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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
If you want to learn more details about logistics and birds and other things to do in the Mancora region, please contact me at: email@example.com
In the meantime, stay strong, be happy and bird a lot.