Day 8. 2 Dec 2022. Cañon del Pato and the road to La Pampa
Today we had another bright sunny day, which is particularly rare for December. Today we drove north, towards the Cañon del Pato area. This area is at much lower elevations than the places we were before. The lowest elevation for today was 3,280 feet, and the highest at 7,450 feet in Caraz.
We leave the hotel in Caraz after breakfast, driving north along the Santa river towards Cañon del Pato. After some 30 minutes of driving, we found an interesting area with dry vegetation, dominated by Peruvian Pepper Tree (Schinus molle) and cacti. The first sounds that called our attention here were the callings of at least two Black-necked Woodpeckers. The place looked promising, so we jumped out of the car and walked inside the forest, looking for those woodpeckers. These birds turn out to be quite difficult to find, they were moving among the trees, but without showing themselves. We spent about 30 minutes in the area, finding cool birds like a flock of Andean Swifts, a pretty Purple-collared Woodstar, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, Southern-beardless Tyrannulet, a lot of Fulvous-faced Scrub-Tyrants, and finally, after a lot of hard work, Carlos found the Black-necked Woodpecker perched on a tree not far from the road.
The Cañon del Pato
Further north, the Santa valley becomes narrower and drier. The river has carved a deep, narrow canyon along 12.5 Km, called Cañon del Pato. The very steep slopes had forced the road to pass through 35 tunnels carved in the rock. An incredible work of engineering considering the road was built in the early 1940’s. The roughness of the terrain makes it quite poor in biodiversity, with just some grasses and a few bromeliads hanging from the cliffs. During the 12.5 Km we only found one Black Phoebe, one Tropical Kingbird, and a few House Wrens.
After having passed the narrowest part of the canyon we entered the Huallanca valley. This valley is still very dry and warm, with very few vegetation. Nevertheless, on the few trees around the town of Huallanca we were able to find a nice flock of Cordilleran (Scarlet-fronted) Parakeets and a few vocalizing Scrub Blackbirds.
It is worth to mention that here is located one of Peru’s biggest hydroelectric plants, providing energy to most of the northern part of the country.
We kept driving north for a few kilometers. The habitat was still very dry, with steep slopes. Then, we entered the Yungay Pampa valley, and agricultural valley dominated by mango plantations. We found a gorge with native vegetation among the mango crops in the southern extreme of the valley. First, we started birding near the road, adding new birds to the trip list: Drab Seedeater, Blue-black Grassquit, Pacific Parrotlet. A little further, we found a flock of Lesser Goldfinches and a few Fasciated Wrens. On our way back to the car we found more interesting birds: Bare-faced Ground Dove, Black-necked Woodpecker, Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant, and Collared Warbling Finch. The complete list for this gorge has 22 species.
The road to La Pampa
From Yungay Pampa, the road keeps going north until Puente Huarochiri, at an elevation of 3,360 feet. We still had a hard time finding birds in the extremely hot and desertic habitat. A sideroad to the east look promising, the map showed a greener area near the town of La Pampa, some 25 Km from the Huarochiri bridge.
During the drive we couldn’t spot any bird, in fact, the only life form we saw were a few grasses by the road and some Opuntia sp. on the flat areas. Besides that, it was only rocks and sand.
Once in La Pampa things did not get any better. We couldn’t find any access to natural habitat areas, there were just agricultural fields everywhere. Despite the situation, we managed to find some birds: several Andean Swifts and House Sparrows, a few Black and Turkey Vultures, and some Croaking Ground-doves.
We decided to return to Caraz after having lunch in La Pampa. It was still early, but we were tired by the long drive and the high temperatures.
Although the scenery was spectacular, the birding was quite poor, the drives too long, and the road in very bad conditions. Definitively, the Cañon del Pato won’t be included in future trips to Cordillera Blanca.
We still have an extra day scheduled for Cordillera Blanca, and, as we drove back to Caraz, we decided to return to lake Paron the next day. All of us liked Paron for several reasons. The lake has certain magic: the hike, the mountains, the birds, the local people.
So, our next day will be lake Paron again, please don’t miss it.
If you want to follow this trip report from the begining, please visit https://greentours.com.pe/birding-huascaran-national-park-scouting-trip-report-day-1/