Day 58: Birding Manu National Park

A landslide delayed access to the large preserve, but roadside birding helped pass the time.

February 27, 2015, Pilcopata, Peru — Glenn and I took a crack-of-dawn flight out of Lima this morning to Cusco, in southeast Peru. We’ll spend the next week birding this area from bottom to top: Amazon lowlands to high Andes! 

We were met in Cusco by a local birder named Jose Luis and a driver named Nestor, and the four of us headed toward Manu National Park. Manu is an enormous area of preserved forest in the interior of southeast Peru, so big that there is a mostly un-contacted tribe living somewhere in its jungles. The park was created in the 1960s, but it’s more or less undeveloped and largely inaccessible. Birders come here to traverse the Manu Road, a rough track which cuts across the park’s various altitudes.

This is the wet season in southeast Peru, so Jose was a little worried about a couple of reported landslides on Manu Road. The only way to find out the road condition was to go there, so we set off with fingers crossed. Cusco is a high-elevation city, and we climbed over a pass before dropping into the upper end of Manu Road, which then snaked down into the foothills for the next 40 kilometers.

After a couple hours of roadside birding, we’d seen some good stuff (Bearded Mountaineer, Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch, Creamy-crested Spinetail), but, ominously, had not passed a single car heading the other direction on Manu Road. Around midday we turned a corner and found a line of parked trucks and buses. People were sitting around, and some had even built complicated cooking fires on the roadside. Not a good sign! 

Jose, Glenn and I walked down and eventually arrived at a steep landslide across the road with two bulldozers trying madly to clear it from either end. Apparently the slide happened two or three days ago, and some of these people had been camping there ever since; one enterprising family was going around selling sodas. The crew had made good progress, though, and it looked as if the road might open any minute. We went birding on foot (Golden-headed Quetzal, Blue-banded Toucanet, Inca Flycatcher), and, sure enough, two hours later, horns began honking, and the two guys on bulldozers became instant heroes!

New birds today: 15

Year list: 1362

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