Birding Without Borders

Day 53: High-Risk, High-Reward Birding

While in Peru, Noah’s focusing on finding the endemic species he might only catch in the area.

February 22, 2015, Pomacochas, Peru — This morning Gunnar, Carlos, Glenn, Julio and I got up at 3:30 a.m. and drove three hours from Leymebamba into the center of the Maranon Valley (a major landmark in northern Peru) to find several good endemics: Chestnut-backed Thornbird, Gray-winged and Buff-bridled Inca-Finches, and one that proved elusive, the Yellow-faced Parrotlet (always need a reason to come back!). The Maranon Valley is a spectacularly deep and steep inter-Andean fissure, with a narrow paved road clinging like looped spaghetti to each side. At the valley floor is a river surrounded by cactus and hot desert scrub; by the time we had climbed to the top of a pass on one side of the valley, we were at 13,000 feet in cool, wet cloud forest. 

We spent most of the rest of the day making miles toward Pomacochas, a small town where we will spend the night. Gunnar has a different strategy than most of the other birders I’ve spent time with so far this year: Instead of focusing on deliberate, broad-spectrum birding in key habitats, he is bent on finding Peru’s endemic birds, one by one if necessary. The endemics, after all, are the birds I won’t be able to see anywhere else this year, so they are the most important species! This means that sometimes we have to travel long distances between target birds, bypassing good habitats while making quick stops for stakeouts.

It’s a relatively high-risk, high-reward approach to birding. The risk is that I will add a few good species at the expense of missing more of the common ones. But if I pick up those common birds along the way (perhaps cleaning up some misses in Ecuador and Colombia), any endemics I see in Peru will be a big bonus.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying northern Peru! The scenery is spectacular (sorry, there’s no other way to say it), the people are friendly, and the birds here are unique. Peru’s ecotourism department has been promoting this route for the past few years and it is now fully supported by birder-friendly infrastructure (lodges, reserves, good-enough roads, etc). Yesterday we passed a turnoff to a waterfall that, by some measurements, is the world’s third-tallest, but is hidden away here in near-obscurity; there is also a ruin in this area similar to Macchu Picchu that gets few visitors because it is harder to access. Definitely an area worth exploring further someday.

New birds today: 14

Year list: 1221

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