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Birding in Cajamarca: the western slope of the Andes

Posted Wednesday 6th March 2019 at 22:57 by WilsonDiaz
Birding in Cajamarca: the western slope of the Andes

By Wilson Diaz -

The Cajamarca department is located in the northern Peruvian Andes, bordering with Ecuador. In Cajamarca, the Andean mountains can reach elevations as high as 4,200 meters, and as low as 400 meters in the western slope. This wide elevational range means a set of different habitats for birds, from dry, rocky, low elevation foothills; to humid scrub and grassland at high elevations. With all this diverse ecosystems, birding in Cajamarca can be an exciting adventure.

This is the first of a series of four posts about our birding experiencies across the Cajamarca region, trying to cover the different kind of habitats we have in Cajamarca.

The Cajamarca - Porcón - San Pablo road

The main road that connects the city of Cajamarca with the Pacific coast leaves Cajamarca heading south towards the Abra El Gavilan pass, then enters the western slope of the Andes along the Jequetepeque river watershet. But there is another, less known road, that heads northwards from the city, crosses the Porcón area, and gets into Jequetepeque watershet above the town of San Pablo.

Very few birders have visited this area, and we could not find many reports available. Since the few reports of the San Pablo area mention a few interesting birds like Bay-crowned Brush-finch, Black-cowled Saltator, and Rufous-winged Tyrannulet; we decided to explore the road from the city of Cajamarca towards San Pablo.

The Alder patches
We leave the city at about 05:30 in the morning, we first pass the poorly diversy area of Granja Porcón where, sadly, the pine trees plantations had killed all the native grassland above 3000 meters. At around 06:30 we made our first stop at a patch of Alder tress by the road. First bird we saw was a singing Unicolor Tapaculo, and after a few minutes he was joined by at least another three tapaculos. As the early morning sun hit the top of the trees the birds start moving. First we saw a Smoky-brown Woodpecker moving in the canopy, then some ten White-collared Swifts flew above our heads, a beautiful Shining Sunbeam shown its beautyful colors, and a Lacrimose Mountain-tanager hopped among the mossy trees.

Then, a couple of Baron's Spinetails shown very well after we playback their call, along with a cracking Black-crested Warbler and a few Piura Hemispinguses. Several Northern Andean Flickers noisily flew all over the place, a Golden-billed Saltator sang from atop of a tree, and a Masked Flowerpiercer moved quickly among the mossy branches of an Alder tree.

But the "best bird" of this stop was a Jelski's Chat-tyrant that peched just in front of us, giving a delightful view for several seconds.

Entering the western slope
Then we drove for another 15 minutes before entering the Pacific slope. We stopped by a small creek surrounded by agricultural fields, the place did not look very promising, but nevertheless we had great views of a Speckled Hummingbird hovering around some wild flowers, and a female Green-tailed Trainbearer perched a few meters in front of us. We were at 2800 meters, and didn't expect a couple of Goove-billed Anies singing at this elevation. Another surprise was a Uniclor Tapaculo singing in the bushes near the creek, it seems the species is more common that we thought, it was the fourth Tapaculo for the morning !!!

Other interesting birds at this place were a calling Azara's Spinetail, that showed up quite well after we playback its call; a Fawn-breasted Tanager perched on top of a small bush; and four very active Yellow-billed Tit-tyrants on top of a bushy hill.

Sangal of San Pablo
After driving a few minutes down the road we reach the town of San Pablo, just above 2000 meters. Passing San Pablo, just below a small town called Sangal, there is a nice patch of scrub that looked very promising. We took a dirt road detour to be in the center of the patch of vegetation. The first bird we saw after jumping off the car was a beautiful White-edged Oriole, and we heard several White-tipped and Eared Doves calling. An Amazilia Hummingbird called our attention flying around, and a flock of Pacific Parrotlets perched just in front of us.

In the shadows of a few Tara trees (Caesalpinia spinosa) we heard a Andean Slaty Thrush, fortunately we managed to see the bird very well after some effort. Several Elegant Crescentchests and a couple of Collared Antshikes were calling almost all the time we were there but, because of the thick vegetation that grows during the rainy season, we fail to see both species (the Crescentchests were very responsive to playback actually !).

We didn't have to walk much to see a great diversity of birds. A Streak-throated Bush-tyrant was perched on top of an Agave, and a Rufous-browed Peppershike was singing out loud hidden in the vegetation (and we managed to see it too !!). A flock of Fasciated Wrens was moving noisily around us, and several Shiny Cowbirds were sitting on top of trees.

A small flock of Bay-crowned Brush-finches moved down the slope. We tried to attract them by playing their call, but they did nor respond and*disappeared quickly. A really interesting and hard to find bird we saw here was a Piura Chat-tyrant, a Peruvian endemic that gave us cracking views for a few minutes. It responded to playback, but stay still just for a few seconds, making photographs hard to get.

Another great sight was a couple of Black-and-white Becards. They moved actively around us in response to playback, allowing great photographs.

By noon we decided it was it for the morning, so we started to walk back to the car. Before leaving, a fantastic Black-cowled Saltator came out from the bushes to say goodbye, and we thanked him for a fantastic end of the morning birding the western slope of Cajamarca.

Don't forget to visit for your next birding adventure.
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