The Day I Saw The Barbet
be the Scarlet-banded Barbet Capito
wallacei from the
Cordillera Azul in northeastern Peru!
(Capitonidae) are small, brightly coloured birds with proportionally
large heads, prominent bills and characteristic bristles around
the beak area. Closely related to toucans, there are 83 known species
distributed across the tropics of Africa, Asia and Central &
South America. The Neotropics host 15 species, seven which
occur in Peru in two genera Capito and Eubucco.
So what's so special
about this bird then? The Scarlet-banded Barbet was only discovered
in 1996 (and described in 2000) by Dan Lane and Dr. John O'Neill on
a Louisiana State University
to a remote corner of rainforest in Peru in a range of hills known
as the Cerro Cinco Puntas. This finding was remarkable in many
respects. While it resembles other barbets, its plumage is unique
- boldly patterned with conspicuous red, yellow, black and white.
The bird was found on an unnamed peak in an area which had never
been surveyed or explored before due its remoteness. The cloud forest
habitat favoured by the barbet is fairly small and restricted to
a small altitudinal zone near the top of a mountain which has come
to be known as Barbet Peak or Peak 1538.
was lucky enough to be working for several weeks in the Parque Nacional
Cordillera Azul - Peru's newest national park - and even luckier
to be on Barbet Peak after many days travel and field
work from Contamana on the Rio Ucayali and Rio Cushabatay. So, I'll
pick up the story on 13 August 2005 when, after several
days in a peque-peque, my colleagues (Prof. James Mallet, Dr. Kanchon
Dasmahapatra & Laura Roberts) and I finally left the boat
behind to begin our trek to towards the peak. We camped that night
on the bank of the Rio Cushabatay at Boca de Chambira and set off
early next morning with two Inrena guardaparques (Agustine and Raul
from Puesto de Control 106 and 16 respectively) and three bearers
(Milton and his two brothers) to help us re-cut the trail and
carry food and equipment. By lunchtime we reached Quebrada Paco
after several hours of continuous walking. Although this stretch
of the trek is fairly flat, the combined heat, humidity and a large
rucksack made for less than a pleasant experience. However, this
was nothing compared with next two days of continuous uphill struggling.
the 14th we began the climb to the 1086 metre camp. After five hours
of determined trekking, the occasional impressive vista and stop
to gulp down some water, we reached Pucacurillo. The camp here showed
signs from the few previous expeditions here. Feeling the effects
of dehydration and the disheartening news that the nearest water
was another 30 minutes walk away we resorted to acquiring some liquid
from a nearby trickle/stagnant-looking pool. In what may have been
a bit of overkill, the resulting water was filtered, boiled and treated
with iodine. That night I slept like a log, troubled only by that
feeling that any twitcher (not that I belong to that tribe of birders)
knows - how bad would I feel, after having the extreme fortune to
be here, to leave without laying eyes on the Capito? Tomorrow was
the final ascent to the peak where this very special bird had hidden
from the ornithological world for so long.
morning of the 15th dawned and my luck did not appear to be in as
I missed a Green Jay near the tents. After an early breakfast it
was back on the trail, stopping only to fill all the water
bottles from the stream, located in a steep gully about 30 minutes
from camp. With the park guards re-cutting the trail through the
steep and dense rainforest it appeared that it had been a long time
since anyone had walked this way. When it became apparent that we
were ascending a ridge to the peak, the habitat dramatically changed
to epiphyte-laden cloud forest with trees of reduced stature. Trailing
behind the main group, I realised that if any barbets were flushed
by them, then my chances of connecting with the barbet were reduced.
I was the only birder in the group although most of the others were
keen to see what all the fuss was about. With a one-track mind I
struggled on to get to the front, stopping only to note some Blue-winged
Mountain-Tanagers and Slate-throated Redstarts. It was here
that I heard soft "brrrr" calls from two birds I was unable
to locate. Catching up with my colleagues I found them talking excitedly
- two of them had observed a Scarlet-banded Barbet. Taking the lead
from this point and with my senses in a heightened state of alert,
I searched along the trail for my very own barbet. Suddenly I was
surprised to find the habitat opening out, scrub taking over from
tree cover, and the open sky. We had reached the top!
here for a map of the locality
was remarkable how small the cloud forest habitat was - probably
only a couple of hundred metres in elevation around the peak looked
suitable, and we had passed up through it so quickly. Taking a few
photographs and then ignoring a canopy flock coming through, I headed
back down to where today's barbet had been sighted. After an hour
I was beginning to panic and some of the party were beginning to
head back down. I tried to locate more of the soft "brrr"
calls which I had heard earlier. They appeared to be uttered
by some hidden birds which were also making tapping sounds on the
branches. Suddenly Agustine came racing up the trail to tell me
had seen five barbets! I was down at the spot in no time and very
soon... there they were. A splendid pair of Scarlet-banded Barbets.
Observing them call I realised I had been hearing them all along.
Then, another pair. Yes, they are striking birds but so are many
of the common birds in South America. What made these moments particularly
special was the knowledge that very few people had shared the same
experience of the species. And then a slightly uncomforting thought.
The habitat here seems so small, perhaps even fragile, on the ridge
of this peak - what is its future in the face of climate change?
This year was one of the driest periods in recent times in the Amazon and
we have all seen the reports in the news. I feel extremely fortunate
to have seen the barbet and its magical habitat and thank everyone
involved in this expedition.
The Discovery of the Scarlet-banded Barbet by Dan Lane
International Press Release
Hunt for the Scarlet-banded Barbet by Barry Walker
the Scarlet-banded Barbet on film on the website of The Neotropical
O'Neill, John P. Daniel F. Lane, Andrew W. Kratter, Angelo P. Capparella
& Cecilia Fox. 2000. A Striking New Species of Barbet (Capitonidae:
Capito) from the Eastern Andes of Peru. The Auk 117
Clements, James F & Noam Shany. 2001. A Field Guide to the Birds
of Peru. CA: Ibis Publishing Company. Lynx Edicions.
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