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Rainforest Expeditions Day 4

May 8, 2011

Scarlet macaw by Rick Stanley


Sunrise from the tower was lovely. We had it all to ourselves. We arrived to a misty morning with fog covering all the trees. We could barely see the river. Rick and I filmed and enjoyed the early morning sounds. After taking a few sound recordings and pictures, we watched the fog clear and the early morning light shine on the river.


We got up early this morning to visit the tower at Posada one last time. We passed a group returning from the tower on our way out there and they appeared not to have seen much. About 10 minutes after we climbed the 37-meter tower, three scarlet macaws swooped in and sat in a tree right next to us. It was by far the closest we have ever been to macaws. They flew below us and we could look down on them from above, there colors stark and brilliant against the forest background. After that I got my fist look at curl-crested aracaris and two ivory-billed aracaris also arrived in a far away tree. Rick and I waited for a few minutes at the top and spotted a black-tailed trogon and a teensy tyrannulet. Just as the birding was getting good, we had to run back for breakfast.

Immediately after breakfast, we were informed that the boat was leaving 30 minutes earlier than we had anticipated. We rushed to get showers and gather our things to make it in time for our departure. The boat was incredibly comfortable, with separate padded seats for everyone. It was just us, Julio (a bartender), and a boat driver for the first three hours.

About one hour into the ride, Julio said “Look, and osprey.” Rick quickly corrected him – an eagle was flying across the river. We followed it with our binoculars until it landed in a tree on the other side. It only took a few seconds to realize it was a harpy eagle. The bushy crest was raised and the black stripe on the chest was just visible in the dark light. “Paramaos, paramos,” Rick yelled (Let’s stop, let’s stop!). But, after about 10 seconds, the bird flew off and our lucky sighting of the rare eagle ended.

The rest of the boat ride was lovely with a few nice sightings. We saw capybaras bathing in the river and Orinoco geese on the beach. No jaguars to report, but we were scanning the banks the whole ride with the small hope that we would see one.

The only snafu on the trip was our lack of documentation at the park guard posts. We barely made it through at Malinowsky, because we did not have an authorization form. Thankfully, the park guard decided that it was not our fault that we did not have documents. He let us through with a warning. We were not aware that we needed anything to enter the reserve since we were going with Rainforest Expeditions.

We arrived at Tambopata Research Center at 3:30pm, after about seven hours on the river.

Butterfly by Rick Stanley


Rainforest Expeditions Day 2

May 7, 2011
 Mantis by Rick Stanley


We got up at 4:00am for breakfast at 4:30am. Our boat left for the oxbow lake at 5 sharp. We hiked for 30 minutes to get to the lake and then climbed on a catamaran. By the time we got out on the lake, the sun was just rising through the mist. It was spectacular. We drifted about and saw a donacobius and a bat falcon.

After about an hour on the lake, and explanations on the formation of oxbow lakes, we spotted the giant otters. They were pretty far away, but coming toward us. My initial impression of giant otters is always “Oh, how cute.” But, as soon as you focus your binoculars on them, you realize that they are a bit scary and vicious. These two were playing and eating fish and their wide eyes and snarling teeth gave them a ferocious appearance.

We returned to the lodge for a snack and Rick and I decided to walk a trail on our own. We returned for lunch at the lodge and a siesta before our next outing.

The day ended with a really nice walk in the forest and a climb up the canopy tower. We took a night walk for 30 minutes with the tourists after dinner and Rick picked up a rat snake. This led to one of the female tourists leaving the group out of sheer fright.

Early to bed and early to rise.

Oxbow Lake at Posada Amazonas

Rainforest Expeditions: Day 1

April 14, 2011

Sunrise over the Tambopata River by Gabby Salazar


Rainforest Expeditions

Our flight left Lima at 8am and landed at 11am in Puerto Maldonado. Rick and I were exhausted. He (who never naps) fell asleep twice at the breakfast table in the airport while we were waiting for our coffee and sandwiches to arrive.

Rainforest Expeditions picked us up at the airport and took us over to the office where we repacked our luggage. We were able to leave a good 20 pounds at the office, but are still weighed down by the rest. Our checked luggage weighed in today at 66 kilograms. I’m not entirely sure where all the weight comes from, but it is there and it is heavy.

The boat to Posada Amazonas lodge was a short 45-minute drive. I spotted dusky titi monkeys and we also saw a capybara and some turtles. Our guide’s name is Armando and we will be accompanying him and a group of six other people for two days. They are all on the short tour, which packs in an incredible number of activities in 3D/2N. We are looking forward to piranha fishing, shaman consultations, and a visit to a clay lick. This tour will give us the opportunity fulfill the image needs of Rainforest Expeditions, while accessing some great locations (oxbow lakes, clay licks, etc) that would otherwise cost a fortune to visit on our own.

We checked into a beautiful room that is closed on three sides and entirely open to the forest on the fourth. There is a nice hammock inside and two beds with mosquito nets. The shower curtain is completely clear and so is the bathroom wall. We spotted a reddish hermit and an agouti right from our room.

The afternoon was spent on the canopy tower. We saw a channel-billed toucan and, my favorite, an ivory-billed aracari. Other sightings included russet-backed oropendula, pale-winged trumpeter, and a tityra.

We returned to the lodge to rest after an intense week of travel and had a lovely dinner. Tomorrow morning we rise at 4am for a visit to the oxbow lake with hopes of seeing giant river otters.

The lodge is spectacular, the service superb, and we rest with the awareness that we are spoiled rotten.

Butterfly (species unidentified) by Gabby Salazar

Tambopata: Magic at Malinowsky

April 6, 2011

Morpho by Rick Stanley

We arrived at Malinowsky guard station in the afternoon after a week at El Gato. There are two park rangers at the station, which is a checkpoint for entry into the Tambopata National Reserve. Both men greeted us with enthusiasm and they showed us to our rooms. There is a small research facility beside the guard station that was created by WWF a number of years ago and we were each given a simple, small room with a bed. After settling in for 10 minutes, we grabbed our camera gear and headed right out on the trail.

It turns out there is only one trail here and it is about 3 kilometers long. Otherwise, we are blocked in by a river on one side and dense forest everywhere else. We started out on the trail and had a magical experienced within the first 500 meters. As I was photographing a patch of mushrooms, Rick noticed that a blue morpho butterfly was hanging around. It is pretty common to see a morpho in the forest – a flash of iridescent blue gliding down the trail and disappearing into the landscape just after you score a fleeting glimpse. However, this morpho was circling us and coming closer and closer. After a few minutes, Rick called out to me when he found the morpho on his shirt and then on his cheek. Our clothes were soaked with sweat from the boat ride in the hot sun and the butterfly was clearly attracted to the salt covering our skin.

We took a few fun photos of the butterfly on our clothes and then Rick got creative – he placed it on my nose. The image above is our favorite from the series because it shows just how big the morpho was. We tried to let the butterfly go after that, but he just kept following us. Rick decided to take the opportunity to photograph it in a natural setting because they rarely sit with their wings open. After a few tries, we were almost ready to give up because the morpho was much more interested in our skin than the leaf. Then, I had an idea. I took some sweat from my face (yes, there was a lot of sweat) and rubbed it on the leaf where Rick wanted the morpho to sit. Amazingly, it worked! The image below is the result of that experiment. It was a really magical hour in the jungle with a beautiful creature and one of my favorite memories from Peru.

We turned back soon after the morpho because it was getting dark in the forest – but a great first day at Malinowsky overall!

Morpho by Rick Stanley

Katydid by Gabby Salazar

Mushrooms by Gabby Salazar

Tambopata Journal: Canopy Tower

April 5, 2011

Sunrise from tower by Rick Stanley

Rick and I decided to mix it up and spend one night camping at another man’s property near El Gato. His name is Jaime and he is involved in conservation in the Tambopata Buffer Zone. He has a lovely canopy tower that he has built on a ridge above his property and he supports the conservation of his property by charging visitors to use it. We wanted to explore it at sunrise for birdwatching and photography. Mr. Ramirez took us over to Senor Jaime’s house in the boat around sunset and brought us up to the house. At first, it was unclear if Jaime was expecting us – he seemed confused by our presence and kept asking us about our stay at El Gato. We finally sorted it out and were able to set up our tent on his small porch.
Jaime’s person warrants some description. He is in his 70’s, but is buff and ripped (I believe I referenced him in a previous post as the oldest man I have ever checked out). In all seriousness though, his weathered, scarred skin makes his appear tough and intimidating and his wild eyes augment the effect.
We had a fantastic few minutes visiting with him. Although we were both eager to visit the canopy tower, he clearly wanted to talk and we felt it was rude to leave right away. So we sat down and he asked all the typical questions about where we are from and what the weather is like there. After a few minutes, there was a pause. He then asked if we had seen much wildlife. Prepared to answer with a list of our favorite sightings, we were cut short by a follow-up question – “Have you seen any capybaras?” Rick and I nodded our heads and I said how beautiful they are. He raised an eyebrow, scowls, and replied “Those capybaras are always f$%king with me. They eat my bananas and my yucca and they think its funny.” He then proceeded to mimic a gun, laughed a bit maniacally and said “So, I shoot the bastards.” Rick and I looked at each other to make sure we both heard him correctly and wanted to laugh, but were not sure if it is appropriate.
We excused ourselves and make our way to the canopy tower – both anticipating the coming dinner conversation. The canopy tower was fantastic! We got great views of emerald toucanets, a plum-throated cotinga, and a handful of other new birds. We watched the sunset from the tower and only made our way down after dark.
Jaime fed us boiled eggs and talked with us for an hour about rubber tapping when he was younger. It was a great cultural experience in addition to the wildlife viewing. We did not see any capybaras on his property.

Capybara by Gabby Salazar

Sunrise at the tower by Gabby Salazar

Tambopata: Lizards

April 4, 2011

Lizard (Enyalioides palpebralis) by Gabby Salazar

We had a great experience at El Gato. The night walks were great and we took the time to walk slowly on the trails and look for camouflaged creatures in the vegetation and in the trees. One day we found two incredibly neat (and cooperative) lizards by the side of the trail. They were so well hidden that it was only a lucky glance that brought them into focus. We had a great time photographing them and felt lucky to have seen them. To give you a sense of scale, they are almost a foot long.

Check out how camouflaged it is! by Rick Stanley

Lizard portrait by Rick Stanley

Favorite Frogs from Tambopata

April 2, 2011

Frog on tree by Rick Stanley

Dart frog (most likely Allobates trilineatus) by Rick Stanley

Poison dart frog by Gabby Salazar

Rain frog by Gabby Salazar

Tambopata Journal: Getting There

April 2, 2011

Tambopata River by Gabby Salazar

Tambopata Journal

I have finally obtained permission for Rick and me to stay in park housing in the Tambopata National Reserve. It costs $6.00 per night, so perhaps it was worth the trouble (still debatable). I haven’t kept an exact count, but I believe I visited the Tambopata office over a dozen times in the last two weeks in an effort to obtain the necessary permits. A man named Ernesto has been assigned to help me. He looks up with a bemused, half-annoyed grin each time I enter the office. I huff and puff in an effort to show my exasperation with the process and quickly realize I am wasting my breath. He finds something wrong with the documents each time I bring them over. The sentence usually begins “Um, Senorita, I was wrong . . .” and then I have to change some critical part of the document. Thank goodness I’m only asking to take pictures – I can’t imagine how difficult this would be if I actually wanted to collect insects or plants!

In any case, he was helpful, albeit in a slow and protracted kind of way. Now, we have an official document and we leave for Tambopata tomorrow. The first stop is El Gato Lodge and then we go on to park housing at Malinowsky. We have to bring food to the second site and have explored the two supermarkets in Puerto Maldonado. Slim pickings , but at least we will know the food doesn’t contain meat.

Off to El Gato tomorrow!



Back to the Blog: Field Season 2 Begins!

April 2, 2011

Gabby Feeding Captive Spectacled Bear

Gabby After Feeding Bear

Some of my favorite questions received by email over the last few weeks:

“Are you lost in the jungle?”

“Did an anaconda finally eat you?”

“Where are you? I hope your lack of blog posts doesn’t mean something horrible has befallen you.”

As I have been getting a few emails like this lately . . . I decided that it is time to tell everyone that I am healthy and safe. In fact, I’m currently eating alfajores (delicious Peruvian cookies filled with dulce de leche) in a comfy hotel room in Lima. To give a more interesting answer, I spent two weeks in Ecuador on a vacation at a cloud forest lodge and have been in and out of Lima working on research and preparations for our four month field season.

Rick and I were supposed to head out to Puerto Maldonado a few days ago to begin our work in Tambopata National Reserve, but we delayed our plans till April 9th because of some social and political unrest in the area. This unrest is related to illegal gold mining in the Madre de Dios Department. After years of pressure from environmentalists, the government has finally cracked down on the gold mining. With a very strong fist, they sent 1000 military personnel into the area in mid-February to blow up the largest illegal gold mining rigs (many are worth around $250,000). This has understandably upset the owners of the rigs and the people who work on them. The miners have been staging strikes over the last few weeks – one lasted 12 days and shut down all river transportation on the Madre de Dios River. Rick and I decided to lay low and wait till the trouble passed. Thankfully, it seems the government has reached an agreement with the miners and all should be back to normal (whatever normal means in the jungle) by the time we arrive on April 9th.

Our schedule for the next four months is as follows:

Tambopata National Reserve – 3 weeks

Interoceanica SUR Tambopata Initiatives – 1 week

Los Amigos Conservation Concession – 2 weeks

High Elevation Manu National Park – 1 week

Cloud Forest Reserve – 1 week

Mid-Elevation Manu National Park – 3 weeks

Lowlands Manu National Park – 2 weeks

Along the way, I will have a visit my aunt and her high school roommate and from two friends from South Africa. It should be a blast!

In any case, my Lightroom library has now reached an astounding 17,400 images, so it is time I shared some with you all.

Enjoy my notes from our time in Tambopata from January and a glimpse into rainforest life. I’ll also post a few images from my recent trip to Northern Peru with Rick and his mom – we had a fabulous eight days.


Ballestas Islands

February 26, 2011

Ballestas Islands seabird colony (Gabby Salazar)

We split up the long trip to Lima from Arequipa with stops in Ica and Paracas. While the town of Paracas left something to be desired – a handful of tourist restaurants on the beach and beach strewn with trash – the Ballestas Islands were worth the trip.

We stayed in a nice beach hotel in Paracas and walked along the shore the first night after arranging a tour for the morning. The birding was great – Peruvian pelicans, guanay cormorants, royal terns, and Inca terns lined the shore. After examining a few menus we sat down to dinner at a restaurant that claimed to have vegetarian options. Our ordering experience confirmed our belief that vegetarian does not signify ‘without meat’ in Peru – it only means ‘with vegetables.’ The vegetarian pizza was covered in ham. It is rare here that vegetarian dishes are meat-free and the pizza brought to mind the most ridiculous experience we had with vegetarian food. In Puerto Maldonado, we ordered rice and beans off of the vegetarian section of the menu (comida vegetariana) and were presented with beans that had pork in them. When I pointed out the fact to the waitress, she replied, “it’s not the meat, it’s only the skin.” We had a light dinner that night.

After our dinner we saw a spectacular sunset and went to bed early for our trip to the Ballestas Islands at 8am. We arrived at the tour agency and were led by a scurrying old man to the dock where we met at least 100 other tourists. We were filed onto a large boat and given lifejackets. The trip out to the islands took 30 minutes. I had been hiding under a poncho because the ocean spray was constantly hitting my face. I emerged to find a spectacular view of rocky islands coated with birds. There were thousands and thousands of gulls, cormorants, and boobies moving in waves over the islands. Inca terns swooped by the boat, their feathered moustaches waving in the wind.

We circled the islands and saw the birds, sea lions, and Humboldt penguins. The sea lions gathered by the hundreds and the large males fought ferociously on the shore. One large male bobbed up beside our boat and I was shocked by its sizeable girth.

As we continued to circle the islands, Rick and I felt churning in our stomachs. The rocking boat combined with the overwhelming smell of guano made the ride less than pleasant. Image stabilization on the camera didn’t help – as the image inside the viewfinder shifted slightly each time I focused.

We circled the islands for another 20 minutes and returned to the open water, relieved by the fresh wind. On the way out we passed an enormous flock of cormorants and other seabirds flying over the water. We kept pace with them as the swooped and dove.

The Ballestas were fantastic – a must-see when visiting Peru. A great trip, even with the guano.

Sea lions (Gabby Salazar)

Ballestas Islands (Gabby Salazar)

Ballestas Islands (Gabby Salazar)