Trip Report Peru October & November 2011
(Photo Checklists now available for Central Peru: Pampa Hermosa and Pozuzo, and for Northern Peru: Chaparri, Owlet Lodge and Rumiyacu/Moyobambo, and eventually for Southeastern Peru: Cock of the Rock Lodge and above)
Participants/Photographers, central Peru: Priscilla Brodkin (PB), Deborah Galloway (DG), David Geale (DvG), Kim Garwood (KG), Eileen Mahler (EM), Glenn Mahler (GM), Sherry Nelson (SN), Dan Wade (DW), and Kay Wade (KW); northern Peru: Rick Cech (RC), Kim Garwood (KG), Tony Hoare (TH), Emily Peyton (EP), Willie Sekula (WS), Dan Wade (DW) and Kay Wade (KW).
The entire trip, close to 7 weeks, was organized through Tanager Tours, by David Geale, and I was very happy with him. www.tanagertours.com It was the first time I had used David. He came along on the 2nd part, so we got to spend a few weeks with him. He’s a keen birder, but he was very interested in the butterflies, and took lots of photos. I definitely plan to spend more time in Peru w/him. His driver, Juve, was also excellent and a knowledgeable birder, and was taking tons of good butterfly photos as well. I will hopefully be spending more time with both of them in the field in the future.
We have found when we’re with bird guides we often do a birding part early in the day, meeting at 5:30 or 6am for those who are interested, then the whole group meets at 7 or 7:30am for breakfast. Then we take off for butterflies after breakfast, often bringing sandwich makings and simple lunch w/us in the field. If we go back to the lodge for lunch I like to schedule it a bit later, maybe 1 or 1:30pm. The good butterfly time tend to be about 8 to 2pm. After that it gets much quieter in the forest for butterflies, except for crepuscular skippers.
There were 3 groups of friends who came along, so there was a lot of variety, but all are good photographers and good travel companions. Unfortunately my laptop seems to have acquired a virus and quit working, so my trip report will be briefer than normal (probably a good thing).
Part 1, Machu Picchu & Ollantambo:
Tue Oct 4 – fly to Lima, 1 night at Mami Panchita.
Wed Oct 5 – fly to Cusco, 1 night at Hostal Atlantis, barking dogs, US$35/single, $50/double.
Thur Oct 6 – train to Aguas Calientes, La Pequena Casita for 3 nights, US$64/double.
Fri Oct 7 – Machu Picchu, spectacular.
Sat Oct 8 – explore Aguas Calientes, walk the train tracks for butterflies and torrent ducks.
Sun Oct 9 – train back to Cusco & dogs at Hostal Atlantis.
Mon Oct 10 – Roger drives us to Cock of the Rock lodge for 3 nights.
Tues, Wed, Oct 11, 12 – work the road, different elevations.
Thur Oct 13 – drive to Ollantaytambo 3 nights at Munay Tika, Pisaq Ruins.
Fri Oct 14 – Abra Malaga AM 14,500’, more ruins PM, salt evaporation ponds.
Sat Oct 15 – wander Ollantaytambo AM, drive back to Cusco PM, more dogs at Atlantis.
Sun Oct 16 – Huacupay Lakes AM, supposed to fly back to Lima but flight cancelled, 1 more night at Atlantis.
Mon Oct 17 – get last flight out of Cusco, back to Mami Pachita, miss my group’s departure for Pampa Hermosa.
Part 2, Central Peru, Pampa Hermosa, Pozuzo & Villa Rica:
Tue Oct 18 – a driver takes me 7-8 hours to San Ramon and 2 hours more to Pampa Hermosa for 3 nights, arrive about 4pm.
Wed/Thur Oct 19/20 – trails and road at Pampa Hermosa, lots of firetips.
Fri Oct 21 – drive to Pozuzo through Oxapampa for 5 nights at Bungalows Maria Frau Egg’s.
Sat to Tues Oct 22 to 25 – different elevations on road above Pozuzo through Yanachaga-Chemillen National Park.
Wed Oct 26 – drive to Villa Rica for 4 nights at Rapallo Bungalows overlooking marsh and lake.
Thur to Sat Oct 27 to 29 – drive back up Bosque Shollet and around marsh to coffee plantations.
Sun Oct 30 – drive back to Lima, 10-12 hours w/stop for lunch in La Oroya, night at Mami Panchita.
Part 3, Northern Peru, Chiclayo to Tarapoto:
Mon Oct 31 – early flight to Chiclayo, drive 2 hours to Chaparri Lodge for 3 nights.
Tue/Wed Nov 1,2 – explore Chaparri, spectacled bear!
Thur Nov 3 – Juve takes us to Olmos, 1 night, stop at Bosque Pomoc for Peruvian Plantcutter.
Fri Nov 4 – drive to Gocta Lodge 200 soles/night double, 3 nights, stop at Abra Porculla 1800m.
Sat/Sun Nov 5/6 – road to Gocta, fabulous waterfall, Maranon Cresentchest.
Mon Nov 7 – Drive to Long-whiskered Owlet Lodge for 5 nights, $150/person/night, visit Marvelous Spatuletail at Huembo, 2100m.
Tue/Wed Nov 8,9 – trails at Owlet lodge, 2350m.
Thur Nov 10 – drive down slope to Royal Sunangel Trail, 1900-2000m
Fri Nov 11 – Owlet Lodge
Sat Nov 12 – drive to Moyobambo, stopped at swampy area, 3 nights at Rumipata Bungalows, Japanese couple w/fish ponds, 900m.
Sun/Mon Nov 13/14 – creek and trail w/horses, 2 days 1100m, Rumiyacu
Tues Nov 15 – drive to Tarapoto for last 2 nights at Hotel Rio Shilcayo, 240 soles/double, 200/single, oilbird crevasse on the way. Air conditioning and a full bar, white-winged parakeets in the trees and aracaris nesting in the garden.
Wed Nov 16 – spend the day in the Huallaga Valley, dry xeric habitat
Thur Nov 17 – fly back to Lima in the am, day rooms at Mami Panchita, US$25/room + $40 airport roundtrip transfer for 6, international departures that evening around midnight.
Wed Oct 5 – fly to Cusco with my brother Dan and his girlfriend, Shelly, their first trip to South America. They wanted to see Machu Picchu, so we added this first part on to the central and northern Peru trips I had planned. We stay at the Hostal Atlantis, about 6 or 7 blocks away from the main square. It’s a pleasant hotel w/friendly staff, but it’s in a more residential neighborhood, which means lots of dogs. Next time I would pay a bit more and stay at a more upscale tourist hotel in the historical center, where there are not as many dogs. At times there are 8 or more dogs hanging around in the street in front of the hotel, and they seem to bark most of the night, one of my pet peeves. We walk into the center and eat at one of the fancy restaurants overlooking the square, w/blue balconies, and have a delicious dinner and enjoy people watching.
Thur to Sat, Oct 6,7,8 – We take the early train to Aguas Calientes for 3 nights, where we stay at La Pequena Casita, a nice little hotel recommended by David. It overlooks the white water river, which is great because it drowns out any town noise. The bus to Machu Picchu is right down the road, and the next morning we hop on with almost no lines. It’s a rainy morning, and at first it is foggy around the ruins and we hike to the inca bridge, which looks pretty scary. Later it clears up and we see spectacular views. That night we eat at Toto’s, a lovely restaurant over the river w/a big open fire where they grill the steaks and the trout. We eat trout w/garlic, and it is some of the best trout I’ve ever had, plus a great salad buffet of all types of bean salads. One morning it is raining, and we go shopping. Dan and Shelley buy tons of weavings, they have to buy a couple of bags to carry all their spoils. Another morning we walk back along the railroad tracks, looking for butterflies. There are lots of torrent ducks on the river, squabbling over territory, and we have fun watching them race over the white water chasing each other. Plus there are some nice butterflies along the tracks.
Sun Oct 9 – We take the train back to Cusco, another night w/the barking dogs, arriving back about 9pm.
Mon to Wed, Oct 10,11,12 – off to Cock of the Rock Lodge, one of my favorite places in the world. Roger, our new driver, is very experienced on the road, and it’s much easier in a small car than in a big van or bus, as I’ve done it before. I had warned my brother about this scary road, but he didn’t see what the problem was. Much easier to squeeze by the big buses and trucks coming up the road. We leave at 6am, trying to get through some road work where they close the road at 6:30am until noon. We slip through at 6:38, but a short distance later have to turn around due to a landslides, common on this road. So we have to detour back to the main road to Puerto Maldonado, which adds a couple of hours to our drive. We still get there by 2:30pm, which amazes me, as previous trips have taken a good 8-9 hours. Roger tells me it usually takes about 5-6 hours without any road problems. Having our own vehicle and driver makes it a piece of cake to pop back up the road to higher elevations and walk the parts that look good for butterflies.
Thur Oct 13 – leave Cock of the Rock on a beautiful sunny morning, so we stop a couple of times going up the road. I find a fabulous purple leafwing at km 56, 7500’. Roger shows me a trail that takes off from the sign Hito Pillahuata, he says it goes downhill a couple of kms and connects up w/the road, so a driver can meet you lower down. Looks interesting. Another good place to stop is the Biological Research Station at Wayqecha at 2,950m. You can stay here now, though I’ve heard it’s fairly simple and cold, not very many sunny days. But we find some good butterflies sunning in the road right in front of the sign, probably where folks have peed while waiting for a bus. We take a dirt road from Paucartambo, the main small town between Cusco and the high pass where Parque Nacional del Manu begins, and cut over to Ollantaytambo, stopping at the Pisaq ruins on the way. We buy tickets good for 2 days that includes admission to 4 different ruins, for 70 soles each. Roger gets us student rates, convincing the ticket seller we are biologists. Ollantaytambo is a pretty tourist town, lots of restaurants, and we stay at the pleasant Munay Tika, and eat a tasty dinner right across the street. I would stay here again. This is in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and there are ruins everywhere. Plus shopping of course.
Fri Oct 14 – we drive up Abra Malaga, a high pass to 4320m (14,500’).
The bird tours come up here, and leave at some ungodly hour, like 4:30am, but we whine and convince Roger to leave later. He’s not quite sure what to do with us, as we aren’t hunting all the high elevation species. He shows me where there is a foot path coming down the road, crisscrossing it repeatedly, and the birders hike down most of it for the day. We go up, freeze to death, turn around and come down to a nice pullout about km 101 at 10,600’, where we find butterflies. Then we go to Urabamba and to Moray ruins and the salt ponds, ancient pools where they evaporate water for salt, pretty interesting. In the afternoon we do the ruins at Ollantaytambo.
Sat Oct 15 – in the morning we wander the town, then drive back to Cusco and another night w/the barking dogs.
Sun Oct 16 – we’re supposed to fly back to Lima this afternoon, but a rain squall comes in and the pilot of our incoming flight decides to not land, so our flight is cancelled, after hours of waiting. The crowd is pretty annoyed, as we have to queue up back at the ticket counters and rebook our flights, w/the rest of the 150 people on our flight. Some folks try to cut in the line and it gets violent, with lots of shouting and shoving, and LAN calls in the riot police, who respond very quickly. Perhaps this is not uncommon at LAN ticket counters in Cusco? I bum a phone from someone in line and call David in Lima, to let him know I’m stuck in Cusco for another night. He arranges a driver to pick me up the morning after I get to Lima and bring me to Pampa Hermosa so I can catch up w/the group. Of course we now have to stay yet another night back at the Atlantis, fortunately they have rooms. 15 soles for a taxi to take us back to Cusco, and $35 single/$50 double for our rooms. No credit cards, so good thing we have cash. The check in guy is very helpful, and even orders us pizza that is delivered to the hotel. My brother and his girlfriend miss their international connections w/American, which were at 10:45 that night, but they have a friend who works at AA and rebooks their flights for the next evening at no cost. We heard others in the LAN line saying they were having to pay $250 each at AA for their rebooking.
Mon Oct 17 – We get the last flight out of Cusco at 4:50pm, and are waiting breathlessly for another storm to blow up, but we make it this time. Try to avoid scheduling afternoon flights from Cusco, especially as you get closer to the rainy season in November. They often have big thunderstorms, and the flights get cancelled. Locals tell us this is very common. Apparently Cusco is a VFR airport, and they don’t fly at night. So Dan and Shelley say goodbye at the Lima airport, where they plan to hang out until their evening international departure, and I head to Mami Panchita for the night. However, first I check w/Copa for Kay’s luggage, which has mysteriously disappeared on their flight from Panama. David had asked me to check when I arrived in Lima, but no luck. We seem to be hexed w/flights on this trip. Priscilla had her flight cancelled, by American, from Miami to Lima and it took her 2 extra days to get to Lima. Fortunately she had flown early, and David and the group picks her up at the airport at 8am, then drives to Pampa Hermosa.
Part 2, Central east slope Peru, Pampa Hermosa, Pozuzo & Villa Rica:
Tue Oct 18 - 7 friends had planned to meet me at Mami Panchita’s in Lima, but instead we meet at Pampa Hermosa that night, after David’s driver gets me over there. I expected to have to pay $150-200 for this, but David absorbs the cost, which is extremely nice of him, as it was in no way his fault that I was late.
Wed/Thur Oct 19,20 – walk trails and the road at Pampa Hermosa, 1200m. This place is great for firetips. This is my third time here, and I really like it. The food is good, the cabins are very comfortable, it’s quiet and has power all the time, hot showers, and lots of butterflies! It’s a pain to get there, as the last 24 km is a bad dirt track, you really need 4 wheel drive. The lodge will arrange this last bit, but then you have to leave your rental car in San Ramon, which is expensive and not a good idea. So it’s awkward. The previous trip we rented 2 cars and drove them, then the cars sat at PH while we walked the trails, rather expensive. I wish the lodge could arrange the pickup in Lima. But once you’re there, it’s great. This place has more firetips than just about anywhere I’ve been, we probably have more than 10 species.
Fri Oct 21 – drive from Pampa Hermosa to San Ramon w/a 4×4 van, 24 km of bad road. Meet our van in SR, then get stuck by construction until 12:30, so we go chase butterflies down by the river in San Ramon. Finally we get through, have 30km of mud roads of construction until the big bridge, turn left for Oxapampa 44 km on good road, then 77km of dirt road to Pozuzo. The last part takes about 3 hours, and we make it to Pozuzo before dark. We stay at Frau Marie Egg’s bungalows, and they are great. Simple rooms but quiet, plenty of hot water and electricity, and delicious breakfasts. She is a great cook, and makes us homemade brown bread that we fight over every morning. She makes several loaves, and it all disappears down our gullets like snowballs in hell. I would definitely recommend this place as a base to work the Pozuzo road. We drive back uphill to the National Park Yanachaga-Chemillen, mostly working the road at different elevations.
Sat Oct 22 – We start off near Pozuzo, mostly pasture and scrub, stopping at the first two stream crossings. We put out lots of pee and spitwads, up to maybe 1000m.
Sun Oct 23 – Today we go higher, to the park headquarters just before my favorite bridge at km 60. We pay 5 soles each, and spend the day working the triangle from the headquarters up to the bridge and up to the next corner, where a trail cuts down back to the headquarters. Some people take the trail, I walk back down the road to the bridge. This bridge is great, lots of good riodinids and tons of Actinotes and satyrs, plus Catastictas and other lower cloud forest species. We’re about 3800’. Behind the headquarters there is a suspension bridge, newly built, and the trail comes in over it. Just over the bridge is a great spot for butterflies, and Kay gets shots of Pycina zamba, the first live shots I’ve seen. Around the headquarters is also very good, stuff landing all over the cement around the buildings.
Mon Oct 24 – overcast and not much happening. We go up to the Cock of the Rock lek and have lunch, then some of us walk back down while others watch the cocks displaying. It starts to rain when we’re a mile or so down the road, and we huddle under a cliff (not having our umbrellas like peabrains), waiting for the car who doesn’t come and doesn’t come. Finally they all show up. The others were into the displaying birds, until Juve our driver finally made them get in the car to come get us.
Tue Oct 25 – a bright sunny day, you just never know what the weather’s going to be like in the mountains. We go up to 4300’, where there is a higher trail off to the left, and some work the bridge again at 60km. We all have a great day, we find 2 different dead snakes that really bring in the butterflies, and Marie makes us lasagna, with homemade noodles, for our departure dinner. Pozuzo is a great spot, I’ll be back. Another nice part of the Pozuzo experience is that poor Sherry has a terrible allergic reaction to some substitute chemical stuff she brought instead of Deet, and she develops horrible hives that get worse and worse. Finally after several days she comes out one morning w/nasty red welts on her face, and we go to the local hospital for a shot. We had taken her to a farmacia a few days before where she got pills. The pharmacist then said she should go get a shot, but she hoped it would get better. Unfortunately it didn’t, so one morning we track down the local hospital. The first one won’t deal with her, as it’s only for people w/the government health plan, but the 2nd hospital takes her right in, she sees a doctor, gets the shot and is out in maybe 30 minutes, for a grand total of 12 soles, about US$3-4, including the shot. The best part is her hives go away almost immediately, and by that afternoon she is much better. It wouldn’t have been near that easy, or cheap, back in the US. So it’s not a nice experience for Sherry, but nice to know how quickly the local health care place was able to help her.
Wed Oct 26 – drive from Pozuzo to Villa Rica, take dirt road for 30.5 km so we don’t have to go back thru Oxapampa. This goes up over a high point, about 1800m through Bosque Shollet where we will be butterflying this same road the next couple of days. We stop at km 12 at a bridge late afternoon and still find satyrs and the purple leafwing. We’ll be back here.
Thur Oct 27 – we’re at the Rapallo Bungalows for the next 4 nights, a nice location with great views out over the marsh/lake at about 1500m, surrounded by mountains. Our cabanas face the east, so we have beautiful sunrises as the sun comes over the mountains and lights up the marsh, all misty, very Chinese looking. We even have some nice butterflies on the grounds, with a patch of blue flowers right below the restaurant that is pulling in clearwings and tons of buckeyes. Below it is tall grass with many peacocks and buckeyes basking in the early sun. The food here is hit and miss, more miss than hit. The woman owner seems a bit lackadaisical and not terribly helpful. We have towel wars, where it is difficult to get new towels, towels disappear off the drying racks in front of some of the rooms, soap vanishes daily, minor but annoying hassles. Weird. And she smokes constantly, and the first couple of nights the food is very late, and average when it comes. Oh well, can’t win them all. I probably wouldn’t come back here. However, we do find some nice butterflies back up the hills. Today we drive around the lake and work the coffee plantations, but it is very dry and there aren’t many butterflies flying, plus it is overcast and cool.
Fri Oct 28 – we head up the road, back on the cutoff to Oxapampa/Pozuzo. We walk a couple of different trails but they all just lead to fields. Another cool cloudy morning, but it burns off by 10am or so, and we do have stuff flying. We keep driving and make it over the top, where it is too cool for bugs, and down the other side back to the bridge I wanted to explore, at 12 km. We pass some cabins off to the left, as you drive away from Villa Rica, that Marie Egg has told us belong to a family member, and these have great potential for future trips. David has the phone number and is going to check them out, they might be much better than staying in town where we are. Plus you would be in the good habitat. The town is growing and has expanded out to where Rapallo Bungalows are. The previous time David was there, 18 months ago, they could walk the road in front of the lodge and go birding, but it has all been chopped now. Anyway, we get to the bridge about 11am, and all sorts of stuff is flying. We put out the magic elixir and immediately a Potamanaxas is there. We spend a couple of hours, have lunch and chase bugs, taking lots of photos. A good day.
Sat Oct 29 – we plan to go back up the hill, but the road is closed for roadwork. We try another road, also just recently paved and it is closed as well. Out of desperation we try a 3rd alternative, crossing the bridge on the other side of town and turning left onto a short dirt road, less than a mile. We explore down it, following signs for a cascada (waterfall) and the signs point across a ford w/a higher foot bridge. Juve doesn’t like the look of the ford, so we park and take the foot bridge. This turns out to be another good spot, w/butterflies coming to the ford and up the steep rutted road that leads to the waterfall. Some of us walk up maybe a km or so, never making it all the way to waterfall. We spend the morning going back and forth up this road and on both sides of the ford, finding more and more species as it warms up. After lunch, which as usual we have w/us (juve’s tasty tuna w/onions and lime) we try again to go back up the road to the Bosque Shollet forest on top, and this time the road is open. We make it up to the top, about 1800m, and it is sunny, for once. Even though it’s about 2-2:30pm, we find some excellent bugs. I catch the purple leafwing, finally, on some poop behind the sign on top, always a good spot to check. This turns out to be Polygrapha tyrianthina, a truly spectacular butterfly, and we also get great looks at Junea dorinda, another dramatic high elevation satyr, plus more Pedaliodes of course. A great way to end this part of the trip. Walking down the road late in the afternoon, about 4 or 4:30pm, a car of locals stop and warn me that this is a dangerous road and we shouldn’t be on it after dark. It is a man and woman in the car, and the woman is the one talking to me. I was walking w/one of the other women in our group, so perhaps they were worried about us being 2 women. They tell me there are ladrones, robbers, who come out after dark. We go on down the road, Juve picks us up and we all get back to Villa Rica without any incidents, but it is something to keep in mind. When I mention this to David, he says he has been warned not to camp up there, which some birders used to do, but he’s never had any problems during the day.
Sun Oct 30 – long drive from Villa Rica to Lima, too long 10 hours+. We stop for a good lunch at the Michelin restaurant in La Oroya. Next time I will spend the night in Tarma, nice hotel there. 30km of muddy roads in construction to get back on paved highway at San Ramon. Then we get stuck in a horrible traffic jam back in Lima, and end up having to take Glen and Eileen straight to the airport for their international departure that night. We don’t get to the airport until 8 or so, and finally back to Mami Panchita’s about 9pm, where we meet the next group of valiant photographers for the northern leg. Some go out to eat, I crash and we all say goodbye to David, who has done a bang up job, and turned into a keen butterfly photographer. I’ll be spending more time w/him in the field, that’s for sure.
Part 3, Northern Peru:
Mon to Wed, Oct 31 to Nov 2 – 6:45am flight to Chiclayo, so we have to leave Mami Pachita’s about 4;30. We get to Chiclayo, and the driver from Chaparri Lodge is waiting for us. About 1 hour 15 minutes to the turnoff to Chaparri, about 75 km, where we have to buy tickets to enter the reserve, 30 soles each, about $10-12. Good thing I had a couple of hundred soles in my pocket! Then another 45 minutes on a bad road across the very dry, actually parched, habitat. They have not had rain in almost 2 years, and everything is grey-brown, except for where they are irrigating. We get a local guide, Salvador, a young guy who knows the birds quite well and is very nice. He’s only 18 and quiet and shy, but quite helpful, and enjoys chasing butterflies and taking photos. Chaparri only gets a bit of rain from December to March, and didn’t get any this year. It would be fascinating to come back here in the rainy season and see everything greened up. I assume there would be more butterflies flying then, but we still get more than 40 species. This is Tumbesian habitat, very similar to Urraca Lodge in southern Ecuador, where I was in March 2011. There it was green, and we had lots of special species. Most of what we see here at Chaparri we also had at Urraca, but this is a bigger piece of habitat, over 34,000 hectares, and I suspect they would have more butterflies in the rains. They do a lot of work with the spectacled bear, and have several they are rehabilitating to release. We luck out and see a wild mother and cub, coming in close to a bee hive they have dug up in the ground across the valley from the mirador, very convenient for digiscoping. I am surprised to see bears in such dry habitat close to the coast, but this is probably one of the best places to see them in the wild. Plus we see a number of Tumbesian bird endemics, much more than we saw at Urraca. Elegant crescentchests are common, believe it or not, and we see them daily from the comedor, the open restaurant, as many as 3 at a time. The birds and animals are coming so close because there is a spring here, and small pools of water down the middle of the ravine. The lodge is doing a lot of drip irrigation on the hillsides, to keep the plants alive and probably to bring in the animals and birds for the tourists. The animals are quite tame, we get foxes coming through the dining area, and peccaries, and a collared antshrike joins us for breakfast at the buffet table. A very special place.
Thur Nov 3 – Juve, our excellent driver, shows up w/Guido from Lima, and Miguel, David’s birding partner, has come along as well. We take off for Olmos after lunch, about 2pm, 2 hours back to Chiclayo, then east for another couple of hours. We stop at Bosque Pomoco to look for Peruvian plantcutter, which we find after an hour or so of looking, thanks to Juve. We get to Olmos just after dark and stay at a new hotel, not quite finished and a bit rough around the edges, but they have a restaurant next door and it’s just for a night.
Fri to Sun, Nov 4,5,6 – We leave Olmos and take a dirt road off to the left about an hour or so out, to go up to Abra Porculla about 1800m. We bird here for an hour or so, seeing a few things but not as many as expected. Probably because we didn’t leave early enough to get here at the crack of dawn, as the bird tours do. It is very dry, if more rains had come I’ll bet we would see more butterflies here. On to Gocta Lodge, south of Pedro Ruis. This place is known for its spectacular waterfall, actually 2 waterfalls falling from the huge box canyon. The lodge is in a wonderful scenic location, but unfortunately they have chopped down most of the surrounding forest, so not too many birds. We do see Maranon crescentchest on the road, skulking in the scrub. We spend 2 days up and down the 5-6 km dirt road up from the highway, and get some new species but we have to work at it. The guys find a trail off from where we have lunch, Juve’s special tuna w/onion and lime, and down the trail there is a nice clearwing lek and some white flowers the clearwings like. Different from the usual clearwing white flowers, but lots of varieties are here. We go back the next day and probably get 8 to 10 species. This is just past the Km 02 mark, on the left side of the dirt road as you go uphill, just before a steep right hand turn. There is also a decent trail that takes off to the right a turn or two further uphill. This trail actually goes all the way down to the paved highway, but we only go up and down for 30 minutes or so.
Mon Nov 7 – Drive back to Pedro Ruis and east to Abra Patricia, first stopping at Huembo for killer looks at Marvelous Spatuletail, surely one of the world’s top hummers. They have built a place with hummingbird feeders before the pass, about 2100m, and we have very satisfying looks at both males and a female. The male is wonderful, and comes again and again, even though the chestnut-breasted coronets constantly chase him off. Tony calls them chestnut thugs, an apt name. The guys bring down lunch so we can eat at the feeders, talk about spoiled, and the sun comes out and we even get butterflies. Several species of orange banded Pedaliodes, so a great day is had by all. Then we drive about another 2 hours plus, through lots of construction where sometimes we have to wait, but we get here well before dark, even though we left Huembo about 2:30pm. This is the new Long-whiskered Owlet Lodge at 2350m, built by Ecoan, a Peruvian NGO. This is a great place to stay, they even have internet.
Tue to Fri, Nov 8,9,10,11 – explore the trails at the Owlet lodge. When the sun comes out, which is spotty and around intermittent showers, we get a good variety of satyrs. Many are the same as I had at San Isidro in Ecuador in the spring, which is about 2000m, but some are different. Good humid montane forest, cool and wet. On Wed Nov 9 we wake to a brilliant almost cloud free morning and a beautiful sunrise, and it turns into a gorgeous sunny day, unusual at this elevation. First off, at 6am, we meet the guy here who is feeding the undulated antpitta, and he shows us the short trail across the street and uphill about 5-10 minutes. The bird comes in immediately and we get fab looks. They have only been feeding it for 2 months. There are 2 pro photographers staying here w/monster lenses, and the antpitta comes so close they can’t shoot it. The local guy throwing out the worms moves the bird closer to us, for the folks w/small cameras (us), and then further away for the big guns. After 7am breakfast we have tons of butterflies flying, the problem is getting them to stop. Fortunately we have the magic elixir, male human pee. The guys are all saving their pee in plastic bottles and it gets sprinkled all over the trails, plus everyone is peeing at likely looking sunny spots or stumps along the trails. After a while we find piles of satyrs here, there and everywhere. From in back of the highest set of rooms there is a trail that leads to the tower, about 200m, then another 100m to a split. You can take the left fork which is called the Grallarias trail and it goes down and around back to the main road coming in off the highway, 1200m long. They have it nicely signed every 100m, which is a big help. At the junction it is open and sunny, and this is a good spot for butterflies to come in, plus we have several pee spots at the base of the tower, and on the 200m trail to the tower. On this sunny day I walk the Grallarias trail down from the tower, which is the easier way to go, as it’s more downhill this way. About 700m at some steep switchbacks there is a clearwing gathering place, and I finally get one to pose, an Oleria near makrena, lots of markings. Wonder if they are here all year? You go down to about 600m, then start up slowly. About 400m is another spot I put out spitwads the day before, and pee, and we get a couple of good skippers here, a new Thespieus and a rubyeye w/a white line, by Dan. It will be interesting to figure out how many satyr species we end up with. We all get great shots of Parataygetis albinotata, a big satyr with prominent white lines. I’ve seen it at Cock of the Rock but these are the first live shots. We don’t hike down to look for the owlet, which you do at night. It is at least 900m down a steep muddy trail, and often you have to go an additional 300m + further down. It helps to take Roberto, the local expert who has the most experience finding this smallest owl in the world, smaller than your palm. The pro photographers find it and get fabulous shots, which they show us when they come back up, but another group tried 3 nights in a row and missed all 3.
Thur Nov 10 – we drive down slope about 20-30 minutes to the Royal Sunangel trail, a pullout to the left. We crawl under the barbed wire and head down to the right, though I think the actual trail to the hummingbird goes to the left. Juve tells me the left hand trail is much rougher, steep up and down, and he suggests we do the trail to the right. This is also steep, wet and dark, over mossy slippery rocks, so we really have to watch our footing. It is another gorgeous sunny day, but we don’t see as many butterflies as I would expect. We do get several new species, Tony scores Anteros formosus, Dan and Kay get a new Oxeoschistus satyr, and we all see a fresh riodinid Teratophthalma, a very striking looking butterfly. Back up on the highway late in the morning Tony has walked a bit further downhill and finds a large pullout on the right where the water ditch is running, and lots of wet cliff face, and there are a bunch of butterflies coming to the gravel. A different Catasticta and some Dalla skipperlings, plus a beautiful Perisama gold with white dashes, probably P. philinus. Late in the afternoon, on the trail to the tower at one of the pee stumps, I found the first Corades ulema w/beautiful gold bands on the ventral, only the second time I’ve seen this species. We have had 4 species of Corades here, the odd teardrop shaped satyrs.
Sat Nov 12 – we drive to Moyobambo for 3 nights, but stop at a few places on our way. First we walk a short old road that cuts around the paved highway and comes back just before a big bridge, looks promising but too overcast. I think this is Afluente. “Afluente is a town on the road at roughly 1000 m. elevation. A few kilometres down the road you cross Puente Serranoyacu (I think), and a few km. below that you come to Puente Aguas Verdes – this would be where you walked the parallel gravel road. I’m guessing that’s around 900 m. elevation. Just below that is the turn-off to Playa Mariposa, which I’ve never taken – elevation about the same. Then the TOWN of Aguas Verdes is another 5 (?) km. down the road – a lot of birding groups visit some white sand forest just outside that town. So though I don’t know the elevations, you want to make sure which Aguas Verdes (bridge or town) the Field Guides participant was talking about. No matter what, Aguas Verdes and Afluentes are certainly different places, though separated by less than 10 km.” From David about the 2 locations.
Then we stop a bit further down the mountain at Playa Mariposa, just before the small town of Aguas Verdes. There is a road sign to the left for Playa Mariposa (a subtle hint), we park the car and walk in 700m to what looks like a perfect butterfly spot. The road walking in looks good too. Beautiful habitat coming down the opposite hillsides, a nice flowing small river, big gravel/sand bars, looks like people picnic here (which means pee spots), unfortunately all we need is sun. It’s a dark and stormy looking day so no butterflies. Except out of nowhere a large tigerwing floats through and lands over our heads about 15’ up. It is Pterourus zagreus, the first time I’ve seen this species. The folks w/long lenses manage to get decent shots of it, I’m amazed because we have such low light. This place looks like it has great potential, I will definitely schedule some time here when I come back to Tarapoto on my way to the Owlet Lodge. It reminds me of Bocatoma at Gomez Farias in Tamaulipas, Mexico, a place we have driven to many times. That place is fabulous for butterflies, but you have to avoid the weekends, when locals use it for picnics and swimming.
The 3rd stop is an open swampy area for pale-eyed blackbirds and a few other birds. Dan and Willie find a small trail off to the left, we all troop in and find a number of good swamp butterflies. A real crowd pleaser is the Paches loxus, a brilliant blue skipper that appears to be common here. We get to our home for the next several days, Rumipata Bungalows, which are simple but comfortable. Except for super hard mattresses, but we get used to those after the first night, sort of. The food is very tasty, fresh and lots of vegetables and salads, and fish from their ponds. The Japanese couple works very hard to take care of us, and the food is an interesting blend of Peruvian and Japanese, w/delicious sauces. They also have some interesting trails on their property, you could spend a day just walking the trails here.
Sun/Mon Nov 13/14 – we drive back out to the entrance, next to the Banos Termales (hot springs, jammed on the weekend), turn left then an immediate left again on a dirt road and go up the hill. Several km up the road we pass a creek that comes out of the hills to our right and runs across the dirt road. Juve was expecting to take us there, but it’s crowded with lots of people, so we keep going uphill. We get up to the pass and start down the other side, but there are people everywhere w/crops and animals, very little good habitat. We turn around, go back to the pass, get out and walk downhill for an hour or so, but are only seeing common roadside edge butterflies, so we decide to go back to the hotel and explore the trails there. However, we pause when we pass the creek again, this time there are much fewer people, and we see butterflies flitting around, so we get out. Great decision, as this turns out to be a goldmine. We spend several hours here and come back the next morning. I originally thought they were giving horseback rides, but actually folks are riding down out of the hills from their isolated fincas, tying up their horses and getting a moto, the 3 wheeled taxis that are everywhere, into town, doing their shopping and coming back, loading up their horses and riding back to their fincas. Early that morning it was more crowded, but by 10am or so they’re all in town. We jump rocks, cross the creek and explore a short distance up the trail, finding butterflies everywhere. It’s a bit of a culture clash, as we’re crawling around shooting butterflies, and the locals are doing their washing in the creek. At one point a woman w/beautiful hair to her waist walks up to the creek where some of the guys are shooting butterflies at the edge, she whip off her shirt and dunks her head in the small waterfall and starts washing her hair, so the guys leave quickly. That’s probably the only water she gets all week to wash with. It makes us appreciate what we get to do, a bit easier of a life. Anyway, we get a long list of species seen here, and we find some new ones when we come back the 2nd day. My favorite was one of the last species seen, a beautiful Ridens skipper that most of us got to photograph. Only the 2nd time I’ve seen that genus, and certainly the best photos I’ve ever gotten. Another place to come back to.
Tue Nov 15 – drive to Tarapoto to Hotel Rio Shilcayo for our last 2 nights, a nice place in town w/gardens and a good restaurant, and air conditioning, good to have in the lowlands. We plan to spend the morning on the trails at the hotel, have another tasty lunch (much better than anything we can find on the road) and drive the 3 hours to Tarapoto in the afternoon. But we have our first rainy morning, all morning, so Willie and I just hang out watching birds from our room, 10 species of hummers at the feeders and black-bellied tanagers (replacing silver beaks) in the garden. Some more energetic folks walk the trails anyway. We have a noon lunch, early as we’ve usually aimed more at 1 or 1:30pm, then take off for Tarapoto. We stop at the oilbird bridge about 20 km from Moyobambo, and Rick gets stunning photos of oilbirds flying below us in the chasm, an amazing sight. It’s at the Quiscarrum bridge about km 515. We finally leave and make it to Tarapoto before dark. Excellent pisco sours at the restaurant.
Wed Nov 16 – our last day, que lastima. Juve and Miguel take us an hour or two away to another special habitat, very dry, must be in a rain shadow, in the Huallaga Valley. We find many butterflies very similar to northeastern Mexico, which seems strange to me. Very dry, we put out pee but it disappears almost immediately. We do get some nice Caria metalmarks and a number of different species for our list. It’s very hot, so we’re glad to get back to our air conditioned rooms and a shower. One advantage of spending more time in the mountains is the cooler climate, as compared to the hot lowlands.
Thur Nov 17 – our flight from Tarapoto to Lima is about 10:30am, on time and no problems. I think there are only 2 flights to Lima/day, and the other was late in the afternoon, so we went with the morning flight. Our international departures are around 11pm to midnight. We have day rooms at Mami Panchita for $25/room, plus $40 for the round trip transfer for 6 of us. $20 each, well worth it for a place to shower, rest and do final reorganization and packing. We eat down the road at Lorenzo, tasty food and plenty of it, then hit a panaderia on the way back at Renzo’s. Our final Peruvian goodies. Peru is full of wonderful butterflies and lots of places to explore, and friendly people. I will be back many times. Next time I want to go to Cajamarca, stay at the Hotel Laguna Seca.