Birding Despite Disability

Obsessions Don't Care About Limitations

Stuck in Peru, Part I

Sunset on the Amazon River

Well this is not going as planned.

I had set up a Peru birding trip that would include five days in the Iquitos area (for northern Amazon specialties), four days in Lima, (so that Claire could work remotely, soaking in the high bandwidth of the Miraflores Radisson WiFi… and where a few more of our West Peru targets, missed during a previous trip, might be found), and finally the big prize: Andes birding in the San Martin district…. ten days with a guide, moving from Tarapoto up to Jaen.

Marvelous Spatuletail, here we come!

On March 13 we flew Minneapolis to Miami, and then Miami to Lima. The US airports were half empty… eerie! But the first sign of real trouble occurred when we landed…it took over thirty minutes to get off the plane, as everyone was slowly funneled past medical personel taking temperatures on the jetway. Then we spent about three and a half hours in the immigration queue. Why so long? Because the officers had to type in all the info about your planned itinerary, which you had just scribbled onto a new COVID-19 form with an impossibly small font. And all for nought, because in a few days they would forbid all travel inside the country anyway.

The driver from the hotel was not there when we finally got out of the Lima airport… he waited for us for two hours and then gave up. All in all we got an hour of sleep before heading back to the airport, to fly to Iquitos.

Iquitos is a novel place: the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road. You fly in or you come via the Amazon. This novelty may yet prove to be very unfortunate for us and all the other foreigners here, as you shall read.

The Lima to Iquitos flight had no issues. This was on March 14. But then a fun discovery was made at the hotel: Claire had left her Vortex binoculars at home. We would have to share my bins. We walked down to the Malecon, which is the southernmost road in town, and which fronts a distant lagoon and is basically the only place to go birding. We got our first target there, an Orange-headed Tanager, but sharing bins is just not efficient, so we decided to see if we could find some to buy locally… after walking to multiple stores, we found there was only one place in town with anything optical. They had two poor choices of Tasco binoculars (Tasco! That still exists!… I think they were once a Kmart brand). $40 for what was basically a child’s toy… That is what we took…. we could not, would not, spend $100 on the “better” pair. I thought… “no problem, when we get to Lima in a week, I will go to the Nikon store and get her a decent budget pair.” LOL, no, that isn’t going to happen.

After a strangely poor outing at the very quiet Allpahuayo-Mishana reserve, and another few strolls along the Malecon, everything changed fast: on the morning of the 16th, the hotel informed us that all flights were cancelled for (at least) the next 15 days… within the country, into the country, and out of the country. (Why out? You would think it would help Peru if we visitors got out…) What’s more, they decreed that all movement was to cease. No one would be permitted outside except to go to the grocery store, the pharmacy, or the bank. No road trips to birding sites, no matter how remote, no matter that it would involve no contact with anyone. Nothing.

The army personnel starting showing up everywhere that morning and the stores were all shut quickly. By the afternoon the riot gear was out.

Iquitos, shortly after the order to shut it all down

So while various articles from the birding-world  back home were correctly pointing out the silver lining and inherent social distancing that birding can bring, we were presented with this Horror Scenario: At no insignificant cost,we found ourselves in a super-birdy locale, where tons of lifers lurk within an easy day’s radius, and we use the self-isolation time to go search for them must sit in our city hotel room for weeks and count the Rock Pigeons from the window. Then, at some unknown future date, we go home with nothing to show for it.

I liken it to being brought, famished, to a five-star restaurant, where the grilled steaks will be brought out, passed under your nose, and then sent back to the kitchen, just before you are handed a hefty bill to pay.

Basically, the worst cost-per-bird scenario imaginable.

So that is what we were facing. Luckily, last week, we had one option: go 90 minutes down the Amazon, to Heliconia Lodge. We could at least bird the trails and do some small boat trips far from everyone.

We ended up spending seven nights on the north bank of the Amazon. No electricity, save for a few hours per night when the generator was run. This place had few trails to walk so we did somewhat poorly in terms of finding targets.  We have been in the Loreto department for 11 days now and have 16 lifers and 114 species overall. Best finds have been Varzea Schiffornis, Slender-billed Kite, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher, and Plain-breasted Piculet.

I have made over 400 raw audio recordings so far. Lots to analyze, and probably a few lifers in the audio as well. Unfortunately I did not bring my laptop along so that analysis is going to have to wait.

Claire and Pedro, the resident, talky Red-and-green Macaw at Heliconia Lodge.

We are now back in Iquitos. A number of other US citizens are at our hotel and are desperate to get back home. We are lucky in that we can afford to wait this out for a while if need be. Others cannot.

It is not clear if we will be able to bird the Malecon again or not. Will try tomorrow. Otherwise, it will be city hotel window birding. For at least the next eight days. Unless Peru extends the lockdown even further.

Rock Pigeons, here we come!


Random bird photos follow:

Cream-colored Woodpecker
Roadside Hawk
Oriole Blackbird
Black-fronted Nunbird
Lesser Hornero
White-chinned Jacamar
Varzea Schiffornis

One response to “Stuck in Peru, Part I”

  1. […] Michael Hurben began his March 24 blog post with this understatement, when his adventure to add more than 100 species to his life list by […]

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