The birds of Abra Patricia and the Upper Río Mayo, San Martín, North Perú

An ornithological survey was undertaken in 1998 in forest east of Abra Patricia, Dpto San Martín, northern Perú on which 317 species were recorded. Combined with published records and recent sightings from visiting birders, the number of bird species increases to at least 420. Twenty-three are classified as globally threatened (3), including Xenoglaux loweryi and Grallaricula ochraceifrons whose life histories are virtually unknown. Additionally 7 species are restricted within their ranges (22). Although 182,000 ha of forest are theoretically protected, being classified as “bosque de proteccion del Alto Mayo”, rapid deforestation is occurring with no practical protection measures apparent. Conservation of this important area is now being actively pursued.


In northern Peru the forest east of the pass Abra Patricia, Dpto San Martín (see Appendix 3 for co-ordinates) is of special interest as it is the type locality for the enigmatic Long-whiskered Owlet Xenoglaux loweryi and Ochre-fronted Antpitta Grallaricula ochraceifrons (10,15). However, ornithological surveys were only confined to three Louisiana State University Museum of Zoology (LSUMZ) expeditions, totalling six weeks, in 1976, 1977 and 1983 (15,18,5). Since that period the region has been too dangerous to visit, until the recent cessation of terrorist acitivities.

The area is located at the northern end of the Cordillera Oriental, the easternmost range of the north Peruvian Andes, sloping eastward down to the Rio Mayo. The forest is traversed by the one paved road through the Andes in northern Peru, from Olmos on the coastal plain to Moyobamba on the western edge of Amazonia. The native forest along this road is mostly cut or badly degraded except for the remaining pristine area on the slope east of Abra Patricia at c.2300m, some 375 road km east of Olmos and 90km west of Rioja, down to 1000m, below which it has been cleared mainly for rice paddies and cash crops. This humid temperate and sub-tropical forest has survived because of inaccessibility - the dirt road through it was constructed only 20 years ago. However, in 1998 the road was being rebuilt, making it one of the best graded and surfaced roads to pass through extensive virgin forest (for 35 road km) anywhere in the Andes. The inevitable consequence of this is the arrival of settlers and opportunists, resulting in increased deforestation. This situation was clearly apparent during my visit in August 1998, with an Anglo-Swedish party, and so I decided to return with Peru-based assistants in November to undertake a new bird-survey to provide a sound basis for a conservation programme. 


Fieldwork was conducted for 20 days in November 1998 by Jeremy Flanagan (JF) and JH, assisted by César Chávez Villavicencio (CC) and Carlos Aries for part of the time. Rob Innes and Chris Jones (RI, CJ) also spent 10 days of this period birding along and near the road and contributed their sight and sound records to the survey.

We operated 9-11 mist-nets of c.100m total length at four elevations. Net sites were on the trail at the pass (2250-2300m), on and near the Garcia ridge (1850-1950m), above Afluente (1300-1350m) and at Aguas Verdes (1050m) – see Fig.1. Most of the nets were kept open all the time except during prolonged rain or where bats were found to be relatively common at night. All birds were measured on removal from the nets, photographed selectively, and released after a tail feather had been snipped in order to determine whether the bird was a fresh capture. Forest near the net sites was surveyed visually and audially, from the road or main trails.

Observations from other birders who had been in the area in the previous two years were sought. Valuable contributions were received from Rose Ann Rowlett and  Richard Webster (RAR, REW), Barry Walker (BW) and Dave Willis (DW). A list drawn up by Gary Graves (GRG) of the species recorded during his 1976 expedition with John O’Neill (JPO) was also obtained.

The habitat at the LSUMZ study sites has been described in some detail (5,15,17 ) but can be summarised at the lower elevations as sub-tropical forest of tall (50+m) emergent trees and closed canopy at around 30m, with a dense understorey. Canopy height decreases with altitude so that by 1800-1900m it is 6-9m in the flatter and sheltered areas but only 4-5m on exposed ridgetops. Frequency of rain and cloud cover is high, with most trees covered in thick moss and laden with bromeliads, orchids and ferns. Palms and emergent ferns are numerous, as are Chusquea bamboo thickets in places. At the pass the canopy is still up to 9m high with no stunted forest, but extensive deforestation has occurred on the west side, with a lesser amount on the east side. 

The weather was a mixture of rain and sunny intervals, wetter in the first two weeks particularly at night, with rain throughout some nights, but relatively dry in the last week. Prevailing easterly winds varied in strength from light to moderate.


The total number of bird species recorded during the August and November 1998 field work was 317, including 115 captured by mist-netting (353 individuals and 19 recaptures, Appendix 2). With 56 species newly recorded, the total for the locality becomes 420 species - see Appendix 1 for further details. Since the study period was short, data could not be analysed statistically for parameters of species abundance


The 23 species currently considered by BirdLife International (3) to be globally threatened  (2 vulnerable and 21 near-threatened) are listed below with all known recent records from the area.

Hooded Tinamou Nothocercus nigrocapillus

Individuals were seen on the trail near Abra Patricia pass on 28 Aug (JH) and 20 Sept 1998 (RAR), and one tape recorded there on 23 Nov (JH). One was also heard at 1950m on the west side of the pass, just outside the area, on 28 Oct 1996 (RAR, REW).

Fasciated Tiger-Heron Tigrisoma fasciatum

Noted as fairly common near the pass by Davis (5), individuals on the river above Garcia on 25 Sept 1997 at 2000m (24) and in the same area on 27 Aug 1998 (JH et al) are the only recent records. However, as it has been seen more frequently west of the pass, eg 6 by BW during three visits, the species is likely to be a regular inhabitant of the survey area.

Crested Eagle Morphnus guianensis

One record by Parker & Parker (18) but none since.

Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle Spizastur melanoleucus

One seen well at 1300m on 21 Sept 1998 was strafed by a Bat Falcon Falco rufigularis (RAR, REW).

Orange-breasted Falcon Falco deiroleucus

Individuals at 1200 and 1600m on 25 Oct 1996 and in the rocky canyon at 2000m on 16 Jan and 27 Oct 1996 suggest a pair was holding territory that year. Since then the preferred area became a major quarry and staging area for road construction, and the only record has been of 2 at 1300m on 21 Sept 1998 (24).

Wattled Guan Aburria aburri

Classified as uncommon by Parker & Parker (18) and rare by Davis (5). The only recent confirmed record was of 2 above Afluente in Aug 1998 (DW). A single guan in flight at dusk above the river at Afluente on 16 Nov 98 was probably this species (JH).

Spot-winged Parrotlet Touit stictoptera

The only known records of this Vulnerable species are of 3 on 16 Jan 1996 at 1100m, Afluente area (24), 2 at 1800m on 23 May 1996 (BW), 5 at 1800m on 9 Nov 1998 (CC), and 2 at 1900m on 10 Nov (JH).

Long-whiskered Owlet Xenoglaux loweryi

A female was netted in the early morning of 22 Aug 1976, probably on the Garcia ridge (15), and 2, thought to be a pair, on 23 Aug in the stunted forest on the opposite side of the road (JPO in litt.). These were the first specimens and the only confirmed records from the locality. Two additional specimens were netted some 90km to the west at 2350m on Cordillera de Colán on 15 Oct 1978 by Tom Schulenberg (TSS)(2). Xenoglaux has not been recorded since, nor has it ever been seen for certain in the field or taped.

Despite netting in the stunted forest at night we failed to find any definite evidence of the presence of this bird. However, we did hear and record an unknown species calling at night. It was not tape-responsive and only called occasionally, on relatively clear nights, but at 2 or 3 localities at 1800-1900m and c.2300m. It could have been Xenoglaux as the call was so different from any owl known to several experienced ornithologists, but it could even be from a new species.  

Napo Sabrewing Campylopterus villavicensio

An adult male netted at Aguas Verdes on 19 Nov 98 was the first record for this area, at c.1050m, the lower end of the known elevational range (23). In Peru it is known only from two localities: east of Moyobamba, San Martin, where first recorded by Davis in Oct 1983, mainly at 1350m, with 26 specimens obtained (5), and the upper Río Comainas (a tributary of the Río Cenepa) in the Cordillera

del Condor (21)

Ecuadorian Piedtail Phlogophilus hemileucurus

Thought to be endemic to Ecuador until discovered at Afluente in 1977 by Parker and Parker (18) who classifed it as uncommon. Individuals were seen on 26 Oct 1996 at 1000m and 21 Sept 1998 at 1300m (24); one was netted at 1050m on 19 Nov, and several sighted at 1350m (RI, CJ).

Royal Sunangel Heliangelus regalis

This Vulnerable species was discovered in June 1975, in the Cordillera del Cóndor, near the northern border with Ecuador (8). Although not recorded at Abra Patricia by O’Neill and Graves, it was found by Davis at 1550m east of Moyobamba (5). One was first noted on 15-16 Jan 1996 on the stunted forest ridge at Garcia (24) and one or two males were seen near there in May 1996 (BW). At least 5 males were observed around here on 29 Aug 1998, and one subadult male trapped (JH). In November it was found to be fairly common along the ridge, with single adult and subadult males trapped.

Lanceolated Monklet Micromonacha lanceolata

Parker & Parker recorded a single individual (18). One was seen at 1500m, above Afluente, on 26 Oct 1996, with 2 at the same spot on 21 Sept 1998  (24), but not recorded during the survey. 

Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan Andigena hypoglauca

Described as uncommon by Davis near the pass (5). Individuals were seen by RAR, REW and by JH et al  in Aug-Sept at 2100-2300m. More apparent during the survey when it was recorded daily along the trail at the pass, with up to 6 birds feeding in one fruiting tree.

Speckle-chested Piculet Picumnus steindachneri

Classifed as common by Parker and Parker (18), and “fairly common, most often seen with flocks” by RAR, REW who have recorded up to 8 in a day, throughout the 1000-2300m elevational range but mostly under 1800m (24). Fairly common in the Rio Afluente area in Nov, seen singly or with mixed flocks, foraging from low in dense roadside shrubbery to 10-12m up towards the tips of thin branches (RI, CJ).

Russet-mantled Softtail Tripophaga berlepschi

At least 2 of this little known Vulnerable species were seen well in a feeding flock in bamboo understorey at 2250m on Nov 25 (RI, CJ). A bird thought to be this species had previously been recorded along the same trail at the pass, in a feeding flock with other funarids, on 28 Aug (JH et al). Although below the published range for the species (2550-3350m [19] and 3050-3300m [23]), Davies et al  reported 6 sightings on Cordillera de Colán at 1800-1950m in subcanopy and canopy mixed species flocks (4).

Equatorial Greytail Xenerpestes singularis

Found near Afluente in 1977, the first record anywhere for many years, and noted as uncommon by Parker and Parker (17). One or two were seen at 1300-1500m on every trip by RAR, REW with 5 on 21 Sept 1998 near Afluente - found by regular checking of mixed flocks in its altitudinal range (24).

The only record in the survey was of 3+ in a mixed flock at 1300m (RI, CJ).

Chestnut Antpitta   Grallaria blakei

Only described in 1987 (11) and tape-recorded by Bret Whitney in Aug 1989 at the pass. It was classified as rare by Davis (5), and was heard at two different localities near the pass in Sept-Oct 1997 (24). One was trapped along the trail at the pass during the survey, and another taped in some 2km further east (RI, CJ). Based on vocal evidence, it appears to be much scarcer than Rusty-tinged G. przewalskii.

Ochre-fronted Antpitta Grallaricula ochraceifrons

This elusive species has almost the same history as Xenoglaux and its life history is also unknown. The first ever, a pair, was caught at Garcia at 1890m on 26 Aug 1976 and another male taken there on 30 Aug 76 (10). Two other specimens were mist-netted by G.L.Graham and TSS at 1950-1980m on Cordillera de Colán on 17-18 Aug 1978 (2), but it has apparently never been recorded anywhere since, contrary to what is implied in the literature (9,19). We had no luck on the ridge but on moving nets to the stunted forest on the opposite side of the road at c.1950m, soon caught a female. However, the species was not recorded again despite two subsequent days of effort at this site.

Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater Pipreola frontalis

One was seen on 20 Sept 1998 at 1100m near Puente Aguas Verdes (BW et al) and 4 at 1000m on 22 Sept (RAR, REW); Parker and Parker (18) had a single unconfirmed record.

Scaled Fruiteater Ampelioides tschudii

Three were observed near Puente Aguas Verdes on 27 Aug 1998, with individuals near Afluente on 28 Aug (JH et al), 20 Sept (BW et al) and 22 Sept (RAR, REW); Parker and Parker had only a single record (18).

Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant Hemitriccus rufigularis

The only evidence of this widely distributed but scarce species is of one seen on 26 Oct 1996 at 1500m, above Afluente (24). There have been a few records from the isolated mountains east of Moyobamba, Dpto San Martín, the first being that documented by Davis (5) who found it to be uncommon at 1350-1450 m.

Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant Hemitriccus cinnamomeipectus

Four specimens of this species, first found on the Cordillera de Cóndor on 20 July 1976 (7), were taken shortly afterwards at Garcia by JPO and GRG (7). 3-4 were seen on the Garcia ridge in Aug 1989 by Bret Whitney and individuals noted here in Sept 1997 and 1998 (24). A pair was observed here during the survey and one individual trapped, while another was seen and taped in the forest on the opposite side of the road.

Bar-winged Wood-Wren Henicorhina leucoptera

Although rarely seen, and RAR, REW found the species difficult to detect during their trips, we heard its song fairly frequently in stunted forest at 1900-2300m during the survey. Two were trapped on the Garcia ridge and one on the opposite side of the road, with a few others heard in both areas. It does not appear to be constrained here by the presence of Grey-breasted Wood-Wren H. leucophrys which is common nearby, as proposed to explain its absence on Cordillera de Colán (4). The ecological separation of the two species would be a worthy and practicable research project here.


Andean/ Yungas Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium jardinii / bolivianus

A rufous morph Glaucidium was caught low in a net by the trail at 2250m on 21 Nov, possibly attracted by a bird caught in the net. As it was too heavy for G. parkeri, it was presumed to be G. jardinii, or bolivianus as this form south of the Marañon is sometimes considered taxonomically (12), and this was later confirmed by Stefan Woltman who compared the photo with skins at the LSUMZ.

An owl  seen in flight at dusk at the pass (2300m) on 20 Nov appeared to be of Otus size, rather than Glaucidium, but was not relocated and no Otus calls were heard. O. petersoni, ingens and albogularis may possibly occur at this elevation, all being recorded at Cordillera de Colán (TSS in litt).

Crimson-bellied Woodpecker  Campephilus haematogaster

A male of this secretive species was seen and taped at 1400m on 15 November (JF). Previously noted as rare by Parker and Parker (18).

Tapaculos Scytalopus species

S. femoralis  Peruvian Rufous-vented Tapaculo (13) was recorded as uncommon by Davis (5) and Parker and Parker (18), but we found it to be common: we trapped two, at 1800 and 2300m, and heard many more.  At lower elevations S. atratus White-crowned (13) sounded fairly common. The vocalization of this bird differs from that of the Ecuadorian population (13; RAR, REW) and sounds somewhat more like that of S. bolivianus Bolivian Tapaculo. Further work is required to resolve the taxonomic status of these populations (13; TSS pers. comm.).

S. parvirostris Trilling Tapaculo was found by Whitney at the pass in Aug 1989 (13) and RAR, REW heard it there on both visits in 1996. The only tapaculo recorded by O’Neill and Graves, at 1900m, was subsequently identified as Ash-coloured Myornis senilis (GRG). We heard an unfamiliar species calling in the 1800-2300m range but failed to identify it.


Shrike-like Cotinga/ Elegant Mourner Laniisoma elegans

This widespread but rarely seen species was classified as uncommon by Parker and Parker (18), implying that it was recorded daily or every other day in small numbers. The only subsequent report was of one heard calling at Puente Aguas Verdes on 20 Sept 1998 (BW et al).

Chestnut-crested Cotinga Ampelion rufaxilla

Two were noted on 24 Sept 1997 and 8 on 25th at 2100-2200m near the pass (24). Two on 25 Nov 1998 at 2100m and one at 2300m (RI, CJ) were the only records during the survey.

Jet Manakin Chloropipo unicolor

Two males were netted in the vicinity of Garcia – one on the ridge and one below it – but none was seen in the field. Ridgely and Tudor note that Chloropipo manakins are rarely observed (19).  It was also recorded by O’Neill and Graves at 1670m.

Inca Flycatcher  Leptopogon taczanowskii

This restricted range species was not recorded, surprisingly, by earlier studies but was first noted by RAR, REW on 17 Jan 1996 at 2100m, and seen by them on subsequent visits. During the survey it was considered to be not uncommon near the road at 1500-2300m (RI, CJ), although only one was trapped, at 2300m. It occurred singly, in mixed feeding flocks and in small parties with dependent young.

Tody-Tyrant sp. Poecilotriccus sp. nov. 

A new species of Poecilotriccus closely related to the Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant P. ruficeps found north of the Rio Marañon was discovered in the north Peruvian Andes in the late 1970s. Although considered to be a new species, its description is still pending. Davis (5) rated it as fairly common west of the pass and RAR, REW recorded several in the range 1800-2300m on all their trips, noting that it does well in roadside second-growth shrubbery and bamboo, and also occurs in bamboo thickets inside undisturbed forest (24). We too found it to be fairly common, but only around 1800-1900m, where 5 individulas were trapped. 

Black-and-white Tody-Tyrant Poecilotriccus capitalis

Parker & Parker reported two sightings of this “rare and local” (18) species near Afluente while RAR, REW had one – a pair on 26 Oct 1996 at 1000m. A female was caught on 18 Nov 1998 and a pair seen on 19th, at 1350m – above the maximum elevation for the species (1100m) according to Stotz (23), although Ridgely and Tudor quote 1350m (19). 

Ecuadorian Tyrannulet Phylloscartes gualaquizae

Up to 5 were recorded daily between 1050m and 1500m, Afluente area, during Aug - Oct visits (RAR, REW, JH, BW et al). This, the only known site in Peru (BW), is the southern limit of this restricted range species, which inhabits elevations between 1050 and 2000m (23).

Olive-chested Flycatcher Myiophobus cryptoxanthus

Parker and Parker (18) had only one record of this species which is only known from a few scattered localities in Ecuador and north Peru, but RAR, REW saw one or two at 1100-1500m on 3 of their 4 trips. We observed it in Aug and Nov at this range and caught two in secondary growth at Aguas Verdes.

Olive Flycatcher Mitrephanes olivaceus

Two on 28 Oct 1996 at the pass, one on 19 Sept 1998 at 2100m east of the pass (24), and one on the trail at the pass on 23 Nov 1998 (JH) are the only records of this widespread but scarce species.

Wing-barred Piprites Piprites chloris

Recorded by Parker and Parker at Afluente and classified as rare (18), and one heard at 1000m on 21 Sept 1997 (RAR, REW). We caught one at the surprisingly high elevation of 1900m on 26 Nov 1998. Ridgely and Tudor (19) state the species is “mostly below 1000m; less often up to1500m”. The trapped bird was yellow below and therefore presumably the tschudii race, although it did not have the yellow ”spectacled” appearance described and illustrated (19).

Andean Slaty-Thrush Turdus nigriceps

Individuals were recorded on 27 Oct 1996, 23 Sept 1997, 18 & 21 Sept 1998 at 1300-1500m (23), and a first year male caught on 25 Nov on Garcia ridge. According to Schulenberg (20), “it is largely, if not entirely, a non-breeding visitor to eastern Peru” with 86 specimens collected 28 May – 9 Sept and two males from Amazonas on 25 Oct and 3 Nov. The presence of our first year bird in late November may indicate that such birds could “over-summer” in the north.

White-capped Tanager  Sericossypha albocristata

A small party of this striking tanager frequented the Garcia area during the survey and another party of 6 was observed in the gorge at c.2000m. The latter, consisting of one adult male, one juvenile and 5 female-plumaged birds, fed singly on the grubs in a large active wasp’s nest for c.30 minutes on 26 Nov. The male was the first to feed, spending in excess of 10 minutes upside down, attacking the nest, while a female perched above it, apparently acting as sentinel. He was followed in turn by female-types and the immature who begged for food but was not given any. This widespread but local species has been regularly observed here and was reported by Davis (5) as uncommon.

Huallaga Tanager  Ramphocelus melanogaster

First recorded on 16 Jan 1996 in the Afluente area and seen there on all subsequent trips (24), this restricted range species has presumably spread up from the Huallaga drainage in response to deforestation. We only found it around Aguas Verdes, where it was common.

Slaty Finch Haplospiza rustica

An immature of this scarce species, normally found in bamboo, was observed feeding on roadside grass seed at 1500m on 27 Oct 1996 (24). Single female-types were caught on Garcia ridge on 29 Aug and 26 Nov, and a male seen feeding on a grassy slope at the forest edge near there on 3 occasions in Nov (JH). It is also on Graves’s list for this elevation.


Inevitably, a few scarce species recorded by the earlier expeditions were not recorded during the survey or by other recent visitors, most notably Yellow-throated Spadebill Platyrinchus flavigularis, recorded at 1670m (GRG), and Roraiman Flycatcher Myiophobus roraimae which was sighted once by Parker and Parker and 3 specimens netted (18).

Altitudinal separations were noted in sister taxa, for example White-tipped and Buff-tailed Sicklebills Eutoxeres aquila and condamini, the former occurring at 1350m (and 1670-1980m - GRG) and the latter at 1050m, and Streak-necked and Olive-striped Flycatchers  Mionectes striaticollis and M. olivaceus, which were found mostly at 1800-2350m and 1300-1500m, respectively. Eutoxeres aquila is at the southern extreme of it’s range here, and was erroneously reported as being newly discovered east of the Rio Marañon by the 1995 Cordillera de Colán expedition (1), having been already listed at Afluente by Parker and Parker (18).  

Two species whose form in this area was in doubt are Sharpe's Wren Cinnycerthia olivascens and White-browed Antbird Myrmoborus leucophrys. The former was definitely the bird here, and not C.peruana, while the latter was the nominate race, not the newly described koenigorum of the Huallaga drainage (16).

Northern migrants were fairly scarce during the survey apart from Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus, which seemed to be numerous at 1350-1500m (7 caught in 3 days), and Alder Flycatcher Empidonax alnorum which was not uncommon in the secondary growth at Aguas Verdes. Rowlett and Webster report some interesting observations of such migrants during their four visits (24). 


Considering the limited survey time and the relatively small elevational range and area surveyed, the forest below Abra Patricia has been found to have a remarkably high degree of avian richness. The most significant discoveries of the survey were the presence of the threatened Campylopterus villavicensio and Phacellodomus berlepschi. Other scarce species will doubtless occur; strong possibilities include Black-and-chestnut Eagle Oroaetus isidori, White-faced Nunbird Hapaloptila castane and Straw-backed Tanager Tangara argyrofenges. The discovery of C. villavicensio gives hope that other poor-soil species such as the vulnerable Ash-throated Antwren Herpsilochmus parkeri could be present at lower elevations. The hills above the pass have not been explored at all and are likely to hold more threatened and restricted range species, e.g. Pale-billed Antpitta Grallaria carrikeri, Large-footed Tapaculo Scytalopus macropus and Greater Scythebill Campylorhamphus pucherani (all of which occur at Cordillera de Colán, some 80km to the west).

The avifauna here is similar to that of the better known Podocarpus NP in southern Ecuador, only 150 - 200 km away but on the other side of the R. Marañon. There are some major differences, including at least 50 species not listed for Podocarpus and the presence of a number of highly localised birds. The latter mainly occur in the unique stunted cloud forest found on isolated mountain ridges east of the main Andean cordilleras. The only other forests known to hold similar birds are at Cordillera de Colán, Amazonas and Cordillera de Cóndor, Cajamarca and southeastern Ecuador (14). The avifauna of the former is particularly similar at higher elevations, being the only other locality where Xenoglaux and G ochraceifrons have been found. However, it does not hold the lower altitude specialities of Abra Patricia, probably in part because of heavy deforestion at lower elevations, nor, surprisingly, Henicorhina leucoptera. Fourteen threatened species have been found at Colán, some of which are restricted to elevations higher than have been explored at Abra Patricia, compared with 23 at the latter.

The forest at Abra Patricia and the Upper Rio Mayo is located wthin three of BirdLife’s endemic bird areas: EBA 055, Ecuador – Perú east Andes; EBA 057, Andean ridge-top forests, while the pass itself is part of EBA 059, Northeast Peruvian cordilleras (22). By dividing it up in this somewhat artificial way, no single area has more than 5 or 6 restricted range species, compared to 16+ for the whole area. The most important part is the stunted ridgetop forest in BA 057, which is only 3,800 sq km in total, holding as it does 5 of the 7 restricted range species in the EBA, all of which are globally vulnerable or near-threatened. The near-threatened species include Xenoglaux and G ochraceifrons, which Davies et al (4) have recommended for reassessment to the categories of threatened and vulnerable, respectively. Although the status of both cannot be assessed accurately, they do appear to be confined to a specialised habitat which is certainly under threat, and so uprating would seem to be justified. The undescribed Poecilotriccus species, although locally common, is surely of restricted range and possibly near-threatened.

At the lower boundary of the forest, species are colonising the border region and can be expected to expand as deforestation proceeds; examples include Black-billed Thrush Turdus ignobilis, Black-faced Tanager Schistochlamys melanopis, Huallaga Tanager Ramphocelus melanogaster and Moriche Oriole Icterus chrysocephalus.


With at least 23 Red Data book species and a further 7 or more restricted range species, the Upper Rio Mayo forest is of immense importance. It is also home to some rare mammals such as Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey Lagothrix lavicauda (JPO, GRG) and Mountain Tapir Tapirus pinchaque (said by locals to be relatively common) as well as to a wide range of plants. The main threat to wildlife is permanent deforestation by settlers. The local government is giving tracts, near the road at least, to Peruvians for conversion to farmland and cattle ranching, and people are coming considerable distances to aid the process by illegally extracting timber.

We only visited a small section of this forest but a huge area of 182,000ha is classed as Bosque de Proteccion del Alto Mayo – Fig 2. This was enacted by the government in 1986, at the request of local leaders in Rioja, to protect the watershed of the Rio Mayo from logging. In 1994 the Universidad Nacional de Cajamarca apparently was given responsibility for the management of this forest and initiated a floristic inventory, under the leadership of Michael Dillon (MOD) of the Field Museum of Chicago (6). Two collecting expeditions were undertaken from Rioja in 1997 and 1998, following two exploratory trips. Preliminary results point to high levels of diversity and new species in a variety of families have been discovered (6). However, deforestation on the Rioja side is increasing alarmingly, so that a two day walk is needed to reach primary forest (MOD). Population growth in the Mayo valley is expanding and a constant influx of migrants has lead to deep intrusions into the forest, where clear-cutting and planting of coffee goes unchecked, even though the boundaries of the protected forest are widely known (6). Thus the situation appears potentially similar to that at Cordillera de Colán to the west, where in 1995 Davies et al (4) found that much of the forest had been removed since the survey in largely pristine forest in 1978, an indication of how quickly severe deforestation can occur.  

Hence there is an urgent need to introduce effective conservation measures. The necessary legal framework and management responsibility may to be in place for most of the forest but without the substantial financial resource needed for law enforcement. However, the vital higher elevation part of the forest, containing Xenoglaux and G ochraceifrons, is thought to be excluded and therefore unprotected in theory as well as practice. This situation needs clarification, and if necessary, every effort should be made to have the protected zone extended to include the higher reaches.

According to Michael Dillon (in litt.) “there is a core of people in Rioja fighting to save the forest, but it is an impossible task with the current governmental make-up. Peruvian collaborators are trying to educate about the consequences of clear-cutting, but to those people who are willing to pull up and leave when things are destroyed, moving on to destroy yet another area, basic rational arguments for conservation do not work." The problem is exacerbated by the possible presence of Sendero renegades, and the suspicions of the locals even at botanists, following the traumatic times of the 80s and early 90s. The NGO ProAvesPeru, based in the north in Piura, is keen to help by liaising with government agencies and local conservationists, but requires funds to implement a preliminary study, hopefully in collaboration with the Universidad Nacional de Cajamarca. The project is included in ProAvesPeru ‘s Action Programme (detailed on website

One useful proposal is to purchase land adjacent to the new road to block access to the pristine forest (which would help prevent a wide deforested corridor splitting the forest into two parts), but ongoing funds would also be required to police any such acquisitions. It may be that Peru needs an organisation specifically to identify, purchase and manage key areas for the preservation of endangered birds, as has recently been set-up in Ecuador (R. S. Ridgely in litt.).

There is scope for ecotourism if facilities were improved - with numerous Andean Cock-of-the-Rock Rupicola peruviana, a wide variety of tanagers and some truly rare birds observable, while further west, Marvellous Spatuletail Loddigesia mirabilis and other spectacular hummingbirds, and the Marañon endemics occur. Tarapoto, the gateway to the area, is already a major tourist attraction for Peruvians, and so a circuit could be promoted from there through Abra Patricia to Chachapoyas and Chiclayo where there are some first rate cultural attractions and facilities (BW in litt.).

This is also an area that warrants further ornithological investigation, especially to survey other parts of the forest – collaboration with the plant inventory team is already being explored. Detailed work to try to unlock the secrets of Xenoglaux and G ochraceifrons should certainly be undertaken while access to their preserve is still relatively simple. There could be more surprises in store, particularly if the higher more remote parts of the forest can be explored. However, the main priority must be to preserve the core of this unique forest, which may become the last resort of Xenoglaux. To quote O’Neill and Graves (18) on its discovery:- “To this day this strange little owl has remained as exciting to us as it was on that rainy day in northern Perú …….  “ 

Jon Hornbuckle  35 Grove Road, Sheffield S7 2GY UK


The survey was partly funded, in rapid time, by a Neotropical Bird Club grant (for Peruvian-based participants) and by the generosity of Robert Ridgely. Assistance was also offered by Barry Walker. The Embassy of Finland, courtesy of Mikko Pyhala, kindly donated some supplies.

Jane Lyons was especially helpful in the planning stages and gave BirdLife International’s endorsement. Many senior Neotropical ornithologists have shown much interest and encouragement, most notably Tristan Davis, Gary Graves, John O’Neill, Robert Ridgely, Mark Robbins, Tom Schulenberg and Van Remsen. A special thanks is due to those who contributed records, especially Colin Bushell, Rob Innes, Chris Jones, Rose Ann Rowlett, Barry Walker, Richard Webster and Dave Willis. Valuable help was also received from Donald Brightman, Michael Dillon, Gunnar Engblom, Sjoerd Mayer, Jonas Nilsson and David Wege. Tristan Davis, Barry Walker and Thomas Zuechner reviewed the draft text, which was subsequently modified to incorporate their helpful suggestions. Jeremy Flanagan was assisted by Giorgo Batistini (Fideos Napoli) of Chiclayo.

I am grateful to all, and especially to Jeremy Flanagan, who assisted me throughout and drew the accompanying maps, and to César Chávez Villavicencio and Carlos Arias for their brief but important participation.


1.     Barnes, R. et al (1997) New distributional information on eight bird species from northern Peru. Bull. B.O.C. 118: 69-75

2.     Cardiff, S.W..& Remsen, J.V. (1995) Type specimens of birds in the museum of natural science, Louisiana State University. Occasional papers of the Museum of Natural Science. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

3.     Collar, N.J., Crosby, M.J. & Stattersfield, A.J. (1995) Birds to watch 2: the world checklist of threatened birds. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series 5).

4.     Davies, C.W.N. et al (1997) The Conservation Status of Birds on the Cordillera de Colán, Perú, Bird Conservation International 7(2): 181-95

5.     Davis, T.J. (1986) Distribution and natural history of some birds from the departments of San Martin and Amazonas, northern Perú. Condor 88:50-56

6.     Dillon, M. (1999) Grant 5791-96: Floristic Inventory of the Bosque Proteccion del Rio Alto Mayo. Either unpublished or

7.     Fitzpatrick, J.W. & O’Neill, J.P. (1979) A new tody-tyrant from northern Perú. Auk 96(1): 553-557.

8.     Fitzpatrick, J.W., Willard, D.E. & Terborgh, J.W. (1979) A new species of hummingbird from Perú. Wilson Bull. 91:187-186.

9.     Fjeldsa, J and Krabbe, N. (1990) Birds of the High Andes. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen.

10.  Graves, G.R., O’Neill, J.P. & Parker, T.A. (1983) Grallaricula ochraceifrons, a new species of antpitta from northern Perú. Wilson Bull. 95:1-6.

11.  Graves, G.R. (1987) A cryptic new species of antpitta (Formicariidae: Grallaria) from the Peruvian Andes. Wilson Bull. 99:313-322.

12.  Konig, C. (1991) Zur Taxonomie und Okologie der Sperlingskauze (Glaucidium spp.) des Andenraumes. Okologie der Vogel 13: 15-76.

13.  Krabbe, N. and Schulenberg, T (1997) Species limits and natural history of Scytalopus tapaculos (Rhinocryptidae), with descriptions of the Ecuadorian taxa, including three new species.  Ornithological Monographs  58: 57-88. Washington D.C.: AOU

14.  Krabbe, N. and Sornoza, M.F. (1995) Avifaunistic results of a subtropical camp in the Cordillera de Condor, southeastern Ecuador. Bull. B.O.C. 115: 55-61.

15.  O’Neill, J.P. & Graves, G.R. (1977) A new genus and species of owl (Aves:Strigidae) from Perú. Auk 95:509-516

16.  O’Neill, J.P., Parker, T.A. & Parker, S.A. (1997)  New subspecies of Myrmoborus leucophrys (Formicariidae) and Phrygilus alaudinus (Emberizidae) from the upper Huallaga Valley, Peru. Ornithological Monographs  58: 585-591. Washington D.C.: AOU

17.  Parker, T.A. & Parker, S.A. (1980) Rediscovery of Xenerpestes singularis. Auk 97: 202-205.

18.  Parker, T.A. & Parker, S.A. (1982) Behavioural and distributional notes on some unusual birds of a lower montane cloud forest in Perú. Bull. B.O.C. 102: 63-70

19.  Ridgely, R.S. & Tudor, G. (1995) The birds of South America; 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press

20.  Schulenberg, T.S. (1987) New records of birds from western Perú Bull. B.O.C. 107: 185-189.

21.  Schulenberg, T. S. & Awbrey, K. (editors). (1997) The Cordillera del Cóndor of Ecuador and Peru: a biological assessment.  RAP Working Papers 7: 66-67 & 181 Washington D.C.: Conservation International

22.  Stattersfield A.J., Crosby, M.J., Long A.J. & Wege, D.C. (1998) Endemic bird areas of the world: priorities for biodiversity conservation. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series 7).

23.  Stotz, D.F., Fitzpatrick, J.W., Parker, T.A. & Moskovits, D.K. (1996) Neotropical birds: ecology and conservation. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

24.  Webster, R.E, & Rowlett, R.A. (1998) Northern Peru:significant sightings. Unpublished report

Appendix 1

Birds recorded at Abra Patricia (from a few km west of the pass, eastwards to the town of Aguas Verdes)

References are:-

5.         Tristan Davis, 2km W of Abra Patricia pass at 2300m: 26.11.83-09.12.83

18.        Ted and Susan Parker, 25-30km E of Abra Patricia at Afluente, 1000-1300m: 30.08.77-15.9.77

24.        Richard Webster & Rose-Anne Rowlett’s report on notable records from visits in January and October 1996, and September 1997 and 1998. When followed by an asterisk, the record was in litt. to me, not in the report. 

G          Unpublished list by Gary Graves of the LSUMZ expedition by O’Neill and Graves, 10-15km E of Abra Patricia at 1670-1980m: 21.08.76 – 05.09.76. This is probably available in Informe sobre el trabajo del campo em el Perú in 1976 por el personal del Musel de Zoologia de la Universidad de Louisiana, unpublished report submitted by J. P. O'Neill and G. R. Graves to the Ministerio de Agricultura, Lima, Peru.     

W         Barry Walker’s unpublished list of records from visits in September 1983 and 1998, and May 1996

Codes in second column refer to conservation status, range and migratory status of the species:

RR = restricted range, V = vulnerable, NT = near-threatened, Nm = Nearctic migrant

Abundance: R = rare, no more than 3 records; X = present, probably recorded more than 3 times

Notes: Parker and Parker state their fieldwork was conducted at 1000-1300m and so all their results have been included in this range. However, I do suspect that their range may have been a little higher and so differences between the first two range columns should not be taken as very meaningful.

Graves does not quote any abundance levels, so that species in range >1600-1900 solely recorded by him could be rare even though designated X.

RAR, REW do not include all records, only the more interesting ones.

Appendix 2  Birds trapped at Abra Patricia 9-27 November 1998


There are two routes for visiting the area, from the east or the west. The easiest is to fly to Tarapoto (2 or 3 flights a day from Lima), from where it is a few hours drive to the forest, somewhat longer by public transport. There are a few flights a week to Moyabamba and Rioja, closer still. From the west, the starting point is Chiclayo, which can be reached by air or bus from Lima, or bus from the Ecuadorian border. Several buses a day go all the way to Moyabamba but it takes 12-15 hours to reach Abra Patricia pass. There is even one bus a day to and from Lima, a mighty long but cheap ride.

The nearest hotels are in Pomacocha de Florida and Moyabamba, both 2 hours or so away, but with some additional good birds in their vicinity. There are 5 or 6 restaurants along the road, near the forest, which all provide cheap, edible food; some have the odd room to let and it may be possible to rent rooms in Aguas Verdes, but living conditions are very basic.

Although the danger from terrorists is thought to be minimal now, there was a report of an attack on police and soldiers in Rioja on 3 July 1998 and of birders’ camping equipment being stolen near Abra Patricia in 1998. Based at the restaurants, we experienced no security problems.

Appendix 3: Co-ordinates of localities

The following GPS readings of localities in the text were measured by RAR and REW:-

Abra Patricia                 05º 41’ 93”, 77º 48’ 73”

Garcia                           05º 40’ 03”, 77º 46’ 25”

Puente Afluente             05º 40’ 58”, 77º 40’ 50”


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