Amazon River Cruise Jan 20—28, 2007

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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In such a large and diverse avifauna as that of the Iquitos area, much of one’s enjoyment comes from the sum of visiting the many different habitats in which birds live and in observing their behaviors, their unusual and often novel songs and duets, and their breeding activities. In a way, this is more important than numbers on a list. The great complexity and diversity of a rainforest avifauna is, perhaps, better illustrated in western Amazonia than anywhere else in the world. After spending a week searching for some of the avifaunal pieces in this greatest of all natural jigsaw puzzles, we came to appreciate, a little better, how this diversity fits together. And, not all the pieces are in the forest. A rich and varied river island fauna, some long distance migrants, and soil and water types strongly influence the natural vegetation and, in turn, the birds that live in these habitats.

The weather during our trip was somewhat rainy, but generally quite pleasant?in short, what you’d expect in the rainforest. Rain showers were mostly during midday breaks or at night, interfered little with our activities and, overall, kept temperatures cool and pleasant.

Near the end of the trip we also enjoyed two land-based outings around the Suite del Marañon and the rainforest walkway there. While not as high or as long as the one operated on the lower Río Napo, this one is, nevertheless, a marvel of engineering in an environment not kind to longevity. I would be the first to admit that one’s first trip across any elevated walkway is both exhilarating and frightening, but confidence builds quickly. For sheer access to upper levels within a tropical avifauna?in this case forest midlevel?a walkway is unparalleled.

For decades the Iquitos areas has been under intense pressure from hunting and trapping of birds and mammals for food, and it has been a supplier of caged wildlife and wildlife products for international markets. The results of this history of persecution are immediately obvious to naturalists?species that are edible, or have value for their hides, feathers, or for cage purposes are absent or rare. More recently, selective cutting of trees for lumbering has become a problem, even in such remote areas as the upper Río Tapiche, which we visited. This, combined with a dramatic (almost frightening) increase in human population during this same period of time suggests a future of hard decisions and discipline if Iquitos is to remain as wild as it is now, much less return to its more pristine earlier condition. Still, the Iquitos area remains one of the top rainforest destinations anywhere in the New World with an overall diversity that may just be the highest in the world.