Written March 18, 2018
I’ve been writing my blog now for over 10 years, and it’s been a good vehicle for me to share my enthusiasm for the great things I see on my tours as well as to share what’s going on in my life. Often I’ve been surprised by how many people read my blog whom I’ve never met, even though most of my closest friends and family (the intended primary audience) aren’t usually among them.
One follower stood out, someone I eventually realized checked my blog every morning – even after my not posting anything for several weeks – but this was someone I actually knew. I first met Jarid Simons in 2002, a full five years before I even began my blog, when I helped lead field trips at the North American Butterfly Association meeting in Bend, Oregon. I think he also attended the joint meeting of Oregon Field Ornithologists, Western Field Ornithologists, and the Western Bird Banding Association in Ashland in 2004, where I also led field trips. He, more than anyone else, paid precise attention to everything I wrote and came to me with comments and questions, and this often led to other discussions. He never posted comments directly to my blog, but rather we would have long telephone conversations a few times a year about my travels and other things.
Jarid died at the age of 79 last week, rather unexpectedly, and we had actually made a date to speak by phone later this month, knowing I had a couple weeks off now. We last spoke in December, and I had no idea he had fallen ill. I dedicate this particular blog to him, and I know he would have read every last word. Here’s a photo of a scarf I knitted for him year before last, given to him just over a year ago. It’s a very simple linen stitch (making a nice, flat fabric, but taking twice as long to knit as a normal stitch), from alpaca I bought in Peru. I think he liked it.
Where I last left off, in late September I had just finished the SE Peru tour that took us to Machu Picchu then over the mountains and back from Cusco. This second tour, summarized in the photos below, followed immediately afterward and mimics the latter half of my older tour, visiting the lower elevation lodges based out of Puerto Maldonado, at the junction of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios Rivers. After a delayed flight, a slow driver, and an extended transfer of bags in a dusty, windy mining port, we were on the river headed upstream over an hour and a half later than predicted. I was determined to not stop for birds, just to get to our destination before dark, but we had to stop for my first Chopi Blackbirds in Peru – a small group foraging on the beach of the Madre de Dios River. It seems they may be invading the country from Bolivia.
Our first home for several days was the Los Amigos Biological Station, where I have stayed twice previously. It didn’t look like this when we arrived though – it was well after dark, as the river was perilously low after an extended drought, our boat was much slower than expected, and as dusk approached, the captain went slower and slower, trying to avoid running into trees that weren’t as submerged as they otherwise should be. A consolation was witnessing well over 100 Sand-colored Nighthawks foraging over the river right at dusk in all directions from our boat. It was magical.
Most evenings around our cabins we could hear Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, and with out much effort we were able to see this one.
In four full birding days we saw and heard 249 species of birds, despite our having covered very little of the trail system and having walked very, very slowly at times due to one of the participants being particularly handicapped (to the frustration of everyone in the group). The variety of habitats here is quite astonishing, and nevertheless we had some really memorable sightings. I got few photos of birds though, two certainly worth sharing. One was this immature Rufescent Tiger-Heron that foraged at the edge of the main compound clearing, One might presume that it was pushed out of a nearby oxbow lake when its parents wanted their territory back to begin a new season of nesting, so it chose this very aberrant habitat, presumably finding grasshoppers, lizards, and other critters to eat.
Another notable photo is of this Southern Scrub-Flycatcher, one of several we had here, almost daily. I learned the call note of this austral migrant several years ago at Cristalino Jungle Lodge, but it’s very high pitched, short, and easily overlooked. And thanks to the difficulty of seeing and identifying seen-only birds this drab in the high canopy, it’s rarely recorded in the region. I suspect it’s actually a very common bird, as least during a short time of year.
This melastome has very distinctively shaped leaves, and it turns out to be identifiable from them, at least here: Miconia tomentosa.
One of the participants noticed these unusual caterpillars on a plant while we were birding one morning, and I recognized them from having photographed the same thing in Costa Rica 13 years ago. It’s the limacodid moth Acharia nesea.
Around the lodge buildings I found it worthwhile to scan the screened windows for moths. I found two particularly lovely individuals. This is the erebid Eulepidotis consequens.
There’s actually a good paper on keying out the click beetles in this genus. It is Semiotus ligneus, which I’ve seen in Costa Rica and at Cristalino Jungle Lodge.
I’ve seen this Tityus scorpion here before, but so far getting beyond genus has not been possible. Some members of this genus are known to have quite painful or even dangerous stings.
I had one amazing night for mammals, but unfortunately none of the participants had the energy to join me. I actually went out two nights in a row, to the same area, and each night was quite different. The first night I went out to do playback for Silky-tailed Nightjar and Rufous Nightjar in an area of bamboo where we had flushed a silent bird during the day. There was no response, but I eventually decided we had seen Silky-tailed Nightjar – not large or rufous enough for the latter species – and I heard (and recorded) an unusual song from White-throated Tinamou and had great views of Rufous-banded Owl. So the next night I returned with two participants to look for the owl, and when it didn’t appear within two minutes, they decided they had had enough and went back to the rooms. I continued on and had the owl just 2 minutes later, but they were already out of earshot.
Then I heard Night Monkeys and wandered a bit farther down the trail. I glimpsed a mouse scampering. I heard some mystery sounds coming from the distant canopy. I wandered farther yet to the bamboo patch and tried trolling the two species of nightjars again (no success). I heard another distant hoot of a Night Monkey and continued on. Something moving in the canopy turned out to be an Olingo (an arboreal member of the raccoon family Procyonidae) and I spent some time watching two of them and getting sound recordings of the calls. I heard a Mottled Owl and at least two Tawny-bellied Screech-Owls, saw another mouse, and then remembered I had to get up early so began what was now about a kilometer walk back to the cabin. Just as I got to the clearing I heard vague movement in the leaf litter just left of the trail, and at first look there was nothing there. Then I took two more steps and there was this South American Tapir, Tapirus terrestris, quietly feeding on fallen palm fruits just 10 feet away.
Just a few yards along, almost to the dining hall, was this Brazilian Rabbit, Sylvilagus brasiliensis.
Then finally, I heard a strange scratching noise at the lab building next to the dining hall, and my headlamp’s light fell onto this huge Brazilian Porcupine, Coendou bicolor, steadily gnawing away on the plaster and cement of the outdoor sinks. What a night!
Thanks to my client-friend Susanne Sourell, whom I guided here a couple years earlier (see the blog HERE), I’m paying attention to mushrooms more than I used to. This mushroom-like oddity actually turns out to be the sporulating stage of Physarella oblonga, a slime-mold, very far removed from mushrooms and more closely related to amoebas (and therefore animals).
I also know a little more of what to look for and photograph to help later with species determinations. This one had a peculiar loose, powdery scaling on top and thought for sure something so distinctive would be easily named. So far, no one has come up with anything closer than suggesting the family, Agaricaceae, which includes well over a thousand species.
I also thought to give it a whiff, as some mushrooms have a distinctive odor that helps in the ID. Big mistake. That exfoliate on top is rather airborne and arrived as a cloud in my nasal passages, but with no immediate effect. After about 15 minutes though, it felt like I had snorted a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne powder, and the burn lasted about four hours. A runny nose and very frequent sneezing lasted at least another 6 hours, well into the night, but gradually decreased overnight. No symptoms remained the next morning.
I could go on and on about how great Los Amigos Biological Station is, but I actually had time for more photos of things at our next lodge, Explorer’s Inn up the Tambopata River from Puerto Maldonado. The reasons for doing Explorer’s Inn in addition to Los Amigos was for the things they had that was lacking at Los Amigos – a big cocha for a boat ride, a canopy tower, and a riverbank with parrots mining it for salt. But I was rather disappointed on most accounts. Most aggravating was that I was lied to about the tower’s improvements – they didn’t build the extra level above the scientific equipment, so it was useless and we had no access to that most amazing part of the forest. The parrot cliffs were underwhelming. And while the boat ride was really good, we actually were able to do one on a smaller, gorgeous cocha at Los Amigos as well, something I didn’t know was an option when we arrived. To top it off, they had basically only one good, highly used trail for us, with several miles of all the secondary trails that reach into different habitats in atrocious condition. They had done no obvious trail maintenance in months, and this is the sort of thing that needs at least weekly attention. Here are some shots of our group having to navigate some tricky tree falls when I took one of those trails our first morning. I’ve changed my tour’s itinerary, and later this year we’ll instead be going up the Madre de Dios to a lodge I know has excellent cochas, canopy platforms, and a parrot cliff (and really nice rooms and food!).
Don’t get me wrong though – we saw some amazing things at Explorer’s Inn, as the forest is just as rich as any in the region, and as my following photos attest. If you are young, fit, love to scramble and bushwhack, and adjust your expectations accordingly, you’ll probably not know that there could be any place better. We had some of the best views of several monkeys here, including the Colombia Red Howler, Alouatta seniculus.
This Black-faced Antbird found a close perch to sing from and sat there for several minutes, allowing me to get slow shutter speed photos of it with my camera on the tripod.
Given that there was just one trail, we walked it again and again, so it was quite a surprise on the last morning to find a pair of vocal Pavonine Quetzals right over it, just a couple hundred meters from the lodge clearing. They were so close to the lodge, I was able to go get the one participant who had decided to stay back this morning, and everyone had great views.
Some of the best birds we saw were right around the lodge’s clearing, such as Blue-headed Macaw, and this amazing Gould's Jewelfront, found by a participant who just couldn’t take an afternoon break. Amazingly, it stayed put long enough for all of the group to see it.
These Spix's Guans were active around the clearing off and on, and their interactions with a Roadside Hawk one evening quite amusing.
We took a boat ride on the lake called Cocha Tres Chimbadas downriver and opposite the lodge, where we had great views of Sungrebe, Greater Ani, both American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous kingfishers, and the rather local in Peru Rusty-margined Flycatcher. This Hoatzin was one of a few family groups we saw during the quiet paddle.
Sensing us as danger, a Black Caiman, Melanosuchus niger, swam out from the shore where it felt more safe, but keeping an eye on us also meant being mobbed by many colorful tabanid flies.
On the shore of the Tambopata River itself was this cooperative Horned Screamer, a distant relative of geese and ducks.
The banks of the river were good for butterflies and insects, including this bee in the family Megachilidae (mason bees and leafcutter bees).
This photograph of a bee in the genus Centris attracted the attention of Dr. Felipe Vivallo of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, as he wanted to use it in a paper he is writing about the biology of this tribe (Centridini).
It had been unusually cool during the whole tour, which no one complained about, but it didn’t encourage butterfly activity. Finally, on the last two days it warmed up into the 90s (°F), and suddenly there were butterflies along the trail, including several nice hairstreaks. This big one is Evenus tagyra.
This relative of the fancy blue morphos that everyone knows is the less frequently noticed but equally beautiful Antirrhea philoctetes.
Thanks to iNaturalist, I found that these leaf-footed bugs feeding communally on the sap of a small tree are Pachylis pharaonis.
I had first thought this was one of the rarely seen riodinid butterflies, like the Zelotaea phasma I had seen at Cristalino Jungle Lodge a few years ago, but upon inspection of my photo, the feathered antennae show it to be a moth, probably in the family Geometridae, and possibly Tarma (Perigramma) theodora.
This arctiine moth is one of the best wasp mimics I’ve seen. I found it on a sprig of Heliotrope I plucked from the river bank and hung in the forest understory along the trail. Plants like this in the family Boraginaceae, quite rare in the forest understory, have the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are so loved by arctiine moths and ithomiine butterflies, so this is a good way to find these elusive insects.
This is a nymphal stage of one of the tropical lubbers Tropidacris, found on the trail side one day.
Also along the trail was this Mionochroma sp., perhaps the most colorful genus of longhorn beetles.
This is another fruiting stage of Physarum pezizoideum, a slime mold, related to the one we had at Los Amigos.
On the other hand, here is a real mushroom – Tetrapyrgos nigripes, known as the little blackfoot.
Finally, I went out a few times at night, usually on my own or with only one or two other participants. It’s a different world out there, and if there are no owls around, you can find some great stuff just looking down. A jumping spider with unusually long legs, genus Lyssomanes.
A katydid (Tettigoniidae) doing an excellent job at mimicking a leaf.
A Western White-lipped Frog, Leptodactylus didymus, identified mostly based on location.