Birding around Lima
After all these years leading birding tours, I have met many people who had no idea of how productive and rewarding birding is around Lima. That’s right, you are reading well…..around Lima!
Despite the fact that it is located in the desert, between the Pacific Ocean and the western foothills of the Andes in what appears to be a non very productive habitat, it is possible to find about 350 species of birds, among which there are several endemic and rare to uncommon species of birds.
Let’s start by taking a look at the north of Lima, where I will mention places and species to look for, then I will continue by doing the same to the south of town and finally I will be talking about the locations east of town, at the Andes of Lima. At the coast, north and south there is a mix of habitats ranging from marine, desert, coastal marshes and beaches to riparian habitats and agricultural lands. At the east, towards the Andes, the habitat is quite different, varying from dry arid scrub, riparian areas, agricultural lands, streams, polylepis remnants to Puna grasslands and high Andean lakes, reaching elevations up to 12000 feet (4200 m).
Starting on the coast, 105 kms north of Lima is located the reserve of Lachay, literally an oasis in the middle of the desert. Each year, during the austral winter, the Pacific Ocean fog turns this place into a carpet of vegetation between the months of June to November where 55 species of birds have been recorded, among which the endemic Cactus Canastero, Thick-billed and Coastal Miner stand out. Also, other species such as Andean Tinamou, Raimondi Yellow-Finch, Peruvian Pipit, Peruvian Thicknee, Oasis and Amazilia Hummingbird, Peruvian Sheartail, Least Seedsnipe, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Burrowing Owl, Grayish Miner, Masked Yellowthroad, Collared Warbling-Finch, Mountain Parakeet among others can be found at the reserve of Lachay.
A little further north, about 20 minutes drive from the entrance to Lachay, there is a detour to the Lagoon of Paraiso, where it is possible to see large concentrations of Chilean Flamingos, also Cinnamon Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Greater and Pied-billed Grebe, Common Gallinule, Slate-colored Coot, Peruvian Thicknee, and depending on the season several species of peeps and gulls among others.
If interested in visiting this spot, please be advised that robbery has occurred at this place in the past so be extremely cautious if you see some other people around.
If we continue a little further north, at km 175, passing the town of Huacho and near the ruins of the citadel of Caral, the oldest city in America is the Albufera de Medio Mundo. At this place there are some bungalows where to spend the night and with a list of approximately 100 species. Here it is possible also to see a similar avian fauna than at the Paraiso Lagoon including the endemic Surf Cinclodes. This new lodge could allow you to do a combined trip with Lachay, the Albufera and even to include a visit to the archeological site of Caral.
Finally, there are the Ventanilla wetlands, very close to the Jorge Chavez airport and the Wyndham Costa del Sol hotel, which can allow you to spend some time between flight connections or on your way back from a visit to Lachay. At this place, the birds compare with those like the Villa wetlands, the Paraiso lagoon and the Albufera area.
Another very interesting site that can be accessed from Lima in a morning, are the Palomino Islands where the main attraction is the Humboldt Penguin in addition to other typical species of the Humboldt current such as Peruvian Pelican, Guanay, Neotropical and Red-legged Cormorant, Peruvian Booby, Belcher’s, Kelp, Gray and Gray-hooded Gull, Inca Tern, among others. With luck, sometimes some pelagic birds like Sooty Shearwater, Peruvian Diving-Petrel among others. Also at this location there is a big colony of South America Sea Lions.
It is important to mention that while waiting to embark on this trip, you can visit the Arenilla area which is a place very close to the boarding point where you can see several of the above mentioned species along with some Nearctic migrants.
This trip is comparable with the famous trip to the Ballestas Islands in Paracas a 3 hours south of Lima where the biggest difference is the density of the bird colonies but the species are the same and it is a great alternative if you do not have the time to visit Paracas.
South of Lima we have several options to bird as well. The first and closest point is an area known as the Villa marshes (Pantanos de Villa). A wetland area typical of the Pacific coast of Peru, which is a RAMSAR site in which approximately 130 species have been recorded and can be easily birded in one morning or one afternoon and combined with another destination in the south as Pucusana.
In Villa it is possible to see different species of waterfowl and other associated to these habitats such as Cinnamon Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Pied-billed and Greater Grebe, Black-Crowned and Yellow-crested Night-Heron, Striated Heron, Peruvian Thicknee, Burrowing Owl, American Oystercatcher, Plumbeous Rail, Inca Tern, Guanay Cormorant, Peruvian Pelican, Slate-colored Coot, Common Gallinule, Wren-like Rushbird, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Peruvian Meadowlark among others.
At the beach, there are great opportunities to see Kelp, Belcher’s, Gray, Gray-Hooded Gull, Inca Tern, Neotropic, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorant, and others. This is also an excellent site to observe migratory birds during the winter, is not uncommon to see hundreds of Franklin Gulls, Sandwich and Elegant Tern, Western, Semipalmated, Least and Pectoral Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Willet to mention a few.
In the residential area there are also interesting birds around the gardens, species such as Long-tailed Mockingbird, West Peruvian Dove, Croaking Ground-Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Scrub Blackbird, Shiny Cowbird, Blue-black Grassquit, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Vermilion Flycatcher (including the dark sooty form that occurs almost exclusively in Lima!) Amazilia Hummingbird, Rufous-collared Sparrow among others are not hard to find. If you decided to visit this area, just be aware that you will be birding around people houses so please be respectful.
Continuing south on the Panamerican highway, at km 57 there is a detour to the small fishing village of Pucusana which is a good destination to see the Humboldt Penguin in addition to other Humboldt Current specialties such as Peruvian Booby, Blackish Oystercatcher, Inca Tern, Red-legged Cormorant, Peruvian Pelican, Surf Cinclodes among others.
To see the penguins you have two options. One is hiring a boat at the fishermen wharf which will take you in front to the roosting area of the penguins at the ocean. The ride could be a little bit rough, specially during the Austral winter. Make sure you ask for lifejackets and more importantly, you feel comfortable after checking at the boat and equipment available.
If you do not feel comfortable or do not want to take a boat ride, you can walk to the “mirador” (an overlook) and from there you can see the Penguins swimming like torpedoes from the cove to the ocean and swimming. I have seeing them bathing and frolicking for a while from this point several times! Whether you want to see them from the boat or from the mirador, the best time is early in the morning. Especially from the boat when ocean conditions are glassy early! The best time for me has been between 6 and 9 am.
Further south, at km 70 there are the wetlands of Puerto Viejo where you can find a similar avianfauna than the Villa wetlands. There are two points of access. The first leads towards a private condominium area where you can find Wren-like Rushbird, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Peruvian Meadowlark, Peruvian Thicknee, Peruvian Thicknee, Collared Warbling-Finch, Vermilion Flycatcher, among others. Inside the condominium there is a lagoon where you can see the same waterfowl that occurs at Villa but management can be very jealous and might not allow you to look at it, just ask and explain you are birders. The other point of access is back from the highway south at km 72 approximately and that road goes all the way to the beach where it ends by the sand and near a restaurant with basic facilities. This is a good spot to look for the Coastal Miner. If you walk to towards the beach, scan at the tidal line to look for Surf Cinclodes, which also occurs here. At this area you can also find other species such as American Oystercatcher, Gray Gull, Peruvian Booby, Red-legged Cormorant and others.
Further south, there is the fertile valley of Cañete where it is possible to find the Slender-billed Finch, a species that occurs mostly in Peru and reaches northern Chile. This species likes riparian vegetation and dense shrubs, for which this valley offers a great opportunity to see it near Lima. In addition to this species, it is possible to find other species such as the subspecies rufescens of the Bran-colord Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Short-tailed Field-Tyrant, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Andean Swift and others.
In the south there are also the Lomas de Asia, which are an excellent alternative to the Lomas de Lachay in the north with a similar avian fauna and where it is relatively easier to see the Thick-billed Miner and Raimondi Yellow-Finch than in Lachay, especially in the dry season. It is also possible to see many of the species that occur in Lachay with the exception of the Least Seedsnipe that is more predictable in Lachay. Keep in mind that to access the areas of to see some of these species you have to walk uphill on a path that can be a bit strenuous.
To the east, on the way to the Central Andes is the Santa Eulalia Valley at the western slope, which is one of my favorite places in Lima to watch birds! Here we have registered approximately 200 species, among which are endemic species such as Black-necked Woodpecker, Bronze-tailed Comet, Black Metaltail, Black-breasted Hillstar, Junin Canastero, White-bellied Cinclodes, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Thick -billed Miner, White-cheeked Cotinga, Great Inca Finch, Rusty-bellied Brush-Finch and the jewel of the crown, the Rufous-breasted Warbling-Finch. As this is not enough, there are very good chance to see other species such as Puna Tinamou, Torrent Duck, Diademed Sandpiper Plover, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Andean Condor, Falcon Aplomado, Koepcke’s Screech-Owl, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, Bare-faced and Black-winged Ground-Dove, Spot-winged Pigeon, Giant Hummingbird, Olivaceous Thornbill, Giant Coot, Silvery Grebe, White-capped Dipper, Rufous-bellied and Great-breasted Seedsnipe, Streak-throated Canastero, Streak-headed Antpitta, Dorbigny’s and White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Mourning and Peruvian Sierra-Finch, and many more!
The best way to bird this area is by making this trip in two days to maximize the chances of seeing the greatest number of species. The first day you should start very early from Lima, by leaving at about 4 am to avoid traffic and concentrate on seeing the birds of the lower Santa Eulalia Valley all day, return to the village of Santa Eulalia (or spending the night at the community of Huachupampa in very basic accommodations) to spend the night and the next day leaving early in the morning to start looking for the birds of higher elevation. During the day, you will be gaining elevation while birding reaching the highest point at 4200 meters above sea level at the last stop. At about 2 pm it would be highly recommendable to start the drive back to Lima to avoid the dreadful traffic at the Central Highway.
It is important to bear in mind that for this trip it is essential to do a checkup with your physician and discuss the effects of the high elevation. For instance, some folks usually use Diamox in order to reduce the possibility of high altitude sickness. Also be aware that sometimes it is possible to find snow and experience very cold conditions.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite trips and I recommend it with closed eyes, especially in two full days, the experience is unforgettable.
The next time you plan a trip to Peru and you discover the logistics require a few days in Lima before or after, do not worry about what to do because you have some great birding options of which you can definitely add new (and pretty cool!) birds to your list.
If you want more details about the logistics and birds of this trip, please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.
In the meantime, stay healthy, be strong and bird a lot!