Amazon River Cruise Jan 08—18, 2015

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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Our January 2015 Amazon River Cruise on the Río Amazon, Rio Ucayali, and various tributaries of these rivers was another very enjoyable and successful journey through northeastern Peru. During our weeklong trip we did experience some rain almost every day except the last two days of the trip. The rain did not interfere with our planned activities, except on one morning when we were delayed until about 9 a.m. and on another morning when we were forced to return to the mother ship for about an hour. Most days were partly cloudy to cloudy and pleasant. Water levels were high this year, as is normal, but still 2–3 meters below peak levels, which were clearly indicated by watermarks on trees. High water permitted easy access even to small creeks. This is an advantage for birding and an important reason for visiting at this time of year.

Black-collared Hawk

Black-collared Hawk— Photo: David Ascanio

Among the highlights of our trip, top honors surely go to the Razor-billed Curassow, with the wonderful Spectacled Owl a close second; others included the remarkable number of Great Potoos seen (as well as one Common Potoo), Blue-and-yellow Macaws, and almost a dozen male Plum-throated Cotingas. There were, of course, large numbers of raptors almost daily, many parakeets and parrots, some cute tody-flycatchers, and a great mix of river edge and river island species including Lesser Wagtail-Tyrants, Black-and-white Antbirds, Orange-fronted Plushcrowns, kingfishers, and many more. We also saw a good cross section of mammals of western Amazonia: Night Monkeys and six or seven other primates, as well as sloths, and both Pink and Gray river dolphins daily.

The great complexity and diversity of a rainforest avifauna is, perhaps, better illustrated in western Amazonia than anywhere else in the world. Our daily routine generally included early morning and mid-afternoon ship departures to explore small creeks, or work along the forested riverbanks of the Amazon and Ucayali. After spending a week searching for some of the avifaunal pieces in this greatest of all natural jigsaw puzzles, we hopefully came away with a better appreciation of how this diversity fits together. And, not all the pieces were in the forest. There is a rich and varied river island fauna. There was a sprinkling of long distance migrants (e.g. Eastern Kingbird, Barn Swallow), and there were both white water (muddy really), and black water streams. Each of these components contributes, in various ways, to the overall diversity of birds in Amazonia. In a large and diverse avifauna such 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 and their unusual, often novel songs, duets, and breeding activities. To this end we tried to visit as wide a variety of habitats and microhabitats as possible including river islands, várzea forest, and moriche palms among others.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth— Photo: David Ascanio

Our ship’s crew did a great job of feeding us and looking after us, even bringing cool towels into the field, and the coolers, both shipboard and on the skiffs, were always well-stocked with cold water. Muddy boots were cleaned and dried after a brief land-based excursion (by one boat group) and another to the village, and on several evenings the ship’s band played during happy (or was it “Harpy”) hour. The week went quickly and a lot of adventure and learning were compressed into a relatively short span of time. Steve presented three lectures, and Segundo presented a lecture on Amazonian village life. Johnnie gave a couple of updates on our ship position, and David kept the group apprised of forthcoming activities. Contrasting our first day along the coast with the utterly different Amazon experience, one begins to appreciate the tremendous diversity of habitats and wildlife that Peru offers to those who are willing to spend the time and effort to visit them. We thank all of you for participating in this cruise and hope to see you again soon.