Monday, November 24, 2014

Day 4 in SE Peru: From Mid- to Low Elevation

This is the 4th 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 apologize for the delay in posting, as I had to divert my attentions to a party I threw this weekend that became rather a production.

Where I left off last, Susanne and I arrived at the mid-elevation Manu Paradise Lodge for just a single night. Today we are to continue our drive down in elevation from 4500 feet to Villa Carmen Biological Station at a much more tropical 1700 feet. The first eight or so miles of this road are the most interesting though, and we spent the first half of the day making many stops, walking stretches of the road, and working mixed flocks. We also found a nice side trail with mushrooms.

I was up early at the lodge, watching flocks of tanagers and a Mottle-backed Elaenia. I spotted these mushrooms on the dead bamboo railing by the parking area, which Susanne hadn’t shown me the afternoon before.

She later became convinced that they must have sprouted up overnight after a good rain, as she hadn’t seen them, and they were hard to miss. She identified them in the genus Favolaschia, with this very distinctive hymenium.

We drove down the road, and I took the passenger seat to listen out the window for mixed flocks. Within about 10 minutes of slow driving, I told Cesar to stop – I might hear a bird or two. I thought we might get out for a minute and see what was about, but we finally left this location after an hour and 50 minutes, having logged 31 species of birds in a great mixed flock. One of the first birds I heard was this Cinnamon-faced Tyrannulet, super cooperative when I played its voice. Another bird we saw here was Foothill Antwren, which I only later learned was a lifebird for me.

Farther down the road, I was looking at my GPS for a waypoint I had created a four years ago. There we found this female Green-fronted Lancebill, in exactly the same location.

That’s because hummingbirds frequently rebuild and reuse on the same nest each year.  Here it was, on the very same ledge of rock on a road cut.

This is the same stretch of road that had an amazing diversity of butterflies on my tour a month ago. But this Silky Purplewing, Eunica carias tenebrosa, is one that I had missed. Each time it opened its wings we could see the deepest purple flash, but every photo turned out black until I overexposed it, and even then it’s hard to see.

This is a Clearwing-mimic Queen, Lycorea ilione, in the same tribe as the Monarch – there are a number of clearwings that look extremely similar.

Speaking of which, this is an Andromica Clearwing, Greta andromica andania.

A very widespread but always handsome brushfoot, the Rusty-tipped Page, Siproeta epaphus. I learned some German butterfly group names to help spur Susanne to get interested in them. This is in the family called Edelfalter.

I’ve known for some time that skippers in German are Dickkopffalter; the thick-headed butterflies, a very apt description. This one appears to be Pachyneuria lineatopunctata, which doesn’t seem to have a common name. How about Line-spotted Thickvein?

There weren’t many fungi right along the road, so we took a little side trail up a stream known to butterfly people as Quebrada Quitacalzones (which could be translated as “Take-your-panties-off Creek”). This lush drainage alone has a butterfly list of something like 800 species, and the plant life is correspondingly diverse. This lobelia relative looks closest to Centropogon congestus.

I assume this tall wing-stemmed plant is in the family Piperaceae, but it bears little resemblance to Piper or Peperomia, the only common genera here. Anyone?

This looks to be a Drymonia species, a very large and amazingly diverse group of Gesneriads (members of the same family as African Violet).

And here Susanne finally got her fungus fix for the day, with lots of moist, dead wood hosting a number of species. This Ellipticus sp., pleasing fungus beetle (family Erotylidae; more to come in future blogs) was munching away on one of them.

We drove on to look for a wide spot to have lunch, and stopped when I saw a raptor fly out of a tree next to the road. It was a Double-toothed Kite, and it landed next to another one. While we watched them, one flew back to the tree next to the road and started rearranging sticks in a nest! We enjoyed watching this for a few minutes.

At the same spot was this gorgeous Turquoise Emperor, Doxocopa laurentia, yet another species I had missed on the butterfly tour a month ago.

We finally found a wide spot for lunch, but there was some bird activity including this Masked Tityra.

We ended up spending over an hour and half here, seeing 43 species of birds in a never-ending mixed flock coming and going and making visits to fruiting trees. A female Plum-throated Cotinga, Ocellated Woodcreeper, Red-billed Scythebill, Bamboo Antshrike, Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher, and Yellow-crested Tanager were highlights. After the activity dispersed a bit, I took the opportunity to photograph this grasshopper, thinking that the bright yellow spot on the legs would be a sure-fire field mark. It turns out that the few online resources won’t let me identify this thing even to subfamily.

We arrived at Villa Carmen with plenty of time to take a walk down one of the trails in the afternoon. Right on the lodge grounds, before we headed into the forest, I got this shot of a Purplish Jay, greatly detested by the locally nesting Black-billed Thrushes, Social Flycatchers, and others. This species has more than once given me the opportunity to show of my linguistic expertise as I explain the meaning of the suffix -ish to native English speakers of my tours who complain that it doesn’t look purple to them.

As we entered the forest, we found mushrooms. I call this one the Magenta Polypore, but these don’t seem to have common names; Susanne identified it as Earliella scabrosa.

My friend Dennis Paulson suggests that this dragonfly is Triacanthagyna satyrus, the most common species in the genus in this area.

But this photo is more than a record of the species; it rather serves as a bookmark in one of the most surprising moments I’ve experienced in the rain forest. We were on a level patch of forest not that far from the Piñipiñi River, with a very dense understory of Calathea and Costus about 4 feet high, typical of a flat, wet part of the forest. I was trying to describe to Susanne where the dragonfly had perched just on the side of the trail, and when I used my green laser pointer, suddenly not eight meters away, we both felt that a Stegasaurus was attacking. Fortunately it was at an angle and not directly towards us – in a straight line through the very dense foliage bounded an animal with a thundering sound, knocking down small trees and sticks out of the way. A Brazilian Tapir!

With our hearts pounding, we continued, pausing for a few more mushrooms and this male clearwing relative, Hypothyris euclea. You can see the erect androconial organs along the leading edge of the hindwing, which he uses to disperse volatile pheromones.

This frog was one of three in my bathroom and Susanne also had one. I’m guessing this is the treefrog Scinax ruber. They probably find the cool shade inside the buildings perfect and find their way outside through the most wee cracks during the night to feed.

The lights at the dining hall were great for insects. This giant katydid was pretty impressive and unlike any I had seen before.

This is the Grapevine Sphinx, Eumorpha vitis, a beautiful if widespread species.

There were many of these beetles, identified for me as a female Enema pan by expert Brett Ratcliffe. I knew the males from other trips here and in Brazil, but the females were new to me.

This noctuid moth appears to be Calyptis idonoides, stunning in that the copper and maroon bits shimmered and changed hues according to the angle of the light.

This is one of the moth-butterflies, probably Macrosoma lucivittata. These were formerly thought to be moths for their nocturnal habits, but their morphology and egg shape were a clue, and now their DNA proves that they’re more closely related to some diurnal butterfly families than those butterflies are to each other. So you have to either start calling these butterflies or stop calling swallowtails butterflies.

This moth is probably in the family Bombycidae, subfamily Apatelodinae, but a proper picture match eludes me.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Day 3 in SE Peru: From High to Mid-Elevations

Today Susanne and moved from our lodging at about 9600 feet elevation down to the mid-elevation community of San Pedro at about 4500 feet. The total distance is only 22 miles, but we took most of the day, walking many stretches of road for up to a mile at a time, looking for flocks of birds and seeing many other cool things. It’s quite amazing to see how the habitat changes, and that there are only a tiny handful of species one could possibly see in both locations.

This Violet-throated Starfrontlet perched briefly just below the tunnels only a couple kilometers below Wayqecha Biological Station, but with taller trees we were already in a different habitat.

This is an Amethyst-throated Sunangel, and he perched for quite some time, allowing me to actually get the gorget iridescence.

One stretch of the road had several of these Gunnera species. This is a distinctive genus, somewhat resembling rhubarb with its huge, round leaves, and I see an even larger species on my Costa Rica tours. There are over 60 species worldwide, but all are only variations on a theme, and while they are related to other advanced flowering plants, oddly the only close relatives are a couple of species of plants found in drier habitats in Madagascar and southern Africa.

As we dropped in elevation below the settlement of Pillahuata, we saw our first of four Golden-headed Quetzals. Where were they when I was here with the butterflies & birds tour?

Likewise with this butterfly: White-banded Lyman, Lymanopoda albocincta; we had five species of this genus last month, but not this one.

We did have one of these, a Star-dusted Lyman, Lymanopoda obsoleta.

This is Staudinger’s Ringlet Manerebia staudingeri and Rusty Lyman, Lymanopoda ferruginosa – another one our group missed last month.

Oh my gosh, yet another lep we didn’t see on the tour with nearly 500 species: Mimardaris lomax, the Lomax Firetip.

This is another Peruvian lily relative, Bomarea edulis. I haven’t yet learned what’s edible about it.

We were still pretty high in elevation when I saw a bird flit out from under the vegetation overhanging the bank to the right of center.

Then I heard it, and then with playback we got eventually got great views of this Inca Flycatcher, a Peruvian endemic that occurs at a limited elevation from close to the Ecuadorian border in the north to near the Bolivian border in the south.

Curious about where I had seen this bird fly from, I took a closer look (photo by Susanne).

Sure enough, there was the nest of the Inca Flycatcher, though there were no eggs yet. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Neotropical Birds website, the nest and eggs of this species are still undescribed. It’s a fun discovery, but I don’t really welcome the work that entails describing a new nest. Where’s Harold Greeney when you need him?

A little further down, we saw this Greenish Puffleg, in the same area where a month ago my tour group had seen two. It’s a rarely observed species in this region, so I was very glad to have gotten at least a blurry photo that seems to clearly rule out any other species. The leg puffs are frequently hard to see on this bird, and only with my recent close observations in northern Peru have I become confident in identifying this little-known species (which is otherwise unidentifiable if you’re only relying upon the limited illustrations in the Birds of Peru field guide).

This Andean Solitaire seemed to be more concerned with another bird singing nearby and postured on this branch for several minutes, vocalizing off and on, until a truck drove by.

Hummingbirds are clearly one of the dominant groups of birds in this habitat. This Long-tailed Sylph sat just barely long enough for me to get a shot.

This Booted Racket-tail wasn’t quite so cooperative, but at least you can see what it is. Note the rufous booties and the way the long tail feathers cross – if you’ve seen the birds in NW Ecuador that are also called this species (with their white booties and tail feathers crossing in the opposite direction), you’ll understand why splitting them is not a radical addition to the world list but merely correcting a stupid error by whomever created the initial master list for the region.

This is a flower in the genus Marcgravia, family Marcgraviaceae. Birders are more familiar with the genus Souroubea, with the bright red bracts below the long flower spikes bearing the nectaries that attract so many birds. This genus is much less known, despite being the type for the family. Georg Marcgrave was a 17th century naturalist who was one of the first to describe the natural history of South America. 

My 50x Canon camera barely captured this metalmark Ithomiola tanos. It turns out that there are a couple specimen records from here, but it’s otherwise virtually unknown in life.

Our last stop of the day was the Mirador, looking down the Kosñipata Valley. Our lodge for the next night is on a tall bank above the left side of the river, right at the sharp line between shade and sun in the upper center of the photo. It doesn’t look that far from here, but it is actually a slow 3.7 miles and 20 minutes’ drive from here, past many unbelievably juicy mixed flocks and rare cloud forest birds.

Just before we pulled into the driveway of our lodge, this Andean Motmot flew in front of our vehicle and perched on the power line just outside my window.