Amazon River Cruise Feb 19—Mar 01, 2015

Posted by David Ascanio


David Ascanio

David Ascanio, a Venezuelan birder and naturalist, has spent 30+ years guiding birding tours throughout his native country, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, the Amazon River, ...

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Our second Amazon Cruise of 2015 was another magical trip, with a nice mix of quality birding, great group dynamics, and an unparalleled ship staff. Day by day, we learned about various topics from sedimentary river islands and oxbow lakes to Moriche palm stands or terra firme and riverine forest types. We also discussed the differences between varzea (riverine forest in white water rivers) and igapo (riverine forest in black water rivers) and appreciated the birdlife in each of these habitats.

Black-tailed Antbird

Black-tailed Antbird— Photo: David Ascanio


The Amazon was not only a visible “show,” but an audible one as well. Who could forget the cacophony of macaws, parrots, parakeets, and parrotlets every morning as they commuted to their foraging grounds? Or the choreography of the Black-capped Donacobius when one met another?

It is difficult to express in words our experiences during this weeklong cruise. I would describe it as reading a poem that needs no words. Each day was equal to a phrase containing a scent, a sound, or a special image. We found the rhythm of this poem in the voices of the parrots and in the songs of the antbirds. There was no way to avoid strong emotions when floating on a tributary, brushing the floating vegetation with the skiffs and simultaneously seeing a Horned Screamer in flight, or a Pink Dolphin expelling air through its blowhole. Like a good poem, the Amazon offered time for reflection and introspection. The smiles on children’s faces, the mixing of black and white waters, the golden sunrises and fiery sunsets, and the continuous struggle of every living creature in this impressive biome were all part of the magic of the Amazon.

This amazing river was also a field classroom for learning about the illegal parrot trade, the early explorers, discovery by westerners, the brutal rubber trade, boreal and austral bird migration, and the life of the ribereños: a visit to a community offered us insight into their lifestyle and daily challenges.

Masked Tityra

Masked Tityra— Photo: David Ascanio





We maximized our time in the field and that is reflected in the number of birds seen. In fact, during our last morning we had only one hour and a half available before disembarkation, and we took advantage of it. Using the skiffs, we went “bang-bang” birding and yes, we nailed our target species. First, a pair of Lesser Wagtail-Tyrants came very close to us. Soon after, a Parker’s Spinetail was seen (away from cane habitat!). Almost simultaneously, Orange-headed Tanager and Black-and-white Antbird vied for our attention, and we finished this short morning outing with superb views of River Tyrannulet.

Once in Iquitos we took the plane back to Lima. After taking off, we left behind a great learning experience and still more mysteries to be resolved. That’s the Amazon!

Remarks: A full day in Lima, Pantanos de Villa, Pucusana and Lurín River Valley prior to the flight to Iquitos allowed views of birdlife not found in the Amazon, and some linked with it. This area encompasses one of the driest deserts in the world. Along with Humboldt Penguin, Surf Cinclodes, and Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, we experienced a huge flock of Guanay Cormorants (about 50 thousand individuals!) and hundreds of Black Skimmers performing a unique choreography in flight. Whilst the cormorants were probably commuting to their foraging grounds, the skimmers were local migrants from the Amazon that had crossed the Andes and over to the Peruvian coast due to the high waters of the river.

Thank you for joining us!