The Scarlet-banded Barbet quest: Plataforma, Peru.

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Here’s another installment from our recent tour of Peru which happened to be the first leg of our tour. When my wife was communicating with Saturnino, our guide, prior to our tour, Satu suggested adding Plataforma to go see the Scarlet-banded Barbet, an endemic barbet. The Scarlet-banded Barbet was only just recently discovered and officially described in 2000. How does a medium-sized bird like a barbet go unnoticed? I don’t know but probably because there are so many species of birds and so many remote, inaccessible regions in Peru still. In reading the published account on the description of the Scarlet-banded Barbet, the place of its discovery was very remote and further east of our location (O’Neill et al. 2000).

Here’s the figure from O’Neill et al. (2000) showing the location of the holotype for the Scarlet-banded Barbet. Holotype is the single type specimen in which a species is named and described. Holotypes for birds are typically collected with shotguns.

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Plataforma isn’t located on their figure here and is further west in the San Martin province of Peru. The researchers predicted that the barbet could be found further west in higher elevations and they were right. I don’t know who discovered it in the town of Plataforma, but whoever it was, they made the bird somewhat accessible to birders. I say “somewhat” accessible because to most experienced travelers, the bird isn’t really accessible. To see this bird, you better know the locals of the Plataforma area because from what Satu told us, there’s only about 4 or 5 drivers that make the trek up to Plataforma. You must have a reliable truck, but more importantly, you better have a knowledgeable and experienced driver. The road up to the Plataforma is a consistent muddy roller coaster ride that can last 4-5 hours or longer, with mud depths up to 4 to 6 feet in places. Conditions are better, of course, when it’s not raining, but this is the Peruvian jungle and South America, it rains and it is muddy. When we arrived in Peru, this was our first destination, and for good reason, the chances of you breaking down or getting stuck are probably about 50-50. You don’t want to be delayed on your last day in Peru and miss your flight. Satu learned this the hard way with some clients and so he moved this option of his tour to the beginning of his proposed tour. We had no idea about this, of course, until we were fully committed and on the road. I had an idea we were in for a ride when I saw Edward’s truck. It was jacked up and permanently stained with mud. In addition, Satu was carrying toilet paper and I asked, “Is that for when we shit ourselves going up this road?” He laughed. We realized the severity of our situation about an hour up the road when our internal organs had been completely reorganized. My heart felt like it was located on the right side about an hour in.

Here’s a map of Plataforma (red marker) area in relation to Tarapota where we flew in to.Plataforma

Here’s our view in the back of a Edward’s 1998 Toyota Hilux on the road up to Plataforma. This was the view for about 4 hours as our internal organs were completely reorganized. Don’t worry, your internal organs are put back in place on the way back. The tire ruts in the road were 4 to 6 feet deep, but each side differed in depth so you swayed side to side like this for the majority of the ride up. We were amazed when Satu informed us that he took a 70 year-old couple up to Plataforma on this road. 20170703_115211

Here is Edward, aka Triple X, with his Toyota Hilux. We broke down for about 40 minutes but he fixed it and ordered a replacement part (which was delivered by another driver a day later). The shovel is for digging us out if necessary.20170703_105310

Here’s Joy with the Toyota Hilux. She’s all smiles.20170703_105157

I don’t have a photograph of the lodging there but it was very simple and sufficient. It was managed by Eugenio (I think this is the correct name and spelling). A very gracious man, eager to serve and always had a smile on his face it seemed. We’ve traveled enough in South and Central America to understand the relative make-up of various lodges and accommodations. Satu indicated that the place was very simple and that there was no hot water so we fully understood and were prepared for it. All we needed was a dark room and a bed anyhow since we knew from previous experiences that birding with guides in South America was exercise, especially if you want to see a lot of species quickly. I don’t care about a hot shower, I just periodically beat my chest and yell during a cold shower and finish the job quickly. The only problem we encountered with the lodge was that the walls were very thin and we had a local staying in the room beside us that woke up at 4:00 am and liked to listened to the radio at a good volume. The radio woke Joy up our first night (or morning) which was a long and exhausting day. She very politely informed Satu about it the next day and we didn’t have the issue again. The food was reasonable. It was chicken for almost every meal there with the exception of breakfast which was eggs. I joked with Satu later on during the tour that the chicken should be the national bird of Peru. We saw groups of free-ranging chickens just about everywhere we went in Peru, even in remote areas away from people we would somehow happen upon a chicken. I ate chicken at least once every two days or so.

The objective of this first leg of the trip was the Scarlet-banded Barbet. There was an antbird that was recently discovered at Plataforma as well, that was a side item, mostly because it was difficult and not nearly as charismatic as the barbet. I’m going to skip the story about the antbird. It was uneventful and a failure obviously but we didn’t spend a lot of time on it. It was our last day when we tried for it in the morning. We didn’t want to miss the barbet. To come all this way and miss the barbet was inexcusable. I’m sure Satu felt some pressure about it. Our day of judgement was 2 July 2017. We awoke early to try a spot only about 10 minutes away. It had poured for part of the night and so everything was soaked in the morning and there was a good deal of fog, drizzle, and wind. The trees were still dripping wet too of course so I had to be careful with my optical equipment. We observed a Masked Trogon and a few other species but it was slow overall in the morning.

Here’s a Moriche Oriole that we observed right before lunch.

Moriche Oriole

Lunch time had arrived and we ate a simple meal of chicken, rice, olives, and avocado. The plan for the afternoon was to venture up the road we came in on to the “magic tree.” Barbets are sometimes observed off the road right outside of the town. After lunch we relaxed a little and watched the local soccer game. It was intense. They don’t mess around when they play. We walked alongside the 4-6 ft tire ruts, waved, and greeted the locals which is custom. Joy liked practicing her Spanish and did a great job greeting everybody. Suffice to say, we were the only gringos in Plataforma. People looked at us, especially the children, they were curious as to who we were. Many of them knew we meant money for the town there. We walked alongside the road and heard various loud music playing. The town was simple enough and most homes were essentially shacks made of wood with dirt floors. The people were happy though, things were fine in Plataforma. We were starting to leave the town now and just getting to the outskirts of town. The clouds were still blowing through, with quick subtle breaks of sunshine. As we approached the outskirts it started to drizzle slightly. Satu was already looking around and naming the obvious birds like TKs (Tropical Kingbirds). Suddenly, he saw movement in a tree right off the road, and proclaimed, “Scarlet-banded Barbet, right here, right next to the road!” Joy and I both got on the bird as quickly as we could . There it was. We had achieved our goal with a 10 minute walk from town.

Here’s video footage of that very first sighting of a male Scarlet-banded Barbet which was about a 10 minute walk from Plataforma. Notice the drizzle in the video.

We were delighted and relieved. Satu was too I’m sure. However, we still had more birds to see and Satu knew we would see many species at his “magic tree” spot further up the road. So we continued on for another 30 minutes or so on the road and arrived at his “magic tree.”

The magic tree.

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This tree and spot was amazing. We’ve birded quite a bit in the tropics but I have never experienced such an entertaining tree or spot like this. The birds kept coming and going at or around this tree for more than 2 hours. A lawn chair would have been a nice addition to this spot. I asked Satu what species the tree was, he replied he didn’t know. Perhaps Arbolus magicus would be a good name.

Here’s a Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater.

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Here’s a Rose-fronted Parakeet at the magic tree.DSCN0212-002

Here’s a male Gilded Barbet at the magic tree. DSCN0206

Here’s a male Versicolored Barbet at the magic tree. Terrible shot but the best I could do. DSCN0166-001

Here’s a Napo Sabrewing we got on our last day after our failed antbird mission. Napo-sabrewing-002

One last story attached to this leg of our tour that is worth mentioning. On a last day in Plataforma, we packed our bags and Satu specifically told me to leave the bags upstairs so that Eugenio could retrieve them and bring them down. I said okay, no problem. They loaded the Toyota Hilux for the ride back down and I mentally prepared myself for the rearrangement of my internal organs back to their normal positions. Well, Eugenio had apparently forgotten one of Joy’s bags in the room. The room was dark and he had apparently overlooked it. We didn’t notice as they shuffled around and made the truck ready for the journey down. We descended down the road unaware that the bag was missing. We stopped several times along the way and observed several other species along the road.

Here’s a Yellow-billed Nunbird on the road down from Plataforma, 3 July 2017.

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A White-necked Puffbird, 3 July 2017.

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A Yellow-headed Caracara, 3 July 2017. On the road from Plataforma to Moyobamba or the Waqanki Lodge.

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When we finally arrived at Bellavista which is along the Huallaga River, Satu got a phone call. He was quick and hung up. Satu informed us that one of our bags was left behind, a blue duffle bag, Joy’s second bag. The bag was on it’s way and would be in Bellavista in 10 minutes. What? How? We were confused in that 1) we didn’t even know the bag was missing, and 2) how the hell did the bag arrive so quickly behind us. Of course, we had stopped a few times on our journey down to view birds and check the truck. But how?There were no other trucks and drivers in Plataforma on this day that we left. Apparently Eugenio had discovered his error and physically ran down the margins of the muddy road to catch us and deliver the bag. He had gotten close but we didn’t see him in the rear-view mirror. This was a 2 hour trip by truck albeit we go slow because of the treachous mud and tire ruts but we were shocked to hear that he had accomplished that. We were in awe actually that Eugenio had done what he did. We had a quick lunch in Bellavista and her bag was delivered back to us personally by Eugenio, safe and sound. I asked Satu where Eugenio was headed now and Satu shrugged his shoulders and said he would probably stay with some friends down here for the night. In the morning, he would get a ride back up to Plataforma. No big deal. But Joy saw Satu give him a wad of money to stay somewhere and eat. Satu is a good guy and an excellent guide.

If you ever go with Amazon Birding Peru and Saturnino on a tour of Peru, go to Plataforma and get the Scarlet-banded Barbet. It’s worth the stretch. Ask Satu to take you to the “magic tree” as well, it’s an incredible spot. We thoroughly enjoyed it and I won’t ever forget it.

 

O’Neill, J.P., D.F. Lane, A.W. Kratter, A.P. Capparella, C.F. Joo. 2000. A striking new species of barbet (Capitoninae: Capito) from the eastern Andes of Peru. Auk. 117 (3): 569–577.

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