Amazon River Cruise Jan 28—Feb 07, 2010

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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"Buenos dias, Amigos. Oh, yes, it's Buenos tardas. I'm sorry to interrupt your wonderful conversation but…did you have a wonderful time this morning? Good! We've got something special planned for this evening. A new band is coming. Would you like to know the name of it? Ok, I'll tell you later. And remember, this is just the beginning."     —Jorge Dávida

We enjoyed great weather on our January 2010 Amazon River Cruise, with almost no rain until Thursday morning when we experienced why the Amazon is a rainforest. Overall, however, weather conditions were remarkably pleasant with less humid conditions than in the past and few insects. The high water levels of all rivers and tributaries permitted us to enter small creeks and oxbow lakes easily. This is a great advantage and an important reason for visiting at this time of year.

In such a large and diverse avifauna as that of the Iquitos area, much of one's enjoyment comes from the sum of visiting the many different habitats in which birds live, and in observing their behaviors and their unusual, often novel songs, duets, and breeding activities. We made a point, in fact, of visiting river islands and early successional growth habitats, várzea (or floodplain) forests, riverbank and creekside habitats, and terra firme or high ground forest, all with the aim of a more well-rounded experience. Each of these habitats contains its own special subset of birds. Perhaps one of the most difficult things for new visitors to the Amazon region to understand is that not all birds here occur in all habitats. Most birds, in fact, are quite specific with regard to the habitats in which they live, so this is one of the main reasons for attempting to visit many different sites and habitats.

The great complexity and diversity of a rainforest avifauna is, perhaps, better illustrated in western Amazonia than anywhere else in the world. Our daily routine varied somewhat, but generally included early morning and mid-afternoon ship departures to explore small creeks or work along the forested riverbanks of the Amazon, Ucayali, and Marañon. After spending a week searching for some of the avifaunal pieces in this greatest of all natural jigsaw puzzles, we hopefully came away with a better appreciation of how this diversity fits together. And, not all the pieces were in the forest. A rich and varied river island fauna, some long distance migrants, and soil and water types strongly influence the natural vegetation and, in turn, the birds.

In summary, our best trip for river island specialists, woodpeckers, cotingas, becards, tanagers, icterids (blackbirds), frogs, mammals, and critters generally, as well as large, rare birds including a male Amazonian Umbrellabird at relatively close range (for this species) the first morning, and a rare Crested Eagle which perched in the open on a high canopy limb for 20 minutes and later flew directly over our entire assembled group. One group had two quick views of an extremely rare Wattled Curassow (which are hunted and now very rare), and on our next to last day we encountered a spectacular emergence of winged ants which ultimately attracted at least 40 species of birds, many of which were large and showy.