Monday, August 2, 2010

Oilbirds from the Highway

Today we drove from Tarapoto to Moyobamba, the capital of San Martín province, Peru. Don't worry, I had never heard of these towns before studying up for this tour either. But they are busy little cities with very nice hotels and not far from great birding spots. Looking at a map, you might think we are in the middle of nowhere, but with everything connected by paved highways, it's quite civilized.

Which makes it most amazing that along this paved highway we made a short stop at a small bridge, looked down, and saw Oilbirds. One of the world's weirdest birds, the nocturnal Oilbird's ecological function is more like that of fruit bat than any bird. They are nocturnal, colonial, live in caves, and navigate by sonar. And most known locations involve something of a hike or some pre-dawn departure to a remote cave. This spot is nothing short of amazing. When you arrive it doesn't even look like the bridge is going over anything larger than a little draw.

But look down, and there's a slot canyon to take your breath away. Not good if you're susceptible to vertigo.
Look a little more closely, and there are the Oilbirds in the dark shadows. Three were sitting out in the open, and another 12 or so had bits and parts sticking out from the ledges.

Near Tarapoto, we birded the Cordillera Escalera. Rain and fog drove us out this morning, but the light made the Tibouchina trees glow.

By the afternoon, the weather was gorgeous at the butte west of Moyobamba called Morro Calzada. This robber fly let me get a close shot while it was munching on a tiny gnat.

Interesting birds here included Spot-winged Antbird, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Striped Manakin, and Lesser Elaenia.


  1. Amazing shot of the fly - looks like some huge prehistoric thing. And oilbirds just sitting around gossiping in the open - next they'll be perching on the bridge !


  2. Addendum – I just found out that Gunnar Engblom discovered this site while stopping to look at White-eyed Parakeets just over a year ago. Spectacular find. See his blog, and even better pictures than mine here:

  3. Thanks for the link and the creidt Rich. @Alan: Next someone will be selling stuffed oilbird toys, Tshirts and postcards on the bridge.

  4. Hi there, how do you now that Gunnar found this place, its the only one that past by this place or its taking some one else name

  5. Hi Ciro,

    How do I know that Gunnar found this place? Simple – he told me. No one had told him about it.