Birding in Peru
For the first time in a dozen years (!), I traveled to Latin America last month, and one of my main objectives was to look for (and hopefully photograph) tropical and neotropical birds. I was originally going to write a single blog post about my birding adventures in all three parts of Latin America that I visited -- Peru, Colombia, and Florida -- but I saw so much in Peru alone that just describing that is more than enough. Almost all of my birding activity took place in four locations: the suburb of Ventanilla (north of Lima), the Ventanilla Wetlands, the residential district of Surco in southeastern Lima, and the Pantanos de Villa, on the south edge of the Lima metropolitan area. I'll get to summarizing the birds I saw in Colombia and Florida over the next couple days...
Feb. 20: Ventanilla (I)
Not arriving at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima until after midnight, I got a slow start the next morning. I was staying in the Jacobs' family home where Jacqueline grew up in the burgeoning suburb of Ventanilla, which is located about 10 miles north of Lima. (Jacqueline returned from Peru on the same day that I went there, and we saw each other briefly at Dulles Airport while I was in line getting my boarding pass.) A quick stroll outside gave me good looks at West Peruvian Doves, Croaking Ground Doves (which make a bizarre-sounding call), a Blue-black Grassquit, and an Amazilia Hummingbird. Those are among the most common "yard birds" in most of the Lima metropolitan area, and I saw all of them on my previous visit to Peru in 2004.
Late in the morning, my brother-in-law Roberto took me on a ride to the beach in Ventanilla, a.k.a. the "Costa Azul." It's a popular local resort destination, only about three miles from the Jacobs' house. On the way, we stopped at the Humedales (Wetlands) de Ventanilla, which for me was really the primary destination. (I will post photos of the locations I visited in Peru tomorrow.) I had been to those wetlands with Jacqueline in 2004, and I was delighted that not only has the precious natural habitat been preserved in the face of intensive residential and commercial development, but the facilities has been substantially upgraded. Comprising at least ten city blocks in area, it consists of a large lagoon bordered by marshes and scrub land.
My first glimpse of the lagoon left me astonished and gleeful: There were several hundred birds on the water, mostly Franklin's Gulls but also many Black Skimmers, White-cheeked Pintails**, Black-necked Stilts, and various sandpipers such as Greater Yellowlegs. There were also a few Cinnamon Teals, Common Moorhens (now called Common Gallinules), Gray-hooded Gulls**, and a Great Egret. Roberto and I walked part-ways around the lagoon in a clockwise direction, but we didn't see anything in the marshes on the north side other than a possible Drab Seedeater.
Next we drove to the beach itself, another mile and a half from the wetlands. It was the first time since 2005 (Costa Rica) that I had been to the Pacific Ocean! Almost immediately, I saw one of my main target species, the American Oystercatcher. There were several Semipalmated Plovers as well. Flocks of gulls (mostly Franklin's) patrolled up and down the shoreline in search of food, accompanied by Neotropical Cormorants and Peruvian Boobies. Finally, we stopped at a lagoon just inland from the beach and saw over a thousand Franklin's Gulls, many more Black Skimmers, as well as several Stilt Sandpipers** and a group of odd birds swimming in a circular motion; I soon deduced that they were Wilson's Phalaropes. Not bad for the first day!
** Double asterisks will denote "life birds" (those I saw for the very first time) in this blog post, and in the blog posts about Colombia and Florida to follow.
Feb. 21: Ventanilla (II)
Early the next morning, Roberto took me on a vigorous hike to the top of the steep ridge that borders Ventanilla on the south. I had climbed that ridge twice before, but my tender feet weren't ready for the severe pressure, and I was left with blisters that plagued me for the next two weeks. But the views of Ventanilla were spectacular, especially after the sun rose high enough to lighten the neighborhoods below. It was getting pretty warm by 8:00, which is when we returned. After resting a while, I walked around the neighborhood in Ventanilla and came across some more "yard birds." (In reality, few people in Peru have actual yards beyond a small garden.) I was delighted to see several Vermilion Flycatchers, Hooded Siskins (including young birds being fed), Blue-gray Tanagers, and others.
Feb. 23: Villa Marshes (I)
I took it easy the next day, and stayed inside for the most part. (My original plan had been to drive south to the city of Pisco, about three hours away, and then go to the Paracas Nature Reserve in search of Humboldt's Penguins, various seabirds, seals, and other wildlife. There was a snafu with the car rental arrangements, however, and that venture had to be cancelled. It was a big disappointment, but I made up for it pretty well.) On Thursday, Feb. 23, I went with Roberto on a long drive across Lima to his house in the district of Surco, on the southeast side of the city. It had rained during the night, which was quite a surprise since it hardly ever rains in Lima, and he had to sweep up water from the top floor. En route, we stopped at some of the beaches in the Miraflores and Chorrillos, where I saw several Peruvian Pelicans. At a historic restaurant called Salto del Fraile further south, I saw several Inca Terns** swooping over the waves. At Roberto's home I saw a brown bird out the back window, and later figured out it was a Long-tailed Mockingbird.** At a neighborhood park across the street I saw a Southern Beardless Tyrannulet**, Saffron Finches**, Blue-gray Tanagers, and Vermilion Flycatchers, most of which were a dark morph that occurs in Peru. (NOTE: I had seen a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet in Arizona in June 2014.)
I was unaware of Roberto's plans, but was all too happy when he asked if I wanted to go to the Villa Marshes ("Pantanos de Villa"), about four miles to the south. That was one of the best birding locations when Jacqueline and I visited Peru in 2004, and just like with the Ventanilla Wetlands, I was impressed with the improvements to the nature preserve. After paying for entry (about $4 for foreigners), we walked to one of the observation towers. Black Vultures were everewhere, along with various white egrets, etc. In my first up-close peek at the marshy shore, I saw Least Bittern** and Least Sandpiper, as well as a medium-large dark bird with a long beak. In the distance I saw a large pink bird that was probably a Roseate Spoonbill or else a Flamingo; two weeks later I saw many Roseate Spoonbills in Florida. Cinnamon Teals, Spotted Sandpipers, Andean Duck, Pied-billed Grebes, Great Grebes**, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Andean Coots. It was much more varied, bird-wise than the 2004 visit.
After returning to the entry station, I realized that there was another trail through the marshes, so we walked on that. I was soon overwhelmed by the up-close views of many wonderful species, including a Plumbeous Rail** that was only 25 or so feet away! I also saw several Many-colored Rush Tyrants,** but my camera battery died and I could only get a couple mediocre shots of them. (If I had known where we were going, I would have brought the backup battery.) Finally, we drove out to the lagoon near the beach, where I was amazed to see hundreds more gulls, terns, and more. I was extremely frustrated not to have my second battery with me, and therefore not able to take photos, so I resolved to return to the location on a future date.
Feb. 25: Ventanilla (III)
Two days later, while Roberto drove back to Surco, I embarked on a solo venture to the Ventanilla Wetlands. I was hoping to see Many-colored Rush Tyrants (which were supposed to be present), or at least get better photos of other birds I had seen there before. I succeeded in the second objective, but not the first. After devoting more than an hour, I departed and headed west on foot, in the direction of the coast. Most of the land from the Ventanilla Wetlands to the coast is marshy, but development continually encroaches upon unprotected land. It didn't take long before I saw two life birds: a Harris's Hawk** and a Scrub Blackbird.** Those sightings encouraged me to continue walking, almost all the way to the beach, even though it was another blazing hot day and I was getting dehydrated. At the lagoon near the beach I saw several Wilson's Phalaropes, Black-necked Stilts, and various sandpipers, as well as a Great Egret. I heard some kind of bird in the bushes out in the marshy scrub land, but never did see it. I did see (and photograph) some nice white-and-orange butterflies out there, however.
Feb. 27: Villa Marshes (II)
On the next day, Feb. 26, I was back in Surco, and saw a goodly number of nice "yard birds" in neighborhood parks. For the most part, however, they were the same ones I had seen there three days earliers, so I didn't bother to make a photo montage for that day. However, there was one "new" bird that was a high priority for me: the Bananaquit! I had seen a few in Peru in 2004, and several of them in Costa Rica in 2005, and was beginning to worry whether I would see any at all during this trip. "No problemo!"
On Monday, Feb. 27, I persuaded Roberto to take me back to Villa Marshes, and I am lucky that he was so willing to accommodate me. (I should mention that flood damage to the Central Highway east of Lima forced me to abandon another of my planned side trips, to the Zarate Forest near the town of Chosica. Many exotic tropical songbirds and hummingbirds reside in that area.) Soon after arriving, I got some good photos of a Great Grebe, Pied-billed Grebes, and a juvenile Harris's Hawk. There were several Snowy Egrets at various places, but it was hard to get good photos of them. I spent a lot of time tracking down some small birds in the marshes, and I finally got some good photos of them: Grassland Yellow Finches.** I also had great views of Striated Herons** and brief glimpses of Many-colored Rush Tyrants.
Then we drove toward the beach, and at the same lagoon we had visited four days earlier, I saw Ruddy Turnstones, Elegant Terns,** Killdeers, Peruvian Pelicans, Franklin's Gulls, Spotted Sandpipers, Puna Ibises,** and Little Blue Herons. At the beach itself, there were some American Oystercatchers and hundreds more Franklin's Gulls, plus hundreds of Neotropical Cormorants and other seabirds flying parallel to the coast. Just as we were about to go, I spotted some songbirds flying into some nearby bushes, and before long had photographed Yellow-hooded Blackbirds** (related to but apparently distinct from Yellow-headed Blackbirds) -- another life bird! We stopped at the marsh trail one last time on the way out, and I was astounded to spot a Least Bittern barely ten feet away from me, and got some fantastic photos of it. After all the frustrations, I was fortunate at last. Soon thereafter, I also got some decent photos of Many-colored Rush Tyrants -- another small triumph! As we were leaving the Pantanos de Villa, I had a brief view of a Cormorant with a whitish front, and I am almost certain that it was a Guanay Cormorant**!
My last full day in Lima, Feb. 28, was spent doing normal "tourist" things (such as shopping) in downtown Lima, but I did get a decent photo of a Blue-and-white Swallow on a wire. (It was the first time during that trip that I had seen a member of that species perch!) Then as I was heading to the airport on the morning of March 1, I spotted an odd-looking medium-size black bird with a big beak. I asked Roberto to pull over so that I could get a better look, and I'm glad I did: It was a Groove-billed Ani**, my 23rd and final life bird in Peru for this trip! A complete set of photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page. In the near future, I will probably create a new bird photo gallery page just for this trip. Also, I took video clips of some of the birds, such as the amusing Wilson's Phalaropes, and may post some of them on YouTube in the near future.
Life birds in Peru
Overall, my trip to Peru was a fairly successful in terms of birds. It is striking how many birds I saw in Peru that I also saw in Arizona three years ago; obviously the desert climate is similar. How many more species would I have seen if my plans to visit Paracas or Zarate had panned out? Maybe I'll get to those places next time. Anyway, here is my provisional list of birds that I saw for the first time during my trip to Peru. It does not include species (such as Peruvian Pelicans) that I failed to list from my 2004 trip, or species that I had misidentified previously. My guide for identifying bird species in Peru was 100 Aves de Lima y Alrededores, by Alejandro Tabini and Juan Pedro Paz-Solda (Lima: Wust Ediciones, 2007). It is an excellent reference book, with fine photographs and much technical information.
- White-cheeked Pintail
- Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
- Gray-hooded Gull
- Stilt Sandpiper
- Inca Tern
- Long-tailed Mockingbird
- Elegant Tern
- Shiny Cowbirds
- Saffron Finch
- Great Grebe
- Least Bittern
- Plumbeous Rail
- Grassland Yellow Finch
- Striated Heron
- Puna Ibis
- Wren-like Rush Bird
- Many-colored Rush Tyrant
- Harris's Hawk
- Scrub Blackbird
- Andean Duck
- Yellow-hooded Blackbird
- Guanay Cormorant
- Groove-billed Ani
My Life bird list page has been updated accordingly, and will be further updated (and corrected, if necessary) in the days and weeks to come.
FOOTNOTE: On my way up to Dulles Airport on February 19, I counted 17 Red-tailed Hawks, 5 American Kestrels, 2 Bald Eagles, and 2 Red-shouldered Hawks. They were along I-81 and I-66.