Amazon River Cruise Feb 08—18, 2018

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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Every time we lead the Amazon River Cruise we have great expectations because we know that it will not only give us the opportunity to show you great birds, but it will also enhance your life. This year was no exception. Every day, the sunrise greeted us with pale red clouds blending with pink and some with yellow stripes. By the end of the afternoon, it seemed as if the sun was hiding below the tumultuous river that was always carrying huge trees, branches, water hyacinths, and mud. And, when we embarked the skiffs, we noticed that the apparent green Amazonian homogeneity disappeared as we added new words to our lexicon, some being varzea, igapo, oxbow lake, speciation, and more.

Black-collared Hawk

Black-collared Hawk— Photo: David Ascanio


This great experience started on the west side of the Andes, which is the opposite side of the Amazon basin. A full day on the Pacific coast of Peru allowed us to nail Humboldt current specialties such as the London-police looking Humboldt Penguin (with its black-and-white dress) and the active and extremely specialized Surf Cinclodes rushing after each wave that splashed over the rocks, as well as several boobies, pelicans, and two species of cormorants. We also visited two large wetlands and added another dimension, that of the Boreal migrants, when we observed 8 species of sandpipers and ten thousand Franklin’s Gulls!

Pantanos de Villa was an excellent example of how distant biomes are connected. We saw not only Boreal migrants but also local migrants such as thousands of Black Skimmers flying up and down over a wetland contiguous to the ocean. They weave the continent every year when they migrate from the Amazon to the coast of Peru.

After a full day in the coastal area near Lima, we took a flight to Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon.  Here we added another dimension. Thousands of years of human presence and a more recent mix of cultures have shaped today’s ribereños (river people) with their distinctive culture. They carry with them an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the medicinal use of the plants. They are the ones that can tolerate high humidity, heat during the midday, and losing their real estate when the river claims islands where their houses were built. They are expert swimmers and impressive canoe builders. Fishing is the everyday task, and farming their subsistence farms is part of the women’s job. A brief visit to the Belen market gave us a sampling of the richness of the fruits and fishes that can be obtained in the Amazon, from Cupuazú, Moriche, and Azaí to Camu-Camu, a fruit in very high demand in Japan nowadays. A sampling of the fishes included several species of Cinclids, as well as catfishes and the largest scaly fish in the world, the Arapaima.

Read David’s full report in his Field Report.