Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve Sep 25—Oct 07, 2012

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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The Manu National Park and surrounding biosphere reserve remain one of the most pristine tropical wilderness regions in the world. Through an accident of geography (rapids and a remote ridge separating two watersheds) the Manu region has been largely shielded from early rubber tapping and other forms of exploitation. Although first visited by the Spaniards nearly 450 years ago, the area was then largely spared exploitation and intervention until very recently. More changes from tourism, downriver gold mining, and population increases have occurred in the past three decades than in the region's entire previous history.

A quick examination of our bird list confirms that large game birds, parrots, macaws, primates, and river fauna thrive here. This is in sharp contrast to many areas in Amazonia, and especially in areas that are accessible to tourism. The Manu Wildlife Center can be reached from Cuzco in a day or two—but is millennia removed from it in regards to the exploitation that modern economic and technological changes bring.

On our first day we flew from Lima to Cuzco and drove across Peru's arid highlands, a picturesque landscape that has been occupied for at least two millennia. Following a chilly lunch at the park/biosphere reserve entrance at Tres Cruces, we then plunged directly downslope into one of the world's most diverse avifaunas. By late afternoon we had descended through a dizzying array of switchbacks that ended at dusk at the quiet entrance to the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, situated on the eastern slope of the Andes in the midst of the cloud forest. A splendid start!

Tanager flocks, hummingbirds, gaudy cocks-of-the-rock, and even a quetzal in the cloud forest were soon replaced by antbirds, flycatchers, and an increasing number of parrots and macaws in the foothills and lowlands. Following a quiet and restful day at the Hacienda Amazonia, we began our downriver journey to the Manu Wildlife Center. With its impressive system of várzea and terra firme trails, ox-bow lakes, bamboo, two canopy viewing platforms, and river clay bank that attracts large numbers of parrots and macaws, this  is one of the premier Amazonian lodge sites in South America. During our four days here we took advantage of all these sites and facilities—wandering trails, traveling by boat, climbing into canopy lookouts at dawn, and enjoying catamaran boat trips on ox-bow lakes. In the process we discovered a lot of wildlife and perhaps a lot about ourselves as well, especially during candlelit evenings and early mornings. The list of birds and mammals tells the story.

Our list contains all of the birds and mammals seen on the 2012 Manu trip, as well as a few herps. A list of key butterflies identified for the group by David Wolf is also included. We also looked at quite a few plants and almost anything else that showed signs of life.