Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Upper Amazon

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
12 comments
We enjoyed our first meal aboard El Delfin with a late and very large lunch. Fresh fish, various fruits, and a frozen dessert made from local fruits. I entered a food coma almost immediately and only came out of it when it was announced that we'd be taking a late afternoon birding excursion on the boat's two skiffs after siesta time. Es perfecto!

Strange fruit, but delicious when peeled and mashed into ice cream.

But I could not sleep--there was too much to see. So I went back to the top deck for some birding. Immediately I was fascinated by the various craft plying the river. Boats, rafts, and floating objects of all shapes and sizes were drifting downstream as we motored upstream.

Heading to the market.

Bananas heading to Nauta and then to the world beyond.

We passed small camps and settlements on the shore. The human population along the Amazon and its tributaries relies primarily on fishing, hunting, and small-plot farming. The effects from this subsistence living has greatly reduced the region's flora and fauna. Natural resource organizations and conservationists are rushing to preserve large tracts of rainforest. And they are beginning to work with the local communities to develop more sustainable means of living, including developing ecotourism projects. More on this in a future post.

Check out the footholds cut into the mud bank for access to the river below.

Washing day.

We passed many small dwellings that were not much more than campsites, though they probably were lived in nearly year-round and vacated when the floods of the rainy season swelled the river beyond its normal banks.

We also passed commercial boats including ferries, cargo craft, and even large skiffs full of gringo ecoturistas, who waved at us as though they were very happy to see us.
Turistas blancas.

Soon it was time for our own skiff adventure. We divided into two groups and headed off farther upstream in search of birds and other creatures to see. Among the group were at least three serious photographers and a few of us who were dabbling at being serious. We traded advice (I got much more than I gave) and asked photo questions freely.

"Hey what F-stop are you shooting at right now?"
"Is that an IS lens?"
"Are you completely KILLING that kingfisher?"
"Hey look at THIS shot I got!"
"Does anyone know how to turn the flash off on one of these things?"

It was pretty fun taking pictures of parrots overhead (all bad images) and passing large-billed terns (blurry as a vanilla milkshake), and the dark-green jungle. The light was good but failing fast so we motored over to the sunlit shore and right away had good luck.
One of El Delfin's two skiffs.

Ted Stedman was with our group on assignment for Outdoor Photographer magazine.

Along the Amazon and its tributaries raptors and vultures perch and prowl for food. It must be because this is the only edge habitat for miles around in this roadless region. But I have never seen so many birds of prey along any river, ever.

First among our photographable raptors was a yellow-headed caracara.
Yellow-headed caracaras. After a while I did not bother photographing them.

Farther downstream we came across a drab water-tyrant, sort of a cross between a wagtail and a warbler. It was flycatching midges on the muddy bank of the river.

Drab water-tyrant. Which begs the question: How can you be both drab AND a tyrant?

Riverside roadside hawk.

Here in the roadless Amazon there are many, many of the common hawk of Latin America known as the roadside hawk. But they are jokingly referred to as riverside hawks here--no roads! One of our El Delfin guides told us that at least 11 times and laughed his cabeza off every time.

Short-tailed parrots showing off their best field mark.

Flights of parrots and parakeets zipped back and forth across the river giving us impossibly bad looks. Without the knowledgeable ID skills of Pepe and Noam, we'd never have known what ANY of them were. All of them called loudly. None of them perched within our view.

It wasn't just birds, though. We found a small line of bats clinging to a mid-river snag. I have no clue what species these are, but they stayed put until we were right next to them , then flew in unison, like shorebirds avoiding a peregrine, and then settled back down on another snag farther up the stream. Perhaps one of my experienced tropical naturalist blog lurkers can help me with the ID here. Scott, are you there?

Some kind of river-loving bat. Later in the night they entered our cabins and feasted upon our blood. Not really. But Liam asked me that.

My favorite tropical tanager, the blue-gray, hove into view in a small flock. Too far for decent photos, but nice to see again. These BGTans were fancier than those I'd seen in Mexico and Guatemala. These had pale-blue wingbars which only added to their allure.

[Don't tell the blue-grays, but over the next few days I saw some other tanagers that really set my eyes on fire--bay-headed tanager and something called a paradise tanager! They really laid me low.]

Blue-gray tanagers (the tiny blue spots in this photo). Formerly my favorite tanager.

Soon enough the sun was down and it was starting to get buggy, so we turned the skiffs downstream and caught El Delfin in the middle of the river. Soon it would be dinner time, then, I hoped, a good night's sleep. I was still running a bit of a snooze deficit from the weekend before.
Ohhh Cholllly LOOK at that looooovely boat.

I did sleep, but could not WAIT to experience dawn on the Amazon. It was just hours away.

It's another pisco sour sunset....

12 comments:

On September 26, 2007 at 12:39 AM Trixie said...

What a sunet! That just caps all the interesting photos in this post.

You have me rushing in from a seriously tough day of being a mom to read you blog before I get the kids in the bath. Good work, BOTB.

On September 26, 2007 at 6:42 AM Jayne said...

Hawks perched all along the river! I would have had whiplash as I would have been trying to soak all the sights and sounds in on either side of the bank all day long. Amazing journey thus far... Ok... we're ready to head on upstream. :c)

On September 26, 2007 at 8:22 AM Patrick Belardo said...

I have an identical picture of probably the same species of bat from a river tour in Costa Rica. If I remember right, the guide did tell me they were some type of sac-winged bats.

On September 26, 2007 at 8:40 AM Bill of the Birds said...

Thanks for the kind comments, all. And for the ID Patrick.

There's so much to relate from the trip...

On September 26, 2007 at 10:48 AM Heron said...

This "armchair" tour is wonderful, thanks for taking us along. I would enjoy reading as much as you have time to relate about your trip. Please do blog on for days and days. :>

On September 26, 2007 at 11:30 AM Rondeau Ric said...

Except for the bugs, I am envious.

On September 26, 2007 at 1:52 PM brdpics said...

Sweet stuff- I'm beyond green with envy.

But dude- is it just me, or does the El Delfin have about 1 cm of freeboard??

Keep the commentary and pics coming!

On September 26, 2007 at 3:29 PM Anonymous said...

Your trip sounds swell. Really swell. And that sunset! G

On September 26, 2007 at 8:51 PM KatDoc said...

Very cool stuff, keep it coming. Does "1 cm of freeboard" mean that it looks like the boat is about to sink? Because it looks that way to me. Go light on lunch, and no dessert, BT3! Or you, Kate and the Amazon Queen will all be sunk.

~Kathi

On September 26, 2007 at 10:22 PM Mary said...

Your Hepburn imitation is great :o)

Seems there was more to enjoy during trip than seeing exotic birds. The culture, cuisine, and beauty of the rainforest...the sunset photo really tells the story.

I hope there will be another chapter. Did you ever SLEEP?

On September 26, 2007 at 11:16 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

I can vouch for the fact that he doesn't.

On September 27, 2007 at 9:47 AM Anonymous said...

AWE-some! On the road (or river if you may) with BOTB!!! Love the caracaras and the riverside hawks. Vicarious thrills without heat stroke.
Sheels


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