Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Birding Rally Challenge Perú 2012 - Part 2

Turquoise Tanager
After birding the Pantanos de Villa in Lima and attending the opening ceremonies at the Universidad Científica del Sur on the 28th of November, we set off for the first of two spectacular birding destinations: the Amazon rain forest in Madre de Dios. When we landed in Puerto Maldonado in the afternoon of the 29th, I spotted a Southern Caracara being chased by two Tropical Kingbirds. The kingbirds we would continue seeing at every location we visited, but this species of caracara, uncommon in Peru, was not seen again as far as I know [edit: the LSU-team did see Southern Caracara again, leaving Puerto Maldonado on the way to the Andes]. During a short boat ride from Puerto Maldonado to the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica Lodge we saw some Black Caracaras. They were fairly common along the river Madre de Dios, and a daily sighting during the Amazonian part of the trip. Beautiful birds.

Black Caracaras
The first afternoon there we walked around the grounds of Inkaterra's Reserva Amazonica Lodge, literally teeming with birds. How about Black-throated Mango and Sapphire-spangled Emerald around your cabin, a roost of Black-fronted Nunbirds nearby, Spotted Tody-Flycatchers flitting around at eye-level, colorful mixed tanager flocks up in the trees, or colonies of Yellow-rumped Caciques and Russet-backed Oropendolas along the hotel's main trail? At night, we sometimes heard Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl and Great Potoo from the cabin, while every morning, just before first light, one or more Gray-necked Wood-Rails would give wake-up calls. That said, there was not a 'rainforest racket' of sound keeping you up all night, just some discreet frog background noise - the kind some people put on to fall asleep to. All these birds I just mentioned were easily observed around the cabins of this wonderful hotel. This place is not cheap, mind you. (We were invited, so for us it was free, ha!) Yet I think Inkaterra offers good value here, combining luxury and world-class cuisine with a thoughtful approach to limiting the environmental impact of the hotel. If I could afford it, I'd gladly come back here. (I'm plugging the hotel a little bit because I was invited there by the Peruvian government and by Inkaterra, to attend a birding event intended to promote birding tourism to Peru. Well, I'll say it again, this place is absolutely worth visiting.)

the birding rally kick-off: 30 November, 5 AM
We spent three days birding the Amazon rain forest in the southeastern corner of the district of Madre de Dios, close to the border with Bolivia. The organizers had selected a number of key sites in the vicinity of the hotel (the furthest a 40 km boat ride along the river Madre de Dios), and each day, two teams separately went to a site to find as many birds there as they could, rotating to go to the other sites on subsequent days. They were accompanied by a local bird guide, but the guide could only take them to the key spots, he or she was not allowed to point out or identify birds. The team I rooted for - Cornell's eBirders - had as their captain Tom Schulenberg, first author of the field guide everyone was using (the quite excellent Birds of Peru), so they had an obvious psychological advantage. However, it quickly became apparent that some of the other teams had extensive field experience in South America, and/or had thoroughly studied up on the bird calls. Other teams, although consisting of outstanding birders all, simply had less Peruvian field experience or knowledge of local bird calls, and seemed to be birding the area more or less the same way I myself was birding it: avidly, and with great enjoyment, without being able to identify every call coming from the forest. Comparing my own daily bird lists with those of the teams, I found that I actually wasn't doing so bad, lagging only a little behind the lowest-scoring team. And after all, they were searching for birds the entire time, while I was often in the company of non-birders or people only casually interested birding, and could not always, well, bird. Which was okay. There's just so many birds there, that I ended up seeing a few birds that the official competing teams didn't see. But the top teams observed way more birds than I did, and I could only be in awe of all the birds these guys were racking up there. Just incredible!

Silver-beaked Tanager
I'll close this blog entry with some 'pictorial highlights'. Some of these are actually rather poor photos of great birds. The light wasn't always good, and at times my camera suffered noticeably from the humidity (pulling the ole 'lens error' on me multiple times), from which it recovered once we got out of there. Yes, at 200 m elevation it definitely was hot and humid, and it being the rain forest, it did rain for almost an entire day once. Somehow I didn't really notice the heat or the humidity all that much, absorbed as I was with the bird life around me. And not just birds… also monkeys, butterflies, frogs etc.

Greater Ani
Greater Anis were quite common along the edges of rivers and lakes, often found in small groups of two or three.

White-throated Jacamar
I was fortunate to see a number of jacamar species. Besides this White-throated Jacamar, I also saw Paradise, Chestnut and Bluish-fronted Jacamars - all charismatic, beautiful tropical birds.

Cocoi Heron
Cocoi Heron was a cool bird that was a lifer for me, and relatively common in this area. But the heron I really hoped to see - and did see! - was Agami Heron. These birds also occur in Honduras, where I live, just not in my neighborhood.

Agami Heron
Fantastic bird!

Another one high on my wish list - and not seen by every team - was Sunbittern. It was getting dark at the end of a cloudy, rainy day, so the photo is poor, but what an incredible bird!

The other 'sun bird' on my wish list, Sungrebe, proved to be fairly common in this area.

I saw some amazing birds there. Amazonian Umbrellabird I will not forget easily. I'll leave the macaws, aracaris and pygmy-tyrants (and monkeys) for another blog entry.

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