Scarlet-banded Barbet & Cordillera Azul Antbird: How to get to Flor de Café
The tiny village of Flor de Café, also known as Plataforma is the most accessible location where to find the Scarlet-banded Barbet (Capito wallaci). The recent discovery of the Cordillera Azul Antbird (Myrmoderus eowilsoni) at the same site puts this coffee-producing village on the wish list of destinations among those in pursuit of these highly localized Peruvian endemic birds.
Cordillera Azul Antbird. Photo Credit: Miguel Lezama.
The discovery of the Scarlet Banded Barbet caused shock-waves in the ornithological and birding worlds. It was, after all, a barbet, with a plumage so striking that ornithologists Daniel Lane and John O’Neil knew on-the-spot this was an undescribed species.
The Discovery of the Barbet took place in 1996 in a remote location of the Cordillera Azul mountain range in northern Peru. The barbet was formally described in the year 2000.
Those who wanted to see the barbet had to organize a 10-day expedition-style trip to the location where the barbet was first encountered. This expedition included a boat ride along the Rio Cushabatay followed by an approximately two-day hike up on a steep hill on an unclear and overgrown trail.
For years, this was the only option to see the barbet until a new location of easier access was discovered. Now it only takes one day on a muddy and unmaintained road to get to the Village of Flor de Café.
Scarlet-banded Barbet. Photo Credit: Alex Durand Torres.
It was near the Village of Flor the Cafe where another spectacular discovery of an antbird was recently made (See article). The official name of the new Antbird is Cordillera Azul Antbird (Myrmoderus eowilsoni) in honor of renowned sociobiologist Edward Osborne Wilson. The discovery of the Cordillera Azul took place near the village of Flor de Cafe on the outskirts of the recently created Cordillera Azul National Park.
The new antbird is impressive. It has rich rusty upperparts with black wing coverts and pale-buffy wing bars. The underparts on a male are rufous but black on the female. Both sexes have a bluish bare skin around the eye.
Now the village of Flor de Cafe has two endemic birds for which more birders will want to visit it.
How to get to Plataforma to see the Scarlet-banded Barbet and the Cordillera Azul Antbird.
Relatively speaking, Flor de Cafe is much easier and shorter than the original Scarlet-banded Barbet site, but getting to this site has its challenges.
Section of the road to Flor de Cafe. Photo: Gunnar Engblom.
The road was originally opened to access an oil well, hence the name Plataforma (spanish for oil well platform). The oil well was later abandoned and the road was left nearly unmaintained. The road is now used to transport coffee and other crops from the villages settled alongside it. Getting to Flor de Café is relatively simpler if the trip is made during the dry season.
1) Fly to Tarapoto. This large bustling city has daily commercial flights to and from the capital city of Lima. Food and accommodations here are not a problem.
2) Tarapoto to Bellavista. From Tarapoto one can take public or private transportation to the town of Bellavista. The distance between Tarapoto and Bellavista is approximately 95 km (54 Km).
3) Bellavista to Flor de Cafe. There are only approximately 34 miles (75 km) between Bellavista and Flor de Cafe. But depending on the time of the year, it may take between 5 to 15 hours to get to Flor de Cafe.
The cost of chartering a vehicle in Bellavista varies throughout the year largely depending on conditions of the road. During the dry season, prices are lower than during the rainy season. Overall, a chartered vehicle and driver ranges between 700-900 soles or $215 – $275.
Best time to go.
The best time to go coincides with the dry season of June through November. Worse time to go: December through May.
Foothill montane forest, second growth, agricultural fields.
Moderately flat and hilly trails. Very muddy at times.
Sub-tropical Pygmy-Owl, Andean Laniisoma, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater, Foothill Schiffornis, Gray-tailed Piha, Jet Manakin, Blackish Pewee, Buff – throated Tody-Tyrant, Long-tailed (Foothill) Woodcreeper, Red billed Tyrannulet, Roraiman Flycatcher, Napo Sabrewing, Short-tailed Antthrush, Yellow-throated Spadebill
When to Go
Best time: June through November. Worse time to go: December through May.
Bellavista and Flor de Cafe can be very muddy during the rainy seaon.
Inform yourself about the latest community developments regarding visitors.
Cordillera Escalera and Quebrada Upaquihua.
The road and trails are drier and visitors are less likely to miss precious birding time due to rain.
The rainy season of December through May brings along a muddy road and trails. The few visitors known to have missed the barbet made the trip during the rainy season.
Accommodations in the village are limited to a single basic hotel with multiple rooms. The hotel is run by a fellow by the name Eugenio and his family. The hotel offers simple meals, running water, and limited electric light and telephone service (Movistar and Bitel).
Eugenio is familiar with the visitor’s expectations. He prepares pre-dawn breakfasts and shares tips regarding the location of recent sightings of the birds. He even offers his guiding services to the locations where both species are likely to be found.
Finding the Birds
The Village is surrounded by coffee plantations and agricultural gardens mixed with patches of forests of different sizes. Knowing where to go would certainly increase your chances to find these birds. Exploring pristine forest further away from the village would likely yield similar results.
Hand-drawn map showing trails, reference points, and locations where the Barbet and Antbird were seen. Josh Beck kindly let us use the map he prepared during his stay in Flor de Café. Map Credit: Josh Beck.
Problems within the community of Flor de Cafe
The influx of visitors coming to see the barbet started to create tensions among local residents. The community charges an entrance fee of $15 per visitor. Although others have reported having being charged up to $100 per visitor. Some village residents feel that they are not getting their fair share of the benefits from tourism and try to charge fees when visitors walk by their properties or along the entrance road.
Lately, the village as a whole feels they should be charging a lot more per visitor. Numbers in the thousands of dollars as an entrance fee have been thrown. It appears that local folks are not familiar with the value of a dollar or the nature of a visit to the area with the sole purpose of seeing birds.
The Scarlet-banded Barbet and Cordillera Azul Antbird certainly make for a lure to northern Peru and the village of Flor de Cafe. There is plenty of other rare and hard-to-find species in the area as well.
If you venture to Flor de Café, it would help becoming aware of prevailing conditions involving logistics, fees, and accommodations available in the village. Make sure you inform yourself about the prevailing dynamics among village residents and discuss these details with your guide if you hire one for this trip.