Friday 26 April 2024

A Month In Northern Peru, Part 7: The Marvelous Spatuletail (February 9, 2024)

There are several bird species that are near the top of the wish-list for any birdwatcher visiting Peru for the first time. The enigmatic Long-whiskered Owlet is one, as it is a recently described species of owl that is only known from the stunted cloud forests in a very small area of northern Peru. The Marvelous Spatuletail is another. It, too is endemic to the mountains of northern Peru. Its claim to fame is the outrageous tail that mature males have, and which they utilize in mating displays.  Some birders include the Marvelous Spatuletail on their short list of most spectacular birds in the world. Now, a list like that would be hard to whittle down to even a top 50, and I'm not sure where I would place the Marvelous Spatuletail. But I knew it was a bird that I had to see. 

There are only a few sites where Marvelous Spatuletails can be reliable found. These include a private feeder setup in the town of Cochachimba, and the feeders at the Huembo Lodge, located just outside of Pomacochas. There are other sites where the spatuletail can be observed, of course. But we wanted to have really incredible views, ideally of a male with two full "spatulas", and a feeder set-up will give you much better odds. 

The Huembo Lodge is run by ECOAN, which is the same organization that controls the Owlet Lodge. When we booked our stay at Owlet, we also inquired about Huembo, and were told that we could visit for the day for 15 USD per person. And so we made a reservation for the afternoon of February 9.

February 9, 2024

We had a well-deserved sleep-in this morning, which allowed us the opportunity to take part in the breakfast at Hotel El Duke at 7:30 AM. A rare occurrence for us, as most hotels don't usually offer 5 AM breakfasts. Our late departure also afforded a few extra minutes for one final snuggle with the resident puppies. 

Puppy snuggles at Hotel El Duke, Leymebamba

The morning was mainly spent driving while we also had a few errands to make. We only made a couple of birding stops in the AM. One of them was a two-minute break when I spotted a Fasciated Tiger-Heron in the Utcubamba River. 

Fasciated Tiger-Heron - Río Utcubamba, Nuevo Tingo area, Amazonas, Peru

We also stretched our legs in Nuevo Tingo. This town's claim to fame is nearby Kuélap, a walled settlement built by the Chachapoyas people in the 6th century. Our interest wasn't in the ancient archaeological site, but rather, with some of the birds found in the scrubby vegetation here. 

We walked a particular stretch of road where the Marañón Crescentchest and Speckle-chested Piculet had both been reported, hoping that we would get lucky with at least one of them despite the late-morning heat. 

Heliconius himera - Nuevo Tingo, Amazonas, Peru

And we were! We easily found a pair of Speckle-chested Piculets that flew in and checked us out. The Speckle-chested Piculet is yet another range-restricted species endemic to the mountains of northern Peru. It is listed by Birdlife International as a Vulnerable species due to its very small range and extensive deforestation in the valleys that it prefers. 

Speckle-chested Piculet - Nuevo Tingo, Amazonas, Peru

Speckle-chested Piculet - Nuevo Tingo, Amazonas, Peru

A small family group of Marañón Tyrannulets were hanging around too, giving me a chance to improve my photos of this species. 

Marañón Tyrannulet - Nuevo Tingo, Amazonas, Peru

The crescentchests remained stubbornly uncooperative and we could not find any. Not to worry, we would have many chances for this species in the upcoming days. 

We pulled up to Huembo Lodge in the mid-afternoon after a long day of driving and taking care of errands. Much of that time was spent in the city of Chachapoyas. We needed to find a particular bank so that we could drop money into the account of the owner of Fundo Alto Nieva, since our international bank transfer a few weeks earlier had been unsuccessful (long story). Our venture into the city had been doubly successful. Not only did we take care of the payment, but we also found a bakery with some delicious treats. 

The gate at Huembo was dummy locked. We pulled in, closed the gate behind us, and walked down the path to the main lodge buildings where we met Santos Montenegro, the caretaker of the lodge. He had already filled the feeders and a steady buzz of hummingbird activity livened up the place. 

Long-tailed Sylph - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

Little Woodstar - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

We only had to wait a few minutes before the first Mavelous Spatuletail appeared. It was a young male with very short spatulas but he left almost as quickly as he had arrived. Still, the antics of the other species kept us entertained while we waited for a repeat performance. 

Little Woodstar - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

Sparkling Violetear - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

Though the Sparkling Violetear is a very common species in much of the Andes (and indeed, it was the most common hummingbird at Huembo Lodge), they have absolutely incredible iridescence to their plumage and deserve more love. What a bird. 

Sparkling Violetear - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

Sparkling Violetear - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

The next common species of hummingbird at the feeders was the White-bellied Hummingbird. Most males and females are "female-plumaged"; a modest, green and white species. 

White-bellied Hummingbird - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

Santos suggested that we check out the other feeder set up, located down a path inside the forest. The change of scenery was nice and we sat on plastic chairs and watched the action. Though fewer hummingbirds were visiting here, this site can sometimes be more reliable with Marvelous Spatuletails. We staked it out for a while, then switched back to the main feeders. 

Chestnut-breasted Coronet - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

Luckily, on our second visit to the forest feeders, we got lucky and a male Marvelous Spatuletail appeared! The low light made photography difficult, and he disappeared for large stretches of time. But eventually, I managed a few record shots. 

Marvelous Spatuletail - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

My photos of him in flight are kind of crappy since I blew the focus, while the low light ensured that the images would be noisy due to the high ISO required. Still, you take what you can get!

Marvelous Spatuletail - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

Laura and I were stoked that not only had we found our main target, but we had also seen him so well. He was just as spectacular as I had imagined him to be. 

For the rest of the afternoon we alternated between the two feeder setups, while we also kept an eye out for other wildlife. We hoped to find a Purple-throated Sunangel which had somehow eluded us up to this point. This would be our last shot (for this trip, at least). 

Tropical Parula - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

Highland Elaenia - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

White-tipped Dove - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

The Little Woodstar was a new photographed species for me, so I made sure to obtain decent images of them. Photographing woodstars in flight is a little easier than some of the other hummingbirds, because they move so slowly and deliberately, like a large bumblebee. 

Little Woodstar - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

A trio of male White-bellied Woodstars were frequent subjects for my camera. 

White-bellied Woodstar - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

Laura and I spotted this amazing lizard resting on one of the rocks in the garden. It is definitely in the genus Stenocercus, the whorltail iguanas, which is a very diverse genus ranging throughout South America, with most species living in the Andes. 

Undescribed Stenocercus sp. - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

The only problem is that this lizard does not match any of the known Stenocercus, at least based on my searching, as well as the comments of several experts. The closest is Stenocercus rhodomelas, but that species is only found in a small area of southern Ecuador, and shows some obvious differences to this one. 

Undescribed Stenocercus sp. - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

This was one of those sightings that was more exciting after the fact. In the moment, I had no idea that we might have just stumbled upon an undescribed species of lizard. It just seemed like a neat-looking lizard to us. It is only after doing some research that the potential significance of the finding came to light. At any rate, if anyone reading this has expertise with Stenocercus lizards and might know what this may be, drop me a line. 

As the afternoon turned to evening, the hummingbird activity picked up at the main feeders. A quick rain storm sent us to the lodge, but we could still watch the action in the rain. Some of the hummingbirds seemed to enjoy the weather change, and we watched one Lesser Violetear seemingly having a shower. This isn't a great photo, but it gives you an idea. 

Lesser Violetear - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

It is funny how territorial some hummingbirds can be. Despite there being numerous feeders, each with 4-6 "wells", some hummingbirds spent more time fighting than attempting to feed. This Sparking Violetear and Violet-fronted Brilliant had quite the standoff. 

Sparkling Violetear (left) and Violet-fronted Brilliant - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

The rain stopped for the last half hour or so of the day. On Santos' recommendation, we watched a patch of Blue Porterweed (Tachytarpheta jamaicensis), a plant which is very popular with hummingbirds and often planted in gardens. Just as Santos predicted, a male Marvelous Spatuletail spent some time buzzing around the flowers. Given the low light and the hummingbird's erratic movements, I wasn't able to grab any good photos. 

Titan Sphinx (Aellopos titan) - Huembo Lodge, Amazonas, Peru

This Titan Sphinx was doing its best hummingbird impression at the Blue Porterweed as well. This particular sphinx is rather widespread, ranging from Argentina northward to the United States. We even have a few records in southern Canada, though I haven't seen it locally (yet!).

We left just before dusk and made the short drive to Pomacochas. Even though we had dipped on the Purple-throated Sunangel, we had seen several Marvelous Spatuletails with full spatulas, and found a nice variety of other species including a possibly undescribed species of whorltail-iguana. A great visit!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great reportJosh and congratulations on the lizard. Keep us posted as to what comments you receive on the lizard's ID.