February 28, 2015, Cusco, Peru — Jose, Glenn, Nestor and I stayed at a hole-in-the-wall motel in Pilcopata last night, listening to loud Peruvian country ballad karaoke which was still going strong when we got up at 4:45 a.m. Pilcopata is a small, isolated town in the southeast foothills which, according to Jose, was fairly dangerous until about 15 years ago; this valley was a center of coca plantations in Peru’s Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) period. A lot of coca is still grown here, but is now regulated by the government and drug companies—or at least that’s the idea.
We spent the morning birding at a wonderful spot called Villa Carmen, an elegant hacienda recently turned biological station managed by the Amazon Conservation Association. The ACA maintains several properties in this part of Peru, and we’ll visit another one (a lowland station called Los Amigos) in a couple of days. As such stations go, Villa Carmen is gorgeous: The main house has been converted to a headquarters, with outlying dining areas, labs, and dorms (for researchers and students) tucked into the surrounding forest. The latest addition is a row of visitor huts built with locally harvested non-native bamboo; if you’re looking to spend a couple days near the lower end of Manu Road, Villa Carmen is a relatively new destination and welcomes birders.
An on-site bird guide named Percy, who happens to be Jose’s brother, joined us for a couple hours to look for a few of Villa Carmen’s special birds. We found a dozen species of antbirds, saw a Plum-throated Cotinga, and heard a Buckley’s Forest-Falcon, so it was a good session. I wished for a full day here to explore the miles of forest trails, but Jose was soon tapping his watch—no time to linger!
The rest of the day was spent retracing yesterday’s route up Manu Road, with another series of delays: First our van rolled into a parked truck while our driver was trying to fix its transmission, and he somehow lost his driver’s license while leaving his information for the truck’s driver (which took some explaining later at a highway police checkpoint). Then we had a flat tire and got stuck in the mud. It took us 20 minutes of lining the road with rocks before we were able to get out. Then another landslide delayed us for an hour, then we got high centered on some deep ruts and had to be towed out by another van with a cable.
The shining highlight en route was a pair of Solitary Eagles, an adult and a juvenile, that Jose spotted near the Cock-of-the-Rock lodge—AWESOME!
New birds today: 28
Year list: 1390