Saturday, March 3, 2018

SE Peru 1 – Two New Tours From September 2017

Continuing my catching up on 2017 tours, this blog is about the first of two back-to-back tours I led in late September to southeastern Peru, the first time for this particular itinerary. I love this area – it probably has the best access to the largest continuous swath of Andean-to-Amazon forest of any tour I lead. The previous version of this tour covered both regions in a big loop from Cusco all the way to Puerto Maldonado.

This itinerary very closely resembles the Butterflies & Birds tour I led with Jim Brock a few years ago, only covering the highlands from Cusco and then the Amazon-facing slopes down the very base of the Andes in the Cosñipata Valley.

Our first stop was near Cusco at Lago Huacarpay, a large wetland complex surrounded by farming communities and ancient Inca ruins.

This is a great place to see Plumbeous Rail walking out in the open.
Plumbeous Rail

We birded some of the drier slopes for specialties such as Rusty-fronted Canastero, and that’s when I found this grasshopper. There doesn’t seem to be much popular literature for identifying grasshoppers in South America, so it’s not likely I’ll find a name for this soon.

The previous iteration of this tour offered Machu Picchu as an extension, but now it’s the first destination of the first tour. I’ve been here about 8 times now, but I don’t tire of it.
Machu Picchu

We had a particularly cooperative Southern Mountain Viscacha, Lagidium peruanum, this time. This is a caviomorph rodent, related to the Chinchilla and guinea pigs.
Southern Mountain Viscacha, Lagidium peruanum

This colorful velvet ant (a wingless wasp) is in the genus Hoplomutilla.

I have yet to find a lizard expert who knows the species of this Stenocercus that is so common on the ruins.

We saw some great birds here, such as Inca Wren, and walking up the river after lunch we found this pair of Torrent Ducks.
Torrent Duck

The day after our Machu Picchu visit we drove over two mountain ridges on our way to the Cosñipata Valley. At the second pass was this lady weaving tapestries using wool she had spun and dyed herself.

This pass is the where one sees the sudden transition from dry interior scrub to a very wet elfin forest, with an ecotone of moderately wet grasslands. One of the distinctive plants here is the terrestrial bromeliad Puya pygmaea. It was in full bloom, but it wasn’t being visited by any of the particular hummingbirds we had hoped to see.
Puya pygmaea

Rust-and-yellow Tanager was one of the birds we saw in the transitional humid scrub here.
Rust-and-yellow Tanager

This is Passiflora mixta, which I have also seen in central Peru. Presumably the flowers are pollinated by Sword-billed Hummingbirds here.
Passiflora mixta

Our first nights on the moist slope are at Wayqecha Biological Station, one of three properties owned by the non-profit Amazon Conservation Association.
Wayqecha Biological Station

They recently put up some hummingbird feeders, and one of the more reliable species at them now is the Amethyst-throated Sunangel.
Amethyst-throated Sunangel

In mixed flocks one can see the stunning Hooded Mountain-Tanager.
Hooded Mountain-Tanager

We sometimes get fabulous views of a male Swallow-tailed Nightjar flying overhead, but this is the first time I’ve had a female fly in and land next to us on the roadside.
Swallow-tailed Nightjar

The moths the lights are usually quite abundant and interesting; this arctic moth Hyperthaema perflammans was the most colorful ones this trip.
Hyperthaema perflammans

For the second year I found the lucanid beetle Sphaenognathus giganteus, though this was the first pair I’ve seen.
Sphaenognathus giganteus

After Wayqecha we worked our way down the narrow dirt road, birding ever lower elevations. It’s wonderful to be in the midst of so much pristine forest on a relatively quiet road.

Butterfly diversity is famous here, and the lower you get, the greater the variety. These are Altinote negra and Altinote hilaris, in the tribe Acraeini, subfamily Heliconiinae.
Altinote negra and Altinote hilaris

One of the hummingbird specialties in the middle elevations is the nearly leg puff-free Buff-thighed Puffleg. Since there are no feeders in this bird’s favorite habitats, it’s very unpredictable.
Buff-thighed Puffleg

Also unpredictable (and requiring good weather) is Solitary Eagle, but I’ve seen it two tours in a row here.
Solitary Eagle

Our next lodge for two nights is called Cock of the Rock Lodge, named after the amazing cotinga Andean Cock-of-the-rock. There was a lek on the lodge’s property until 2010, when heavy rains combined with a rare earthquake caused a landslide that wiped it out. We now pay to visit another lek a few kilometers up the road to see this bird up close.
Andean Cock-of-the-rock

Just above our lodge I heard a Rufous-breasted Antthrush from deep within the vegetation below the road, but when I whistled it came closer and closer and chose to sing from a perch that was just barely visible in a hole through the leaves.
Rufous-breasted Antthrush

The moths at the Cock of the Rock Lodge are almost always outstanding. This silk moth is Sericoptera mahometaria. Sericoptera translates to “silk wing.”
Sericoptera mahometaria

Arctiids are always so attractive. This is Robinsonia multimaculata.
Robinsonia multimaculata

It can help to check the hindwing pattern and the body coloration in order to get a species name for some of them, but it also simply reveals hidden beauty. This is Viviennea moma (not named after the Museum of Modern Art, as the moth was named a couple decades before it was founded).
Viviennea moma

Viviennea moma

The genus Opisthoxia is one of my favorites among the geometrids, and each time I see one it seems to be a different species. This is Opisthoxia laticlava.
Opisthoxia laticlava

Opisthoxia saturniaria
Opisthoxia saturniaria

On our way to our final lodge, we stopped where I’ve seen Green-fronted Lancebill on a nest in the past. The nest was not active, but in the exact same spot were two birds, chasing each other and occasionally landing right over the road. This must be the most reliable spot for this species anywhere.
Green-fronted Lancebill

This Cavendishia sp., in the family Ericaceae, is the lancebill’s favorite source of nectar, though they spend a lot of time feeding on insects over rushing streams.

This Villa Carmen Biological Station, the end of the road for this tour. Like Wayqecha, it is owned by the Amazon Conservation Association, but unlike there it is tropically warm and humid here, only about 530 m elevation.
Villa Carmen Biological Station

This group of Hooded Siskins was feeding on the concrete under the flaking off stucco on the side of one of the older buildings. I don’t know if they were after salt, other minerals, or just the grit.
Hooded Siskin

This is the purplewing Eunica bechina.
Eunica bechina

There are only a handful of grasshopper families, but I don’t know the more obscure ones. This tiny one with oddly twisted antennae is probably in one of those.

I went out on my own one evening to see if potoos were around and found this Painted Antnest Frog, Lithodytes lineatus on the trail. They usually call from a hidden spot within the tunnels of leafcutter ant dumps, especially after a rain. They superficially resemble some poison frogs in Dendrobatidae.
Lithodytes lineatus

This Macrosoma subornata was a new moth-butterfly for me. These are the nocturnal butterflies that for so long were considered moths, though their eggs and larvae were more like those of some butterfly families than any other moth. Genetics showed that they are indeed more closely related to butterflies than any moths.
Macrosoma subornata

This fabulous beast of a moth is Dysdaemonia australoboreas, family Saturniidae.
Dysdaemonia australoboreas

Yet another beast is this praying mantis, genus Macromantis.
praying mantis, Mantidae

We had two great days at Villa Carmen, then the long drive back to Cusco back over the mountains. Time was built in for short, mostly unexpected birding stops, such as for this Black Hawk-Eagle, amazingly perched right next to the busy road in the lower Cosñipata Valley near Patria.
Black Hawk-Eagle,

Friday, January 26, 2018

Home between Oregon and Peru in September 2017

In early September I had just one full week at home in Tucson before my next tour. I made the most of it, meeting with friends, doing errands, and getting ready for Peru. One of the more ambitious things I did was host my “Almost Annual Pizza-Making and Wine-Tasting Party.” I invited perhaps 50 people and at least 30 were able to make it last minute (including my friends Kate and Mich on their US visit between jobs in Nepal and Swaziland). Everyone enjoyed making their own pizzas from the 45+ balls of dough I mixed up the night before, and I had spent a couple days buying up some Italian reds for the blind taste testing. All were under $10, most from the big-box Total Wine & More, but the cheapest was the Barbera D’Asti $5.99 from Trader Joe’s – and it won the taste testing hands down.

As I did errands over the week, I kept an eye on my porch light. One night I found this tiny but distinctive beetle which I had noticed in my North American Insect Field Guide by Kaufmann and Eaton – Colliuris pensylvanica.

There wasn’t a lot of moth action at the light, but this unassuming Erebid Drasteria inepta was new for the porch list.

The monsoon this year was early and abundant, but it quit unusually early as well, with the last rains falling sometime in August. Yet on the evening of September 5 this huge Sonoran Toad, Incilius alvarius, was on my doorstep.

Three days later I was on my way to Peru.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

WINGS Birding Tour to Oregon for the Solar Eclipse

This past August I led a WINGS tour to view the 2017 solar eclipse in my home state in Oregon. My spring tour had canceled for the first time in many years, so I was glad to have a chance to bird in my home state this year after all.

I flew here directly from Ecuador and had one free morning, when I joined my friends Thomas Meinzen and Alan Contreras for birding at Fern Ridge Reservoir.

We had a good time, first finding a rarish Brewer’s Sparrow on the entrance road.

Even rarer was this very distant Snowy Plover that I spotted.

We got very intimate with a group of peeps that included this very confiding Semipalmated Sandpiper, also a rarity compared to the much more common Western and Least Sandpipers.

One of the things I miss most about Oregon this time of year are the abundant and delicious, even if introduced, blackberries. We all grew up calling them Himalayan Blackberries, but it’s been determined that the correct scientific name indicates a different origin, Rubus armeniacus.

Then my tour began, with three full days of birding before the main event. We drove to La Grande and spent the next morning on the ridge above Moss Springs Campground, leading to Mount Fanny, the westernmost point of the Wallowa Mountains. Highlights here were American Thee-toed Woodpecker and Northern Goshawk, as well as fabulous scenery, flowers, and butterflies.

I included a stop at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near Baker City, and along the road near there we had great views of a Ferruginous Hawk.

We spent a couple hours in an area known for having the highest breeding density of Great Gray Owls in its entire holarctic range, and not too surprisingly we found one, thanks to some noisy Steller’s Jays that mobbed this bird for a while.

On the big day, we arrived early at my chosen spot for the solar eclipse, starting with a picnic breakfast and birding that included Northern Pygmy-Owl and White-headed Woodpecker down the road from Magone Lake. The forest service campground had been full for probably over a week, so people were camped on wide spots on all the roads nearby. But since the eclipse was visible from everywhere in the area, the day use area and boat ramp of the lake was surprisingly uncrowded. I chose this location because the line on the NASA maps showing the longest duration of totality crossed the middle of this small, natural lake.

We  finished the tour in Burns and the Malheur National Wildlife Area, birding and noting other wildlife. On our very quick catch of Common Poorwill, we came across this Western Rattlesnake in the road, Crotalus oreganus lutosus.

This Golden Eagle was one of the more memorable sightings from our long drives in the area.

The view from Steens Mountain was the worst I’ve ever experienced, with wildfire smoke from the Cascades having drifted precisely this direction. We were very lucky to have not had any smoke during the day of the eclipse.

Fortunately the smoke didn’t stop us from finding a small family group of Black Rosy-Finches, and small critters close up were easy to see, such as this tiger beetle Cicindela longilabris.

We had a long drive back to Portland, and then, as usual for my late summer tours, we offered an optional pelagic trip out of Newport. It was a successful trip, perhaps the large numbers of Cassin’s Auklets being the more unusual sighting. In this photo you can see Black-footed Albatross and Northern Fulmar.