Friday, January 23, 2015

Day 10 in SE Peru: Travel Downstream to Los Amigos

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This is the 10th in a series of blogs covering a private tour I led down the Kosñipata Road and the Madre de Dios River in SE Peru from October 25-November 7. Today was a travel day – eight and a half hours of motoring down the Upper Madre de Dios then the main Madre de Dios rivers to Los Amigos Biological Station. So as to avoid any possibility of arriving after dark, we departed Pantiacolla at 6:00 a.m., and all went without a hitch.

The Pantiacolla Lodge grounds are a reasonably sized clearing in the rain forest, and one can actually see quite a bit from here. We were both wishing we had more time here.


The Japanese film crew I mentioned in my last blog were chasing after some very noisy Brown Titis (more on that monkey in an upcoming blog), while in the meantime I spotted these Venezuelan Red Howlers nearby.

Our last new bird here was this cooperative Red-throated Caracara.

Forty minutes into our ride we could look back and see Pantiacolla Ridge fading away. The next significant mountain ridges to the east of here are 2000 miles away in eastern Brazil.

We were always on the lookout for interesting birds and animals along the way; a jaguar or giant anteater is always possible, but we had to do with birds on this trip. We had great views of a pair of Orinoco Geese on one island, for example.

We made a quick potty stop on one young river island, and I picked up this grasshopper, a typical spur-throat (a huge subfamily, so I have no idea what species it is).

Farther downstream was this Horned Screamer on the main bank. Screamers are a small family of very weird birds. They are in the same order as geese and ducks so technically qualify as waterfowl, but the three species (all restricted to South America) don't even remind one of any kind of dabbler, diver, or honker. None of them scream, either. This one pipes and honks in a way that invariably elicits laughter from humans, but it is loud.

Lacking exciting mammals, the banks do have some variability. Some stretches are dominated by the colonizing plant Tessaria, in the family Asteraceae, very much like a giant version of the arroweed that grows near the lower Colorado River in Arizona and California.

On others, the giant cane Gynerium dominates, clearly a competitor with Tessaria.

Yet another competitor for colonizing plants, this one winning for the moment, are miners looking for gold, supporting a few small towns in this remote area.

Finally, I recognize the tall dirt bank above which sits the Los Amigos research station.

We didn't know it yet at this point, but the roof of this building will be Susanne's cabin.

We wasted no time using up the remaining daylight to walk one of the trails. The need to keep the trails clean results in a lot of dead wood on the sides, perfect habitat for many mushrooms. This is a bracket, shelf, or conch, generally called a polypore. It's pristine condition, gorgeous caramel colors, and the way it looked as if it were splitting open the log were all part of the attraction.


One of the nice surprises was this family group of adorable White-throated Jacamars. When Sam Woods and I were here two years ago, we searched all over for this species, finally finding it very late on our last afternoon, one of the last new birds Sam saw on the trip. Here they were just a few hundred yards down from our cabins.


I'd seen this gorgeous metalmark Huebner's Grayler, Adelotypa huebneri, nine years ago at Cristalino Jungle Lodge, Brazil. This time I noted that there were two or more males chasing each other at about head height on either side of the trail, occasionally perching before heading out on another chase. In flight they looked white, so it was quite a nice surprise to see this gorgeous pattern.

This is the female of the Dimorphic White, the male of which I had photographed a couple days ago at Pantiacolla. (See the Day 8 blog.)

In the very late afternoon this skipper, a Nicephorus Scarlet-eye, Nicephellus nicephorus, was coaxed to land close to the trail. It had been trailing an army ant swarm and associated birds, hoping to find some bird droppings to get some nourishment, so I put down a spit wad of tissue on a leaf, which it almost immediately landed on. I had seen and photographed this species three years ago, also at Cristalino Jungle Lodge, also with an ant swarm.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Day 9 in SE Peru: A Long Hike to Pantiacolla Ridge

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This is the 9th in a series of blogs covering a private tour I led down the Kosñipata Road and the Madre de Dios River in SE Peru from October 25-November 7.

Today was our second full day at Pantiacolla Lodge. This is a new location for me, by the way. I have passed it while traveling between lodges almost every year for the past five years and each time looked longingly up at the forested ridge around which southern terminus the Upper Madre de Dios makes a big detour. Pantiacolla Ridge is the final of a series of arched Andean wrinkles that seem to radiate to the north-northeast like waves on a pond disturbed by a tossed pebble, this particular pebble landing in the Earth's crust right at the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. The initial ridges close to Machu Picchu and Cusco are brutally high, but at the southern terminus of this particular ridge one can easily hike to the highest point at just over 3100 feet. Easily, that is, if your goal is to get to the ridge and not enjoy the mind-boggling diversity of nature along the way.

With some trepidation and not a huge amount of confidence, Susanne and I took a sack lunch and set off to the ridge. In short, we did well. We made it, 8 kilometers each way, making few lingering stops, and we're glad we did it. But in hindsight, we would have liked another day or two here, in order to explore each stretch of the trail more thoroughly. But that's exactly the same conclusion I come to at every tropical lodge I visit.

I stopped for one bird photo on the way up, this Greater Yellow-headed Vulture that was still waiting for thermals.

We stopped for mushrooms on the way up, of course, but since many were the same ones we had seen yesterday, we photographed only strikingly new ones.
Update from Susanne: this is in the general group Discomycetes.

Update from Susanne: this is a Marasmius sp.

Update from Susanne: Caripia montagnei

This looked so much like yesterday's damselfly that I decided it must also be a Heteragrion, but I haven't been able to ID the species.

I've discovered a new fondness for Marantaceae and would like to get to know the genera better. But I'm still not sure how to tell Calathea from Hylaeanthe. This is clearly one or the other.


Any family in the order Zingiberales also attracts my attention, here two members of the family Costaceae. First, Costus scaber, with a very elegant but typical spiral shape to the growth axis.


And a very handsome Costus erythrophyllus, notable for the red underside to the leaves as well as the very showy flower.


The lodge's trail map doesn't indicate that there's more than just one destination, but the signs here obviously give us a choice. We chose Shintuya.


The views from the overlook were amazing. Since we had stopped several times, we arrived here in time for lunch and a very quiet time of day bird-wise. A White Hawk soared below us right at first, but the next 15 minutes, as we ate our lunch, were birdless and dominated by stingless bees. The first photo below is looking south towards the main chain of the Andes, while the second is looking to the southeast, zoomed on the town of Shintuya.


On the way down we stopped for many cool things. While Susanne photographed a mushroom, I pursued this Three-striped Rocket Frog, Allobates trilineatus.

This speckled stink bug was well camouflaged.

This not-so-well camouflaged katydid was lucky I wasn't a hungry trogon or monkey.

I have seen this long-horned beetle, Taeniotes orbignyi, at Cristalino Jungle Lodge.

The most exciting butterfly on the hike was this rare metalmark, Argryrogrammana rameli.

We stopped at some random spot on the trail, probably to get a closer look and perhaps a photo of a mushroom, when I heard a sudden burst of wing beats nearby, saw a bit of motion, and landed my binoculars on a Hairy-crested Antbird. I instantly recognized the whole situation as a bird flushed from a nest, and quickly noticed a hollowed-out dead tree stem next to the trail.

This is what was inside. A rare find!

A bit closer to the lodge, we came across a group of Brown-mantled Tamarins, Saguinus fuscicollis.

I knew we were close to the lodge when we came to the junction of yesterday's trail where I had hung a piece of heliotrope that I had snagged from Villa Carmen. Here, sucking up the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, was an Agnosia Clearwing, Ithomia agnosia, as well as a clearwing moth.

There's no photo to illustrate here our slow reckoning of a droning sound as we approached the lodge as that of the four-prop, remote-controlled hovercraft, carrying a video camera. We realized soon that it belonged to the Japanese TV film crew that had arrived the same day as us and that they were filming sunset from above the canopy at the banks of the Upper Madre de Dios River. Their focus during their short stay here was the Brown Titi, a monkey we hadn't seen ourselves yet, but apparently one that captured the imagination of the Japanese psyche.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Day 8 in SE Peru: Pantiacolla Lodge's Monk Saki Trail

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This is the 8th in a series of blogs covering my most recent tour down the Kosñipata Road and the Madre de Dios River in SE Peru from October 25-November 7. I left off last with Susanne’s and my arrival at Pantiacolla Lodge for our first of 3 nights. Today we decided to walk a nearby trail very slowly, bringing a sack lunch from the lodge and taking all day to walk the 2.8-mile loop of the Monk Saki Trail. The whole trail is lowland Amazonian Rainforest, but it isn't totally flat, crossing several small streams adding some diversity to the habitats.

I knew the are was going to be good for birds when not far down the trail I heard a distant Banded Antbird. With some judicious playback and whistled imitations, I managed to bring the bird right in.


This Curl-crested Aracari was right over the trail.

Even a non-backlit Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin would fail to make a stunning photo, but here one is anyway. And the video does give you an idea of how small this thing is. Most sources mention this as the primary song, and it is often what you hear throughout Amazonia, often when no other birds are singing. But the real song and display take place as a spectacular looping flight high above the 50-meter forest canopy, with the bird landing in the tops of the tallest trees and giving a repeated chatter. This can be seen only from canopy towers like those at Cristalino Jungle Lodge.


This Purple-throated Fruitcrow was one of two that came in to my whistled imitations.


We sat down for lunch on a log by a dense thicket over a stream, and a Scaly-breasted Wren began singing nearby. I played just a little bit of song, and the bird flew in immediately, almost landing on my lap. But it saw us and disappeared into the thicket, minutes later reappearing just a few feet away and singing its most enchanting song.


What's that deep humming sound coming from down trail? Is there something in the dark forest understory? Pale-winged Trumpeters on the trail! We actually ran into at least 3 different groups of these amazing jungle cranes.



The streams were fantastic for odonates. This red-eyed damselfly is probably a dancer in the genus Argia.

This Polythore species is in the New World family Polythoridae, which includes some our most ornately patterned and colored damselflies.

This is an amberwing dragonfly, Perithemis thais.

This clubtail dragonfly is Epigomphus obtusus, with rather striking appendages.

This is either Mnesarete devillei or M. hauxwelli, a damselfly closely related to our rubyspots.

This damsel is a close match for Heteragrion inca in the family Megapodagrionidae.

I was so intent on getting a good shot of this gorgeous damselfly that I didn't notice that it had chosen a leg of a huge walking stick as a perch until Susanne pointed it out to me.

There were lots of fascinating insects and other arthropods along the trail. This planthopper is in the family Dictyopharidae, not that different from Fulgoridae.

This Ellipticus sp. is clearly the most common pleasing fungus beetle in the region. We had seen it on previous days and had several this day.

Another pleasing fungus beetle (family Erotylidae), this one is a Gibbifer species, similar to the one we have in Arizona.

This one is very distinctive, almost surely Scaphidiomorphus bosci.

This gorgeous flare-shouldered Sundarus sp. Is a leaf-footed bug in the same family as our giant mesquite bugs (Coreidae).


This tiny Eumastacid (monkey grasshopper) was surely the smallest one I've ever seen.

And this Trechaleidae water hunting spider was one of the largest ones I've ever seen.

There were a few nice butterflies, even though the forest understory isn't the best place to see a big diversity. This metalmark is the Pirene Grayler, Calospila pirene.

Susanne spotted this stunning Black-barred Cross-streak, Panthiades phaleros, perched on my tripod.

This is another one of those nearly impossible hairstreaks, but it looks close enough to the one I posted a couple days ago to mostly likely be the Malta Groundstreak, Calycopis malta.

Most whites are in open sunny areas; this Dimorphic White, Perrhybris pamela, is called this because the females are strikingly different from the males, looking more like a tigerwing.

This satyr is one of my favorites and hard to get good photos of in the dark understory. Safely known as Cithaerias pireta, it has many common names; I like Blushing Phantom the most.

This Brazilian Bluewing, Myscelia capenas, was a new one for me, and I didn't even recognize the genus when in the field.

I was impressed when Susanne picked out this bit of anomalous pattern in the leaf litter.

Following the body along, we found it belonged to a Brown Sipo, Chironius fuscus. It lay in this position, completely motionless for at least 10 minutes while we were busy photographing bugs and mushrooms nearby.

This flowering shrub in the family Rubicaceae is Palicourea guianensis and is attractive to a few hummingbirds in the understory, probably including a Gould's Jewelfront that we saw nearby.


This melastome is in the genus Tococa, recognized by the swollen bases to the leaves, known as domatia, homes to ants that help protect the plant from herbivores.


And yes, of course there were mushrooms. Lots. This polypore is often called Artist's Conch, as demonstrated here by Susanne. Update: Ganoderma sp.

Some grow in grotesque, odd shapes, but this one was so coincidentally turtle-like to startle both of us.

This may look like a typical wood-ear in the genus Auricularia, but turning it over reveals a surprisingly different structure. Update from Susanne: Auricularia delicata


This is yet another Favolaschia (see the blog from a couple days ago), a tiny but beautiful mushroom. The other ones we saw were on dead bamboo, so this one might be another species.


Finally, as-of-yet unidentified (because Susanne hasn't seen my photos yet) is this elegant, tiny crimson gem of a mushroom. It is possibly a Marasmius sp. Update from Susanne: this is a Mycena sp.