Picture being in the middle of the Amazon Jungle in a very remote place. As I write this, (and if you are reading this, know that it was written long before it was ever posted) I am currently sitting in a very rustic jungle lodge with no light other than kerosene lamps amidst the darkness. No hot showers. No Wi-Fi. No modern-day amenities and no sounds other than the nightlife noises of the Amazon Jungle. The sounds of hundreds of bugs chirping hasn’t ceased since the sun set an hour ago. There is an owl calling off in the distance (which Ross has identified as a Tawny-bellied Screech Owl.)
But let’s flash forward to 48 hours ago when we arrived in the Amazon. We technically aren’t “budget birding” this portion of the trip, as we wanted access to visit jungle property (mostly the maintained trails hard to come by in the Amazon) owned by two lodge companies, Explororama and Muyuna in search of some Amazonian specialties. Long before our 6-month trip began, we booked an all-inclusive 5-day trip with Explorama and a 4-day trip with Muyuna and have been referring to this segment of the trip as our “vacation within our vacation.”
Anyway, after flying into Iquitos, a city which can only be reached by boat or air, we were picked up by our driver and guide from Explorama. Has anyone ever been to the airport and seen those signs with names on them? That’s never been me before, until now. We met Armondo, our guide, at the airport holding a sign with our names on it. Unfortunately no one informed Armondo that we were travelling solely to look for birds and no one informed us that we would even have a guide! Armondo began his typical guiding spcheal and told us how we would be visiting the floating village later that afternoon before Ross cut him off and asked him to skip anything unrelated to birds. We then boarded a boat and were on our way to the lodge, bypassing the floating village and anything else that normal tourists would do coming on this tour. (Coincidentally our boat driver was wearing a hat that said “Pittsburgh” and had the Steeler’s logo on it.) We were taken by boat along the Amazon River, the second largest river in the world, passing by rain forest on either side. It may not be high on many people’s bucket lists given the number of bugs and potential dangers in the jungle, but visiting the Amazon certainly was on my list and just boating along the Amazon River was everything I ever wanted it to be!
The lodge we spent our first night at was no 5-star resort, but it was quaint and clean and surrounded by jungle and was to be the nicest of the three lodges we would be staying at! Being the wet season at the time of our visit, the water of the river had risen and flooded 50% of the trails available so we just walked the accessible trails and saw several birds along the way.
Later that afternoon we took a boat out on the river to cover some more ground. Being that the water levels were high, we were able to travel via boat where one could walk if it were the dry season. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, but I don’t think there’s anything more relaxing than a boat ride down the Amazon River.
After spending the previous night ‘sleeping’ at the airport (but not getting more than maybe 2-3 hours’ worth of sleep) and being up, active and hiking all day long and even taking a twilight boat ride spotlighting for wildlife, Ross and I were EXHAUSTED by the time we finally crawled into our mosquito net-covered beds.
We slept well but got up early to start at it again. The Amazon is a place where the bird diversity is extremely high but the quantity of birds you run in to is very low. Sometimes you can walk for an hour and not see anything so spending more time out and about is best if one’s goal is to see as many species of birds as possible. The morning of May 22 we spent on a boat looking for some more birds. Highlights included Lettered Aracari, White-bearded Manakin, and several species of parrot.
After breakfast we took a speed boat about an hour and a half up river to a somewhat more remote and rustic lodge called Exploronapo and then walked the remainder of the way to our final destination – ACTS Lodge. On the way we stopped and had Hoatzin sitting in a tree!
We spent the afternoon birding the jungle picking up birds such as Bicolored Hawk, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, White-plumed Antbird and Fulvous-shrike Tanager, just to name a few. That afternoon we ventured up into the canopy via a canopy walkway built in 1993 comprised of 12 platforms accessed by swinging bridges. Certain birds who are almost exclusively found at the tops of trees are nearly impossible to see if you are standing on the ground so these platforms have the advantage of being in the canopy where the birds are. Ross, who is VERY afraid of heights, absolutely hated crossing the swinging bridges oh-so-high above the trees. However, with the thought of the birds he could see from the top, he pressed on until we reached “Platform #6” at 118ft above the forest floor (11 stories up!)
We spent the evening with a birds-eye view of the jungle picking up various canopy birds only feet away such as Paradise, Opal-crowned, Opal-rumped, & Swallow Tanagers, Blue & Black-faced Dacnis’, Green, Short-billed, & Purple Honeycreepers, Black-faced Nunbird and a White-necked Puffbird sitting 15 feet away!
As the sun set the birds started to head to bed and activity faded so we headed back to the lodge to eat dinner and gear up for a jungle walk at night spot-lighting for owls, frogs and whatever else we could find! Our night walk was very successful with great views of a Tawny-bellied Screech Owl perched in a tree. Other finds included four species of frogs, one of which was some kind of species of Poison Dart Frog!
Other fun (haha, not) included spiders the size of a tennis ball.
We went to bed exhausted again but very happy with how the day turned out knowing that with today’s finds we now have over 1,700 species for the year!
The next morning we woke up early to head back to the canopy tower to see what would be around at dawn. Anyone with a fear of heights would hate to head into the canopy, especially with such shaky bridges! For me it was no big deal, but Ross vowed that after today he would not be headed on the bridges again unless it was to go down.
From the heights of the canopy towers we had several new species including Spangled Cotinga, Slate-colored Grosbeak, and three Dugand’s Antwrens.
The afternoon was once again spent walking the forest floors in search of several species of antbirds and antshrikes. Afterwards we took a boat ride out on the Amazon River to check out some of the young river islands (you know, because the Amazon is THAT big that it has multiple river islands.) We stopped at an island that was probably 10-15 years old (per our guide) and played the tape for several river island specialists. That evening we picked up 12 new birds for the trip, probably 9 or so all from the same exact spot! Our river island highlights included Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Black-crested Antshrike, Black-and-white Antbird, White-bellied, Red-and-white, & Parker’s Spinetails, Lesser Hornero and Pearly-breasted & Bicolored Conebills!
We ran back to the lodge for a quick dinner and once again hit the trails, this time in search of the extremely hard to see, Nocturnal Currasow, a “game bird” that is only active at night. We sort of figured it would be a shot in the dark (pun intended) but we went for it anyway. Unfortunately we never heard nor saw the Nocturnal Currasow, we did however stumble upon two Peruvian Porcupines attempting to eat the ropes of the canopy walkway!
The next morning we started our day from the heights of the canopy tower, AGAIN. Every morning in the jungle can be different and you never know what you are going to come across. From the canopy heights, we picked up several new birds such as White-browed Purple Tuft and Black-headed Parrot. We then headed back to the ground to search for more antbirds and antwrens and were very successful!
At the conclusion of our tour we were dropped off at a hotel in Iquitos to gear up for the next part of our “vacation,” another tour through a company called “Muyuna Tours” this time specifically geared towards birding on the south banks of the Amazon. Stay tuned for more on this portion of the trip!
And just because, here are a few pictures of monkeys that we saw hanging around during our time in the jungle!