Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Day 12 in SE Peru: Big Rain at Los Amigos

This is my blog from the 12th day from a private tour I led down the Kosñipata Road and the Madre de Dios River in SE Peru from October 25-November 7. We'd had surprisingly beautiful weather so far, with only one day of rain, but we wanted rain. It brings mushrooms. And today we got rain.

In the early morning we saw the Undulated Tinamous that Nito told us about. There were three birds at times, foraging out in the open rather unlike tinamous.

After breakfast and early birding on the grounds, I returned to my room to get ready for the morning's hike and found this gorgeous Bridled Forest-Gecko, Gonatodes humeralis, on my porch.

Here's the extent of today's outing. Our morning goal, at the end of the red line, was to the palm swamp and lake known as Pozo Don Pedro.

On the way we came across a hyper but relatively approachable group of Emperor Tamarins. This is one of the best places to see this species.

We're at Los Amigos Biological Station on the Madre de Dios River. The Spanish acronym for the station is CICRA, which stands for Centro de Investigación y Capatación Río Los Amigos, and you can read all about it on their webistes: ACCA and ACA. We are visiting only a tiny part of the entire reserve, which is a huge conservation concession of largely pristine Amazonian wilderness.

When Susanne stopped to photograph a mushroom, we noticed what looked like a maggot. I removed a few leaves out of the middle of the trail and revealed what I think was an aggregation of sawfly larvae. Sawflies are a hymenopteran, as are ants, bees and wasps.

This metalmark is in the usually unidentifiable genus Detritivora, called scintillants. Of the 31 species listed at the Butterflies of America website, nearly half have no photos, and some of those that do are underexposed, showing no field marks. I suspect this one will remain unidentified for some time, but I do note that there is one named D. manu, certainly a possibility.

There were some very interesting mushrooms on the way. This Deflexula sprucei is in the group of club and coral fungi.

This Penicilliopsis clavariiformis looks like it might be related to the above, but it isn't; it's actually in the same family as Penicillium mold (from which we get penicillin) and Aspergillus. This one seems to grow, possibly as a pathogen, on fallen tree seeds.

One of the most beautiful tropical mushrooms is this Leucocoprinus cretaceus, which we had last year in this region as well.

And another very attractive Marasmius species.

We finally made it to the swamp, with a boardwalk reaching to the small area of open water.

My owl imitations and pishing brought in several birds, including this very bold Euler's Flycatcher.

Growing up one of the palm trunks was this orchid in the genus Vanilla. Too bad it wasn't blooming.

As we began walking back, the skies opened up and it began to rain. It poured for the next two hours, one of the more intense and long-lasting tropical downpours I've seen. It was fabulous. By 1:45 it stopped for good, but the skies remained dark and heavy. The views of the refreshed rain forest from the overlook by our cabins was good for the soul.

We set out again down trail 10 for what would be a rather quiet late afternoon walk (see the blue line on the map above). Yet our afternoon bird list still totaled a respectable 71 species. In fact our best bird of the whole trip came as we were walking towards a stand of bamboo and I heard what vaguely resembled the snapping of a White-collared Manakin display, but more hesitant. I had never heard the sound in person before, but I was pretty sure it was the bill snapping of a ground-cuckoo! We snuck forward quietly and I imitated the sound by slapping two fingers of my right hand on my left palm. Almost immediately a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo charged at us from within the dense undergrowth! It retreated a bit when it saw us, but I continued to communicate with it, and we saw it cross the trail back and forth twice out of curiosity. When it appeared that it had finally disappeared back into the forest understory, we continued down the trail and a few yards later saw it hop off the ground and onto a low log not far off the trail. I got my bins on it this time and saw that this was a different bird – a very young and not fully grown chick! It too then vanished into the undergrowth. We were very lucky. We told Nito about it this evening, and he went back the very next morning and several times during his remaining couple of weeks but never saw them.

This pleasing fungus beetle is probably in the genus Erotylus.

The grotesque flask fungus Xylaria telfairii.

We got as far down trail 10 as the three sprigs of heliotrope that I had brought with me from Villa Carmen and hung in the understory to attract clearwing butterflies. For some reason there wasn't much action on them, but at least there was something. To give you an idea of how difficult clearwings can be to identify, consider that these two nearly identical bugs are in different genera. The first is an Oleria species.

This is Agnosia Clearwing, Ithomia agnosia. If you disregard the colors, you might notice that the venation, especially in the hind wing, is very different.

Several species of arctiine wasp-mimic moths also appreciate the pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the heliotrope.

Happy for the rain was this tiny Conspicuous Rocket Frog, Allobates conspicuus.

And by Susanne's room was this Giant Toad, Rhinella marina.

Don't call me a cane toad. European Starlings aren't called Central Park Starlings, for a place where they were misguidedly introduced, after all. I'm not marine either; Linnaeus was just a bit confused by the collector's notes when he gave me that specific epithet.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Day 11 in SE Peru: Our First Day at Los Amigos

This is the 11th 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.

Three full days at Los Amigos Biological Station was something Susanne and I were both very much looking forward to, but at the same time we were already aware that this wasn't going to be enough time. I'd only been here once before, on a fam trip with Sam Woods of Tropical Birding, and it was partly from my blogging on that trip that Susanne suggested we come here. Without trying, Sam and I had seen just under 200 species of birds on one day, only walking down trails from the lodge and spending a lot of time trying to see sneaky anthrushes and tinamous.

This morning we had a hard time tearing ourselves away from the clearing, where bird activity was nearly nonstop. A huge fruiting melastome tree was right next to our cabins, and flocks of wintering Eastern Kingbirds and many tanagers, such as this Paradise Tanager came through.

This Straight-billed Woodcreeper preferred the edge habitat created by the lodge clearing.

Possibly a migrant or at least a lingering wintering bird, this Swainson's Flycatcher was also feeding from fruits in the clearing.

We were required to mark on a chalkboard which trails we would be taking and when we would be returning, but I had no idea how fast we would be walking and how much ground we might cover. I did know one thing – we were going to be heading towards trail 13. We had the great fortune of meeting Nito Paniagua when we arrived, a well-known guide from Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica who looks more Irish than Costa Rican. He is here volunteering as a consultant for the station, finding the best birding trails and thinking of ways to improve them for birding groups. He had been birding for several days already and told us about finding the nearly mythical Black-faced Cotingas recently. That was one of my most wanted birds! This was Nito's first trip to this part of Peru, so he was seeing lots of new birds himself. He is very enthusiastic about all other aspects of natural history as well, and his enthusiasm was contagious. So after breakfast, Susanne and I started down the old road towards trail 13. As you can see from this trail map, we didn't make it far – the red is our morning route, the blue is what we did in the afternoon.

It wasn't long before we encountered our first mushroom, a Polyporus species.

It had apparently rained plenty recently, and many mushrooms meant we weren't traveling very quickly. Here are two species of wood-ear for a convenient comparison: Auricularia fuscosuccinea with the smooth underside and Auricularia delicata with the web-like structure.

We encountered quite a bit of bird activity too, but this White-bellied Tody-Tyrant was the only one I managed to photograph.

This mushroom is in the huge genus Marasmius, more of which we'll see in the next days. They tend to have very durable, flexible, almost wiry stems, an equally durable and rubbery cap, and come in all sizes and colors. Most decompose small sticks and leaf litter.

Eventually we made it down to the area where Nito had seen the cotingas, and when I heard a Smooth-billed Ani calling from the distant canopy, I thought I might have it. Indeed, it sounds surprisingly similar to that species, and one flew in almost instantly to my playback. It also responded quite well to my whistled imitation as well. I got one poor photo, as it tended to stay quite high in the back-lit canopy. This species is the answer to the trivia question, which bird is named after a hot sauce? Conioptilon mcilhennyi​.

Both us of very content with the Black-faced Cotinga, Susanne got back to work photographing mushrooms while I worked on butterflies and plants. This widespread hairstreak is the Common Stripe-streak, Arawacus separata

A not-so-common hairstreak, and perhaps unidentifiable to species is this Janthecla sp.

Skippers are sometimes gorgeous but often brown and with only very subtle differences between species. I don't even know the genus of this one yet.

This one is in the genus Pellicia.

And this is in Nisoniades, a genus known as tufted-skippers.

Closely related to the Dimorphic White of the previous blogs, this is the very widespread Painted White, Pieriballia viardi.

Only after getting these shots (out of dozens of useless ones) was I able to identify this restless swallowtail as an Emerald-patched Cattleheart, Parides sesostris.

This tiny gem is a Gyas Jewelmark, Sarota gyas. This species seems to be quite variable, but at least in males the second blue line in on the forewing seems to always be only three cells high, followed by a big gap.

The almost inflated bracts in the inflorescence makes me think that this prayer plant is in the genus Hylaeanthe rather than Calathea.

We played around bit with this bess beetle, in the small family Passalidae. I'm pretty sure that “bess” comes from the word meaning “kiss” (still used in English as “buss” and in the Spanish “beso”), for the kissing sound the beetle makes.

We took a short break for lunch back at the cafeteria, where I photographed this jumping spider, always photogenic, seeming to show a real sense of purpose, if you can get them to sit still long enough.

We were out again at 1:30, determined to go a bit more quickly to cover some more ground. It was hard. We first spent a fair amount of time trying to see this Fiery-capped Manakin, and we eventually had amazing views.

Another prayer plant in bloom, and this one I think is a Calathea species.

This appears to be the very widespread Cayenne Forest Tiger Beetle, Odontocheila cayennensis, one of the few species of tiger beetles one can find in the forest understory.

I'm pretty sure I've narrowed down this grasshopper to the genus Episomacris, in the subfamily Ommatolampidinae. There are two species known from this area, according to orthoptera.speciesfile.org.

The two sombermarks Euselasia pelor and E. pellonia are so similar, I don't know if this one can be identified to species.

For some reason the satyrs in the genus Magneuptychia don't seem to be well known. According to http://butterfliesofamerica.com/, Gerardo Lamas is in the process of naming 11 new species; this could easily be one of them, or perhaps yet another undescribed species.

I got a bit caught up in the fabulous mushroom diversity here as well. Thanks to Susanne and the book The Kingdom of Fungi by Jens H. Petersen, I could name this oddball one as Camillea leprieurii. It's one of many flask fungi, to which group the parasitic Cordyceps also belongs (more on that in upcoming posts). I'm not sure what the little white filaments are on some – maybe another mushroom growing on it?

This unknown tiny mushroom looks very similar but appears to be growing straight out of the wood.

This Xylaria species is also a flask fungus.

This more typical mushroom is probably in the genus Xeromphalina.

Another Marasmius sp., and a very pretty one at that.