Northern Peru (April-May 2000)

I made my first trip to South America in late April and early May 2000. I attended a mathematics conference in Trujillo, Peru, and visited the Universidad Nacional in Lima the following week. In between, I had four days to do some birding. I also did a little birding on the drive from Lima to Trujillo and at the Universidad Nacional in Trujillo. The highlights of the trip were seeing the Andes and the Amazon jungles for the first time. I was overwhelmed by all of the new birds, especially since I was on my own without an adequate field guide, but it was a memorable introduction to the birds of South America.

My flight landed in Lima at 4:00 a.m. on April 23. I picked up my rental car (a Toyota Corona with 85,000 kilometers) and started driving north to Trujillo. This 300 mile drive takes seven or eight hours. It took me a little longer since I stopped a few times. The road is in good condition, but you wouldn’t want to have car problems in the coastal desert, which is the most barren place I’ve ever seen. In most places, there is not a single sprig of vegetation. The best stop was just north of Huarmey, where there’s a road to a rocky location on the coast. At this site, I saw Seaside Cinclodes (and thus chose cinclodes as my Yahoo ID the next day), Peruvian Booby, Peruvian Pelican, Guanay Cormorant, Kelp Gull, Band-tailed Gull, and Andean Gull. I stopped near some of the small towns, where there is irrigation and some vegetation, and saw Peruvian Meadowlark, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Cattle Egret, Killdeer, American Coot, Common Moorhen, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, House Sparrow, Rock Dove, White-winged Dove, Variable Seedeater, Shiny Cowbird, Croaking Ground-Dove, Eared Dove, and Vermilion Flycatcher. I was surprised to see so many vultures, even on the beach and at garbage dumps. That week at the Universidad Nacional in Trujillo, I saw Bananaquit, Pacific Parrotlet, Saffron Finch, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Hooded Siskin, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Croaking Ground-Dove, White-winged Dove, Shiny Cowbird, Groove-billed Ani, Vermilion Flycatcher, Amazilia Hummingbird, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Supercilliated Wren, Parrot-billed Seadeater, and American Kestrel.

On April 29, I departed Trujillo and headed for Cajamarca. In the lowlands, I saw Scrub Blackbird, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Red-backed Hawk, and Blue-black Grassquit. In the highlands, I saw Giant Hummingbird, Great Thrush, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Green-tailed Trainbearer, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Baird’s Flycatcher, Pale-legged Hornero, Tropical Gnatcatcher, White-edged Oriole, Sparkling Violet-Ear, Gray-breasted Martin, White-tipped Dove, and Groove-billed Ani. I slept in the car that night in Celendin, where I saw Paraques along the road and heard a Pacific Pygmy-Owl calling. On April 30, I drove from Celendin to Pedro Ruiz. There was much interesting habitat in the mountains and then descending to the Rio Marañon at Balsas. Along this stretch, I saw Glossy-black Thrush, Golden-billed Saltator, Hepatic Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Yellow Grosbeak, Fasciated Wren, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Andean Flicker, and Buff-bridled Inca-Finch. The road from Balsas to Chachapoyas was in much worse shape than I had expected. On the map, this drive looks like it should only take a few hours. It actually takes about ten hours, which left little time for birding. The car almost got stuck in the mud a few times. I was surprised that the undercarriage survived all the bumps and scrapes. I was elated that a Yellow-faced Parrotlet, which has a very limited range, landed in a small tree right next to the car. I also saw White-collared Swift, Blue-and-white Swallow, Green Jay, Marañon Thrush, Torrent Duck, Spotted Sandpiper, and Tropical Kingbird. The Torrent Duck was a male that I spotted sitting on a rock. It then jumped into the rapidly flowing Rio Utcubamba.

I had intended to bird the road to Rioja the next few days, but it was closed due to landslides. So I went to the backup plan, which was to bird the road to Bagua and then to head north toward Chiriaco from there. On the way to Bagua, I saw Barred Forest-Falcon, Thick-billed Euphonia, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Savannah Hawk, Yellow-rumped Cacique, White-winged Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Hepatic Tanager, Groove-billed Ani, Blue-black Grassquit, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Crested Caracara, Squirrel Cuckoo, Thrush-like Wren, Black Phoebe, Peruvian Meadlowlark, Bananquit, Harris’ Hawk, Green Jay, Croaking Ground-Dove, and House Wren. I stayed at an $8 hotel in Bagua, which wasn’t too bad. I left there at 3:00 am so that I would arrive in the jungle near Aramango at daybreak.

Early that morning, I noticed that the steep hills on my side of the river were not lit up by the sun. The other side of the river looked much better for birding. I came upon a cable tram that crosses the river. I motioned to the people on the other side, and they came over on the tram. I asked them to take me to the other side so I could look for birds. As the tram approached the other side, I realized I had made a serious mistake as the faces on the other side were not friendly. The chief told me that watching birds was not permitted on his land. I was then forced to follow the chief on a trail through the jungle to his village. I was surrounded by the villagers while the chief interrogated me in Spanish. He wanted to know where I had been, what I was doing, and where I was going. I began to wonder if I would get out of there alive after he shook his finger at me and said, “You are NOT a tourist.” I kept my cool and showed him my field guides and binoculars. This convinced him that I really was a tourist, and he let me go.

After I was taken back across the river, I thought the ordeal was over, but three of the villagers jumped in the car with me. I later realized that they just wanted a ride to Chiriaco. We made a few brief stops on the way to Chiriaco and saw Yellow-rumped Cacique, Barred Forest-Falcon, and Yellow-browed Sparrow. We also saw several birds that I could not identify. It was extremely hot and humid in Chiriaco. A crowd gathered around to look at the birds in my field guide. After an unproductive walk to look for birds, I decided to head back toward Bagua. On the way back, we finally came upon a flock of tanagers, which contained three spectacular Paradise Tanagers. There were others, but I was not able to identify them with my inadequate field guide. I also saw a beautiful Black-faced Dacnis on this stop. A short while later, we hit a bad spot in the road and the muffler broke. When we got back to the village, one of the villagers obtained a piece of wire and tied up the muffler so that it wouldn’t drag.

At this point, I could have gone back towards Rioja in hopes that the road was open, but I decided that this would be too risky with a muffler that was about to fall off. I made it back to Trujillo the next morning and got the muffler welded back together. The car looked like it had been dipped in a vat of mud, but it was spotless after being attended to by a couple of guys who wash cars in the median of the main road through Trujillo.