PERU, SAN MARTIN & ABRA PATRICIA IN AMAZONAS, 14 Sept - 6 Oct 2018
Saturday 15 September
Our flight from Lima departed 30 minutes late and arrived at Tarapoto at 11.30 on a hot, 30°, sunny and humid morning. David and our driver, Juve, awaited us for the 20-minute drive latterly up an unmade track to our first real accommodation, La Musa Verde, and I liked what I saw immediately. I had a cabin on high stilts and dropped off my stuff at 12.10 some 20 minutes before lunch in a typical open-sided dining area/lounge. By now it had become overcast and breezy. Lunch was a salad with a tasty vinaigrette, rice and chicken.
We wandered the grounds afterwards, quite a lot of mosquitos, so I changed into a long-sleeved t-shirt as thunder threatened. Rain started to fall around 3pm and gradually became very heavy. Chatted with Les until about 5pm then donned the kagool and hurried up to my chalet to sort the small number of photos I'd taken. In light rain we returned to the dining area for dinner and a Cusquena at 7pm bringing my laptop down to use the wifi and returned to the room an hour later.
Sunday 16 September
Breakfast was very good - fruit and pancakes. At 7.45 we departed through the town taking a right turn at a large roundabout up into the Andean foothills passing roadworks along the way. We called this the 'Tarapoto tunnel' site at c1,000m with a lovely track, the Cerro Verde trail, leading down some steps into the forest, a biodiversity zone housing a San Martin University research establishment deep into the trees. David baited and the butterflies came in singly, slow at first, gradually getting better. Memphis dia and Asterope degandii were notable, plus some Euselasias and a couple of Hairstreaks.
We left at 3.30 taking an hour to get back due to queues at the roadworks. Today had been a lovely sunny day, completely contrary to the forecast. They can't get it right here either! Did some ids with David after dinner watched from a nearby tree by a Tawny-bellied Screech Owl (Megascops watsonii) although it lurked in the shadows and flew off when Les tried to get a photo.
Monday 17 September
Up at 5.30 to a high-pitched electronic whine from countless cicadas as insect life woke up too and went down early for breakfast at 6.30 on a sunny morning. Today we'd drive south from Tarapoto before turning east up the Cordillera Escalera past yesterday afternoon's spot, pass through a short tunnel, then drop down the other side to Koepcke's Hermit, so named after the rare hummingbird, arriving just gone 9am. We followed the path to the canopy tower and feeders as David went ahead baiting. This was a lovely forest but activity was oh so slow. By noon I took 'time out' to sit in the shade of the tower to escape from the hot, humid and sweaty conditions and watched the hummingbirds competing unnecessarily for the abundant supply of sugary water.
Tuesday 18 September & Wednesday 19 September
Spent a great day on the Cordillera Escalera arête, or ridge as others preferred to call it, at around 1,000m. During the day I walked the trail 3 times in each direction which would have been even better had the wind not picked up during the afternoon making photography difficult. Species were plentiful and varied with several excellent Riodinids in particular. Our return to the lodge was delayed around 30 minutes at roadworks resulting in us getting back just after 4.30.
Thursday 20 September
A distant disco banged away until 4am but it was too far away to be disruptive. Packed before breakfast even though we'd spend the morning wandering the grounds picking up more species, popping down to the river beach several times, as the sun came through from a grey start with added humidity. Lunch was at 12.45 and an hour later, air con blasting, we departed for destination #2 heading north and parallel to the mountain ranges, the land in between being mainly given to agriculture, cattle and rice. Inevitably the roadside was typified by ribbon development of small towns and shanty shacks. On the outskirts of Moyobamba at Rumipata we arrived around 5pm having stopped half an hour earlier en route to look at a colony of Oil birds (Steatornis caripensis) nestled in a deep and very narrow gorge under a road bridge. Our hosts were an elderly Japanese couple, gentle souls, he with the chef's hat, cooking up tulappa from one of his 4 large fish ponds. Heavy rain fell throughout dinner.
Friday 21 September
Today we'd be entering the forest directly from the accommodation. We walked a short way upstream once we'd crossed it and entered the forest trail to our right. Fortunately, it was mozzi-lite but so, so quiet. I picked up the occasional species but lunch at 1pm came as a blessing, a roast chicken leg and chips certainly welcome.
The afternoon was spent doing the same as in the morning except it was even quieter! Called it a day at 3.30 with me the last to return.
Saturday 22 September
Another grey start. A bit of a ‘suck it and see’ day, starting by taking a left turn from the lodge drive/entrance to the San Mateo hot springs to explore a track leading to Fundo Gonzales (850m) but in no sun and a degraded habitat there was very little doing apart from a pristine Swallowtail, Heraclides thoas. So, we returned through Moyobamba taking a right turn past a performing silver band up to the entrance to the small town/village of San Vicente at 1,240m. But the trail up to the ridge was completely unsuitable, used by mules, steep and very worn so we didn't stay long here. Our third attempt took us down a long track into a private estate owned by some guy known to David, La Julianita, a lovely habitat but full of mozzies. His friend's house at the lakeside was very grand and scenically set.
We stayed here until 3pm walking up and down the track, my kepi soaked in Jungle Formula deet. The highlight of the day for me, and maybe the entire trip, was a compliant Pseudolycaena marsyas, a fantastic large turquoise blue with falcate forewings. I hadn't realised it was so high on my target list until I saw it! By 3.40 we got back to Rumipata. The bed had been made and room tidied, a bit unexpectedly.
Sunday 23 September
We returned to the local trail visited on Friday but varied the routine by focussing on 'the far end' following the trail up to a ridge but there was very little doing. John kindly showed me a Sarota completa, a minute butterfly which I wouldn't have otherwise seen. Sandra, one of the dogs, a collie type, joined me for a while on the trail before sniffing the air and making off.
Lunch back at the lodge consisted of a marinated spicy fish starter followed by chicken and chips, very tasty too. Rain began during lunch and continued lightly into the afternoon.
Monday 24 September
Today we'd be making a very short transit to the other side of the road, just a few hundred yards away, to enable us to enter a different set of trails at a place called Waqanki. But first we drove for about 30 minutes south of Moyobamba going right at the town of Calzada currently undergoing extensive infrastructure works to visit the 'volcano' otherwise known as the Morro de Calzada. A new hotel is being built at the start of the trail up the mountain, hopefully not the beginning of the end for this unique habitat. The vegetation is unusual in being very dry, a heath-like place with scattered small trees and bushes growing on what appears to be a vast sandstone block. The understorey in the thicker forest is relatively sparse and butterflies were slow at first but through the morning we added some interesting species. Thunder rumbled from c11.15.
After lunch we ventured back though the sky was black to the north. But I was soon back at the vehicle, kagool donned, judging things just in time as heavy rain began almost immediately. On our return we were stuck in traffic for about 20 minutes as recovery work took place to open the road again after a tornado had passed through ripping corrugated roofs off buildings, uprooting trees and flattening bill boards, all very dramatic and consternation all around. But back in Moyobamba town everything was tranquil, though wet, as we popped into a supermarket.
Our next destination, the orchid farm and lodgings known as Waqanki Lodge, was approached up a bumpy drive on the left a short way from where we'd have turned right to Rumipata. As we were earlier than expected our rooms were not yet ready so we strolled the grounds, passed through the orchid nursery up to a canopy tower, and watched the humming birds in action. I managed to obtain the wifi password available in my room. A good dinner in the open-sided restaurant (necessitating my light fleece) duly followed.
Tuesday 25 September
The whole day was spent on a great trail leading into the forest from the lodge despite things being typically slow until around 10am. David's second bait spray had been stolen from the trail side despite it stinking appallingly and as only one person had come down the trail all morning we reckoned we knew the culprit. A quick return for lunch at 1pm and then it was back up the trail again until the finish of the day around 4.15 when I returned hot and weary with 510 photos in the camera. A few spots of rain had fallen now and again during the afternoon but waterproofs hadn't been required.
Fresh towels and a re-made bed awaited. I reckoned that today had been the best day of the trip so far, reminiscent of a day on the Manu Road.
Wednesday 26 September
Returned to La Julianita to explore a different tract of the driveway. Mozzies still present though not as bad as down by the lake but a quick glimpse of my already bloodied fingers led me to bring out the Jungle Formula and plunge my hands deep into my pockets. Steady start, as usual, but around 11am the first rumbles of thunder were heard and it soon became quite dark. Butterflies had already dived for cover. The rain began around 12.15, steady and not torrential, so we all took an early lunch in the vehicle. It didn't last long but the butterflies had already finished for the day so at 2.30 we headed back to the lodge arriving half an hour later.
Thursday 27 September
Revisited the trail up the valley behind the lodge finding activity already busier than usual. David had extended the spraying further up the track so that by lunch I'd only managed to complete 1½ journeys. Les decided to leave his rain gear in his room and that seemed like a good idea to me too. I donned my kepi even though it was a bit damp thinking it would soon dry in the sun and warmth. But things change fast in the tropics - we were only about half way up the trail when the sun went in and so, of course, did the butterflies. And, of course, it began to rain. My camera was popped into its ziplok bag and on went the rucksack kagool. I sheltered under a large tree and kept reasonably dry until the worst of it was over, and it didn't last too long. Our total tally of species photographed had now reached 500+.
Friday 28 September
It would be a transit day today to Abra Patricia in Amazonas so we had our cases ready by 6.45 and an hour later we were on our way. After a couple of hours we stopped at the 'Playa de los Mariposas' down a long rough track, essentially a wide sandy beach on a bend in the Rio Aguas Verde. But before we got there and after about an hour into the journey, we had driven along a wide, shallow valley between the foothills past rice paddies and extensive ribbon development shrouded, mile after mile, in wood smoke from the burning rainforest, the foothills now completely obscured. Tragic.
The beach, and general surroundings, were mozzi-free at 1,080m but in the hot sun butterflies were frantic, hardly settling for a moment and generally with wings closed and perpetually chasing one another. But there was a useful trail up and downstream which produced some nice insects. A family arrived in their Honda rickshaw around lunchtime and later some lads on bikes added to the unwelcome disturbance, but they had every right to be there too. We set off at 2.30 just as the skies opened, good timing. In another hour we'd climbed out of San Martin State into Amazonas, to 2,300m and into very different vegetation and much cooler temperature duly arriving at Owlet Lodge in Abra Patricia, a privately owned American Bird Conservancy reserve covering 10,300 hectares managed by ECOAN. Our cases were manhandled up the steep path saving us weaklings the effort. This is a well-established, high quality birding site with good bungalow-style accommodation, a well-appointed lounge cum dining room and plenty of hummingbird feeders scattered about. Sadly, the wifi was on the blink, the router being in Moyotambo for repair. Dinner was prefaced with Pisco sours, and I had Les' as well!
Dashed into bed to avoid the night chill.
Saturday 29 September
Photographed many of the moths still on the walls not yet picked off by the birds or ushered away by the morning sun. Stayed local today walking the 'Tower Track' a couple of times during the morning. Wonderful scenery and vegetation and unsurprisingly lots of satyrs. Went out for a short while afterwards but the wind was now blowing, the sun had gone behind heavy clouds but the rain held off.
Sunday 30 September
…took the vehicle downhill to c2,150m to explore a valley trail into the sublime habitat. The ground was soft underfoot, grassy and very dewy but it was still early and as the track was in the shade we decided quickly to move on. So, we dropped down for another 10 minutes or so to Fundo alto Nieva, a birding site at 1,930m and followed the main trail upstream finding a nice skipper, and right at the end an Ancyluris formosissima, unfortunately damaged. Back up to the base for lunch. The sun was now out again but it was almost too late in the day to be meaningful.
Monday 1 October
A thunderstorm raged into the small hours and it was still raining steadily at 6am. We decided to head down, back to the Playa de los Mariposas, and this was a good call as the sun was through when we arrived. I took several atmospheric landscape shots on the way. After the usual steady start I began to pick up some good species, though not the wonderful Arcas I'd missed previously! At 2.10 the thunder rolled and half an hour later the rain came so we left. Back at Abra Patricia the roads were still wet and a light drizzle enveloped the hillsides with low cloud hugging the mountain tops. Still no internet!
Tuesday 2 October
It was drizzling as we set off for Pomacochas in Florida district, a renowned hummingbird site about an hour's drive away. Though dry it was cool at 1,000m and still overcast so very few butterflies were on the wing I but saw a Marvellous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis), the rare endemic hummingbird, make a fleeting visit to a feeder before other species chased it off.
A second track was visited but this was aborted as it was surrounded by agricultural fields and seemed to be leading towards a large development of some kind. A third attempt was made where we took a left turn past a melee of people around a vehicle that appeared to be stuck in the gutter, and the Police were there, but no dramas. The rough track took us steeply down a limestone gorge and through a couple of villages in drizzly and misty conditions until after half an hour we reached a river bridge, and stopped. One or two butterflies braved the inclement weather and we lunched at this spot. At 2.20 we called it a day and set off back reaching Owlet Lodge nearly an hour later.
Wednesday 3 October
It was back down to warmer climes today. Got away at 7.50 on a better-looking day heading downhill with a plan to break the journey with another visit to the Playa de los Mariposas but this time approaching the beach from the northern end. It was fortunate that Juve and David knew exactly where the path met the road because it was hardly visible and obscured by a crash barrier. This trail was, in fact, the old road but we found ourselves on the opposite side of the river to the beach and precisely where the trail had originally crossed was a complete mystery. Anyway, I walked up and down 3 times and actually managed to spot a Sarota! This was nice habitat with some compliant Pierellas too and it would have been even better with more sun. We departed just before 2pm as thunder rolled.
Past the town of Rioja we passed through paddy field country and arrived back at Rumipata at 3.45 and occupied our previous rooms.
Thursday 4 October
Our last full day in the field. David baited the now familiar trail but predictably there was little doing even when short-lived rays of sun permeated the gloom. Some time after 10am a few rain drops fell followed by thunder and I was already hurrying back when the downpour hit and got soaked. I sheltered under the entrance canopy to some dwelling and hailed Les as he splashed by. By 11am our day and effectively the trip was over. We'd gone out with a bang alright but of the wrong sort.