Day 13 | 17 May 2019 | Wayqecha to Cock of the Rock Lodge

As I predicted yesterday, we would reverse the birding/driving ratio today and that was certainly the case. It was a mere 35kms from Wayqecha to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, but it took us almost 12 hours. But, unlike yesterday, where most of it was in the car, today we walked for around eight or nine hours.

Today was the day I had really been looking forward to. I remember reading a trip report from Manu Road about 20 years ago that described the walk down through the elevation levels, picking up bird flocks on the way. And that was what we did today.

The descent starts at around 3200m and we’re now at 1655m at COTRL. The upper sections are more open, with shorter elfin forest, but as we’ve descended, the trees have become taller and the vegetation is slightly more tropical. We’re now still in the cloud forest at COTRL, a long way from the basin, but it is definitely different here.

The Manu road is quite magical. It’s not a great road, in terms of surface and width, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a Jeep track, at best, with passing manoeuvres being quite hair-raising as most parts of the road have cliffs towering above on one side and precipitous drops on the other.

The driving is not even the bit that requires the most care. Trying to follow the frantic bird parties on foot alongside these chasms requires great discipline to ensure a view of a tanager or toucan doesn’t cause you to step off the cliff to a sudden death.

My family can rest easy that I stayed well away from the ledges and didn’t do anything silly.

This morning was spent targeting a few species, as we’d birded similar habitat on the Abra Malaga pass, so the morning was actually relatively slow in terms of lifers and trip birds. The birds we targeted included a few antpittas, a fruiteater, a becard and a flycatcher or two. We also spent some time on another dreadful bloody tapaculo (that we eventually clapped eyes on).

The antpitta we were after was a tiny little thing called a Rusty-breasted Antpitta, which is a tough little bird to see but, while we were waiting for a show, a Red-and-white Antpitta (the endemic we saw very briefly the other day) hopped along the path towards us. It was very un-antpitta-like, but it set the tone for the day.

Rusty-breasted Antpitta

Red-and-white Antpitta (endemic)

Red-and-white Antpitta (endemic)

Red-and-white Antpitta (endemic)

Manu Road is all about working through feeding flocks of birds. The birds feed communally and the flocks can contain up to 30 species, so you have to concentrate very hard when you come across these parties.

We’d drive slowly along the road and Alex or Juan would spot a party and we’d race to get out of the car to make sure we didn’t miss anything. It was pretty frantic stuff as many birds only pass through briefly and it is so easy to miss something.

The elfin forest was a little slow but once we had dropped into the cloud forest, we managed a decent number of birds.

If you had to scroll through our day list today, you’d get a real sense of why this place is so special. We had representatives of so many of the special neotropical families as we worked our way down – tanagers, toucans, antpittas, woodcreepers, tapaculos, hummingbirds, tyrants, becards, motmots and trogons. Quite incredible.

Grass-green Tanager

White-collared Jay

Barred Fruiteater

Hooded Mountain-tanager

Variegated Bristle-tyrant

Andean Motmot

Olive-tufted Flycatcher

Grey-eared Brush-finch

Common Bush-tanager

Golden-olive Woodpecker

Grey-eared Brush-finch

Bluish Flowerpiercer

Collared Trogon

Purple-breasted Coronet

Speaking of lists…

As I mentioned yesterday, Garret’s list is a finely controlled piece of his birding make-up. I then suggested mine is quite the opposite. It was always going to be likely that my next milestone bird would pass by in the field without any knowledge of exactly which bird it was.

So, when I loaded my lists to ebird this evening (which is the world birding app that I use) I wasn’t too surprised to see that I had catapulted straight over 2000, without even realizing it. My list tells me I’m on 2008 and that I saw 36 lifers today. Wow, what a day. But now which bird was it? Garret and I just sat and counted backwards and we have determined that an Olive-backed Woodcreeper was my number 2000. You’re all probably going to think I’m making this up, but I was solely responsible for spotting and identifying the all-important bird. It was probably the first of the trip for me, so that seems like an appropriate milestone bird, doesn’t it?

Olive-backed Woodcreeper

I’m also quite fond of woodcreepers but now you’re definitely thinking I’m taking this a bit far.

Anyway, we arrived at COTRL with just enough time to add three new hummingbirds to our list at the feeders and then, thank god, Juan found the Rufescent Screech Owl for us at the lodge, which saved us from heading back out there for some more owling.

It has been another amazing day with incredible birds and the fulfilment of a lifelong birding dream. Tomorrow we’re birding straight from the lodge which should be awesome.

  • Total day birds: 89
  • Total trip birds: 379
  • Total trip endemics: 34
  • Mike day lifers: 36
  • Mike total lifers: 322
  • Garret day lifers: 27
  • Garret trip lifers: 244
  • Bird of the day: Red and White Antpitta

Click here for day 14