so fascinated by the prospect of seeing it on this trip that it was high on her list. One of the aspects that really intrigued her, was the natural history of the Albatrosses, which is indeed remarkable.

One of the best known characteristics of the Wandering Albatross is that it is one of the largest flying bird species on the planet and the species of bird with the largest wingspan, even greater than that of the Andean Condor! It can reach between 2.5 – 3.5 m. on average. They feed on some fish and a few crustaceans, but their main prey are mostly cephalopods (18 species of squid in this species) some of which are caught at night. Sometimes they will also feed on carrion. The Wandering Albatross inhabits the Southern Ocean where it breeds in remote islands without predators. It takes them 7 to 10 years to reach sexual maturity and they breed every two years. They bond with their mates for the rest of their lives and both adults take care of the egg and chick. They are long-lived, it is estimated that they can reach 100 years with 1% of the population reaching 80 years. The oldest confirmed record from the Southern Ocean was a Northern Albatross at Tairaroa Head, New Zealand. The last time it was recorded, the bird was rearing a chick and it was 61 years old!

Wandering Albatross mate for life! (Photo Uli Erfurth)

However, one of the most important adaptations which is directly related to the dynamic soaring flight pattern. For that, their wings have a shoulder locking mechanism that consists of a combination of tendons and muscles, these allow the albatross to lock their wings and keep them open horizontally without the need to flap. In this way they can take advantage of the wind and travel thousands of kilometers. There is a caveat, they need strong winds and it is known that when the wind slows down below 18 km the albatrosses sit and wait in the water for the wind conditions to improve for them (or worsen for the boats!)

The wonderful Wandering Albatross! (Photo Uli Erfurth)

Due to their remote habitat and natural history, these birds are difficult to see, however, trips to Antarctica, (especially during the crossing through the Drake Pass) offer us the unique opportunity to come across one of the birds most wonderful on the planet, the Wandering Albatross!

I hope you enjoy the article. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Stay healthy and strong and go birding as much as you can!

Love and joy!

Pepe 

The Man and the Hummingbird

Marvelous Spatuletail (Photo by ECOAN, Tino Aucca)

The National Hummingbird Day was celebrated this past Saturday and I could not think of another way to celebrate it than by sharing a story between a friend who has a special connection with an endemic species of Peru. This is the story of my friend Santos Montenegro and the famous Marvelous Spatuletail, the bird that changed his life.

I met Santos a while ago when I went to look for this hummingbird. He was born in San Lucas de Pomacochas in the department of Amazonas, an area that despite having a very high diversity and a huge potential for natural history tourism in Peru, it does not receive the attention or promotion that it should from the Peruvian state. Like many people in the area, Santos worked on his farm to provide for his family. Every day, very early, Santos went out to see his cows and take care of his crops.

In 2000 Santos met a group of 5 birders who asked him if he knew the Marvelous Spatuletail and where to find it. Santos, with the calm that characterizes him, told them that yes, they could see it easily in his farm. He had seen this and other species but he had no idea how important it was to these birders and how that bird would change his life. After arriving at the place where he had seen him, they were scanning the area until at one point Santos noticed one and pointed to everyone to see it. The birders just burst in joy and happiness and started running like kids for the excitement. A few days later another group came and so little by little more people began to look for Santos to see the Marvelous Spatuletail.

Santos Montenegro: “A birdie changed my life” (photo from Conservamos por Naturaleza)

Santos became more and more interested in birds. A tourist gave him a pair of binoculars and he began to study and learn the birds of the area to such an extent that he is currently one of the experts on the birds of this part of Peru, especially the Marvelous Spatuletail. Santos’ knowledge of this species is unparalleled. He knows which flowers it prefers, at what time of year they bloom, when they reproduce, the courtship, who preys on them, where they nest and many important details of the biology and ecology of this species that have not been well documented until today.

Santos saw the opportunity to start developing tourism on his property and began to plant different types of plants to attract other species of birds. At the same time, using plastic bottles and balloon ring clips, he developed hummingbird feeders from recycled materials that were quickly accepted by the hummingbirds of the area.

Santos became increasingly concerned about deforestation in his area and how this affects the habitat of the Marvelous Spatuletail. For that, he left a large part of his property undeveloped to maintain the habitat of the Marvelous Spatuletail. I remember conversations with Santos about deforestation, fires and habitat loss and how this situation mortified him.

Huembo Lodge (Photo, Carlos Calle)

Years later, ECOAN (Asociación de Ecosistemas Andinos), a Peruvian organization dedicated to the conservation of Andean ecosystems, contacted Santos and hired him as the manager of the Huembo reserve, a protected area that covers approximately 32 hectares in the Utcubamba valley instead which was destined to protect this species as well as others.

Like any project that starts from scratch, the work required a great deal of effort but above all a lot of patience. They began reforesting the area with different plant species to attract the Marvelous Spatuletail at the same time an strategy was developed to attract them to the hummingbird feeders, a process that normally takes a lot of time and patience but above all, something that had never been attempted with this species before and they did not know if it would be successful.

A male Marvelous Spatuletail taking a rest displaying its feathers (Photo by Carlos Calle)

It took about eight months for some hummingbirds to begin to visit the feeders that Santos had been hanging in the area and it took 4 more months for the Marvelous Spatuletail to finally appear… Almost a year of waiting! I remember when Santos told me, I could perceive the excitement in his voice, “I got goosebumps when I saw him” he told me!

Waiting for the Marvelous Spatuletail at the hummingbird feeders in Huembo (Photo by Daniel Lebbin)

Santos currently continues to work with ECOAN on a series of reforestation and agroforestry projects with local people to develop sustainable agriculture techniques to minimize the impacts of agriculture in the region and promote the protection and conservation of this area as well as tourism.

In all these years that I have returned to look for the Marvelous Spatuletail, it is always gratifying to meet Santos and learn from him, about his findings and new birds he has seen and are coming to the gardens in Huembo. Many times we have gone out together to look for other birds and it really ia a luxury to watch birds with him. If you want to meet Santos personally and see the Marvelous Spatuletail, the bird that changed his life, be sure to visit the Huembo Lodge. The place has a group of cabins very comfortable with hot water and electricity as well as great food…Highly recommended!

 

Emperor Penguins!!!

Emperor Penguins!!!

During the first trip of the 2019-2020 Antarctic season with the Scenic-Eclipse, one of the questions that many of the participants asked me insistently was: “are we going to see Emperor Penguins?” Knowing that it was almost impossible, my answer in a very educated and polite way was that no. Although I had mentioned that in my presentation about penguins, I explained to them that the colonies of Emperor Penguins are located hundreds of kilometers within the ice and that with great luck we would see an individual swimming or in the ice far out of reach. This, of course, as long as it was possible to enter the Weddell Sea, which was “in proximity” of the Snow Hill Island colony, however navigating these waters can be difficult due to the ice conditions.

But the universe gave us a glimmer of hope. The ice chart showed that the ice conditions in the following days were going to be adequate for navigation in the Weddell Sea. In addition to that, our boat, the Scenic-Eclipse, has been specifically built following to the most rigorous specifications in the industry for navigation in polar waters.

We arrived at the chosen point and the captain positioned our boat parallel to the fast ice, so that we could go down the starboard side using the gangway ladder. After having breakfast, we, the Discovery Team went out to assess the ice conditions and establish a perimeter so that the guests could go out to explore safely. While we waited for them, I kept looking around with my binoculars, especially next to the ship where the open sea was, but I didn’t see anything unusual. I noticed my adrenaline kicking in every time I saw an Adelie Penguin coming out to the ice!

Emperor Penguin(left) and Adelie Penguin (right)

People came out and had a blast walking around and exploring the ice, it had been at least an hour since the time guests were out. At that point, a good number of the guests had returned on board again, when all of the sudden, in front of the bow I two saw penguins come out of the water. The first thing that struck me was the size of these individuals! While trying to convince myself that what I was seeing were really Emperor Penguins, I heard one of my colleagues confirming on the radio what I was seeing, he rarioded “I got 4 Emperor Penguins coming out the water“.

They came so close to us that we have to keep moving away…who is watching who!

From the bridge, the entire ship was immediately notified that there were emperor penguins as many of the guests had already returned to the ship, had changed and were relaxing. Needless to say they changed again and came right away to enjoy this once-in-a-life-experience. I remember in particular a couple who wanted to see them so badly, being very happy after that encounter! In the end EVERYONE on the ship including crew, hotel staff, management, officers, etc, had the incredible opportunity to see these amazing creatures up close.

The most spectacular of all was that the penguins came to check on us to the point that following the IAATO protocols, we had to get away from them and open the way for them to pass, despite that they continued to linger around us. Their behavior was typical of animals that do not see humans as a threat, did not I notice any behavior or vocalization of alarm! Truly something increasingly unusual in the world but that it still happening in Antarctica because of the excellent work of IAATO and the organizations that work making sure to keep this pristine place.

Snow Hill colony in red and our position on orange.
Snow Hill colony in red and our position on orange.

Most likely, these penguins belonged to the colony of Snow Hill Island, the “closest and most accessible” colony in Antarctica to see this species. From our point, the colony was located about 50 nautical miles (92.6 km or 57.5 mi). Normally to get there you must organize a trip and special logistics that includes helicopters and camping. I no longer remember exactly how long they spent with us but it seemed as time just stopped right then at the point we were not aware of the time when it was time to leave and continue our journey. We all returned to the ship leaving these 4 penguins on the ice. As we boarded, we discovered that there were 8 more emperor penguins on the ice behind the bow!

These birds gave us an unforgettable experience!

As a birder I had plenty of experiences getting “life birds”, (for those that are not familiar with the term,a life bird means seeing/identifying a bird species for the first time in your life) plenty of rare and unique species but this one was just remarkable and it goes to one of the top ones!

During the rest of that trip, everyone remembered this moment and for many it was the experience of their lives! I was just grateful for this and I never stopped smiling every time I remembered our encounter with these penguins and until now I can’t find the words in English (or in Spanish, my mother tongue) to express how magical and wonderful that moment was!

Happy birding and stay safe!

Love you all.

Pepe

New Colonies of Emperor Penguins in Antarctica

Emperor Penguins at Weddell sea (Pepe Rojas)

In these days of uncertainty and pandemic in the world, when we do not know what is coming next, it is comforting to receive good news. I just read an article published on August 4 in the British newspaper The Guardian in which the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has announced the discovery of a total of 11 new colonies of Emperor Penguins. 8 of these are new and the other 3 are unconfirmed from past reports, which are considered “re-dicovered”. This means 20% more colonies of this species (with this, the number of colonies goes up to 61), which contribute to the current population with 5 to 10% more individuals.

Newly discovered and rediscovered colonies found using Sentinel-2. Newly discovered (red circles) and re-discovered colonies (yellow
squares) Picture British Antarctic Survey.

For years, the Wildlife From Space program of the BAS has been studying different species such as penguins, whales, seals, and albatrosses using high-resolution satellite imagery. In the case of penguins, the images allow researchers to recognize the color of guano in Antarctic ice and even small colonies. The Sentinel-2 satellite launched in 2015 by the European Space Agency (ESA) allows images to be obtained up to 10 meters in resolution and this discovery was thus achieved.

Sentinel-2 satellite imagery of the eleven newly discovered or rediscovered colonies. Example of colour corrected imagery from
Sentinel-2 at 1:50 000 scale of the newly discovered or rediscovered sites. Photo British Antarctic Survey

The technique of using satellite images is not new, in 2015 a team of researchers led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, found an Adelie Penguins colony of 1.5 million individuals on Danger island. The images also revealed the reddish color of the penguin’s guano on the ice. Later the team confirmed their finding in situ and counted the birds with the aid of a drone and by hand.

Adelie Penguins, the other ice obligate specialist. (Pepe Rojas)

These two species are ice obligate species. Emperor Penguins nest miles from the coast on ice attached to the mainland (fast ice), in some cases, these colonies are about 400 km from the coast. Adelie Penguins do not nest on ice but many times their colonies are far from the sea and associated with polynyas, which are areas of the open sea surrounded by ice where they can feed and thus reduce the energy expense of having to move from the colonies to other places to feed.

Without a doubt, great news in the midst of this situation and if you want to learn of my first encounter with the Emperor Penguins, stay tuned for my next article.

Happy birding!

Love you all,

Pepe

I am Back!

Hi all! It has been a long time since the last post I published and since then many things have changed in the world, literally! … It is really hard to believe, but it is our new reality, our lives changed drastically.

The Coronavirus crisis caught me in February aboard the Scenic-Eclipse returning from Antarctica. We were on our way to Ushuaia to leave a group of tourists, meet another group and head to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. On the way back to the continent, the news was changing as the virus spread out through the world. Little by little countries all over the world were taking actions against the virus.

Peru was one of the first countries to close its borders and declare a strict quarantine which did not allow me to return. Argentina closed its ports and we found ourselves sailing in an uncertain situation without knowing when or where we could disembark and return to our countries of origin.

Little by little, some opportunities began to emerge. In Uruguay we were able to disembark tourists and part of the crew, then in Brazil, where I was able to disembark and fly to the USA, which is where I am currently. Happily my family was able to leave Peru and we are together in Florida.

Anyway, here I am again, adapting to the new reality and life during this pandemic and as part of this I am taking up my blog. Stay tuned because I will be sharing a lot of my experiences during the past months.

Love you all,

Pepe

BIRDING YOUR OWN WAY

Birding in Barrow, Alaska looking for Ross’ Gulls

I have been guiding groups of birdwatchers for 20 plus years and recently, I have noticed a very interesting shift in the preferences of many birdwatchers. It was typical to find groups of birders traveling with international companies from the USA or UK in South and Central America approximately at the same time of the year, to different destinations, and the length of the trips used to be 15 to 21 days. The leaders were/are usually original from the countries of origin of the companies and mostly excellent birders.

Currently with the availability of information available to all due to advances in technology that make communications very easy and fluid as well as with the availability of more local companies and local guides, it is easier for anybody to access other options and do your own trip on what I like to call birding your own way!

I’ve been finding more and more groups and/or individuals traveling with different local operators/guides at different times of the year and even to areas that are not covered by international companies. These people have contact the local operators directly which arrange everything and some are responsible for making many of the logistics arrangements themselves. For example, during one of my last trips in the cloud forest of Manu, which is a well-known birding area in the world, I found 7 more groups of birders (8 counting on the group that I was guiding). Among these, one of 2 people traveling without a guide and the others that varied from 3 to 8 participants. They all had guides from different Peruvian birding companies. The interesting detail is that I had modified the dates of my trip to avoid finding many people in the area and also because I knew that at that time of the year the conditions were very favorable for birding and certainly with less people, which was not the case!

Traveling as part of an organized group has its perks, from a social point of view is very appealing for a large number of people who like to interact socially at the same time to follow their passion to see birds under the guarantee of being in a tour operated by a company that organizes absolutely everything for them. They just have to show up and follow the itinerary with a guide. However, it can also be challenging and complicated for many reasons. From social interactions dynamics to the different levels of interest of each individual, the level of fitness, the ability to respond to instructions, personality, etc.

Birding at Colorado National Monument, CO.

Let me use a hypothetical example (very real though!) to clarify this issue. For instance, we all know that the tropical andes and rainforest are some of the world’s top birding destinations with one of the richest avian faunas of the world and a series of complex habitats and microhabitats that makes birding very challenging. So imagine this scenario: In your group there are novice birders, new to tropical birding, in fact this might be their first international birding trip! Others are birders doing their second or third trip in the tropics and already know how (and where!) to look for the birds, in addition to that, they have seen most common/uncommon birds as well as some of the rare.

And finally we have the most experienced birders, those with several trips under their belt in different parts of these areas, with a few birds missing from the life’s list. These are generally birders looking for the rarest birds and/or toughest birds to find. Imagine the challenge that represents to be able to find all of the birds for such a cast of characters! In addition to that, not everyone has the same physical conditions or abilities and skills. Some might suffer from the heat and humidity, the mosquitoes; others cannot walk long distances, climb hills, muddy trails, early mornings, among other challenges. Add a photographer and we will have a whole other extra level of complexity to the situation, but let’s leave that for another blog post!

Looking for White-tailed Ptarmigans at Loveland Pass, CO

As a guide, in the past years I have been focusing precisely on small groups and individuals who had been looking to bird their own way for the reasons I mentioned above. Some are hard core birders, others are people that want to travel according to their time availability, others wanted to bird but also have interests in other wildlife, flowers, culture, others just want to bird at their own pace…all they want is to bird at their own way!

Birding in the Brazilian Amazon

One of my first clients was a gentleman looking for a number of birds he was missing from the Peruvian northern Amazon. I took care of everything and we had a great time exceeding the number of birds he was looking for and more importantly, having great views of the birds he was looking for.

Another client, Mary one of my clients told me that every time she signed up on a trip that she liked from a company, she made sure that the leader was a guide of her preference but the most important thing for her was to make sure to know who would travel in that group. “If I found someone with whom I did not get along or had a bad experience in the past, I did not enroll on that trip”. So it became increasingly difficult for her to find trips until she decided to start traveling alone or with very small groups of friends using local companies and/or guides and discovered that it was exactly what worked best for her.

John, another of my clients told me that due to his poor ability to see and hear well, every time he took a group tour, he felt terrible because he had trouble seeing the birds and the guide had to spent extra time in order to show him the birds, which sometimes he could not see! “I felt a lot of pressure from the other participants in the group and little by little my experience was not enjoyable. Because of this and despite the fact I could still travel, I was considering stop birding internationally until a friend asked him to join him in a tour for two in Panama and it was great”.

For him, this change and making trips with local and/or private guides was the solution because he could focus on the birds he needed to see and take all the necessary time without any pressure in addition to taking more trips a year!

On another occasion, during a tour in central Peru, one of my clients told me that although it is true that birds were the main point of his trips, he was also very interested in knowing the culture, food and current affairs of the countries he visited. Unfortunately the leaders with whom he had traveled with international companies did not do a good job to keep a good balance on that, so he started traveling with local companies and local guides and he found the right balance he was looking for.

Looking (and buying!) handicrafts Oaxaca during a birding trip

The list of examples is long and as you can see I could go on and on but the point here is that there are many reasons why traveling in a group is not necessary for everybody. There are several factors to take into consideration such as leader’s personality, group size, social interactions, different levels of interest of each individual, levels of fitness, ability to respond to instructions, personality, etc.

To learn more about this topic drop me an email. I will be happy to help you with any questions you might have regarding birding on you own way! I will be sending an update to this topic very soon…stay tuned!

In the meantime bird a lot, stay strong, healthy and happy!

Good birding!

Pepe

Patrimonio del Peru

One of the checkpoints at Pacaya-Samiria, by the Marañon river.

It has been several days since the last time I posted something…more than I wanted, but such is life sometimes, however here I go again with another article that I would like to share (and spread) with everyone. While it is true that it is not strictly about birds, it is of fundamental importance in the future of protected areas and conservation in Peru.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of witnessing a historic event in Peru. On May 24 the Minister of the Environment, Lucia Ruiz; the Director of the Peruvian National Service of Protected Areas (SERNANP), Pedro Gamboa; the Director of the Fund of Promotion of Protected Natural Areas of Peru (PROFONANPE), Anton Delanoy; the director of the Andes-Amazon Program of The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Avecita Chicchon; the CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, Carter Roberts; the program director Andes-Amazon Fund, Enrique Ortíz; and other top officials belonging to the mentioned above NGO’s gathered at the National Reserve of Pacaya-Samiria to signed the Patrimonio del Peru (PdP).

Signing the agreement. Right to left, Carter Roberts (World Wildlife Fund), Enrique Ortiz (Amazon-Andes Fund), Lucía Ruiz (Minister of the Environment) Pedro Gamboa (National Protected Areas Service of Peru), Aileen Lee (Andes-Amazon Program, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation), and Anton Willems Delanoy (PROFONANPE)

On May 28, the president of Peru, Martín Vizcarra ratified the agreement which seeks the creation of new protected areas, as well as the management of the existing as well as their development and sustainability to ensure their protection and the well-being of local populations.The agreement has a fund of 70’000,000 USD destined to guarantee the sustainability of our protected areas.

It is finally very refreshing and healthy to see that our protected areas are going to have a much more proactive and decisive role in the conservation and economy of Peru. They will no longer be seen as areas that only require funds and do not pay anything back, like places that “can not be touched” to which “you can not go”, no! Finally, we are entering a stage in which people who live near these areas will have access to programs and possibilities of sustainable development where they can benefit from our protected natural areas and in the same way, our natural areas are protected by involving the inhabitants of way more active in this task.

This is great news indeed, something to rejoice and to thank for all the efforts of all the people and institutions that for almost 5 long years persisted and believed in this project, that in difficult and dark times they had the strength to move on and finally see the product of their efforts in this agreement. To all of them my deepest respect, admiration and gratitude. Many of them are friends of many years with whom I have shared field work and other unforgettable experiences which is a source of great pride for me. Finally, we are beginning to have people with the ability to influence policies and turn the direction of conservation in Peru in a somewhat positive and productive way!

Here part of the team. From right to left. Pauilna Arroyo (Moore Foundation), Aileen Lee (Moore Foundation), Meg Symington (WWF) Kurt Holle (WWF) Carter Roberts (WWF), Caroline Planitzer (WWF), Roberto Troya (WWF), Avecita Chicchon (Moore Foundation) and Cindy Vergel our host from SERNANP.

Regarding my participation as the birder leader and not to neglect “the birding component” of this trip, there were two very important moments in which we all experienced very gratifying sensations in relation to the birds.

The first was during our boat outing the afternoon we arrived. We had a fantastic moment when a couple of male Amazonian Umbrellabirds flew overhead and landed on a tree in front of us and gave us a spectacular display! Personally and after more than 20 years of leading professional groups of bird watchers, it was the first time I had the opportunity to observe such a unique display of behavior. As this could not be enough, one of the participants had been waiting to see this bird for many years! What an incredible way to see it…Good things take time!

Here casual, hanging out with my good friend the boto!

The second moment, no less spectacular was the afternoon of the day of the signing of the agreement. We had planned to divide the group in two, one to walk along a trail and the other to go for another boat outing. It turned out that everyone preferred to take the boat trip so off we went into two boats. As we cruised, the usual suspects appeared: White-winged and Dusky-headed parakeets, Orange-winged Parrots, Red-capped Cardinals, Yellow-headed Caracara, Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers among others. Suddenly someone in the boat asked me about a small group of swallows resting on a tree. They were Brown-chested Martins of the subspecies Fusca, an Austral migrant who spends the winter of South America in the Amazon. As we went forward, I began to notice more and more swallows, to the point of seeing hundreds of individuals perched on trees that looked like leaves and each time there were more and more. At one point I realized that these individuals were different: they were much darker and had different wings and tails so I observed them more carefully and noticed that they were Southern Martins … thousands of them who had just arrived from Patagonia to spend the winter Austral. They came after a cold front from Patagonia, known as friaje. When the southerly winds give them a boost of speed allowing them to save their energy to reach their wintering grounds safely. The most impressive of all is that they kept on coming while we were cruising along the Marañon river. In a conservative estimate we calculated that we saw about 5000 individuals without considering the thousands more that were arriving.

Continue reading “Patrimonio del Peru”

GLOBAL BIG DAY 2019

The intact forest of Puyu Sacha, our turf for the Global Big Day 2019

The Global Big Day (GBD) has become a strong event all over the world and it is admirable to see how each year the participation of more people increases. The first years of the event, Peru obtained the highest number of sightings in the world until Colombia, the country with the greatest diversity of birds in the world, began to organize and cover more areas and with that, it won the first place three consecutive years. In Peru, I have seen with great joy and satisfaction how the number of people preparing and going out to see birds that day increases every year. The subject is taken very seriously and the desire to return to achieve the first position is no joke!

Undulated Antpitta at Puyu Sacha.

Since the inception of this event, the Center for Ornithology and Biodiversity (CORBIDI) had a leading role in becoming responsible for organizing, coordinating and disseminating the importance of the GBD throughout Peru. An admirable and very noble work that has managed to encourage and promote bird watching throughout Peru so that every year I see more people involved and interested in going out to watch birds. The level of expectation that has been created is very healthy for conservation and people are increasingly motivated and excited to participate and go birding, which in the end is what we all enjoy and share, and this year this was put to test.

After years, CORBIDI decided to pass the baton to a Peruvian organization dedicated to tourism that had its own ideas and vision of how the GBD should be organized. Unfortunately, at very last minute they decided not to do so and invoked CORBIDI to take over the organization of the event again, which did not happen. As a result of this situation, much confusion and uncertainty was generated among Peru’s birdwatchers. Nobody knew with certainty what will happen to Peru on May 4th, even some people did not predict a good participation this year!

After the initial shock, people reacted and began to organize themselves through social networks. We all put our grain of sand to support and organize the event within our possibilities: people from all over Peru began to write and share the points and information of where they would go to watch birds that day and little by little the GBD of Peru began to take shape.

Thus, on May 4, people went out birding overwhelmingly with enthusiasm and a lot of optimism. Without a main organization in charge and only the previous days of coordination via social networks, we had a notable participation this year. Much of this is because of all the work that CORBIDI previously did in previous years.

That year after the event I was reviewing the results after and noticed that there were areas of Peru where no observations had been made and there were no lists. It is then that I decided to focus my attention precisely on those areas for the following years, which is why I decided to do the GBD in the small town of Máncora in northern Peru, very close to the border with Ecuador This area is part of one of the 216 Endemic Bird Areas in the world which have been recognized by Birdlife International and which is known as the Tumbesian region, characterized by a lot of endemism as well as species of restricted range that occur only in Peru and Ecuador. Once again I was out all day at different times, uploaded different lists and even went out in the afternoon with my wife and daughter to watch birds … Birding is a super fun family activity!

Ironically, the first year of the event I could not participate because my work as a professional tour leader for Field Guides Inc, I was guiding a tour somewhere in the world and / or traveling between tours … no complaints at all!!…It was not until 2017 when I had the opportunity to participate for the first time in the rainforests of Madre de Dios, at the Research and Conservation Center of Río los Amigos (CICRA) where, in the company of Jorge Valdez Power and José Antonio Padilla, We recorded 216 species in a day characterized by rain and bad weather, without previous scouting trip, and no use of playback!

Team Puyu Sacha, from left to right Johan Medina (Equipak), Pepe Rojas (Pepe Rojas Birding), Claudia and Matilde (APRODES) & David Segurado (Linn Aerospace Peru)

This year and following the same philosophy, I was invited by APRODES with the sponsorship of Enigma, a tour operator. I traveled to participate on the GBD in the incredible forests of Puyu Sacha. My teammates were Claudia Torres-Sovero (with Matilde 8 months in her womb), David Segurado from Linn Aerospace and Yohan Medina, from Equipak.

A female White-rumped Hawk scrutinizing the surrounding vegetation.

The forest of Puyu Sacha is located in the Chanchamayo Valley, San Ramon, Junin and is protected by the NGO APRODES, adjacent to the Sanctuary of Pampa Hermosa which together constitute a very pristine area and in a state of conservation comparable with areas such as cloud forest of the Manu and the Marañón region. Last year I had the opportunity to go for the first time to look for a single species, the Black-winged Parrot and what caught my attention was the incredible diversity of species that occur there, especially very hard to see species like White-rumped Hawk, Black-and-Chestnut Eagle, Cloud Forest Screech-Owl, Black-winged Parrot, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, the endemics Bay Antpitta, Rufous-vented Tapaculo, Masked Fruiteater, a new form of the Plain-tailed Wren (known as the Mantaro Wren) that could be considered a new species and Ash-colored Tapaculo, in what should be an extension to the south of the range of the species. At the time we saw it I was not very aware of its distribution and as I was on a special mission looking for nothing more than Black-winged Parrots I did not take pictures or made recordings … Crass mistake!

This place has a lot of potential for bird watching tourism and little by little, more birds are being reported in this area. To date, the eBird list of Puyu Sacha is of 230 species, which have been recorded in a very narrow altitudinal strip that reaches approximately 2200 meters, which is admirable considering how little the area has been covered. It is vital to explore the forested areas at higher and lower elevations considering that the region of Junin, which in general has not been properly surveyed and explored by from the scientific perspective.

For the Global Big Day 2019 we left Lima on May 3rd at 04:30 am to avoid the infamous traffic of the central highway and take our time to arrive at Puyu Sacha station with plenty of time. Once there we went to bed early to recover energy for the next day. On May 4th we begin our day at 04:30 am! It is known that nocturnal birds, before going to their day roosts where they will spend the day, vocalize and this usually happens before dawn. This is why it is not necessary to go out at midnight to look for birds, especially in areas where there is not a great abundance of nocturnal birds. In this way, leaving at that time one is already on location at the start of the dawn chorus and the greatest bird activity.

Cinnamon Screech-Owl from a previous visit to the area. There are some other “to be found” nocturnal birds at Puyu Sacha.

In our case, between 4:30 to 6:00 am we recorded: Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, Ocellated Poorwill and Cloud Forest Screech-Owl, which is considered an uncommon species and has a disjunct population. One in the central Peru and the other in Bolivia, needless to say it is one of the most sought after birds in the route of central Peru. In Puyu Sacha, it can be seen relatively easily in the surroundings of the guests cabin where it has been seen perched in open areas on several occasions. An interesting record at this elevation was the presence of the Ocellated Poorwill, a species that is normally an Amazon lowlands bird that might elevations of 1300 meters, however here we recorded it at about 2200 meters. We do not register Andean Potoo, a species that occurs here and we have seen it on other occasions.

Once it dawned, we stayed in the same area in a “stationary mode” and detected a number of species singing, including: Masked Trogon, Versicolored Barbet, the characteristic drumming of the Crimson-bellied Woodpecker revealed its presence, some songs of species that were starting their day: Variable Antshrike, Buff-browed Foliage-Gleaner, Three-striped Warbler, and a small flock of Scaly-naped Parrots flew by. The most notable record here was that of the Mantaro Wren form, a subspecies of the Plain-tailed Wren that is possible to be separated as a new species. It’s amazing how abundant it is in this forest!

The perfect definition of “eye candy” embodied by this Versicolored Barbet, one of the regulars at the forests of Puyu Sacha.

After breakfast, we head to the main trail that crosses an intact montane forest with a great plant composition, which favors the diversity of species in the area. This trail has a distance of 2 kilometers and is a single track to be cover back and forth, which helps a lot to detect species that at a certain time are not very active. On this trail the most notable records were Sickle-winged Guan, a species of cracid very susceptible to hunting pressure and which tends to be extirpated locally. White-throated Quail-Dove, Booted Racket-Tail, Green-and-White Hummingbird, Masked Trogon, Black-streaked Puffbird, Versicolored Barbet, Blue-banded Toucanet, Ocellated Piculet, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Black-winged Parrot, Creamy- Bellied Antwren, Bay Antpitta, Rufous-vented Tapaculo, Mantaro Wren, Slaty Finch, Blue-browed Tanager (which was a lifer for me!) among others. The activity in general was not very good and we returned to lunch.

The Masked Trogon, another crowed pleaser is quite tame at Puyu Sacha.

After lunch we continued along the path that leaves the property where we recorded 34 species. Among the most interesting birds stood out an adult individual of Black-and-Chestnut Eagle that judging by the size could have been a female. The interesting thing about this record is that the presence of a top predator like that one is a great indicator of the great state of conservation of that forest

Our final tally was 91 species of which the Cloud-forest Screech-Owl and the Bay Antpitta were my favorites because of how rare they are, however the Versicolored Barbet also deserves an honorable mention for how colorful and spectacular it is!

Another view of the great state of conservation of the forests of Puyu Sacha.

I hope you all have also had a memorable day during the Global Big Day 2019 and stay tuned for the next article I will be writing specifically about the Puyu Sacha forest and its amazing the bird watching potential.

Love you all!!!

Pepe

The Tambopata Macaw Project: Early Years Part I

 

 

Macaws at the clay licks are an unsurpassed natural history show!

Hello my English-speaking friends! I recently decided to publish posts in Spanish as well, and here I’ll translate the first of those articles which is about the years I spent living in the Tambopata rainforest. Enjoy and feel free to send me your comments in whatever language you like!

More than 2 decades ago, while studying Forestry in Lima, I was invited to travel to Tambopata to assist as a founding member of the Tambopata Macaw Project. Little did I know that this experience would have huge impact on my life and in shaping my career.

Before going into further detail, it is important to mention that the Guacamayos project originated in the Manu National Park in the late 1980s and the project director and principal researcher was Dr. Charles Munn, who at that time belonged to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

A pair of Scarlet Macaws preening each other.

Regarding macaws, until that time, there was very little (or none) that was known about the biology, behavior and ecology of wild macaws, however they faced a very bleak future due to the illegal trafficking of pets. For instance, at that time, for every ten macaws that were sold in the world, only one reached its final destination and even then never adapted to life in captivity.

The first phase of the project focused on learning everything possible about the behavior and biology of the three species of large macaws that occur in the region: Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), Red-and-Green Macaw (Ara chloropterus), and Blue-and-Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna). After a few years of field work, it was learned that all macaws are cavity nesters. In this part of the Amazon this means trees, preferably Shihuahuaco trees (Dypterix sp), as is the case of the Scarlet Macaw and Red-and-Green Macaw; or degraded palm trees (Mauritia flexuosa), as it is the case with Blue-and-Yellow Macaws. We also observed that they feed exclusively on seeds, eat clay from the banks of rivers (known as collpas), and their incubation period is 26 days. From the day the egg hatches until the moment they leave the nest is between 90 to 100 days, and it was learned which species prayed on them. I could go on with more, but that could take a long time!

A family of Red-and-Green Macaws frolicking at the TRC clay lick.

The next phase of the project was to develop techniques to assist in the recovery of wild macaw populations under human pressure.

This part of the project coincided with the discovery of the largest and most diverse macaw collpa known to man: The Colorado collpa in the Tambopata river about 8 hours upstream from the city of Puerto Maldonado, which was known among native people and some locals. It was precisely one of the locals who took the expedition of researchers that had come by boat from Manu and found this collpa and its impressive diversity in addition to a very healthy and stable population of the three species of large macaws.

By this time we had very important data on the ecology and reproductive biology of the macaws, and it was decided to start working simultaneously in Manu as well as in Tambopata. Given the discovery of the clay lick and in an effort to protect it, Eduardo Nycander established the Tambopata Research Center (TRC) as the main headquarters of the macaws project. It is important to note that at this time, the Tambopata area did not have any type of protection within the system of protected areas that is currently in place, not even as a reserved area despite the incredible density of macaws and other species of fauna.

Blue-and-Yellow Macaws at a clay lick, Tambopata.

Once TRC was built, an entire trail system around shihuahuaco trees was established with the idea of ​​looking for natural macaw nests as well as begin experimenting with the first artificial nests — this being part of the main objective to help wild macaw populations recover. We split up the work: one part of the team climbed trees to clean and prepare them, ensuring that the potential nest sites were isolated from the adjacent vegetation to prevent the access of predators. The other part of the team worked on building the nests themselves, that were made from a section of Pona palm tree (Iriartea deltoidea) that had been used in the construction of the research center.

Firs type of artificial nests use at the Tambopata Macaw Project with palm tree sections.

 

Carrying the nests through the forest was quite a task….

 

…and hanging them a monumental effort!!!

The result was 24 nests weighing each approximately 350 kilos (772 pounds) that had to be transported by 6 men on average throughout the forest!

The first nest to be hung took 2 days. After a lot of sweat and some recalculations, a very efficient method with pulleys was found that allowed us to hang 2 nests per day … a big achievement!

With the artificial nests hanging, our focus was to find as many natural nests as possible and to follow up activity on the nests we had hung We covered a lot of area by boat and by hiking along the river and forest to look for active macaw nests.

Ready to lower a Scarlet Macaws chick.

Once we found one, we proceeded to climb using climbing equipment, removing the chick from the nest and lowering it to where our colleagues proceeded to take measurements of the tail, tarsus and wing length as well as the weight. 

Weight measuring.

When we found ectoparasites, we removed them and finally returned the chick into the nest. We repeated this process every two days on each nest, to accumulate data of growth and development that at that time did not exist for wild macaws.

 

Here, we are measuring the culmen…

 

Measuring the wing.

 

Measuring the tarsus.

 

…and measuring the tail!

Out of 24 artificial nests, only one was successful, that is, that a pair of macaws used the nest and achieved to raised a chick! While the numbers might seem like a failure, this was for us an achievement and a good sign. The question was, why did the other 23 nests fail? It’s difficult to specify a single cause as there were a number of variables in play, such as not all nests were degraded and allowed to be hollow in time, some had more time hanging while others were “new”, etc. Despite this, we knew we were onto something.

The famous Aguajal Inn, a huge palm swamp where we did some field work for weeks!

At this stage we developed a technique to speed up the natural process in which aguaje palm trees (Mauritia flexuosa) die and become hollow (like a chimney), a process which involves insects (a weevil beetle), high temperatures and humidity. The Blue and Yellow Macaws like to use these hollow palm nests.

Cutting the crown of a Palm Tree I learned to appreciate the versatility, quality and value of the Victorinox Swiss Army knives

Do this, we climbed and cut the crown off the palm trees and left them to see how long they took to degrade. With much surprise, we observed that in a span of 9 months many of these palms were already being occupied by adult macaws to nest! Another successful method had been found.

At the same time, we continued with the monitoring of natural and artificial nests to evaluate the conditions of growth and development of the chicks. The data allowed us to track the growth and development of the chicks, and was used to create a database that would later be crucial to carrying the project forward into future stages.

That’s it for Part I. I’ll post a follow-up blog sometime soon about where they project went next and where it is today. Meanwhile, you can learn more about the Tambopata Macaw Project here, and the Tambopata Research Center here.

Thank you to Rainforest Expeditions for some of the photos of the early project and if you have any questions/comments about this post, or if you’re interested in birding Tambopata with me or on your own, Contact Me and let’s talk!

 

Watching Birds in Máncora

Beautiful sunsets are an every day dramatic event in Máncora.

What are some of the things that come to mind about Máncora? Probably beach, sun, surfing, party time, relaxation, and great seafood food — all true! But perhaps to your surprise, Máncora is also an excellent birding destination.

For those unfamiliar, Máncora is located on the north coast of Peru about 1166 kms from Lima, in the department of Piura and approximately two hours from the border with Ecuador, within an area known as the Tumbesian region that It is characterized by its unique conditions and habitats.

Years ago, during a break between expeditions, I decided to spend a few days in Mancora surfing and relaxing. Needless to say, I had my birding equipment with me (binoculars, recorder and telescope). The surfing forecast showed that there were several days without waves and the ocean was going to be flat, so I decided to switch my focus to the nature around Máncora and see what I could find. I started to ask around and learned there was a place known as “La Poza de Barro”, which is an area where there are some natural springs that form a natural mud pool. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon I went out with my binoculars and recording equipment with no idea of what I might find.

A Streak-headed Woodcreeper just got a nice and juicy spider for breakfast. YUM!!

When I arrived, I wasn’t disappointed: I found an impressive forest of the local mesquite trees (algarrobo), with trees of good size and a very good density! After calibrating my recorder I started walking around the impressive forest and stopped to listen: Tumbes Tyrant, Rufous Flycatcher, Necklaced Spinetail, Collared Antshrike, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Baird’s Flycatcher, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Lineated Woodpecker, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Superciliated and Fasciated Wren… the most impressive thing about all this, is that I had not even walked more than 100 meters!

I made some recordings and started walking back to the main road to discover other species such as Pacific Elaenia, Peruvian Meadowlark, Vermilion Flycatcher and White-edge Oriole. Once back on the gravel road I saw Coastal Miner and Short-tailed Field-Tyrant.

BAM!!! Right there, In less than 2 hours in an afternoon and without much effort I had seen very interesting species from the Tumbesian region including a pair of Peruvian endemics such as Rufous Flycatcher and Coastal Miner. That was my introduction to birding in Mancora; I was very satisfied and knew that someday I’d be coming back for more.

Crane Hawk, an unusual and uncommon bird in this area.

Fast forward 15 years….After living in California for over a decade, I returned with my family to Peru and spent almost 4 years in Lima, until living in the big city became almost impossible and we decided to make a radical change and we moved to Mancora! Upon arrival, we settled in the Quebrada Fernandez, which is located at the northern exit of the town and limits Piura with Tumbes. Basically I switched the Rufous-collared Sparrows and West Peruvian Doves from the Olivar Park where I used to live for the Pale-legged Horneros and Scarlet-backed Woodpeckers in the backyard of my new home!

In preparation for Global Big Day 2018, I spent time planning my birding route. I found a natural transect which started at the river mouth of the Fernandez Creek (Quebrada Fernandez) by the beach and continued inland all the way to the edge of the Angolo Hunting Reserve (Coto de Caza El Angolo).

Chilean Flamingos resting at the river mouth.

The plan was to start early in the property where I lived to look for nocturnal birds, and from there to continue towards the coast, at the river mouth of the Fernandez creek by the sea, where a lagoon locally known as “La Laguna de los Patos” (The Ducks Lagoon) forms and where it is possible to see some species such as White-chicked Pintail, Chilean Flamingos, Roseate Spoonbill, White-faced Ibis and several migratory species such as Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, to name a few. After birding at the coast, I would head inland back towards the main road while birding in the surrounding area between the transition from the beach to the forest, and finally continue on the Barrancos road of the Fernandez creek to the Angolo.

Global Big Day 2018 was the first of many day trips I’ve since done in the area, and the truth is that the birding here continues to surprise me. At the area of ​​the lagoon, flying by the beach, it is possible to see hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebird, Blue-footed Bobby, Neotropic Cormorant and Brown Pelican among others.

At the lagoon that forms near the sea it is possible to see White-cheeked Pintail, Chilean Flamingo, Black-necked Stilt, American Oystercatcher, Collared Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Woodstork, Cocoi Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-crowned Night- Heron, White-faced Ibis, Ringed Kingfisher, Crested Caracara, Turkey and Black Vulture, Pearled Kite, Savanah Hawk and others. Another interesting detail is the presence of Comb Duck in the area that has been reported with photographs within some area of ​​the Quebrada Fernández.

Following the road of Quebrada Fernandez (which is known as Carrereta Barrancos) in the direction of El Angolo Hunting Reserve, there are several spots with patches of algarrobos trees and dry scrub typical of this area where it is possible to see another type of bird mentioned in the previous paragraph. For example, at this time of year it is quite common to see very large flocks of Sulphur-throated Finch, a species that can be very hard to see during some months of the year.

A pair of Sulphur-throated Finches in my backyard!

Other possible birds here are Croaking Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, West Peruvian Dove, Eared Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Scarlet-backed and Lineated Woodpecker, Variable Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Crane Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Red-masked Parakeet, Pacific Parrotlet, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Necklaced Spinetail, Pale-legged Homero, Coastal Miner, Collared Antshrike, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Vermilion Flycatcher, Baird’s Flycatcher, Rufous Flycatcher, Tumbes Tyrant, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Superciliared and Fasciated Wren, Parrot-billed Seedeater, Cinerous Finch, Streaked Hopper, Tumbes Sparrow, Long-tailed Mockingbird, White-edge Oriole, Scrub Blackbird, Shiny Cowbird, Peruvian Meadowlark, White-tailed Jay and others.

The road eventually reaches fork, where to the right it goes to the ranger’s checkpoint, and to the left it continues to Tumbes and eventually to Ecuador through the Tumbes forest and Cerros de Amotape National Park.

Under the bridge of Quebrada Fernandez, on the Pan-American Highway, it is possible to see hundreds of Chestnut-collared Swallows nesting between February and March. But for even better looks (and recorded footage) of these birds, head beneath the underpass of Cabo Blanco creek, located at the entrance of Mancora. Here’s you’ll have excellent views of the birds building their nests and feeding their chicks.

Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, a common bird of this area.

Among the nocturnal birds I registered include: Western Peruvian Screech Owl, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, Striped Owl, and Burrowing Owl plus Lesser Nighthawk, which by the way, were part of my “backyard” list.

With just 1 full day to bird around Mancora, the transect I mentioned above is ideal. However, with a bit more time there are other great possibilities to explore and take advantage of during your stay. Basing yourself in Máncora it is possible to access other nearby areas of the Tumbesian region where you can look for the Peruvian Plantcutter, one of the “must see endemics” of this area. In addition, I can suggest combining a dry forest excursion with a whale-watching observation trip (July – October) that along with great sealife can yield pelagic species such as Blue-footed Booby, Galápagos Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Waved Albatross, Ringed, Markham’s and White-vented Storm-Petrel, among others, due to the influence of the El Niño warm water current.

Moving a little bit farther north, you can also access the Mangroves of Puerto Pizarro in Tumbes where there are other interesting birds including hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebirds nesting and Yellow Warblers among others.

Harris’s Hawk at the Quebrada Fernandez taking a sip of water.

In sum, Máncora has excellent birdwatching opportunities and could be an outstanding birding vacation destination. It is reached via 1hr 15min flight from Lima, followed by 1hr car ride, with year round sun, very little weather variation (except during the El Niño years), and presents very good chances to see a lot of birds on your Peru checklist while at the same time promising white-sand beaches, stellar sunsets and mouth watering fresh seafood. Unfortunately,  the area sorely lacks infrastructure and services that many tourists look for, especially international birders and travelers looking for superior-level (and above) services. I am really hoping this will change…I believe it can!

In thinking about Mancora’s situation, I’m reminded of many cities on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica where I have worked, where tourism is the main source of income all year round and there is truly something for everyone, from backpackers to 5-star luxury travelers. The common thread in most of these tourist experiences is fun in nature, something Costa Rica is blessed with and — as I hope I’ve demonstrated here — Mancora is, too!

Looking ahead, and using Costa Rica as a model to strive for, local authorities and tourism companies will need to commit to strengthening the tourist experience across all levels. This will require collaboration among all those involved to respect the laws and municipal ordinances. Mancora is in a prime position to launch itself as another excellent Peruvian destination, offering a terrific counterbalance to the already well-oiled tourism in the Andes. Why not follow that Inca Trail trek with a few days soaking up sun & tasting authentic ceviche in Mancora? It seems so logical, I can’t help but wonder why isn’t this the norm. The current, newly elected local government in Mancora has an incredible opportunity to go down in history as the first to make change happen and finally make the improvements this city so desperately needs.

In the meantime, as long as you’re up for a bit of adventure and can approach your trip with a flexible attitude and fairly high tolerance for surprises (power outages, random road closures, limited accommodations, extremely basic health services, long wait times for services, etc.), then come on up and enjoy the rustic beauty of northern Peru, my home!

Parrot-billed Seedeaters near the river mouth.

If you want to learn more details about logistics and birds and other things to do in the Mancora region, please contact me at: pepe@peperojasbirding.com

In the meantime, stay strong, be happy and bird a lot.

Cheers.

Pepe

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