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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