Bar-winged Wood Wren Photo: Fabrice Schmitt
We’ll begin in the arid Tumbesian region, isolated between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes, next travel through the scenic middle and upper Marañon Valley, one of the most important biogeographic boundaries in the Andes, and conclude with an exploration of cloud and elfin forest on the east side of the main cordillera.
Every day we’ll be exposed to birds restricted to a particular habitat or region: Elegant Crescentchest, Rainbow Starfrontlet, and Yellow-scarfed Tanager, to mention just a few with enticing names. We’ll have a good chance of seeing such legendary species as White-winged Guan, until recently considered “possibly” extinct, and an impressive list of endemic species. We’ll see about 30 species of hummingbird, thanks in part to several feeding stations, including Marvelous Spatuletail, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Purple-throated Sunangel, and Chestnut-breasted Coronet.
In addition, the scenery is simply magnificent. The spectacular Marañon Canyon, the Chachapoyas ruins perched on the cliffs of the Utcubamba Valley, the little Andean village of Leymebamba, or the landscape surrounding our ecolodge at Chaparrí would each on its own warrant a visit to northwest Peru.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 p.m. in the lobby of our hotel near the Jorge Chavez International Airport near Lima. Night near Lima.
Day 2: We’ll take an early flight to Chiclayo and begin our trip with a visit to the Señor de Sipan Museum. This is perhaps the most beautiful museum in South America and an excellent introduction to the culturally rich area we’ll be visiting. After lunch in Chiclayo we’ll continue by road toward the Chaparrí Reserve. We’ll stop at Tinajones Dam, usually well stocked with waterbirds such as Comb Duck and Great Grebe, and we may see Peruvian Thick-knee in the nearby agricultural fields.
The Chaparrí Reserve protects about 85,000 acres of mostly dry forest and scrublands in the foothills of the Andes. It supports 200 bird species, including the critically threatened White-winged Guan, subject of a successful reintroduction program. The reserve is owned and administered by an indigenous community and has been influential in showing that conservation can be profitable to local people. Night at the Chaparrí Ecolodge.
Day 3: We’ll spend the day at the Chaparrí Reserve and its surroundings, looking for the many range-restricted species found here, such as the splendid Tumbes Tyrant, Collared Antshrike, Elegant Crescentchest, White-headed Brush-Finch, Baird’s Flycatcher, and Sulphur-throated Finch. White-winged Guan is easy to find around the lodge, and with some luck we’ll even see a few Andean Condors soaring above the dramatic mountains that dominate the landscape.
Collared Peccary, Sechuran Fox, and White-tailed Deer are often seen here too, but we’ll need to be extremely lucky to see the rare Spectacled Bear or the elusive Puma, both of which have been photographed in the reserve and are spotted occasionally. Night at the Chaparrí Ecolodge.
Day 4: After an early breakfast we’ll drive toward Batán Grande and the Bosque Pomac Reserve. The taller forest here supports a number of rare birds including Rufous Flycatcher, Peruvian Plantcutter, and Tumbes Swallow. We’ll also have a good chance of seeing Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, and Cinereous Finch.
After a full morning and a picnic lunch at Bosque Pomac we’ll drive to Salas. If we’ve missed any higher-elevation species, we’ll have another chance here, but some of us may be tempted to relax around our very comfortable lodge. In the evening Peruvian Screech-Owl (pacificus subspecies) is usually heard in the garden together with its smaller relative, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl. Night near Salas.
Day 5: We’ll leave early for Abra Porculla, where we’ll have a field breakfast. This is the lowest pass in the Andes, at only 7000 feet (2145 m) above sea level. We’ll bird semi-humid montane scrub bordering agricultural fields, hoping to see Henna-capped and Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaners, Line-cheeked Spinetail, Chapmann’s Antshrike, Piura Chat-Tyrant, and Black-cowled Saltator. We’ll have a full morning to look for these beautiful species, and after our picnic lunch we’ll continue toward Jaén on a scenic road along the edge of the Huancabamba Valley, with its arid slopes and rice plantations at the bottom. Night in Jaén.
Day 6: We’ll undertake some pre-breakfast nightbirding to look for Peruvian Screech-Owl (roboratus subspecies) and Scrub Nightjar. After our field breakfast we’ll bird in an interesting dry forest patch where we’ll find our first species restricted to the Marañon Valley, including Marañon Spinetail, Chinchipe [Necklaced] Spinetail, Buff-bellied Tanager, and the nigriceps subspecies of Black-capped Sparrow. The stunning Marañon Crescentchest is also found here, and we’ll make a special effort to see this handsome bird.
After our morning’s birding we’ll return to Jaén and then continue to Chachapoyas. It’s a long but scenic drive, and we plan to arrive early enough to enjoy the surroundings of our lodge. Night near Chachapoyas.
Day 7: We’ll spend our morning at the Huembo feeders, where the well-named Marvelous Spatuletail, one of the world’s most extraordinary hummingbirds, is often seen. Besides that stunning bird, Green and Sparkling Violetears and Chestnut-breasted Coronet will probably be swarming around, and we’ll also have good chances to see Andean Emerald, Little Woodstar, and the huge Sword-billed Hummingbird.
The drive toward Leymebamba will be one of the most impressive of the trip. We’ll travel along the bottom of the Utcubamba Canyon, and on the imposing cliffs we may see some sarcophagi and ruins from the Chachapoyas culture. During our obligatory photo stops we may also find a few Torrent Ducks or Fasciated Tiger-Herons. Night in Leymebamba.
Days 8–9: We’ll have two full days to explore the patches of cloud and elfin forest from Leymebamba at 6500 feet (2000 m) up to Abra Barro Negro at 12,000 feet (3670 m). Again, the list of possible birds is almost endless. We’ll mostly be looking for some stunning tanagers, including Yellow-scarfed, Scarlet-bellied, and Grass-green Tanagers and Hooded Mountain-Tanager. The very local Russet-mantled Softtail is also found here, along with Yungas Pygmy-Owl, Streaked Tuftedcheek, and the elusive Rusty-breasted Antpitta. If we find a good fruiting tree, we may also see Golden-headed Quetzal, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, and Mountain Cacique.
At high elevations we have a good chance of finding Blackish Tapaculo and Coppery Metaltail in the last patches of forest and Many-striped Canastero in the surrounding puna grassland. We’ll also visit the Leymebamba Museum, not only for its amazing collection of mummies but also for its hummingbird feeders, where Purple-throated Sunangel, Rainbow Starfrontlet, and Green-tailed Trainbearer all occur. Nights in Leymebamba.
Day 10: From the Abra Barro Negro Pass on the east side of the Marañon Canyon we’ll abruptly descend to the canyon bottom at only 3100 feet elevation (950 m) and then climb up the west slope to reach another pass at 10,100 feet (3095 m), ending our day in Celendín at 8700 feet (2650 m). The succession of vegetation along the way is absolutely stunning: cloud forest, puna grassland, humid montane scrub, arid montane scrub, “bombax-like” tree forest, agricultural fields … and the landscape is so amazing that we would be delighted by the drive even if there were no birds!
But, of course, there are birds, and in addition to our photo stops we’ll be looking for Marañon endemics, including Chestnut-backed Thornbird, Gray-winged and Buff-bridled Inca-Finches, Marañon Thrush, Peruvian Pigeon, Yellow-faced Parrotlet, and Spot-throated Hummingbird, as well as Black-necked Woodpecker, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, and Yellow-tailed Oriole. Night in Celendín.
Day 11: We’ll have a field breakfast near a patch of Polylepis scrub where we hope to see Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Baron’s Spinetail, and the cajamarcae subspecies of Rufous Antpitta. From our picnic table we even have a chance of seeing the threatened White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant!
After our birdy breakfast we’ll drive toward Cajamarca with frequent birding stops for notable species such as Rufous-webbed Tyrant, Stripe-headed Antpitta, Black Metaltail, and Rufous-eared Brush-Finch. We’ll spend the end of the afternoon in the Río Chonta Valley, the only location in the world for the rare and threatened Gray-bellied Comet. Night in Cajamarca.
Day 12: We’ll have our last field breakfast near the village of San Marcos, where we’ll look for Great Spinetail, a distinctive spinetail that constructs huge stick nests in arid montane scrub and the last one of our by-now-long list of Peruvian endemics. While searching for the spinetail we’ll have a good chance of seeing Hepatic Tanager, Black-lored [Masked] Yellowthroat, or White-winged Black-Tyrant.
We’ll return to Cajamarca for a farewell lunch followed by a flight to Lima, where the tour concludes in time for international connections home.
Updated: 17 November 2020