The Amazonian Lottery

After leaving Chile we headed up to Peru, which has one of the best preserved Amazon regions in South America including many different habitats from flooded forest to montane cloud forest. The Amazon is always a bit of gamble from a wildlife photography perspective (unless you consider mosquitoes as a good subject – no shortage of those…). For this reason we chose to split our time between four lodges in two different regions and some quite different habitats. Firstly we visited the Tambopata-Candamo Nature Reserve in south Peru, staying at Posada Amazonas and the Tambopata Research Center, a trip kindly organised by the British Consul in Cusco who also runs Manu Expeditions (an ecotourism operator in Peru). The focus here was terra firma forest (i.e. it never floods despite the large variations in river height). We found the wildlife was quite abundant and dependable, with the 37 metre high canopy tower at Posada Amazonas excellently situated for canopy photography.

The second region was the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Community Reserve, a few hours by speedboat from Iquitos in the north of Peru, the focus here was mostly flooded forest regions. ‘Flooded forest’ may sound an unusual environment, and indeed it was a pretty unusual place – anywhere where pink dolphins swim through the tree tops and you can catch piranha on the main staircase of the lodge certainly gets our attention. We found the wildlife here to be of a different character, not so plentiful perhaps, but some really unusual stuff that you have a sporting chance of seeing. The Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo reserve is rather special in Peru as it is a reserve that is governed entirely by the local villages. People have traditionally lived in the park and continue to live and hunt in the park, but with an eye to sustainable usage – the organisation that runs the Tahuayo lodge as well as people who work there do a lot of community work financed in part by the tourists.

As regards the lottery, anyone who has tried to photograph shy wildlife in a forest full of mosquitoes and other insect delights will know that it’s not always easy – leaves and braches can hide almost anything, it’s always quite dark below the canopy, and the canopy is always backlit with sunlight. Maybe you’ll see something awesome, maybe you’ll see nothing at all (apart from a lot of mosquitoes…). To overcome these challenges we tended to get up at highly uncivilised hours of the morning to catch the wildlife activity around sunrise and on occasion dangled 100ft up in a tree from a climbing rope (climbing 37m in a scaffold tower seemed so much more pedestrian after that one…!).

With persistence (and losing a good portion of our blood to the insect wildlife!), we feel we won some pretty good prizes from the wildlife lottery and as is customary have a few below…no mosquitoes for you, dear reader, just sit back and enjoy!

Blue and Yellow Macaws fly beneath the canopy on a misty morning. Tambopata.

A pair of Curl-Crested Aracari take a break from foraging in nearby fruit trees. The crest of these unusual birds really looks a little plastic and with a little more growth would be Elvis like.. we think they're great! Tambopata.

We got an entire sequence of Ivory-Billed Aracari mating, but we don't want to make anyone splutter into their morning coffee with hardcore bird porn, so you'll have to make do with a softer picture! Tambopata.

A white-eared Jacamar tosses a newly caught bee into its mouth. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

This unusual creature is a collared puffbird, one of the more rarely glimpsed bird families in the Amazon. Here it consumes a cicada. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

The long-billed woodcreeper is more likely to be seen vertically on a trunk than on a perch. For every habit and behavior there seem to be birds who will specialise in it. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

The fork-tailed woodnymph (a hummingbird) is one of the more brighly coloured inhabitants (and also one of the most restless), they dash around like pinballs! Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

You don't have to be colorful to be striking however, as this barred antshrike shows. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

In the deeper and darker thickets the very small and rather enigmatic manakin bird family make their displays. Here, a female unexpectedly starts showing off a move more normally done by males to impress females.. the male seemed rather nonplussed by the episode and courtship finished soon after unfortunately! Golden-Headed Manakins, Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve, near Iquitos.

Aside from macaws, quetzals are some of the most colorful birds often seen. Pavonine quetzal, Allpahuayo-Mishana.

This Great Jacamar uses the same idea..'if I'm bright green, maybe no-one will see me!'. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

It was worth the rather appalling mosquito conditions to see the wire-tailed manakins. They only occur in a small area and do a 'Michael Jackson moonwalk' as part of their courtship. Seriously, they slide backwards on branches in their courtship dance.. you can see it on Youtube! Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

The greatest density of birdlife we saw was without doubt at the 'clay-lick' at Tambopata Research Center. This is an area of tall river bank where the clay has minerals the birds consume - this is believed to be for digestive purposes to counteract toxins in unripe fruit.

We were delighted to see this Southern Tamandua - it is a small anteater that climbs trees... wonderful stuff!

The monkeys in Tambopata were a lot more curious than other places we have been in the Amazon.

Due to a breeding program in the area you may also happen across Woolly Monkeys that seem pretty relaxed in front of the lens! Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

The 'Dusky Titi' monkey is the most common around Tambopata it seems. Cue jokes involving hairy 'titi's...

We only saw the famously slow moving three-toed sloth in Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo, and yes, it can require a little patience to wait for even a remotely photogenic posture to be achieved! Sloths spend almost their entire lives in the canopy, but bizarrely they descend to the forest floor for bathroom purposes before slowly climbing all the way back up!

Small eyes peer out of the many treeholes of the forest as you pass..here a treerat. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

Eyes everywhere..! Tambopata. We didn't see any vampire bats, at least not too close thankfully..!

Not all insects are as annoying as the mosquitoes can be...although I still wouldn't argue with this armoured shield bug.

The fungus beetles don't have an attractive name, but they're certainly attractive to look at. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

Heard those 'A frog walks into a bar' jokes? We have too, and found it faintly disturbing when a frog really did... as you can see it wasn't best pleased it had to wait so long for its order either. Tambopata.

Our favourite fungi were the 'Lady's Veil' fungi. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

The most elegant river bird has to be the Capped Heron with its long crest feathers that look like long ribbons when it flies. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

The 4.30am start was worth it to see the endangered Giant River Otter. These animals have been known to kill and eat caiman (Amazon crocodiles)... no one argues with them, (apart from humans, who've almost shot them to extinction making fashionable clothes). Tambopata.

Sometimes young Caiman can be seen around the edges of forest lakes (often 'oxbow lakes' from the nearby meandering rivers). Tambopata.

No trip to Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo would be complete without a pink dolphin sighting. These remarkable animals feature large in the folklore of the local indian communities. They are also very hard to get good pictures of here... the water is so murky that you never have any indication where they will appear next, and unlike marine dolphins they rarely breach or perform acrobatics above water. We were amazed at the frequency of sightings here though, almost every day.. and often we weren't even looking for them. If you don't mind swimming with the piranhas in your speedos (they normally only eat people in movies!) then you can even swim with them!

Our biggest 'Amazon lottery' win was undoubtedly seeing a Margay.. cat encounters are so rare we never really bothered to think much about the possibility, so to see one of the rarest jungle cats (and a nocturnal one at that) was extraordinary luck - it was the first time our guide had seen one in 7 years! These amazing cats have ankle joints that allow them to almost reverse their backfeet when descending trees, so the front claws face forward while the back claws face backwards! Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo.

Tempted to buy a lottery ticket? Visit http://www.perujungle.com or http://www.manuexpeditions.com as a start, also give some thought to Peru’s premier rainforest park called Manu – we unfortunately couldn’t get there as it closes in the wet season.


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