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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Peru: Machu Picchu and the Manu-Kosñipata Road

2022 Narrative

We packed in a lot of memorable bird sightings in our ten days of birding in the department of Cusco. Of the tour best sightings, a super close view of Inca Wrens at the stunning ruins of Machu Picchu; a lovely Urubamba Antpittas in the deep, mossy interior of the short forest at Wayquecha; a super cute Peruvian Piedtail at the Cock of the Rock Lodge’s flowers, somehow managing to grab a sip despite the super aggressive Sparkling Violetears; the unforgettable Andean Cock-of-the-rocks at their lek; the amazing views of males of both Swallow-tailed and Lyre-tailed Nightjars; the pond ‘filled’ with Hoatzin at Villa Carmen; and an unexpected Buckley’s Forest-Falcon seen so well at Villa Carmen too.

Other fantastic species found on this trip included Bearded Mountaineer, Rufous-crested Coquette, Wire-crested Thorntail, Semicollared Hawk, Black-streaked Puffbird, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Slaty Gnateater, Barred Fruiteater, loads of tanagers and more! Rounding out the tour were the additional aspects of natural history, such as so many butterflies and interesting mammals, delicious regional food, and the wonderful Peruvians we saw and met.

After a night at the Lima airport hotel and an early breakfast, we flew to the busy city of Cusco. We met our driver Daniel, and immediately drove towards the nearby Huacarpay Lake. During the drive, we already spotted a few groups of Andean Gull and Puna Ibis. Once at the lake, we quickly found the beautiful Many-colored Rush-Tyrant together with the less colorful Wren-like Rushbird. In the nearby bushes, the endemic Rusty-fronted Canastero was singing and seen well, as a few Band-tailed Seedeaters and White-crested Elaenias. Driving around the lake, besides admiring our first pre-Inca ruins, we also found some Andean Lapwings, Spot-winged Pigeons, and a few Sparkling Violetears.

We then returned to Cusco, crossing the city to join the Piuray lake. There, we had an excellent picnic surrounded by superb Andean landscapes. From the picnic table we observed hundreds of Puna Ibis, and large numbers of Yellow-billed Pintails, Yellow-billed Teals, White-tufted and Silvery Grebes, Slate-colored Coots and a few Andean Ducks and Puna Teals. A Plumbeous Rail was also running in the open on the lake shore. In the reedbeds we could appreciate even better views on Many-colored Rush-Tyrants, Wren-Like Rushbirds and Yellow-winged Blackbirds.

After lunch, we drove towards the Sacred Valley. Following the Urubamba River for a few kilometers we reached the ‘Ensifera Camp’ where a nice Peruvian couple run a Hummingbird Garden. What a lovely place to spend the afternoon, watching Shinning Sunbeam, Green-and-white and White-bellied Hummingbird, Tyrian Metaltail, White-bellied Woodstar, Giant and Sword-billed Hummingbird!

After this fantastic first day in the Cusco Department, we drove towards our lovely hotel in Ollantaytambo.

We had an early breakfast before taking the train to Aguas Calientes. During the two hours of travel along the Urubamba River we counted no less than 45 Torrent Ducks! Once in the small but ultra-touristic village of Aguas Calientes we met our local guide Jesus. We immediately took a bus to the Machu Picchu ruins, spending all morning to discover this fantastique archeological site. The ruins are extremely well preserved and impressive, and we had the chance to do the visit under a wonderful blue sky! Between two photo stops, we also found some birds: a very cooperative Inca Wren came at less than two meters, two Black-winged Black-Tyrants, a few Sierran Elaenias, many Blue-and-white Swallows nesting in the Inca walls, and our first Blue-capped Tanager. Concluding a superb visit of this new wonder of the World, we had an excellent lunch tasting several Peruvian specialties!

After lunch, we walked back to Aguas Calientes to take the train, and of course did some birding on the way down. The bird activity was excellent and we found many mixed-species flocks, including Spectacled and Slate-throated Redstarts, Saffron-crowned, Silvery, Golden-naped and Beryl-spangled Tanagers, Barred Becards and Brown-capped Vireos! We also had nice views on Andean Guan, Blue-banded Toucanet and Andean Motmot. Just before arriving to Aguas Calientes, we had fantastic sights on all fast-running river specialists: Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper, Torrent Tyrannulet and Black Phoebe! Stunning! It was now time to board the train back, and after our pleasant drive back we arrived at our comfortable hotel in Ollantaytambo for a succulent dinner.

We started our day with a beautiful drive in the Sacred Valley, where the sumptuous landscapes are speckled with Inca ruins! Obligatory stop in front of the ruins of Pisac! Leaving the Sacred Valley, a stop in the middle of the crops and some eucalyptus plantations was very fruitful: no less than four Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finches that we observed nicely, as well as some Mourning Sierra-Finches, a nice flock of Hooded Siskin, some Band-tailed Seedeaters and even a Golden-billed Saltator was singing atop a tree. But the most beautiful surprise was the arrival of a magnificent Bearded Mountainner, which perched just a few meters from us! Unforgettable!

As we continued our journey, the breathtaking landscapes followed one another. We passed through many picturesque villages, where the inhabitants still live from small-scale agriculture, and often still wear traditional clothes.

Continuing our ascent, we left the forest limit and the agriculture, reaching the magnificent landscapes of the high mountain. There, we found a few of the beautiful Mountain Caracara, the superb Andean Flicker, Streak-throated and Streak-backed Canasteros, Spot-billed and Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrants, and even two Aplomado Falcons flew over us.

The journey was long, but we never tired of these beautiful landscapes. After a stop at the market of Paucartambo, last village for the next few days, we continued our ascent towards the pass of Acjanaco, entry door of the Manu National Park. From there, we could just drive down to the Amazon!

Our next stop was the Wayquecha biological station, where we stayed two nights. Just before arriving to Wayquecha, we found a beautiful troop of tanagers including Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Grass-green and Golden-collared Tanagers, Three-striped Hemispingus and Masked Flowerpiercer! What a welcome surprise!

For our first morning in the surroundings of Wayquecha, we went very early to the pass of Acjanaco. There, we admire the sunrise over the Amazon, and the first sunrays were very welcomed to warm us up! Around the pass, apart from the absolutely incredible and fascinating high-altitude vegetation, we observed a couple of Grass Wren in the Stipa ichu clumps, some Brown-backed Chat-Tyrants, two Streak-throated Bush-Tyrants and a Cinereous Harrier. A Puna Tapaculo also came, attracted by the playback, and let itself be admired in full view!

After a long wait, we also had a large mixed-species flock, including White-throated Tyrannulet, Pearled Treerunner, Chestnut-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant and Moustached Flowerpiercer.

Back to the lodge for lunch, we appreciated a delicious meal in front of feeders attracting Amethyst-throated Sunangels, Violet-throated Starfrontlets, Chestnut-breasted Coronets, Long-tailed Sylphs and Lesser Violetears as well as Black-faced Brushfinch or Blue-capped Tanager. After a short break, we birded the lodge trail, where beside amazing orchids, we had a close encounter with a very cooperative Urubamba Antpitta offering stunning views and picture opportunity! On another trail belonging to Wayquecha we found a nice flock including a dozen Citrine Warblers, at least three Black-capped Hemispingus and a few White-banded Tyrannulet. Two Mountain Caciques together with three Hooded Mountain-Tanagers were also seen very well!

We spent the rest of the afternoon near the tunnels below Wayquecha, where we found a few new birds such as Superciliared Hemispingus or Cinnamon Flycatcher. A White-throated Hawk flew over the forest, panicking a large flock of Band-tailed Pigeons! And after a long search, a Yungas Pygmy-Owl was also admired for a long time while the fog started to cover the forest. To conclude this superb day, a magnificent male Swallow-tailed Nightjar offered us an incredible show by flying over us several times at nightfall!

After an early rise under the stars and no less than four planets overhead (Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), we started the morning by observing the birds around the lodge. One of the first species we found in the garden was a superb Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan! Followed by a flock of Andean Guan who came to plunder the fruit-feeder and some White-collared Jay. We also found an immature Creamy-bellied Thrush in the garden, a rather unusual southern migrant at this altitude. Along the ‘Mirador trail’, we will also make a very beautiful observation of Sharp-shinned Hawk, of which an individual will land on an exposed perched just below our way. At the same place, a superb male of Rufous-capped Thornbill was also sparkling in the morning light!

During our way down for our next stage, the lodge of Cock-of-the-Rock, we did some stops at different altitudes, but the activity of the birds was very weak. We will realize during our descent that the temperatures remain very fresh, even at low altitude where it should begin to be warm, and that we were experiencing a ‘friaje’! A friaje is a climatic event which takes place occasionally in the South of Peru during the austral winter, and which corresponds to the movement of cold air from Patagonia towards the North. This drop in temperature usually begins with a rainy episode and can be followed by a few days of cold. Normally a friaje lasts about 3 days, but exceptionally, the friaje of June 2022 will last more than 2 weeks and all the rest of our trip will be done in unusual conditions. Because of these cooler temperatures (10-12 degrees Celsius below normal), the bird activity (vocalizations, response to the playback) was much quieter than normal. At the end, this friaje had little impact on the number of bird species observed during this trip, but we had to make extra efforts to find some of them!

On our way to Cock-of-the-Rock lodge, we found a fantastic mixed-species flock! No less than 30 species observed together, including Strong-billed and Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Buff-browed Foliage-Gleaner, Pearled Treerunner, Barred Becard, Inca Flycatcher, a Fulvous-breasted Flatbill, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Mountain Wren, Short-billed and Common Chlorospingus, Black-faced Brushfinch, Three-striped Warbler, Spectacled Redstart, Slaty, Rust-and-Yellow, Yellow-throated, Orange-eared, Beryl-spangled and Saffron-crowned Tanager, Superciliared and Black-eared Hemispingus, Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, to name a few! Unforgettable! Another memorable discovery during our journey was a female Lyre-tailed Nightjar found on her day-roost on a small cliff along the road. A great photo opportunity!

Unfortunately, the rain associated with friaje started to fall soon, and obliged us to drive directly to the lodge just after lunch. The rain did not stop for the whole afternoon, but it did not prevent us from birding! Once at the Cock-of-the-Rock lodge, we spent the rest of the afternoon watching the birds coming to the feeders, with a hot drink in hand! The Hummingbird feeders were particularly active, and we observed a Peruvian Piedtail, two Booted Racquet-tails and a Green Hermit among the many Violet-fronted Brilliants and Many-spotted Hummingbirds.

After a night at the lodge, we started very early at the Cock-of-the-Rock lek, one of the main attractions here. Very soon we heard the first displaying males, and with the increasing day light we enjoyed fantastic views on this charismatic bird! So beautiful to see these bright red birds dancing in the understory of the forest! After enjoying the display of these colorful males, we went back to the lodge for a great breakfast in front of the feeders. Then we had a full day to explore the surroundings of COR lodge, and even if it was still very cold because of the friaje, it wasn’t rainy anymore! We spent the morning above the lodge, mostly between 1500 and 2000 m elevation, and the afternoon between the lek and the lodge.

Amongst the good find of the day, we surely remember a lovely Buff-thighed Puffleg feeding on wildflowers, an impressive view on an adult Black-and-chestnut Eagle who eventually perched offering fantastic scope views, a desired Golden-headed Quetzal ‘fly-catching’ fruit in a tree just by the roadside, a close view on the lovely Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, a drab but interesting Unadorned Flycatcher, and some super flocks mainly composed of colorful tanagers!

During a night drive we had fantastic views on males Lyre-tailed Nightjar, one displaying over us and another one perched close just above the road. And after dinner we eventually found a singing Rufescent Screech-Owl in the garden of the lodge!

We left COR’s lodge with a superb observation of Wire-crested Thorntail, one of the most spectacular hummingbirds of the trip! On our way to Villa Carmen lodge, we made a series of stops to bird the different altitudes. As we went down in altitude, the antbird diversity increased and we made some nice observations of Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Ornate Stipplethroat, Dot-winged and Yellow-breasted Antwren. We could stay for days on this road crossing such beautiful forest and never stop adding species to our list! The most spectacular species of the morning were a Black-streaked Puffbird found by Nicholas, our first Bluish-fronted Jacamar and a Dusky-cheeked Foliage-gleaner which for once was easily observed!

The tanager flocks were incredible, often including many species such as: Magpie, Slaty, Orange-eared, Yellow-bellied, Spotted, Paradise, Bay-headed, Golden and Golden-eared and more! And together with these colorful tanagers we also spotted Green Honeycreeper, Blue and Black-faced Dacnis and several species of tyrant-flycatchers. In the understory we also found the lovely Ornate and Tawny-breasted Flycatchers and a family group of Golden-bellied Warbler.

After leaving the last sectors of protected forest, we crossed mostly agricultural areas consisting mainly of pastures for cows and some plantations. We stopped only once at a grove of Moriche palm trees to find a couple of Sulphury Flycatcher, specialist of this type of vegetation.

Arriving at the lodge of Villa Carmen, we were welcomed with a delicious fruit juice that we tasted in front of the bushes in flowers and feeders attracting White-necked Jacobins, Gould’s Jewelfront, Blue-tailed Emerald, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Rufous-crested Coquette and Sapphire-spangled Emerald! Not far from our beautiful cabins, a pond also hosted several dozen Hoatzins and some Purple Gallinules. With such a warm welcome, we knew we were going to have a great stay at Villa Carmen!

We stayed two complete days in Villa Carmen to prospect the numerous paths crossing the various environments of the lodge. There are large areas of bamboo, where we were able to observe many species specialized of this habitat, including the superb Rufous-breasted Piculet, Bamboo Antshrike, Manu and White-lined Antbird, Red-billed Scythebill, Cabani’s Spinetail, Large-headed and Dusky-tailed Flatbill, or White-cheeked Tody-Flycatcher!

At random of our walks, we also made superb observations of Yellow-tufted and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Amazonian Antpitta, Plain Softtail, Plum-throated Cotinga and Black-capped Donacobius. For sure we all remind the incredible sight of a Scaly-breasted Wren who came to the tape very close to us, or the lovely Black-faced Antthrush who quietly crossed the trail in front of the group! A beautiful Buckley’s Forest-Falcon was also spotted by Peter and gave us spectacular views along the lodge access trail! Unforgettable!

Again, we could have stayed at Villa Carmen much longer and discovered new birds, butterflies, or other creatures all the time! But after two days, it was time to conclude this fabulous tour and to return to Cusco for our flight to Lima.

Before leaving, we stopped at ‘Pico de Hoz’ garden, where the diversity in hummingbird is exceptional: Great-billed, Rufous-breasted and White-bearded Hermit, Long-billed Starthroat, Gray-breasted Sabrewing, dozens of Golden-tailed Sapphire, one White-chinned Sapphire, and many more! After finding a Blue-throated Piping-Guan it was now time to start our long drive to Cusco. We had very little time for birding on the way, but enough to add a few good birds such as Red-and-white Antpitta, Crested Becard or Striped Treehunter.

Once in Cusco and after checking in at our luxurious hotel, it was time to celebrate this wonderful tour with a delicious meal. Some were tempted by a roasted guinea pig (traditional meal in Peru) while others preferred other dishes of the succulent Peruvian gastronomy such as ceviche or lomo saltado!

The next morning some decided to occupy their time by making a cultural visit of the city and the nearby Inca ruins, while others preferred to stroll in the city. After our flight to Lima most of the group continued their stay in Peru with the ‘Rainforest lodges of the Madre de Dios’ tour while others connected with an international flight.

Fabrice Schmitt

July 2022

Created: 28 December 2022