Arjan's Biggest Year

In 2016 I will attempt the ultimate in global birding, to break the world record in birdwatching, this involves observing more than 6000 species in a single year!
Like my predecessor Noah Strycker I will count heard-only birds, but I will differentiate between heard-only- and seen species to make sure my list stays comparable.

During my 'Biggest Year' I will raise money for the groundbreaking Birdlife Preventing Extinctions Programme in a collaboration with Vogelbescherming Nederland and the Dutch Birding Association. This programme aims to prevent the extinction of all globally threatened bird species by applying an active, innovative and highly effective methodology.

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September 16 - 21: Peru (4)

28 september 2016  ·  Arjan Dwarshuis  ·  4805 × bekeken


We had one important mission before we would leave the Owlet Lodge and Abra Patricia, namely finding the endemic Yellow-scarfed Tanager. We had missed this bird around the Carpish Tunnel, so today was our last chance on finding this stunning Peruvian endemic.

Camilla and I were waiting at the feeders near the restaurant and Miguel and Juve were waiting downstairs with a walky-talky. After half an hour of waiting Miguel suddenly called in that Juve had found the Tanager in a mixed flock down at the gate. We raced down and after a tense 15 minutes we found the bird!

We drove down to the famous Rio Chido trail where Miguel and I were dropped off to search for the enigmatic Pale-billed Antpitta. Normally you take half a day to find this bird, but Miguel and I had to run up and down and see the bird within three hours’ time, if we would stick to our schedule. Juve dropped Camilla off at the feeders down in the valley so she could take some more time with the amazing Marvelous Spatuletail. 

Miguel and I raced up and already after 20 minutes we found a small flock containing 2 Russet-mantled Soft-tails, a rare endemic that suffers tremendously from deforestation in this part of Peru. In fact the once very productive Rio Chido trail has been degraded over time to just a couple of small secondary forest patches, a sad sight indeed.

For the Antpitta we had to walk back for half an hour, since in our enthusiasm we had passed Miguel’s stakeout and walked half an hour too far uphill :) Now began the tense wait for the Antpitta, one of my most wanted birds… After half an hour of waiting not a single call, but suddenly there was a movement and there – barely two meters from our perplexed faced – the antpitta popped up! What an amazingly cool bird!

We raced down, called in Juve and joined Camilla at the Spatuletail feeders and moments later we were reunited and marvelled at the most amazing hummingbird in the world! What a change from 10 year ago, when we had to work hard to find just a single bird along the road.

We continued down into the Utugamba Valley and picked up Speckle-breasted Piculet on the way. In the dry Marañón scrub lower down we tracked down the dazzling Marañón Crescentchest and we finished the day with yet another owl, the West Peruvian Screech-owl.

Marvelous Spatuletail Loddigesia mirabilis (Camilla Dreef)

Sword-billed Hummingbird Ensifera ensifera (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Marañón Crescentchest Melanopareia maranonica (Arjan Dwarshuis)

September 17th ENDEMICS OF THE 
The Marañón Valley is a huge dry inter-montane valley in north-western Peru and extreme south-western Ecuador. In this valley lives a unique bird community that is found nowhere else on earth. Due to human population growth and increasing infrastructure in this part of Peru many of Marañón’s special birds are now threatened. Today we would travel all the way down to the bottom of the valley near the small town of Balsas and up again to the city of Cajamarca. En route we would look for some of Peru’s most special birds.

Before we would drive down to Balsas we stopped to look for the endangered Chestnut-backed Thornbird, which was quickly found. Great to see that this species was still doing well on this side of the valley. At the bottom of the valley we saw the equally endangered Yellow-faced Parrotlet, but then we ran into trouble. The road was blocked because of road works and would only open after 1 PM. Our whole master plan was being jeopardized! There was only one option. I faked that I was feeling very sick and desperately needed to get to a hospital in Cajamarca for treatment. Miguel did all the talking and Camilla ‘took care of me’ with an utterly worried expression on her face. It worked, half an hour later we’d crossed the bridge, drove up on the other side and were back on schedule. 

During several planned stops we picked up Buff-bridled- and higher up Grey-winged Inca-finch and finally Jelski’s Chat-tyrant.

Between Celendin and Cajamarca we stopped to look for the very rare and endangered White-tailed Shrike-tyrant. A poorly known species that has suffered enormously from cultivation of its grassy puna habitat. Against all odds we found this huge tyrant and since the identification can be quite tricky I made some quick record shots through my scope.

We had one big target still to find, the inexplicably rare endemic Grey-bellied Comet. This impressive hummingbird is only found along a few stretches of riverside vegetation near Cajamarca. Luckily Miguel knew a good stakeout for this incredible species and we found two males within five minutes after our arrival. That went differently 10 years ago when my friend Jelmer and I searched for this bird for two full days!

Buff-bridled Inca-Finch Incaspiza laeta (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Grey-bellied Comet Taphrolesbia griseiventris (Arjan Dwarshuis)

White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant Agriornis albicauda (Arjan Dwarshuis)

We had spent the night at the town of San Marcos in the middle Marañón Valley. This is the only accessible spot for the rare and endangered Great Spinetail. 10 Years ago I also visited this site and back than they’d just constructed a new road from Cajamarca to San Marcos. Back then I was already worried that this new road would have disastrous consequences for the then already rare spinetail because a good road means development and subsequently habitat degradation. It turned out that these worries were not without reason. The habitat that the spinetail favours had been almost completely destroyed and the land that still held good habitat had a ‘for sale’ sign on it.

Miguel knew where the birds had been nesting very recently – just a meter next to a recently burned acre of good habitat – so finding them was easy. We had to wait as it slowly got light until the birds started calling and not long thereafter we had good views of this rare species – which should be uplisted to critically endangered in my opinion.

From San Marcos we headed for the coastal town of Chiclayo, about half a day’s drive. En route we made a stop to look for the little known Unicolored Tapaculo and the recently split Piura Hemispingus, but we could only find the former.

When we finally arrived at Chiclayo we drove straight to Bosque Pomac reserve to look for the endangered Peruvian Plantcutter and Tumbes Swallow. We started with the swallow, but the light was so horrific that I didn’t dare to positively identify any distant swallow at this stakeout. With only half an hour of daylight left we raced to the area where the Plantcutter is most often seen and just as Miguel was telling that we might have to come back in the morning a bird started calling! Five minutes later we were marvelling at this amazing bird, a great finish to a long travel day.

September 19th WHITE-WINGED GUANS!   
Last evening Wim ten Have had arrived from Lima, he would travel with us for the remaining three days in Peru and five days in remote southern Ecuador.

Today we were going to a special place – Bosque Frejolillo – one of the very few breeding sites of the critically endangered White-winged Guan. This beautiful bird was discovered in the 1870’s, but got ‘lost’ since until it was rediscovered in the ‘70’s, 100 years after its original discovery. The villagers of Limon de Porquilla – which lies adjacent to Bosque Frejolillo – now protect the Guans since they started to see the benefits from ecotourism. This has resulted in a dramatic increase of the population of the species from just one pair to at least eight pairs.

We arrived just after dawn at Limon de Porcuilla where we had our breakfast. We saw some cool Tumbesian endemics like Tumbes Tyrant and Tumbes Sparrow while having our morning tea. From here we walked up into the gorge and the deciduous forest where the Guans live.

After just 10 minutes of walking I suddenly spotted a guan perched in a tall tree! It turned out to be a flock of four birds, very cool. Later that they we would count at least 15 birds in total. Other good birds this morning were the vulnerable Grey-breasted Flycatcher, Quayaquil Woodpecker, Ecuadorian Trogon, Rufous Flycatcher, Red-masked Parakeet and Pacific Elaenia.

On the way back to Olmos we stopped to look for the endemic Cinereous Finch during the heat of midday, but luckily we quickly found three birds that gave fantastic views.

Our final addition to this great day was an unexpected flock of over a hundred Sulphur-throated Finches, an unpredictable nomadic species.

White-winged Guan Penelope albipennis (Camilla Dreef)

Rufous Flycatcher Myiarchus semirufus (Camilla Dreef)

September 20th ABRA PORCULLA
We left Olmos early so that we would arrive at the famous pass of Abra Porculla at first light. This interesting place holds a unique set of birds that is only found here and in a remote part of south-western Ecuador. Unfortunately the habitat is much degraded at this location and the specialties are getting harder and harder to find every year.

We had a thrilling start when a Chestnut-crowned Antpitta showed tremendously well while we were having coffee. Always great to see a member of this difficult family this well. We were lucky today and within a short timespan we found all but one of our targets, Chapman’s Antshrike, Black-cowled Saltator, Rufous-necked- and Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Gray-and-gold- and Three-banded Warbler and the porcullae race of Grey-throated Hermit. The Piura Chat-tyrant however proved more difficult and we spend the last 2 hours at this location chasing this rarity without success.

From Abra Porculla we drove back into the Marañón Valley to the town of Jaen. Here we visited a small local conservancy to look for two birds in particular, the Little Inca-finch – our last of 5 Inca-finches – and the critically endangered Marañón Spinetail. We found both these birds and especially with the latter I was very happy since this spinetail is getting more difficult to find every year according to Miguel.

We started heading north from Jaen just after daylight since the road to Ecuador can sometimes be a dangerous one. En route we picked up two final birds for my Biggest Year bringing the total to 574 new birds in Peru. That is 124 species more then I’d expected, all respect to Miguel Lezama, Wim ten Have and Juvenal Ccahuana of Tanager Tours!

Together with these guys and Camilla we crossed into Ecuador, where the adventure continues…

Arjan Dwarshuis

Birding the dry forest of the Tumbes region, northern Peru (Camilla Dreef)