When we, as birders, think about these tropical rainforests, or we see aerial footage of them on TV or photos in books and magazines, we’ll often remark about how many birds you would see in these forests.
I, personally, have visions of standing in the forest, with birds whizzing past me, not knowing which way to look as there is so much to see.
Having now spent quite a bit of time in them on this trip and on one or two others, I’m learning that is not necessarily always the case. As South African birders, we’re mostly used to open country birding. We’ve got a lot of LBJs but, a bird that you can see, even if it’s drab and brown, is a lot easier to identify than a bird that you cannot see.
All quite philosophical, actually, but this morning was a reminder of how tough this neotropical birding can be.
We were up at the respectable hour of 5am for a 6am departure on a walk through the forest that surrounds Amazonia Lodge. In the six hours we were out there we saw about 25 species in the primary rainforest. I can gather more species in 20 minutes in Kirstenbosch.
Our first two hours yielded six species. We started the day with a straight up hike, three quarters the way up a very steep hillside, to the only canopy tower we’ve been to in Peru. My expectations were high. We’d see tanager flocks, busy bird parties, soaring raptors and commuting macaws and parrots. A great start to a day in the tropics, surely?
It wasn’t quite like that at all.
We did see macaws. Three Military Macaws at about 500m distance and then a single Scarlet Macaw even further away.
An Ivory-billed Aracari (a type of toucan), a Paradise Tanager, a few White-collared Swifts and a calling oropendola made up the balance of the six species. It may have been the troop of Wooly Monkeys nearby, or the calling forest falcon that chased all the birds away, but it was, quite simply, a disappointing experience in comparison to so much of the other birding we’ve had on this trip. Incidentally, we never saw the forest falcon. As a brief aside, if I had known the identity of the calls, I would have logged plenty more as there was a lot calling, but we were hoping for visuals.
The remaining four hours were spent walking through the quiet gloom of the forest, adding one or two species every 20 minutes or so. It wasn’t all bad as most of the birds we saw were lifers and some of them were even very special. Two of them were actually lifers for Juan as well, as for us, which is quite something, knowing how regularly he spends time in these forests. The birders in the audience may be interested in the identity of those two birds – Sapphire Quail-dove and Grey-throated Leaftosser. In fact, it was only the second time Alex had ever seen the leaftosser himself so we felt lucky to see it. The leaftosser was the experts’ choice for bird of the day but Garret and I chose something a little more colourful.
We returned to the lodge just before lunch and I got a chance to take off my sweat-sodden clothes and jump into a cold shower before I was given the unexpected news that we’d have a two-hour midday break. I was grateful, given the increasing temperatures and reduced bird activity. I spent a lot of the time photographing the hummingbirds that came to the feeders.
The afternoon was a lot better, perhaps because it was two and a half hours and not six, but it was also a little busier, which was the reason I should be giving.
It had a dash of failure as well, though. We spent most of our time looking for a bird called a Peruvian Recurvebill, without success, and we also struck out for the third time today with a manakin species. We’ve heard, but not seen, three of them. We’ve actually only seen a single manakin species on this trip – Yungas Manakin up at COTRL.
However, any afternoon walk that ends with a Black-throated Toucanet and three woodpeckers in the space of 10 minutes must be officially declared successful. The last woodpecker we saw was a Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, which is almost as attractive as a Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, and I’m told it is very common in these parts, yet it still remained outstanding until the dying light today. I told Juan that I wanted a 50% refund on my trip costs if he didn’t find me one of those so, in a world where money makes things go around, he pulled out all the stops. Strictly speaking, we actually had to rely on Garret to spot it but I hadn’t actually specified that it had to be one of the guides for my refund. Juan seemed to have a relieved skip in his step on the way back to the lodge.
Speaking about the lodge, I have to admit that Amazonia Lodge sounded so exotic and, dare I say it, upmarket, but it’s the most basic place we’ve been to. That’s a euphemism for run-down, if you can’t read between those lines. The walls are peeling, there are no fans and, aside from the food which is quite good and the busy hummer feeders, it has been a disappointing stay. There’s no doubt that the birding is exceptional, given patience and skill, but I do yearn for the busier birding and enhanced luxury we had at Villa Carmen.
We’re here for tonight and then we head further down the Rio Alto Madre de Dios to our final destination, which is Manu Wildlife Centre. The boat trip is a marathon affair. In a straight line, MWC is over 100kms away from here and, with the twists and turns of the river, it’s most likely double that distance. We’re scheduled to be on our very comfortable boat for over seven hours, but there are reclining bucket seats, so it may be a great way for me to recharge before the last assault on our list to see if we can reach the quite amazing number of 600 species for the trip.
Once again, with no WiFi, you’ll be reading this in arrears which is a bit weird, but at least you’ll get a few instalments in one go (or quite possibly you’ve enjoyed the break).
Till tomorrow then…
- Total day birds: 66
- Total trip birds: 565ish
- Total trip endemics: 36 (we added Koepcke’s Hermit today)
- Mike day lifers: 32ish
- Mike total lifers: 462ish
- Garret day lifers: 18
- Garret trip lifers: 354
- Bird of the day: Scarlet Macaw
Click here for day 18.