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Peru’s Magnetic North–The Long and the Short of It

January 25th, 2012 by John Rowlett· Add a Comment

Yes, Field Guides offers an extraordinary tour across northern Peru that is no doubt already high on your shortlist of must-do-before-you-die tours. Yes, we have been offering our “Endemics Galore” tour annually since the last century, so we are no first-timers pleasurably leading you astray. Yes, and nobody does it with more experience, expertise, and enthusiasm than Richard Webster and Rose Ann Rowlett.

The once-mythical Long-whiskered Owlet photographed by guide Richard Webster.

Yes…, I could go on, but the long and the short of it is that for those of you with a detectable pulse who are wondering if you’ll live until you can find three weeks off your demanding schedules, rest assured that you can–without in any way preempting the longer possibility–make an enriching down payment, securing some third of those endemics outright, by taking our “Magnetic North” tour, a safe, working stiff’s 11-day-resolution to an anxiety dream.

Our abbreviated version of northern Peru is becoming better known as the “Long-whiskered Owlet/Marvelous Spatuletail Tour” because of the powerful attraction of these two marquee species–the long and the short of it–that are now possible since the construction of the fabulous “Owlet Lodge” at Abra Patricia and the development of the Huembo Spatuletail Reserve below the pass at Florida de Pomacochas.

It’s hard not to marvel at a Marvelous Spatuletail. Photo by guide Richard Webster.

The miniscule owl with the long whiskers, a creature of mythic proportions that had not been observed outside a net when we began guiding tours to northern Peru, is the smallest owl in the world, no longer (if much bulkier) than an adult male Spatuletail, bereft of its marvelous, extravagantly long, spatula tail. The owlet is now being seen with regularity on the lodge property (our groups–both short and long–had sensational views of an adult perched a mere 15 feet away in 2011, as captured by Richard’s photo). And the Spatuletail—a hit-or-miss encounter when we began running the tour years ago–is now a virtual certainty, along with a dozen or so other hummers–at feeders regularly maintained at the reserve.

A couple of other hummers from the tour, a Many-spotted on a nest and a Collared Inca at Owlet Lodge. Photos by participants Dale Zimmerman and David Disher.

Yet our short sortie is also notable for another 15 or so possible endemics and specialties seldom seen away from the forest-clad knife-ridges that transect and make up the starkly beautiful east-slope habitat of the Abra Patricia area in the departments of Amazonas and San Martin. Our birding, some of the best to be had on the east slope of the Andes, begins and ends in Tarapoto, as the tour makes an electrifying short circuit from tropical lowlands of the Rio Huallaga, up the drainage of the Rio Mayo through Moyobamba and on upslope to the lodge at Abra Patricia, our base for six splendid nights of birding subtropical cloud forest and the drier Rio Chido drainage, before retracing our steps to Tarapoto for one last morning of birding in the upper tropical zone. In July of 2012 Field Guides will operate our seventh iteration of this short-and-sweet attraction, and each exciting year has led to greater logistical and pacing know-how and to a keener knowledge of the birds and their whereabouts.

Two of the many tanagers we could see, a White-capped and a Grass-green. Photos by guide John Rowlett and participant Johnny Powell.

So all you overworked dreamers, whether drawn more to the specialties or to the thrill of birding mixed-species flocks of tanagers, fruiteaters, quetzals, and barbets (did I mention the Grallaricula, Ochre-fronted Antpitta, or the Grallaria, Pale-billed Antpitta [one of several endemic species of antpittas to be seen], or the lovely Yellow-scarfed Tanager, Johnson’s Tody-Tyrant, Bar-winged Wood-Wren, or White-faced Nunbird?); whether drawn more to scoring scores of Oilbirds or to finally winning a prize look at that furtive Chestnut-crowned Gnateater or that elusive Lanceolated Monklet that has always just slipped your view, take it from me: you are ensured immeasurable benefits from the long-lasting dividends of going short.

Our next Peru’s Magnetic North: Spatuletails, Owlet Lodge & More tour is scheduled for June 30-July 10, 2012 with John Rowlett and Pepe Rojas.  Dates for the longer Northern Peru: Endemics Galore tour are  November 4-24, 2012 with Richard Webster and Mitch Lysinger.  For complete tour schedules for all our guides, visit our guide page.