South American Species Seen by the 3 Musketeers


St├ęphanie was diligently keeping track of the more notable species we observed on our Amazon trek.


So here's the list compiled by the world's newest birdwatcher:

Roadside hawk
Russet-back oropendula
Quetzal (the South American type)
Laughing falcon
Cock-on-the-rock 
Wooley monkey
Capucin monkey
Coati bear
Wolf spider
Yellow-crowned parrot
Crested oropendula
Dusky-headed parakeet
Bat falcon
Scarlett macaw
Snowy eagret
Yellow eagret
Tiger heron
Coati bird
Wide-necked heron
Cap eagret
Black vulture
Blach hawk
Rasor-billed curassaow
Capibara
Imperial tamarind monkey
Chestnut-billed macaw
Blue headed parrot
Snail kite 
White-eyed parakeet
Lesser kiskadee
Vermillion flycatcher
Amazon kingfisher
Orange-cheeked parrot
Mealy parrot
Yellow crowned parrot
Red and green macaw
Chestnut-eared toucan
Dusky titi monkey
Speakled chachalaca (Amazonian turkey)
Red-capped cardinal
Man-eating cochroach (dinosaur bug)
White-banded swallow
Cuvier's toucan
Wallow-winged puff bird
Sunbittern
Yellow-neck turtle
Horned screamer
Stork
Moscomits (Amazonian ducks)
Red howler monkey
Bamboo rat
Spider monkey
Tarantula
Howler monkey
Brown capuchin
Garlic tree
Soapbox tree
Coral tree
Red Amazonian squirrel
Rubber tree
Belly Palm
Needle palm
Army ants
Wattle jacana
Black caiman
Snake bird
Watson bird
Osprey
King vulture
Bat falcon
White caiman
Green ibis
Fire ants
Strangle fig tree
God tree
Umbrella tree

Giant river otter
Ocelot



Thanks Steph

The Secret Drug Cartel Airstrip


May 27 (Day 9)

Our last day in Amazon starts like every other day with an early morning wake-up call.  Edouard was determined to show us the Giant River Otters and we were off to the oxbow lake for a third attempt (minus the German couple, who elected to grab some extra zzz's instead).  As we approached the lake's dock, we heard some splashing and sure enough, there they were, giggling at us, like otters like to do.  
We jumped into the catamaran to "follow" the otters as they swam away.  This was a comical yet much appreciated gesture as Edouard could have just said, "Well  my friends, there you have your Giant River Otters. Now let's head back and grab the Germans to catch our flight" but we ventured out onto the lake.  I say comical because otters are pretty much the equivalent of furry dolphins. They're playful and fast in the water and the idea that we could "follow" and "catch up to them" with our catamaran was totally unrealistic.  That said, we did come across otters enjoying their fresh catch while others were jumping out of the water and swimming across the lake. Thanks Edouard!
After our two-hour catamaran ride ended, we headed back to the lodge to pick up the Germans and ate breakfast before heading on our 5-hour canoe ride to the airport.  As we made our way back down the Manu River, we continued to see more wildlife including this massive caiman only a few metres from our canoe... luckily, it seemed to be more afraid of us than us of him as he turned away from us and proceeded to the shoreline instead of towards us.
We continued on our way until out of nowhere, Edouard shouts out, "Jaguar, Jaguar!". Yeah right, Edouard. Funny, funny.  You said all along our journey through the Amazon that jaguars are elusive creatures and are rarely seen yet sure enough, we came across a wild juvenile jaguar in the Amazon!  Jaguar: Check!  Our Amazon wildlife list is complete!
After a brief stop in Boca Manu village to drop off our shy, Peruvian government official (who was suspiciously thoughtful enough to avoid being photographed), we made our way to the nearby grass runway "formerly used" by the drug cartel to ship their goods.  The Boca Manu Airstrip is pretty much that. A grass airstrip in the middle of the jungle.  Getting out of the boat and climbing the steep mud slope, we didn't know what to expect when we started our walk in the jungle yet soon enough, the airport appeared in the opening with first, its restaurant and washroom
and then the actual airport terminal...
The flights from and to Boca Manu are operated with small airplanes (Twin Otter and Grand Caravan) and the schedule reportedly varies according to flight demand and thus is not very exact.  After checking in and paying a $15 USD per person (one-way) tax for Boca Manu's airstrip, each of us had our luggage weighed.  The luggage limit on the plane is 10 kg per person with a fee of $3 USD per extra kilo. And then get this, they weighed us!
Which is understandable, considering we were about to aboard this little 18-seat airplane.
We boarded the plane and soon enough, we were airborne...

to make our way back to Cusco in about 45 minutes.

Just Monkeying Around


May 26, 2010 (Day 8)

I wake up to the sound of an airplane flying right overhead... but is it really an airplane?  We're in the middle of nowhere in the Amazon for crying out loud!  It's pitch black and I'm scrambling in my mosquito-sheet covered bed to find my LED to figure out what the heck is going on.  There it is... I turn it on to brighten up my coffin of a bed and find the matches to light the candles... The stupid waterproof matches won't light up... oh wait, there we go, oh wait the candle wick won't light up.... ughh.. not again....  ahhh, finally, after 4 unsuccessful matches.... candlelight!  The sound changes pitch and it now sounds like the howler monkey we encountered the other day...



It's still dark outside so there's no point of getting up just yet so back to bed for a few minutes before breakfast and our boat ride to the Inka Natura Manu Tented Camp Campamenta Aguajo,

where we went for a hike in the surrounding jungle and came across a multitude of different species of monkeys playing in the trees above.  This was definitely an amazing experience! 
Monkeys were feeding on the fruits, meandering across the canopy, and jumping from branch to branch as we watched in silence while sidestepping falling debris. 
It was funny to see the occasional monkey have its tail caught in the branches as it leapt from tree to tree. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, yet it was nevertheless fun to watch a monkey untangle itself.  To an untrained photographer, such as myself, with a camera on the fritz, getting good photographs of the constantly moving monkeys was impossible so sometimes, you just have to savour the moment without worrying about taking that perfect shot.

After at least a good 10-15 minutes of monkey watching, we continued with our hike during which we encountered more monkeys making their way through the jungle.
Yes, it's that humid in the Amazon rainforest!  We made our way back to the canoe and continued on to another shoreline and hiked until we reached the oxbow-lake called Cocha Salvador.  We then jumped onto a catamaran paddled by our two boatmen and started our search for Giant River Otters (Pteronura brasiliensis), Caimans, Hoatzins and monkeys.  It was almost mid-day so the likelihood of us seeing the otters was slim so we headed back to the dock.  As we approached, another tour group arrived and provided our first real glimpse into how other Manu Reserve tour operators worked.  The first noticeable thing was the size of their group.  It was at least double our group of five.  And the second thing was they weren't wearing rubber boots.  In fact, one of them mentioned it to the others, "Oh look, they're smart! They're wearing rubber boots!" so I responded by saying that we should actually thank Amazon Trails Peru for providing us with the unadvertised rubber boots.  At that moment, I think the other group wished they went with our company... lol

After lunch, we hiked some more trails through the forest where we encountered this massive tree (which another tour group inexplicably missed on their way to the lake).
After snapping some photos, we continued with our hike and climbed the 18m observation tower at Cocha Otorongo.  Boating is not permitted on this lake so the observation platform was built to provide viewing opportunities of the jungle and lake while creating minimal disturbance to the wildlife.
We saw some birds including the Amazon Kingfisher.


Yes, it's the Amazon Kingfisher.  When in doubt about the name of a somewhat familiar animal, just put "Amazon" in front of it, and 9 times out of 10, you're probably right.  Case in point, when we pointed out to our guide that we have kingfishers in Canada as well, Edouard was curious to know what they were called.  We said, "Kingfishers".  Edouard was like "No, no, what are they called?"  We said again, "Kingfishers." Again, Edouard refused to accept our response. This went on a few more times before we responded, "Canadian Kingfisher!" and finally Edouard acknowledged, "Ahh, Canadian Kingfisher".  LOL

Later that afternoon, we went back to Cocha Otorongo to see if we would have better luck in spotting the otters but to no avail.  But to compensate, we did see some caimans lurking in the water.

We spent our final night in the Amazon once again at the rustic Albergue Matsiguenka.

Manu National Park

May 25, 2010 (Day 7)

Another early morning wake-up call to travel about 8 to 9 hours upriver into the Reserved Zone of Manu National Park. Logging is reportedly prohibited in Manu so the locals take full advantage of fallen trees that are swept downstream during the rainy season, and harvest the massive trees that eventually end up back on shore.
Before entering the Park, we stopped in the village of Boca Manu for lunch at the waterfront patio and the opportunity to buy any forgotten basic essentials at its general store before heading back on the boat.
Our next stop was at the Limonal Guard Station where our tour's permit was checked and we signed the log book before continuing further upstream.  All throughout the boat trip, we came across a variety of birds and the occasional shower.
In the afternoon, we arrived at Albergue Casa Matsiguenka, where we spent two nights in the "rustic" lodge.  "Rustic" was the term used by the tour guide and it met the bill fairly well.
The washrooms were 54 steps from the lodge through the jungle...
Yes, 54!  I counted them before we went for our late afternoon hike... just in case, I had to go in the middle of the night and went the wrong way... lol  The washroom facilities had more than its fair share of ants, cockroaches, spiders, and even a bamboo rat (chewing on a bar of soap) on one of the overhead support beams. Sorry folks, no photos of the rat.... we saw it after our late evening candlelight dinner and I didn't have my camera with me. The kitchen and dining facilities were located in another opening in the jungle a short walk from our lodge.
The lodges are built in typical Machiguenga style and are operated by the natives, who have a small presence on site.
After dinner and the rat incident, it was time to bunker down into bed, draw down the thick mosquito sheets (yes, a thick bed sheet and not one of those wimpy, thin screens).
and hope that a midnight walk to the washroom wasn't necessary :)

Macaw Claw Lick

May 24, 2010 (Day 6)


Early in the morning, we traveled downriver to the big macaw clay lick in Blanquillo. Quite honestly, this was the day I was really looking forward to and it definitely did not disappoint!
 

While eating breakfast in the blind, we first observed flocks of parakeets and parrots congregate to eat the clay of the lick, which is essential for their digestion. A hawk soaring overhead spooked the birds, and they flew away decisively after about 10 minutes of clay licking action. The macaws appeared soon thereafter to put on their own show.



During this show, we also witnessed a monkey showdown and some massive bugs cleaning up our breakfast leftovers like this "little" guy...




After 2 or 3 hours of birdwatching (which seemed to pass in no time flat), we traveled upstream to return to Maquisapayoj. After a walk in the jungle, we took a break at the lodge where parrots, monkeys, and lizards were lounging nearby.  



Interestingly enough, my camera didn't seem to like the humidity or something in the jungle as on several occasions, it would indicate a camera lens error, demand a restart, just turn off, or simply not focus properly. This occurred at least once a day during the Amazon portion of the trip so some things just weren't captured or came out fuzzy but I digress.


As dusk drew near, we were off to try our luck again that evening at the mammal salt lick. 




It was a clear night and the moon illuminated the lick, which apparently scares the tapir so it sounded like our guide was preparing us for another disappointing night on the elevated platform yet a tapir appeared for a few tentative minutes before running off into the jungle. Deeming the evening a success, we headed back to the lodge for a good night's sleep.

Amazon Canoe Ride

May 23, 2010 (Day 5)

We got up early and headed downriver for about 10 minutes to a small clay lick, where we weren't too successful in spotting many parakeets and parrots but nevertheless, it was nice to witness our first sunrise in the Amazon.
When we arrived, there was already a man scoping the lick for activity. He apparently does this every day as part of his research activities for a nearby non-profit organization. A bit after 7am, he decided that he had better things to do and was about to head off in his canoe, when it somehow got loose and started its way downriver.  One of our boatman jumped into our canoe and rushed downriver to grab the boat. It was pretty funny seeing the guy run frantically down the rocky shoreline after his boat. Luckily, our boatman was around to rescue his motorized canoe.

We, too, were soon on our way down the Alto Madre de Dios River, enjoying breakfast on the boat, even despite the ants in our cereal, as we had a 7-8 hour boat ride on our hands today. Luckily, our motorized canoe had an overhead tarp that provided some protection from the elements as it soon started to rain and it continued to rain for an hour or two. I guess that's to be expected in a rainforest.
Along the way, we spotted a number of birds and monkeys, in addition to a family of capybaras along the shoreline.
We arrived at our home for the next two nights, the Maquisapayoj Lodge, later that afternoon. 
After a quick break to settle into our room, we trekked in the mud for about an hour to arrive at a tapir blind where we climbed the stairs to find a platform with small mosquito-net covered mattresses. We ate our dinner silently in the dark without knowing exactly what we were eating and then were told to nap while our guide 'kept an eye' on the mammal salt lick for any tapir activity.  There wasn't much sleeping going on. There was another group already there and they appeared to be there more for the social aspect than the nature, so it was quite loud and not surprisingly, no tapir showed up that evening, so we decided at about 9:30pm to start our way back to the lodge. 

The walk back to the lodge was a bit treacherous in the dark as some people got their rubber boots stuck in the mud and I accidentally dropped one of my LEDs in a stream while slightly slipping on the wooden plank crossing it.  Nevertheless, we reached our lodge in about an hour, and reminisced on the day's activities while enjoying the chewy goodness of a special Cliff Protein Bar in the candle light before heading to bed for the night.

The Long Winding Road to the Amazon

May 22, 2010 (Day 4)

We're off to an early start this morning (4:30 am) as we pack into a van in a dark alley in Cusco (elevation: ~3,300m) and make our way to the Amazon Rainforest as part of Amazon Trails Peru's tour of Manu National Park.


According to the brochure,
Manu is situated in the Peruvian part of the Amazon basin and is one of the world's great wilderness areas where wildlife is still undisturbed and plentiful. The Manu Biosphere Reserve protects Tropical Alpine Grasslands (Puna), Elfin (temperate) and Cloud Forests, High Rainforest and Lowland Rainforest. In these different ecosystems we can find an extraordinary variety of animal and plant species: So far 15,000 plant species, over 1,000 bird species and 200 species of mammals have been identified in Manu. According to biologists, no other rainforest park can compare with Manu's biodiversity (40 % more bird species than in the Brazilian Amazon) and opportunities to observe wildlife. Manu is remote, away from civilization and scarcely populated, which distinguishes Manu from other rainforest destinations like Puerto Maldonado. Some of the indigenous tribes in Manu have no contact to civilization.
 
After a quick stop at a stand alongside the highway to pick-up our bread supply for the next six days, we soon make our way onto what appears to be a mining road that hugs the edge of a mountain range. The dirt road that started out with carefully placed stone dividers to differentiate the two lanes quickly turned into a single lane gravel road with barely enough room for one vehicle, let alone opposing traffic. This, of course, presented many interesting situations as you have mountain rock on one side and sheer cliff on the other side of the road, and transport trucks bullying their way down the road.  Size definitely matters here. The bigger your vehicle, the more negotiating power you have when you come bumper-to-bumper with an opposing driver. The smaller vehicle usually had to reverse up to a few hundred meters to a wider stretch of the road (despite what common sense would otherwise dictate) to the point where we were only a few whiskers of the cliff's edge on several occasions.  The winding road also presented the problem of blind bends so our driver honked the horn to warn oncoming traffic of our presence and this avoided problems for the most part. The vistas were spectacular and the risk of an imminent fall down the cliff provided a great adrenaline rush that I definitely wouldn't mind doing again!


Along the way, we stopped in Ninamarka. Luckily, I didn't jump into the "huts" for a photo as I had initially thought of doing as we later were informed that the site was a pre-Inca cemetery and those little "huts" we're actually tombs. Talk about listening to your gut instincts!
We then continued on our way to Paucartambo village, where we stopped for breakfast and a little sightseeing of the bridge and local market where they sold the most delicious bananas of the entire trip!
After reaching an elevation of over 4,000m, we were ready to descend the eastern slopes of the Andes
and enter the cloud forest where we passed through several tunnels, including one with an almost 90-degree angle turn which resulted in the van scrapping the side of the tunnel.  While the crew was preparing our roadside picnic lunch, we ventured out for a walk and spotted Peru's national bird, the Cock of the Rock (Rupicola peruviana), within the lush vegetation of the cloud forest
and then sure enough, our first monkeys, only an arm's length away...

Landslides from the rainy season were evident throughout our afternoon drive and on several occasions, we had to get out of the van and walk a particular section of the road because the driver deemed it unsafe for us to stay in the van.
Considering all the close cliff-side calls earlier in the day in which we didn't evacuate the vehicle: When the driver says "Get out of the van", you get the fu@k out the van!  No questions asked!
Late in the afternoon, we visited a small family-run coca leaf farm and over 12 hours after the start of our day, we arrived in Atalaya (elevation: ~500m).  From here, a relatively quick 15 minutes boat ride took us to our home for the night, the Rio de Oro Lodge. 
After a late candle-lit dinner, there was an optional night walk that we, of course, took part in.  There's nothing like walking through the noisy rainforest in the darkness, relying on a few flashlights and keychain LED's to find your way around while spotting critters like poisonous tree frogs and wolf spiders by their eye reflections.
It was a long day yet it flew by like it was only a few minutes! Back to the lodge to get some sleep before our early departure in the morning.

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