Friday, March 23, 2018

SE Peru 2 – Two New Tours From Late September 2017

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.
Chopi Blackbird

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.
Los Amigos Biological Station

Most evenings around our cabins we could hear Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, and with out much effort we were able to see this one.
Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl

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.
Rufescent Tiger-Heron

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.
Southern Scrub-Flycatcher

This melastome has very distinctively shaped leaves, and it turns out to be identifiable from them, at least here: Miconia tomentosa.
Miconia tomentosa

This is Pseudomastax personata, a very large member of the monkey-grasshopper family Eumastacidae.
Pseudomastax personata

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.
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.
Eulepidotis consequens

This is the silk moth Rothschildia erycina.
Rothschildia erycina

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.
Semiotus ligneus

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.
Tapirus terrestris

Just a few yards along, almost to the dining hall, was this Brazilian Rabbit, Sylvilagus brasiliensis.
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!
Coendou bicolor

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).
Physarella oblonga

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.
Alouatta seniculus

One day we had four Amazonian Pygmy-Owls, one of which took us about 15 minutes to locate.
Amazonian Pygmy-Owl

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.
Black-faced Antbird

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.
Pavonine Quetzal

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.
Gould's Jewelfront

These Spix's Guans were active around the clearing off and on, and their interactions with a Roadside Hawk one evening quite amusing.
Spix's Guans

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.
Melanosuchus niger

On the shore of the Tambopata River itself was this cooperative Horned Screamer, a distant relative of geese and ducks.
Horned Screamer

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.
Evenus tagyra

This relative of the fancy blue morphos that everyone knows is the less frequently noticed but equally beautiful Antirrhea philoctetes.
Antirrhea philoctetes

Thanks to iNaturalist, I found that these leaf-footed bugs feeding communally on the sap of a small tree are Pachylis pharaonis.
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.
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.
Physarum pezizoideum

On the other hand, here is a real mushroom – Tetrapyrgos nigripes, known as the little blackfoot.
Tetrapyrgos nigripes

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.
Leptodactylus didymus

The best saved for last: a Blunt-headed Tree Snake, Imantodes cenchoa, right next to the trail in the small bushes.
Imantodes cenchoa

Imantodes cenchoa

Imantodes cenchoa

Imantodes cenchoa

Saturday, March 3, 2018

SE Peru 1 – Two New Tours From September 2017

Continuing my catching up on 2017 tours, this blog is about the first of two back-to-back tours I led in late September to southeastern Peru, the first time for this particular itinerary. I love this area – it probably has the best access to the largest continuous swath of Andean-to-Amazon forest of any tour I lead. The previous version of this tour covered both regions in a big loop from Cusco all the way to Puerto Maldonado.

This itinerary very closely resembles the Butterflies & Birds tour I led with Jim Brock a few years ago, only covering the highlands from Cusco and then the Amazon-facing slopes down the very base of the Andes in the Cosñipata Valley.

Our first stop was near Cusco at Lago Huacarpay, a large wetland complex surrounded by farming communities and ancient Inca ruins.

This is a great place to see Plumbeous Rail walking out in the open.
Plumbeous Rail

We birded some of the drier slopes for specialties such as Rusty-fronted Canastero, and that’s when I found this grasshopper. There doesn’t seem to be much popular literature for identifying grasshoppers in South America, so it’s not likely I’ll find a name for this soon.

The previous iteration of this tour offered Machu Picchu as an extension, but now it’s the first destination of the first tour. I’ve been here about 8 times now, but I don’t tire of it.
Machu Picchu

We had a particularly cooperative Southern Mountain Viscacha, Lagidium peruanum, this time. This is a caviomorph rodent, related to the Chinchilla and guinea pigs.
Southern Mountain Viscacha, Lagidium peruanum

This colorful velvet ant (a wingless wasp) is in the genus Hoplomutilla.

I have yet to find a lizard expert who knows the species of this Stenocercus that is so common on the ruins.

We saw some great birds here, such as Inca Wren, and walking up the river after lunch we found this pair of Torrent Ducks.
Torrent Duck

The day after our Machu Picchu visit we drove over two mountain ridges on our way to the Cosñipata Valley. At the second pass was this lady weaving tapestries using wool she had spun and dyed herself.

This pass is the where one sees the sudden transition from dry interior scrub to a very wet elfin forest, with an ecotone of moderately wet grasslands. One of the distinctive plants here is the terrestrial bromeliad Puya pygmaea. It was in full bloom, but it wasn’t being visited by any of the particular hummingbirds we had hoped to see.
Puya pygmaea

Rust-and-yellow Tanager was one of the birds we saw in the transitional humid scrub here.
Rust-and-yellow Tanager

This is Passiflora mixta, which I have also seen in central Peru. Presumably the flowers are pollinated by Sword-billed Hummingbirds here.
Passiflora mixta

Our first nights on the moist slope are at Wayqecha Biological Station, one of three properties owned by the non-profit Amazon Conservation Association.
Wayqecha Biological Station

They recently put up some hummingbird feeders, and one of the more reliable species at them now is the Amethyst-throated Sunangel.
Amethyst-throated Sunangel

In mixed flocks one can see the stunning Hooded Mountain-Tanager.
Hooded Mountain-Tanager

We sometimes get fabulous views of a male Swallow-tailed Nightjar flying overhead, but this is the first time I’ve had a female fly in and land next to us on the roadside.
Swallow-tailed Nightjar

The moths the lights are usually quite abundant and interesting; this arctic moth Hyperthaema perflammans was the most colorful ones this trip.
Hyperthaema perflammans

For the second year I found the lucanid beetle Sphaenognathus giganteus, though this was the first pair I’ve seen.
Sphaenognathus giganteus

After Wayqecha we worked our way down the narrow dirt road, birding ever lower elevations. It’s wonderful to be in the midst of so much pristine forest on a relatively quiet road.

Butterfly diversity is famous here, and the lower you get, the greater the variety. These are Altinote negra and Altinote hilaris, in the tribe Acraeini, subfamily Heliconiinae.
Altinote negra and Altinote hilaris

One of the hummingbird specialties in the middle elevations is the nearly leg puff-free Buff-thighed Puffleg. Since there are no feeders in this bird’s favorite habitats, it’s very unpredictable.
Buff-thighed Puffleg

Also unpredictable (and requiring good weather) is Solitary Eagle, but I’ve seen it two tours in a row here.
Solitary Eagle

Our next lodge for two nights is called Cock of the Rock Lodge, named after the amazing cotinga Andean Cock-of-the-rock. There was a lek on the lodge’s property until 2010, when heavy rains combined with a rare earthquake caused a landslide that wiped it out. We now pay to visit another lek a few kilometers up the road to see this bird up close.
Andean Cock-of-the-rock

Just above our lodge I heard a Rufous-breasted Antthrush from deep within the vegetation below the road, but when I whistled it came closer and closer and chose to sing from a perch that was just barely visible in a hole through the leaves.
Rufous-breasted Antthrush

The moths at the Cock of the Rock Lodge are almost always outstanding. This silk moth is Sericoptera mahometaria. Sericoptera translates to “silk wing.”
Sericoptera mahometaria

Arctiids are always so attractive. This is Robinsonia multimaculata.
Robinsonia multimaculata

It can help to check the hindwing pattern and the body coloration in order to get a species name for some of them, but it also simply reveals hidden beauty. This is Viviennea moma (not named after the Museum of Modern Art, as the moth was named a couple decades before it was founded).
Viviennea moma

Viviennea moma

The genus Opisthoxia is one of my favorites among the geometrids, and each time I see one it seems to be a different species. This is Opisthoxia laticlava.
Opisthoxia laticlava

Opisthoxia saturniaria
Opisthoxia saturniaria

On our way to our final lodge, we stopped where I’ve seen Green-fronted Lancebill on a nest in the past. The nest was not active, but in the exact same spot were two birds, chasing each other and occasionally landing right over the road. This must be the most reliable spot for this species anywhere.
Green-fronted Lancebill

This Cavendishia sp., in the family Ericaceae, is the lancebill’s favorite source of nectar, though they spend a lot of time feeding on insects over rushing streams.

This Villa Carmen Biological Station, the end of the road for this tour. Like Wayqecha, it is owned by the Amazon Conservation Association, but unlike there it is tropically warm and humid here, only about 530 m elevation.
Villa Carmen Biological Station

This group of Hooded Siskins was feeding on the concrete under the flaking off stucco on the side of one of the older buildings. I don’t know if they were after salt, other minerals, or just the grit.
Hooded Siskin

This is the purplewing Eunica bechina.
Eunica bechina

There are only a handful of grasshopper families, but I don’t know the more obscure ones. This tiny one with oddly twisted antennae is probably in one of those.

I went out on my own one evening to see if potoos were around and found this Painted Antnest Frog, Lithodytes lineatus on the trail. They usually call from a hidden spot within the tunnels of leafcutter ant dumps, especially after a rain. They superficially resemble some poison frogs in Dendrobatidae.
Lithodytes lineatus

This Macrosoma subornata was a new moth-butterfly for me. These are the nocturnal butterflies that for so long were considered moths, though their eggs and larvae were more like those of some butterfly families than any other moth. Genetics showed that they are indeed more closely related to butterflies than any moths.
Macrosoma subornata

This fabulous beast of a moth is Dysdaemonia australoboreas, family Saturniidae.
Dysdaemonia australoboreas

Yet another beast is this praying mantis, genus Macromantis.
praying mantis, Mantidae

We had two great days at Villa Carmen, then the long drive back to Cusco back over the mountains. Time was built in for short, mostly unexpected birding stops, such as for this Black Hawk-Eagle, amazingly perched right next to the busy road in the lower Cosñipata Valley near Patria.
Black Hawk-Eagle,