Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Amazon Morning

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tuesday's dawn came fast, but the mist rising off the river and out of the humid woods held the sunlight at bay for several hours--a respite from the tropical heat that was not althogether unwelcome. Cutting through the mist were the calls of birds from every direction.

We were still motoring upstream on the Rio Ucayali, passing small settlements that were waking up just as we were.

El Delfin in the mist.

Upper deck, El Delfin.

The mist covered everything, including camera lenses, making the upper deck of our boat look mistier than it really was.
Beautiful tropical splendor everywhere I turned.

Getting drinking water.

The people living along the Amazon and its tributaries will fill up water bottles or other containers and let them sit all day long until the sediment settles out, then the water is considered drinkable. But if you or I drank it, we'd be meeting the vengeful Señor Montezuma soon enough.

A huge stump leftover from a tropical tree. It may have been hollowed out as a boat.

As the mist cleared, we embarked on the skiffs and headed to shore for a morning birding outing. The non-birders among our group stayed behind on El Delfin sleeping and enjoying a full breakfast. We eschewed the desayuno for the chance to find some island endemic birds.

Lesser hornero. A cool bird, but a name by which no human male would like to be known.

One of our first new birds of the day was a lesser hornero.

The photographers among us had plenty to shoot. This is Chris Knights, a farmer from Norfolk in England, who is also a world-class bird photographer.

There was a Peruvian couple living on the island we landed on. The woman was washing clothes at the river's edge while the man repaired his fishing nets, strung between two pieces of driftwood nearby.

Lesser yellow-headed vulture.

Vultures coasted past, looking for a dead fish, a bit of trash, or anything else to eat. Everywhere you look in the tropics there are vultures--soaring, sitting, hanging their wings out in the sun. They serve an important role here, eating dead flesh before it can become a vector for disease. If I'd kicked the bucket here on this island, there would have been vultures all over me before the shine left my eyes.

We heard a lot of small birds calling and singing. We did not get great looks, but we did see a handful of the island endemics, including white-bellied, red-and-white, and rusty-backed spinetail. This last one is also known as Parker's spinetail, for the late and legendary tropical ornithologist, Ted Parker. Spinetails put the skulk in skulker--I did not get any photos.

This island had a broad sandy beach, perfect for scanning for loafing nightjars, shorebirds, and swallows.
Usiel, a guide from El Delfin, came along. When he spotted a bird, he shot his machete into the sand so he could put two hands on his binocs.

White-headed marsh-tyrant.

We reboarded the skiffs and ventured to another river island, this one much larger. Upon landing we walked through some planted sandy fields of beans to a nearby marsh which was home to a white-headed marsh-tyrant--a very cool-looking bird.

Oriole blackbirds.

Oriole blackbirds were everywhere, sounding very much like our yellow-headed blackbirds, which is to say, like someone retching.

As we climbed up a short rise we came to a large field of rice growing in a low, marshy area. Flocks of parakeets circled over the rice, steeling for a few seconds, then taking flight again, all the while screeching loudly. I was mesmerized by the swirling flocks. One second they'd be invisible--green birds against green grass and jungle. Then they would turn and their red and yellow colors would flash brightly.

Can you see the parakeets in this image? There are two distinct species.

How about now?

Or now? Larger birds with red spots are white-eyed parakeets. Smaller ones are dusky-headed parakeets.

These are all white-eyed parakeets.

Most of our looks at parrots and parakeets during the trip were fleeting, heard-only birds or birds zipping overhead.Sorry for the poor quality images.

And then it was time to head back to El Delfin for our own breakfast and a bit of downtime.

While we motored back to El Delfin,we passed several large river ferries, carrying passengers and goods. The stern was loaded with many, many bananas. The upper deck was strung with hammocks for folks who want a nap during the journey.

Hammocks for weary passengers--what a concept.

These two Peruvians seemed happy to give us a smile and a wave from their camp. Note the parakeet the woman on the right has as a pet.

I have a lot more to tell you but need to stop now. It's time to meet the Sandman. Mas mañana le prometo.


On September 27, 2007 at 8:33 AM Anonymous said...

those oriole blackbirds look spectacular...G

On September 27, 2007 at 8:52 AM Anonymous said...

I love the parakeet photos.

Wayne, PA

On September 27, 2007 at 9:38 AM Anonymous said...

Oh, how we love taking this trip with you on the amazing Amazon. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

On September 27, 2007 at 9:50 AM Anonymous said...

Ahhh. More Amazon pleasures, and treasures. Love the oriole blackbirds. White headed tyrant is fab too! What an incredible journey. Thanks again for sharing.

On September 27, 2007 at 10:59 AM Julie Zickefoose said...

You had me from the misty shots.

On September 27, 2007 at 11:15 AM Heron said...

This is all so cool ! I especially like two of your photos, the misty sunrise and the misty silhouetted tree (photos 1 and 5). Framed and hung together, they would be stunning !

On September 27, 2007 at 12:54 PM Bill of the Birds said...

Isn't that a Bogie line from Casablanca: "Photograph Misty for me"?

On September 27, 2007 at 1:40 PM Trixie said...

Wow! Those parakeets on the wing and the oriole blackbirds, and the white headed tyrant, sheesh! And the atmospheric humid river sunrise. You really took me along on this one. Thanks.

On September 27, 2007 at 2:25 PM Mary said...

Don't ever apologize for poor photos - those parakeets in motion are fantastic! The White-headed marsh-tyrant is looks very unique.

The misty shots are good, but being in mist really makes for a very bad hair day...

On September 27, 2007 at 3:00 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

One of the nice things about BT3 is that he doesn't worry about hair, bad or otherwise. He just puts a lid on it. Loooove the captured parakeets, the ultimate lucky shot. Those things fly like bullets.

On September 27, 2007 at 3:06 PM Bill of the Birds said...


Last time I checked, one had to HAVE hair to have a bad hair day. I barely qualify for a BHD anymore.

On September 27, 2007 at 4:28 PM KatDoc said...

So many beautiful birds - the white headed marsh-tyrannt, the oriole blackbirds, and those parakeets - WOW! How did you stop them in motion like that?

I'm really enjoying this series.


On September 27, 2007 at 5:17 PM Jayne said...

Oh that tyrant is so cool! It's so neat to see parakeets flying in flocks instead of in cages here. :c) You can almost feel the mist in those photos. Uh, nice little lens Chris Knights has there.

On September 27, 2007 at 7:18 PM Anonymous said...

Shaa-zam. Good blogging.

On September 28, 2007 at 9:52 AM dguzman said...

Oh my gosh, Bill--the bird photos are spectacular! That parakeet sequence is really stunning too. How incredibly lucky you are to be in the Amazon. Have you seen any piranha?