Thursday, February 26, 2015

Peru Trip with Wildside Nature Tours, Day 6: Screamers, Dryer Lint Birds, and Pink Dolphins

Another spectacular day on the mighty Amazon River and smaller tributaries. And just wait until you see what followed along on our evening skiff ride! Ho. Lee. Cow! (Er, dolphin!)

The lovely Capped Heron was a highlight bird of the trip!

Masked Crimson Tanager
Since this bird is closely associated with water, traveling by boat is a great way to see it!

Amazonian Umbrellabird!

Cropped at a very long distance, in the shade, from a moving boat! (Not bad for my little Canon SX50, eh?!)In addition to that wonderful crest, both males and females have an inflatable throat wattle that they extend during displays. The wattle is longer in the males, and can reach up to 14 inches. When fully extended, the crest curls foward over the face, thus the name Umbrellabird.

We were fortunate enough to get great looks at this Monk Saki Monkey. 
These woolly monkeys are almost entirely arboreal, rarely going to the ground.

Horned Screamer! (And, yes! They're as exciting as the name implies!) 
This massive bird (33–38 inches long and 7.7 lbs) gets its name from that long, spiky projection growing out of its head. It's a unique feature among all the birds of the world, and what's really bizarre is that it isn't a feather! The spike is a cornified structure that is loosely attached to the skull. And though it will sometimes break at the tip, it grows continuously throughout the birds' life.

 Horned Screamers also have two sharp spurs on the wings. 
You can see them clearly in this fabulous photo that Kenn took! 

For an example of the "Screamer" portion of its name, click here: 

 Great Potoo

Yes, that's a bird on that branch! What outstanding camouflage, eh? Potoos are 
nocturnal insectivores, "hawking" from perches for aerial insects. They live out 
much of their lives on broken branches, even laying their single egg and raising 
their young at the broken end of a snag. 

Kenn describes Potoos as looking like a mixture of dryer lint and tree bark! And he describes the voice of the Great Potoo as "something that sounds like it's trying to win a vomiting contest!" But I'll let you be the judge.

We ended this wonderful day with an evening skiff ride. And with the sun setting in the most dramatic fashion...
...we were suddenly accompanied by these magical creatures.

Pink River Dolphins

Before our trip to Peru, I'd honestly never even heard of Pink Dolphins. And, even if I had, I don't know that I would have believed they were real until I saw them with my own eyes. 

Amazon River Dolphins are the largest freshwater cetacean, reaching a length of 5 - 8 feet long. They have very long beaks (they look like giant pink hotdogs when they poke up out of the water), and while they're mostly grayish/pink in color, when they get excited, they turn the most ridiculous shade of Pepto-Bismol pink! (No, I'm not making this up! And, no, I haven't been drinking.) 

The dolphin in this picture is somewhere in between gray and pink. During our trip, we didn't actually encounter any that were bright pink, but I've seen photos, and it's astonishing!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Peru Trip with Wildside Nature Tours, Day 5: Nature - Large and Small

Kimberly Writes: If I keep saying "this was one of my favorite days of the trip," I'm afraid I'm going to lose my credibility. But the truth is, every day of this trip had something special to offer. Day five was no exception, offering a study in nature large and small!

From giant moths and lily pads to tiny monkeys and birds, I have to say it...this one one of my favorite days of the trip! (Don't judge!) :-)

The lights on the Queen Violeta attracted some spectacular moths,
 including this large and impressive individual. (See it on my 
hand in the next photo for an indication of its size.)

See, I told you, it was a biggin! 
I haven't been able to pin an exact name on this bug (if you think the diversity of birds in Peru is impressive, you can't even imagine the lepidoptera!) but it looks like a silk moth of the genus Arsenura, and at least similar to Arsenura albopicta.

Our skiff stopped for a few minutes and we took the opportunity to search the vegetation. We were delighted to find several Painted Grasshoppers!

Seeing macaws in the wild always feels like a special blessing, so when a small group of Blue-and-yellow Macaws flew overhead we were delighted. But it really got the heart pumping when this one decided to pause for a few minutes! 
Even at a distance, this is an impressive bird!

Our adventures took us from the giant macaw to this tiny girl: 
a Glittering-throated Emerald! Isn't she lovely?! We thought we'd had quite a moment with this bird as she sat in full view for several seconds. But when she flew off, 
she had a special surprise in store for us!
She had a nest!
Tucked beneath the elegant, protective arch of a Cecropia leaf, 
this glittering gem of a bird and her magical little nest were like something 
out of a fairy tale! And those who know me well won't be surprised to hear 
that the grace of the moment brought tears to my eyes.

Hummingbird nests are like little dabs of magic. Built entirely by the female, 
they begin with mouthfuls of silk gathered from spider webs. Next come puffs of plant down woven together with more spider silk. And when it's all round and cozy, its camouflaged with flakes of lichen. Pure magic! 

The Boat-billed Flycatcher is aptly named. 
Just look at the schnoz on this bird! The only member of the monotypic genus Megarynchus, it breeds in open woodland with some tall trees from Mexico south to Bolivia and Argentina, and through to Trinidad. Boat-billed Flycatchers are one of the largest species of tyrant flycatcher.  

From a bill called a boat to a bill so tiny that it seems like an after-thought! 

Sand-colored Nighthawks dare to be different! While most species in the family
 are nocturnal and solitary, Sand-colored Nighthawks are partially diurnal, 
sometimes seen feeding on aerial insects in late afternoon. They're also gregarious, frequently found in flocks of hundreds. If you're having trouble imagining a flock of hundreds, check out the next photo!

This is just a few branches of a large tree chock full of Sand-colored Nighthawks! 
I think the people in our boat exhausted every expression of 
amazement at the sight of all these birds festooning every branch! 

We were delighted to find a Red Howler Monkey feeding low along the edge of the tributary we were exploring! Listen to the remarkable voice of this impressive beast
Can you imagine being an unsuspecting explorer walking through the jungle 
when THAT sound starts?  

Pygmy Marmoset!
The word marmoset comes from the French word “marmouset,” 
meaning shrimp or dwarf. Pygmy Marmoset is the smallest monkey but
 not the smallest primate—that title goes to the Mouse Lemur. 

 At just 4.5 - 6 inches long (not including the tail) and weighing, 
on average, about 3.5 oz., this is one of the world's smallest 
primates, and is the smallest true monkey.

 A full-grown Pygmy Marmoset could fit in an adult human's hand, 
and it weighs about as much as a stick of butter! (Can you say SquEEEEEE!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Peru Trip with Wildside Nature Tours, Day 4: The Magic Cove

Kimberly Writes: Day four delivered one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip. After breakfast, we boarded the small, motorized, and maneuverable skiffs for our morning expedition. These small skiffs made it possible to penetrate deep into the flooded forests. A light rain was falling, but it did nothing to dampen the spirit of the day, and our group of intrepid travelers was richly rewarded.

We zoomed along the main river for several minutes before the skiff slowed and turned off onto a smaller corridor. We motored slowly for several minutes, and then, with a soft rain beating a gentle rhythm on the surface of the water, we passed through a dark, narrow corridor...

...and into a place that felt untouched by time.
Here, drifting along in a secret cove tucked away in a flooded forest along the Amazon River, the kid in me imagined that we were the first humans to visit this magical place. And my heart created a special place to tuck this memory away for safe keeping. 

Fields of Giant Lily Pads added to the majesty of this place, and we paused to marvel at their expanse and explore the life forms on these floating refuges.

High in a tree in the far off distance, a strange looking lump turned 
out to be a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth reminding us, yet again, 
that we were far from home in a magical place.

And, oh my, the birds... 
When this giant creature came crash-landing out of the rain and into 
the trees above us, every person in our boat held their breath in disbelieving awe. 
And when the guide quietly, but with great glee said, "HOATZIN," 
even the name of the bird was perfect for this dramatic scene.

Add if one Hoatzin is great, just imagine what TWO would be like!
 The sun peeked out and these two began a ritualistic dance designed
 to dry their drenched feathers. And it was spectacular!

Even the common Striated Heron stepped up its game, posing on a 
log stage with a prize. But no ordinary fish would do for this performance, no siree. 
This special heron delivered a Red-bellied PIRANHA to the scene.

And as we left the cove, an immature Great Black Hawk 
bid us farewell in fetching fashion, expressing confused curiosity 
of the strange creatures floating past, cloaked in colorful rain ponchos! 
The perfect closing to a remarkable morning.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Peru Trip with Wildside Nature Tours, Day 3: White-Sands Forest

Kimberly Writes: Day three welcomed us with a stunning sunrise ...
...and a very cool surprise: a visit to a habitat known as white-sands forest. If you look at the descriptions of habitats in the field guide to Birds of Peru, you'll learn without reading a word how exciting this habitat is for birders. The paragraph describing white-sands forest is nearly three times as long as the descriptions of other habitats! 

Tropical forests occurring on white-sand soils have a unique structure and are famous for their endemism. It took some special arrangements to visit this reserve and we were only there briefly. We dipped on the endemic species in the area, but it was still wonderful to experience a new habitat type! (And we did see some really cool things while we were there!)

The road into the white-sands forest habitat beckons.

Yellow-billed Nunbird (Monasa flavirostris) is a species of 
puffbird in the Bucconidae family. Smaller, quieter, and less conspicuous
 than the other nunbirds, they're considered rare to uncommon, 
so we were pleased to have such wonderful looks at this individual.

I'm not 100% certain, but I think this might be a Black-and-white Monkey Hopper (Eumastacidae). (My alternate name would be Ninja Grasshopper!)

That slash of white isn't something stuck to this bird's face, 
it's the mark that gives the bird its name: 
Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo)! 

Silver-beaked Tanagers were common throughout our trip. They're active birds, making them a challenge to photograph (at least for me!) 

Though they aren't nearly as flashy as the males, 
female Silver-beaked Tanagers are lovely in their own way.

Beautiful butterfly? Think again! 
This is actually a day-flying MOTH! Green-banded Urania (Urania leilus).
Spectacular and fairly common throughout their range, 
they have a penchant for damp places.

Our first glimpse of White-eared Jacamar (Galbalcyrhynchus leucotis) 
had every person with a camera scrambling for a photo! We would discover that this species is abundant along the tributaries of the Amazon, and we'd be treated to point-blank views of this wonderful bird nearly every day. 

Learn more and listen to the bird's voice (recorded by Ted Parker), here.

After our walk, we returned to the Queen Violeta and an afternoon skiff excursion along smaller tributaries of the Amazon. 

Our visit to Peru was during the rainy season when the Amazon rises and creates seasonally-flooded forests. The forest floor and understory disappear beneath several feet of flowing water, and it was an odd feeling at times to realize that we were drifting along high above what would be the forest floor at other times of year. 

The daily excursions in the skiffs allowed us to explore river banks and areas 
of flooded forest in a safe and comfortable way, and to get wonderful looks at so many birds and other animals! 

Like this Straight-billed Woodcreeper!
(Dendroplex picus)

A Dusky-headed Parakeet (Aratinga weddellii) 
peering out from the nest cavity as we drifted past.

Even in the shade of the canopy, the sizzling saffron 
of this Oriole Blackbird (Gymnomystax mexicanus) 
was a sight to see!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Peru Trip with Wildside Nature Tours, Day 2: Queen Violeta

From Iquitos, Peru, Kimberly Writes: After a wonderful day of birding around Lima, we boarded a flight to the city of Iquitos. From there, we boarded a bus to the other side of the city and the docks, where a short skiff ride delivered us to our home-away-from-home for the next week: the beautiful Queen Violeta!  

The lovely Queen Violeta!

We made a few stops along the way to look for birds, and you'll find a few of our discoveries in today's photo album.  

Driving through Iquitos is an experience! The streets are a riot of color and sounds, all swirling and writhing and gyrating together in a mass of machine and humanity.

Motorcycles are an important mode of transportation, and we'd see 
whole families packed onto one small bike! We were terrified observers, 
but they were totally comfortable about it.

While the city streets are chaotic, they're also incredibly beautiful, 
flanked by  buildings with lovely tile facades among others that were crumbling, 
creating a wonderful mosaic of color and texture.

A closer look at the beautiful tile work on this building.

We made a few birding stops during our drive to the docks. 
This Snail Kite teed-up nicely for us!

A very common bird throughout the trip: Yellow-headed Caracara.

A dazzler, for sure: the handsome Red-capped Cardinal (Paroaria gularis). 
This is a bird of swamps, mangrove, and other semi-open areas near water. 
It is generally common within its range, even occurring in lightly wooded wet 
habitats in towns or cities, as it was here, near the docks on the edge of Iquitos.

Striated Heron was a common bird during our trip. 
They're very similar to our Green Heron, but considered a separate species. 
Striated Heron has a wide distribution, and we saw this bird in South Africa, too.

For me, our visit to the Amazon Rescue Center was a highlight of the trip! 
The center is part of an international partnership to save threatened and 
endangered species, including the Amazon Manatee. The Amazon Manatee (Trichechus inunguis) is an endangered species in Perú, the result of illegal hunting and habitat degradation. And, in spite of the international and national laws to protect them, the animals are still hunted and eaten by many Amazon villages. The problem is compounded by illegal trade, where manatees and other animals are sold as pets.

Amazon Manatees are the second smallest species of manatee in the world, only the Dwarf Manatee is smaller. (And there's some debate about the validity of Dwarf Manatee being a separate species, as some believe them to be immature Amazon Manatees.)
Amazon Manatees are the only species of sirenian to live exclusively in freshwater. 
When you're this close to a manatee, it's as if you can see a soul behind their eyes. I'm at a loss to describe the feeling, but there's something special about these animals that takes a hold of your heart in a deep and profound way.

The staff at the center present education programs to thousands of visitors, and part of the program is the opportunity to help feed the manatees. (YES, that's my hand offering a tid-bit to this amazing animal, an experience I'll always treasure!)

The manatee's upper lip is modified into a large bristly surface, which is deeply divided. It can move each side of the lips independently while feeding. The general coloration is gray, and most Amazon Manatees have a distinct white or bright pink patch on the breast.

It was incredible to see them up close, to offer them bits of Water Lettuce (one of their preferred foods), and to feel the rubbery-soft skin of their face snuffling my hand.

 After the manatee experience, it was back to the Queen Violetta 
for dinner and an evening skiff ride. It was an amazing feeling to 
be dashing along  the mighty Amazon as the sun set.

A Ceiba tree highlighted by the setting sun: a perfect ending to a fabulous day.