Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spiderlings & Tamales

Here are a few pics of a wolf spider carrying masses of spiderlings; a shot ilustrating some of the stunning palms and vegetation in the rainforest; a comical-looking stick insect; and my lunch - tamales - steam-cooked rice inside a banana leaf with a small piece of chicken inside.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tarapoto to Pongo de Caynarachi - days 5-8

The field work has been held up over the past few days by vast quantities of rain with not much sun. While we’ve had few specimens, the scenery in the Cordillera Escalera has been quite spectacular particularly where the Tarapoto to Yurimaguas road winds over the pass at over 1000 metres with cloud hanging over the steep humid forest slopes. On Monday it rained continually and I spent the day working on my laptop while occasionally glancing up to see Saffron Finch, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Blue-grey Tanager, House Wren, Great Kiskadee and an Emerald sp. hummer in the garden. On Tuesday we climbed to the antenna at over 1200 metres. Around Km-15 on the Tarapoto-Yurimaguas road there are some cliffs which held 50+ White-tipped Swift, two pairs of Cliff Flycatcher, a soaring White Hawk, around 23 Swallow-tailed Kites plus the ubiquitous Turkey and American Black Vultures. On the slopes closer to town over 70 of the much larger White-collared Swifts were hawking. Ascending the trail to La Antena is quite tough but the occasional stop produced Slate-throated Whitestart (or Redstart), White-winged Tanager, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Rufous Motmot and Emerald Toucanet. Soon after reaching the peak the clouds closed in another day was cut short with torrential rain. Today (Wednesday) we crossed right over the Escalera ridge past Pongo de Caynarachi on the edge of the Amazon Basin. A favoured site on the Barranquita road was visited and birds and other wildlife (monkeys, squirrels, poison frogs) are always a distraction from the field work here. Large numbers of Ithomiines were flying as were many mosquitoes. A pair of White-billed Toucan were heard but not located but a Crested Oropendola was eventually seen after listening to its exotic liquid gurgling and popping vocalisations. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl showed well, a Double-toothed Kite was perched up, and a Yellow-headed Caracara flew over the main track outside the forest. Several groups of parrots and parakeets were regularly heard screeching overhead. Also noted were various species such as Masked Tityra, Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner, Green-and-Gold Tanager, Screaming Piha, Pale-legged Hornero, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Short-crested Flycatcher, Blue-crowned Motmot and Giant Cowbird. Rain was again a feature of the return trip over the mountains. It is apparently an El Niño year but less hope the weather improves soon.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tarapoto & Río Shilcayo - day 4

We had hoped to climb into the Sierra Escalera today, but as you’d expect in the rainforest, the wet stuff often comes down in torrents, even in the dry season. Steep slopes become muddy and difficult to ascend. The sun finally broke through intermittently after midday which left time only for another local trip up the Río Shilcayo. Sunshine was scarce in the afternoon as were Heliconius butterflies. Ithomiines were much more abundant and a Ceratinia tutia, with its mimetic yellow/orange/black colour pattern, posed well for the photograph below (the other is of an Owl Butterfly Caligo sp.). A scorpion which had been hiding in my wellington boot only became apparent when I later crossed a deeper stretch of the river, filled my boots with water, and emptied them on the far bank. The scorpion came out with the flushed water no worse the wear for its ordeal. Uptream of the Boca Toma I added a couple of new birds to my Shilcayo patch list in the form of a tiny Double-barred Pygmy-Tyrant in the understory and a pair of White-shouldered Tanagers in the midstory. Squirrel Cuckoo and White-flanked Antwren were also seen close by. A tall flowering tree emerging above the canopy had several species of hummingbirds buzzing around. More leisurely feeders on the tree were the stunning Purple Honeycreeper and Blue Dacnis. The rain closed in again from late afternoon progressing to a heavy thunderstorm lasting for several hours.

Tarapoto & Río Shilcayo - days 2-3

Its hot and humid on the eastern slope of the Andean foothills. Tarapoto is about 400m asl nestling against the Sierra Escalera, the last ridge before the Amazon basin begins. To acclimatise to the conditions the first couple of days have consisted of fairly easy treks up the Río Shilcayo in search of silvaniform Heliconious butterflies. We are staying at El Mirador this year (see my site guide here) where we have breakfast on the roof terrace to the sights and sounds of Yellow-rumped Cacique, Great Kiskadee, Black-billed Thrush, Turkey Vulture, Palm Tanager, American Black Vulture, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Short-tailed Swift, Silver-beaked Tanager and House Wren. The river itself has two species filling the niche of the wagtails in the form of Black Phoebe and Buff-rumped Warbler. I’ve seen Sunbittern on this stretch of the Shilcayo before but no luck so far. The highlight today was at least 20 Swallow-tailed Kites gleaning insects from the canopy of the rainforest. Many trees are flowering at the moment and attracting large numbers of hummingbirds. In the understory a Long-tailed Hermit (another hummer) was observed nectaring and a couple of Black-throated Antbird territories were found. An unusual-looking social black cuckoo, the Smooth-billed Ani is common in the open, secondary growth areas and a roost of over 30 birds was forming on the edge of Tarapoto yesterday evening. A few small groups of Mealy Parrots were also observed flying to roost in the late afternoon today.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Urban Birding in a South American Capital

A brief one-night stopover in Lima before the flight to Tarapoto allowed a brief visit to the Museo de Historia Natural and a walk around the Parque de la Reserva in the Lince and Lima districts. Along the bustle of Av. Arequipa, congested with collectivos, the small warszewiczi race of Scrub Blackbird with its loud song was one of the few species heard above the traffic but a closer look revealed many species including Amazilia Hummingbird, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, House Wren, Blue-and-White Swallow, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Bananaquit, American Kestrel, Croaking Ground Dove, Eared Dove, Western Peruvian Dove, Vermillion Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, feral flocks of Canary-winged Parakeets and Red-masked Parakeets, and Blue-gray Tanangers. Many American Black Vultures were watching overhead. The best surprise though was the flock of six Puna Ibis, probably heading to the wetlands of the Pantanos de Villa - somewhere I should try and get to on my way back at the end of the trip.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Return to Peru

I'm working in Peru again for the next seven weeks and will try to post some interesting items every few days. I'm in Tarapoto in San Martin, which nestles against the Sierra Escalera, the last range of Andean foothills before the Amazon basin begins. I was last here in August and September 2007 and posts from that trip can be found here:

Monday, August 17, 2009