Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Birding Lambayeque: Algorrobo, Salas

This is the third site in Lambayeque that demands a visit - this site is quite less accessible and takes more time than the other sites, but holds the potential for some REALLY cool birds (White-winged Guan, for instance).

Gray-chinned Hermit, Porculla race, 3-May-12
I found this site by stabbing fairly at random in the hills around Salas and the two small towns of Algorrobo and Sauce. The hills around Sauce were very degraded and while they held interesting birds (Black-and-white Tanager, etc.), there were surely better places nearby. And at last, an older man in Algorrobo explained that farther out from Algorrobo along a few trails there were nearly untouched forests, which one would have to travel far from Sauce or Salas to find.

Ecuadorian Trogon, young male, 30-Apr-12

After a few stabs at finding the right trail, Juan Molina and I think we have happened upon what might be the best trail up to see the specialties here: Henna-hooded Foliage Gleaner, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Piura Chat-tyrant, Long-billed Starthroat, Ecuadorian Trogon, Whooping Motmot, Gray-chinned Hermit, Gray-and-gold Warbler, Speckle-breasted Wren, Ochre-bellied Dove, Thick-billed Euphonia and more. To get to this trail, find your way into Salas and hire a driver to take you up to Algorrobo, which is another 3k or so up the road. At the first set of houses in Agorrobo, you will see a path leading between them to the left. Walk on this path for about 45min-1hour until you see a house adjacent to the path on your right. Then continue on a little bit farther - you will see a well made fence on your left. Up ahead will be a house with a tall antennae.

This is the fence you are looking for. The house is obscured by the trees on the left in this picture.

When you can see this house - but 50-100m before - take a right on a smaller trail towards the hills. This will lead you quickly up to a clear area between two houses. Go straight between them and begin climbing the hill - a small river/stream will be in a little valley on your left.

Terrible picture of a Whooping Motmot, 30-Apr-12
Before long, you will reach an area strewn with large boulders. This seems to be the easiest spot to find the motmots, plus there are tons of bats in the boulders, which is cool to watch. You will begin climbing again after this and you may notice some PVC tubes bringing water down to the settlement. The path will split here and you have a choice. The left trail is short, but has the hermit and motmots on it, as well as this strange immature thrush - which I suspect is Glossy-black, but I have no experience with the species at all and worry that I might mix it up with Pale-eyed or maybe Slaty.

If you have the time, choose the path to the right, which winds uphill past some grazing land before it dives back towards the stream.

Pass this shed and you will find yourself in wonderful forest.

After this, you will find yourself in another zone completely - huge fig and other trees tower over the forest and it looks unlike any forest I have ever seen before. In here you will start seeing/hearing new species: Black-and-white Becard, Red-eyed Vireo, Pacific Elaenia, Speckle-breasted Wren, Gray-and-gold Warbler, etc. We found this becard down the path and initially IDed it as Slaty, as it looked much lighter and you could see a faint light mark above the base of the bill - and it responded to a Slaty song. Looking at it now though it seems too plump and large-billed for Slaty... is this a One-colored?

Becard sp., 30-Apr-12

At a certain point, you will cross a stream and the path will weave to the left of the stream for awhile, then turn and go uphill. The uphill trail peters out to nothing (bring a machete), but walking along the stream is productive and eventually ends you at a beautiful little waterfall and pool full of cool water and looking perfectly like it is taken from a visit Belize commercial. Strangely, the pool had a pair of Black Phoebes - these are certainly not resident here in dry forests.

Two of your authors cool off in the middle of the day. 

What other species might this location hold? For one, the hills here are known to hold both White-winged and Bearded Guan and locals speak of seeing White-winged fairly frequently. While we have only found Three-banded Warblers (well, 1) near Sauce, they ought to be here as well. Other birds known from El Limon, in Piura outside of Olmos may be here as well - Laughing Falcon, Pale-browed Tinamou, Solitary Eagle, several swifts (along the rock faces on the left side of the Quedrada), Ecuadorian Piculet, etc...

Lunch time break. 3-May-12
If you find any of these - report them to eBird - a growing reference of the birds present now can be used in the short-term to compare changes in range with El Nino and La Nina and longer-term to show range and population trends due to human development or long-term climatic changes.

Long-billed Starthroat. I watched this bird fly in and then the bird sat obligingly for 15 minutes while I managed to point out the unmoving hummingbird in the dense tree 30 meters away to everyone else. 

Birding in Lambayeque: Cerro Chalpon, Great Inca-finch

The second in my series of site descriptions: Cerro Chalpon and the big surprise of Great Inca-finch in Lambayeque. On April 9th, 2011, Andre Burnier and I set out from Motupe to see what the giant hill north of town was like. We walked all the way from Motupe (~5km), but it is far easier to get a collectivo/moto from the town – they leave next to the cars to Olmos about a block from the market. The location you want to go to is Zapote (which is the name of a native fruit in the genus Capparis). When you arrive you will be met with a very long staircase… filled with vendors of religious paraphernalia.

The first Great Inca-finch found in Lambayeque, 9-Apr-11

On this first visit, we had no idea what this was about, but I will fill you in. The most sacred site in Lambayeque is a shrine located about halfway up this hill, where villagers found a tree in the shape of a cross (clearly divine intervention in tree growth, right?). Several years later, the tree was stolen! After it was recovered, they made the site a guarded sanctuary (open 7-6 daily, if I recall correctly). The peregrination of climbing these steps is made by thousands every year, young and old. And preyed upon by hundreds of vendors selling items from chicha to photographs with llamas to rosary beads and baths in the “sacred” water coming down the hill. You ought to hike up the first bit without birding, simply to get beyond the headache of the town of Zapote.

Tropical (Tumbes) Pewees are very easy to find here and often very obliging
Once it starts to open up, put your ears to work – listen especially for Elegant Crescentchest, Tropical (Tumbes) Pewee, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Andean Tinamou, Black-and-white Becard, and enigmatically, Ash-breasted Sierra-finch – a bird which Fernando and I know of few other records in Lambayeque, but is common here, especially higher. Keep you eyes out for raptors: Black-chested Buzzard-eagles, Variable Hawks and Peregrine Falcons are fairly common and the only Aplomado Falcon I have ever seen in Lambayeque was near this hill.

Great Inca-finch, Incaspiza pulchra, 13-March-12

As you climb, you will notice the vegetation getting sparser and more rocky, eventually you will reach a vertical rock face with lots of bromeliads. This is where to begin looking for the Inca-finch as well as White-headed Brush-finch (I found two nests in epiphytes), Ash-breasted Sierra-finch and with some luck, Tumbes Hummingbird. You will reach the official sanctuary, with a metal gate and some really garish yellow stairs. It was on these stairs that I saw the finch the first time, picking at crumbs. The second time, we located it above the actual cross, another few flights of stairs higher. Note that at the cross, you need to be respectful of the pilgrims (don’t go on a weekend!), and technically photography is not allowed – but the guard lets us take pictures of the birds.

The crazy staircase that you must climb to get to the top (of the trail, not the hill).
They leave the lights on here all night, which attracts tons of moths, leading to some very fat and happy pewees, which are practically tame. Also in the mix up here are the tamest Baird’s Flycatchers I have ever seen. From this spot, you can ask the guard if he has seen the bird with the yellow legs and the yellow beak or just wait. Keep your eyes on the skies, too: a condor nest was found on this hill in the nineties, though the older guard when asked remembers only seeing a condor once here. 

As I said, the Pewees are obliging.
The view from the trail. Vendors on both sides and just obscured by the hill on the right is the city of Motupe.

The vendors in this section deal in holy water that washes down the hill. Don't drink it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Birding in Lambayeque: La Viña site info

The main reservoir

This will be the first in a few short notes I will write up on where to find birds around Lambayeque. The amount of information that exists in the public domain seems to be small and thus most people visit (with a guide) Bosque de Pomac, Chapparri and perhaps, Puerto Eten. However, there are many other easily-accessible and productive sites in the region where you can see birds not found in any of the other locations.

Comb Duck, one of the "specialties" here. 

The represa (dam) at La Viña is the first and most productive spot to spend a few hours in the area during the wet season of Dec/Jan – May/June. Birds you can usually see here include: Comb Duck, Least Grebe, Cocoi Heron, Purple Gallinule, Brown-chested Martin and with a little bit of luck you can find Masked Duck, Stilt Sandpiper, Collared Plover and more. It is clearly the best location in Lambayeque, if not all of the northwest coast to see Comb Duck and Least Grebe – other records are scattered widely, but this spot produced the former on almost every visit and the latter on every visit.

Least Grebes, juveniles, I believe
To get to the site, the easiest thing to do is to charter a car or a mototaxi in the town of Jayanca – ask for “la represa” – everyone knows it. We generally pay ~20 soles for a station wagon to go to the dam or ~8 soles for a mototaxi. Note that there are two roads that abut the reservoir, the first beginning on the Panamericana near one of the Jayanca public schools, just past the town and the other winding through the oddly run-down town of La Viña. Either is fine, but the birding is better on the north side, which is the side accessible through La Viña. I have never felt really unsafe here and there are usually a few other people around fishing or swimming, which is better than a desolate location, in my opinion. Before the driver leaves, you ought to make arrangements for the taxi/moto to return and get you.

General map - on google earth there is no water present, so I had to draw it in. The brown lines are the trails. 

When you arrive at the represa (the actual dam) you have three options of paths, as seen in the rough map. If you have enough time (3-4 hours), walking the entire loop around the big reservoir is the most productive route and you can expect to see 50-70 species. If you have less time, you can still see 40+ species in an hour or so just by walking the first half of the middle path and the path on the west side where you can see the small adjacent ponds. My walkthrough will take you through assuming you are walking the whole loop and the water level is high.

Raucous Cattle Egret nests are the first thing you will see. 

Begin by scanning the shoreline underneath the mesquite trees on your left. This spot usually has a few Black-necked Stilts and until April holds lots of sandpipers, though usually fairly spread out. Walk slowly along the trail, carefully minding the shoreline of the smaller lagoon to your left for sandpipers and ducks, which are often hidden until they flush. On your right, scanning the water usually produces Great Grebes and Neotropical Cormorants, but occasionally there will be a raft of Comb Duck or mixed Anas species. Several herons, including Cocoi and Striated, perch on trees on the island, so keep your eyes open for them, too.

Striated Heron
Cattle egrets nested in huge numbers in mesquite trees on the left along the first 400 meters or so of the trail this year, but apparently this is not a yearly occurence. Also in these trees we encountered Brown-chested Martins nesting in an old Pale-legged Hornero nest as well as roosting Black-crowned Night-herons and Little Blue Herons. Continue walking and scanning the shoreline to your left, while keeping your eye open for birds flying over – this is the most common way of seeing Comb Ducks. After about ¾ of this trail, the left side starts to open up a bit. These trees are the best spot to find roosting herons of all types: Yellow- and Black-crowned Night, Cocoi, Striated, Little Blue and all the egrets. As you come to the end of the trail, turn right along the top of the dike, don’t go down to the road below.

Horrible picture, but adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron, May-2
This trail is generally the slowest birding, but in the visible crop fields you can find all the common species of the Chacras: Chestnut-throated, Variable and Parrot-billed Seedeaters, Blue-black Grassquits, Peruvian Meadowlarks and Burrowing Owls. At a certain point, you will start to see wetlands on your left. Stop at each little pool for 5-10 minutes and look for movement and listen. The more overgrown pools hold Purple and Common Gallinule and Plumbeous Rail, while the more open ones hold lots of Least Grebe (listen for their strange call note) and if you are lucky, Masked Duck as well. Striated Herons hunt from along the banks, so watch for them.

Purple Gallinule, you can often see them with young following
The two ponds that seem to hold Masked Duck are the last one on the left (just past the irrigation channel) and the shallow wetland across the road, as visible from the dike halfway between the represa and the last pool. I would not be surprised if it were in more (all) of the ponds, they are just devilishly small and furtive and you need a little bit of luck and a bit of patience to see them here.

Adult Male Masked Duck
In the corner by these two pools, large groups of swallows often gather to drink. I have seen Brown-chested, Gray-breasted and Purple Martin as well as Chestnut-collared, Barn, Bank, Blue-and-white and Southern Roughwing Swallows. I can imagine just about any wayward swallow honing in on this area, so perhaps others are possible (Cliff, White-winged, Peruvian Martin?).

I suspect these are all juveniles and that local breeding occurred.
This walk-through is in no way complete, but gives you a pretty good start of how to approach the visit. On the timing note, I think that like most places, the very early morning and the late afternoon are the best. The late afternoon is especially striking as the herons return to roost by the hundreds, a constant river of birds overheard.

The view from the dam, Cattle Egret nests in background. 
I would love to hear all feedback and all trip reports/lists. I sort of consider this site my baby, so I would be curious to hear what others think. Both Jimmy Tarrant and Fernando Angulo were very high on the site when I brought them to see it… hopefully it continues to impress.

The crew of Jimmy, Orla, Juan and Sol wait for Masked Duck, this day without success.
A short list of birds I expect to be found here by diligent observers, keep your eyes and ears out and let me know if you do find these or other new birds for the site:

Spotted Rail – Fernando Angulo expects it and the small ponds with vegetation are perfect for it.
Sora/Virginia Rail – they occasionally migrate further south and in the right season in stopover for a day or two, I can see them being found here.
Tricolored Heron – I have found this species on the Motupe River, but it ought to be here as well.
Osprey – there are plenty of fish here and in Feb/March they are commonly seen flying over Pomac.
Black-faced Ibis – this severely declining population is being hunted and developed out of existence, but I would imagine that the few remaining do stop by here on a regular basis.
Peruvian Booby – wildcard. It has been found on Tinajones and we found it flying over Pomac, no more than 10km from here. One ought to turn up eventually, probably tailing stiff winds.
Common Pootoo – should be around in the adjacent forest, as it is in Pomac near the river.
Peregrine Falcon – Juan Molina and I saw one on the adjacent hills, but it would be a spectacular spot for a Peregrine to pick off shorebirds or ducks.
Least Bittern – should be in the reedy areas, though I have not heard it calling. Perhaps a bird to try playback for.  

This (bad) video gives you a little overview of the site including the herons coming in to roost. Taken with a bad point and shoot, so don't expect much.