11 January -19 February 1997
by Peter Lonsdale
I made a 40 day research cruise between the ports of Talara, northern Peru, and Punta Arenas, southern Chile, mostly doing marine geology from 9degS to 60degS along about long.100W (1000 miles west of South America).This report covers just what I saw during 4 hurried days in a little-visited corner of NW Peru before embarking, and the nearshore pelagics seen before we left the 200mile-wide Peruvian Exclusive Economic Zone (and therefore potentially viewable on day trips out of one of northern Peru's ports).I'll send a second installment later about the Chilean end of the trip. As for the "blue-water" birdwatching far offshore near 100W, I'll just mention a few highlights and surprises:
- Band-rumped Storm-petrels landing (safely) in or on the ship on three successive nights, 300-600 miles S of the Galapagos Islands.
- abundant petrels (White-winged, Black-winged, Galapagos, Bulwer's, Murphy's) sometimes in mixed flocks associating with Sooty Terns, on the margins of the South Equatorial Current near 12S.
- a dawn fly-over of a Long-tailed Jaeger, just lifting over the bow, in the same region.
- Defillipe's Petrel fairly common further south (25-30S).
- the other Islas Juan Fernandez nesters staying with us into the Westerlies much further S than their published ranges: White-bellied torm-petrels to 45S, Juan Fernandez Petrel to 53S, and Stejneger's Petrel common (almost always found within 15minutes of searching) from 45S all the way to 60S, the realm of prions, southern albatrosses, and White- headed Petrels. At least, most of the well observed small Cookilarias S of 45S were positively identifiable as Stejneger's, though some others didn't have an obvious dark hood, and I suppose might have been the even-further-from-home Pycroft's Petrel.
- loose flocks of Diving-petrels (some Common, some Magellanic, most unidentifiable to species) at 53-60S, 95-100W, 700-900miles from land, although most texts imply these are mainly coastal spp. [On other Southern Ocean trips I've met flocks of Magellanic Diving Petrels at 53S 130W, near the Pole of Pelagicity thousands of miles from any shore.]
- a pair of Macaroni Penguins basking on the surface (but diving before being run over by our ship) at 54-45'S 79-45'W, just outside of Chilean waters 250m W of Isla Noir, where the Chilean field guide says they may breed.
Back to Peru...
Talara is an oil town on a desolate part of the Peruvian coastal desert at 4.5S. Not much vegetation, except for some good desert scrub in a big dry wash that cuts through the coastal cliffs at Piedritas about 8km N of town,and a marshy agricultural oasis where the broad Chira river enters the sea about 30km S. But to get to Talara I had to fly (from Lima) to the wetter and birdier Tumbes, near the Ecuadorian border 200km further north in the heart of the "Tumbesian" avifauna zone.
Landed at Lima at dawn. With two hours before my Tumbes flight (and with no baggage--all my stuff was already aboard our ship) I walked 25min on the main Av.Elmer Faucett to "Rio Rimac"(an oily sewer gurgling through a smouldering garbage dump).First bird seen was a Peregrine on a power pole at the airport parking lot;common along the avenue were Croaking Ground- dove, Pacific(White-winged)Dove,Rufous-collared Sparrow and Blue-and-white Swallow.The river was pretty bleak, but in some nice little private gardens along the right bank, upstream from the Av.Faucett, were the all-brown race of Vermilion Flycatcher, Southern House Wren, Blue-black Grassquit, Saffron Finch, and Amazilia Hummingbird. If I'd had a longer layover in Lima I would have taxied to one of the city's better birding spots (eg. Callao waterfront or Villa marshes)---I found out too late that I did have a longerlayover, because the flight to Tumbes left 2hours late (as usual, apparently) Finally landed at Tumbes about 1230.
Unlike Lima, Tumbes airport is in a great birding spot, in a thorn forest a few km N of town and a few km from the coast.Even at midday (hot sun but cooling sea-breeze) some of the local specialities were easy to find along the airport access road:Scarlet-backed Woodpecker,Collared Ant-shrike, Pacific Parrotlet,Cinereous Finch,Pacific(Pale-legged)Hornero. Long-tailed Mockingbird, Superciliated Wren, and Tropical Gnatcatcher were in every bush. I walked 4 or 5 km from the airport to the coast at Puerto Pizarro, a small fishing harbour/beach resort on a mangrove-fringed lagoon, with a good central waterfront motel($13). When I reached there after my hot walk I was able to watch all the usual herons and shorebirds, Laughing Gulls and a single Grey-headed Gull, over the rim of a cold beer from a palapa on the beach.
Next morning (after nighttime rain!) the more ambitious would have rented a boat to search the mangrove channels for Rufous-necked Wood-rail, or tried to take a taxi to the Tumbes National Forest in the Andean foothills. Instead, I spent the cool morning hours (til the coastal cloud burned off about 1100) in the thorn forest behind Puerto Pizarro, walking the dirt road to the village of Bendito, past some large fish ponds.This track branches NE from the paved road about 1km inland from Puerto Pizarro, at the inner edge of seasonally flooded lagoons which the paved road crosses on a causeway. Early January was right at the start of the rainy season, and the lagoons were dry;drainage ditches around them (about 100m NE of the paved road) had several pairs of animated Masked Water-tyrants, near the southern limit of their west coast range, and Amazon Kingfisher.After finding most of the endemics I was looking for in the thorn forest, I took a Puerto Pizarro to Tumbes bus, had lunch on the sidewalk of Tumbes central plaza (watching Blue-grey Tanagers nest-building in the plaza trees),then another bus 25km S along the coast to Zorritos. I'd planned to stay at this smallish beach resort, using it as a base to explore inland to the Tumbes National Forest next day, but the recommended hotel (H.Turistas)was closed because of some water supply problem, so I pressed on to a new fancier ($35) resort hotel on the beach about 4km past Zorritos, and collapsed into a luxurious bath. I did walk a few km along the coast toward dusk, but didn't see anything new( Cinereous Finch,Vermilion Flycatcher,etc).
Next day, rather than walking back to Zorritos to find a taxi to go inland (not sure if this would have been successful -- most "taxis" are 3-wheeled scooters unsuitable for dirt roads) I walked SW along the coast road to the smaller town of Bocapan, where the locals told me there were no taxis of any sort.So my inland exploration had to be less ambitious -- I walked just 8-10km up the gravel road (almost no motorised traffic) from Bocapan to Faical and beyond.Saw some good birds, including a pair of Black-necked Woodpeckers (well N of their mapped range in Winkler et al), in the dense, fairly high dry forest alongside a dry wash about 5km inland, then staggered back out to the main coast road when the midday heat became blistering, and bussed down to Talara to meet our ship as it arrived.
Unfortunately, the ship had to anchor out, and we could only get to and fro shore on an infrequent and erratically scheduled boat service.So it was 0900 and already hot before I could get back to land next day. I went with one of my students to the Chira oasis, about a 40min drive across the desert.There is a $1.50 bus to the town of Miramar near the Chira mouth, but we couldn't find it, so we paid $10 for a taxi to get going ASAP; this took an extra hour or so, first circling town to find a spare tyre, then installing it (without benefit of a jack!) when one of the bald tyres blew out in the middle of the desert. I thoroughly recommend a day trip to Miramar as an escape from the urban bleakness of Talara -- it is a bucolic farm village on a bluff overlooking the irrigated valley, which resembles a miniature Lower Nile, with its dozens of large hand-built wind- mills pumping water into the fields. And even at midday there were plenty of birds in the fields, tree groves and marshes -- notable in the latter was a striking Cocoi Heron, taking 10 minutes to swallow a fish several times wider than his neck. We did find the $1.50 "bus" (actually a Ford Galaxy that crammed in 14 passengers, some of them in the boot) back to Talara in the p.m. After gathering a few more shipmates from a bar, we set off by minibus to the Piedritas "woods" for the last 2 hours of day- light.The prize sightings there were several very obliging Peruvian Plantcutters, giving their loud donkey-like call from perches atop the isolated clumps of desert scrub.
We were supposed to leave for the open sea next day, but first the ship had to fuel, and another ship was hogging the fuelling pier. After a morning's inactivity at anchor, we decided to steam 40 miles down the coast to the port of Paita, where a long empty pier was reported. Fuelling there took all night and much of the next morning (taking on 100,000 gallons from a parade of tanker trucks), our departure was delayed a day, we weren't allowed ashore in Paita, though once we had fuelled the local authorities insisted we return to Talara for more customs formalities -- a lot of expensive hassle, but at least it meant we had two 4-hour coastal cruises in the rich Humboldt Current between Talara and Paita.
Most impressive were rafts of several hundred Waved Albatross (this is their favourite feeding ground outside their Galapagos breeding season), with languid take-offs when the ship was about 100m away, followed by most un-albatross-like flapping flight. Plus plenty of boobies, mainly Blue- footed near Talara, where there's a colony on Punta Parinas, with increasing numbers of Peruvian toward Paita. Paita harbour, with many more fishing boats than Talara, had many more birds -- a flock of several hundred Grey-headed Gulls, compared to the 6-10 seen at Talara, for example. We finally got out of Talara, heading almost due west at 13 knots, near dusk, so most of the nearshore upwelling zone was crossed during the night. But next morning, 150 miles from shore, birds were still abundant, especially the several storm-petrels that rounded out my short but fairly unusual Peru list:
Species List: (C = common; X = present;* = fairly local sp.)
A = Lima
B = Tumbes airport to Puerto Pizarro, 6 Jan
C = Puerto Pizarro to Bendito, 7 Jan
D = Bocapan to Faical
E = Talara harbour, 8 Jan
F = Chira oasis
G = Piedritas woods, 9 Jan
H = Talara to Paita by sea, and return. 10-11 Jan
I = 150-200 n.miles west of Talara, 12 Jan
|Little Blue Heron||-||C||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|South American Tern||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||X|
|Pacific (White-winged) Dove||C||-||-||C||-||C||-||-||-|
|*Pacific (Pale-legged) Horner||-||C||C||C||-||C||X||-||-|
|Southern Beardless Tyrannulet||-||X||X||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|*West Peruvian (Mangrove) Swallow||-||-||-||-||-||X||-||-||-|
|Southern Rough-winged Swallow||-||C||C||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|Southern House Wren||C||C||-||-||-||C||-||-||-|
Nomenclature (but not order) follows Sibley and Monroe's list,which see for scientific names.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
La Jolla, Calif.