Central Peru part 3 – Carpish Tunnel and Bosque Unchog: 13th-17th November 2016.   Leave a comment

We spent four nights in the comfortable yet very noisy hotel in Huanaco. During this time we explored two areas, the partially degraded forests around the Carpish Tunnel and Paty Trail and the cloud forests of Bosque Unchog. We spent two and a half days at the former and two days at the latter.

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Rising out of Huanaco the road climbs through a mainly dry habitat now largely deforested to grow crops of decorative flowers.

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As the road emerges from the tunnel under the Carpish Pass onto the eastern side of ridge the habitat changes markedly to humid cloud forest. Once the inevitable jokes about the ‘Carpish Tunnel syndrome’ were complete we set about exploring this wonderful area.

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Birding in cloud forest can be tricky. If the cloud lifts the birds tend to be inactive and silent, however too much fog and you can’t see the birds in the murk.

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The locals are used to it, these kids seem to have no problem playing football in 30m visibility.

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But when it’s clear enough to see the birds the cloud forest can deliver some real crackers, like this Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan.

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Most of our time was spent on the Paty Trail which descends from about 2700m near the tunnel to the main road far below. This local man told us he had been down to the town at the start of the track and it had taken him seven hours to climb back up (we met him at about 0900 so most of that was in the dark). A long way to go if you run out of milk!

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Many consider the birding in the cloud forests of the eastern slope of the Andes to be the finest in the world. Certainly there is little that can match the flocks of dazzling multi-hued tanagers that appear and disappear out of the gloom, full of gems such as this Flame-faced Tanager ….

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…. or this Hooded Mountain Tanager

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…. Hummingbirds were represented by Amethyst-throated Sunangel ….

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…. and Collared Inca.

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We didn’t see as many furnarids here as in the open puna habitats on this tour, but Streaked Tuftedcheek was seen quite regularly in the cloud forest.

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No Neotropical forest would be complete without its quota of tyrant flycatchers – here an Unstreaked Tit-tyrant ….

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…. and here a lovely little Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet. Many UK birders if told this little bird with its wing bars, insectivorous bill and yellow, grey and brown plumage was a Phylloscopus warbler would go all dewy-eyed, however if told it was a tyrannulet they would diss it as ‘list fodder’.

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Antbirds tend to be more characteristic of lowland habitats, although a few reach mid-elevation. This Uniform Antshrike was one of them.

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This forest held a high concentration of White-eared Solitaires and their single high bell-like note, sounding like an alert on a mobile phone, was regularly heard.

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Of all of the neotropical passerines, the cotingas are some of the most spectacular. We may have dipped on White-cheeked Cotinga earlier on in the trip but here we scored with Band-tailed Fruiteater ….

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…. and Barred Fruiteater.

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Overhead we caught a glimpse of the elegant Swallow-tailed Kite through the foliage ….

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…. but it was much further down, below the level of the clouds, that we had distant views of one of the top birds of the trip ….

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…. the widespread but rare and totally stunning Orange-breasted Falcon. I have made multiple trips to areas within this bird’s range which extends from Belize to Argentina, but have always dipped. We could hear it calling for ages before sharp-eyed Ken picked it up in flight and was able to follow it back to a perch. It was possibly over 1Km away but such is the power of digital photography that I was able to get a record shot.

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Another group of neotropical passerines that always generate a lot of excitement are the tapaculos. In the south, in Chile and Argentina there are some large tapaculos that inhabit open areas but the cloud forests and puna are inhabited by the Scytalopus tapaculos. All Scytalopus are similar (there are 43 of them) and many can only be told apart by their vocalisations. This photo might not be in focus but it captures the jizz of these charming little birds perfectly. With their short wings and tail they seldom fly and skulk around invisibly on the ground. When responding to a tape they have been known to pass unseen between an observers legs. The dry La Nina conditions meant that many of the tapaculos and antpittas weren’t responding, although in the end we did see a full suit of seven tapaculos but only four out of the seven possible antpittas – and we had to do a lot of work to see those.

 

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The other site we visited during our stay at in this area was Bosque Unchog. In the past you have had to camp at this rather wet and cold location but road improvements have made it possible to day-trip it from Huanaco

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The only birds we saw in the boggy areas were Andean Lapwings ….

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…. but our goal was the cloud forest below this escarpment.

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These cloud wreathed trees are home to a range of very special birds but finding them in the fog can be problematic.

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In the 1970s researchers from Louisiana State University discovered three new species to science at this site. In this high area of elfin forest they found a new mountain-tanager (Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager, one of the largest tanagers of all) a cotinga in a totally new genus (the Bay-vented Cotinga), and a very odd little tanager, the Pardusco. We were able to see all three of these wonderful birds.

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Firstly the beautiful Golden-backed Mountain Tanager ….

 

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The second of the LSU’s discoveries was the Pardusco, a dull coloured gregarious tanager. Photographing these fast moving specialities in foggy conditions was tricky, so I have used a picture from the Internet Bird Collection taken by Dubi Shapiro at Bosque Unchog.

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It took some time to find this Bay-vented Cotinga in the mist but we were eventually rewarded with great views.

 

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Another speciality was Rufous-browed Hemispingus, another species of tanager. This photo was also taken at Bosque Unchog by my friend Martin Reid. Martin used to live in Dorset and we went on a series of twitches together and even did a trip to Morocco. He now lives in Texas and I haven’t seen him for over 20 years, but thanks to social media its easy to stay in touch.

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Another target species was this Golden-collared Tanager. I was the only one to see this gem at Bosque Unchog but fortunately everybody else connected later in the tour. This second bird (above) was photographed by tour participant and my roommate Steve Lowe.

 

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It was time to say goodbye to these beautiful moss-covered forests …..

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On the way back we stopped to explore the dry side of the mountain. As happens regularly in the Andes cloud builds up on the eastern slope during the day and overspills onto the drier western flank where it rapidly evaporates.

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We were able to investigate this drier habitat more fully on our second visit to Bosque Unchog and get good views of Brown-flanked Tanager and few other species that had eluded us on our first visit.

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Much of the habitat in this area has been degraded for agriculture – although many farmers are leaving for work in the cities as the many abandoned buildings attests.

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As well as seeing a some of the specialities of this region we also saw many widespread birds such as these Groove-billed Anis, a type of cuckoo.

 

The following day we left Huanaco and after some final birding on the Paty Trail drove to Huariaca for the night. The day after we reached the wonderful Lake Junin and that will be the subject of the next post.

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