Brazil: Amazonia on the Rio Roosevelt Jan 22—Feb 01, 2009

Posted by Andrew Whittaker

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Andrew Whittaker

Andrew Whittaker was born in England but considers himself to be Brazilian, having moved to this biodiverse country in 1987 to work for the Smithsonian Institution, banding...

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Wilderness at its best—a full week in this Amazonian paradise, surrounded by birds and animals, with nothing but natural sounds of the forest (no cars, airplanes, or even encounters with other people)! Just us, in this wonderful air-conditioned lodge with excellent service, outstanding food (the exotic fresh fish were a delight), and no phones or TV to distract us!

We will never forget the vast green carpet of Amazonian forest that unfolded before us as we approached the private airstrip near the lodge. Disembarking, we were engulfed by the magic of the rainforest, which was to amaze and delight each and every one of us many times during the week ahead. Our charming lodge would enable us to explore and enjoy this wilderness and its wildlife in real comfort, quite unlike the conditions endured by Theodore Roosevelt’s 1914 expedition to this same region.

Parrots were much in evidence: swirling flocks of Red-bellied and Chestnut-fronted macaws lighting up the rivers in the early morning sun; a majestic pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaws, studied as they ingested dead wood (probably to help counteract the chemicals they ingest in eating unripe fruit); Kawall's Parrots surrendering excellent views; and stunning Crimson-bellied and Santarem parakeets lending daily splashes of color to the vicinity of the lodge.

Exploration of the forest trails rewarded us with many highlights. Army ant swarms yielded encounters with stunning White-breasted Antbirds and magnificent Black-spotted Bare-eyes. Close encounters with Chestnut-belted Gnateater (subspecies snethlagae), Rufous-capped Antthrush, two as yet unnamed antbirds, Crimson Topaz, Great Jacamar, Black-necked Red-Cotinga, and Snow-capped Manakin also stand out as highlights. But being in the Amazon is as much an aural as visual experience, and we continually marveled over the exquisite forest symphony, from the persistent cacophony of Screaming Pihas to the odd calls of multiple species of unseen frogs, to the splendid solo of the Musician Wren that paraded around in front of us.

Jaguar scratches on a recently used "scratching tree" served as a reminder that we were in a true wilderness, as did multiple encounters with the magnificent Razor-billed Curassow, Red-throated Piping-Guan, Dark-winged Trumpeter, and flocks of Hoatzins. For that matter, nothing says "wilderness" like daily encounters with multiple species of primates (we observed a total of seven species), tops among which had to be that delightful 10 minutes spent with a group of cute and extremely colorful Prince Bernhard's titi monkeys (just described  in 2002). I feel sure that none of you will ever forget the vocal performance they put on for us!

Catch-and-release fishing in the Rio Roosevelt was a very productive side activity for some members of our group. Everyone that participated caught multiple species, many of them good-sized, and, as usual, there were more than a few stories of the big one that got away. However, Linda would have to be the unofficial winner, with two prized 30-pound red-tailed catfish among her haul! Your leader's personal highlight was the Sunbittern nest with an adult brooding a cute baby! Also, we cannot forget to mention that incredible feeding display by the wild 4-meter-long black caiman (documented photographically by some in our group).

Our last afternoon boat trip was a fitting climax to an action-packed week. Elegant Sand-colored Nighthawks and an exceptionally responsive Glossy Antshrike got our boat trip off to a great start. As we paddled along our favorite forest stream, we were treated to great views of Black-chinned and Dot-backed antbirds, Rufous Motmot, and point-blank studies of a perched Green-and-rufous Kingfisher. However, all of these paled in comparison to the stellar views of a Zigzag Heron frozen like a bittern on its nest, no more than 15 feet away! If that were not enough, on our return we were thrilled to watch a magnificent adult Agami Heron stalking for fish in the shallows, followed in short order by a pair of enormous giant river otters that gave us wonderful views and bid us farewell.

All too soon this fabulous trip was over, and as we flew back over the forest towards civilization, I was already missing this unique paradise, and wondering what unexpected highlights next year's trip will bring!