Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Day 5 in SE Peru: Hacienda Villa Carmen Biological Station

This is the 5th 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.

Today was Susanne’s and my first of two full days at Villa Carmen Biological Station. I first visited here two years ago on a familiarization trip but never did get around to blogging about it. The station is owned by the US-based Amazon Conservation Association and its partner group in Peru, the Asociación para la Concervación de la Cuenca Amazónica. They also own Wayqecha Biological Station as well as Los Amigos Biological Station – more on that later. They’ve very recently decided that by hosting ecotourists, including birders and butterfliers, they can help further their conservation and research goals, and to do this, they are improving their infrastructure. My WINGS Butterflies & Birds tour last month was the first such group to occupy the new cabins and dine in the new hall. I was pleased to return this month and find more improvements and continually busy construction crews.


At dawn I heard a distant song of a forest-falcon, but it wasn’t a close match for any sound in my library – Buckley’s and Slaty-backed seemed equally close in tone. The pattern was more like the Slaty-backed, but the habitat here is much better for Buckley’s. I recorded it, uploaded the sound, filtered and amplified it, resynched my iPod, and tried playback to no avail. To make a long story short, Susanne and I ended up tracking the bird down a couple hours later, as it had not stopped singing for a moment during that time, and it turned out to be a Buckley’s Forest-Falcon in an immature plumage.


Near our rooms we found this pair of Scarlet-hooded Barbets; the male was just taking off as I took this photo.

Also near our rooms was this Bark Anole, Anolis ortonii.

As we walked the trail between the cabins and the dining hall, we passed beneath this orange-flowering tree that had delightfully fragrant pinwheel-shape flowers falling to the trail in masses.


For the first part of the day we tried walking a trail that would connect us to Trail 8, though bamboo and winding up the hill to a moist valley. We eventually gave up, having to backtrack through patches of thorny Guadua bamboo that had been blown over in a recent storm. In the afternoon we took a different route to the same hill and primary forest, but my memory of how difficult and long the trail was had been affected by the passage of time. It was much longer with much steeper climbs than I had remembered. Amazingly, we made it back before it was totally dark, but not without torn clothing and scratches from the bamboo that had been blown down in many places from a recent storm. Still, we saw some amazing stuff.

Some of the wonderful plants:
A probable Gasterantha species, family Gesneriaceae.

This gorgeous inflorescence is a grass – only a few can be found in the Amazonian rainforest understory. This is likely in the genus Pariana.

Once in a while a flower in the dark understory shocks you with its arresting, improbable colors. This rubiaceous plant (member of the madder family, which includes coffee) is Palicourea plowmanii.

Also a madder relative is this Psychotria poeppigiana, also known by the utterly different scientific name Cephaelis tomentosa; it’s not clear to me which has priority, since both are used on what seem to be rather authoritative websites. These are the fruits.

This photo shows an amazing contrast in species within the same family and genus: both Peperomia species.

As you’ll see in future blog posts from this trip, I’m fascinated by members of the family Melastomataceae. Most are instantly recognizable from either the shape of the anthers or the venation of their leaves, but if you rely upon the size or color of the flowers or the form of the plant, you’ll never figure it out. This one is first I’ve ever seen that combines large, fleshy leaves with a unmistakable vine growth habit. The closeup is of the dried fruits at the end of the stem. I have no idea what the genus is, but will update here if I find out.


We saw lots of cool mushrooms, but we had to keep up the pace, and I didn’t photograph as many as Susanne. This Ganoderma sp. was rather irresistible though.

This colorful little grasshopper looks to be in the subfamily Ommatolampinae.

This larger and distinctively patterned species is Peruvia nigromarginata.

I managed a few butterfly and skipper shots throughout the day. We actually benefitted by the presence of a group of butterfly watchers and photographers, amongst whom were three friends and acquaintances I knew and only coincidentally met here. We first ran into David Geale (whom I met at Abra Malaga 4 years ago) and Chris Tenney (whom I met in Monterey County, California and hadn’t seen since 1996), who had already located this male Clouded Groundstreak, Calycopis centoripa.

Later we found this female metalmark Calospila emylius, which had been attracted to the  smelly fish bait that these guys had sprayed in spots in the undergrowth along trail.

This tiny metalmark Sarota myrtea was independent of the bait.

So was this bamboo-dependent satyr Splendeuptychia species, which appears to be one of the two as-of-yet undescribed species from this region.

As we climbed the steep trail, we took a breather while I took photos of this Venas caerulans skipper. I found this same species at Villa Carmen on the tour I led here last month, documenting a new species for the Kosñipata Valley.

This Pheraeus sp. nov. skipper has been documented at least twice from the Kosñipata, but it still awaits formal description.

On the trunk of one tree I spotted this treehopper (family Fulgoridae), probably in a genus closely related Pterodictya. The distinctive red eyes and much smaller body are quite different from the common Pterodictya reticularis, but the overall shape and the waxy filaments on the back are similar. Unfortunately the hindwings of this species didn’t reveal much of a surprise.


I stumbled across this caterpillar in its very last stage, just before the last molt after which it will become a pupa (chrysalis); it was still able to expose its osmeterium, revealing the fact that is a swallowtail. Jim Brock believes it is one of the cattlehearts, genus Parides.

There were some fabulous views from the hilltops along this trail; the first is looking south across the town of Pilcopata, while the second is looking northeast over the main station buildings and the union of the Pilcopata and Piñipiñi Rivers beyond.


Finally, here are a bunch of photos from around the dining hall after dark, where the lights attracted lots of interesting insects. This is the male of the same beetle I saw the previous night, Enema pan. Yes, that really is its scientific binomial.

A second Fulgorid of the day was this Scaralis versicolor; this time grabbing the critter to see the hindwings showed this gorgeous blue pattern.


There were always a bunch of cicadas, but the only one that I snapped was this Proarna species.

Lots of moths, first two unidentified members of the family Crambidae, probably subfamily Spilomelinae.


This crambid is actually identifiable: Glyphodes sibilalis, the Mulberry Leaftier Moth.

This erebid moth is Eulepidotis fantissima.

I haven’t yet found a genus for this moth, probably in the family Geometridae (inchworms).

This lovely little Geometridae is probably Leuciris fimbriaria.

I was particularly excited about this moth, Psamathia impuctata. It first looked to be an unusually large geometrid, but it is fact a member of Uraniidae, the same as those very colorful, swallowtail-like day-flying moths.

This moth bears some resemblance to the geometrid above, especially with that crossbar on the hindwing, but the pointy “snout” indicates that it’s probably not even in the same family. A pyralid, perhaps?

There were two different moth-butterflies this evening, both different than the one I had last night. This is probably Macrosoma conifera.

And this is likely Macrosoma ustrinaria.

Finally, a poor close-up of a tiny insect that is worth knowing: a sand fly (family Psychodidae, subfamily Phlebotominae) in the genus Lutzomyia. This crepuscular and nocturnal fly looks like a tiny, pale, hairy mosquito and is responsible for spreading Leishmaniasis in the New World. In fact, this one bit me, a sharp and noticeable pain for such a small thing, and it left a little red dot that lasted several days. Chances are it didn’t actually posses the protozoan in the first place, let alone transmit it – but I did keep an eye on the spot for a couple of weeks. The first photo shows it next to a rather small tortricid moth, for size comparison.


Incidentally, the little black flies that bite you when you are near sandy beaches in Amazonia are not sand flies – those are gnats, also called noseeums, and as far as I know are not vectors for any disease; they just leave itchy welts and a spot of blood thanks to the anticoagulant in their saliva. While Lutzomyia inhabits tropical rain forest habitats, Old World phlebotomine sand flies do in fact live in sandy areas and in North Africa are the vector of Leishmanisis.

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