Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve Aug 13—23, 2011

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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We experienced classic "hot and steamy" Amazonian conditions throughout this trip until noon of the last day when, within an hour, a southern cold front pushed through bringing strong winds, much cooler temperatures, and much needed cooling rain. Unfortunately, our downriver boat trip the next morning was a little cooler than I would have liked, but despite the chilly breeze we continued to add species to our growing list, including the pair of Orinoco Geese perched high on a tree stub where they could overlook the river.

Trip highlights included over 60 macaws on the exposed riverbank of clay; a beautiful morning on a catamaran at Cocha Blanco oxbow lake with Horned Screamers, macaws, parrots, hoatzins, and much more; eleven Pale-winged Trumpeters crossing a forest trail, one by one, in front of us; excellent views of both Undulated and Great tinamous; superb scope studies of a Curl-crested Araçari; a lovely pair of Paradise Tanagers looking for a nest site; a close White-browed Purpletuft; daily troops of monkeys; several male Band-tailed Manakins displaying; four Red-and-green Macaws flying past our Camungo platform in a close and spectacular swoosh and rush of color (truly unforgettable); butterflies on riverbanks; plenty of encounters with Amazonia's famous mixed species flocks high and low; and damp foggy mornings on quiet rivers.

Around the lodge there were stocking feet on polished floors; predawn candlelight breakfasts and more candlelight meals in the evenings; and bowls of apples and pears, a hand of bananas, and decisions over whether to chose Nescafe or Peru's famous "essence of café." And, who will forget those visits by Vanessa, a hand-raised tapir that was released into the forest a few years ago. She made an unscheduled appearance the first evening. A few days later she reappeared in the late afternoon, looking for handouts (a papaya, or an apple, please?), proceeded to walk gingerly down the wooden stairs (no kidding) to the boat loading dock, visited with some local guys swimming in the river, and then crossed the river and disappeared into the forest on the opposite bank of the river. Completely self-sufficient, and possibly pregnant for the third time, she may have come into the lodge area seeking extra food because now, at the peak of the dry season, there is considerably less fruit available in the rainforest. This also is the reason why so many macaws and parrots, which are eating poor quality fruit at this time of year, come to the clay bank on the river to eat clay to help emulsify toxins, which are likely present in the seeds and unripe fruit. They do not gather in the rainy season when fruit is abundant.

Some "firsts" for this trip (birds not recorded in my 27 previous visits) included several Black-billed Seed-Finches (rare and local), a Least Bittern (rare austral species), and a pair of Brazilian Ducks on the banks of the Río Madre de Dios. We also enjoyed some good birding in the vicinity of Puerto Maldonado, adding several species to our list on the last morning including a White-throated Jacamar; a pair of beautiful Point-tailed Palmcreepers; a couple of White-tailed Kites and a pair of Southern Lapwings (both species recent colonists to the area); and a flock of 18 Brazilian Teal that flushed and then circled us, providing breathtaking views of their iridescent greenish-blue wing patches and contrasting flashing white wing speculums.

The Manu region provides a true Amazonian wilderness experience, an all-encompassing journey that includes rainforest trails, rainforest canopy platforms, quiet lakes, rivers, clay river banks, mineral licks, patches of bamboo, clearings, gardens, and a region that remains, to this day, a complete ecosystem—one in which all of the large birds and animals and top predators are still present. Yet, all of this is possible with a level of comfort almost unimaginable just a decade or two ago—catamarans for languid mornings on oxbow lakes, canopy platforms, and sleek longboats with shaded roofs, comfortable seats, and outboard power. We need bring only our curiosity and an open mind to enjoy this great wilderness.