Saturday, October 31, 2009

Peru: Day 7 Mid-elevation Paradise

This itinerary gives us two full days to work about five miles of road full of specialties. On our first day we had a pre-dawn breakfast at our hotel, Manu Paradise Lodge, and headed just ½ mile up the road to the most famous Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek. We spent about ½ hour here in a wooden observation platform with many birds screaming, displaying, and chasing just several yards in front of us. We even witnessed a successful copulation. The whole thing was quite stunning.

The rest of the day’s birding was along the road in lush cloud forest, dripping with exciting birds.

Very common is this Cinnamon Flycatcher, usually heard first from its liquid, sputtering call “thbtbtbtbtbtbtbtbt.”

One of the rarer finds for the day was this handsome little puffbird, Lanceolated Monklet. It appeared to be possibly nesting somewhere in the mossy slope below.

And a real prize was this female Lyre-tailed Nightjar roosting on a roof. We also went out at sunset and watched a male with a tail even longer than that of the Swallow-tailed. Crazy beautiful.

About mid-day we departed Manu Paradise Lodge, which was quite a pretty place.

The gardens here were lovely, and this blooming orchid was along the path.

Several bushes of Stachytarpheta provided a good attractant for hummingbirds as well as this euglossine bee.

Again, with such great weather, butterflies were out in force.

Rusty-tipped Page, Siproeta epaphus, a widespread brushfoot.

Here are three sisters: Adelpha alala

Adelpha irmina

Adelpha olynthina

A handsome brushfoot, Catonephele salambria

A fancy high-elevation satyr, Corades pannonia

Another satyr, Lymanopoda panacea

And even more Perisamas: this Perisama comnena was interested in something on my spotting scope.

Here is the upper side of the same individual.

This is Perisama dorbignyi, quite different.

Finally, Laothus gibberosa, a hairstreak.

This damselfly, at a clear, mountain brook was most stunning in flight. It would perch unnoticed for a few moments, but the entire upper side of its wings shimmered an iridescent blue when it took flight. Two of them looked like little blue fairies dancing just above the stream.

One of the great bird highlights was hearing several Hooded Tinamous and one Black Tinamou, singing its haunting, down-slurred cry all morning long from the opposite side of the rushing river below. Booted Racket-tail, Versicolored Barbet, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner (heard while we were waiting for the Lyre-tailed Nightjar to appear), Yellow-breasted Warbling-Antbird (a bamboo specialist), Scaled Antpitta (heard only, of course), both Western and Eastern Wood-Pewees (migrants from North America), a kettle of 75 Swallow-tailed Kites, White-eared Solitaire, Orange-eared Tanager, and Black-faced Brush-Finch were some of the other highlights from today.

Peru: Day 6 High-elevation to mid-elevation Cloud-forests

Dawn from our rooms at Wayqecha Biological Station in the upper cloud-forest of Manu National Park.
We began birding just a couple miles down the road and during the day made at least seven stops, each slightly lower in elevation and accompanied by an ever-increasing diversity of birds.
But the butterflies were easier to photograph, and often were more thrilling than the birds for me.
In the higher elevations, this gorgeous satyr, Corades cistene, was common.
This Catasticta dartwhite is a tough one to identify without the upper side visible.
This is Perisama diotima, a genus of eighty-eight-like butterflies found in the Andes.
Heliconius telesiphe, feeding from a Fuchsia.
An unknown skipper, soon to be identified. [Update: Richard Lindstrom has identified this as Dalla dimidiatus.]
Mexican Silverspot, Dione moneta.
This Epiphile orea was quite possibly one of the most beautiful butterflies I have ever seen.
The colors on this caterpillar scream “don’t touch.”
A dragonfly cruising the roadside edges of the cloud-forest.
There were several species of Bomarea here, but this pink one was stunning. Related to lilies, the family is best known from the florist favorite Alstroemeria.
This adorable little mouse, probably to remain unidentified for some time, was hopping about in the middle of the road where we were watching our first Blue-banded Toucanets.
And yes, there were birds. This is one of several Golden-headed Quetzals we saw.
This digiscoped video is of an Andean Potoo on a day roost, a rare find. Our drivers, who also have an interest in birds, had just finished driving for a Field Guides tour, who found this bird. So we owe many thanks to them for finding this bird and showing it to Amérigo and Mario. video
We arrived at our next night’s hotel, Manu Paradise Lodge, in the late afternoon. A Many-spotted Hummingbird and Violet-fronted Brilliants were at the hummingbird feeders.
On the walkway, this pint-sized opossum greeted one of the participants with its paws outstretched and mouth wide open. I got there in time before it completely disappeared into a heliconia thicket. It appears to be Micoureus regina, the Bare-tailed Woolly Mouse-Opossum.
A quick list of today's special birds, in addition to those mentioned above: White-throated Hawk, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan (heard), Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Marcapata Spinetail, Rusty-winged Barbtail (quick views), Inca Flycatcher, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, White-collared Jay, Fulvous Wren, Slaty Tanager, and Grass-green Tanager.

Peru: Day 5 from Cusco to Manu National Park

The main focus of this tour is the road that descends the humid slope of the Andes along the eastern border of Manu National Park. As it covers the full range of altitudes from treeline to the Amazonian lowlands (and over a very short distance), it is one of the most bio-diverse national parks in the world, perhaps occluded only by Madidi National Park in Bolivia.

But getting to the start of that nice, moist forest requires quite a drive, and we had a full buffet breakfast at 4:30, departing the hotel at 5:00. And not to waste any of the best hours of birding, we made several stops as we passed through the dry, high interior Andes to the north of Cusco.

Our first stop after about an hour and a half was in the outskirts of the town Huancaraní. Typical of the highlands, much exotic eucalyptus and pine have been planted, which mostly does not do the native birds any good.

But here we found our main target, the local endemic Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch.

Other birds common here were Rufous-collared Sparrow and Black-throated Flowerpiercer.

We made a few more stops in the open, seemingly birdless expanses of desert-like habitat.

But looks can be deceiving – there are many interesting species found here. Here is a Slender-billed Miner, one of our targets.

Other birds in this area were Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, and Rufous-webbed Tyrant.

Here is a very low-growing cactus with a lovely bloom. The long hairs, prevalent on many high-altitude species, offer protection from the many nights when the temperatures drop well below freezing.

This Rhionaeschna species of darner dragonfly was at a small stream by the road.

We only paused for photographs of this interesting site, the Chullpas of Ninamarca. The small stone huts are burial tombs of ancient native Andeans.

The sun and moon rose side-by-side at 5:19 this morning, and I wondered if somehow the moon deflected some of the sun’s rays to cause this very strange double ring.

After crossing over the Cordillera de Urubamba we skirted the upper ends of several valleys and then rose to the top of the Cordillera de Paucartambo where we had our picnic lunch. This marks the limit of Manu National Park.

The habitat was abruptly different here, with frequent mist and fog creating a lush, dense growth, interspersed with tussocky grass. Luckily we had sun, so some interesting butterflies were out, such as this Cloud-forest Firetip, Metardaris cosinga, on a Baccharis.

One of the characteristic plants of this edge of cloud forest and páramo is the Puya, a large, terrestrial bromeliad with striking green flowers.

Many other flowers also caught my attention:

A Fuchsia, one of many species

Calceolaria – a roadside weed.

The family of this tubular yellow flower wasn’t at all obvious to me. Maybe Solanaceae?

This looks much like the Polygala native to southeastern Arizona, only the flowers here grow on a large bush.

This melastome, unusual in its tubular flowers, was very attractive to the several species of hummingbirds in this area, such as Shining Sunbeam and Amethyst-throated Sunangel.

A more typical, and very showy melastome, Tibouchina.

Another family that I couldn’t recognize, this flower was common in the moist grassy areas. Maybe a gentian?

Even northern hemisphere genera occur here, such as this Viola.

The orchids were simply amazing. Here are few, starting with the only one that looks familiar, much like Epidendrum secundum.

The most spectacular flower here, and also much loved by hummingbirds, is this Oreocallis – King Beauty, as I would translate it – in the Protea family.

In the late afternoon, we arrived at our lodging for one night, the Wayqecha Biological Station. Here we met two young Americans working as biotechnicians on a study of nesting birds. And we walked up the road at dusk to have a fantastic experience with Swallow-tailed Nightjar. The male flew over us in a display flight like a giant mayfly in the cloud forest sky. Other bird highlights from today were Creamy-crested Spinetail, Golden-collared Tanager, Puna Thistletail, and Rufous-capped Thornbill.