Wilson Diaz from Green Tours in Peru talks about one of his favourite birding spots in the Alto Mayo Valley in northern Peru. The local experts from the tour companies that feature on Blue Sky Wildlife are the best people to guide your choices when it comes to the most interesting places to visit for a fulfilling wildlife trip. Here, Wilson tells you why you should consider visiting Alto Mayo and, in particular, one special protected area.
I would like to take you north of the city of Tarapoto, which is a commercial centre an hour’s flight from Peru’s capital, Lima, to the Alto Mayo Valley and the Alto Mayo Protected Forest. Located in the Peruvian Andean Amazon, the upper reaches of the Mayo River are ecologically rich and important for the survival of endemic fauna and flora such as the Río Mayo Titi Monkey.
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The Alto Mayo cloud forest is well known for high bird diversity and the number of endemics found there. The forest is the only place in the world to find the Long-whiskered Owlet and Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher, for instance.
Photo credit : Wilson Diaz, Little and Cinereous Tinamous, Green Tours
The Alto Mayo Protected Forest was established in 1987, but has experienced damaging deforestation because of illegal logging and unsustainable farming practices. Now there is a community-based conservation project in place, involving over 1,000 local families, to change the way the forest is exploited and better protect its nature.
Specifically, for me, there is a place in the Alto Mayo Valley that has become interesting for birdwatchers and quite exciting in recent years and that is the Arena Blanca Preserve, near the town of Aguas Verdes. This is a private reserve that belongs to my dear friend Norbil Becerra, a former logger who has become a pioneer conservationist and well known for his work in the Aguas Verdes area.
He began his creation of the reserve by setting up hummingbird and tinamou feeders on his property. Due to this, and other careful environment management measures, in only two years his reserve was transformed into a great spot for some iconic bird species. The hummingbird feeders at Arena Blanca attract more than 20 species of these attractive nectar-sippers, including Blue-fronted Lancebill, Black-throated Brilliant and Rufous-crested Coquette. The tinamou feeders are routinely visited by two species of tinamous, along with some other interesting species. The reserve is also known for Peruvian Antwarbler, Dark-breasted and Cinereous-breasted Spinetails, flocks of tanagers and many other great ticks for your South American list.
Wire-crested Thorntail at Alto Mayo
Photo credit : Wilson Diaz, Hummingbird, Green Tours
This is a beautiful hummingbird of the Andean foothills of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Very little is known about its characteristics and behaviours because it’s quite difficult to find. In the Arena Blanca Preserve it is always an exciting experience to see this rare and beautiful bird feeding on the nectar from the flowers in the garden around the hummingbird feeders. Napo Sabrewing hummingbirds have also been recorded at the feeders a few times, but you have to be lucky to see one on a short visit to the site.
Little and Cinereous Tinamous
These two ground-dwelling birds are not uncommon but they more often heard than seen in the Amazonian forests, particularly Little Tinamou which is a very shy bird. Thanks to a clever feeding system set up by Norbil, though, both species come to feed very close to a hide that he has built in the forest at Arena Blanca. This gives you good opportunities to photograph them in their natural habitat and in good light, without the complications of trying to find them in the dense forest leaf litter.
A target species for a visit to the Alto Mayo region, and one of the main attractions at the Arena Blanca Preserve, is the Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail. These plump little birds with their rusty-red breasts, brown speckled upper parts and streaky white heads live in the cloud forests of the Andes’ eastern slopes where they can be found in small coveys. However, they are shy and usually very hard to see, but on the reserve they obligingly come to the feeders. At least two large groups of these birds have established breeding territories in the area and attend the feeders daily. I’ve even seen a Wood-Quail fighting for nesting territory with a Cinereous Tinamou.
Photo Credit: Wilson Diaz, Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail, Green Tours
All-in-all, a birding trip to the Alto Mayo area of Peru is a rewarding one. With the help of a good local guide and a visit to a reserve like Arena Blanca you will get close views of species that can be seen in no other location. I wholeheartedly recommend the experience!
Green Tours has established itself as one of the leading wildlife tour operators in Peru, offering some of Peru’s best birding experiences.
Originally Published: 19 February 2016 | Updated 10th November 2021