Friday 23 December 2016

Drama on the Tambopata River, Madre de Dios, Peruvian Amazon

You never know what dramas are unfolding on the Tambopata River in the Peruvian Amazon. We steered the canoe to photograph a great black hawk perched on a dead branch when our motorista  saw the huge golden catfish sticking out of the sandbank behind some driftwood. It was only when we got closer that we also saw the spectacled caiman, all two-three metres of him, though mostly he was slunk in the water, his snout in his prey. Our guide Paul Francisco Condori Vilca (aka Jungle Paul) took this photo and the close ups of the caiman's and catfish's heads below. My husband Brian photographed the hawk and the whole scene. They and the motorista and navigator all leapt onto the logs to take photos while I stayed in the boat. I can't leap easily off a narrow canoe prow, being hydrophobic. 

Paul explained that great black hawks prey on baby caimans. The hawk was no doubt waiting to feast on the catfish, but the spectacled caiman was waiting for the hawk to descend so he could catch the hawk! They stayed in this deadlock for about twenty minutes, then the caiman pulled the catfish under and re-emerged further back. The female horseflies on the catfish were also on the caiman's head,  they too were waiting for a meal. It was a spectacular find, and back at Tambopata Research Center that evening we toasted it with pisco sours before falling into bed at nine, for the usual four am rise.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Second Trip to the Peruvian Amazon, Tambopata National Reserve, Madre de Dios region

This is the view from the top of the 30 meter scaffolding canopy tower over the Madre de Dios rainforest, late afternoon, taken on the first day of our arrival in the Peruvian Amazon, when we stayed in a lodge in the outer buffer zone of the Tambopata National Reserve, one hour upriver from the Ese'Eja native community of Infierno. This particular lodge, Posadas, is in the Ese'Eja's protected primary forest, which means there is a high diversity of creatures, many of which can be seen from the bedrooms, which are missing an outer wall. It is possible to lie in bed and watch monkeys and toucans flying through the trees.

On this, our second trip to the Peruvian Amazon basin, we saw so much wildlife, took so many photos, that I'm starting the blog with just the landscape and the trees, the rainforest and the Tambopata River, its oxbow lakes and creeks, islands and ponds. We trekked in the heat and humidity and mosquito clouds of the wet season. Luckily, although we arrived in rain, and the forecast was for rain and thunder every day and night, we only had one afternoon of deluge, when all excursions were cancelled. There were occasional spectacular night storms, surprise downpours, and lots of sun, not that we could see it in the forest understorey where it is always twilight. 

After two days in Posadas Lodge we went upriver six and a half more hours, deep into the pristine Tambopata National Reserve, to stay at Tambopata Research Station. There are no other humans allowed in this national park so the forest is undisturbed. It was my second stay there, and I could get addicted to it, despite the discomfort of always being sweaty, having to take three showers a day and having to wear gumboots for the mud, and cover up from neck to toe against the insect hordes and spray insect repellant every half an hour. We got up at 4am most days, fumbling in the dark with torches, and the best experiences were usually those treks and boat-trips before breakfast, when the wildlife was at its peak.

The highlight was a jaguar. But there were other equally enthralling encounters: the giant river otters that swam towards our catamaran, a king vulture on river logs, capybaras mating, a harpy eagle chick, a hoatzin chick, a large caiman eating an even larger catfish, nighthawks roosting on the river, a scissor-tail kite  – the list goes on. Almost all spotted by our eagle-eyed guide Jungle Paul, who also took some of the best photos with his huge zoom-lens camera. Most of these pics here I took with my iPhone, which is good for landscapes and also for close-ups. But I didn't take the view from the canopy tower, sadly my vertigo prevents me getting up there. I did try on our last trip, and almost got to the top, then the narrowing and steeper steps started to sway with the slightest breeze and I was spooked.

 The creek entrance to Colorado clay lick and the island observation pond, here I am waiting for the boat to take us back to TRC. The colours!

 View of the Madre de Dios rivers from the plane from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

 TRC port

 Tres Chimbadas Oxbow Lake, a solitary cormorant in the far distance on a branch sticking out of the water

 Oropendola nests

 The afternoon deluge

 The oxbow lake Tres Chimbadas where we saw the giant river otters

The men's gumboot rack, the women's is on the other side of the entrance to TRC. This is mainly for the scientists and their assistants, young people who can climb giant trees like monkeys to monitor macaw nests