Amazon River Cruise Jan 12—22, 2017

Posted by Steve Hilty


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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During our January 2017 Amazon River Cruise on the Río Amazon, Río Ucayali, Río Marañon, and various tributaries of these rivers, we had generally good weather, but some rain a couple of times and rain for much of the day on Friday, which was to be our day off-ship to visit the high ground forest (terra firme). River water levels were high but about normal for this time of year, and it is to our advantage to have high water so that we can explore small tributaries, and even enter the floodplain (várzea) forest with the skiffs.

Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle

Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle— Photo: Steve Hilty


Our bird and mammal list was good. Each person will have their own list of favorite highlights, which are not necessarily the rarest bird that your guides were obsessing about, but a few really special ones readily come to mind. Among these are the wonderful Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle that was perched close and enjoyed by everyone on the Río Yanallpa outing. There also were immense and ancient Horned Screamers; strange Hoatzins; almost bizarre Long-billed Woodcreepers on the Río Yarapa; Point-tailed Palmcreeper (we made an issue of these); River Tyrannulets (because they were cute); Plum-throated Cotinga (so blue and so far away); Black-capped Donacobius (best display and antiphonal duet); Oriole Blackbird (common but eye candy); and the amazing breeding colonies of caciques and oropendolas. You’ll have many more to add. I would include the overall list of raptors, some 21 species, plus five vultures to my list because this was a pretty amazing total. I also enjoy teasing birds out of microhabitats and figuring out which birds are found in special places such as moriche palms, vine tangles, creek borders, and the various little vegetation stages on river islands. Doing so seems to make everything more understandable, not quite so overwhelming. It takes work, but there is great satisfaction in at least fitting some larger pieces of the Amazonian puzzle together.

Birding the Rio Yanallpa from a small boat

Birding the Rio Yanallpa from a small boat— Photo: Steve Hilty


I liked the Night Monkeys, the Saki Monkeys (and thanks to Carolyn we realized we had seen both species that occur here), all of the monkeys actually. I also like river dolphins because these freshwater creatures have such an interesting distribution, live in a world of their own (blind and all), and because interesting local stories have evolved about them. So, if in doubt about who got your daughter pregnant…the dolphin probably did it!

In addition to gaining an appreciation for how, at least roughly, this diversity fits together, there also was a sprinkling of long distance migrants to add, e.g. Eastern Kingbird, Barn Swallows, Bank Swallows, even a Peregrine Falcon, both white water (muddy really), and black water rivers, as well as igapó (swamp), várzea (seasonally flooded), and terra firme (high ground) forest. And then there are all those microhabitats that contribute, in various ways, to the overall diversity of birds in Amazonia. In a large and diverse avifauna such 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, their unusual, often novel songs, duets and breeding activities.

Amazonian Antshrike, female

Amazonian Antshrike, female— Photo: Steve Hilty


Our ship’s crew did a great job of feeding us and looking after us, and coolers were always well-stocked with cold water. Muddy boots were cleaned and dried after any land-based excursion, and we shopped whenever little impromptu vendors in boats came around. On most evenings the ship’s bands (there was a new one every night) played during happy hour. However, curiously, each band was called the “Chunky Monkeys.” And when some of you were thinking of skipping a morning, or an afternoon, David always told you which ones not to skip. With so much going on, it all went quickly, and a lot of adventure and learning were compressed into a relatively short span of time.

Steve presented three lectures, Angel provided an update on our navigation, and Segundo and Usiel told Amazon stories, guided a visit to an Amazonian village, spotted innumerable birds, and provided numerous impromptu discussions of life in Amerindian communities. Contrasting our first day along the coast with the utterly different Amazon experience, one begins to appreciate the tremendous diversity of habitats and wildlife that Peru offers to those who are willing to spend the time and effort to visit them. We thank all of you for participating in this cruise and hope to see you again soon.