Monday, August 12, 2019

Blog Backlog Catch-up: SE Peru 2 (Jungle Lodges) in August 2018

WINGS used to have a single, 17-day tour that combined the places I visited on the previous tour with this next tour. To do that, after Villa Carmen we’d just continue down the Upper Madre de Dios on a long boat ride to the next lodge, eventually finishing at Puerto Maldonado. It is thought that shorter tours are attractive to more participants (to Americans, anyway), and so I divided it in two, made each half a bit longer, and offered them back-to-back so that those with more time off can do what is now a three-week tour if you combine the two. This is so much better – we now have more time on the Kosñipata Road on the first tour, and a full week at a single jungle lodge on this tour.

Those of us who do both parts together do lose a day to start the second tour back in Lima; we fly back from Cusco on the last day of the first tour and have our intro meeting and dinner at our Lima hotel for the second tour, then the very next day fly to Puerto Maldonado (which often includes a short layover right back in Cusco).

But this year there was a logistical challenge. On Day 1 of this tour, when all participants have already arrived in Lima, there was an incident at the Lima airport that closed the runway for a few hours. (A jet had to land without its nose gear extended; a video was published here: This resulted in many canceled flights that afternoon, and hundreds of tourists headed to Cusco and Machu Picchu were stranded in Lima. To fix that situation and accommodate them, the airline simply bumped us off of our flight the next morning and put us on an afternoon flight to Puerto Maldonado. With all that extra time on our hands, I organized a taxi to take us to the Miraflores waterfront where we saw a bunch of birds we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, including these Belcher's Gulls in breeding plumage.
Belcher's Gull

We finally made it to Puerto Maldonado, but in the late afternoon of Day 2, much too late to get on our boat and motor the several hours up to Los Amigos Biological Station. So our ground agent booked us a night in the main hotel in town. But another snafu presented itself: with the flight being completely booked full (everyone on the plane had been bumped), the airline decided the jet was too heavy to accommodate any cargo, so there was no luggage delivered. We were told it would arrive the next afternoon on the same flight number. But we were leaving early in the morning on Day 3 for Los Amigos, and the luggage wouldn’t arrive in time to get a boat that afternoon. It would have to catch up with us on Day 4 if everything went as promised.

On Day 3 we had a very good morning boat ride to Los Amigos without the usual hurry to get there before dark fell. These roosting Sand-colored Nighthawks were one of the better sightings.
Sand-colored Nighthawk

A full week at Los Amigos was just excellent. Our bags did arrive in the afternoon of Day 4, but it took a lot of behind-the-scenes work by the lodge and the Amazon Conservation Association team to make it happen, as they had to be picked up at the airport, stored in Puerto Maldonado overnight, and accompanied by their staff to the boat launch and then all the way upriver to the lodge. There is no luggage taxi service here.

This is the view from the overlook by the rooms, and we spent a fair amount of time birding from here.
Los Amigos Biological Station

A family of White-throated Jacamars was usually feeding there.
White-throated Jacamar

We tallied a huge variety of birds along the trails, some of the better ones being the very local Black-faced Cotinga and this Hairy-crested Antbird that perched out in the open for a long time.
Hairy-crested Antbird

One of my favorite sightings was of this passionflower along one of the trails. It turns out to be the rare and very little known Passiflora cauliflora, and these may be the first photos of it in the wild.
Passiflora cauliflora

Also exciting was this orchid, Catasetum saccatum, blooming in the tree right by the dining hall.
Catasetum saccatum

One night only two participants were willing to take a short walk with me to look for Black-banded Owl, but when it didn’t show within five minutes they wanted to head back for some sleep. I was too energized to go to bed, so I continued and walked a loop route back to the rooms on my own. I was almost back when I saw eyeshine in the trail ahead of me. With my spotlight I realized I was looking at an Ocelot, Leopardus pardalis! I didn’t have the heart to tell my participants what they had missed, so I hope they don’t read this and get mad at me.
Leopardus pardalis

The end of the tour involves a boat ride even farther upriver to the Tambo Blanquillo Lodge which is located near an excellent parrot lick. We arrive early in the morning, wait in the huge blind, and hope for a show. It’s different every day, and this day the banks were dominated by Mealy Parrots, among a few other species. A few macaws came into the trees nearby, but none came to the dirt as they sometimes do. It’s been long assumed that these birds are eating clay to counteract toxins in the seeds they eat, but that turns out not to be true. They are simply after the salt (sodium chloride) that is found in higher concentrations at a select few banks; there are plenty of perfectly looking sites that are never visited by birds, and they differ chemically only in having very low levels of salt.
Mealy Parrot

At Tambo Blanquillo we also had a boat ride on an oxbow lake with many fun sightings, such as these Horned Screamers.
Horned Screamer

I’ve been on the lookout for an huge tiger beetle in the genus Megacephala that lives on the river banks here ever since Adrian Forsyth told me about it. I rarely see tiger beetles in the tropics, and they always seem to be the common Odontocheila. So I thought I might have found it on the beach near our lodge, but I later found out that this one is Phaeoxantha aequinoctialis – still a pretty cool find.
Phaeoxantha aequinoctialis

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