In 2018 we lived in Thailand, and went birding every weekend and during about five weeks of vacation and holidays. I determined that we boarded about 106 different airplanes in the course of a year, hitting over 20 countries, many of them multiple times. I was looking forward to a relaxed 2019, free from planes – for a while at least.
Then my wife, who worked religiously in 2018, even as we were traveling (she only needs her laptop and wifi to be able to work), realized she had about four weeks of Use-it-or-Lose-it vacation to take before April. So we booked a trip to Peru in February.
I picked the Manú National Park area, as this holds the single biggest eBird hotspot (Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge,m with 714 species), and we did most all of our birding with Saturnino Llactahuaman, the owner of Manu Birding Lodge, and a fantastic guide.
Getting to Manú from Minneapolis is a bit involved. First, we flew down to Toronto. Yes, our Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are in the USA, and Toronto is in Canada, but we sit significantly further north. Check the map if that doesn’t make sense to you.
From Toronto one flies directly, overnight, to Lima, and then it is a short flight down to Cuzco, the one-time capital of the Incan empire. Saturnino picked us up in the morning and we hit various lakes and hotspots throughout the Andes on our way towards Manú.
Without stopping for birds, it might have taken about six hours on the winding dirt roads from Cuzco to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge. With birding it took the entire day. We stayed two nights at the lodge and birded up and down the famous Manú Road. Although power lines have been recently installed in the area, the hotel is still off the grid – the generator runs a few hours a night but otherwise there is no electricity. They do have beer, though.
From there, we drove two more hours and then boarded a small baot on the Madre de Dios river, where we would (thankfully) head downstream, into the Amazon basin. We had done a similar trip in Ecuador, going from Coca, down the Napo river, to Sacha Lodge. That trip took 90 minutes. This trip took six hours. and the current was really moving, too.
I had thought Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge was pretty basic, and was looking forward to the comforts of the more sophisticated Manú Birding Lodge. Well, no. The latter is even more basic, and I realized to more horror on the first day, after a few hours in the buggy, humid heat, they they had NO BEER.
Luckily, they at least had plenty of the national drink of Peru, the Pisco Sour. It did the trick. Not a bad drink at all.
We spent a total of four nights there. The birding was insanely good, even though we had to contend with rain. Saturnino is one of those guides that can look up into the canopy of a dense, dark forest, during the rain, while swarmed by mosquitoes, and effortlessly put his scope on some distant, perched bird that the rest of us would not find even with hours of searching.
There are plenty of great spots to hit from Manú Birding Lodge – many of which require a short boat trip. The river itself holds a plethora of birds, including large roosts of Sand-colored Nighthawks.
We spent a morning at Guacamayo, a large clay-lick with a nice blind (including ‘bathrooms’ – sort of) which is teeming with macaws, parrots, parakeets, and parrotlets,
There are oxbox lakes in the area that hold many additional, different species, such as Hoatzin, Horned Screamer, and Red-capped Cardinal – not to mention the Giant Otters – los lobos del rio – which were very vocal and aggressive – chasing our boat for a while.
There is also a good tower near the lodge that gets you up above the canopy. Here we found Sclater’s Antwren and many other tough birds, including an Amazon Pygmy-owl.
The lodge itself has many trails and a garden, which was a great place for Festive Coquette and Curl-crested Aracari.
The lodge is also the home to a large South American Tapir. It showed up the second evening we were there. I had just showered and changed into my one set of clean clothes, and was ready to have dinner soon. Our guide, in a nearby room, called out for me to open the door and have a look. There it was.
The tapir came right up to me as I photographed it. Cool! Then it turned around, and thanks to some strange anatomical feature that I don’t want to understand, it proceeded to spray urine on me and my clean clothes.
I later learned that this animal, while wild, was a sort of pet at the lodge, and they fed it regularly. It’s name was Manolo. It seemed to think it was a dog. It wanted belly rubs, and everything.
During our time at this lodge, our guide learned that our return to Cuzco was going to be more complicated than anticipated. He had planned to have us go back via a different route which used a modern highway. But on the day we arrived, a massive landslide wiped out about a quarter of the road.
Luckily he was able to arrange for multiple drivers – one of which got us to one side of the landslide, while the other waited on the other side to pick us up. We only had to clamber along the mountainside and cross a few new streams in order to get there.
Once in Cuzco we said goodbye to Saturnino and then headed to Lima for a day. Here we picked up some nice specialities of the region such as Belcher’s Gull and Peruvian Booby. All told 331 species in just over a week.