Day 15 | 19 May 2019 | COTRL to Villa Carmen

Alex and Juan had set some solid plans for this morning to head back up into the cloud forest for a few bird parties and then to head downhill to Villa Carmen. That all went out the window when they realized overnight that our last chance for one of Garret’s most wanted birds for the trip, Amazonian Umbrellabird, was best accessed in the other direction. Garret wasn’t arguing against the new plan but he was immediately on edge. This turn of events that this was our last chance for the umbrellabird had taken us both by surprise. We had expected it later on and, with this being our last chance, the anxiety levels were heightened.

It was still mostly dark when we arrived at a bridge over a cascading stream and we set about our search, which didn’t go well at all. It was dead quiet and there wasn’t any sign of the umbrellabird, or any other bird for that matter.

An Amazonian Umbrellabird is an audacious looking thing from the wonderful neotropical family of cotingas. Incidentally, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is also a cotinga and its bright orange and black plumage differs markedly from the all black Amazonian Umbrellabird, showing just how variable the family is. Other than being black, the male umbrellabird has a bizarre overgrown crown of feathers that hang over its head, the appearance of which gives it its name. It also has a long blank wattle drooping from below its bill so it couldn’t be described as classically attractive.

After searching for some time, we had to call it quits. We had a lot more planned for the day and it was time to move on. Garret’s shoulders were sagged even more pronounced than they were when he missed the Fire-eye yesterday and I was trying to think of a way to snap him out of it when the car screeched to a halt and Alex and Juan yelled simultaneously that there was an umbrellabird perched on a dead tree on the left hand side of the car. It wasn’t the drastically bizarre male but, in this world of birding, the considerably less attractive females count and so that was the best way to snap Garret out of his brief moment of melancholy.

I had my disappointment, which remained permanent, when Garret and Juan spotted a Crimson-bellied Woodpecker in the forest, which is about as big as a crow but I still failed to see it. Woodpeckers, as you know, are my favourite and this one is the one I most wanted. There was not much more that could be done about that and so it was chin up and focus on the next thing. To make matters even worse, Garret had already seen it before this trip and didn’t need it as a lifer.

Geoffroy’s Wedgebill

Following from those ups and downs, it was mostly a very slow, soporific morning as we drove down towards Villa Carmen. Each stop was mostly birdless and even Alex had to admit that “this morning is less activity; I don’t know why”. There were a few stops that yielded one or two excellent birds but it was quite different from the flock birding of yesterday.

The first exhilaration was a wonderful view of a perched Solitary Eagle. We’d seen very few raptors in the forest but that’s not entirely surprising as they are mostly hunters below the canopy.

Solitary Eagle

Solitary Eagle

Solitary Eagle

Another exhilaration was the culmination of an intensely frustrating search for an endemic hummingbird. The Peruvian Piedtail is a tiny little thing and prefers the gloomiest and dampest forest sections. We had a few fleeting glances of its black and white tail as it buzzed past us in the forest, but it wasn’t quite enough to tick.

And then, finally, Alex, with his eagle eyes, spied it perched near us in the forest and urgently started pointing for us to look but simultaneously telling us not to move. Partly because I was desperate not to miss it, but mostly because I am not a very good listener, I moved. And the piedtail buzzed off. Alex was understandably grumpy after all his hard work and I got an appropriate talking to.

But he’s not the top birder in Peru for nothing, so he shrugged off my indiscretion and simply found it perched in the gloomy forest for a second time. I made absolutely certain I listened to all instructions given and we all walked away with another endemic.

Peruvian Piedtail (endemic)

Masked Trogon

Ornate Flycatcher

Ornate Flycatcher

Ornate Flycatcher

Juan had a lunch stop planned at another friend’s lodge called Bambu Lodge (their spelling, not mine). The lodge is situated at about 600m altitude so the habitat and temperature were completely different.

Black-backed Tody-flycatcher (endemic)

As slow as the morning was, the afternoon was fast. Very fast. It was my favourite kind of birding – standing in a lush garden and watching the passing parade of so many birds. We’re now in the lowlands so I’ve seen a few of these widespread neotropical lowland birds but there were just tons of new ones for me. And the same can be said for Garret.

In a two-and-a-half-hour wander around the garden we both netted about 25 lifers. It was fast, but not too fast, and it was far from the tricky bird parties of the cloud forest, so I was at least able to see everything at almost the same time as everyone else.

Red-throated Caracara

Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet

Bran-coloured Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied Tanager

Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet

Blue-grey Tanager

Short-crested Flycatcher

Ochre-bellied Flycatcher

Buff-throated Saltator

Yellow-bellied Dacnis

Yellow-bellied Dacnis

Fine-barred Piculet

Fine-barred Piculet

Green and yellow Tanager

Swallow Tanager

The only downside to the afternoon related to one of the world’s most beautiful hummingbirds. The Rufous-crested Coquette is a tiny little thing, with the male adorning an ornate rufous crest of loose feathers, tipped with black. I’ve seen a Rufous-crested Coquette before in Panama but, sadly, only a much more modest looking female (there’s a theme of drab females in this post). This was my chance to finally get the coquette sexism monkey off my back. We spent about an hour staring at bushes with purple flowers, watching a female buzzing around, but still no male. And to make matters worse, as we were about to leave, Alex came to us with a dead male in his hand that had succumbed to a window strike. As much as it was nice to see a male in the flesh, I didn’t really want it to be in that state.

We’re now at a beautiful lodge down in the Amazon proper and, despite a very long day out, Alex and Juan dragged us out again for some bamboo specials. I have to admit that I’m back in my state of exhaustion, which is only made worse by the fact that Garret does not seem to have an off switch. He has an insatiable need for more birds and Alex and Juan are very willing and able to continue feeding that need. There’s a plan for a bit more owling tonight but I may need to dream those lifers rather than actually see them.

  • Total day birds: 106
  • Total trip birds: For some reason I just don’t know
  • Total trip endemics: 35
  • Mike day lifers: 38
  • Mike total lifers: 390
  • Garret day lifers: 32
  • Garret trip lifers: 297
  • Bird of the day: Amazonian Umbrellabird

Click here for day 16