Yanachaga Chemillén National Park, Peru (1 Viewer)

Thibaud

Well-known member
Hi everybody,

This is my first contribution of this kind, I hope you'll enjoy it, and maybe it will motivate some of you to go birding in this wonderful region!

As some of you will have gathered from my various posts on the ID forum in the past months, I've been in Pasco, central Peru, since January. And while lockdown has of course meant spending a lot of time indoors, I was able to do some good birding until March and then again this summer.
All summed up, we are talking about some 90 days in the forest and 500+ species, so I won't do a day by day trip report. Rather, I'll just talk about the different sectors of the nearby Yanachaga Chemillén National Park, and some of the avian highlights.

There are some well-known birding hotspots west, north, and south of here, but for some reason Pasco itself is still visited by few birders, and the bulk of the observations are done by a few locals. As a result, there is still much to be discovered. Furthermore, the national park itself covers only about 5% of the Pasco department, but it still encapsulates a remarkable range of ecosystems, from the Amazonian lowlands to peaks that reach nearly 4000 meters above sea level.
To give you an idea, here are photos of the four main access points to the park:
- El Paujil, where the Andean foothills meet the Amazonian lowland forests (350-750 masl)
- Huampal, in the spectacular Huancabamba canyon, has both lowland and montane elements (800-1400 masl)
- San Alberto is typical montane forest (2400-3000 masl)
- Santa Bárbara has some lovely elfin forest and dry puna above the tree line (3000-3800 masl)
 

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opisska

Jan Ebr
Poland
I hope this doesn't cause people to flock there :) We visited YC in 2015 and we were the first foreigners in a month or so ....fantastic place! Looking forward to hearing about the parts where we did not go.
 

KC Foggin

Super Moderator
Staff member
United States
Hi Thibaud!

I've so enjoyed the images of the newcomers to the Gallery that you posted and I'd say you had a great time birding guy! ;)
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Poland
That's awesome Jan! Which parts of the park did you visit?
KC, I've got some more coming!

We did a day hike from Oxapampa just uphill from town, not exactly sure how is the area called and then we have spent I think two or three nights camping at Huampal, alone on the fantastic campsite just below the Cock-of-the-Rock lek.

It was a fantastic experience, mainly it was really private. Yes, it's next to a "road", but apart of the daily minibuses, it was totally quiet and we we there just with the jungle.
 

Thibaud

Well-known member
Okay, let's get started!

The main access to the park is via Oxapampa, the regional capital. It's become a bit of a getaway for people in Lima, and should absolutely be avoided during Semana Santa, when it's absolutely packed with people and prices increase ridiculously. The advantage is that there is a direct bus line, some 10 hours from Lima in the preposterously fancy MovilBus buses (they have personal screens and attendants that bring drinks on trays!), which will set you back some 70 soles (25 USD), if memory serves.

When in town, I would strongly recommend staying at the Carolina Egg Gasthaus. Two blocks from the bus terminal, it is a walled-in oasis with lovely bungalows, delicious breakfasts and a delightful couple, Katja and Arturo, running the place. Plus, the combination of the large trees in the garden and the fact that there is a wooded hill that overlooks the property means that you will start seeing some birds from your bungalow, such as the common urban tanagers (Silver-billed, Blue-gray, and the exquisite Blue-necked), some common edge birds (Mouse-colored tyrannulet, Barred Antshrike, Grayish Saltator, Common Tody-Flycatcher, etc) and a few hummingbirds (Speckled Hummingbird, White-Bellied Hummingbird, Sparkling Violetear).
But for birders, the highlight is no doubt the pair of remarkably tame Hook-Billed Kites, which nest nearby and regularly are seen hunting snails in the vegetable garden!
 

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Thibaud

Well-known member
It was a fantastic experience, mainly it was really private. Yes, it's next to a "road", but apart of the daily minibuses, it was totally quiet and we we there just with the jungle.

Yes it's really lovely! What's nice is that it's really safe too, I was able to walk for days along the road with my telephoto and people were always perfectly friendly, never had any trouble.
Though I hear it was a very different story 15 years ago. There's a quebrada that's still called El Asalto (the robbery) because people used to get robbed so regularly there!
 

Thibaud

Well-known member
The most accessible sector of the park is San Alberto, by far. The access road starts in Oxapampa itself and with a 4x4, it takes only a half hour to get to the park entrance. In fact, there is some good birding to be done along the access road itself. Even if it is clearly secondary forest, the bird diversity is already quite high. Check flowers of Ericaceae and hanging vines for Green-fronted Lancebill (pic 1), Geoffroy's Daggerbill or Booted Racket-Tail (the birds here have reddish "shorts" and crossed rackets, and have been split as Anna's Racket-Tail by some authorities), while Chestnut-breasted Coronets jealously defend Inga trees. Also check the tops of the tall exotic cypress trees, as male White-bellied Woodstars seem to have a particular fondness for them, perching on the very top, to survey their territory perhaps?
The song of Andean Solitaires (pic 2) is almost constant, and they are usually fairly easy to spot near the quebradas. White-Eared Solitaires are often heard as well, but it will require quite a bit more patience or luck in order to spot one. Along the water itself, keep an eye out for Torrent Tyrannulets and White-capped Dippers perching on the wet rocks.
Look out for Tricolored Brushfinch and Azara's Spinetail in the dense undergrowth by the path. In the canopy, which is quite low in that area, typical mixed flocks will usually contain Silvery, Blue-capped and Beryl-Spangled Tanagers (pic 3), along with Tropical Parulas, Masked Flowerpiercers, and Spectacled Redstarts (pic 4), while Buff-browed Foliage-gleaners and Ash-browed Spinetails move along the lower branches. The latter is described as being uncommon and inconspicuous in Birds of Peru. Here however, it's probably one of the easiest and most common furnarids in disturbed habitats.
Andean Motmots can often be found perching on low branches in the shade, while Green Jays scold intruders.
Here will also probably be your first introduction to what is perhaps the easiest Peruvian endemic to be found in the region, the Peruvian Tyrannulet (pic 5), whose presence is often announced by its loud, disyllabic call.
If Melastomataceae or some other bushes are in fruit, you will likely run into some Streak-necked Flycatchers, and there is a good chance of seeing both Sierran and Highland Elaenias, sometimes even feeding together, which greatly facilitates separataing the two species!
Before the canopy closes over as you enter the park proper, make sure to look in the sky. The rare white-rumped Hawk has been reported a few times in the area.
 

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temmie

Well-known member
Great to see a report from YC, especially in these times!

I managed to get to Oxapampa once, but only for a (failed) last-minute end-of-the-trup attempt to see Cloud-forest Screech-owl, so I didn't stay long (enough).

That jay must be an Inca jay ;-)
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Poland
Yes, San Alberto, that's where we were. We took a 2wd cab as far as it could go, then walked until a closed refugio and a little beyond - the path was quite damaged and it was getting late, so we turned and walked all the way down, the most birds were in the more agricultural part on the way down.

I am now really curious about this report, because I can't find where Santa Barbara is, it is not on the official maps of PNYC that are lying around the internet.

Also this just makes me wonder, how it would be to visit now that we are much more versed in birding - not that we are that much better at seeing birds, but now we would investigate prior information and target species, not just "walk around and wonder" as we used to - would we see all these things you list and we did not see? I must come back to try!
 

Thibaud

Well-known member
Great to see a report from YC, especially in these times!

I managed to get to Oxapampa once, but only for a (failed) last-minute end-of-the-trup attempt to see Cloud-forest Screech-owl, so I didn't stay long (enough).

That jay must be an Inca jay ;-)

Yes now that things are reopening up, I want to spend a couple nights at the Ulcumano lodge, which I think is one of the best places to look for the owl.

Haha as for the jay, it looks like Peruvians don't follow the split, and I've just been used to calling the birds here green jays as they do, though of course they're quite different from their northern cousins.
 

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Argentina
Lovely report Thibaud, I'm really looking forward to reading more. I spent 6 months in Peru in 2015/2016. I visited Oxapampa for the Cloud Forest Screech-Owl and for the (now split) form of Chestnut Antpitta that occurs there. I was technically in the NP for the Antpitta, but I think it's part of the park that is little visited - a very poor 4WD road that climbs above Oxapampa to the radio antennas. I really wanted to spend more time in and around Oxapampa and visit more of the national park but ultimately was pressed for time while there and had to leave the area sooner than I wished. I would love to return.
 

Thibaud

Well-known member
San Alberto 2

Once you leave behind the secondary forest of the access road, the whole atmosphere changes, and that of course means new birds to be found!
There is a really steep slope that can be dreadfully slippery when it rains, ending in one of the two points with cell phone reception in this whole sector. There is a mixed flock that tends to hang out in that area, so look out for Versicolored Barbet (split by some as the Blue-Chinned Barbet), Streaked Tuftedcheek (pic 1), Montane Woodcreeper, Ocellated Piculet and Capped Conebill. If you tread carefully, you may spot Chestnut-Capped Brushfinch in the undergrowth, and White-Throated Quail Dove walking along the trails. The rare Maroon-Chested Ground-Dove also makes an appearance from time to time.
Tanagers of course are always a highlight of the Andean forests. Look out for Grass-Green (pic 2), Flame-Faced, Saffron-Crowned, and Rufous-Crested Tanagers. Closer to the ground, Black-Eared Hemispingus, Russet-Crowned and Three-Striped Warblers should be fairly easy to spot.
In terms of larger birds, this is also a good spot to look for Golden-Headed Quetzal, Masked Trogon, Blue-Banded Toucanet (pic 3), and Crimson-Bellied Woodpecker.
Also keep an eye out for the delightful Black-streaked puffbird (easier said than done, I know!).
You'll also start hearing some trickier skulkers. The endemic Rufous-Vented Tapaculo is common and can usually be drawn in with a bit of playback. Trilling Tapaculo is a bit less common and definitely less responsive to playback. The endemic Bay Antpitta sings all the time, but is of course extremely difficult to see (try your luck near the guard house, especially at dawn and dusk). With the very common Brown Tinamou, it's all a matter of luck, they are seen reasonably often along the trail after the first wooden ladder, past the guard house. There is also an interesting population of Stripe-Faced Wood-Quail (pic 4), which may represent an underscribed subspecies, separated from the specie's main range farther south.
Hummingbirds are not too abundant. Still, Collared and Bronzy Incas should be easy, and look for Emerald-bellied puffleg near the guard house.
One highlight of San Alberto are the Andean cotingas. The endemic Masked Fruiteater (pic 5) should be looked for at the lower elevations near the entrance of the park. Band-tailed Fruiteater should be the easiest to see in fruiting shrubs, and Barred Fruiteater is probably the least common of the three, generally at higher elevations. Also keep an eye out for Chestnut-crested Cotinga.
Speaking of endemics, there are two more that will accompany you everywhere in San Alberto. The Inca Flycatcher can be found in almost any mixed flock, with its funny vocalizations that sound like chew toys, while groups of Peruvian Wrens will often mob you from the undergrowth.
 

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sbarnhardt

Traveling man
Opus Editor
United States
Great Photos!

First I'd like to congratulate you on the fine photos you've taken and for sharing them here on Bird Forum.

I see in the Gallery where you have uploaded some nice photos there as well.

Have you considered uploading some of your landscape photos from this thread to the Gallery? I help with writing, and expanding, location articles on Opus. I am presently working on one for Yanachaga Chemillen National Park as a result of the interest generated by this thread. I could really use some good landscape shots to choose from for the location image.

Good location images are, at times, hard to find in the Gallery. And you do have some nice ones.

Thanks for your time, your sharing, and for your efforts.
sbarnhardt
Barney
 

Thibaud

Well-known member
San Alberto 3

The guard house, sitting at 2420 meters, is called El Cedro, it's where you register and pay the entrance fay (30 soles, or about 8 USD). You can also camp there.
From El Cedro, the main path (4.5 km) goes up to La Esperanza, the pass at 2950 meters.
In the early mornings, the section just around the guard house is good for the shy Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush. I've actually had this experience with other nightingale-thrushes elsewhere. During the day they're devilishly hard to see but in the pre-dawn gloom they come out on trails where they can be very tame. A bit further on, you'll cross a couple of quebradas, where the high whistles of Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrants ring out over the sound of the water.
The other common sound is the beautiful and variable song of the Gray-Breasted Wood-Wren. It's quite amuzing how they seem to change songs every time you play a recording.
Keep an eye out for Flavescent Flycatcher, which is quite common here, but which I didn't see at any of the other Andean localities I visited in the area. You may also run into Spotted Barbtail or small groups of Rusty-winged Barbtail moving through the unergrowth.
About halfway up the path, there are a couple of large landslides. They offer a good view point over the valley, though for some reason, I hardly ever saw raptors there. It is however a good spot for Rufous-bellied Bush-Tyrant (pic 1). Amethyst-throated Sunangels also often perch on exposed branches by the path. You will also likely see (or at least hear, depending on cloud cover), some Scaly-naped Parrots. There are often groups of Pale-footed Swallows that can be seen wheeling above, especially in the late afternoon.
Once on the other side, you will start noticing birds of higher elevations.
White-banded Tyrannulet starts replacing the White-tailed Tyrannulet, often located by its raspy sneeze-like call. The beautiful Pearled Treerunner (pic 2) can be located from far away by its reddish back, very distinct from the general orangey-brown tones of the other furnarids.
In the dense bamboo thickets, look for Plushcap, Gray-browed Brushfinch, Rufous Spinetail, along with pairs of the delightful Streak-headed Antbird, and the stunning Buff-Breasted Mountain-Tanager, probably the hardest of the mountain tanagers that are found here.
Small understorey flocks will likely contain Mountain Wren, Citrine Warbler and Black-capped Hemispingus, while tanager groups will usually have the fantasticHooded Mountain-Tanager and the endemic Yellow-Scarfed Tanager (pic 3), with its unique color pattern. The rarer Chestnut-bellied Mountain-Tanager occasionally makes an appearance in the very highest parts of the trail.
The small run-down shelter at the pass makes for a great lunch break, or a welcome shelter from rain, which is always likely here. It also seems to be a good spot for some of the larger birds, such as Mountain Cacique, White-collared Jay, and Strong-billed Woodcreeper!
There are a couple of smaller trails that run along the ridge, but you'd probably want to get a ranger to accompany you in order not to get lost. Diversity there isn't very high, but it is reveals yet another set of birds. Taczanowski's Brushfinch (pic 4), a split from Slaty, is abundant, with pairs popping up every hundred meters or so. Drab Hemispingus, Ochraceous-breasted Flycatcher, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, and Blue-backed Conebill often forage together through the stunted shrubs. Finally, the prize is the endemic Bay-vented Cotinga (pic 5), a rare endemic only known from a few high-elevation sites, entirely restricted as it is to elfin forest.
 

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Thibaud

Well-known member
Lovely report Thibaud, I'm really looking forward to reading more. I spent 6 months in Peru in 2015/2016. I visited Oxapampa for the Cloud Forest Screech-Owl and for the (now split) form of Chestnut Antpitta that occurs there. I was technically in the NP for the Antpitta, but I think it's part of the park that is little visited - a very poor 4WD road that climbs above Oxapampa to the radio antennas. I really wanted to spend more time in and around Oxapampa and visit more of the national park but ultimately was pressed for time while there and had to leave the area sooner than I wished. I would love to return.


Ah yes the famous Carretera Antena! I was actually there a couple weeks ago!
Did you manage to see the Chestnut (now Oxapampa I believe) Antpitta??
 

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