Sira Tanager. Does it really exist?

Sira Tanager. Tangara philipsi.  Photo: Michael Harvey

by Gunnar on November 4, 2010 · 13 comments

in Birding Neotropics

Sira Mountains, Peru – revisited!

I have just come back from my third trip to the wilderness area of Cerros de Sira not far from Pucallpa. Sira has a familiar ring to the Neotropical birder. Yes, of course it is that Tanager with only a dot on the distribution map in any guide book  over South American birds that include all birds of Peru or all Tanagers.  It was also my third dip! I am wondering seriously if the bird really exists.

In spite of not seeing a single life bird, I am still promoting trips to Sira mountains. Last time was 3 years ago. It will not take three years before I go back again. That is for certain. Why? I tell you why! Here are the main reasons why I will go – and maybe you want to come with me.

  • Wilderness and untouched. This is far from the Coca Cola trail. It is hiking a montane rain forest. Sure, it is a bit buggy, but there is a freedom experience to go head straight into the jungle on a quest to see Sira Tanager! And some bugs are actually quite cool, when you think of it. I have no idea what this is!
  • With lots of luck there is a chance to see rarely seen birds such as the Sira from of Horned Curassow (quite certainly a good species) and possibly the undescribed form of Scarlet-banded Barbet which was recently found in the Southern part of the Sira Mountains (no reason why it should not be here as well). Sira Horned Curassow Pauxi unicornis koepckeae, Peru. Photo: M.GastanagaIn fact, I heard the Curassow as it grunted around the corner of the trail (and of course disappeared!) and I made a recording of what sounds very similar to the recording of the new barbet on McCauley library. Compare this with my mystery recording of a Barbet or Antpitta that I just uploaded to Xeno-canto. Did not see the bird though. We shall see what the discussion on Xeno-canto may lead to. Of course my main reason apart from trying to see the Tanager is to try to see these two birds. Looks like I was very close this time. Being close is also a thrill, and makes it even more desirable to go back.
  • Blue-headed Macaw. Ara couloni. Photo: Gunnar EngblomWe saw many good birds that are rare or difficult elsewhere such as Cerulean-capped Manakin (common), Gray-tailed Piha, Sharpbill, Scarlet-throated and Fiery-throated Fruiteaters, Rufous-webbed Brilliant (very common), Yellow-throated Tanager (very common), Blue-browed Tanager and we heard Rufous-brown Solitaire. No Wing-barred Wren on this trip, but I have seen it before here.
  • Very good for Owls.  Subtropical Pygmy-Owl, Vermiculated Screech-Owl, Band-bellied Owl and a Ciccaba which I presume is Black-banded Owl (only one note grunt).
  • Many good birds also in the lowlands along the 9km stretch of road to the start of the trail such as Slender-billed Kite, Blue-headed Macaw, White-plumed Antbird and Curl-crested Aracari.
  • Wonderful butterflies.

Yes, there were birds!

Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater Pipreola frontalis ssp. frontalis

Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater Pipreola frontalis ssp. frontalis. Photo: Gunnar Engblom. Seen several times at around 1200-1400m.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager Anisognathus somptuosus. Photo: Gunnar Engblom.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager Anisognathus somptuosus. Photo: Gunnar Engblom. Common in the dwarf forest around 1400m

White-crowned Manakin. Dixiphia pipra female. Andean form.

White-crowned Manakin. Dixiphia pipra female. Andean form. Photo: Gunnar Engblom. We also saw the male of this cute bird.

Variable Antshrike Thamnophilus caerulescens. Photo. Gunnar Engblom

A Variable Antshrike Thamnophilus caerulescens was sneaking around in the bushes at 1500m . Photo. Gunnar Engblom

Yellow-throated Tanager Iridosornis analis. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

The beautiful Yellow-throated Tanager Iridosornis analis was dead common between 1200-1535m. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Rufous-webbed Briliiant. Helidoxa-branickii. Female. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Rufous-webbed Briliiant Helidoxa-branickii was very common above 1200m. This is a very difficult bird to see elsewhere such as on the Manu road. Here a female. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Chestnut-crowned Gnateater Conophaga castaneiceps Female.

Chestnut-crowned Gnateater Conophaga castaneiceps Female.

Plans for eco-tourism

In reality is a bit strange why not more people come and visit Reserva Comunal de Sira. The access is very good with a large airport at Pucallpa with regular jet-flights.

Puerto Inca on Pachitea river.

Puerto Inca on Pachitea river.

Moto-taxi. Puerto Inca-Quimpichiari roadOne may also reach Pucallpa easily overland as there are buses direct from Lima (and good  birding on the way in Carpish and Tingo Maria). From Pucallpa it is a good dirt road to Puerto Inca which only takes 3 hours. Puerto Inca has a decent hotel, telephone, internet and cold beer. One even can cut the long walk, as there is now a good road for 9km towards the base of the hills served with Moto-taxis – the favorite transport in jungle towns.
The  Community Reserve is shared between several indigenous communities. An interesting report about the problems the reserve is facing can be found on ParksWatch Sira report. In any case, tourism should be developed so it benefit the local people. Birding could serve as a initial activity, but in the long run it is is needed to promote it to a wider public. I am of the idea, that if it becomes somewhat easier to visit for birders, this may well catalyze the regular tourism. The park authorities SERNANP are interested in these ideas and have some funding to execute a pilot project.  Hopefully, we can make a pilot trip with SERNANP in April-May and I shall put some departures in our Kolibri Expeditions itineraries for July-October. I will also assist anyone who want to go to Sira independently. What needs to be done to facilite for birders is improving the trails – making them wider and easier to follow and install some ready camps with platforms and thatched roofs in order to make camping less uncomfortable and allow for larger groups. For now it is difficult to put more than a few tents at each place.

All in all, Sira has lots to offer and Puerto Inca is in my opinion the best place to access these remote mountains.

Photo of Sira Tanager male by Michael Harvey and Unique photo of the Sira form of Horned Curassow by Melvin Gastañaga. Both used with permission with many thanks to Michael and Mel.

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