The Wattled Curassow, a game-type bird that was nearly hunted to extinction. Found in remote rain forests in the western Amazon Basin, this particular bird was once widespread but is now endangered and extremely hard to come by. Currently the only reliable location to ‘tick’ this bird is from a particular lodge located near some protected Curassow land. So that is exactly where we went – Muyuna Lodge.
On May 26th we were picked up at our hotel and taken to the Muyuna Office where we would meet our guide. (Being the Pittsburgh lover that I am, I just have to share this little conversation exchange we had with the driver that picked us up. He asked us where we were visiting from and Ross told him we were from the United States. The driver then asked where at in the United States. Ross didn’t want to confuse him, so he just said Pennsylvania when normally we like to say we are from Pittsburgh. That was when the driver asked “Is Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh?” –Best quote of the trip.) Anyway, at the office we met Moises, our English-speaking guide that specializes in birds, and then headed off on a boat for 3 ½ hours up river on the Amazon to the lodge that we were to be staying at. We arrived at the lodge and were pleasantly surprised to find a very accommodating room waiting for us.
Because we arrived around lunch time, we had lunch waiting and a break before going out birding. As it turns out, Muyuna Lodge sits at one of the lowest points on the Amazon. When we arrived we found out that the water levels were so high that all of the trails around the lodge were flooded and the only way in or out or to go around is via boat. With a 2 hour lunch break in the Amazon and no way of getting out, Ross was like a caged animal pacing the hallway waiting to go birding!
We finally got out on the boat with our guide, Moises, and began birding the southern portion of the Amazon River. A productive afternoon produced Collared Puffbird, Silvered Antbird, Blue-crowned Trogan, White-throated Toucan, and Blue-and-yellow Macaw. We came back the lodge for dinner and then that night we went out again by boat and had great looks at Great Potoo, Common Potoo, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, and Common Paraque.
The next morning we woke up suuuuuper early (4AM) so that we could leave the lodge by 4:30AM to get to the Wattled Curassow location. This bird was our main reason for coming to this lodge and we were determined not to miss it. We took a motor boat nearly 40 minutes before climbing into a canoe to meander quietly around the forest in search of this critically endangered species. We spent a solid 3 hours in the canoe and in that time were able to see a single male bird several times. The Wattled Curassow sighting along with great looks at a Black-tailed Antbird (a near endemic) made the morning a success!
We continued birding all morning and afternoon with only a small 20 minute pit-stop to grab fuels in the form of gasoline and lunch. By 4:30PM we had been out birding 12 hours (!!) and we would have continued birding had it not decided to start raining on us. It was a long day, but certainly a productive one! Along with the currasow and antbird we tallied 111 different species for the day! Highlights in the form of ‘new birds’ included Muscovy, Sand-colored Nighthawk, Great Potoo at a day roost, Festive Parrot, Silvered Antbird and Plum-throated Cotinga just to name a few.
It’s so hard to keep track of the day of the week when everyday consists of waking up early and going birding. I’m lucky my watch tells me the date or else I wouldn’t know that either. The next day, May 28, we woke up early and went birding (surprise, surprise). Moises took us to some of the river islands near the lodge so that we could pick up the rest of the river island specialists that we were missing. The morning boating and birding was a success and we ticked Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant, River Tyrannulet, Riverside Tyrant, and Zimmer’s Woodcreeper. After spending the morning on the water, we found some ground and were able to step foot on dry land for the first time in 3 days. The land that is above the flood line, known commonly as Terra Firme, is apparently hard to come by around the Muyuna lodge this time of year given how high the water level sits. The land we did come by was owned by a local family so we asked permission to walk on their land.
As an aside, we quizzed our guide on how the family came to own the property that they were living on. We were told that in Peru, the government simply gives away land to the people living there as they would be too poor to afford it any other way. The land is then theirs to do with as they wish. This would be all well and good except that they are being given Amazon Rain forest which is then being chopped down. It’s quite sad to see an amazing forest being chopped down right before your eyes, as that was what was happening when we arrived. We watched as several trees fell so that the land could be cleared for farming and also watched as a sloth who was living in the trees jumped from one tree being cut down to a new tree that was also being cut down. Anyone who knows about the soil of the Amazon would know that the farm they are creating will only be good for a few years before the nutrient-lacking soil of the Amazon can no longer grow crops. I could probably go on and on about saving the rain forests, but I’ll save that speech for another day and realize that world hunger is a very real and very sad thing that exists in countries such as this. The problem isn’t at the level of the people cutting down the forest to create a farm to feed their family, but instead with the government and that the people living in the Amazon are being given land that should be protected.
Anyway, we walked several hundred meters over top of fallen trees before coming to the forest. We continued hiking and birded the afternoon in the Terra Firme but were very disappointed to walk away from that multi-hour excursion with only one new bird for the trip.
We came back to the lodge for a quick 30-minute lunch break before heading back out into the forests behind the lodge. Here we were able to salvage the rest of our day by picking up several hard-to-see new birds in the form of Rufous-necked Puffbird and Dot-backed Antbird and the smallest monkey in the world, the tea-cup sized Pygmy Marmoset.
On our last day with Muyuna, we woke up early (5AM ish) only to find that it was raining. We enjoyed breakfast in the lodge and waited until about 6AM to see if the rain would let up. Although the rain hadn’t stopped, Ross was adamant that he still wanted to go birding but then had to convince our guide. We all got in the boat while it was raining and headed up the river but by the time we arrived at our birding location, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out! The weather conditions turned out to be perfect and the bird activity for the morning was high. We travelled up creek and found a few new species including Green and Rufous Kingfisher, Solitary Black Cacique, and Cinerous Mourner. We eventually found a small plot of land that we could walk on. During our short foray on dry land we found a few flocks of birds with highlights including Long-winged Antwren, Long-billed Gnatwren, Black-throated Antbird, and Blue-slaty Antshrike. We also had a brief glimpse of Gray-necked Wood Rail and heard Rufous-sided Crake.
Back in the boat we travelled up another creek and eventually arrived at a large lake. During our last few hours we picked up new birds such as Dusky-chested Greenlet, Ringed Woodpecker, and Great Blackhawk. Overall the morning had been fantastic and in just a morning and afternoon’s time we had seen 110 species, only one bird less than the tally from the day we spent birding for 12 hours! Unfortunately we couldn’t continue birding (although we would have loved to) because we had a boat to catch to take us back to Iquitos.
The two+ hour boat ride back to Iquitos was spent trying to reinsert all of Ross’s iTunes bird calls and songs back on to his phone that had gotten erased when his phone stopped working (long story) so that we would have playback capabilities for the next portion of our trip, the 2 ½ days at the Allpahuayo Mishana Reserve.
The Allahuayo Mishana Reserve (AMR) is unique in that it is home to a large tract of white sands forest. Being that the ground has a high sand content (hence the name white sands forest,) there is very poor nutrient content in the soil. The soil content can vary within this habitat and in our 2 ½ days we were planning to visit two different types of white sands forests, the varillal and chazimal. New research within white sands forests has led to the discovery of four new species of birds and several new subspecies, some endemic to Peru, therefore in recent years AMR has become a highly sought destination for birders coming to this part of the country. The Iquitos Gnatcather (described as recently as 2005!) is the rarest of the white sands specialists and is only found within this reserve.
Our goal was to arrive at the reserve before dark, but the itunes fiasco turned into a multi-hour process and we ended up not even starting our journey until well after dark. We arrived at the reserve to see that there were still lights on and here we met Omar, a biologist who lives at the reserve Monday through Saturday studying frogs and various other amphibians. Although he wasn’t too sure about the birds he offered to meet us the following morning to show us the trails. We had good directions and really didn’t need him to, but it was a nice gesture so we agreed.
Our first morning at AMR started at the km 25 trail, a trail mentioned in several birding reports and site guides as being a better location to try for some of the reserve’s specialties. We first visited a small tract of chazimal, a stunted open forest with small trees, which produced great looks at Allpahuayo Antbird, Ancient Antwren, Saffron-crested Manakin Tyrant and the (Chazimal) Flycatcher which is an undescribed subspecies of Fiscus Flycatcher and probably a separate species altogether. From here we ventured into the varillal forest, characterized by tall, vertical, uniform-looking trees and undergrowth of palms in search of the Iquitos Gnatcatcher. We spent the rest of the morning searching for this rare bird but our efforts came up empty although we still had several new birds such as Yellow-billed Jacamar, White-browed Purple Tuft, Striped Woodhaunter, and White-crowned Manakin.
We went back to the reserve and cooked ourselves a lunch of hard boiled eggs before heading back out, this time to the trails directly behind the reserve. Here we came upon an army ant swarm and had great looks at several Bicolored Antbirds, White-plumed Antbirds, and Lunulated Antbirds, which were following the ants in search of the insects pushed up attempting to flee the swarm. We continued further along the trail where we found a Pearly Antshrike but soon after seeing the bird, we noticed that the sky had turned completely gray. We hurried back towards our room knowing rain was coming, but before long were caught in the torrential downpour. We ran for some kind of shelter but a small signpost describing the tree types found in the forest was our only source of protection. We stood huddled under the small roof for nearly 20 minutes hoping the rain would pass and trying to keep the camera, scope, and audio equipment dry before Ross finally ran back to our room to grab some kind of water-proofing for the expensive gear. After he returned completely drenched but armed with plastic bags we ventured back to our room in the pouring down rain. The rains stopped and started all evening long and not much more birding was accomplished. We did however take public transportation to a small town where we ate dinner at a “Polleria” aka chicken place and because a bridge was out, getting there was quite the fiasco. (One would have to take a collectivo to the bridge outing, walk down some mud, across a stream, and back up through some mud to the road where more collectivos were waiting, catch a new van and then head to town.) We went to bed that night knowing we only saw one of our three main targets and knew we had a busy day ahead of us if we wanted to see the rest. Unfortunately for Ross the excitement was short lived and he woke up that night multiple times running to the bathroom. At 2 am I woke up to the pleasant sounds of him throwing up into a plastic bag and we concluded that he must have some kind of food poisoning from the polleria we ate at the night before. He spent the next 8 hours recuperating and completely emptying his system. Not wanting to waste an entire day, we still were able to get a few hours of birding in that afternoon but were unable to turn up any new birds.
Our last day at the reserve we headed back to the KM 25 trail but again failed to turn any bird into the Iquitos Gnatcatcher or Mishana Tyrranulet. The best bird of the morning was the Blackish Nightjar we had on the trail when we first walked in. By mid-morning we had to turn around to get back to our room and pack our bags. Around lunch time we started on our way to the Iquitos airport to catch our flight to Lima, thus concluding our time in Amazonia.
Although it was often slow birding, the natural sights were amazing and the wildlife even more so. Exploring at any time of day was a blast. Our time in the Amazon is surely a highlight of the trip! Anyone (nonbirders included!) who has the opportunity should absolutely visit the Amazon Jungle!