December 2019 emailing

Our December emailing is out, with a fresh gallery of images from recent tours, short features on guide Marcelo Barreiros and Karen Turner from our Austin office, a cool antpitta slideshow in a new series, plus of course recent triplists, fresh 2020 itineraries, and spaces on upcoming tours. Click here or on the image below to have a look. Enjoy!

Halloween 2019 emailing

We have a special edition of our monthly emailing just in time for Halloween! Lots of news from recent tours as well as goings-on at Field Guides, plus of course recent triplists, fresh 2020 itineraries, some great video clips, and much more. Click here or on the image below to have a look. Enjoy!

A day in the birding life: our Birds & Wine tours

Enjoy this piece by guide Marcelo Padua as he provides a glimpse into a day on each of the tours in our Birds & Wine series coming up in 2019: Birds and Wines of Chile & Argentina in February, Beyond the Ports of Portugal in April, and France’s Loire Valley: Birds, Chateaux & Wine in June. Each of these tours features great lodging, fabulous food, incredible scenery, an easier pace, and a focus on birding with some time spent enjoying the cultural riches of each destination.

Chile & Argentina

Elegant-crested Tinamou in Argentina with FIELD GUIDES BIRDING TOURS
The well-named Elegant Crested-Tinamou, by guide Dave Stejskal

On a cool morning in Argentina you step out of your room onto the manicured garden of your lodge. Checking some flowering plants, you spot a Red-tailed Comet, a spectacular hummingbird that takes your breath away. Meanwhile, a Blue-and-yellow Tanager feeds in a nearby tree and an Austral Pygmy-Owl sings in the distance. Walking out of the lodge and away from the manicured vineyards, you move into desert scrub habitat, where a White-throated Cacholote sings from one of the few trees in sight and adds another stick to its massive nest.

Birds & Wine: Argentina with FIELD GUIDES BIRDING TOURS
The Andes with a fresh dusting of snow as seen from wine country in Argentina. Photo by participant Dennis Serdehely.

As you walk farther into the desert, you marvel at the beauty of the Andes rising up beyond, covered in a mantle of fresh snow from the previous night. A movement catches your eye—a family of Elegant-crested Tinamous quietly running away from you. Later in the day you enjoy a typical Argentine barbecue—the asado—while sipping a delicious glass of Malbec. Your afternoon is devoted to visiting a museum and a state-of-the-art winery before returning to the lodge to enjoy a five-course dinner paired with wines produced on site. Life is good, and you are lucky to be here.


On a different continent you wake up to a strangely familiar bird call as a Common Cuckoo broadcasts its famous song. You find yourself in a medieval village along the Portuguese border. After a leisurely breakfast, you head out to bird the mountains that cradle the famous Douro River.

Portugal Birds & Wine with FIELD GUIDES BIRDING TOURS
The Douro River valley, by participant Ken Havard

Along your way, an old man and his dog block the road as they patiently keep his sheep moving at a steady pace, and you realize that this scene has repeated itself here for hundreds of years. Moving ahead, you find an overlook from which to scan the valley bellow. From the roof of an abandoned house, a Blue Rock-Thrush lets other males know that this patch is taken, and it does not take long before the first Eurasian Griffons fly by at what seems to be an arm’s length.

Portugal Birds & Wine with FIELD GUIDES BIRDING TOURS
An immense Eurasian Griffon soars past, by participant Maureen Phair

You continue your journey through the mountains, taking in the spectacular scenery. At another perch on top of a hill, you enjoy a picnic lunch while Egyptian Vultures, Peregrine Falcons, and Cinereous Vultures seem to dance in the wind at eye level. On you return to the lodge, you take some time to explore a tiny village, learning about its history and inhabitants. After a delicious homemade dinner, you go to sleep listening to the calls of a Eurasian Scops-Owl.


In France it is spring, and you wake up to a cacophony of sounds produced by hundreds of young Rooks roosting in nearby trees—it doesn’t take long to realize where the term rookery originated. You walk away from the noisy Rooks only to find a plethora of other sounds coming from warblers, tits, and nesting House Martins. You devote the day to exploring the fabulous Loire River, once described by French novelist Gustave Flaubert as “the most sensual river in France.” The Loire runs low and sedate, studded with sand and gravel bars that provide protected nesting sites for Yellow-legged, Black-headed, and Mediterranean gulls, as well as Little Ringed Plovers and Common Sandpipers.

The chateau and gardens at Villandry

Each stop along the river brings the group one step closer to the renowned gardens of Chateau Villandry, where a delicious French picnic awaits. Sated, you venture into the gardens of this chateau, a testament to love and determination. The evening brings a fine day to a close as you take advantage of famous French gastronomy paired with a lovely Sancerre.

The Chateau de Chenonceau, by guide Megan Edwards Crewe

Read more about each of these tours, see the itinerary and past triplists, and enjoy more images on their respective tour pages:

Birds and Wines of Chile & Argentina

Beyond the Ports of Portugal

France’s Loire Valley: Birds, Chateaux & Wine

The Manu road in October: A birder’s dream

Few places on the planet offer birders the opportunity to explore as amazing an altitudinal gradient as the Manu road in southeastern Peru. In an ecologically complex mosaic of habitats ranging from about 2600 feet elevation in the foothills up to tree line at 11,150 feet, researchers have found nearly 1000 species of birds. Imagine the birding potential–there are new species waiting at every turn!

Magnificent forest along our Manu route, looking down toward the Amazonian lowlands. Photo by guide Rose Ann Rowlett.
Magnificent forest along our Manu route, looking down toward the Amazonian lowlands. Photo by guide Rose Ann Rowlett.

Our trip starts in the city of Cuzco, nestled at about 12,000′ feet. To reach our destination on the east slope we must first drive through a very dry and barren landscape where bird diversity is low, yet we have a chance to find interesting endemics such as Bearded Mountaineer, Rusty-fronted Canastero, Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch, and Creamy-crested Spinetail, to mention a few.

Field Guides Mountains of Manu tour image
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Golden-eared Tanager, two stunning birds we should see. Photo by participant Steve Wakeham.

At the Accjanaco pass at treeline elevation, the landscape starts to change dramatically. The heart of our route will span from the high elfin forest all the way down to the forested foothills at the base of the Andes. But where to begin our description? In the higher sections, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucans, Grass-green and Hooded tanagers, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Barred Fruiteater, Masked and Moustached flowerpiercers, and White-collared Jays are certainly highlight species. At lower elevations mixed flocks can appear at any bend in the road, adding a burst of excitement as we scan each of these gatherings. In addition to Golden-headed and Crested quetzals, there can be Masked Trogon, Black-streaked Puffbird, Lanceolated Monklet, and Versicolored Barbet to delight us.  And at a lek we should see the unofficial national bird of Peru, the colorful Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.

The delightful Versicolored Barbet, photographed by participant Steve Wakeham.
The delightful Versicolored Barbet, photographed by participant Steve Wakeham.

At our lowest elevation, in the foothills, the birds we’ll find are a mix of lowlanders reaching up the slopes and species from above occurring at their lowest elevation. Military and Blue-headed macaws, Scarlet-hooded Barbet, several species of antbirds, bamboo birds and, if we are lucky, even Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo are all possible!

I can’t guarantee we will see 1000 birds, but I can assure you an exciting and thrilling trip. Come join me for the Mountains of Manu tour October 1-16, and let’s have some fun!

Enjoy looking through an illustrated and annotated triplist from our 2014 tour!

Surf and Turf: A New, Spicy Western Panama Tour in March

There is still space on our exciting new itinerary to Western Panama. The tour runs from March 20-29, 2016, and visits two important birding sites, one located in the Caribbean lowlands (surf) and the other in the Chiriqui Highlands (turf).

Boating at Tranquilo Bay phf16 scouting Jesse Fagan
A boat ride is our transportation to some birding sites around Tranquilo Bay. (Photo by guide Jesse Fagan)

The first site, Tranquilo Bay, is based in the tropical lowlands on the island of Bastimentos with views of the Caribbean from the dock or on their 100-foot-tall birding tower. It’s ideally set with spacious cabins located amidst the lush forest teaming with birds, monkeys, and sloths. Exploration of the surrounding areas will be on foot and by boat with plenty of time for siestas in the hammock, a swim off the dock, or lounging by the bar (surely holding some fruity drink with a small umbrella).

tranquilo bay main building by Tranquilo Bay
The Lodge at Tranquilo Bay (Photo courtesy of Tranquilo Bay Lodge)

The second site is in altogether different habitat and climate, a welcome and striking contrast to the lowlands: Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Reserve. The lodge is located in the Chiriqui Highlands, a region famous for bird endemism, including species from small (Silvery-fronted Tapaculo) to large (Black Guan), and other special birds, like Three-wattled Bellbird and Resplendent Quetzal. The lodge is part of an old shaded coffee plantation built in the highlands with surrounding primary montane forest and cloud-forest. The trail system is excellent and camera traps have documented healthy populations of Puma and tapir. And the home cooking at both lodges is reason enough to take this tour.

Click to visit our web page for this tour…

bellbird lodge 1 by Bellbird Lodge
The Bellbird Lodge at Mount Totumas is nestled into lush cloud forest with some great birds! (Photo courtesy of Bellbird Lodge)

So, still need convincing that this is just the right tour for you? Think about this: it’s a short (9-day) trip to tropical Panama (with direct flights from the US) that visits just two sites, which means less unpacking and more time birding or relaxing. However, even in comfort, this tour offers some of the best birding in Central America.

Resplendent Quetzal phf16 scouting Jesse Fagan
Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Reserve is an excellent place to see Resplendent Quetzal, as evidenced by this fabulous male. (Photo by guide Jesse Fagan)

Not mentioned above (but noted here for emphasis!) are two days along the Fortuna Road, the famous birding road that crosses the Continental Divide from the province of Bocas del Toro to Chiriqui. Here we’ll have chances for a number of high quality birds too numerous to mention but including Orange-bellied Trogon, Prong-billed Barbet, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Black-thighed Grosbeak, and Black-and-yellow Tanager. Lastly, if you feel so inclined, you can arrange to take on an extra day or three to explore the Canal Zone or visit the Canopy Lodge or Tower for very productive Canal Zone birding!

It’s easy enough to request an itinerary from our office, and I hope you’ll join me for what will be a thoroughly fun and birdy time!

All the best for your birding in 2016,
Jesse Fagan (aka Motmot)

Green-crowned Brilliant phf16 scouting Jesse Fagan
This male Green-crowned Brilliant allowed guide Jesse Fagan an easy photo. This species is a common visitor to hummingbird feeders at Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Reserve.

bellbird lodge 3 by Bellbird Lodge
Bellbird Lodge offers a great birding perch and some fabulous views! (Photo courtesy of Bellbird Lodge)

World Birding Rally 2014 wrap-up: summary, day-by-day, 50+ photos

For eight days in May, a Field Guides team participated in Peru’s World Birding Rally Challenge Nor Amazonico 2014. The Rally, sponsored by PromPeru, the InkaTerra Association, and with additional support from a number of private businesses, such as LAN Peru and various hotels, was in its fourth version, the second on a northern route across Peru. Manuel Bryce, fondly known as Manuco, deserves much of the credit for having organized the Rallies, which are gaining attention within Peru, this year with the Ministers of both Tourism and the Environment attending the opening ceremonies in Lima.

Last year our Field Guides team of Dan Lane, Jesse Fagan, and our Peruvian friend Fernando Angulo, won the trophy on the southern route, coming from behind to win by two species. This year, on the northern route, we blew it; we were LOSERS! Joined again by Fernando, our team of Richard Webster, Marcelo Padua, Terry Stevenson, and myself came in second (of four teams), tallying only 575 species, 13 species behind the winning total of 588 and more than 50 species behind LSU’s team record from the first Rally in the North.

The Field Guides team (Marcelo, Richard, Rose Ann, Fernando, & Terry) at the rim of the Marañon Valley

It wasn’t for lack of experience. Richard and I have both held state Big Day records (in California & Texas, respectively) and have been guiding tours to Northern Peru since 1998. Fernando is a bird biologist based in Chiclayo who has birded throughout the country and has done these Peru Rallies before, including the previous northern circuit. And though Terry and Marcelo were both new to Peru, Terry holds the world Big Day record (from Kenya), and Marcelo knows Brazilian birds, is an incredibly sharp birder, and is full of energy and enthusiasm. What we learned was that, faced with a series of (to us, often staggering!) problems, we didn’t have the competitive juices it takes to maintain a winning strategy of racing onward to the next “heard-only.” In the end, we were out-hustled by an energetic Sunbird/Wings team.

Indeed the enemy was us! We are first birders and field guides; we love birding and guiding, and we loved the personal interactions with Peruvian friends and even strangers along the way. It was the many riches of northern Peru–on this 8-day, 1500-km transect of habitats from the Pacific coastal scrub near Chiclayo to puna grassland near Cajamarca, across the dramatic Marañon and Utcubamba valleys, then down through east-slope cloud forest to Amazonian rainforest near Tarapoto–that kept presenting the problems that derailed such weak-willed wimps as ourselves.

Just take a look at a few of the problems:

How could we walk away from some 250 Peruvian Terns, 190 on the ground at once and many more at sea? We were looking at well over 10% of the estimated total population (600-1700) of this Endangered Species! It was far more than any of us had ever seen at once.


More than 100 Peruvian Terns are in the top photo alone, and there were more on the ground near the mouth of the Rio Reque. (Photos by guide Richard Webster)

How could we not take time to watch that Endangered Gray-bellied Comet (BirdLife’s population estimate is under 1000) filching nectar from holes pierced by flowerpiercers at the bases of long corolla tubes? Like many hummers, the Comet is a thief when corolla length exceeds bill length and a shortcut is available.

Gray-bellied Comet along the Rio Chonta (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

How could we walk away from a calling Piura Chat-Tyrant (a Near Threatened endemic restricted to the Pacific slope of NW Peru) until we had all had good views?

The endemic Piura Chat-Tyrant (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

Or how could we tell Marcelo and Terry that a heard-only Peruvian Plantcutter (not only Endangered, but spiffy!) was sufficient for the list? That one cost us an extra early-morning visit to Rafan, where the S. African team (Birding Ecotours), on a similar mission, generously directed us toward a bird they had found. On the way out, we had great views of Peruvian Thick-knees as well.

The endemic and Endangered Peruvian Plantcutter at Rafan (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

How could we head out after that first brief appearance of a male Spatuletail even though it was time to hit the road? Instead, we feasted our eyes during its multiple visits, taking time to examine the first known nest of the species and to marvel at photos of the local Spatuletail parade, where kids dress as Marvelous Spatuletails and Andean Cocks-of-the-rock and produce original paintings and drawings of these charismatic species. Enjoying the Spatuletail seemed especially appropriate since some generous Field Guides clients were donating funds on our behalf to support another local community effort to protect the Spatuletail’s habitat. Okay, we were late getting away from Huembo, and heavy rain caught us along the Rio Chido, where we had been hoping to end our day with some high-elevation species common there.

A male Marvelous Spatuletail visits the feeders at Huembo, ECOAN’s Spatuletail reserve, which was opened to the Rally. Reserve manager Santos Montenegro shows us the first known Spatuletail nest, which he found some years ago, when he was still a kid. (Photos by guide Richard Webster)

But hummingbird feeders are always a problem: The wonderful Waqanki feeders near Moyobamba left us all spellbound watching (and videoing) the agonistic interactions of two male Rufous-crested Coquettes.

Feisty Rufous-crested Coquettes at Waqanki feeders (Photos by guide Marcelo Padua)

And I had to pry my Honey away from photographing the (endemic) Koepcke’s Hermit and the glimmering Gould’s Jewelfront at the Aconabikh feeders on the Cordillera Escalera near Tarapoto.

Koepcke’s Hermit (by guide Marcelo Padua) and Gould’s Jewelfront (by guide Richard Webster) at Waqanki

Trying to bird the entire east-Andean slope in one day–from Abra Patricia to Tarapoto–was both enthralling (with flock after flock of gorgeous tanagers and their associates) and overwhelming (with flock after flock of gorgeous tanagers and their associates)! Pulling ourselves away from those fabulous mixed-species flocks, for which the east slope of the Andes is justifiably famous, was a staggering problem indeed.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager foraging with a flock below Garcia (Photo by guide Marcelo Padua)

And then there were the supportive and hospitable Peruvian people themselves. How could we not have stopped for that surprise group of some 50+ school children (and their teachers) waving U.S. and Brazilian flags at the side of the road and chanting our countries’ names: “Bra-zil, Bra-zil,” “Estados Unidos, Estados Unidos”?

Marcelo with chanting children cheering us on (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

After all, the primary aim of the Rally organizers was to showcase the incredible diversity of birds in northern Peru, not only to attract additional birders, but to demonstrate the potential value of sustainable ecotourism to local communities, upon whom we all depend to protect the riches of their environment. We encountered many nice surprises along the way–from local foods prepared by welcoming communities to song-and-dance performances by local people after supportive speeches by various mayors and other dignitaries. Some of these were pre-planned–and announced in advance as compulsory stops–but a number were sheer surprises. We loved them all, and we were treated like virtual rock stars in community after community.

Marcelo was “one of the kids” at Cruz Conga while Fernando surveyed the generous layout of mid-morning snacks on a chilly morn at the same site. (Photo by guide Rose Ann Rowlett)

In the end, the cumulative species recorded by all the teams was 777, out of a list of possibilities numbering more than 1000. That’s almost 10% of the world’s birds! Given that, the Rally was a great success, indeed showcasing the biodiversity of northern Peru–even if the sampling was way too small and the time way too short for us wimps. We had a blast, but we have to admit that, more than the strategic challenge, our joy came from sharing the excitement of our friends and fellow guides. Perhaps we should only compete where there aren’t so many fabulous birds!

Rio Marañon Valley from below Abra Barro Negro (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

Thanks to some generous donors among our clients and friends, our Birdathon Rally raised over $1100 for BirdLife International’s community project to conserve more habitat for the Marvelous Spatuletail–a true WINNER! Thanks to all of you who contributed. And there’s still time for more winning: If you would like to contribute, contact Peggy Watson in the Field Guides office (by email or by phone at 800-728-4953). Even small amounts can go a long way at the community level in rural northern Peru.

Our day-by-day details continue after the break below…

Should you dream of enjoying the rich avifauna of northern Peru at a reasonable pace, you’re invited to join one of our two tours: NORTHERN PERU: Endemics Galore (Nov 2-22, 2014 or Nov 1-21, 2015) or PERU’S MAGNETIC NORTH: Spatuletails, Owlet Lodge & More (Jul 31-Aug 11, 2014 or Jul 22-Aug 2, 2015).



Here’s how our birding went day to day: Based in Chiclayo, we started Day 1 at Laquipampa, one of several canyons in the arid western foothills of the Andes that still have wild populations of the Critically Endangered White-winged Guan, a species that had been considered extinct for a century before it was rediscovered in the 1970’s in these dry forest fragments.

White-winged Guan in flight (by Richard Webster) and birding along the road at Laquipampa (by Rose Ann Rowlett)

Their total wild population is currently estimated to be 150-250 birds. Sure enough, the White-winged Guan was one of the first birds we spotted when we stopped–some miles up a dirt road, at a spot Fernando recommended. Fernando, after all, is a Chiclayo-based biologist who has worked with the White-winged Guan conservation project for some 15 years. It was Fernando who spotted them–two birds on the rocks, high on the steep canyon slope. We had great scope views and were happy to see most of the other teams arrive in time to see them wonderfully as well. We spent much of the morning birding the dry forest of these foothill slopes, where most of the hoped-for Tumbesian specialties fell into place, including even the scarce Piura Chat-Tyrant. Besides the guan, Terry and Marcelo seemed most excited about the sneaky Elegant Crescentchest and the striking White-tailed Jays.

Elegant Crescentchest & White-tailed Jay (Photos by guide Richard Webster)

Then it was back down the canyon, where Marcelo spotted his lifer Fasciated Tiger-Heron on a boulder in the rushing river. There would be multiples of these along the Rio Utcubamba a few days hence, but that first one is always special. And onward to the Bosque Pomac near Batan Grande–after our stop to enjoy and acknowledge the eager and supportive school kids along the way. At Bosque Pomac we encountered some other especially spiffy Tumbesian specialties and Peruvian endemics: Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Tumbes Tyrant, and Rufous Flycatcher, as well the scarce and local Tumbes Swallow, two of which were perching for photos! Our last stop was at La Vina Reservoir, which was fairly dry and not very productive. We ended the day with 118 species, in second place.

Three specialties of the region: Tumbes Swallow, Tumbes Tyrant, and Rufous Flycatcher (Photos by guides Marcelo Padua & Richard Webster)

Day 2 began with a good Peruvian Plantcutter, six Peruvian Thick-knees, and two Sechura Foxes at Rafan. Then we were off to the coast near the mouth of the Rio Reque. Not only were we blown away by the abundance of Peruvian Terns, but there were dozens of breeding-plumaged Gull-billed Terns, generally considered a boreal migrant to the coast of Peru. What were they doing here? After a walk toward the mouth of the river, picking up most of the expected shorebirds, herons, and the like, we checked what we could see at sea from the highest nearby promontory.

Our vista point for spotting Pacific pelagics south of the Rio Reque (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

Here Blue-footed Boobies were nesting on the cliffs, and Inca Terns and skeins of Peruvian Boobies and Peruvian Pelicans were scattered across the ocean as far as the eye could see. Richard picked up a distant Waved Albatross and a Great Grebe and got us on them. Then we were off to Cajamarca. We stopped for a flock of some 55 Comb Ducks along the shores of a reservoir damming the Rio Jequetepeque, and then we couldn’t resist briefly exploring a couple of roadside canyons that looked good for Great Inca-Finch and Cactus Canastero; but we would find neither today.

A brief birding stop in the Rio Jequetepeque basin (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

We pushed onward to Abra El Gavilan, where increasingly moist Andean forest patches disclosed their Black-eared Hemispinguses and Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant, and we heard the Unicolored Tapaculo. At the luxurious Hotel Laguna Seca, we turned in our list–maintained on my laptop during the drive–and had welcome hot-water baths pumped into the rooms from natural thermal pools that were indeed the “baños del Inca.” With 175 species, we were still in second place, by 6 species.

Two more Peruvian endemics, the Endangered Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch (by Richard Webster) & the Vulnerable Great Spinetail (by Marcelo Padua), were among the highlights of Day 3.

Day 3 of the Rally was the most relaxed, with the fewest miles to be driven. Of course, wakeup time was still 4:00AM, breakfast at 4:30, and departure at 5:00. But the list was due at 7:00, rather than 7:30 or 8:00PM. We headed south to a canyon north of San Marcos, where we take our tour groups to see the endemic Great Spinetail in a remnant patch of native xeric woodland. Sure enough, a pair responded at our first stop, but they were perhaps more skulking than usual and it took us a while to see one well. After brief forays to bird the canyon for Masked Yellowthroat, Golden-rumped Euphonia, and White-winged Black-Tyrant, we explored some lakes (high-elevation ducks and Silvery Grebes) and some high-elevation forest patches, where we enjoyed such goodies as Red-crested Cotinga, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Tit-like Dacnis, and Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch.

Lake near Huinico at 3300 meters elevation (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

In the afternoon we headed north of Cajamarca, up the valley of the Rio Chonta, where we found the Endangered Gray-bellied Comet, the endemic Black Metaltail, and a Giant Hummingbird all at the same flowering tree.

The endemic Gray-bellied Comet and the Giant Hummingbird were using the same flowers along the Rio Chonta. (Photos by guide Marcelo Padua)

We picked up White-winged Cinclodes, Torrent Tyrannulet, and Andean Swift (here at the northern extent of their range) and still had time to explore some puna and high-elevation scrub near La Encanada, where we found Baron’s Spinetail and another flashy endemic, the Rufous-eared Brush-Finch. The pace today suited us well; it was more like being on our Field Guides tour of Northern Peru. Our total at the end of the day was 222, still 7 behind the lead.

Last new birds of Day 3: two Rufous-eared Brush-Finches (Photo by guide Marcelo Padua)

We crossed into the breathtakingly beautiful Rio Marañon Valley at 9:30AM on Day 4 and gazed down into what is often considered the greatest single biogeographic barrier in South America. (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

In contrast with Day 3, Day 4 attempts to cover in one day what our Field Guides tour allots 3 days for (and for good reason)! Today, besides attending a couple of welcoming local functions (at Cruz Conga and Limon), we would pack into one day: birding the puna zone (mostly around 11,600′; seeing canasteros, cinclodes, hillstars, earthcreepers and pipits); crossing a pass into the spectacular Marañon Valley and its arid upper slopes (where we delighted in such specialties as Chestnut-backed Thornbird, Marañon Thrush, Buff-bellied Tanager, and Gray-winged Inca-Finch); continue down to cross the Rio Marañon itself, a desert community at 3000′ (with Peruvian Pigeon, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Black-necked Woodpecker, and Buff-bridled Inca-Finch); then up the east slope of the valley, all the way to Abra Barro Negro (“Black Mud Pass”), at the crest of a ridge between the Marañon and Utcubamba drainages.

Two endemics at Hacienda Limon: Gray-winged Inca-Finch & Chestnut-backed Thornbird (Photos by guide Richard Webster)

Bare-faced Ground-Doves (by Richard Webster) flush from the arid slopes above Balsas while the endemic Buff-bellied Tanager (by Marcelo Padua) inhabits the riparian thickets near Hacienda Limon.

Afternoon in the treeline forest near “Black Mud Pass” (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

It was a beautiful afternoon in the treeline forest zone, and we had our first impressive mixed flock, as well as such goodies as the endemic Coppery Metaltail and Russet-mantled Softtail. There is so much to see here that we would plan to come back the following morning, but we had Swallow-tailed Nightjar and a lovely, calling Koepcke’s Screech-Owl before reaching the Hotel La Casona in Leimebamba ahead of the 8:00PM deadline. We had time for wine while we updated our list before attending an official welcoming function in the plaza and having 9:30 dinner back at the hotel. Whew! When the dust cleared, Field Guides was leading by 3, with 271 species.

Two more highlight endemics, Coppery Metaltail & Koepcke’s Screech-Owl, on another day rich in Peruvian endemics (Photos by guide Marcelo Padua)

Day 5 saw us up near Barro Negro before sunrise, having driven through mist and clouds and emerged atop a sea of puffy white, to a terrific vista of treeline forest, full of bird activity.

Dawn of Day 5, above the clouds at Barro Negro (Photo by guide Rose Ann Rowlett)

Highlights were hearing a pair of White-throated Screech-Owls (which we’d never had at that locality before) and showing Terry and Marcelo their lifer Rufous Antpitta (of the taxon obscura, surely to be upgraded to a distinct species). As we walked along the road, Marcelo took time to sneak into a thicket to see the tiny Rusty-breasted Antpitta we had called in close!

Looking back toward our bus at Barro Negro as the sun warmed the slopes (Photo by guide Rose Ann Rowlett)

Scanning for Andean Condors along the Rio Atuen canyon (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

After adding a number of montane species, we returned to Leimebamba and took the pre-planned horseback ride up the lovely Rio Atuen canyon, in hopes of seeing Andean Condor and to support the community wranglers. After an hour of searching the cliffs, where condors sometimes breed, we returned to Adriana von Hagen’s hummingbird feeders across from the wonderful little Chachapoya museum. After getting good looks at the spectacular Rainbow Starfrontlet and the incredible Sword-bill, Terry and Marcelo toured the museum while a Peruvian reporter interviewed Richard and me as we sat watching the feeders. After lunch during the drive (as always!), we descended along the lovely Utcubamba River as it started to rain. We caught up with and passed most of the other teams at Hacienda Chillo, where they were searching for a stakeout pair of roosting Koepcke’s Screech-Owls. We made the compulsory stop to tour the newly opened Casa Andina Achamaqui hotel (with Terry spotting our first Oriole Blackbirds on the way in) and then headed for Huembo, the Marvelous Spatuletail Interpretation Center, to be followed by some birding en route to Pomacochas. But the rain became heavier and heavier, in an area that had already had unusually heavy rains, and suddenly we came to an active mudslide across the road; small boulders were buried in the mud and still sliding downslope. Traffic was starting to accumulate on the other side, and we were told heavy equipment had been beckoned to clear the road eventually. At least the rain was letting up. So we backtracked to a side road, where we could climb the arid slopes of the Utcubamba Valley and go birding. We fished for Marañon Crescentchest in the first prime-looking habitat, and Marcelo spotted one sneaking in; a pair then responded well, allowing photos and one of our unexpected highlights of the trip.

Active mudslide, with more rain to come (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

An endemic Marañon Crescentchest on arid slopes of the Utcubamba Valley (Photo by guide Marcelo Padua)

By the time we returned to the mudslide spot, it had been cleared and we sailed across and headed for the Huembo feeders that attracted Bronzy Inca and the iconic Marvelous Spatuletail–several full-tailed males! It was great to see Santos Montenegro, the on-site manager of the Spatuletail Center; he had been a young kid living on the slopes above Pomacochas when we met years ago and when he used to take our groups to see the Spatuletail on a patch of his land that the family had kept natural to support this fabulous hummingbird. It was Santos who found the first nest known to science and would eventually be instrumental in getting its elaborate courtship behavior filmed. We eventually pulled ourselves away from the Huembo feeders and headed for the Rio Chido, where remnant forest along the rushing montane stream secrets a handful of montane species that would have been new for us. However, now it was raining again–and heading our way, closing in from up the mountain. We managed to see a flock of Speckle-faced Parrots and but a few other species before the heavy rains quieted all activity. We reached the Hotel Puerto Pumas in Pomacochas at dusk.

Day 6, Pomacochas to Tarapoto, would be the longest day of the Rally–not so much for the number of miles traveled, but because of the many rich habitats transected as we traveled down the forested east slope of the Andes. It was raining when we awakened and for much of the drive to Abra Patricia (too wet for nightjars), where it had rained most of the night. It was cloudy-dark and activity was well below normal at ECOAN’s Owlet Lodge feeders. But the Tayra coming to the banana feeder was a highlight for Terry and Marcelo, along with another Sword-billed Hummingbird! Though it was hard to leave, knowing how many species we were walking away from, we continued downward, the rain having stopped and the sky brightening.

A responsive Yellow-throated Tanager with a flock near the Garcia Ridge (Photo by guide Marcelo Padua)

We made strategic stops for specialties and flocks, of which there were many! A male Royal Sunangel was feeding on flowers near Garcia Ridge, where we added the endemic Bar-winged Wood-Wren as well. But it was the mixed-species flocks that comprised the bird highlight of the morning–full of tanagers (favorites for Terry and Marcelo included Yellow-throated Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers, and Paradise Tanagers–some of the classics!), but with great variety, from furnariids and small flycatchers to Rufous-rumped Antwrens and Gray-mantled Wrens. Great views of a male Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Blue-browed Tanagers, and Versicolored Barbets stood out. We called in a Striolated Puffbird–recently split as Western Striolated-Puffbird by Field Guides’ own Bret Whitney et al.–near Aguas Verdes, and had Yellow-crested Tanagers near the bridge.

We made various stops for cultural events and loved finding a new, modern rest room and an official sign designating the locality of the tire-fix place as a point of bird conservation! (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

We had beautiful studies of Rufous-tailed Tyrants in the Garcia section. (Photo by guide Marcelo Padua)

A festive welcoming at Morro La Calzada was complete with tea and a lovely variety of foods cooked by local volunteers. We visited with the mayor, who seemed very supportive of furthering ecotourism on the northern circuit, especially to this wonderful park, protecting the forests and savannas surrounding an isolated uplift in a now rather flat environment. A brief birding stop in the savanna/gallery woodland below the Morro added a chunk of new species to our list.

And then we were off to Moyobamba and the Waqanki hummingbird feeders–another alluring problem that no doubt kept us too long. But it contributed great views (and photos!) of multiple hummers, including our only Wire-crested Thorntail and fighting Rufous-crested Coquettes–one of the highlights of the whole trip. After a stop at a bridge over a narrow gorge to view the numerous Oilbirds below, we headed for Tarapoto and the Hotel Las Palmeras–the second of a chain of very comfortable hotels in northern Peru that were helping to sponsor the Rally. Tropical Screech-Owls were calling as we checked into our rooms. Of the hundreds of species possible on this day, we had recorded a fair chunk, but we had missed many too; it was the kind of a day in which a single flock could make the difference between winning or losing the competition.

Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin (by Rose Ann Rowlett) and (Huallaga) Northern Slaty-Antshrike (by Marcelo Padua) at Upaquihua

Day 7 was particularly exciting for Richard and me, as we had never birded the Tarapoto area before. We headed straight to Upaquihua, a fascinating mix of habitats in the Rio Huallaga drainage, with elements of lowland Amazonia mixed with Pantanal-like habitats and birds. Birding along the road and trails through the biggest remaining patch of contiguous habitat, we enjoyed a fascinating mix of species–from the Huallaga form of Northern Slaty-Antshrike, Stripe-chested Antwren, Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Ashy-headed Greenlet, and Rusty-backed Antwren, to Amazonian trogons, motmots, and jacamars. After a full morning at Upaquihua, we headed for Lago Lindo for lunch at the hotel. Of couse, there were a few stops along the way–one overlooking the muddy Rio Huallaga, where we picked up Pied Lapwings, Collared Plovers, Yellow-billed Terns, and Sand-colored Nighthawks on river sandbars; and one to take the ferry across.

After birding along the river, we took a ferry across the Rio Huallaga en route to Lago Lindo. (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

After a late lunch at the Hotel Lago Lindo–in a lovely setting overlooking a lake with Hoatzins–we would bird back out the entrance road, where the forest surrounding the plantations was more typical of lowland Amazonian rainforest. In addition to a number of common species, we managed to call in a notoriously difficult Chestnut-headed Crake, a Golden-collared Toucanet, and a handsome Broad-billed Motmot. What had started out as drizzly turned into a beautiful late afternoon, the sun illuminating the hilly forest, a rainbow overhead. We stood along the road, with all our scopes, enjoying whatever popped up, from Black and Red-throated caracaras to Channel-billed Toucans, Olive Oropendola, and Amazon Kingfisher. The close of the day brought calling Common Pauraques, Common Potoo, and Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl. When the results were announced, we were at 538 species, now 20 behind the lead (and 46 ahead of the third-place total).

Birding Amazonian forest edge from the Lago Lindo entrance road (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

Day 8 began with a Spectacled Owl calling outside our cabin; it was good to have had a teammate sharing my bed! After breakfast we were off to the Escalera, known to birders as the Tunnel north of Tarapoto. Another new birding area for all but Fernando!

Forested road approaching the Escalera tunnel (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

Today we had but the morning to spend, as lists were due in Taropoto at 1:30. We had a lovely morning of birding. Highlight birds in the foothill forest here were our lifer Dotted Tanagers and incredible views of a singing Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, its green iris glowing in the sun. Our last stop before returning was at the feeders beyond the tunnel, where we enjoyed terrific hospitality and terrific views of multiple hummers, outstanding among them the scarce Koepcke’s Hermit and the dazzling Gould’s Jewelfront. We had the afternoon to proof our list and prepare for the closing ceremonies.

We were blown away by the emerald iris of this Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo. (Photo by guide Marcelo Padua)

World Birding Rally, Peru: May 2014 first reports

The Rally is in full swing, and guides Rose Ann Rowlett, Richard Webster, Terry Stevenson, and Marcelo Padua are hard at work trying to find as many species as possible during their week traversing northern Peru. Marcelo’s reporting from the field when he has a chance (and an internet connection!)…

Our Field Guides team getting ready to go, with their own official vehicle! From left to right: Richard Webster, Rose Ann Rowlett, Marcelo Padua, and Terry Stevenson. Onward!!

On the first day of the tour our team found 118 species, but the true highlight of the first day was a group of children cheering for us in one of the villages we visited. –Marcelo

Terry Stevenson is our Africa specialist and holds the world record for the largest number of birds seen in one day, but up to this point he had only spent 3 days in South America, so studying for the Birding Rally has been quite a challenge! On this photo he studies a plate of Tapaculos, a new family for him. –Marcelo

Our Team continued to work hard on the World Birding Rally in northern Peru, and by the end of day three we reached a total of 222 species of birds recorded. One of the highlights of day three was this Gray-bellied Comet, an endangered species with a tiny world range. –Marcelo

Another day three highlight was this spiffy looking pair of Rufous-eared Brush-finches! –Marcelo (with Rose Ann, Richard, and Terry)

Our team heads for the World Birding Challenge (again!): May 2014

Dan Lane, Jesse Fagan, and Fernando Angulo brought home the trophy in December, winning the World Birding Challenge with an impressive 457 species in the weeklong event staged in southern Peru and raising over $1600 for BirdLife International. In May, Field Guides will defend the title in the third World Birding Challenge in northern Peru. We will be represented by guides Rose Ann Rowlett, Richard Webster, Marcelo Padua, and (hang on to your hats!) Terry Stevenson! Of course, with Rose Ann and Richard on board—who have been guiding our Northern Peru tour for almost 20 years now—we expect to be competitive. Marcelo and Terry are new to Peru but are studying hard and will contribute that FG energy and humor for which they are well known.

Rose Ann Rowlett Richard Webster Marcelo Padua Terry Stevenson

The team is again birding for conservation bucks and we encourage FOFG (friends of Field Guides) to contribute either per species (they will be aiming for more than 600!) seen or a dollar amount. Especially those of you who have traveled with these guides in the past are encouraged to show your support! All donations generated will be directed to the BirdLife affiliate in Peru, Apeco. Apeco works to preserve and protect the habitat in northern Peru of the iconic hummingbird, the Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) (see below!), a Peruvian endemic listed as endangered on the current Red List. With its wonderfully extravagant spatulate tail and male courtship dances, this superb hummingbird is a flagship species for the forests in the higher part of the micro-watersheds of the Tilacancha and Cruzhuayco rivers. The Apeco campaign supports a community reserve, the Private Conservation Area of Tilacancha, by raising its profile and encouraging the creation of reciprocal agreements for watershed conservation between users and land owners.

Call or email Peggy Watson at our office to make a pledge. Marcelo will be posting updates from the challenge on the Field Guides Facebook page and we’ll make sure you get those notifications as well as a post- challenge report.

Go team, go!

Marvelous Spatuletail
The fantastic Marvelous Spatuletail, photographed on a Field Guides Northern Peru tour in 2013 by participant Kevin Heffernan

Jesse & Dan on Birding Adventures TV!

Do you have time for a little video fun? See guides Jesse Fagan and Dan Lane in action during the December 2013 World Birding Rally Challenge in Peru in this entertaining episode of host James Currie’s Nikon Birding Adventures TV series. It’s the “Motmot” and “Barbet” having a great time for a week with fellow Team Field Guides colleague Fernando Angulo as they go from the Amazonian lowlands to famed Machu Picchu aiming for the first-place trophy. The whole episode runs just under 22 minutes, and the first three minutes or so introduce the event. Jesse first speaks on camera at about 3:55, and he and Dan are featured in much of the rest of the footage. It’s well done…enjoy!


World Birding Rally, Peru: the FG Team takes first!

Team Field Guides has won the greatest birding competition on the planet! The World Birding Rally took place December 3-10, 2013, in Peru, pitting five international birding companies against each other. The competing teams/companies represented the countries of South Africa, Colombia, England, and the United States. The grueling weeklong event took place at two different sites in southeastern Peru: along the Madre de Dios River in the Amazonian lowlands, and at Machu Picchu, the famous Inca ruin site. Both sites represent two distinctly different elevations and habitat types which include Amazonian rainforest and humid subtropical forest, respectively. This great event was sponsored by the Peruvian tourism board, PromPerú, and Inkaterra, a private company that runs a series of luxury ecolodges throughout Peru (see their blog post at this link). Our team included Field Guides leaders Jesse Fagan (yours truly) and Dan Lane, along with Fernando Angulo, a Peruvian biologist and conservationist. In addition, at each location all the teams had a local guide to assist them. In our case, the local guides were Leon (Madre de Dios) and Cecy Cabrera (Machu Picchu). Both were excellent and they helped us immensely on our way to victory.

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Dan, Fernando, and Jesse celebrate their victory with local guide Cecy Cabrera.

It was a tense competition, and we got off to a rocky start when Team Field Guides came in fourth place on a rainy Day One. On Day Two, we fought our way into third place, where we remained until Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu. It wasn’t until these final two days that we managed to inch ahead and gain the top position. Our final species count was 457 (team highlights included White-chested Swift, Curl-crested Aracari, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, and Cusco Brush-Finch). The next two teams tied for second place with 455 species recorded. Indeed, it was a very tight race throughout the rally. All in all, it was a fabulous experience to bird and compete in one of the richest avian countries in the world. This competition is unrivaled in its length and number of species possible.  The total species count for the competition among all teams was an astounding 619, a significant percentage of the world’s total species of birds! Team Field Guides would like to thank all of the sponsors and teams for a very memorable time. The winning team trophy, a pewter Black-faced Cotinga, will be placed in the Field Guides office in Austin, Texas, so come by and take a look!

In addition, Team Field Guides was competing in the name of bird conservation. Prior to the start of the rally, Field Guides Incorporated and Team Field Guides partnered with Birdlife International to help raise funds for a watershed conservation campaign benefitting the northern Peruvian communities of San Isidro de Maino and Levanto and further protecting critical habitat for the globally endangered Marvelous Spatuletail, one of the world’s most spectacular hummingbirds. There is still time to help us in this endeavor; if you are interested, please visit the following link and make a donation:

Birding unites countries, people, and our amazing biodiversity as few governing bodies or politicians are capable of doing. The commonality of seeing birds, and the enjoyment this brings us, breaks down many barriers of hatred, prejudice, racism, and socioeconomic divide. It empowers people to look and think critically, to identify, to listen, to ask questions, to seek out, to travel and, most importantly, to discover. Birds and birding can change the world.

The next World Birding Rally will be held in Peru from May 11-22, 2014.

–Jesse Fagan (aka Motmot)

Resting on their laurels now? No way! See what’s next on Jesse’s and Dan’s schedules from their guide page links!

Below are more pics from the Rally…

At Machu Picchu with Cecy

Dan — nice shirt!

Hard at work in the field (definitely some multi-tasking going on!)

The win makes the Peruvian newspapers!