Sunday, January 3, 2016

Peru: November 30 to December 2, 2015

November 30, 2015

At about 10:00pm [November 29] I was awoken by the sound of rain on the roof of the lodge. Fortunately I was able to get back to sleep quickly, with the only thought passing through my head being that I hoped the rain would stop before morning. It didn't. At 4:30am, just seconds after switching my alarm off, the sound of rain prevailed. This was going to be 'that day', that kind of day where you need to wear rubber boots, rain jackets, and a hat, and then doing everything possible to keep the rain off the bins...or so I thought. Today wasn't planned to be a 'birding day' per se, as today was largely a travel day, seven hours further downstream to the Manu Wildlife Centre. Following breakfast we would have a couple of hours to bird around the Amazonia Lodge, but by 9:00am we were to leave.

Breakfast was noticeably unhurried, and the thoughts of birding in the rain dampened our enthusiasm. Ultimately we opted not to go trail walking, but instead stay under cover of the roof over the garden balcony. I managed to tally 25 species from the gardens, of which one, the Amethyst Woodstar, was a lifer. Other notable birds included Gray-capped Flycatcher, Buff-rumped Warbler, Swallow-winged Puffbird, and Blue-throated Piping-Guan.

Blue-throated Piping-Guan in the pouring rain.

Naively, we thought that trudging around the trails and getting wet would make our boat travels uncomfortable...were we in for a surprise. At 9:00am the boat arrived, and our guides piled our bags into wheelbarrows, covered them with tarps, and took them to the boat. The boat, as mentioned previously, was about 400m from the lodge, and so when it was time to depart, we popped our umbrellas, donned our rain jackets and wellies, and followed the trail to the boat. The trail was wet, very wet, and when we got near the boat we discovered that a portion of the trail had been washed out by the river that had risen over night by several feet. Each of us had to traverse a rushing flow of water that was spanned by a narrow plank of wood. Howard was the first to go, with the assistance a guide, and in the flash of second the board was gone and Howard was up to his knees in muddy, fast-flowing water. But he made it. Next was Malcolm, who also ended up slipping from the high-points and became knee-deep in the swell. Simon, carrying his laptop bag, was next, and while he didn't go in up to his knees, the water topped his boots. I went last, managing to cross with only one boot filling with water. Discomfort had commenced.

Now we are at the boat, which was precariously edged up against the eroding bank with engine running just to keep it in place against the incredible speed of the river. Compared to two days ago, the river was a thick brown colour, several feet higher, travelling much faster, and now carrying trees, roots, branches, and stumps within its current. Perhaps worse, was that many hazards were now submerged, and you couldn't peer into the water to see them near the surface. Fearing for our safety, I asked the guide if this was worth the risk...the response, "no problem". I wasn't reassured, but got into the boat anyway and strapped my life jacket on.

Now onboard, the rushing muddy waters were real cause for concern.

Yes, it's as bad as it looks.

The seven hour boat ride was nerve-racking, but our guides did an excellent job navigating the dangerous waters. Despite the heavy rain and rough conditions, we did manage to spot some birds, including some lifers. The first lifer was Pied Lapwing, which for the day we saw four of them. I also added, purely by chance, an Undulated Tinamou that I saw briefly as I hopped out of the boat during our only 'nature break'. The next three lifers didn't come until we arrived at Manu Wildlife Center, where there were approximately 200 Sand-colored Nighthawks, 2 Ladder-tailed Nightjars, and a Drab Water-Tyrant. Other birds of note for the trip included 16 Capped Herons, 4 Roseate Spoonbills, 4 Eastern Kingbirds, 1 Burrowing Owl, 10 Cocoi Herons, 3 Large-billed Terns, and 1 Horned Screamer. Arriving at the lodge we were all thoroughly soaked, and so the first thing we each did was have a shower; at least it was warm. Following spreading my gear out to dry, including my field guide which was twice its original thickness and weight, we gathered in the main hall and watched birds at the feeders in the dying light. The day ended with just one new lifer, a Festive Coquette.

Of course we're still trying to see birds...

Surviving a turbulent and wet river boat ride

Species seen today: 56
Lifers seen today: 7
Cumulative species for the trip: 411
Cumulative lifers for the trip: 172

December 1, 2015

At 4:30am, when the alarm sounded to get up, the one thing I was pleased not to hear was the pelting of rain. In fact, the rain stopped late yesterday evening and our wish was that that marked the end of such unpleasantries. We assembled in the main hall for breakfast at 5:00am, and at 5:30am we once again got in the boat to head toward a patch of bamboo forest where we would target some key species. The river was still very high, and rising, and there were eight steps from the top of the dock to the boat. When we returned a few hors later there were just five steps, but by the time we left Manu Wildlife Center on December 3 there were 18 steps visible. Today, large logs continued to race by, but the weather was calm and relatively cool; a pleasant day for the Amazon!

Once at our site we added some relatively common species quickly, including Brown-chested Martin, White-winged Swallow, Giant Cowbird, Blue-and-Yellow Macaw, and Yellow-rumped Cacique. My first lifer for the day was Rufous-breasted Piculet, which showed well after a few minutes of coaxing with call playback. Following this sighting we added Large-headed Flatbill, and then my second lifer for the day, Manu Antbird. Over the next few hours we added most of our target species, and the list of lifers was impressive: Dusky-cheeked Foliage-Gleaner, Lined Seedeater, White-bearded Hermit, Goeldi's Antbird, Moustached Wren, Dusky-tailed Flatbill, Peruvian Recurvebill, White-throated Toucan, Blue-headed Macaw, Riparian Antbird, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, White-chinned Sapphire, Red-and-Green Macaw, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Plum-throated Cotinga, and Long-billed Woodcreeper. An impressive morning of birding, especially when factoring the many other species we saw that were not lifers. We returned to the lodge for lunch for 12:00pm.

After lunch it was nap time, but only for an hour. At 2:00pm we departed once again, this time along one of the many trails at the Manu Wildlife Centre which eventually led us to a canopy tower. This tower had a set of stairs that spiraled  to the top of the forest, the diameter of the tower being nearly the same as that of the tree in which it climbed. On our way to the tower we picked up some good birds, the first being Long-winged Antwren, then White-bellied Parrot and Ruddy Quail-Dove. Once at the top of the tower, it was a matter of sit-and-wait. But we didn't have to wait long for the first lifer to show up, which was Curl-crested Aracari, rapidly followed by Casqued Cacique. Now the real wait was to begin, as bird activity was severely depressed with the late day heat and humidity. We did occasionally add a few common species, such as Black-fronted Nunbird, Scarlet Macaw, and Golden-bellied Euphonia, but after an hour we were getting antsy. I propose the following definition for the word 'antsy' be added to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary: a term used by birders to describe growing impatience for seeing new birds with the word 'ant' in their name. Similarly, I propose a new definition for the word 'antics': a term used to describe the action of birders ticking birds with the word 'ant' in their name.

An incredible canopy tower, this was an impressive climb.

View from the canopy. A sea of green with well-hidden feathered gems.

Tower and Tree. Impressive.

After about an hour of relative inactivity, contemplation of giving up and heading down from the canopy surfaced. We decided collectively to wait another five minutes, and we're glad we did. Over the next 30-45 minutes we had a good mixed-species flock move through the canopy, and lifers racked up quickly. These were Spotted Puffbird, Sirystes, Yellow-bellied Dacnis, Channel-billed Toucan, Ivory-billed Aracari, Red-stained Woodpecker, Spangled Cotinga, and Opal-rumped Tanager. Our last bird from the canopy was Purple Honeycreeper. As we headed back to the lodge in the last bit of light we managed to add two more new species for the day, Grayish Mourner and Plumbeous Antbird. We wrapped up the day as usual, with showers, note compilations, and a great meal. Having had an amazing day, with 33 lifers and cracking 200 new species for the trip, I was in bed and asleep by 8:00pm.

Enchanting accommodation in the Amazon.

Species seen today: 90
Lifers seen today: 33
Cumulative species for the trip: 461
Cumulative lifers for the trip: 205

December 2, 2015

At 5:30am, sunrise over the Rio Madres de Dios was spectacular, with the early morning sun filtered through the mist and casting a golden glow in the river and sky. Once again we would board the boat for our morning adventure, this time to visit Cocha Camungo, a small patch of land once separated by a river channel but now attached and with a remnant oxbow wetland. This patch of land has a yet another canopy tower, our third and last tower that we'd visit for this tour. However, before heading to Cocha Camungo, we first had to head to another lodge to pick up a key to open the gate that would allow us ascend the tower. It seemed odd having a gated tower quite literally in the middle of nowhere, but Cocha Camungo is owned by one operator, and provides access to other operators for a small fee. For us, we each had to pay $50 USD, which we had done so in advance. On our way to pick up the key we also picked up a number of good birds over and along the river. Some of these included Bat Falcon (4), Roadside Hawk, Pied Lapwing, Mealy Parrot, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, and Eastern Kingbird (30).

Gorgeous sunrise on Rio Madres de Dios.

After picking up the key, we made our way to Cocha Camungo where we disembarked and walked about 200-300m to the base of the tower. With the thoughts of yet another climb, Howard paused with Ole Blue II, possibly wondering if the climb was going to be worth it. Of course it would be! The trick to climbing these towers, or so it seemed, was to not think about how many stairs there were, but to simply look down and plod along slowly. It took mere minutes to get to the top, and while a bit out of breathe, the bird activity soon takes your mind off the matter. My first lifer for the day was Screaming Piha, which we actually saw on the trail heading toward the tower. Once up the tower, we quickly added Plumbeous Kite, Yellow-rumped Cacquie, and Magpie Tanager.

Another tower!

That's a lot of stairs.

The tower offered not only a view into the canopy of the forest, but also some good views of the oxbow wetland below. Subsequently, we tallied some wetland birds from the tower that might otherwise seem like strange species to have in the canopy. Some of these included Wattled Jacana, Ringed Kingfisher, Black-capped Donacobius, Pale-legged Hornero, Pale-eyed Blackbird (lifer), Horned Screamer, Spix's Guan (lifer), and Anhinga. In the canopy we had Pink-throated Becard (lifer), Sirystes, Green-and-Gold Tanager, Grayish Saltator, Rufous-bellied Euphonia (lifer), Crane Hawk, Slate-colored Hawk (lifer), Opal-rumped Tanager, and Epaulet Oriole (lifer).

Amazing view of the forest canopy and Cocha Camungo wetlands.

After about two hours in the tower, we headed back down and made our way slowly along one of the trails to where we would be taken onto the oxbow via a small pontoon. Along the way we added Black-faced Dacnis, Thick-billed Euphonia, White-winged Shrike-Tanager (lifer), Tawny-crowned Greenlet (lifer), Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Dusky-throated Antshrike (lifer), Elegant Woodcreeper (lifer), Red-necked Woodpecker (lifer), and White-necked Thrush (lifer). We boarded the pontoon at about 9:30am, and it was hot. The pontoon was covered with black rubber, atop of which were four plastic garden chairs bolted to the base. The pontoon had no protection from the sun, and the heat was unrelenting. We were all wearing rubber boots, which came off in a hurry as our feet quite literally began to cook. I was thankful that I had brought my umbrella, as I used this as a means to provide some shade for my head and back; the sweat dripping into my eyes was another matter. Our first new bird was Tui Parakeet (lifer), followed quickly by eight Purus Jacamar (lifer), a very boisterous and sociable species. Next up was Straight-billed Woodcreeper (lifer), Ladder-tailed Nightjar, and a very cooperative Azure Gallinule (lifer). We then were able to get good looks at Spotted Tody-Flycatcher (lifer), and a brief glimpse of two Orange-cheeked Parakeets that blasted by offering minimal, but tickable, views.

Exploring Cocha Camungo wetlands from a pontoon.

Back on land, we made our way back to the main boat. We added just one new bird for the morning, which was White-chinned Woodcreeper. On our way back to the lodge to return the key we spotted Orinoco Goose resting on a log. This was one of our target birds for the region, and we were pleased to tick it off. The bird also cooperated for a photo, allowing us close approach and some good shots. A similarly cooperative Large-billed Tern resting on a partially submerged log also permitted close approach and some good photos. We arrived back at Manu Wildlife Centre at about 11:30am, where we were able to have a quick shower before lunch. Having a shower was somewhat pointless, as the heat of the day caused us to sweat so much that we were just as wet outside the shower as when we were in it. Following lunch it was nap time, as bird activity was very suppressed.

Mud, water and a 5-inch balance beam on a boat. Extreme birding?

Orinoco Goose, one of the more difficult target birds.

Large-billed Tern. Indeed it is.

At 2:45pm we gathered once again to bird the local trails. Birding was very slow, but we added some good species considering the heat of the late afternoon. My first lifer was Amazonian Pygmy-Owl, which took at least 20 minutes to pin-down as its call echoed through the canopy. The next lifer was Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper, followed shortly after by Black-bellied Cuckoo. A bit later on we added White-crested Spadebill (lifer) and Black-tailed Leaftosser (lifer). We ended the day with Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Creamy-breasted Thrush, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Golden-crowned Spadebill, and White-necked Thrush.

Species seen today: 97
Lifers seen today: 26
Cumulative species for the trip: 508
Cumulative lifers for the trip: 231

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